Devotional # 110. 11/10/14. Ephesians 5:22-33.
Intro. I hate and love this passage of Scripture. I am so thankful it is in the Bible and yet wish it would just go away. This section is one of the most popular on marriage but there is something even more important also being spoken of. In keeping with the context of Ephesians we must remember that this chapter has taught us how to walk as Christians in love, light and wisdom. We also studied verse 21 last week which says, “submitting to one another in the fear of God.”
I said before we can properly understand marriage we have to understand how all believers are to “submit” to each other. Matthew Henry brings this into context when he says, “There is a mutual submission that Christians owe one to another… we must be of a yielding and of a submissive spirit, and ready to all the duties of the respective places and stations that God has allotted to us in the world” (Source 1).
vv. 22-24. What is a wife supposed to do? “submit to her husband” How? “as to the Lord.” At first this sounds misogynistic but there are a few things we need to understand here which will help us through this passage. What does “submit” mean? We saw a little bit in the intro but the foundation was really set in v. 21: that EVERY (man and women believer) submit to EACH OTHER in the fear of God. Remember the quote last week, “[t]o fear God is to revere Him, to hold Him in awe, and not to offend Him or sin against Him” (Source 2). So we respect God when we respect each other and our different roles. The wife isn’t actually submitting to her husband she is submitting “to the Lord”, by obeying His command and as if she’s doing it directly to Him. This doesn’t mean to surrender to a dictator, since we’ll see that in the same way the husband is to submit themselves to Christ (who we all know is not a dictator).
MacArthur notes that “no believer is inherently superior to any other believer. In their standing before God, they are equal in every way (Gal 3:28)” (Source 3).This submission is offered by the wife not demanded by the husband. Stott quotes Luther explaining there is a difference between a person and an office. In other words there can be a man named Scott but he is different than an “I.T. technician”, in the same way the woman called Maria is very different from the one who is called “student”. If we understand this, it’s easy to see that someone who holds an office (such as a congresswoman or king or husband) “have a certain God-given authority” (Source 4, pp. 217-218). They “have equal dignity as God-like beings, but different God-appointed roles” (Source 4, p. 218).
A family needs a leader (Proverbs 11:14) so it makes sense that God appoint a leader. But why does He say it’s always the man? I know some very strong willed, leading women. So why shouldn’t they be the leader if its what’s natural to them? Well, that’s actually part of the curse from sin (Genesis 3:16). My wife calls this mindset “dominating Eve”. Just because it’s easy or natural doesn’t mean that it’s right. And to be honest I, and most of the guys I know, rarely act like the leader. Beyond that we make bad decisions that our wives warned us about. But God has made the rule that the man shall be the priest of the home. We’ll see what that means next.
vv. 25-27. It seems like the husband has the prestigious and honorable and even easier task of simply “loving your wives.” But as soon as we hear what that love looks like it makes us take a step back on our initial view that the husband has it easy. Paul tells the husband that they are to love their wife in the same way Jesus loved the Church, in that He went to the cross and died for her (“gave Himself for her”). The man actually needs to sacrifice everything in order to better his wife and their family. As a priest he is supposed to be in earnest prayer for each child (as Job sacrificed and prayed in Job 1:5), he is to teach his family to follow the Lord (Ephesians 6:4, Proverbs 22:6) and regardless of who in the family sins or makes a bad decision it falls on the husbands shoulders as responsible. That last one should disturb most men! They will immediately say, “that’s not fair, why am I responsible for my wife’s sin?” But we will quickly shut up if we consider what it would have looked like if Jesus had said, “I have to die for their sin?! That’s not fair, why am I responsible for my creations disobedience?”
