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Christ and the Church—The Model for Marriage

Bible Study of Ephesians
The Reconciliation and Consummation of All Things through Christ

Week Ten: Christ and the Church—The Model for Marriage (Eph. 5:22-33)

In last week’s section (5:1-21), Paul began with the command to copy the Father by loving sacrificially like His Son (5:1-2), and he concluded with one of the results of a Spirit-filled life, “[believers] submitting to one another in the fear of Christ” (5:21). Now, in 5:22-33, the apostle focuses exclusively on the relationship between a believing husband and wife and weaves together last week’s themes of submission and sacrificial love (5:22, 24, 25, 28, 33).

And though Paul addresses wives and husbands on the topic of unity and harmony in the home, this passage is really a climactic account about the mystery of Christ and His Bride—the body of Christ. The apostle has been steadily building this theme throughout the letter, and now it comes to a head:

“...Christ is the exalted Head (1:22; 4:15), He is the One who loves and gives Himself for believers (3:19; 5:2), who brings the Church into being by His saving death (1:7, 13; 2:5-6, 14-18), who cares for its needs and growth (4:11, 16), who is intimately related to the Church as He fills it, dwells in believers’ hearts, and is the source of their life (1:23; 2:21; 3:17; 4:15)...the Church is Christ’s body (1:23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4, 12, 16), is associated with glory (1:6, 12, 14, 18; 3:21), and is to be holy and blameless (1:4; 2:21; 4:24; 5:3-14)...” (Andrew Lincoln, “Ephesians,” 388-89).

Therefore, the ultimate model for a healthy marriage is the relationship between Christ and the the Church. The union of a man and woman in marriage—when two become one flesh—is a wonderful blessing; and yet, there is an even greater wonder to behold: our everlasting union with Christ. Human marriage is vital for peace, unity, and order within the home and society as a whole, but it is temporary and will eventually cease for every believer when they meet Christ in glory (cf. Matt. 22:30).

Here is a short preview of 5:22-33:

1. To Wives: A focus on submission and headship (5:22-24)
2. To Husbands: A focus on sacrificial love and imitating Christ (5:25-28)
3. To Both: The mystery of “the body” as the basis for mutual submission, love, and fear of Christ (5:29-33)


Wives, [submit] to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be [subject] to their own husbands in everything.

In the original Greek text, 5:22 begins without a conjunction or word of transition and has no verb. Therefore, 5:22-33 is integrally tied to the preceding passage: 5:18-21, especially verse 5:21, “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.” The verb “submit” found in 5:21 is thus implied in 5:22 (and also clearly repeated in 5:24).*

*The Greek verb hypotasso, “to submit,” is a compound word: hypo (“under”) + tasso (“to put, or place”), and literally means “to place under” (Liddell-Scott, Intermediate Greek Lexicon, 848).

The kind of submission that Paul has in mind is not forced, but rather voluntary—it is a matter of the will. Moreover, Paul is not trying to cover every conceivable abuse of the command for wives to submit to their husbands. His aim in this passage is to show the ideal picture of a united, Spirit-filled home where both husband and wife are submitted to Christ.*

*Living today in the 21st century and having seen significant advances in women’s rights throughout many parts of the world, it can be difficult to truly appreciate Paul’s counter-cultural instructions within his 1st-century context, “What is rather unusual in the NT household codes is the fact that wives, children, and slaves are addressed equally with husbands, fathers, and masters, and, moreover, these codes assume a degree of self-determination and self-responsibility possessed by the first group of individuals. For a society that was patriarchal and hierarchical even in Christian circles, this is countercultural. These household codes accept the dignity of every human being before God...one is responsible for one’s own conduct before an impartial God(Kuruvilla, 169).

To support wives being “placed under” their husbands, Paul appeals to the biblical principle of headship and authority, “...the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church…” The same Greek words hypotasso (submit) and kephale (head) are found in Eph. 1:22, where it says that the Father submitted all things under Christ’s feet and made Him head over all things for the church.

This authority granted to a husband to be head of his wife and leader in the home is ultimately for her benefit, just as Christ is given as head over the Church for her own well-being:

“Christ is the one to whom the church submits (5:24), and Christ is the one who ‘nourishes and cherishes’ the church (5:29)—His authority and leadership are used for the benefit of the church. Thus the headship of the husband is what is being referred to here, i.e., his authority and leadership over his wife for her benefit” (Ibid., 175).

Paul’s point about Christ being “savior of the body” in 5:23 is not implying that husbands somehow save their wives by being head over them; the apostle is simply bolstering the fact that Christ’s headship is for the ultimate good of the Church who is submitted to Him.*

*Interestingly, the same verb hypotasso (“to submit”) is used in 1 Cor. 15:28 referring to Christ’s submission to the Father. This piece of biblical evidence proves beyond a doubt that submission in marriage in no way means that wives are inferior to husbands!

