SCRIPTURE REFERENCES » Ephesians 5:22-33

Sermon: Marriage – Roles and Responsibilities: Ephesians 5:22–33

New Testament Reading: Ephesians 5:22–33

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 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. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:22–33, ESV)


Church, my objectives in this brief sermon series are simple.

One, I’m desiring that you would see the marriage relationship as one of the most important relationships on earth. Healthy marriages are good for society, good for the family, good for the church, and good for the man and the woman who enter into the covenant bond. Ultimately, the Christian marriage is to the glory of the Triune God – Father, Word, and Spirit. My desire is that you would see marriage as important to the degree that you would be willing to invest a great deal into the health of yours. My hope is that you would labor to build a truly healthy marriage, no longer being content with the mere fact that you are still married. That you are still married is wonderful – it’s good that you meant what you said when you vowed, “till death do us part”. But what about the health of the marriage? What about the intimacy, the honor, the love, the Christlikeness? God’s desire is that the marriage would thrive, and not merely survive. Friends, it is possible with Christ’s help. You need to hear that early and often. A healthy marriage is possible with Christ’s help, especially when both the husband and wife profess faith and are willing to work towards a healthy marriage.

Two, I’m desiring that you come to see that marriage is of God. He is the originator of it. He is the designer of it. Marriage did not emerge spontaneously of out of some primordial ooze only to evolve as societies progressed. Instead, God created marriage. And he designed it to function in a particular way, and for a particular purpose.

These things were considered in the previous sermon as we looked primarily at Genesis 1 and 2. Marriage is so important on so many levels that it is worth investing a great deal of effort into it. And God is the originator of it. He instituted marriage. He designed it to function in a particular way.

With these foundational truths established I wish now to turn our attention to the question, how does this thing we call marriage work? Who is to enter into the marriage bond, and what must they do in order for the marriage to thrive rather than merely survive?

Concerning the question, who is to enter in to the marriage bond? the answer is clear: one man and one women are to wed. It was this way from the beginning. Adam was not given multiple wives, nor was given another man to correspond to him as helper fit for him. He was given a women to take as wife, and the two of them were to become one flesh. Anything besides this is a distortion of God’s design and should not be smiled upon by Christians who love God and his law as revealed in nature and in the scriptures.

Notice that whenever the scriptures describe a polygamous relationship, the relationship is described in negative terms. Polygamy is indeed described in the Bible, but never is it prescribed. The results of it are always jealousy, strife, and the complication of the purposes of God in the narrative of scripture.

And the scriptures consistently speak against homosexual acts as sin. Homosexuality, along with many others sins, is consistently described as an abomination before God. This does not mean that we, as Christians living in the New Covenant age, are to seek civil punishment for homosexuals. We are not living under the Old Covenant. We are not Old Covenant Israel. Those civil laws given to Israel under Moses are not binding on any nation now that the Christ has come. Not even modern Israel is governed by the civil laws of Moses, nor should they be. And the fact that the scriptures call homosexuality a sin also does not mean that we are treat homosexuals badly. We do not treat drunkards badly. We do not treat liars badly. Do not the scriptures call Christians to show love even to their enemies? But there is vast difference between treating someone badly and calling sin sin. This a Christian must do. But we are to do it with gentleness and respect out of a heart of love for the one sinning. So just as we call stealing sin while calling the thief to repentance and faith in Christ – and just as we call drunkenness sin while lovingly calling the drunkard to repentance and faith in Christ – so too we must call homosexuality sin and the one practicing homosexuality to repentance and faith in Christ. For “do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, ESV)

So who is to marry? The Christian believes, being constrained by the law of God revealed in nature and in the scriptures, that it is one man and one woman who are to marry, and that for life. The man and the woman were made by God to correspond to one another – the two become one flesh in marriage. What God has joined let not man separate (Matthew 19:6).

Furthermore, Christians are to marry in the Lord. Young people, please hear this? Singles, please hear this? The scriptures call Christians to marry Christians. Black and white are free to marry. Rich and pour are free to marry. Introverts and extroverts may marry. But Christians are to marry a Christians.

