Husbands  and Wives for the Glory of Christ – Ephesians 5:21-33

Husbands  and Wives for the Glory of Christ

Nick Esch, 12/15/2019 Cornerstone Baptist Church


As we saw last week, God created Adam, and then said that it was not good for him to be alone; so God made Adam a helpmate, a woman, his wife Eve. He created them both in the image of God with equal worth and rights, but with different and complementary roles and responsibilities. God created marriage and joined them together in covenant union, so that they as partners together could truly embrace and live out the mission God called them to as His image bearers: the mission of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. Adam was to be the head in the marriage, leading, serving, protecting, and providing for his wife; and Eve was to be his helpmate, submitting to his leadership and helping him lead out in their mission and calling.

But, in Genesis 3 things go wrong. Eve submits to Satan instead of to her husband, and Adam submits to Eve instead of to God. They both sin against God, and against one another… But as the leader of his family God especially holds Adam accountable for what happens. But even as they are punished God gives them grace and promises them a Savior. But He also promises that from then on out marriage (among many other things) was going to be much harder. In Genesis 3:16 God tells Eve, “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” And in that verse we can see the problems that typically play out in marriage. The husband leads harshly or not at all, and the wife rebels against her husband leadership, or leads in the place of her husband. But this is all wrong; and by God’s grace this is not how it has to be. God glorifying marriage is possible; and that’s what we’re going to see in our passage today. So look with me at Ephesians 5:21-33.

The Wife

Out of reverence for Christ, our passage tells us that wives are to, “submit to [their] own husbands, as to the Lord…” As to Christ… And the reason for this we’re told is, (verse 23), “For (or because) the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” And it ties it all together in verse 24 saying, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” So the submission of a wife to her husband has everything to do with Jesus; over and over again our passage ties this command to submit back to Christ. And based on what we saw last week this makes sense.

As I alluded to in my introduction, and as we saw in detail last week, God created men and women in His image for His glory. And He created marriage so that the two could partner together for this image-bearing mission of displaying God’s glory to the world. And that’s what happens: when the two become one in covenantal union in earthly marriage, the marriage acts as a parable, an illustration, a picture of the heavenly marriage between Christ and His church. The way a husband loves his wife displays the way Christ loves His church, and the way a wife submits to her husband displays the way the church submits to Christ. It all works together to paint a beautiful picture of the gospel and the glory of Jesus. So, just looking at the design of marriage we can see that God created males and females to image Him by reflecting complementary truths about Jesus. Males were designed to shine the spotlight on Christ’s relationship to the church in a way that females cannot, and females were designed to shine the spotlight on the church’s relationship to Christ in a way that males cannot. Who we are as male and female is ultimately not about us; it’s about testifying to the person and work of Jesus… It’s about displaying the gospel and the glory of God in Christ. And we can do that in marriage in a way that we can’t as mere individuals…

So, with all of that said, now we need to think about how this works out practically. For instance, how does the church submit to Christ? How does the church submit to Jesus, her Savior? Well, perhaps the first thing to be said is that Jesus is the divine initiator in our salvation. As verse 23 says, He is the Savior, we are the saved… He loves, He saves, He leads, and the church follows His divine initiative. And so it should be with the wife. The wife is to submit to her husband by following his initiative, by following his lead.

And understand, that what’s being described here is a gracious initiative, a gracious headship and a joyful submission. Though it is not always easy, in one way or another the church always submits to Christ out of love for and delight in Christ. The church is not to offer up begrudging submission to the Lord, but submission that trusts the Lord and rejoices in His love and purpose. We follow the gracious initiative of Christ, we trust and obey Christ because we love Christ. When our eyes are opened by God to see the grace of God and the love of God in Christ, when we see who Jesus is, what He’s done, and how great His love is, our hearts are gripped by grace and bound to Christ. And out of amazement, love, and delight we then joyfully submit ourselves to Christ by submitting to His Word, and following His lead for His glory and the good of His people.

