A Response to Leighton Flowers on Ephesians 1

This article provides a critique of Leighton Flowers’ treatment of Ephesians 1:3-14 given on March 14, 2015. This is a narrow and specific focus. I am not engaging all of Flowers’ material on the subject.

Point 1: Verses 3-14, Not Just 13-14, Answer the Question

I recognize this specific blog was not intended to be a grammatical commentary. So we cannot call “fowl” when his starting position is philosophical and not exegetical. This is not an error, but it means this examination of the text is framed by whatever Flowers places it in. A more robust approach, I suggest, would begin with the grammar alone and ask questions regarding systematic theology later on. To Flowers’ credit: “Let’s drop any preconceived ideas we have about this text and attempt to answer the question as honestly as we can.”

He continues: “Some focus so much attention on the first 12 verses that they fail to see the last two verses where Paul gives an answer to this vital question; ‘How does one come to be in Him?'” So in Ephesians 1, we are not told how an individual is placed in Christ until verse 13. By merit of this, verses 1-12 can be excluded from the discussion. The answer to the question, “How does one come to be in Christ” must lie somewhere after verse 12. Flowers’ conclusion depends on this point. There are other propositions to engage, but this seems the most fundamental.

The main point of verses 3-14 is that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (v.3). Verses 4-14 are a zoomed-in look at verse 3. Paul says God has blessed us and he proceeds to explain how He has blessed us. No less than eleven times we see the equivalent of “in Christ.” All of these blessings, then, are within the context of Christ. Further, all of these blessing are summed-up in verse 3: “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

Verse 13 states that after we heard the message of truth, we believed and were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise. So after faith comes sealing. Where does Paul submit that God’s purpose is only to provide a plan and not to save specific individuals? Where is the clause teaching that God’s effectual, salvific pursuit of this individual began after his faith? The text suggests that sealing is appropriated by an individual’s faith, but further conclusions seem eisogetical.

“How does one come to be in Christ?” Flowers provides no grammatical evidence for answering this question from verses 13-14 alone. Given this deficiency, and lack of any discussion regarding verses 3-12, I cannot see any reason to accept Flowers’ conclusion: “This passage is not about God predetermining which individuals will be in Christ. It is about God predetermining what will become of those who are in Christ through belief in His truth.”

Point 2: God’s Choice in Verse 4 is of Persons, not a Plan

Flowers links to an article by Ron Hale on SBC Today. In the article, Hale engages with Hobbs on Ephesians 1:4-6 and Flowers seems to consider this capable commentary: “I strongly urge everyone reading these words to consider the exegesis given by Dr. Hershel Hobbs” (an embedded link followed). Here is the substance of Hobbs’ argument, according to Hale (and I believe he is correct): “In teaching this passage, Dr. Herschel Hobbs saw that God sovereignly chose or elected a specific plan of salvation.”

So the object of God’s choice is an “it” – a plan of salvation. The “who” is left to man’s will, ultimately. God marked out the boundaries of salvation and everyone who steps into those boundaries is saved. Hale and Flowers seem satisfied with Hobbs’ conclusion, as if we can build our theology around the single word proorisas regardless of Greek syntax.

Firstproorisas is taken from verse 5 where God determines the specific end designed for hemas (us). If Hale had quoted Hobbs’ exegesis in relevance, we would be reading comments on verse 4: kathos exelexato hemas en auto pro kataboles kosmou einai hemas hagious kai amomous katenopion autou en agape. Hale (and perhaps Flowers) don’t seem to catch this, because Hale actually cites the verb proorisas (trans. predestined) as being in verse 4, rather than verse 5.

Second, the direct object of the most relevant sentence to this discussion (v.4) is hemas (us). “He chose,” Paul says, and one may rightly ask, “What? Who? What is the object of God’s choice?” The answer: “He chose us.” The object of God’s selection is personal. It is of persons. These articles provide no engagement with this grammatical fact.

Conclusion: We Need to Look at the Grammar

I found two other links in Leighton Flowers’ article: this short video and this podcast. I have listened to both and see no points going beyond what I have already addressed. Flowers seems sincere and firmly convinced of his position, but what objective evidence does he provide for his conclusion? I cannot see any grammatical argumentation that directs us to accept his conclusion.

If the Bible is our highest authority, our most fundamental question should be, “What does the text say?” Flowers clearly agrees, but his exegetical methods do not reflect his convictions regarding the nature of Scripture. If they did, his question “How does one come to be in Christ?” would have addressed: 1) verses 3-14, not just verses 13-14, and 2) “He chose us” in verse 4.

I understand that Leighton Flowers has produced several other works on Ephesians 1. I will be reading and reviewing this in the future.

I Love the Church, Because Christ Loves the Church

 

I don’t have much to say in this article except what God spoke through the Apostle Paul. So I’ll just dive into the text.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. (Eph 5:25-30)

Commentary

Paul commands husbands to mirror their marital love after Christ’s. Christ’s love for His bride (the Church) is essentially securing her redemption. He gave Himself up for her, dying as a propitiation for her sins. The purpose of this death was her sanctification, that she would be set-apart and made holy. Question: from what and to what? I suggest that Christ’s death cleansed her of sin. She is separated from the kingdom of Satan, death, depravity and carried to the kingdom of Christ, life, righteousness.

He presents her in all her glory. That glory is only hers because He has given it to her. He won for her the worth she manifests. No only this, but He presents her as well – to Himself. He secured for Himself a bride. The glory she boasts is without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. As a bed-sheet without the smallest fold or furrow, she exists in perfection. Her perfect existence is wholly created by Christ. All her glory is given by Him, to the extent that the ungodly characteristics of her previous existence are not even recognizable. In contrast to her past depravity, she is presented holy and blameless. The church is Christ’s body and so He nourishes and cherishes it – so too should husbands nourish and cherish their wives.

Implication

What a great love this is. How might it be measured? Where is the rod with which I can mark the extent of God’s love for His people? Surely it has no scope. If Christ’s merit has no end then His love for the church has no end, because He gave Himself up for her. In response to this love, I am called to love my wife the same way: unconditionally and endlessly. “Christ loves the church, so I love my wife.”

After this immediate point of marital relation, I am driven to a second implication: “Christ loves the church, so I love the church.” My Lord and Savior thought that God’s people were worth living and dying for. If the church ranks so high in Christ’s estimation, how can I think it any less valuable? My love for all believers individually and corporately is based on Christ’s death on the cross. I do not love the church because they can give me something, I love the church because Christ loves them.

This should be stated in more practical terms, I think: “I love my local church because Christ loves my local church.” I love those believers I weekly gather with because Christ loved them. The basis for my fellowship is the intention of Christ’s blood. If ever I am to doubt whether or not I should love my local congregation, a more firm thought should be: “Christ loves them.”

I am under covenant to nourish and cherish my local church. This covenant is not bound by the deeds and decisions of my brothers and sisters. Rather, this covenant is sealed by the blood of Christ. When His blood loses merit, I shall be released from my covenant. Until then, I love the church.

Seven Glimpses of Unconditional Election

I would like to point out seven things about unconditional election that we see in Ephesians 1:4-6. I will include the text below (and verse 3 for context).

(3) Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
(4) just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love
(5) He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
(6) to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

In verses 4-6, I believe we are given the following seven glimpses of Unconditional Election: the event, the object, the sphere, the moment, the purpose, the basis, the end. This article is not meant to complicate matters – I simply want to provide a simple, clear explanation of what God wrote through Paul in Ephesians 1:4-6.

