Week Commencing 27th May 2018   With a PDF found here

Notes for next Sunday’s sermon on Ephesians 5:21-33


Verse 21 is a transition verse. “Submitting to one another”, is the last of four present participles, which flow from the exhortation to be ‘filled with the Spirit’. Those who genuinely filled with God’s Holy Spirit, display the meekness and gentleness of the Lord Jesus. One of their most evident characteristics, is that they submit to one another. This occurs out of reverence for Christ who submitted himself to our needs in his sacrificial death on the cross. If we first submit to Jesus as Lord, then we will find ourselves following his example, and submitting to one another. This verse, then becomes the guiding principle from which the following three subject areas flow – marriages, fathers and children and masters and slaves.

DAY 1: Read Ephesians 5:21-24

Sometimes it is easy to talk about our relationship with the Lord Jesus, without any reference to everyday life, as if the two were disconnected. However, the apostles spelled out Christian duty in the concrete situations of everyday life and work.

Verses 21-22, flow as one sentence in the original so the paragraph break and heading in some editions is most unhelpful. Be filled with the Spirit (v18)… submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives to their husbands as to the Lord. The three sections which follow are given as example of Christian submission and the emphasis throughout is on submission. This is not very politically correct in today’s world! It is at variance with contemporary attitudes of permissiveness and freedom. Our is an age of liberation. And it has to be said, that Christians down through the ages, and even today, have taken and twisted these verses and used them to oppress women, children and slaves/workers! We have helped to perpetuate some forms of human oppression and only recently, was the grim nature of domestic violence evident among some Christians – and Christian leaders at that!

If this passage is correctly understood, we must confidently affirm (1) the dignity of womanhood, childhood and servanthood; (2) the equality before God of all human beings because we are all made in his image and (3) the unity of all Christian believers as members of Christ’s body. In addition, we must also affirm, that the submission Paul enjoins on wives, children and servants, is not a reference which infers inferiority. Husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants have equal dignity as God-like beings. Yet the husband, the parent and the master have been invested with a leadership role, which the wife, child and servant are to embrace and respect. This leadership is not an unlimited authority: should they insist on something God forbids or should that leadership be exercised in a selfish way, they are guilty of over-reach in their given leadership.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. This is a voluntary embracing of a husband’s loving leadership, characterised by servanthood and the husband putting his wife’s needs before his own. That’s precisely how the church submits to Christ: Christians embrace Jesus’ loving leadership of us, knowing that he always has our best interests at his heart. Why is the husband described as ‘head of the wife’? Profoundly, because that is his God-given role (more about that tomorrow!). God has created male and female so we both bear his image, but it’s also true to say that we each complement one another in God-given ways. May the Lord help us to explore the significance of this in the beauty God intended.


DAY 2: Read Ephesians 5:25-27

What is taught here is counter-cultural to the Jewish norm at the time whereby a woman had no rights and was viewed as a possession! It’s also counter-culture to the Greek culture of the time where women were for bearing and raising children and men looked for pleasure and companionship elsewhere.

In order to understand the husband’s role, we need to look at the Lord Jesus for he is the pattern given for the husband to follow. His leadership expresses care rather than control – responsibility rather than rule. The predominant characteristic of Jesus’ leadership is servanthood and sacrifice (by which he saved us), and if the husband’s leadership of the wife resembles that of Jesus, then his leadership too will be marked by servanthood and sacrifice!

The husband then, is to love his wife as Christ loved his church. Paul then lays out, just how comprehensive is that love. He gave himself up for the church, so that the church might be holy and blameless. Sacrificial service was the nature of his love. Jesus sacrificed himself to serve the church, in order that she might become everything he longs for her to be – namely herself in the fullness of her glory. A husband should never exercise his leadership to crush or stifle his wife or frustrate her from being herself. His love for her will lead him to exactly the opposite. He will give of himself for her, in order that she may develop her full potential under God and so become more completely herself!

DAY 3: Read Ephesians 5:28-30

Here is another comparison and standard of love for the husband to follow. The standard of self-love. We all know from everyday experience how we love ourselves. Hence, the practical usefulness of the ‘golden rule’ Jesus enunciated, that we should treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. For we all know this instinctively. It is after all, the way we treat ourselves. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it (v29a). We look after ourselves and we are good at that! We ensure we are comfortable, fed, clothed, sheltered. We give ourselves treats and delights. We are often consumed with looking after “No. 1” as the most important person in the world.

So, a husband is called upon to love his wife as he loves himself. The way in which we take care of ourselves, is the way in which a husband is to apply himself in looking out for his wife. And in so doing, he actually is loving himself, because husband and wife are one.

To love as Christ loved the church and to love as we love ourselves; this is the way in which husbands are to love their wives – serving and sacrificing – putting her needs before his own; seeking what is for her good at every point. Husbands – how are you doing?!

DAY 4: Read Ephesians 5:31-33

Here Paul returns in his thoughts to the Lord Jesus and reaches the climax of his argument. Quoting from Genesis 2:25 about a man being joined to his wife and the two becoming one, he declares that this mystery is profound. He refers in the first instance, to the mysterious and sacred depths of the sexual union itself. But then he immediately goes on to its yet deeper symbolism – but I am talking about Christ and the church. He therefore sees the marriage relationship as a beautiful model of the church’s union in and with Christ. When applied to Christ and his church, the ‘one flesh’ is identical with the ‘one new man’ from Eph 2:15. So there are now three pictures of the church which Paul uses in Ephesians – the body, the building and the bride – and all emphasise the reality of its unity on account of its union with Christ. Verse 33 is a succinct recap: Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself and the wife must respect her husband.

Let’s see if we can summarise: We are to submit to one another: submissiveness is a universal obligation. The husband submits, by sacrificially serving his wife’s needs before his own in generous service following the example of Jesus. The wife submits by receiving such loving service. Please note that the wife’s submission is to be given to a lover, not an ogre and that any justification of abuse or oppression arising from this passage is a massive twist on what God in His Word has taught. The husband is to love with the love of Christ. This is not romantic, sentimental love or even passion which passes as love today: the highest pinnacle of demand is reached in v25 where we see Christ’s love for the church expressed clearly, as he gave himself up for her. This is what husbands must do: give themselves up for their wives; laying down their lives in her service! What a wonderful picture here of what God has given us as the pattern for marriage!

References: The message of Ephesians, John Stott