Sometimes people come to faith after they are married and, therefore, find themselves married to a non-Christian. In that case the Christian should remain married. Paul speaks to this in 1 Corinthians 7:13. But when a Christian is seeking a spouse the number one non-negotiable should be, is he or she a Christian? And notice I did not say, does he or she claim to be a Christian. It is easy to claim to be a Christian, friends. And there are many who do claim to be Christians. But you must do everything in your power to be sure that they are a Christian as they say. This is especially important in our day and age where people can present themselves anyway they please online. We are to marry in the Lord, friends. “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14, ESV) When Paul gave permission for widows (and widowers) to remarry he said, “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39, ESV)

So who are Christians to marry? According the scriptures one man should marry one woman for life, and we are to marry in the Lord.

But how are these two who marry to relate to each other? That is the question I would like to devote the remainder of this sermon to answering.

Before we move to the answer I want to be sure that you understand just how foundational the things that have been said up to this point are to answering this question. The foundational principle up to this point is that God is the originator and designer of marriage. If we believe this to be true then why would be not go to him for answers, not only in regard to the question of who should marry, but also in regard to the question of how the marriage is to work? He has designed it to fulfill a particular purpose. And he has given us instructions as to how the husband and the wife are to relate to one another.

Awhile ago my wife and I bought an SUV. It wasn’t new when we bought it, only new to us. It’s been a great car. We can fit all of the kids in it along with luggage. Recently I noticed that there was a kind of rubbing noise coming from the front left. The ride has been a bit more bouncy than it was at first (maybe it’s my imagination). A friend of mine noticed some grease on the front left shock. I think at least one of the shocks is bad. I started to look for replacement shocks only to find out that they are not normal shocks, but computer controlled air shocks. The rear shocks are supposed to automatically adjust ride hight when towing. Pretty cool, right? Also rather expensive to replace. I’ll refrain from telling you all about my vehicle and simply get to the point. You can look up parts, and you can read blog posts, and the comments on blog posts all day long, but if you want to know how your car works – what components are there, and how they are designed to work – what must you eventually read? At some point it would be wise to go to the owners manual. It is the official manual produced and distributed by those who designed the thing. It was amazing how clear and simple things became after I found the owners manual and read it. It was only a few short pages long. And described in plain language exactly what components were on my car and how they were designed to work. And do want to know something? I knew that I was reading something authoritative. What I was reading was from the manufacture.

Friends, when our marriages are squeaking – when they seem to breaking down – why do we neglect the scriptures? Why do we neglect God’s word on the subject? We run everywhere else, it seems, looking for a solution. But the solution is right before us. And it is simple. Notice, I did not say that it is easy. We make it difficult because of our sinfulness. But God’s instructions concerning the marriage relationship are really simple, to the point, and plain.

It is important to notice that when a man and woman marry, the two become one flesh. They are united as one. There is a spiritual and relational fusing of the two persons in the covenant bond of marriage. I don’t know if there is human relationship is more intimate than this.

And it is the physical coming together of the man and women which serves to consummate this covenant bond. It completes it, or seals it, through the physical act. The physical act consummates the covenant bond initially, and it also serves as a kind of covenant renewal throughout the marriage relationship. In this way it is similar to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These physical, visual, rites serve to as a kind of seal to the invisible faith that is in us. They are a sign of the spiritual union that we have with Christ by faith. Friends, it is empty to partake of baptism and the Supper if there is no faith. In fact the scriptures warn us that it is harmful to do so. A person ought never to partake of baptism or the Supper if there is no faith in the heart – no real spiritual union with Christ. That is to use the sacrament sinfully. That would be to treat the sacrament as if it were the substance instead of the sign. It is the sign. Our faith in Christ is the substance that the sign symbolizes. Are you following me? Do you see the relationship between the physical and the spiritual in the sacraments of baptism and the Supper? Do you see how empty it is – indeed, how dangerous it is – for a person to partake of the sign of the faith where there is no substance of faith? It is merely carnal. It’s empty. Hollow.

