The Marriage Bond
Rev. Dr. Ernest Brodie Jr.
Ephesians 5:21-33 is one of the most maligned, misused, and misunderstood passages in the New Testament. It is maligned by saying it contains sexist comments. It is misused by individuals seeking the enslavement of the opposite sex. It is misunderstood by those who believe God is unfair. Proper understanding of any passage requires a clear view of the passage and a willingness to understand its information from God's perspective. Our interpretations can be distorted by personal interests or backgrounds.
Marriage is a formal legal commitment before God between a man and a woman. Its sanctity rests upon it being instituted by God and its bond being affected by Him, not by sexual union. Genesis 2:22-25: “And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. Matthew 19:4-5: “And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?”
Marriage is given to the human race, however believers are to marry only saved people. 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” In the case of unsaved people, if one spouse becomes a believer, their union is still sacred in God’s sight. 1 Corinthians 7:12-14: “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” The marriage bond can only be broken by abandonment, adultery, or death. 1 Corinthians 7:15: “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.” Matthew 19:9: “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” Romans 7:2: “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.”
The marriage union is a picture portraying the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-31). True believers (His bride) comprise the church (the body of Christ) and will live with Him forever as His bride. Revelations 19:7-8: “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.”
1. The submission of both husband and wife to humility.
Verse 21: “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” “Submit” - not as a slave, but to be set under, from the Greek term to be an oarsman on a ship. This means working together as a team. “Fear” - to be awestruck, reverence, venerate, afraid. There is no justification for abuse or evil actions. Submission is serving one another out of reverence to God and is a labor of love involving humility and a servant's heart.
Wrong impressions often occur when people hear about the submission of the wife to her husband. Verse 22: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” “Wives” - married women. “Own husband” - a specific man that is hermarriage partner. This is not saying women in general should be subservient to men. “Submit” - the wife is to do this for herself, being under (working with her husband), keep on submitting by personal choice not by force.
How should a wife submit? “As unto the Lord” - with the same humility that she submits to the Lord. This is a voluntary subordination. The wife puts the interests and goals of her husband before her own, since she is his helpmate. 1 Corinthians 11:7-9: “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.” Submitting to her husband’s leadership does not mean giving up her personal identity, but it means working with another. Proverbs 31 portrays a strong, godly woman who worked for her family to help meet their needs.
Why should a wife submit to her own husband's leadership? A husband is the covering to his wife. Verse 23: “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.” “Head” - head, covering, hat, protection. A husband is to act as the covering or protector of his wife. The example of the church and Christ is in verse 24: “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” “Subject” - being under, under obligation. Christ is the head of the church.
The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. How has Christ cared for His bride the church? He loved and gave His life for the church. Verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” “Love” - be loving, present and active. Is the husband willing to die for his wife? If so, he should be willing to live with her, keeping her needs in mind, and making decisions based on her protection and care. Verse 26: “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” Christ sanctified the church. “Sanctify” - to make holy, pure. Interpretation: Through Christ’s sacrifice, the church was made holy. Through the husband’s love and sacrifice, a marriage is made holy and apure union. Verse 27: “That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Christ took away the blemishes of the church. “Without blemish” - flawless. Christ’s love created a beautiful body of believers, His bride. Likewise, husbands are to create a safe environment where his bride feels loved, secure, and beautiful.
The husband is to love his wife as his own body. The word love occurs three times in verse 28: “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.” How is a husband to love his wife? He is to love his wife as he loves himself, which means her needs and wants are more important than his own and that he is looking out for her. Verse 29: “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.”
The husband is to nourish and cherish his own wife. “Cherish” - to hold dear, to warm as a bird does an egg. Verse 30-31: “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.” A husband is to form a team with his wife. Not “I, me, and mine” but “we, us, and ours.” Verse 31b: “And they two shall be one flesh.”
The husband is to meet the needs of his wife. “One flesh” - one in intimacy which is fulfilled only in marriage. It is never to be used as weapon for control or a bargaining tool. Ephesians 5:3-5: “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” 1 Thessalonians4:3, 7: “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” 1 Corinthians 7:15-18: “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches. Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.”
Ephesians 5:32-33: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” The husband is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to reverence (or respect) her husband. This is a picture of the relationship of Christ and the church. When a husband and wife are not committed to their divinely appointed roles, there will be problems and conflicts. Marriage is for companionship, intimacy, and posterity. May we all strive to have strong, God-honoring marriages.