Ephesians 5:21-33 – Husbands and wives

Husbands and Wives.


Ephesians 5:21 – 33.




I could begin this sermon with many statistics about marriage breakdown, co-habitation, teenage pregnancies and so on. We all know that these things are facts of the society in which we live. We know that the traditional roles of men and women , husbands and wives have changed radically in the last 50 years and are still changing as we have more and more single parent families and also as more women work and many men are house-husbands.


What are we as Christians to make of all this and how should the Church respond – is it right for the Church to re-define “living in sin” – was that a good term in the first place or does it make co-habitation a worse sin than other sins like lying, stealing or gossiping. What of alternative marriage – those of the same sex? Is the traditional marriage becoming a thing of the past?

And in the context of the Church what role do singles and divorced people have – or those whose spouses are not believers?


Now I don’t intend to try and answer all these questions this morning but these are all issues that affect our view of the roles of husbands and wives.


While we will be concentrating of husbands and wives in this message I want to encourage those who are not married NOT to switch off.

Paul is using the role of husband and wife – [followed by parents/children and servants and masters] as illustrations of a principles that is stated in v.21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. – and what is more, this issue of submission is one of the evidences for “being filled with the Holy Spirit”


In the past, and sometimes today too, there has been and is a lot of teaching on Holiness – holiness is good and necessary – but the emphasis is on a personal relationship with Jesus while often ignoring the outworking of holiness in relationships with the people we live and work with.


As we come to the this passage, remember from last time that the verb “Submit” does not appear in v. 22 – thus “Submit to one another …. wives to your husbands…”


Whenever we begin to speak about submission or subjection (as some translations have it) you can almost hear the feminine hackles rise. So what is submission? What does the Bible mean?




In a world where liberty, freedom and rights are sought and demanded and the idea of submission and discipline is outdated, what does the Bible mean when it speaks of submission?


What Paul is saying here about wives must be put into the context of the letter of Ephesians and indeed the whole of scripture. Ephesians has been emphasising the complete oneness in Christ of all people from all cultures [ Jews and Gentiles] – in the companion letter of Colossians we read the following Colossians 3:11 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (NIV)

And in Galatians 3:28 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (NIV)


It was Jesus who treated the women of his day with honour and dignity and courtesy at a time when they were considered to be things – Paul is not dumb enough to undo his teaching on oneness and unity and equality by meaning here that women are inferior!


In the of light scripture all people are equal irrespective of class, colour, culture, sex or age. There is a deep unity and equality that exist between all believers and we need to keep this in the front of our minds as we come to study this passage.


We need to acknowledge however that not all in the liberation movements is wrong – a lot of good has come – for women , for workers and for children – the way women were treated in the past and still are in many cases is despicable and we need to welcome many of the changes – some haven’t even gone far enough – the way women are exploited as playthings in the sex industry is disgraceful.


The word submission is not simply another word for inferiority. God has given different roles to men and women – to husbands and wives. ‘Equality of worth is not identity of role’ J H Yoder.

If you haven’t noticed before – have a good look – men and women are not the same there are a few difference, not least physically.





God is a God of order and he has set certain authority or leadership roles within human society. And so submission is the humble recognition of God’s divine ordering of society. That is why he says that wives are to be submissive to their Husbands as to the Lord.


There is a mutual submission that is expected of all Christian people – this submission to each other is not because the other is superior BUT it is out of reverence for Christ. Jesus is the one who has the authority yet he is also the one who humbled himself.


When we speak about the authority of husbands, parents or employees we must be careful not to over-state it – this authority is not unlimited. And what is more we need to realise that it is not an inherent authority but a delegated authority.


ILLUS. When you pop into Godalming and park in the High Street to nip into the Bank and a Traffic Warden tells you to move on – you do it – Why? not because the officer is superior to you but because there is an authority behind her/him to whom you must submit.


Now I am not suggesting that husbands should treat their wives as Traffic Wardens treat motorists BUT do you see the point about delegated authority.


Husbands do not have unlimited authority and nor are wives required to give unconditional obedience. NO! the submission that is required is to God’s authority that is delegated to human beings – in this case husbands, but the same principle applies to parents, employers, governments etc.


Those who abuse their authority God will hold to account – they cannot require what God forbids or forbid what God requires. The principle is clear – we are to submit up to the point where it would involve disobedience to God. When submission to human authority would violate God’s authority we are obliged to refuse.

Thus Peter before the Jewish leaders says Acts 5:29

29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men! (NIV)


So the authority is from God BUT how is this authority to be used?

In none of the illustrations that Paul uses – husbands, parents, masters – does he tell them to exercise their authority. Rather he forbids them to exploit their position – he warns against misuse of their position.

He challenges husbands to remember their responsibilities and to protect the rights of their wives. This authority of the husband is never, never to be used selfishly.

Being a husband is a God-given responsibility NOT a selfish tyranny.