And this way why sex outside of the marriage covenant is such an empty, hollow, and ultimately destructive thing. When a man and woman come together physically, but not within the context of the covenant of marriage, they partake of that which is meant to serve as a sign and seal of the one flesh union, but without the substance of actually being one flesh. It’s a misuse of the gift. It’s no wonder then that it leaves those who partake outside of marriage feeling empty and hollow. And Maybe they would respond saying, I don’t feel empty and hollow! But I can’t help but wonder if they do not perceive it as empty only because they are unaware and unexperienced in regard to the true design and full enjoyment of the physical union. They have experienced the physical, but never in the context of the spiritual, relational, and covenantal bond. And they assume that this is all there is. It’s what they know, and so they know no difference. They have gone through the motions. They’ve experienced physical pleasure, but never the depth of intimacy that only a the covenant of marriage can bring. I can think of no better illustration than the one I have already given. The one who partakes of the physical union apart from the spiritual, relational, and covenantal union can be compared to the unregenerate religious person who goes to church every Sunday to eat of the bread and drink of the cup, but who knows nothing of Christ. There is no real substance to their faith – no vital relationship – no real union with Christ – only externals. Their religion is only carnal. They know not the real joys of union with Christ. So it is for the one who partakes of the physical union apart from the marriage bond. It’s no wonder, then, that these acts of fornication bring about all kinds of difficulty, even death, disease, and destruction, given that they are a distortion and misuse of the gifts of God.

The point is this: To the unmarried I say, save the gift of sex for marriage. Do that for your own good and to the glory of God. And to the married person I say approach the physical union properly. Do not make it the main thing. Do not approach it as if it were merely a physical act. But see it for what it is – a consummation and ongoing renewal of the spiritual, relational, and covenantal bond that you enjoy with your spouse. I think there is a great deal to ponder here, but we must move on.

Why I have devoted so much time to the concept of one flesh union in a sermon that is supposed to be about the roles and responsibilities of husband and wives as communicated in Ephesians 5? It is because this concept of one flesh union is at the core of the text and yet, sadly, it is often overlooked. Often the thing focused on is the simple fact that husbands and wives are given roles. Wives are to submit and husbands are to love. That is true. But notice how the theme of one flesh union runs through the whole passage. And notice also how it is this theme of one flesh union which annihilates any notion that husband is here called to rule as dictator over his wife, and that wife is to dutifully submit to his rule. That is how the world reads this text, but it couldn’t be more poorly understood.

That the husband and wife are given roles here is undeniable – and we will come to those. But first notice that the husband and wife are viewed as a unity. Are there distinctions? Indeed there are! But there is also unity (much like within the Godhead – one God, eternally existing in three subsistences).

So foundational is this unity between husband and wife that when Paul comes to the husband to exhort him to fulfill his role he reasons with him in verse 28 saying, listen, man! Love your wife! Love your wife just as you love your own body. For, to love your wife, is really to love yourself, given that you are one flesh with her. And just as people tend to love their own flesh – that is, just as human beings tend to do good for themselves – feeding themselves, grooming themselves, protecting themselves, and so on – so too a husband should love his wife, nourishing and cherishing her. After all, to love your wife is really to love yourself, given that you are one with her.  That is his reasoning.

The centrality of the one flesh union principle is also contained within Paul’s continual comparison to the union that exists between the husband and wife with the union that exists between Christ and his bride, the church. This comparison between the husband and wife and Christ and the church is everywhere in this text.

Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord, “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.” (Ephesians 5:23, ESV) “Husbands [are to] love [their] wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:25–28, ESV)

And so we have this continual comparison between the relationship of the husband and wife and the relationship of Christ and the church. And at the core of these relationships is the fact that the two entities are in reality one. The husband and the wife are one. And Christ and his church are one. A spiritual union exists between the two entities so much so that both parties can’t help but live for the good of the other. The husband is to live for the good of his wife just as Christ lives for the good of his church, even to the point of laying his life down for her.

So much for the stupid idea that the scriptures promote a kind of dictatorial domination of the husband over the wife. Instead we begin with the idea that the marriage relationship is, first of all, a joining together of two persons as one. The marriage is to be intimate at its core. The disposition of the husband to the wife and the wife to the husband is to be selfless. Each are to live for the good of the other. Whatever is said about the specific roles of the man and woman is to be understood in this context.