The Event of Election

He chose,” Paul writes (exelexato). First, notice who chooses. God is the selector: He actively chooses. The text does not seem to leave room for passivity or indifference on God’s part, in relation to this selection. Second, notice two things about the choice. It is already accomplished (Greek tense is aorist) and on behalf of God (Greek voice is middle). This verb literally means to “pick out.” We could translate it as: “God picked out for Himself.”

The Object of Election

God chose the saints. First, notice a numerical characteristic. The object of election is actually plural – the objects. “Us” should be identified as “the saints” of verse 1, now including Paul. The plural pronoun seems to intend we see multiple cases of election. That is: God chose every saint. The verb is singular because God alone accomplishes it, and the pronoun is plural because He chose multiple individuals. Second, notice a personal characteristic. The objects of election are clearly humans. The text does not say He chose Christ or a plan: He chose people. This choice, then, is of a personal nature.

The Sphere of Election

In Him” (en auto) articulates the close personal association that the saints have with Christ in election. The saints were chosen within the sphere of Christ. Jesus is the context in which they were selected. God did not arbitrarily elect individuals: He chose them in reference to Jesus Christ. It may be helpful to ask, “In what sense are we elected in the context of Christ?” I suggest that the saints were elected in reference to Christ’s obedient life and death on earth. He had not yet been incarnated but God had covenanted with Himself to accomplish redemption. Likewise, the saints had not yet been created but God chose them in light of Christ’s obedience. This grace of election was “freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (v.6). Contemplating the sphere of election reminds us that not even God’s predestination is done outside of the cross of Christ.

The Moment of Election

God completed this action “before the foundation of the world.” This is the temporal nature of election. God’s choice to save certain individuals does not develop over time. He does not start or finish this blessing as history progresses. Rather, He accomplished it prior to Genesis 1:1. Before the act of creation – even before time – He began the work of redemption. Geerhardus Vos said, “The best proof that He will never cease to love us lies in that He never began.”

The Purpose of Election

These certain individuals were differentiated from the mass of wicked humanity for a particular reason: “that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” We could dive into Paul’s particular word-choices, but for the function of this article we may simply call this “salvation.” So: God chose these individuals that they would be saved. This is when the saints are given an eschatology. Verse 5 gives further details: “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself” (emphasis mine). We may rightly say that this election is unto redemption.

The Basis of Election

Continuing in verse 5, we read that “He predestined us…according to the kind intention of His will.” The dependent factor in election was not anything within those chosen. God’s intention and will alone determined every facet of election. Words like unconditional should therefore be attributed to God’s selection of certain sinners to salvation. This warrants great comfort to those believing in Christ. We know that God’s choice to save is never hanging on works that we do.

The End of Election

While verses 4-5 give us a purpose of election, verse 6 communicates the great end of election: “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” God’s glory is the ultimate purpose which even our salvation serves. Not only this, but considering the previous six facets of election, it is literally impossible for an individual to take credit for election. We have not pride to glean from this doctrine.


A Brief Confession

In light of Ephesians 1:4-6, I would like to provide a brief confession of Unconditional Election. I pray this article has been helpful to you.

Before He created the world, the Triune God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – covenanted to accomplish the work of redemption. In reference to Christ’s obedient life and death, God chose certain individuals to experience this redemption in order that He would be glorified through such a demonstration of His rich grace.

Five Reflections on Ephesians: Verses That Most Deeply Developed My Theology

The past six months, my Sunday School class has walked through Ephesians. I would like to share the five portions that have influenced me the most during this study. I pray that they likewise stir your affections for Christ.

My whole salvation experience is in reference to Christ (1:3).

Ephesians opens with a wonderful articulation of how God has blessed the saints. He elected (v.4), predestined (v.5), redeemed (v.7), awakens (v.9), and seals (v.13) every saint. Yet the most striking characteristic of vv.3-14 is that eleven times Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” (or an equivalent construction, ex. “in Him”). In fact, not one blessing a saint enjoys is outside the context of Christ. Everything God does for His people is in reference to His Son. I have seen here that my whole salvation experience (not just justification) is in reference to Christ.

Routine reflection on pre-conversion depravity is appropriate (2:12).

In light of God’s eternal purpose of salvation (1:1-23) and its application to us in time (2:1-10), there is a contrast in every believer’s life: pre-conversion and post-conversion. Every saint can sing with Newton, “I once was lost but now I’m found,” (emphasis mine). We may be inclined to think that after experiencing God’s grace it is sinful to ponder our lives before such grace, but Paul suggests just the opposite. We are to bear in mind our days of hopelessness apart from Christ, in order that the gospel be made precious to us and self-righteousness be driven out. I have seen here that a regular reflection on my pre-conversion depravity is appropriate and healthy.

History serves the gospel (3:6).

It is common opinion that the good news of Christ has been God’s response to the Fall of Adam. In this construction, the gospel serves history in that Christ crucified was a redirection God made in light of previous events. However, Ephesians asserts in nearly every chapter that Christ crucified was actually God’s purpose all along: that pre-creation He chose to save certain individuals in Christ (1:4), and that as history has progressed nothing has changed (3:6). The gospel is not God’s reaction to the Fall. Rather, God’s intention in history has always been Christ crucified, such that every event of earth has been sovereignly fitted to contribute to His glorious end. I have seen here that history serves God’s glory in the gospel.

The church is organic but not self-sustaining (4:16).

Communion in a local congregation is usually considered optional or “for fellowship sake” at best. Ephesians does not allow us to reasonably believe such things. Christ’s bride-to-be is invisibly united by His work (4:4-6) and must manifest this visibly (4:1-3). The body of Christ grows just as a body (4:16). As individual members exercise their spiritual gifts in sanctification, the corporate body is then further sanctified: corporate sanctification follows from individual sanctification. While this ‘organic’ growth of the corporate body is truly remarkable, Paul does not allow us to believe that the church is self-sufficient. The energy by which the body grows is clearly given by Christ: “Christ, from whom the whole body…causes the growth of the body,” (v.16). I have seen here that the church is organic but by no means self-sustaining.

Perseverance requires prayerfully lifting all things to God (6:18).

The believer’s earthly life is spent in the context of a world drenched in sin and depravity. How might one stand firm against those forces that oppose God so violently? Clearly, by depending upon the arm of God. The first six portions of armor are commonly reflected upon (6:10-17), but we must not neglect the seventh: prayer (v.18). Prayer is from a human perspective effective: a means ordained by God to accomplish His purposes in history. Prayer is also a grand sanctifier of our hearts, as it keeps our will in proper reference to God’s sovereign, perfect will (ex. Christ in the garden, Matt. 26). I have seen here that I should not expect to stand firm in any struggle that I do not lift to God in prayer.

An Exposition of Ephesians 5:22-33 (Part 4)

Conclusion (vv.32-33)

This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. (NASB)

I. The Mystery of Marriage (v.32)

This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
This” refers to marriage: the joining of two people in one flesh. By “mystery” Paul means “something once hidden and now revealed, a secret disclosed.”[1] Paul has used musterion in a similar fashion throughout Ephesians.[2] So by “mystery,” Paul does not direct us to mysticism. He is referencing God’s eternal, perfect design of all things and how this design is unfolding in the progression of history.

Ego de lego” is translated “but I am speaking” in the NASB. The intention here is not sharp contrast but something like, “Now I mean.”[3] What follows is explanatory of what precedes.[4] The Greek literally reads, “To Christ and to the church.” “With reference” is added in the English to help the reader understand in what sense Paul is speaking “to” Christ and church. Essentially, the mystery is that of Christ and the church – Paul’s main burden in the first half of the letter. Yet, touto (“this”) clearly points us back to verse 31 and the joining of man and woman as “one flesh.” The union of marriage is a mystery (something once hidden and now revealed) in the sense that now, in Ephesians 5, God is revealing the full meaning of it. Marriage’s full meaning has been hidden before and is now being revealed. So, the mystery (musterion) of marital union (touto) is (ego de lego) gospel union (eis Christon kai eis ten ekklesian). What was hidden that is now revealed is that marital union is a picture of gospel union.