In 5:24, Paul summarizes his opening words by stating that wives should submit to their own husbands “in everything.” Obviously, there is a need to explain how the phrase “in everything” could be exploited and abused by a corrupt husband. No doubt the enemy has been twisting and distorting God’s word from the beginning (cf. Gen. 3:1); nevertheless, the standard remains that wives are to be under the headship and authority of their husbands “as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22).*

*There are times when submission to a governing authority goes against God’s will (see Acts 5:29).


Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.

Having addressed wives, Paul now turns his attention to husbands. As the divinely appointed, authoritative head of the wife, the husband might expect his command to be: rule your wives well, or something along those lines.* However, we find no such command; instead, husbands are to love their wives in the same manner that Christ sacrificially loves the Church.

*For the Gentile mentality on headship/authority, see Matt. 20:25; Lk. 22:25; cf. 1 Pet. 5:3.

The verb “love” (Grk. agapao) means “seeking the highest good for another person,” and this kind of selfless love is exemplified by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross (see Eph. 5:2; cf. Jn. 10:11). Therefore, husbands are to imitate Christ by adopting the same attitude of humble service and self-sacrifice toward their wives (Hoehner, “Ephesians,” vol. 2, 641).

In 5:26, Paul provides the purpose of Christ’s sacrificial death: to sanctify and purify His bride-to-be, “...that He might sanctify and cleanse her…” To “sanctify” means to set apart, or make holy, and it is the verbal form of the common noun used for believers, i.e. “saints” (cf. Eph. 1:1, 18; 3:8; 5:3). Aside from separating believers from an unholy world and making them holy (5:6-14), Christ is also “cleansing” the Church of every impurity. This cleansing takes place by means of the internal regeneration/renewal of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God:

“Metaphorically, being regenerated is pictured as being cleansed by water (cf. “the washing of rebirth” in Titus 3:5). The “Word” (rhemati) refers to the “preached Word” that unbelievers hear (cf. rhema in Eph. 6:17; Rom. 10:8, 17; 1 Pet. 1:25).”*

*Ibid. See also John 13:6-11; Jesus’ illustration of washing with water represents the spiritual reality of internal cleansing. Then, check out John 17:17-19 and notice the connection between speaking/hearing God’s word (“Your word is truth”) and the sanctification of believers.

In summary, the “water” is the Holy Spirit who “washes” (i.e. renews) each believer and the Church corporately as a whole. Furthermore, this supernatural activity is not merely a one-time “cleansing” at conversion (Eph. 1:13), but it is an ongoing process of cleansing and renewal as mentioned in Eph. 4:23 (cf. 5:18).*

*Note: believers in Christ do not need to fear that they might somehow become filthy again to the point of losing their salvation (or, “final cleansing”). See the previous footnote about foot-washing in John 13:6-11 (and Greg Lauer’s article, “A Missing Piece“). As our faithful and merciful High Priest, Jesus currently intercedes for believers and fulfills the necessary “foot-washing” for those walking around in a dirty world (cf. Heb. 4:14-16; 7:25; 10:19-23).

In 5:27, Paul states the end-goal or final result of Christ’s sanctification and purification of the Church: a glorious Bride given to Christ without any trace of sin! Previously, in Eph. 1:4, the Father chose the Church before the creation of the world to be presented to Him “holy and blameless.” Now, in 5:27, we see another layer to this picture; namely, a pure Bride (“holy and blameless”) being presented to her loving and faithful Groom (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:7-8).

After casting this exalted vision of Christ’s love toward the Church, the apostle repeats the command for husbands to love their wives in 5:28. And, in order for husbands to submit to Christ—in the fear of Christ (5:21)—they must love their wives sacrificially to the end (cf. John 13:1). Moreover, love (agape) is not defined by feelings or emotions, but defined as a continual choice. In essence, love is defined by Christ’s actions toward all believers in His body—His sacrificial death (past), His sanctification/purification of believers (present), and His presentation of a glorious Bride to Himself for all to see (future).


For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord [nourishes and cherishes] the church. For we are members of His body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless, let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she [fears] her husband.

While husbands still bear the primary responsibility in this passage (5:29-33) as in 5:25-28, Paul goes on to explore the concept of self-care, which is something that both men and women can appreciate. Branching off of 5:28, where he says, “...husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies…” Paul seeks to convince husbands that loving their own wives is the same as “nourishing and cherishing” their own bodies.

In 5:30, Paul adds another facet to what he stated earlier in 4:25: not only are believers “members of one another” (4:25), but they are “members of [Christ’s] body” (5:30). The mystery of Christ and His body previewed throughout Ephesians can be traced all the way back to the beginning of the Bible. Thus, the apostle appeals to the book of Genesis to justify the “one-flesh” union of man and woman as a prefiguring or type of the “one-body” union of Christ and the Church (see Gen. 2:24).