Wives, Submit to Your Own Husbands

So what about the roles? Paul addresses the wives first saying, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22, ESV)

I know this is offensive to modern ears. Some object saying, this principle is demeaning to women suggesting that the woman is inferior to the man. 

My reply is, where does this passage suggest that women are inferior to men? Where does it suggest that women are less capable, less intelligent, of less value, or any such thing? It seems to me that you have read something into this text!

The text does not speak to the issue of value or intelligence or capability. But it does call the woman, as capable as she may be, to take a posture of submission before her husband. In other words, she is to place herself under him, subordinating herself to him, just as she does to the Lord.

It is interesting that in the greek the word “submit” does not even appear in verse 22. Literally the texts reads, “the wives to your own husbands as to the Lord.” Where then does the word “submit” come from? It comes from verse 21 where Paul exhorts all Christians to, “[submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21, ESV) That is how all Christians are to live toward one another! We are to submit to one another. We are to walk humbly, considering ourselves less important than the other, serving one another, dying to self daily, living for the good of the other. In short, we are to love one another in Christ.

Verse 22 continues that thought as Paul begins to apply the general principle of mutual submission to specific relationships within the church. Wives are to submit to their husbands; husband are to love their wives; children are to obey their parents; bondservants are to obey their masters. In general, we are all to submit to one another, humbly living for the good the other. Specifically, this principle is to be applied in certain ways in the church, in the home, and in the workplace.

If it is true that the principle of submission is demeaning to the woman than we must also say that all have been equally demeaned, for the principle of submission that is applied to the woman in verse 22 is borrowed from verse 21 where it is applied, not to the women, but to every Christian.

It needs to be recognized that people submit all the time to others with whom the are equal in regard to value. In fact, it is not uncommon for a person of greater capability to be asked to submit to someone of less capability. This is probably not uncommon in the workplace. Submission does not imply inferiority in regard to worth or capability. But it is required for the sake of order.

We might even look at God himself. Within the Triune God there are three persons or subsistences –  Father, Word, and Spirit. And these three are of “one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence”, as the confession says. In others words, through somehow distinct, the three are one, and the three are equal. The Word, or Son, is no less God than the Father. And the Spirit is no less God than the Son. And yet the Son has willing submitted himself to the Father, and the Spirit to the Father and Son. The Son, being truly and full God, submitted to the Father agreeing to accomplish redemption, so much so that the Christ cried out to the Father saying, not my will, but your will be done. And the Father and Son sent the Spirit to do his work. So we see willing submission within the Godhead for the accomplishment of redemption – Father, Son and Spirit. And yet these three are equal in power and glory.

So the wife, being in no way inferior to her husband, is called by God to submit to him.

And what is this submission to look like?

I would imagine that the relationship between husband and wife differs greatly from culture to culture and from time to time in regard to the daily implementation of this principle of submission. For example the wives in one country might be expected to take care of certain responsibilities within the home where as wives in another country be expected to do other things. I heard a missionary share a story about going to the mission field with his wife and children, and one day he decided to sweep off the porch. Little did he know that all of the women in the community began to look upon his wife with distain thinking that she was a lazy and negligent wife. These expectations differ from culture to culture, and there is freedom in Christ to work the things out within your home concerning who does what. Notice that this is not a chore list. It is a principle. And it is an issue of the heart.

The wife is to submit to her husband. And how should it look? Paul is brilliant in his presentation of this. He simply says, that the wife is to submit to her husband “as to the Lord.” In other words, just as a Christian submits to  Christ, so too the wife is to submit to her husband. That is how it should look. Paul elaborates saying, “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.” (Ephesians 5:23, ESV)

Sister in Christ, God is calling you to submit to your husband in the same way that you submit to Christ.