Marriage is a picture in the sense that, in the mind of God, the gospel union comes first.[5] Why was the truth of marriage hidden, though? Why could the full meaning of marriage not be communicated until Paul’s day? Because gospel union was not fully revealed. Because God’s eternal purpose in saving people from all over the earth was not yet revealed, neither could the meaning of marriage be revealed. If it was, it would be mis-understood. It hinged on Christ dying and rising from the dead. Once this took place and God’s eternal purpose of salvation made known, then marriage could be seen in fullness: a reflection of that eternal purpose.

The mystery of marriage is that it reflects the gospel union of Christ and the church.[6] As the husband and wife are united, so is Christ and His people. Through our union with Christ, we enjoy all the benefits of such a union, just as a husband and wife partake of each other. We are known, chosen, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified, because of His merit. The church’s marriage to God’s Son gains her access to eternal blessings therein.

The husband and wife are commanded by Paul to take their cues from the relationship of Christ and His church. Paul’s reference in verse 31 draws the reader’s attention back to creation and the first marriage. The function of marriage communicates its purpose, what God has intended to do with marriage from the very beginning. “Mystery” shows us that God’s intention with and definition of marriage has always been the same – it simply has not been fully revealed until now. Marriage was created and foreordained by God to reflect Christ’s blessed union with His people. So marriage is a shadow of what is to come. The only marriage of glorious substance is that of heaven between Christ and His bride. On earth, God has created human marriage to teach us both something of this coming day and something of the present relationship.[7]

If this is the full meaning of marriage, then it is healthiest when operating under this definition. Timothy Keller writes,

In short, the “secret” is not simply the fact of marriage per se. It is the message that what husbands should do for their wives is what Jesus did to bring us into union with himself. And what was that? Jesus gave himself up for us…. If God had the gospel of Jesus’ salvation in mind when he established marriage, then marriage only “works” to the degree that approximates the pattern of God’s self-giving love in Christ…. This is the secret – that the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another. That when God invented marriage, he already had the saving work of Jesus in mind.[8]

Egalitarian interpretations of Ephesians 5 (by “Egalitarian” I mean a denial of God-given, Gender specific roles in marriage) do not allow for such a “mystery.” Marital union’s innate ability to exemplify Christ’s relationship with His church is severely crippled because Christ is not uniquely exalted in the husband’s role nor the church in the wife’s. God’s fundamental intention for marriage is under-cut when the roles in marriage are removed. Marriage ceases in a fundamental way to glorify the Gospel. We explicitly advocate for a Complementarian worldview not only for the sake of a consistent hermeneutic, but also God’s fame in the Gospel. Severe Egalitarianism/Feminism distills the glory of marriage by robbing it of gospel-reflectiveness.

II. Conclusion (v.33)

Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.
This verse is a summary of Paul’s previous thoughts. “Husband, love your wife.” This love is unconditional and intended for her benefit, as the husband would treat his own body. “Wife, submit to your husband.” This submission is one of obedience and
respect. “Respect” is literally “fear.”[9] This word is used in reference to mankind’s relation to God: “fear God and keep His commands.”[10] This fear is that of respect. It is inescapably linked to obedience.[11] The negative connotations behind “fear” should not be implemented into a marriage relationship.[12] There is no Biblical cause for a woman to be afraid of her husband. God calls her to respect him, but never to cower. He is but a man – a mere steward to lead her while on earth. As such a leader, he should be respected. Yet as merely a steward, he should never be trembled before. Should a husband respect his wife? Of course – but the uniqueness of a wife’s respect is that it leads her to follow the husband. This is logical and Scriptural. Verse 33b leads to and enables a true fulfillment of verse 22. In a similar fashion, one could argue that a husband’s understanding of gospel-reflection in the union with his wife will lead to and enable him to love her unconditionally and for her benefit. Verse 33 is a well-put conclusion to such a beautiful statement on marriage.

We might be embarrassed after studying Ephesians 5. Have you failed to respect your husband, to love your wife, as God clearly has called you to? Have you failed to showcase the Gospel of Jesus Christ in how you relate to your spouse? Have you trampled the glory of God in marriage by reducing it to a chore – a dry duty void of delight? If you have, then let your sorrow drive you on to hope in the grace God gives towards repentance. Boice writes: “Embarrassment is a confession of failure. But it is also a challenge to heed the Word of God and put God’s instructions for a happy marriage into practice.”[13]

Because marriage has always had a Divine definition according to the eternal purposes of God, we consider Paul’s commission to husband and wife here as more of a re-calling than a calling. He is not calling us to an historically new concept, but to the original plan: Complementarianism.[14] The original plan is flawless, unlike man’s schemes which always crumble. “When Christian husbands and wives walk in the power of the Spirit, yield to His Word and His control, and are mutually submissive, they are brought much happiness, their children are brought much blessing, and God is brought much honor.”[15]


One Final Issue

This is a bit random, but I cannot in good conscious leave it unspoken. Be careful not to see Christ’s salvific love as a fulfillment of His headship. Stott appears to make this assertion in his commentary. We should not read meanings into Greek words or terms that the author does not ascribe. In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul gives us no reason to assume that Christ’s role as head of the church entails anything more than Him having authority over it. We must be careful not to take Paul as saying, “Christ is head of the church. In His headship is involved, not only authority and rulership over the body, but salvation of the body as well.” Paul is rather saying, “Christ is head of the church. In addition to being the head, He is also Savior.” Christ is Savior and Lord. These two offices of Christ are related but must not be confused.