So, the wife is to follow the husband’s initiative, to follow his lead and joyfully submit to her husband out of love for her husband, and above and beyond that the wife is to submit to her husband out of love for Christ. And that last part is important because there will always be times when the husband is not easy to love, but Christ is always perfectly lovely and perfectly lovable. So when the covenant love in a marriage feels weak or absent we should always fall back on the covenant love of God in Christ that is strong and ever-present. And this goes both ways: for the wife and the husband. Both are called to love and really both are called to submit. The wife loves by submitting, and the husband submits by loving… But both are only truly possible if they are grounded in and motivated by the love ofand love forJesus.

Verse 21 is clear that all of this is to be done out of reverence for Christ; so, on the one hand it is not right for a wife to follow her husband into sin. She must draw the line and stay faithful to Christ in all things at all times. However, a sinful husband does not make this command void. As best as she can, the Christian wife is to submit to her husband, however imperfect he is, in so far as she stays faithful to Jesus. Just because a husband isn’t a Christian, or is living in sin, doesn’t make it ok for the wife to disobey God’s Word. Outside of there perhaps being biblical warrant for divorce, or the need for the wife to get out of an abusive situation and to safety, the wife is called to submit to her husband’s leadership. As 1 Peter 3:1-2 says, “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.” So the disobedience of a husband does not qualify the disobedience of a wife. And again we can flip that and apply it to the husband. The unbelief or disobedience of a wife does not qualify the disobedience of a husband. Both are to love as God’s Word calls them to regardless of how faithful or unfaithful their spouse is.

So now, practically let me put all of this together. The wife is to submit to her husband as the church submits to Jesus… That means that her submission is to be glad-hearted, joyful submission rooted in and motivated by love for and delight in Jesus. And her submission to her husband always operates under her ultimate submission to Jesus, so she never follows her husband into sin… But she does in fact follow her husband. She is to allow her husband to lead her, especially morally and spiritually… She is to follow his initiative.

Now, as I lay that out, let me give a few clarifying statements. First, the wife is called to submit to her ownhusband here. This passage is not saying that all women should submit to all men. There is something special being laid out here. Just asthechurch is to submit to Christ, and achurch is to submit to its leaders, so a wife is to submit to her husband… Not every husband, or every man… But her husband… As members of Cornerstone Baptist Church we all have a responsibility to submit to one another in some ways, as our covenant dictates, andto our leadership; but we are not required to submit to the leadership of First Baptist that way. We are not in covenant with them. So likewise, within the covenant of marriage the wife is to submit to her husband’s leadership… but only within that covenant. She is not called to submit as a wife to a man that is not her husband.

Secondly here, we need to understand that just because the wife is called to submit doesn’t mean that she’s passive. Remember, back in Genesis when God created marriage he created Eve to be a helpmate for Adam in their mission to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. So the wife is a helper or a partner in mission, not merely a passive bystander waiting to be told what to do. Again, if you consider how the church functions under the headship of Christ we can see that this is not a passive calling. We as the church under Christ are called to speak, act, make choices, to share our heart and mind with our Lord, to make our desires known, to live and move, and so on… but to do it all in ultimate submission to Him, seeking to tie all of those things to His mission for us… Likewise, as the husband’s partner in mission, the wife should have the freedom to speak, act, make choices, share her heart and mind, make her desires known, and to have the freedom to live and move, given that she is doing it as her husband’s partner in mission, working towards the same goal of magnifying God’s glory and enjoying Him… Marriage is like a dance, where the man is leading the woman, but not in a begrudging or mean way, but in a graceful way that displays something beautiful to the world. As the dance of biblical marriage happens the beauty of the gospel and the glory of God in Christ is put on display.

The Husband

Now, let’s think about the other side of this. In verses 25-27 we read, “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.” It’s striking to me that when Paul addresses the wife he speaks of the husband’s roll as one of headship or leadership, but when he addresses the husband he speaks of his roll as one of sacrificial love. God’s Word is making sure that we understand that the husband’s calling is not one of ruling and reigning with a strong hand, but of serving and loving with a gracious heart.

Notice the husband’s sacrificially-loving servant-leadership is to lead to the sanctification of his wife. Though he must lead in administrative and provisionary ways, his primary calling is to lead spiritually and morally, seeking to help her know Jesus, love Jesus, live for Jesus, become more and more like Jesus, until she makes it home to Jesus. He is to love her towards purity, holiness, and true Christlikeness… And what I truly love about what’s being said here, is that those things are what true beauty is. God in His infinite glory is the definition and source of all true beauty. And Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God, He is the glory of God incarnate. And so, true beauty is holiness, is Christlikeness in word, thought, and deed… Therefore, a biblically faithful husband doesn’t merely love his wife for her beauty, but he loves his wife towards true beauty.