Before we look at the wife’s and husband’s distinctive roles note that Paul never tells the husband to make his wife submit nor does he tell the wife to demand that her husband love her.




22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.


Throughout the passage Paul is using the relationship of Christ and the Church to describe the marriage relationship AND the marriage relationship to describe the Church and Christ.


I don’t think that as modern Westerners we fully appreciate how radical the teaching to Jesus and Paul was – Paul is often accused of being a Chauvinist; nothing could be further from the truth! In his day Paul was a radical feminist!!


JEWISH women had no rights at all – she was the possession of her husband to do with exactly as he willed. Jewish men would pray every morning thanking God that he had not made them a gentile, a slave or a women


For the GREEK women it was worse – there was no companionship between husband and wife – she was there to run the house, bear children and leave her husband free to be with his friends and lovers.


For the ROMAN women things were not much better – a girl was under her father’s control and wife under her husband’s control – she was a chattel.


This submission is a voluntary response to God’s will – note that wives are not commanded to obey their husbands as children are commanded to obey parents and servants masters. A husband is not to treat his wife as a servant or as a child but as an equal for whom God has given him care and responsibility. She is not his to be ordered about.

There should be mutual possessiveness and submissiveness – they belong to each other and are to serve each other – putting each other first. The headship that a husband has does not make him superior.


ILLUS.: just as with in the church the are distinct gifts and responsibilities – those of us with responsibility for leadership are not more important – leadership in the church is defined by serving.


SO too, in the home the leadership in the home is defined by serving.


What is this headship to which a wife must submit? Paul goes back to creation.

Ephesians 5:31 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (NIV)


This was instituted before sin entered the world. It is sin that distorts the proper role of husband and wife – it is sin the causes men to abuse their position of headship and become demanding and authoritarian – it is sin that causes wives to try and usurp that authority and “wear the trousers in the house”


In 1 Cor.11 and 1 Tim.2 Paul also goes back to Creation to show that women was made after man and that man is born of women. We are dependent on each other, equal to one another yet distinct in our masculinity and femininity.

The husband headship is define by creation not chauvinism. This was the distortion that Paul was all to aware of and is here endeavouring to rectify.


The role of the modern western wife is very different to what it was a few decades ago – certainly a century ago. Traditionally it was the wife who did all the cooking, cleaning, shopping, and caring for the kids. She was expected to be pregnant, wearing an apron and in the kitchen. Now some of these conventions have changed and are changing – and rightly so in my view – Many couples are learning to share household chores. Some wives work out of the house and some don’t – I don’t see why a wife should not have a career as well – but if they have children then decisions need to be made for the best of the children – I can’t prescribe how each family should work it out. BUT ultimately in a home where there is a husband and a wife, the husband is responsible to God to be head and the wife responsible to acknowledge that headship under God even if she does not always agree with her husband.


Many problems could be avoided in home if the wife gave the husband room to be head – too many wives are too quick to usurp the husband’s position and that is a receipt for conflict.

ILLUS.: In our home Janet is the one who is more incline to make snap decisions – I am more cautious and often slow – we have had to work at it – I have learned to take the lead more – and Janet has been gracious and learned to let me be responsible in my role.


Most conflict in the home – between husbands and wives – revolves around children, money, in-laws and sex. Most of the problems could be avoided if husbands and wives talked to each other more and discussed these issues.




Ephesians 5:25-30

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no-one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church — 30 for we are members of his body. (NIV)


We tend to think of headship as control and dominance but in fact it has far more to do with responsibility and care. The husbands role is to be characterised by love – and the word is not eros, sexual love nor is it the weak word phileo, friendship love BUT the strong sacrificial agape-love.


This is the same word that is used throughout the NT to refer to God’s love – it is the self-sacrificing, self-giving love that is exemplified in Christ’s death on the cross.

This kind of love is an act of the will as well as of the heart.

Husbands are to love their wives NOT for what she is or is not BUT because it is God’s will for him to love her. It is certainly intended for husbands to be attracted to their wives and to admire them BUT IF every appealing characteristic and virtue of your wife disappears a husband is still under obligation to love her.


This is how Christ loved the Church – there was nothing in us that made us pleasant and appealing to Jesus – we were sinful and enemies of God YET Christ died for us. It is this same kind of love that Paul says husbands are to have for their wives!!


A husband who loves his wife as Christ loved the Church is willing to give everything for even his life.

If he is willing to give his life then surely he is willing to make lesser sacrifices.


NOTE that this is how all Christians should love each other!!


The true spirituality of a man is not measured by how well he preaches or leads meeting or does his work BUT how he treats his wife and family. Nowhere is our relationship with God tested more than in the relationships of the family.


Christ is the head of the Church and he is also the Church’s bridegroom – it is his purpose to make his bride as beautiful as possible. He doesn’t do this by crushing her but by winning her – sacrificing himself to serve her so that she might become everything that he longs for her to be, that the Church might become everything that she is intended to be in the fullness of her glory.


