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The Husband-Wife Relationship
Ephesians 5:21-33

by Robert L. Cobb
-Administrator, News For Christians Dot Com

21  Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
22  Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
23  For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
24  Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
25  Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
26  That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
27  That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
28  So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth 
29  For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
30  For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
31  For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
32  This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
33  Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

Poet Samuel Daniel, a contemporary of Shakespeare, said, "Love is a sickness full of woes, all remedies refusing."  Love is the universal topic of writers, poets and singers.  It is the subject of both highbrow literature and the lowly country song.  Man acts as if he has a working knowledge of the concept of love.  However, true love is not the domain of man.  Love is God's business.  He is its author.  He is its sustainer.

The truest love is that which is shared between God and His children.  Jeremiah 31:3 tells us,  "The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee."  Deuteronomy 6:5  says "And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might."  God's kind of love is a deep, meaningful, expressive love that is not easily explained.  It cannot be imitated or counterfeited.

God has also allowed for a special love between a woman and a man.  This love is different from God's love in that it can be expressed physically as well as emotionally and spiritually.  Our passage deals with this marital love.  As I sit at my computer terminal and type these words, I have just been informed of another marriage break-up in my circle of friends.  It is shocking to consider the high number of failed marriages in Bible-believing churches today.  The institution of marriage is under attack by the forces of Satan and society.  No more can the Christian stand back and observe divorce from a safe distance.  It is now a part of most church families.

Marriage was designed by God Himself.  He instituted it and performed the first wedding ceremony in the Garden of Eden.  He has continued it down through the ages.  It is God's vehicle for the propa- gation of mankind collectively and our own happiness and fulfillment.  Satan regards marriage and the home as his greatest battlegrounds.  The easiest way to destroy churches and society is through the home.  The cornerstone of every home is the relationship between the husband and the wife.  God takes special care to make sure we understand His principles in this relationship. 

I.   The Wife's Duty   v. 22-24

In fundamental circles, this passage is well known.  Many husbands take pleasure in sticking their wives noses to the pages of scripture and preaching to them about the duty of the wife to be submissive.   The Southern Baptist Convention has received bad press for their support of this principle.  The world outside the church has a problem with these principles, especially the modern women's movement.  They see it as a serious regression to more unenlightened times.  As believers, however, the Word of God is not debatable.  But what does it mean to be submissive?  How far must the wives go?

The Principle  v. 22    In verse 22 we have a command.  It is not a suggestion nor an outdated idea.  One woman said,  "I'll willingly submit to my husband -as long as he doesn't cross me."  In many marriages there is a power struggle of political proportions.  Paul here speaks directly to the wives.  "Wives, submit yourselves..."  The word "submit" means to arrange your life in subjection to another. This seems like a difficult demand, and most women would certainly say "amen."  But we must remember that submission is a Christian attribute, not just a female one.  In verse 21 we find that we are to "submit ourselves one to another..." In Hebrews 13, we are to submit to our pastor; in 1 Peter 5:5 we are to submit to the elder; in many passages we are told to submit to God and His Word;  in 1 Peter 2:13 we are to submit to the law of the land. 

The last portion of this verse is particularly troublesome.  "...as unto the Lord."  In other words, God wants wives to submit to their husbands as they would the Lord Himself.  There are some ladies in the churches that will never allow this verse to touch them.  "It's humiliating," some say.  "It's unfair and outdated," they say.  But we must trust the Lord and His Word not to lead us the wrong way.  The Word of God is not the problem; our understanding of it could be the problem.

The Pattern  v.23-24  Here we find the principle magnified.  The husband is the "head of the wife."  He is the leader and the authority in the marriage.  This does not make the wife a second class citizen, although some husbands use this verse to put their wives in exactly such a situation.  I work for a fairly large company.  My plant manager is my leader and my authority figure.  He is not better than me or even more intelligent than me.  He relies on his workers for many things and trusts us to carry out his wishes, for he is ultimately responsible for the running of our plant.  It is the same situation in the home.  There must be someone responsible for leadership.  God has placed that responsibility on the husband.  Someone said that marriage is "an ordered equality."

As the Church is subject to their leader -Jesus Christ, so is the wife to be subject to her leader -the husband.  Notice to that the husband is  "...the saviour of the body."  This means that he is the provider, the preserver and protector of the wife.  He is responsible for her to God as Christ is responsible for the Church.  God has placed the ladies in an exhalted position, but our modern mentality has made it seem antiquated.

II.  The Husband's Duty  v. 25-33

Sometimes the ladies say, "Being a wife is harder, all the husband has to do is love."  That is an underestimation of the love of God.  The husband is to love his wife "as Christ also loved the church."
What does it mean?  How does the husband go about loving his wife in such a way?

Sacrificing Love  v.25  First, the husband's love is to parallel Christ's love in its sacrifice.  "...and gave himself for it."  This means to give over power to another.  It is the opposite of selfish  --it is s-e-l-f-l-e-s-s.  Christ was the omnipotent God in flesh, yet He gave Himself to be crucified because of His love for the Church.  The Christian principle of self-sacrifice is well-documented in scripture.  Jesus gives an object lesson in John 13 when he washes the disciples feet. "Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet."  In Matthew 20, Jesus tells His disciples, "whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;  And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." Scripture does not give any husband the right to abuse his leadership position.  Conversely, he has the responsibility of living out the love of Christ toward his wife.

Sanctifying Love  v. 26-27   In these verses we see a special truth.  The husband has the responsibility to help his wife develop personally and spiritually.  The husband should be a spiritual leader and help her become more like Christ.  He should allow her to develop her beauty both outwardly and inwardly. Husbands should ask themselves this question:  Is my wife a better Christian and better person because she is married to me?  If the answer is "no,"  you are not fulfilling your obligation as a godly husband.

Self-Considering Love  v. 28-30  Another principle of the husband's love is loving his wife as he loves himself.  "No man ever yet hated his own flesh..."  If we do anything well, we know how to love ourselves.  It is natural to be aware of how we project ourselves and appear to others.  Just as we would never embarrass or belittle ourselves, we are to have this same attitude toward our wives.  How many times have you heard men belittle and denigrate their wives?  Christian husbands should never be guilty of this!  We are to be sensitive to our wives needs and desires, just as we are our own.  The words "nourisheth" and "cherisheth" give us more light.  These words mean to build up, to strengthen and to tenderly care for.  It is like a golden rule for marriage: Do unto your wife as you would do unto yourself.  As the Church and Christ are one, so the husband and wife are one.

Satisfying Love  v. 31-33   These three verses conclude the directions to the husbands.  They are a summation of the previous principles. "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother..."  The marriage union brings satisfaction to the participants.  It is God's plan for most people.  Marriage, like the Christ's union with the Church, is a mysterious union.  Marriage brings physical satisfaction as well as emotional satisfaction.  It brings a spiritual satisfaction also.  Marriage is God's divine vehicle to meet many of the needs of human beings. 

Conclusion:  To work, marriage must be carried out God's way.  There are no "better ideas" or "new innovations" in the husband/wife relationship.  We don't need new self-help books or psychological tests to determine priorities.  We need Christians, both men and women, to renew their determination to practice scriptural principles in their marriage relationship.  There are few guarantees in today's world.  But if both the husband and the wife put God first and keep Him there, God will ensure the success of their marriage.  Today,  lets make it a time of personal renewal.  May God continue to bless each Christian husband and wife and make us what we should be for His glory.

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