[1] Salmond, Expositor’s Greek Testament: Ephesians, 373. So Henry is wrong to assume that there is a “hidden, mystical sense in” Genesis 2:24 (Henry, New Matthew Henry Commentary, 2128). Yet here arises an important point of hermeneutics: the meaning of the text cannot go beyond what the author intended. Moses could not have meant all of what Paul means in Ephesians 5, because the full meaning of marriage was hidden to Moses. However, if we believe in the Divine inspiration of Scripture, then we must admit that there is a second, and primary, Author of Genesis 2:24: God. He knew the full meaning of marriage. This means that the meaning of Genesis 2:24 not only can allow what God intends, but must. It may be too much to say that there is mysticism in Genesis 2:24, but it is certainly viable to assume that there is “more than meets the eye” in the text. In a similar fashion, we read Genesis 1:1 and understand God’s intention in this act to glorify Himself with history; we read Leviticus and agree with the author of Hebrews that the priesthood was never designed to accomplish its Mosaic purpose (Heb. 7), but was in fact intended by God to point to Christ’s true and better priesthood; we read Psalm 2 and see God’s intention in glorifying Christ as Lord and King (Phil. 2:9-11), subverting all men under His feet (Ac. 2:14-36). It is too far to say that there is mysticism in the Old Testament, but it is in fact necessary  that we come with Paul in recognizing the “mysterious” (in the sense of being hidden and now revealed) intention of God in pre-New Testament history. Our vision of this mystery is guided by the revelation of said mystery in the New Testament. The revelation of God’s eternal purposes “reigns-in” tendencies toward extravagant, allegorical interpretations of Old Testament texts. I believe the early church understood this, as Didymus the Blind wrote, “we find frequently in the writings of the blessed Paul principles conducive to a higher (anagogic) interpretation. This is evident when he writes ‘This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and his church,’” (Didymus, Ancient Christian Commentary, 188). Also Jerome: “Gregory and Nazianzus, a very eloquent man and outstandingly versed in the Scriptures, used to say while discussing this passage with me: See how great the promise in this passage is! The apostle, interpreting it as an analogy of Christ and the church, does not himself even profess to have expounded it as the dignity of the idea demanded. He is in effect saying, ‘I know that this analogy is full of ineffable promises. It requires a divine heart in its interpretation. But in the weakness of my understanding I can only say that in the mean-time it should be interpreted as Christ in relation to the church. Nothing is greater than Christ and the church. Even all that is said of Adam and Eve is to be interpreted with reference to Christ and the church,” (Jerome, Ibid.).
[2] For example, see Ephesians 3:4-6.
[3] 
Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament: Epistles of Paul: Ephesians, 547.
[4] Salmond, 374.
[5] 
Boice, 206. He gives three specific applications of this truth: “1. No one will ever be able to understand the truest, deepest meaning of marriage who is not a Christian… 2. No one who is a Christian should ever marry a person who is not a Christian… 3. No marriage will ever attain its true potential unless those united in the marriage are pursuing it according to God’s goal and standards,” (Ibid.).
[6] Boice, Ephesians, 205; Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 231. Though “one flesh” of verse 31 is not the marital equivalent of the gospel “one new man” of 2:15, as Stott proposes, because the former is between the husband and wife. So, for the latter to be the gospel equivalent, it would need to be between Christ and His church. Yet, 2:15 speaks of Jewish and Gentile union.
[7] MacArthur suggests that Paul’s explanation of this “mystery” should motivate the husband to love the wife (MacArthur, Ephesians, 304-305). This seems to be a reasonable implication, especially since verse 32 falls within Paul’s exhortation to husbands. Some may take this to mean that only the husband’s role in marriage show-cases the gospel. This explanation appears to ignore Paul’s discussion of marital union that immediately precedes verse 32, however.
[8] 
Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 41-43.
[9] Salmond, 375.
[10] 
Ecclesiastes 12:13.
[11] 
For example, see Romans 3:9-18.
[12] Robertson, 547.
[13] Boice, 202.
[14] Boice, 206.
[15] MacArthur, 305.

An Exposition of Ephesians 5:22-33 (Part 3)

Commission to Husbands (vv.25-31)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. he who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

I. “As Christ Also Loved the Church” (vv.25-27)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.(v.25)
As the main command for wives was submit, so the main command for husbands is love. This is the husband’s duty – “a love capable even of suffering and dying for the wife as Christ did for the Church.”[1] Just as” qualifies this love with what follows: Christ’s love for His church manifested on the cross (“gave Himself up for her”). This lifts a husband’s commission “to the highest plane.”[2] We see here the measure and manner of a husband’s love. He models his love after Christ’s; the manner is of similar stock. He also sacrifices himself in love as Christ did; the measure is of similar weight.[3] This love is in the context of the mutual submission of verse 21. So the primary way that a husband submits to his wife is by loving her.[4] A wife submits to her husband by obeying his leadership and a husband submits to his wife by sacrificing all for her.

No greater love has ever been exhibited than that great and glorious act whereby Christ willingly endured the wrath of Almighty God in order to secure eternal life for the church. So many books and treatises have been written on this great matter. Perhaps for our present purposes it would suffice to say Christ’s love is unconditional. There is no condition that the church must meet in order for Christ to love her.

Paul wrote earlier in Ephesians that “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved,” (1:5-6). God loves His people in-spite, not because, of themselves. From election to glorification, salvation (Romans 8:29-30) is wholly by grace (Ephesians 2:8). The cross was the manifestation of God’s prior decision to save certain sinners (Ephesians 1:4-7) and the greatest demonstration of love that we can know (Romans 5:8).

Christ took no consideration of any quality, accomplishment, intent, or work that His people were responsible for. The motivation for Christ’s salvific work upon the cross was in no reference to the church’s own work. Our nature and accomplishments were irrelevant – as were the effects, both internal and external, of our faculties to the point that Christ was uninfluenced by our state of heart and deed to go to the cross. “Uninfluenced” meaning that Jesus remained on the cross for reasons foreign and alien to any obligation to be kind to us. This is the radical, powerful picture of Christ’s love. Remarkably, Paul says that the love of a husband for his wife should thus reflect the love of Christ for His church. The husband should take his cue from Christ’s work, not his wife’s. Her performance serves as no reference point for when and how he is to love her. Christ’s performance, rather, is the motivation. A man is to be persuaded by the cross to love his wife likewise.

What else will impel him to give all he has in such a way, for his whole life? What other stimulus or rationale will suffice? The husband must reject the quality of his wife’s work and consider only Christ’s, for therein lies bountiful incentive to love any fellow sinner for a thousand lifetimes. Paul’s opening commission to the husband, then, is quite to the point: “Husband’s, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.

“Look not,” Paul says, “for warmth in the fruit of your wife’s hands – soon you will find the sight quite cool and undeserving of grace. Instead, be ever gazing upon your Savior, Jesus Christ, lifted up as your own propitiation. Let the love He demonstrated for you usher swift resolve to, in all things, consider your wife before yourself. Look for warmth in the fruit of your Savior’s hands – soon, you will find the sight too hot to ignore and a sufficient kindling for sacrificial service.”

MacArthur writes, “When a husband sees faults and failures in his wife – even if she is as unfaithful and wanton as Gomer – he should realize that she has not offended him to a fraction of the degree to which he has offended God. God has immeasurably more for which to forgive us than we could ever have for which to forgive others.”[5]

While Christ’s love displayed on the cross is the prime motivator, the husband has even more examples to choose from when we approach God’s love in a Trinitarian context. It was in love that the Father sketched the plan of salvation (John 3:16; Ephesians 1:4-5), that the Son secured the means of salvation (John 3:14-15; Romans 3:21-26), and that the Spirit seals the recipients of salvation (Romans 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14).[6] A man who loves his wife as the Triune God has loved His people – how could any woman not welcome this? Egalitarian, feminist complaints regarding the tyrannical and unhealthy nature of Complementarianism are utterly void. Boice asserts rightly that “no good woman will struggle hard against a man who is willing to die for her.”[7] He goes on to give an illustration:

We are told in one of the Greek histories that the wife of one of the generals of Cyrus, the ruler of Persia, was accused of treachery and was condemned to die. At first her husband did not know what was taking place. But as soon as he heard about it he rushed to the palace and burst into the throne room. He threw himself on the floor before the king and cried out, “Oh, my Lord Cyrus, take my life instead of hers. Let me die in her place.”
Cyrus, who by all historical accounts was a noble and extremely sensitive man, was touched by this offer. He said, “Love like that must not be spoiled by death.” Then he gave the husband and wife back to each other and let the wife go free. As they walked away happily the husband said to his wife, “Did you notice how kindly the king looked at us when he gave you the pardon?” The wife replied, “I had no eyes for the king. I saw only the man who was willing to die in my place.” That is the picture the Holy Spirit paints for us in this great chapter of Ephesians.[8]

A word from early church theologian Chrysostom might also prove helpful to the reader:

Have you noted the measure of obedience? Paul attention to love’s high standard. If you take the premise that your wife should submit to you, as the church submits to Christ, then you should also take the same kind of careful, sacrificial thought for her that Christ takes for the church. Even if you must offer your own life for her, you must not refuse. Even if you must undergo countless struggles on her behalf and have all kinds of things to endure and suffer, you must not refuse. Even if you suffer all this, you have still done not as much as Christ has for the church. For you are already married when you act this way, whereas Christ is acting for one who has rejected and hated him. So just as he, when she was rejecting, hating, spurning and nagging him, brought her to trust him by his great solicitude, not by threatening, lording it over her or intimidating her or anything like that, so must you also act toward your wife. Even if you see her looking down on you, nagging and despising you, you will be able to win her over with your great love and affection for her.[9]

So that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her…that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory…that she would be holy and blameless.” (vv.26-27)
We understand that the husband does not sanctify his wife by the washing of water with the word, nor does he make her holy and blameless. Verses 26-27 are referencing Christ’s work, in which the husband does not share responsibility. I submitted earlier that verse 23b differentiates Christ’s work from the husbands. I made this decision fundamentally based on the Greek conjunction alla in verse 24a. However, verses 26-27 do seem to be implying something for the husband. There is no contrast in the Greek (at least explicitly). I submit, then, that verses 26-27 present a unity in the husband’s and Christ’s work in that both works are concerned with the bride’s glorification. Christ’s work affects the glorification, whereas the husband’s does not. Nevertheless, both works are done with the intent that the respective bride be sanctified.

