Ephesians 5:22-33 is the most misunderstood and misused passage about marriage in the whole Bible. Male chauvinist husbands have gravitated to verses 22-24, demanding that their wives “submit” to their authority. Spiteful wives have gravitated to verses 25-26, criticizing their husbands for being unloving and dropping the ball as spiritual leaders in their homes. Knowing that these Bible verses stir up frustration and arguments on both sides of the marriage aisle, many Christians avoid these verses like the plague.
But we shouldn’t sidestep this great passage. In this day and age when so many marriages aren’t “for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health ‘til death do us part,” we need to get back to basics. We need to return to the Creator of marriage and read His marriage owner’s manual once again. In Genesis 1 and 2, God makes it clear that He created marriage for two key purposes: unparalleled companionship and bearing children. But in Ephesians 5:22-33, God gives specific instructions to husbands and wives about their God-given responsibilities within their marriage.
Let’s focus on the husband’s two God-given responsibilities. According to this great passage, the husband is called by God to do two things within his marriage: to lead and to love his wife. Obviously, it’s the first of these commands that ruffles the most feminist feathers. You’d be hard-pressed to find a wife who would put up a fuss about her husband loving her, but there are plenty of women—and men as well—who balk at the notion of a husband having a position of authority over his wife. After all, modern wisdom dictates that spouses should be equal partners with equal authority in their marriage.
However, I would suggest that one of the main reasons these marital commands of Ephesians 5:22-33 are so often misunderstood and misused is because people treat these twelve verses as if they parachuted out of heaven and landed randomly in the Book of Ephesians. But they didn’t. In order to properly understand these verses, we must first read and take a closer look at the first four and one-half chapters of Ephesians, which provide the backdrop for this teaching on marriage.
Long story short: A husband’s leadership in his marriage must mirror Jesus’ leadership in the church, which the first four and one-half chapters of Ephesians describe. Many of us have developed a deep suspicion and resentment toward leaders, because we’ve known leaders who were domineering and manipulative. But Ephesians 1 makes it clear that Jesus’ leadership is not like that at all. Jesus’ leadership involves giving his church every spiritual blessing (verse 3), adopting believers into his family (verse 5), spilling his blood for us so that we can avoid eternal destruction (verse 7), and lavishing God’s rich grace upon us (verses 7-8).
Therefore, if a husband is to lead as God has called him to lead, his leadership in his marriage must mirror Christ’s leadership in the church. Like Jesus, he must be a blessing to his wife in every possible way; make his wife the most important, most valuable member of his family; be willing to spill his blood for his wife, and—like Jesus—he must cover her with God’s rich grace. Now ladies, how many of you would object to this kind of leadership in your home?
And just as it’s unfair and improper for us to superimpose our own cultural understanding of leadership on this Bible passage, it’s improper for us to superimpose our own cultural understanding of love upon this passage. The truth is: the Bible’s definition of true love is much deeper and richer that our culture’s definition of love. Our idea of love today is shallow and sexualized, whereas Christ’s idea of love is deep and pure. Our culture’s love tends to be selfish and self-centered; Christ’s love is selfless and others-centered. The world’s love is focused on what I can get out of the relationship; Christ’s love is focused on what I can put into the relationship. The world’s love is temporary and conditional based on whether or not the other person deserves my love, but Christ’s love is unchanging and unconditional.
Bottom line: Christ’s love for his church is sacrificial. Therefore, a husband’s love for his wife must also be sacrificial. Ephesians 5:25 says it so plainly. It’s a wonder that we’ve overlooked it in the past: “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” There’s no way around it: A husband is to lead his family—including his wife—but his leadership is to be marked by giving himself up. It must radiate sacrificial love.
A husband must sacrifice his own good for her good. He must, when necessary, relinquish his own rights for her rights; he must be willing to get his own hands dirty so that her hands can remain clean. He must routinely forgo meeting his own needs so that he can meet her needs. That’s the put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is kind of love that Jesus has for the church. So that must be the kind of love that a husband has for his wife. Marriages become much stronger when husbands mirror Christ in their homes by sacrificially leading and loving their wives.
Dane Davis is the lead pastor of First Christian Church of Victorville and the author of Holy Huldah! Lessons You Should Never Forget from Bible Characters You've Never Heard Of. To hear Pastor Dane's messages for for more information about the church, visit www.fccvv.com.