So what does the phrase “He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word”? The first understanding is that this is what Jesus does for His bride (we, the Church) and the second is that this is what husbands are to do for their wives. Stott explains, “perhaps there is a deliberate allusion to the bridal bath which took place before both Jewish and Greek weddings. The tenses of the verbs suggest that the cleansing of the church proceeds her consecration or sanctification. Indeed, the cleansing seems to refer to the initial purification or cleansing from sin and guilt which we received when we first repent and believe in Jesus…the ‘washing of water’ is an unambiguous reference to baptism (cf. Acts 22:16), while the additional reference to ‘the word’ indicates that baptism is no magical or mechanical ceremony, but needs an explanatory word to define its significance, express the promises of cleansing and new life in the Spirit which it symbolizes, and arouse our faith” (Source 4, p. 227). I asked a friend for his thoughts on the husband washing his wife “by the water of the word” and he responded, it means “Teaching them how to love like Christ (through example), Teaching them about forgiveness (To give and receive), Helping them understand the word (How and when to apply it), Making sure they are equipped daily to win the battle (Prayer and promises of God)” (Source 5).
In speaking on God’s Love, C.S. Lewis uses the analogy of a man’s love for a woman, which he says is “full of danger” but is “the most useful for our special purpose”: “It is freely used in Scripture. Israel is a false wife, but Her heavenly Husband cannot forget the happier days, ‘I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thy espousals, when thou wentest after Me in the wilderness’ [Jer. 2:2]. Israel is the pauper bride, the waif whom Her lover found abandoned by the wayside, and clothed and adorned and made lovely and yet she betrayed Him [Ezek. 16:6-15]. ‘Adulteresses’ St. James calls us, because we turn aside to the ‘friendship of the world,’ while God ‘jealously longs for the spirit He has implanted in us’ [Jas. 4:4-5]. The Church is the Lord’s bride whom He so loves that in her no spot or wrinkle is endurable [Eph. 5:27]. For the truth which this analogy serves to emphasise is that Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere ‘kindness’ which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love. When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care? Does any woman regard it as a sign of love in a man that he neither knows nor care how she is looking? Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal…Of all powers he forgives most, but he condones least: he is pleased with little, but demands all” (Source 6, pp. 45-46).
vv. 28-31. What this boils down to is that everybody loves themselves a lot. We eat food, comb our hair, go to sleep, etc. We take care of ourselves but if husbands were to take as good care of their wives as they do themselves their marriages would be way better! If you take a minute to really think about “he who loves his wife loves himself” you’ll see there is a lot of wisdom! This is the positive version of “if momma aint happy, aint nobody happy.”
vv. 32-33. This entire section is understood in these two verses. If you miss this you miss the whole thing. Paul basically says, ‘everything I said is applicable to your actual marriages but the point is actually about Christ and His relationship with the church.’ This is incredible! I used to think that first and foremost this section was to guide marriages and second, it also kind of applied to Jesus. But it’s the other way around. Every single point of marriage is God showing us what He’s like and how He loves. Anything about marriage exists because God wanted us to understand something about Him. Literally everything… “two shall become one”… sex… godly submission… adultery… the family… the marriage supper (common in Jewish culture)…love …lust… even exchanging rings, is God giving us a daily examples of Him (or lack of Him).
Conclusion. This section doesn’t really need a conclusion but I do think its important to include the context of the chapter. The understanding of how to walk as a Christian is so perfectly compared to a look of how marriage was designed to be. Full of respect, with each person looking out for each other as they would for themselves. But the reality is that whether we’re talking about walking in love, light and wisdom, exhorting each other with “psalms and spiritual songs” or understanding marriage, the whole point is that this is what God has done, is doing and will continue to do for us. He pursues us like a lover, He woo’s us like a loving groom and He forgives us as only God can. He desires that we prepare ourselves as a bride in order to join Him at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7). I don’t know about you but I want to be there! I want to have applied all of this stuff correctly in my life and the life of my family so we get to be His “beloved” and attend the party He’s prepared for 2,000 years!
Source 1: Matthew Henry, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Eph/Eph_005.cfm?a=1102001
Source 2: Ross Rhoads, http://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/april-2006/can-we-overcome-fear
Source 3: John MacArthur, John MacArthur Study Bible, (under note for v. 21), p. 1813.
Source 4: John R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 1979.
Source 5: Personal Interview, D.S. via email on 11/10/14.
Source 6: C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 1940.