Lesson 24: Wives and Husbands - Page 1 of 4 (series: Lessons on Ephesians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Commentary on the Book of Ephesians
By: Tom Lowe Date: 12/20/17

Lesson 24: Wives and Husbands (Ephesians 5:22-33)

Ephesians 5:22-33 (KJV)
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 himself.
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.

Marriage is regarded as the perfect union of body, mind and spirit between a man and a woman. But things were very different when Paul wrote. In this passage Paul is unfolding a blueprint for Christian marriage which shone with a radiant purity in an immoral world.

Let us look briefly at the situation against which Paul wrote this passage.

The Jews had a low view of women. In his morning prayer there was a sentence in which a Jewish man gave thanks that God had not made him “a Gentile, a slave or a woman.” In Jewish law a woman was not a person, but a thing. She had no legal rights whatsoever; she was absolutely her husband’s possession to do with as he wishes.

In theory the Jew had the highest ideal of marriage. The Rabbis had their sayings. “Every Jew must surrender his life rather than commit idolatry, murder or adultery.” “The very altar sheds tears when a man divorces the wife of his youth.” But the fact was that by Paul’s day, divorce had become tragically easy.

The law pertaining to divorce is summarized in Deuteronomy 24:1. “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.” Obviously everything turns on the interpretation of some uncleanness. The stricter Rabbis, headed by the famous Shammai, held that the phrase meant adultery and adultery alone, and declared that even if a wife was as mischievous as Jezebel a husband could not divorced her except for adultery. The more liberal Rabbis, headed by the equally famous Hillel, interpreted the phrase in the widest possible way. They said that it meant that a man could divorce his wife if she spoiled his dinner by putting too much salt in his food, if she walked in public with her head uncovered, if she talked with men in the streets, if she spoke disrespectfully of her husband’s parents within the bounds of her husband’s hearing, if she was an impertinent woman, if she was troublesome or quarrelsome. A certain rabbi Akiba interpreted the phrase that she find no favour in his eyes, to mean that a husband might divorce his wife if he found a woman whom he considered more attractive. It is easy to see which school of thought would predominate.

Two factors in Jewish law made the matter worse. First, the wife had no rights of divorce at all, unless her husband became a leper or an apostate or engaged in a disgusting trade. Broadly speaking, a husband under Jewish law could divorce his wife for any reason; a wife could not divorce her husband for any reason at all. Second, the process of divorce was awfully easy. The Mosaic Law said that a man who wished a divorce had to hand his wife a bill of divorcement which said, “Let this be from me thy writ of divorce and letter of dismissal and deed of liberation, that thou mayest marry whatsoever a man thou wilt.” All a man had to do was to hand that bill of divorcement, correctly written out by a Rabbi to his wife in the presence of two witnesses and the divorce was complete. The only other condition was that the woman’s dowry must be returned.

At the time of Christ’s coming the marriage bond was in peril even among the Jews, so much so that the very institution of marriage was threatened since Jewish girls were refusing to marry because their position as wife was so uncertain.

It was against this background that Paul writes. When he wrote this lovely passage he was not stating the view that every man held. He was calling men and women to a new purity and a new fellowship in the married life. It is impossible to exaggerate the cleansing effect that Christianity had on home life in the ancient world and the benefits it brought to women.

22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

Here the Holy Spirit uses the husband and the wife to show the spiritual picture of the New Testament church. He clearly states that wives are to be subject to their own husbands. They are to submit to their own husbands as unto the Lord. Of course, this is in the true spiritual sense. A born again woman is not to submit to sin in order to please her husband—she is supposed to please the Lord. It is perfectly legitimate and right for a woman to go as far as she possibly can to please an unsaved husband—but she is not supposed to deny the Lord.. If the husband is saved, the husband is the head of that wife. The thought is that the deference given to her husband is a duty which she owes to the Lord.

The reason a Christian wife submits to her own husband is because of the God-given role of leadership and authority given to him. He is head of his wife not because woman was created out of Adam’s rib (source) but because God has constituted the relationship in this way, for His own purposes―“But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:3). It is not a matter of being bigger or stronger but of the divine order and the divine mystery. Here is the order―God sends his Son Jesus Christ to redeem man; Christ comes and lays down his life for the world; every man who receives Christianity confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father; and every believing woman will acknowledge, according to Genesis 3:16, that God has placed her in a dependence on and subjection to the man.

One of the strangest chapters in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 7. He (Paul) is talking about marriage and about the relationships between men and women. The blunt truth is that Paul’s teaching is that marriage is permissible merely in order to avoid something worse. “Because of the temptation to immorality,” he writes, “each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). He agrees that a widow may marry again but it would be better if she remained single (1 Corinthians 7:39, 40). He would prefer the unmarried and the widows not to marry. “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry; for it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9).

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.

“FOR THE HUSBAND IS THE HEAD OF THE WIFE, EVEN AS CHRIST IS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH”―Paul provides this illustration to assist us in understanding his previous statement; “WIVES, SUBMIT YOURSELVES UNTO YOUR OWN HUSBANDS, AS UNTO THE LORD” (5:22). This is clear and unmistakable. Christ is the head of the church … not the Apostle Peter or the Pope of Rome. The Pope of Rome is the head of the Roman Catholic church, to be sure; but Jesus Christ is the head of the church of God. The Bible clearly and unmistakably states that Christ is the head of the church; therefore, no man or woman is, has ever been, or ever will be, head of the church. Jesus is the head; he is also the foundation “FOR OTHER FOUNDATION CAN NO MAN LAY THAN THAT IS LAID, WHICH IS JESUS CHRIST” (1 CORINTHIANS 3:11)..

“AND HE IS THE SAVIOUR OF THE BODY”―The husband is to protect the wife because she is the weaker vessel. The woman was made from a rib, removed from beneath Adams arm. The woman should be under the protection of the husband, who is the stronger and who is the head. Jesus in like manner is the head of the church, “AND HE IS THE SAVIOR OF THE BODY.” He protects the body, thank God. As I have tried to point out, we are not saved and left to fight our battles alone. We have within us the Holy Spirit . . . a greater power than the spirit of Satan “YE ARE OF GOD, LITTLE CHILDREN, AND HAVE OVERCOME THEM: BECAUSE GREATER IS HE THAT IS IN YOU, THAN HE THAT IS IN THE WORLD” (1 JOHN 4:4; also see Romans 8:35-39).. Jesus is not only the head of the church, but He also protects the church; and one day it will be presented to Him by God the Father, without spot or wrinkle . . . there will not be one iota of sin in the church when it is presented to the Lord Jesus Christ.

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