Is that not what verse 24 says? “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Ephesians 5:24, ESV)

This is a high calling, isn’t it? And do you notice the lack of exceptions? Paul does not say, wives submit to your husbands as long as they are doing a great job. No, he simply calls you to submit. Actually, Peter, in a similar passage, does address the problem of a knuckle head husband. He says “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” (1 Peter 3:1–2, ESV) So it is not, submit so long as he is doing his part, but rather, submit to and show honor to your husband.

Just to be clear, there are instances when it would be permissible for a wife to separate from her husband, and conversely, for a husband to separate from his wife. In the case of adultery, divorce is permitted, but not demanded. In the case of abuse, it would be wise to pursue separation. And in the case where husband (or wife) is causing the other to break God’s law (or the laws of the land) I would also encourage separation.

Here I have in view the excuse, well my husband is not very tender so I can’t honor him nor submit to his lead. Or, my husband does not lead us in devotions so I cannot submit to him. Sister, if this is your attitude towards your husband, you are not obeying the will of Christ for your marriage. The way that he will be won (if it is the will of God that he be won) will be through your obedience, not through your rebellion.

Husbands, Love Your Wives

Let’s turn our attention to the husbands for a moment. Paul addresses them saying, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25, ESV)

Notice that Paul does not say, husbands lead your wives. The leadership of the husband is implied in the command to the wife to submit. And leadership is also implied when Paul says that the husband is the “head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.” Indeed the husband is to lead. He is to lead in regard to providing the necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter. He is to protect the wife. He is to be sure that she is nurtured emotionally and spiritually. He is to be sure that the family is instructed in the Lord. He is indeed to lead. The husband is the head. That implies that he is the one responsible for the family before God. That is implied throughout. But Paul specifically commands the men saying, “Husbands, love your wives.”

And how is this to look?

Again, Paul points us to Christ and his relationship to the church as the model. Husbands are to “love [their] wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” Do you see that just as the wife is to give herself up for the husband in submission, so too the husband is to give himself up for the wife as he leads.

Please do not romanticize this, saying, indeed I would take a bullet for you, babe. I hope you would! But this is more about dying daily for your wife. This is about dying to yourself, setting aside your own desires, your own ambitions, your own appetites, for the good of your wife.

The husband is to “love [his wife] , [just as] Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” Did Christ lead the church? Indeed! Was he the one responsible for the health of the church? Without out a doubt. Is Christ the head of the church? Yes he is! But how did he lead? He loved. He gave himself up. He died for the church. He also clothed himself as a servant and washed the feet of the church, did he not? This is how the husband is to lead. What woman would not be happy to submit to that?


Friends, I must conclude, though so much more could be said. We’ll spend at least one more week on the topic of marriage.

Three remarks:

One, we have a counseling ministry at Emmaus. Maybe a better way to say it would be that we think one of the responsibilities the pastor is to counsel. Pastoral counseling is essentially this: it is personal interaction between a pastor and a congregant where the principles of God’s Word are able to be applied to the various problems we face. If you having trouble in your marriage, Russell or I would be happy to meet with you for biblical counsel.

Two, know that the most common hurdles we face in marriage counseling situations are these: One, when an individual or couple has bought into the worldly idea that a husband or wife must feel love for one another if the marriage is to work. This is a wholly unbiblical view of love. Christians are commanded to love even their enemies. Husbands are commanded to love their wives, and that involves giving himself up for her. Biblical love is first of all an action, not an emotion. Our affections often follow our actions, friends. Considered in this way, it is impossible to “fall out of love”. It is possible to fall out of lust, if that is what you mean. It is even possible for affections to come and go. But biblical love is not something that you fall into or out of. It is something you choose to do. The second most common hurdle we face is this: when a spouse refuses to their part until the other does theirs. It only takes one to jump start the change.

Three, I want you to know that there is hope in Christ Jesus. It is the Spirit of Christ who is able to transform us. It is the gospel of Christ that enables to forgive from the heart those who have wronged us, even our spouses. And it is the word of Christ that is powerful to direct our steps in every arena of life, even our marriages. Let’s look to him, brothers and sisters.

Posted in Sermons, Joe Anady, Ephesians 5:22-33, Posted by Joe. Comments Off on Sermon: Marriage – Roles and Responsibilities: Ephesians 5:22–33

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