I once had a conversation with a man who was telling me about his expectations for his wife: that she had to be extremely physically fit, she had to be made up and pretty, and had to live up to his standards if he was going to have and keep her as his bride. And honestly, when I heard those words I was saddened and I was infuriated… Because it’s so wrong biblically… C. S. Lewis said it well when he said, “the church has no beauty but what the bridegroom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely.” In other words, Jesus does not love us because we are lovely; but His love for us makes us lovely… And so, the Christian husband is to so love his wife, not because of how lovely or how beautiful she is, but like Christ is to love her in a way that makes her lovely. And though the husband can’t sanctify or transform like Christ can, he can love his wife towards the One who can, towards Christ…

So, on the one hand it is not right or good for the husband to demand things or demand changes in his wife to earn or keep his love… But, on the other hand, if he truly loves his wife his love will lead her towards change. And the same is true for the wife with her husband. As his helpmate, as his partner in the Christian life, she will help him in their mission to glorify God and enjoy Him forever… which means she will use the gifts God has given her to work alongside him to help him do everything that God has called him to do. So, as he loves and serves in hopes of helping her grow in purity, holiness, and true Christlikeness, she is going to be working for those same things…

Both the wife and the husband are to be actively seeking to know Jesus, love Jesus, follow Jesus, and become more and more like Jesus; and they are to be seeking to love each other closer to Jesus. So there should be a personal aspect to their Christian life, but there should also be a partnership in their Christian life where they are seeking to help the other change, grow, and walk in faithfulness to the Lord. The husband does this by lovingly and sacrificially leading, and the wife does this by lovingly helping and submitting. As I quoted from John Stott last week, “The wife’s submission is but another aspect of love… What does it mean to submit? It is to give oneself upto somebody. What does it mean to love? It means to give oneself upforsomebody.”

So the husband is to graciously lead like our Savior Jesus Christ, who sacrificially loved us by giving Himself for us. In His love and leadership Jesus worked for our ultimate good: to justify us, sanctify us, and bring us into God’s presence holy and without blemish so that we could be with Him and enjoy Him forever. And in the same way the love and leadership of a husband is to be marked by sacrifice in the pursuit of his wife’s good… especially the ultimate good of her justification, sanctification, and glorification. And like I said already, the wife’s role is to partner with her husband towards those ends for both of them and their family. And though they are to do this out of reverence for Christ, and His love for them and their love for Him should be enough… Paul goes on to give more incentive for walking in obedience here.

In verses 28-33, after speaking of how Christ loves His body the church, Paul says, “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.”

So, here we see an unpacking and an implication of the one flesh union of marriage. One flesh is not simply referring to the consummation of marriage, but of the daily reality of the unity within the marriage covenant. When a man and a woman are married they are bound together in covenantal union in such a way that they are no longer to merely think of themselves as individuals in a relationship, but as a unit, as a partnership that is so intimate that what is done for or to the one is done for or to the other. And this too is all tied to the covenantal union between Jesus and His church.

This was a reality that Paul knew well because of what happened when Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus. Paul (or Saul) had been persecuting Christians, going into churches and dragging men and women off to prison. And then on his way to Damascus Christ stops him. He’s blinded by the light of the glory of Christ and he’s knocked to the ground; and then Jesus says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And Paul said, “Who are you, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4-5). Paul had been persecuting Christians, not Jesus… But here Jesus is saying that they are one in the same, because He is that united to His people. When they hurt He hurts… And this is the same idea we see Paul communicating in Ephesians 5.

We Christians are in Christ and Christ is in us, we are members of His body… And just as we are one with Christ so too we should consider ourselves one with our spouse. Outside of simply understanding the gospel better, this is the number one thing I have to help people understand in biblical counseling. Far too often our problems in our marriages stem from selfishness and from pitting ourselves against one another. But, what God’s Word is telling us is that we are one with our spouse, so whether we do them good or harm we are ultimately doing that to ourselves as well.  