So that” clarifies the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice. Christ giving Himself up for her (v.25) directly cleansed her of sin (v.26). “Having cleansed” logically and temporally precedes “might sanctify.” Christ first justifies, then sanctifies, His bride.[10] Yet justification is only the beginning: holiness is the final goal (Ephesians 1:4).For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them,” (Ephesians 2:10). The language is similar to John 3:16, in that the Son was given so that His people “might have everlasting life.” The possibility of life and sanctification comes through Christ’s work on the cross. Christ’s sacrifice had the goal of sanctification in mind. Yet there is a goal behind sanctification, as well. “That” at the beginning of verse 27 proves this. The goal of sanctification is for a presentation to Himself of the church in all her glory. Sanctification is the immediate intention of the cross, but glorification is the remote, ultimate end.[11]

We dwell on the phrase, “present…the church in all her glory.Endoxon, “in glory,” is the church being revealed. The church is manifested, showcased, fully seen. Glorification is in one sense the final act of sanctification, as an act of purification. In another sense, it is the following act of sanctification, as an act of presentation. Paul has beautifully traced Christ’s affection for His bride over the span of five verbs: “He loved her, gave himself up for her, to sanctify her, having cleansed her, that he might present her to himself.[12] Christ set His affection on the church in eternity past – in this love, He died for her – in doing so, He cleansed her of sin – now, He continues to separate her true self from the fleshly habits that remain – one day, He will complete this work and behold her in perfect holiness. What is highly significant is that the church is Christ’s and was cleansed before the glorification. The glorification of God’s people will be not be the moment in which we are made God’s possession, but rather the moment when our true natures will be fully manifested and strengthened in the presence of God’s glory. It is her glory in which she is presented. This glory is implicitly, in a real sense, present during the sanctification process beforehand. What does this mean? Well, it means that the five actions of love Christ’s takes for His church are for the ultimate purpose of presenting her in her most beautiful, articulate, healthy form. In love He prospers His bride. In love He does all that is necessary to nourish, heal and promote His bride so that she is molded into the fullest, happiest state.[13]

What we may say here is that the second quality of the husband’s love is that it should be for the purpose of his wife’s betterment. The husband gives no reference to his wife as he looks for a motive for love, but he gives every consideration to his wife’s condition as he contemplates, “How will this specific action affect her?” Every end unto which a husband directs his energy (in reference to marriage) should include chiefly how such labor will benefit his wife. There may yet be a different act or word that would suite her needs better. We must understand that it is the purpose of the husband’s act of love, not simply the effect, which Paul has in mind here. That is, my wife’s betterment is not simply a consequence of what I do, but an utmost intention of what I do, to the extent that my efforts to benefit my wife are in some significant and actual way a reflection of Christ’s effectual effort to sanctify His church. A husband should be filled with zeal for the health of his wife as he reads of Christ’s own zeal for the health of His bride: “that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.

Paul’s command is not twofold, it is singular: love. Within love, however, there are two natural distinctions – inseparable, but differentiable. Love is unconditional and nutritional. Love looks for no prior condition in the object and serves the end of bettering the object. Love is a commitment based principally on the lover’s decision, for the purpose of building-up and protecting another. To bring both facets together, we can see that love is a commitment to another’s welfare. “Husbands,” Paul says, “be committed to your wife’s welfare. Make a decision to bless your wife in all things. How she speaks to you, acts towards you, respects you, follows you – none of these things matter. This is the mindset: ‘Christ blessed me, now I will bless my wife. Christ put me first, now I will put my wife first.’” MacArthur writes,

Just as God supplies “all [our] needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19), the loving husband seeks to supply all the needs of his wife. The blessed marriage is the marriage in which the husband loves his wife with unlimited caring. Something is basically wrong if she is looked at only as a cook, housekeeper, occasional companion, and sex partner. She is a God-given treasure to be loved, cared for, nourished, and cherished.

II. “As Their Own Bodies” (vv.28-31)

So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.” (v.28)
This phrase must be read in light of the following comments. This is an explicit statement of the second facet of love. Paul again likens it to Christ’s love for His church.

He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one every hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. (vv.28b-30)
Paul quotes Genesis in verse 31 and prescribes it to the husband as a fact: the husband and wife are one flesh in marriage. Therefore, it is completely applicable to say what he does in verses 28-29. The husband’s love is one of unconditional, sacrificial service, and a nourishing, cherishing service. His example to follow is Christ. The church is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). Thus, when Christ nourishes the church, He does so to Himself (“just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body”). Since the wife is one flesh with the man, Paul’s command is entirely logical. When the husband benefits the wife, he benefits himself, because the two are one. Therefore, even aside from Christ’s demonstration of love upon the cross, there is obvious motivation and reason to nourish the wife. “Husband, love your wife, because it is what is best for you.” Does not a healthy hand benefit the mouth – for how else will the mouth attain food? Does not a healthy heart benefit the mind – for how else will the mind attain blood? Thus, a healthy spouse benefits the other. If a man ever struggles to find motivation enough to love his wife, let him consider two things. First, Christ loved him upon the cross. Second, his health is inescapably linked to his wife’s.

Critiquing Complementarianism, some suggest that it is a hierarchical system allowing the husband to arbitrarily boss the wife. “Authority” often bears this negative connotation.

First, authority in essence cannot be evil because Christ possesses authority. Obviously authority can be utilized in good, just ways. There is nothing evil innate to authority. The issue is how authority is wielded. Trip Lee explains, “Power doesn’t corrupt – it just shows our corruption. Instead of shying away from the concept of authority in stewardship and leadership, what if we approached it in the context of the gospel, with an agenda to reform what mankind often twists?

Second, to assume such abuse in Complementarianism is to ignore Paul’s mandate of love for the husband. The testimony of Scripture does not allow for a husband to abuse a wife. Abuse is blatant disobedience.

Third, to assume such abuse in Complementarianism is to ignore Paul’s discourse on marital union between male and female, that each spouse’s health is inescapably linked to the other. Imagine if I broke my leg and the next day hobbled out into a field. My mind remembers what it felt like to sprint, and I immediately have a desire to run across the plain. Now, who in their right mind would do such a thing? This is analogous to a husband’s potential abuse of authority in Complementarianism. Could he do it? Well, yes – in the same way that I could choose to run across a field with a broken leg. There would be no sense in doing it, because in-so-doing I suffer with my wife. Complementarianism supports an abusive husband in the same way that a doctor supports a broken-legged runner. “There will be no running, because running is not good for your leg,” the doctor says. “You may only participate in activities that promote the health of your leg.” Likewise, Complementarianism says, “There will be no doing x, because x is not good for your wife. You may only lead in what directions promote the health of your wife.”