Paul’s comment in Ephesians 5:32 brings up an important principle concerning the Word of God as written in the Bible. There are instances in Scripture where physical/material things represent a greater, more profound, spiritual reality (cf. Heb. 8:4-5; 9:9-10, 23-24). Paul’s instructions to believing husbands and wives in 5:22-33 is no exception—the greater topic at hand is the relationship between Christ and the Church, not simply “how to have the best marriage possible.”

Finally, Paul summarizes his authoritative commands to members of Christ body by telling each husband to “love his wife as himself” and each wife “to fear her husband” (5:33). Husbands should love their own wives as themselves, because the two are “one-flesh,” and wives should fear their husbands, because husbands are head of their wives. In 5:33, the term “fear” is therefore synonymous and interchangeable with submission (cf. 5:21-22).*

*Many contemporary English versions translate the Greek word phobeo “to fear” as “respect,” but this seems to weaken the force of what is being communicated, “Fear is a critical element in the relationship of humans to all hierarchical and authority structures: see Rom. 13:3, 4, 7; Eph. 6:5; 1 Pet. 2:18. Clearly there is more implied here than just respect—even a reverence for and deference to the husband’s position and role, as deputized by divine fiat [decree]” (Kuruvilla, 182).

Application to the Body of Christ:

Summary of Ephesians 5:22-33:

“The Spirit’s filling manifests in the mutual submission of believers and in the modeling of the husband-wife relationship after the Christ-church relationship.”*

*Ibid. Kuruvilla’s summary includes the crucial “hinge verse” of 5:21.

This week’s passage mainly applies to husbands and wives who are together “one-flesh” and also members of Christ’s body. However, there are general principles in 5:22-33 that apply to all believers, especially the twin commands of loving and submitting to one another (cf. Eph. 5:2, 21).

The emphasis for the believing wife is on her husband’s headship and authority. By God’s design and in His perfect wisdom, he has provided a way for wives to have protection and covering, especially when their husbands are fully submitted to the Lord Jesus Christ in everything (5:21, 24).

The emphasis for the believing husband is on imitating Christ’s sacrificial, self-giving love. When the husband loves his wife like Christ loves His own Bride, then his actions will be nurturing and supportive as he will be concerned about her physical and spiritual well-being.

Remember, this entire passage flows directly from Eph. 5:18-21. Therefore, a harmonious and godly marriage is one where both husband and wife are serious and intentional about speaking truth (e.g. God’s sanctifying word) to one another; they are grateful and fully surrendered to Christ; they are both God-fearing and under the control of the Holy Spirit.

Wiersbe comments from pastoral experience with couples, “The root of most marital problems is sin, and the root of all sin is selfishness. Submission to Christ and to one another is the only way to overcome selfishness, for when we submit, the Holy Spirit can fill us and enable us to love one another in a sacrificial, sanctifying, satisfying way—the way Christ loves the church.”

Finally, the best part about a godly marriage—when both husband and wife are working together in harmony—is that the mystery of Christ and His body are manifest to everyone around them, including the world of the unseen dwelling in heavenly places (cf. Eph. 3:10). The stakes are high, and many marriages are struggling to thrive; however, two broken people who remain humble and submitted to the Lord can go the distance. And since no earthly marriage will last forever, every believer should be preparing for the unending wedding celebration of Christ and the Church in glory!

“What do you think about when you look at me
I know we’re not the fairytale you dreamed we’d be
You wore the veil, you walked the aisle, you took my hand
And we dove into a mystery...”

Post A Comment


  1. Sacrificial love (husbands), submission/respect (wives), peace and harmony, grace and mutual service. All of these things are completely, 100% counter-cultural. But yet, they are beautiful things that give us a glimpse into the inner-workings of the Trinity.

    Well done, my friend.

  2. Well this is tough. Really been struggling here. Married 25 years by grace of God and our 22 and 24 year old sons just moved out last month. My husband has struggled with alcohol our whole marriage and I still struggle with respecting him. It's very frustrating that he still continues to drink even when it has caused this family so much pain. I started a new church and they have communities that get together and eat a meal and then separate into Male and female groups to pray. I have always just gone to womens groups, but they dont really have that at the church. I love the biblical teaching and the worship, which is so rare nowadays! My husband doesnt want me to go without him cuz then they will ask where is your husband, but he doesnt really want to go cuz it's way out of his comfort zone. He believes in the Lord, but likes to keep us isolated from everyone. He has to work Sundays so has a good excuse for not going to church then, but he is off in time to attend on Wednesday nights. Bottom line is he likes me isolated too. It's a real struggle for me on what is submission and what is Gods will. Also I struggle with being submissive since I have a hard time respecting him with the drinking. I know the bible speaks that the wife submits, it doesnt say if the husband is doing the right thing or not. Please pray for me to get this right after all these years. I would love for us to make it. We have made it this far! Any advise would be appreciated, too!