As members of Christ’s body, as those united to Him by faith, we are so joined to Him that according to verse 29, He nourishes and cherishes us… meaning that He cares for us, protects us, and helps us grow and flourish. And Paul is telling us that this is all a part of the responsibility of the husband. But, within this he’s telling us that the husband should gladly do this because in doing these things for his wife he’s doing them for himself, because ever since they said, “I do,” she is now united with him… they are one… So, God’s Word says that husbands are not only to love their wives as Christ loved the church, but that they are also to love their wives as themselves… And the wife should really do that as well… But it’s actually saying more than just that.

Imagine someone standing in front of a mirror arguing and hurling insults at the person in a mirror… It’s a crazy image right?… Well, God’s Word is saying that in marriage the husband and the wife are so bound together that to seek to insult or harm your spouse is just as crazy, because your spouse is now a part of you. When it says that a husband is to love his wife as himself, it’s saying that the husband should love his wife because she is now a part of him and he is a part of her… Refusing to nourish and cherish your wife is just like refusing to nourish and cherish yourself. As one brother put it, “She is me…” Therefore, “Failing to wash her in the Word of God is more repulsive than overlooking my own hygiene” (Phillip Holmes).


In conclusion let me try to pull all of this together practically. The husband is to lead his wife by sacrificially loving, protecting, providing for, and serving her for her good—especially her eternal good—and God’s glory. This means that the husband must take the initiative in the relationship. He must not be passive, nor should he be overbearing. Taking the initiative in the relationship means setting the tone and the direction of the relationship; and it should be a gracious tone and a godly direction. One practical way that should play out is that the husband should be the one who says, “Let’s,” the most… “Let’s go here… Let’s do this… Let’s read our Bible… Let’s pray…” But also, in setting this gracious tone and godly direction, and seeking to nourish and cherish his wife, the husband must sacrifice himself in love like Christ… And this means he must work hard and long if necessary, at work and at home… Christian men must be men of the second shift. We don’t clock out from work and then go home and kick our feet up… We go home and get our hands dirty. We continue to work and to serve and to love… Though we may be tired, we help with dinner, we open the Bible at the dinner table, we read, we pray, we love, we lead… We play with the kids, and we help with the dishes…. We help with homework, or whatever… We help, we serve, we give ourselves wholly to our family for their good and God’s glory.

And the wife submits to and respects her husband’s leadership. But she doesn’t sit passive, but partners with him for their good and God’s glory. She joyfully comes alongside her man and helps him fulfill his calling. The wife can and should speak up and share and partner with her husband, but if they can’t agree on something she should trust his leadership and submit, unless his leadership is leading her into sin. And both the husband and the wife should delight in their callings and should seek each other’s good; because they are a one-flesh union. They don’t have to always be right, or tear the other down to make themselves happy… Because if they love and serve for the good and joy of their spouse it works together for their good and joy as well, because they are one.

A biblical marriage is a beautiful parable that displays the gospel and the glory of God in Christ… But, because both the husband and the wife are sinners, marriage is messy and hard. But so is the Christian life. So we’d do well to remember those words of C. S. Lewis, “the church has no beauty but what the bridegroom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely.” If we’re in it only for the love and beauty that our spouse already has to offer, our marriage will likely fail. But, if we partner together to love one another towards true love and true beauty all because of Christ, then our marriages not only have a greater chance of success, but then we will be faithful to our mission: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. So, whether you are a child, a teenager, single, divorced, widowed, newly married, or varsity married, let’s all partner together to make this the reality in this church. Let’s help those who are married have marriages like this, and hold them accountable to this. And for all of us, let’s strive to be men and women who love and serve this way.

Embracing biblical manhood and womanhood, embracing biblical marriage, embracing God’s design for the home and for the church—true biblical complementarianism, is absolutely crucial for our good and God’s glory, because the roles of men and women either display the truth about the gospel and the glory of God in Christ, or they display a lie. God’s design is best… He knows what He’s doing. It’s best for us and for His glory because it puts the great love of our Redeemer on display. So let’s commit ourselves to proclaim His love not only with our words, but with our lives.