Beginning with this article and several to follow, I’d like to address the features of a godly home. Psalm 90:1 says, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” When the Lord is in the home–indeed on the throne of the home–He is Lord of the home. But what marks a home where the Lord truly dwells?
The answer may surprise even some Christians. Like any sturdy structure, there is a certain foundation and framework that must be in place for a home to be marked by godly fruitfulness. To be sure, there is love and commitment. There is sacrifice and teaching. There is nurture and admonition. But there is also (and necessarily) order and organization. There is authority and submission. In fact, authority and submission serve as the framework for all else that goes on in a godly home. In Ephesians 5 and 6, the apostle Paul lays down this structure. He speaks about the ordered duties among the various relationships within the home: wives to husbands, husbands to wives, fathers to children, and children to parents. Scripture says:
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
We want to begin where Scripture does with the relationship between husbands and wives outlined in Ephesians 5:22-33. I would like to make three simple observations by way of introduction and overview, which will serve as the text’s view from 30,000 feet. In the succeeding articles, we will land the plane and look at the topography and terrain of this critical text in order to understand exactly how a godly home is established.
The first observation I want to make is that, in one sense, Paul is speaking about a far more glorious marriage than that between husband and wife in this passage. One might even say that since he has developed the doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ throughout the first three chapters of this Epistle, that such a glorious marriage is primarily what he’s talking about.
What is this more glorious marriage? It’s the mystery of the believer’s union with Christ and one another through the gospel. Because believers were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4) they are one with Him. And such oneness to Christ brings about a oneness with His people. Paul begins to bring this second point out in chapter 4 when he states:
4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:4-6).
The picture then developed in chapter 5 is that of bride and bridegroom. Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom of the church, who is His bride, purchased at the cost of His blood (cf. Acts 20:28). As important as marriage between husband and wife is, the spiritual marriage resulting from the gospel between Jesus and the church is much more significant because it is eternally enduring. Marriage between husband and wife is a picture meant to showcase the relationship of eternal union between Christ and His bride, the church, based upon His redemption of her.
This picture comes out multiple times in the text. As Paul explains the duties between husband and wife, he consistently and repeatedly points back to what their marriage symbolizes and points to, namely the union of Jesus the Bridegroom to His bride the church. Here is how the apostle puts it:
(I’ve italicized the portions showcasing Christ’s relationship to the church.)
V23- For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
V24- Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
V25- Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
V29,30- For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.
V32- This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
So, there is no question that as important as your marriage is, it cannot, should not, and will not outshine the glorious union between Christ and His bride. This teaches us some simple truths right out of the gates.
First, your marriage to your spouse will not last for eternity, but your marriage to Christ will last forever if you’re a Christian. Your ultimate hope, faith, and even love should not be in your spouse, but in your Savior. Marriages begin to have trouble–yes, even Christian marriages–when unrealistic expectations are set upon a spouse. He or she is a sinner and will fail you. This will happen daily. But your Savior will never fail you. Your spouse may leave you, but Jesus Christ will neither leave you (either emotionally or spiritually), nor forsake you (Heb 13:5).
Second, your marriage will not be fruitful apart from it growing in the soil of the gospel. How can husbands wash their wives with the water of the Word (see v26 above) if they’re not being fed the Word by somebody else in the church? How can wives learn how to “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:3-5) apart from other women in the church helping them? Marriage flows from the gospel. It’s informed by the gospel and everything else God’s Word teaches about the gospel and about life.
Third, your marriage teaches your children something about the gospel. Children are more discerning than they are often given credit. They are watching. And the exchanges between mom and dad say something true or false about the gospel. When a father tenderly holds his wife when she is fearful or anxious, he’s saying something about the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. When a wife calmly and quietly submits, she’s saying something about the church’s full submission to Christ. Children pick up on inconsistencies quicker than anyone. How much spiritual damage is done in the home by parents whose relationship simply does not reflect the gospel? Perhaps parents, not youth groups, are more to blame for college age kids leaving the church.
The second general observation about this passage concerns the parts each respective spouse plays in marriage. The wife is given the role of submission, while the husband is given the role of headship. Much ink has been wasted in order to explain away these roles outlined in this passage, but they are inescapable upon a plain, literal reading of the Scriptures. Allow me to offer some rather non-technical and more practical definitions of headship and submission.
This can be defined as the loving, nurturing quality of strong masculine leadership in order to do all that is possible and necessary to ensure the wife’s spiritual flourishing and physical well-being to the glory of God and honor of Christ.
I include the concepts of love and nurture because that is how Christ is described in His relationship with the church who “loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v25).The husband is to care for, teach, and wash his bride with the Word. This ensures the spiritual flourishing of his wife. So, she may like a chance to get away by herself to have her nails and hair done while the husband watches the children. But this is not what she needs. What she needs is the consistent teaching, shaping, and guiding of the husband as she walks with Christ. The husband is to help her flourish spiritually.
Part of headship, however, also entails caring for her physically. Working hard and providing for her so she can devote her time and attention to the home and children, protecting her from both physical and emotional harm, and pursuing her heart in a manner she feels safe and secure. So, provide, protect, and pursue. He does this even when she gives no incentive to do so–even when she is stubborn as a mule or sour as a lemon. He is to do it to the glory of God. He also does it to honor Christ since, after all, he is reflecting Christ’s love for His bride as he demonstrates such love for his own bride.
This could be defined as the voluntary, self-controlled, gentle, teachable, and humble deference to and respect of the husband in allowing him to spiritually lead and physically provide for the wife as he sees necessary, as if she was submitting to the Lord Christ Himself.
Submission includes the concepts of willingness, calmness, gentleness, and humbleness as outlined in the definition. It’s not merely “going with the flow” Rather, it’s a determined posture of deference. It’s also not simply deferment in decision making. The wife is to respect her husband along the way. Sometimes body language says more about a wife’s lack of submission than her actual actions. But she is to trust her husband even when he seems woefully inadequate or painfully incompetent. She should do so joyfully and humbly. She is to do so “as to the Lord” (v22). In other words, her submission to her husband is a matter of obedience to the Lord Himself.
Paul reveals his primary point in discussing marriage when he admits in v32, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” This allows us to return to what was said under the first observation: marriage between a husband and wife is meant to picture Christ’s relationship with the church. But then v33 begins with “However”.
However! In all our recognition and worship of God regarding the glorious reality of the gospel, which marriage pictures, we are not to overlook the duties between husband and wife. Sometimes its easier to marvel at theology than to apply it. But the application of gospel theology begins in the home with the hard work of husband and wife fulfilling their God-given duties to the glory of God. No, earthly marriages do not last for eternity. Yes, the Christian’s marriage to Christ does. But the glory of the gospel does not diminish, negate, or overturn the responsibilities between husband and wife. To the contrary, it upholds them!
The passage concludes in v33 with the statement, “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Paul’s point, therefore, is not simply that marriage points to the mystery of Christ’s relationship to the church. He also endeavors to show that the very way it points to the gospel comes through the God assigned roles of husband and wife within the context of earthly marriages.