Fourth, to assume such abuse in Complementarianism is to ignore the power that enables the husband’s proper use of authority. Ephesians 5:25-31 is in the context of verses 15-21, as I have already explained. Verse 18 is absolutely crucial: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” Complementarianism is accomplished through this filling of the Spirit. Timothy Keller, in The Meaning of Marriage, correctly points out that “everything [Paul] is about to say about marriage assumes that the parties are being filled with God’s Spirit. Only if you have learned to serve others by the power of the Holy Spirit will you have the power to face the challenges of marriage.”[14] Anti-Complementarian objections dealing with marital abuses of authority disregard this important qualification of true Complementarity.


[1] Salmond, Expositor’s Greek Testament: Ephesians, 367.
[2] Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament: Epistles of Paul: Ephesians, 545.
[3] Salmond, 367. And so, in relationship, the husband’s love meets the wife’s obedience (Ibid.), thus modeling Christ’s relation to the church.
[4] MacArthur, Ephesians, 296.
[5] Ibid., 303.
[6] Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament: Ephesians, 131. A husband’s passion (eros), satisfaction (stergo) and affection (phileo) are all saturated with the Christ-like love Paul prescribes (Ibid.).
[7] Boice, Ephesians, 199.
[8] Ibid., 200.
[9] Chrysostom, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Ephesians, 185.
[10] An alternate theory pays closer attention to the aorist characteristic of “sanctify” and understands “having been” as giving the way in which the sanctification comes about. So, Christ sanctifies His bride by cleansing her. This seems perfectly logical, and even  preferable considering that the instrument of cleansing mentioned by Paul is not Christ’s death on the cross but “the washing of water with the word.” In this theory, then, there is no explicit reference to justification except that which “gave Himself up for her” entails. While I concede this as even the most probable meaning of the text, I do not concede that “cleansing” can never communicate justification (see John 13:10). John 15:3 is an example of justification being referenced by “cleansing,” in which the means by which it is administered is Christ’s Word. This is theologically parallel to what Paul writes here, that the church is cleansed “by the washing of water with the word,” (emphasis mine). I will allow the reader to judge for himself, yet please note that whichever reading of the text is correct, it by no means changes the Complementarian exegesis I have provided. All that is at stake here is whether or not justification is explicit or implicit in this Pauline passage.
[11] Salmond, 369.
[12] Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 227. Also influential to my understanding of this was Boice, 200-202.
[13] This concept is in part derived from Stott, 228.
[14] Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 48.

An Exposition of Ephesians 5:22-33 (Part 2)

Commission to Wives (vv.22-24)

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

I. The Command (v.22)

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. This command is referring to the previous verse where Paul commissions all Christians to be subject to one another. “Be subject” is implied but not technically written in verse 22. Paul addresses wives, children and slaves first in these sections (5:22-33; 6:1-4; 6:5-9) to specify the various ways that 5:21 is obeyed in the Christian household. Underneath the general commission of general submission, there are these three specific forms of submission.[1] The verb is hupatasso, meaning “to relinquish one’s rights” – or more simply, “to obey.” The verb is in the middle voice, which highlights the willingness of the one submitting. Thus, in verse 21, “the submission is to be a voluntary response to God’s will in giving up one’s independent rights to other believers in general and to ordained authority in particular.”[2] Paul explains in 5:22-6:9 how mutual subjection plays-out in three separate household relationships: marriage (husband and wife), offspring (children and parents), slavery (master and slave). To wives, Paul is saying, “Obey your husbands.”

First, we must take great care to distinguish between a person and an office. Martin Luther wrote,

I have often said that we must sharply distinguish between these two, the office and the person. The man who is called Hans or Martin is a man quite different from the one who is called elector or doctor or preacher. Here we have two different persons in one man. The one is that in which we are created and born, according to which we are all alike – man or woman or child, young or old. But once we are born, God adorns and dresses you up as another person. He makes you a child and me a father, one a master and another a servant, one a prince and another a citizen.[3]

Within the marriage relationship, we clearly see equal dignity but different roles.[4] A wife who obeys her husband recognizes the divine order of creation. God has chosen to place the husband as a steward over the home. The authority is delegated to the husband to use for God’s purposes – something that will be discussed in greater detail when Paul addresses men. What we understand now, however, is that there is clearly an order to the home, in which the husband leads and the wife follows. “Be subject” does not mean unconditional obedience, so as to follow a husband into blatant sin – nor does it give unlimited authority to husbands.[5] Nevertheless, the meaning is obedience.

The wife’s submission is not her obedience to someone of higher worth, who is better and more valuable than her. Rather, her obedience to her husband is her recognition of and submission to God’s plan for the home. She follows her husband because she loves God, delights in His purposes and trusts the way He has chosen to organize the family. Further, the husbands authority to lead the home cannot mean that he is more valuable, important or glorious than the wife, because his authority is not innate. Christ alone holds all authority in Heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18-20). Any authority that the husband holds, therefore, is a delegated authority. In other words: it says something about the office, but not the individual.

As to the Lord” may refer to “as [your husbands likewise submit] to the Lord.” I understand this not to be the case because of the ensuing language. Verses 23-24 show that it is God’s plan for the wife to submit to the husband, as part of the marital order. Thus, “as to the Lord” would make sense to mean, “in submitting to your husband, you submit to the Lord.” Salmond explains this phrase well: “…the wife is to regard the obedience she has to render to her husband as an obedience rendered to Christ, the Christian husband being head of the wife and representing to her Christ the Head of the whole Christian body.”[6] Submission to the husband is submission to God, for he is God’s steward over the wife, ordained by God to lead her. When she submits, it is not because her husband deserves or demands it, but because Christ commands it. Christ is her motivation to submit. Her primary delight in being subject is not fulfilling her husband’s will, but Christ’s.

Verse 22a (“Wives, be subject to your own husbands”) is the main phrase of the whole three-verse section (vv.22-24). “Your own” clarifies “husbands.” The Greek idiois (translated “Your own”) renders “husbands” as something special – unique to each individual wife.[7] This is a mandate only for subjection to her husband. This passage cannot be used to prove a female’s subjection to any other man. MacArthur writes, “They belong to each other in an absolute equality. The husband no more possesses his wife than she possesses him. He has no superiority and she no inferiority, any more than one who has the gift of teaching is superior to one with the gift of helping.”[8]

II. Reason for the Command (v.23a)

For” means “because.” The following words will inform us of something that made provision or necessity in some way for the wife’s submission. The reason for Paul’s command to “be subject” is this: “the husband is the head of the wife.” The husband’s headship in this phrase is qualified by the next, but we may already concern ourselves with the question of source versus authority. Some commentators see “head of the wife” to mean “source of the wife.” However, I see no implication of this in the text. Why would the wife need to obey the husband (“be subject”) if the husband was simply the source of the woman, in that she came from his rib ? It makes more sense for Paul to be referring to the created order, that man would be the leader for woman. This understanding makes much more sense of the ensuing phrase. In what way is the husband a source for his wife the same as Christ is for the church? I think it makes more sense for Paul to be referring to a headship of authority.

Others suggest that because gender roles were accepted in the ancient world, Paul was giving a mandate contingent upon that specific culture. Since today’s culture differentiates itself from antiquity, these mandates don’t apply. Yet I don’t think this argument makes sense of the reasons Paul shares for his instruction. In Ephesians 5:22-24, Paul’s reasoning for commanding the wife to submit is that the husband is the head of the wife. This is a fact that Paul asserts – something inherent to the marriage relationship. This is a quality of marriage, dating back to when God created the union in Genesis 2. Since Paul’s reasoning is based on created order and not cultural fads, the command is timeless. Marital offices are, at their root, unaffected by culture. “What creation has established, no culture is able to destroy.”[9] How the fundamental commands for husbands and wives are carried out will look different in various cultures, but the fundamental commands will not change. How the specific roles mandated in Scripture are carried out is probably best left to the husband and wife’s individual strengths and weaknesses. The command of God is that each unique household conforms to the general mandate of roles outlined in Scripture. There is a reason for this, even beyond how males and females are biologically different.