So too the husband’s role is not to crush his wife, to manipulate her to serve his needs and desires – he not to stifle or frustrate her. Rather he is to give himself for her so that she may develop her full potential under God and become completely what God intended her to be.


In God’s economy of marriage 1+1=1. Again Paul uses the example of Christ and the Church – we are in Christ and he is in us – we are one with him. So husband and wife are one not only one in the sexual act but also there is a union of personalities. There is a deep oneness as there is between Christ and his Church and thus Paul can say 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no-one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it,


I can’t begin give directive as to how each husband should express his love for his wife – most men want to express their love sexually – but that is just a very small part and if that is the focus then your sexually relationship will probably not be very satisfying.


It is considering your wife – possibly helping with the dishes, putting the kids down, helping with homework – flowers, dinner out, a show – a card, a phone call in the day just to say “I love you” – listening!!


ILLUS.: If I have a problem I tend to mull over it and only talk about it when I think I have a solution. Janet likes to talk things through with me, in great detail, when we were first married it used to irritate me. I have come to realize that she needs that and I need to listen. It usually happens when we are just about to go to sleep – then she rolls over and goes to sleep and I am left wide awake trying to solve the problems..


Christ sees the Church with all her weaknesses and failures, yet loves her as his body and seeks her highest good. Even so husbands are to loves their wives as their own bodies!!



  • … my spouse is not a believer – the same principles apply. You might not be able to enjoy spiritual oneness in Christ but you can still have a good marriage> By being the best husband or wife that God intends you to be you could win your spouse for Jesus.


  • .. I had a partner and it all broke up and now I am on my own “I have failed and now my life is ruined” The break up of a home is always painful – but it is not the unforgivable sin. It doesn’t mean that you are doomed to be a second class Christian and can never live a fulfilled life. God is gracious – he is a God of new beginnings. He says we can be washed clean. Don’t allow Satan to trick you into thinking that you have blown it forever – True confession brings complete forgiveness and a new start.


  • .. I am single. Yes you may not have a spouse BUT these same principle apply in all relationship – esp. in the family of God. Love one another and submit to one another applies to all believers whatever their marital status. If God in his wisdom has called you to remain single that is not second best and don’t ever allow anyone to tell you differently!! When it come to serving Christ there are many advantages to being single as Paul clearly points out in 1 Cor.


  • .. a husband is cruel and abusive to his wife and children – Paul is portraying an ideal – life is not always like that – and there are situation where it is necessary and right to break up a relationship when the life of the children or the spouse is threatened.




  • Wifely submissiveness is part of Christian submissiveness. 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. If it is the wife’s duty to submit to her husband then it is part of the husband’s Christian duty to submit to his wife. Submissiveness is a universal Christian obligation.               The wife’s submissiveness must be freely given, not coerced. It is not the Husband’s responsibility to make his wife submit!!!


  • Wifely submission is given to a lover, not a tyrant!     There are and always have been cruel and tyrannical husbands and sometimes a wife is forced to resist her husband’s authority. BUT there are few women who would not submit to the Biblical concept of headship. STOTT – “If headship means ‘power’ in any sense. then it is power to care not to crush, power to serve not to dominated, power to facilitate self-fulfilment. not to frustrate or destroy it. And in all this the standard of the husband’s love is to be the cross of Christ, on which he surrendered himself even to death in his selfless love for his bride.”


  • Husbandly love should resemble Christ’s love.   Three times in this passage Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church – no higher standard is conceivable. If every Christian husband even partly fulfilled this ideal people would see the gospel. {see why it is important for Christian homes to be open to people – so the gospel can be seen in action}


  • Husbandly love sacrifices to serve. Christ gave himself to the Church to make her pure and holy and free from all that mars her beauty. A Christian husband longs to see his wife free to be everything that God intended her to be. To this end he is to give himself in love.
  • Submission and love – two sides of the same coin. Wives submit — husbands love.         Submit means to gives yourself up to someone!!       Love means to give yourself up for someone, as Jesus ‘gave himself up’ for the Church.


Selfless self-giving is the essence of the gospel of Christ – mutual submission and love which should characterise Christian relationships and not least in the home!!




Ephesians 5:21 – 33


  1. What is submission?

      ¦ it is not inferiority

      ¦ it is not mindless obedience

      ¦ it is not being a ‘doormat’


  1. Submission to what?

      ¦ not to tyranny

      ¦ not to selfish demanding

      ¦ not to superiority


  1. Wife’s role                     4. Husband’s role
love one anothersubmit to one another




² willing acceptance of God’s creation order² Christlike devotion ² willing acceptance of ‘headship’ as a position of serving² Christlike love


Partnership recognising 

                   equality of worth

                   mutual belonging

                   mutual submitting

                   mutual loving


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