    1. I really appreciate your comment and willingness to be honest about your true feelings toward your husband.

      Your struggle helped me to realize why I am so unsettled about the term "respect" (Eph. 5:33). For example, if you just type in "respect definition" in the search bar, the first thing that comes up mentions "feelings."

      "a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements."

      Sadly, this is how most people interpret "respect." However, God is not telling you to "respect" your husband in the sense that he deserves it or has earned it by being good to you. Frankly, some husbands are not "respectable." They're just not, and it doesn't help to pretend that they are.

      Instead, for you to be obedient and faithful to God, you are called to suffer unjust treatment (like Jesus) under a heavy yoke (like Jesus) and not seek to get even or retaliate in any way (like Jesus). The ideal letter in the New Testament about suffering unjustly under a heavy yoke of leadership and authority is First Peter.

      And I'm not even talking about the "Wives and Husbands" section in the letter---I'm talking about the whole thing, especially 1 Pet. 2:21-25; 4:12-19.

      Be encouraged! You are a free woman in Christ, not bound (1 Cor. 7:23; Gal. 5:1). So, even if your husband never changes, and even though he continues to do things that reveal his untrustworthy and wavering heart, you are still a free woman in Christ. Your objective then is to stand firm in the faith without wavering, and to forgive your husband because you are a forgiven wife through Christ.

      However, please understand that forgiveness is not the same as trust, reconciliation, or intimacy. These are separate things. By by all means, please don't hold on to bitterness and resentment. Instead, be raw, real, and open about your feelings to God. He knows. He can comfort you like no one else. He can strengthen you through the trial. He will get you to your ultimate destination to be with Him forever (Eph. 5:27).

      Blessings to you in Christ!

    2. anonymous, I have prayed for you.

  3. Dear Anonymous, Jack Kelly at Grace Thru Faith has a LOT of great articles that may help.

  4. Men are called to love our wives like Christ loves the Church. Wives are to respect their husbands. This is not an easy road. My wife was unequally yoked to me for many years of our marriage. It was her love that helped bring me to Christ. Our marriage hasn't been a bad of roses, but with Christ as our center we have committed to each other in a way I can't explain besides Glory of the Lord. The value of marriage is great, the commitment and covenant made before the Father on your wedding day shouldn't be broken. It is our sin that drives us apart from one another and the Father. Glory to Christ for holding us together. In love with both my wife and Jesus more every day.

  5. keep praying for grace sufficient. And love your husband as you love yourself and not in spite of yourself. Jeff, i don't know what you think about my words in your understanding of Gods Word on the subject bit i am curious.? Blessings All, Shalom

    1. All good, Ozark. According to God's word, husband and wife are "one-flesh." Loving the other spouse is to also love and care for yourself (not in spite of yourself).

  6. Thank you all for your encouragement and guidance. I'm definitely a sinner saved by grace myself, sometimes the battle seems very hard. I do know His truth and agree that it's about respect whether it's earned or not, cuz that's what Gods word says! I will keep pressing on! Please pray that The Lord would sever the drinking from his life.

    1. Our Father in heaven,

      Please wake up her husband to the reality of evil---evil in his own heart, and the great evil in the world during these evil days (Eph. 5:16). Help him to cut ties with darkness, and rather than being filled with strong drink, I pray that he would desire the power of the Holy Spirit to fill him instead (Eph. 5:18). Please help his wife to set healthy and wise boundaries while also being obedient to Your perfect will. Ultimately, we are all to submit to one another in the fear of Christ, our gentle and humble Lord who gives us rest (Eph. 5:21; Matt. 11:28-30). In Jesus' name, amen!

  7. Thank you Jeff very much for this great study! Studying with! You are yourself blessing to all of us in Christ! Anonymous, praying for you. I'm also strugling, as we all! Want to say here, you don't have to worry, but only pray and rejoice. The Lord is working in us. I am at a dead end with my sickness, waiting for the Lord’s action. See please Jeff's beginning – Eph 1:2-3, really! And my study today was Php. 3:8-12 (KJV), making my outline as always. We are then In Christ – Like Christ – With Christ, that is place and condition, really! Very much blessings to you all! Tony, you are great – "praying for grace sufficient"! Amen!

    1. praying w/ you and for you Alla, Shalom and thank you for all your wisdom n kindness all along the way, Jesus loves You! :)

    2. Thank you, Alla! Praying for you. Christ will hold you together til the end (Col. 1:17). Almost there. Grace and peace to you!

  8. What a powerfully wonderful Spirit led conducive study. The comments and the scriptural references being spawned are yielding understanding and edification - ah, just in time! Glory to God, \\!//, thanks Jeff~shalom~



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