Also: if gender roles are innate to marriage, then a husband will only find his true self in manhood when he fully accepts and lives-out his role as a husband. Likewise, a wife only truly steps into womanhood when she fully accepts and lives-out her role as a wife.[10] A wife who submits to her husband is not limited but set free. Some might think that Ephesians 5:22-24 oppresses Christian wives. But if she was created by God to hold a certain office when married, then she will find purest delight, meaning and fulfillment when she fills that office at the proper time. Only in submitting to her husband can a wife truly experience and know womanhood. The plan of God is liberating – may we see it as such!

III. Analogy for the Command (v.23b-24)

As Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” Paul makes Christ’s headship over the church the husband’s model for his own headship. I have already suggested that head means “authority”- but what purpose does “He Himself being the Savior of the body” serve in Paul’s argument? Does it take away the husband’s role of authority, qualifying it as source-ship? First option: consider that the husband’s source-ship is similar to Christ’s, in the sense that Christ is the “Savior of the body.” Later on, Paul may be suggesting that a husband should be concerned for his wife’s sanctification (a facet of salvation; vv.25-27). This is likely not the connection. For one, this is as far as even implicit textual support can be drawn. Secondly, there is no way in which the husband is a savior of the wife as Christ is. Suppose a second option: that the husband is to provide and protect the wife, as Christ did for the church, thereby being her source of sustenance. So, the husband’s savior-ship is not salvific but physical. This still seems to be a bit of a stretch. I don’t believe it makes the best sense of Paul’s choice of words. A third alternative: Paul, before he even addresses husbands, is clarifying the manner of their headship. By referencing Christ’s sacrifice for His church, he foreshadows the love that he will call husbands to in verses 25-29. Especially in Paul’s day, where women were barely more than property, such a comment on Christ’s headship would have seemed radical. This seems compatible with the text, but not the best interpretation, in light of a final alternative.

The fourth option, I believe, is to be preferred: this statement by Paul depicts how Christ’s role differs from that of the husband. Christ is the church’s head and savior, but a husband is only a head to his wife. This is most evident in the Greek alla, translated as “but” or “nevertheless.” Paul’s thoughts flow like this: “He Himself being the Savior of the body – nevertheless, as the church is subject to Christ…” Alla is a Greek word depicting strong contrast, unlike its weaker counterpart de. What is Paul contrasting? There must be something in verse 23 that Paul is putting in opposition to something in verse 24. If we take Paul’s comment on Christ as Savior as clarifying part of the church/Christ relationship that is not synonymous with the marriage relationship, then this allows alla to function properly within the sentence. We can paraphrase verses 22-24 likewise: “Wives, you must obey your husbands. Do this because God has decided for husbands to be leaders for their wives, just like Christ is the leader of the church – though He is also the Savior of the church. Despite this inconsistency in my analogy, you must still obey your husbands as the church obeys Christ.” Undoubtedly, a husband should be concerned with his wife’s sanctification (option 1), should be a physical protector of his wife (option 2), and should model his love toward his wife after Christ’s for his church (option 3). However, the vital issue is not what is true, but rather what did Paul mean. Taking the fourth option, I believe, provides the smoothest and simplest exegesis – taking best consideration for which words Paul chose to use.

If, by referring to Christ as Savior, Paul is implying something positive for husbands, this would still fit well with the text and be perfectly compatible with our exegesis thus far. Running with this option, we must first note that “Savior of the body” does not further clarify the quality of Christ’s headship but rather the manner in which it is expressed by Christ. Paul does not say with this phrase, “Christ is the head of the church – but not in the sense that He has authority. Rather, in the sense that He sustains and benefits her.” He instead says, “Christ is the head of the church – and look how He treated her! He died for her sins, giving up everything so that she could be made whole.” If this is what Paul intended to convey (option 3), then his message for husbands in verse 23 would be something similar to this: “Husbands are the wife’s head as Christ is the church’s – Oh, and by the way, Christ died for His church, so keep that in mind, husbands, as you go about being your wife’s head.” This understanding makes sense of Paul’s later instruction to husbands and his present word on the similarities between these two headship roles. Calvin agrees: “As Christ rules over his church for her salvation, so nothing yields more advantage or comfort to the wife than to be subject to her husband.”[11] I favor the fourth option, but I leave the reader to follow what evidence he sees most convincing.

Though perhaps there is a fifth option. “He Himself being the Savior of the body” could be Paul sharing how Christ has been a faithful head. A paraphrase might be: “Husbands are the wife’s head as Christ is the church’s – and Christ was a faithful head, wasn’t He? He exercised His authority for her greatest good.” The husband’s authority is not due to his worthiness, but his office (as asserted above). An appropriate question would be, “For what purpose is this office given?” The answer I think is clear: “For the wife’s benefit.” The husband’s headship is delegated by Christ in order that the wife and home would be made healthy. So in this fifth option, Paul gives the wife confidence in his theology of headship. “Look how Christ exercised his headship. If your marriage is modeled after what I am now teaching you, then your husband will exercise his headship likewise.”

In verse 24, Paul restates his main assertion and provides wives with their own example: the church. “But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” By this time it is obvious, and shall be later expounded upon, that the marriage relationship reflects Christ’s relationship to His church through the fact that and manner in which the relationship is one of submission and headship. “Ought to be” is not in the text, but seems intended. “In everything” clarifies the realm of subjection: there is nothing in which wives are not to submit to their husbands.

These three verses are all Paul says concerning and to wives in Ephesians 5. Perhaps this is because his words were unlikely to be misunderstood. Female submission in antiquity was vastly abused, yet culturally grasped. When Paul told the church that every wife ought to be subject to her husband in everything, the simplicity of such a commission was not confused with ambiguity. Everyone would have known what Paul meant. However, when he further clarified the authority of the husband as having a manner of sacrificial love in the likeness of Christ’s for His church, then there was motivation and cause for misunderstanding. It makes sense, then, that Paul’s longer section be devoted to tearing-down the worldly standard for male headship in marriage. The radical nature of Paul’s command to husbands can hardly be overstated. Although verses 22-24 are considered controversial in the 21st century, verses 25-33 likely were given such treatment in Paul’s day.

By drawing an analogy between the marital relationship and that of Christ/church, Paul calls wives to take their cues from the church. The husband is not to be worshiped or religiously focused upon, as the church does with Christ. The husband is Christ’s steward over the wife, and in this way the wife models the sense in which the church follows Christ. If a woman is confused as to what Paul means by “be subject,” she should study in what way the church submits to Christ, keeping in mind the qualifications mentioned in the text (i.e., the husband is not to be worshiped as God, trusted in as a Savior or unconditionally obeyed). Likewise, if a man is confused, he should study the way in which Christ leads the church, keeping in mind qualifications.

We stated above that the wife’s submission, although in all things, is not unconditional. That is to say that any condition in which the husband leads the wife into sin is a condition in which the wife is no longer obligated to submit to her husband. With this in mind, we also understand (from Paul’s comparison of the church/Christ relationship to the marriage relationship) that a wife is no more a co-leader with her husband than the church is with Christ. Calvin writes, “Not that the authority is equal, but wives cannot obey Christ without yielding obedience to their husbands.”[12] Marriage is a partnership, but the partnership is not of mirror offices. It is a partnership unto the same end: the building and protecting of a home. The household is the glorious purpose of both marital roles. They both can take great joy in their roles, knowing that in doing so they equally contribute to a wholesome, God-glorifying, healthy home.

