There are many spiritual realities we can glean about our relationship with God from the verses in Ephesians 5:21-6:9. In this segment, I want to look at some of the lessons Ephesians 5:21-33 teaches about the husband/wife relationship and how this passage serves as a model for a particular aspect of our relationship with God.

I’ve rarely seen a passage of Scripture as plucked over and examined for current application as this section of Ephesians 5. I’ve legitimately seen a “battle of the sexes” over it as men and women struggle to define the topic of submission in this context. Interestingly, one thing I’ve noticed is that both sides opt for the more self-serving definition when in fact the subject of submission throughout Ephesians 5 and into Chapter 6 is purely sacrificial, the entrusting of one’s own wants and needs to another—as is the husband’s role of laying down his life for his wife.

Ultimately, the examples in Ephesians 5:21-32 are a submission/sacrifice interplay that mirrors the way of Christ with the Church.

  • Submission

While verse 21 reminds us that in some way or another, everyone is subject to someone else (whether it’s wives to husbands, husbands to Christ, children to parents, servants to masters), particular emphasis is placed on the wife’s submission to the husband. Not woman’s submission to man, but specifically the healthy spousal relationship.

 

Why this emphasis? And why did God specify that this submission must play out between a wife and her own husband in particular? Because that submission parallels a beautiful spiritual reality: the subjection of the Church to Christ, following his leading in everything.

Married women play an important role in the story of salvation that I would dare say no one else can: through our behavior, we model the way for others and for the Body of Christ at large to see how we all ought to submit to Christ. Our charge from God is that we would walk out our relationship with our husbands in such a godly manner that our intimacy and submission reflect the intimate way the Church interacts with Christ via our wholehearted submission and his provision for us.

 

  • Sacrifice

God didn’t only give a charge to women in this section! Equally as important as the model of submission is that of sacrifice. Married men are God-called to live a life that is completely not about themselves. Instead they’re charged to care for their wives’ needs above their own to the extent of dying for them—and willingly, as Christ did. It was out of sheer unselfish love for people and dedication to the will of the Father that Jesus died on the Cross. With an equally unselfish and God-fearing love, husbands are called to place the wellbeing of their wives above all others’.

 

When married men live in this role, they model Christ for other believers and particularly for their own families. They show the fealty of the Son to the Father and the compassion that marked Jesus’ whole life from start to finish. Their charge from God is to love their wives even as themselves.

 

When we truly grasp how hard the body fights to keep itself alive even in the worst conditions—the ways God engineered us to persevere beyond what may seem survivable—the more imperative this ordination on the role of husbands becomes. The husband is to fight for, nourish, cherish, rescue, and redeem his wife as he would his own life—even at the risk of dying in her place. This is no easy thing to do when survival instinct is built into humankind, often urging us to put our own needs above any else’s. For the husband, that isn’t an option in God’s eyes.

So, why did God mark out these roles so clearly? Because when both sexes fulfill these God-ordained roles, the submission/sacrifice interplay is complete. Trust is made whole because the wife is safe in submission knowing her every need will be cared for, and the husband is safe in sacrifice knowing that he has the respect of his help-mate, the created answer to life’s first problem (Gen. 2:18), who will not demand unjust sacrifice of him but will work in tandem to recreate the model of Christ and the Church. One of my friends summed this entire aspect up profoundly when teaching from this section of Scripture. She said that “Submission flows from intimacy.” In the case of husbands and wives, when intimacy and trust is fostered, submission from the wife to the husband—and from both parties one to another as members in particular of the Body of Christ—flows naturally.

And that is the ultimate outworking of healthy submission and sacrificial love, of devotion and respect: these married Christian couples present a profound and unique example of spiritual realities that can hardly be found anywhere else.

Why is it so important to God that we are faithful to model these relationships in a godly fashion? Why did He take the time to lay out the rules of submission and responsibility for each side of these three particular relational aspects in Ephesians?

I believe one very crucial reason is this: when we fail in these areas, we misrepresent a portion of that beautiful mystery mentioned in 5:32. Think back to Numbers 20, when God became angry with Moses because instead of speaking to a rock to bring water from it, Moses struck it with his staff, something God had him do on a previous occasion. I always struggled with that passage as a young Christian—why was God’s punishment against Moses so harsh for what seemed like so small an infraction?

It wasn’t until much later that I realized the mistake Moses made that so grieved God: the symbol of speaking to the rock after having struck it the previous time was a foreshadowing of Christ, who after being struck for our transgressions (the first rock) would then offer living water to all who asked (spoke to him, the second rock.)

In much the same way, when we fall short of loving and respecting our spouses, when we provoke our children or disrespect our parents, when we’re unkind to those in service to us or rebellious and insolent to those we serve, we are misrepresenting the godly structure that parallels and exemplifies spiritual realities. Like Moses striking the rock, we distort the will of God and become poor examples of the perfect story He is trying to tell through us.

So whether single or married, son or daughter or parent, leader or follower, we should all pay special attention to the sections of Scripture like Ephesians that tell us how to be in godly relationship with one another. It’s imperative for us as followers and witnesses of Christ that we do our very best to be good examples and accurate models for the deeper, godly truth that our Heavenly Father intended for our relationships to be.

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