Wives and Husbands
Open Your Bible
Ephesians 5:22-33, Genesis 2:4-25, Colossians 3:18-25
Today’s reading talks about the earthly union between a husband and wife, and expresses two commands with regard to that relationship: “Each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33). The broader context of Ephesians 5 (and similar passages, like Colossians 3) is that the union between husband and wife should be an earthly expression of the heavenly love we receive from Christ, which is why Paul says he says he is “talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32).
There’s a theological framework for studying Scripture called the “indicative and imperative” in which you identify what a passage says about God, and how we are called to act in response. In this passage, Paul offers many statements about the person and work of Jesus: Christ is the head of the Church and the Savior of the Body (v.23); He loves the Church and gave Himself up for her (v.25); He presents the Church in its full splendor, cleansed by His blood shed at His death (vv.26–27); and He provides and cares for the Church (v.29).
Paul says that because of the way Christ loves you, you should treat each other in this way. The imperative is loving others (particularly spouses) sacrificially. The dual commands to “submit” and “love as Christ loved the church” are more similar than they are different, more parallel than hierarchical. What does it mean to “submit”? Verse 22 actually refers back to the same use of the word in verse 21, which tells us that everyone should be “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.”
The concept of submission in Scripture is unpacked through the example of Christ, who washed the feet of His disciples, invited the poor to dine with Him, touched the sick, and “emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). This is not altogether different from a call to “love just as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25), which is the command Paul gives to husbands. Both of these commands, in fact, feel inextricably linked to the two greatest commandments Christ Himself gave His followers:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,
and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command.
The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39).
Marriage is an earthly gift that reveals to us our deepest capacity to love. And even that deepest love pales in comparison to the love Christ has for His beloved Church. In marriage and in all relationships, we are called to submit, to humble ourselves before others, to give and love sacrificially. But the imperative here—the seemingly impossible task of always putting others first—rides solely on the merit, grace, and mercy of the indicative: Christ first loved us, sacrificially and humbly, to the point of death. May we love, because He first loved us (1John 4:19).