Perhaps a final word should be said concerning confidence in obeying God. If this is the prescribed office for a wife to hold – one of submission to the husband – then what should the wife’s attitude be in submitting?[13] I think MacArthur gives a good word concerning the confidence that wives can have in obeying God’s ordained roles in marriage.

“God specifically excludes women from dominant leadership over men in the church and in the home, and whatever direct influence they have – which can be highly significant and powerful – should be by way of encouragement and support. Holiness has always been the foremost concern of godly women. “For in this way in former times,” Peter goes on to explain, “the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands. Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear” 91 Pet. 3:5-6). Just as Abraham was the symbolic father of the faithful (Rom. 4:11, 16), his wife, Sarah, was the symbolic mother of the submissive. Because Sarah had no fear of obeying God, she had no fear of what her husband, or any other person or circumstance, might do to her. God will take care of the consequences when His children are obedient to Him.”[14]

[1] Boice, Ephesians (Bake Books, 1998), 199. Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, commentary on Ephesians 5:22.
[2] MacArthur, Ephesians, 280.
[3Luther, The Sermon on the Mount, Luther’s Works, Vol. 21 (Concordian, 1956), 23.
[4] Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 218.
[5 Ibid. “We must submit right up to the point where obedience to human authority would involved disobedience to God,” (Stott, 219).
[6Salmond, Expositor’s, 365.
[7] Ibid.
[8] MacArthur, 281.
[9] Stott, 221.
[10] Stott, 222.
[11] Calvin, commentary on Ephesians 5:23.
[12] Calvin, commentary on Ephesians 5:22.
[13 Of course there are many other glorious things a wife does – her existence as a wife is not defined by obeying her husband. I only point this aspect out here because this is all Paul deals with in this text.
[14] MacArthur, 284.

An Exposition of Ephesians 5:22-33 (Part 1)

Context (vv.18-21)

How are husband and wife to relate to one another? Ephesians 5:22-33 fits-under the command be subject in verse 21.[1] Sections 6:1-4 and 6:5-9 are also under the commission. In 5:21 Paul orders all Christians to “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” Being subject to one another inevitably involves laying down what we may be entitled to in order to benefit someone else. “In the fear of Christ draws the reader’s attention to the manner in which he is to submit. The fear of God leads to obedience. To sacrificially serve another in the fear of Christ is to have Him exalted in our hearts as the true reason we lay down our rights. I submit to others because I love them, yes, but principally because God commands me to do so. It is ultimately because I cherish Christ that I submit. As is the case that He is pleased by such love, so shall it be that I will serve in such a way, to please Him. Christ, for Paul, is “head of the body, the church,” – the One by, through and for Whom “all things have been created.[2] When a follower of Jesus submits in the fear of Christ to fellow disciples, he manifests what God has wrought within: that Christ indeed is his head (Lord) and chief concern.[3]

This is evident in the relationship between “be subject” in verse 21 and “be filled” in verse 18. The Greek text seems to have “be subject” as a participle under the main verb “be filled.”[4] The subjection is related to the filling in that the former proceeds from the latter. To the glory of God’s power and grace, mutual subjection in the church is in fact a fruit of the Spirit. It is by nature a product of the sanctifying work of God within the life of the believer; it is by manifestation the believer’s own discipline in obedience to the Word of God. We may understand this as we would any other point of sanctification. First, it is God’s doing in that He not only predetermined the good work [5] but also regenerated the man,[6] thereby enabling him “to will and to work for His good pleasure.”[7Second, it is the Christian’s doing in that, as he is now set free from the power of sin, he possesses true ability to obey God and discipline himself unto righteousness.[8]

Being filled with the Spirit is being controlled by Him in the sense that we continually turn from the world and to Him in obedience and faith (i.e. repentance). This “filling” is as a hand moves a glove. The glove has a form but naturally remains limp until directed by the hand that fills it. In similar fashion, the sanctification of a man can be described as the “going limp” of his own, carnal will to the point that his life conforms to the will of God. Through the initial regeneration and continual sanctification of the Spirit (both never apart from the Word of God[9]), the Christian’s nature is literally recreated and conformed into one of Christlikeness. That is, his “limp-ness” becomes further and further natural. When at last this age has passed and our faith is made sight in the splendor of heaven,[10] we shall be glorified and the work of sanctification completed.[11We will then be made totally “limp” unto His will. How wondrous an eternity awaits us when Christ’s church shall be “saved to sin no more!

It is evident, then, that mutual subjection is impossible apart from salvation. To expect an unregenerate man to lay down his rights in the fear of Christ is to ask a rock to become soft: you are speaking truths he cannot truly perceive and asking things he cannot possibly enact. The rock may only become soft if its nature is changed by a powerful outer-agent – so too is the state of the unregenerate man. This is what we must bear in mind as we consider the relationships of verses 22-33, 6:1-4 and 6:5-9. In the schemes and fleeting affections of mankind, it is indeed possible for two unregenerate people to be in a relationship that appears to adhere to the basic principles of Ephesians 5:22-33, so as to fool others of an authentic, gospel union. Though each party may appear to be happily fulfilling the created rule for matrimony, neither one works in the fear of Christ or is even capable of the most fundamental quality therein: loving God. The wife’s chief model is the gospel union of Christ and the church (v.24). Her motivation, above all, is her submission “as to the Lord, (v.22). The husband’s model is the same (vv.25-27, 29-30), and his motivation is the cross of Christ (vv.25-27).

A delight in Christ and His gospel is absolutely essential for both the husband and wife. In addition, such a delight only comes to people when they are regenerated and continually led by the Spirit. Apart from the power of God in salvation, no wife can truthfully say, “I submit to my husband because I love Jesus,” nor husband, “I love my wife because Jesus loves me.” The greatest counsel any man can give to a distressed couple is the counsel of good news in the death and resurrection of Christ. They must be pointed to the gospel’s message [12] and power.[13] Only then will they have opportunity to behold the true nature of sanctification: that by grace through faith [14] the cords of sin may no longer bind their hearts to idolatry, but may be cut and burnt – that the death in which they walk may in fact, through the work of Christ, die – that in union with Christ they are assured the taste of their firstborn brother’s resurrection fruit,[15] whereby the promise of salvation from sin will in fact come to complete fruition [16] – that sanctification to Christ and satisfaction in Christ are inseparable qualities.


[1Salmond, Expositor’s Vol. III, 365; Stott, Ephesians, 215; Boice, Ephesians, 198-199; MacArthur, Ephesians, 280.
[2] Colossians 1:16-18.
[3Matthew Henry writes, “In the fear of God means ‘for his sake, so that we may show in our lives that we sincerely fear him,’” (The New Matthew Henry Commentary, 2128).
[4Stott, 215; cf. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 544.
[5Ephesians 2:10; more generally, that God “does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3) and “works all things after the counsel of His will,” (Ephesians 1:11).
[6] 1 John 5:1.
[7] Philippians 2:13.
[8Romans 6:1-21, 8:1-17.
[9] RegenerationJohn 1:9-13; Romans 10:12-17. Sanctification – Colossians 3:16 cf. Ephesians 5:18; see MacArthur, Strange Fire, 203-206.
[10Revelation 21:1-17; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, Hebrews 11:1.
[11Romans 8:28-30.
[12] Message – the character of God (Exodus 34:6-7), the wickedness and guiltiness of man (Romans 3:9-18), the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-26; 1:4, 4:25), the call to repentance and faith (Romans 10:9-13).
[13Power – the sovereignty of God in effectually regenerating and sanctifying sinners (Romans 8:28-30; Philippians 1:6; 1 John 5:1).
[14] Ephesians 2:8.
[15] Colossians 1:18.
[16] Philippians 1:6.