{10}   Love (Eph 5:21-33)



The new community must demonstrate both new standards and new relationship. The rest of this book deals with new relationship, first between visible, tangible human beings (husband/wife, parents/children, masters/servants) and then the relationship to invisible, intangible demonic beings).

What is the point of peace in the church if there is no peace in the home? The divine family ceases to be a credible concept if it is not itself subdivided into human families which display God’s love. Sadly, few Christians know how high and mysterious is the call of God to marriage! In a culture which screams “do whatever feels good” and “me first”, it is especially difficult, even as followers of Jesus, to give our marriage the time and energy which it deserves—or even the commitment it takes to make it last. As in all other aspects of the Christian life, the community, the new creation of God, is vital in marriage.

Here, Paul marevellously combines doctrine with practical instruction about marriage, as he enters into the topic of new relationships in this new society of God. If our Christian faith is of any practical value, it must teach us how to behave Christianly at home.


Question: Whether you are married or single, when is it hard for you to humbly submit your will to that of another person?



5:21-33            The bond in marriage



5:21     FOR EVERYONE: The overarching theme for this passage is to submit to each other in marital relationship. Some Bible scholars believe that this verse is a continuation of the previous passage, that is, it is 4th result of a Spirit-filled life. The support for this is that the word “submit” is a present participle like the other three verbs above. If so, submitting is to be a general attitude of Christians. On the other hand, it is more likely that this verse belongs to this passage because there is no verb at all in v.22 because the call for submission in v.21 is intended to be carried over to this verse. Moreover, the 3 relationships described below are also characterized by submission. Wives are told to submit to the hubands (5:22); children are told to obey the parents (6:1); slaves are told to obey the masters (6:5).

Submission is often neglected and despised in this age of liberation and rights. Yet, it is based on humility which all Christians should demonstrate, particularly church leaders.

How do we react to the quest of liberty in the present age. [1] We should welcome such development because it is true in history and in many cultures even today that liberty was unjustly deprived from classes of people: women were exploited and oppressed; children were suppressed and squashed; workers were unjustly treated, being given inadequate wages and working conditions (worst of all, slavery). [2] We have to admit that the church sometimes helped to perpetuate some forms of human oppression. [3] We have to understand that human oppression is against God’s will as can be seen from the attitude of Jesus Christ towards women and children. [4] Excessive quest for freedom and rights is unbiblical; first, freedom must always couple with responsibility (as can be seen from passages below); second, excessive quest for freedom results in the suppression of freedom of others, for example, secularists’ insistence on the freedom from religion (or actually the coercion of the society to accept the supremacy of the religion of secular humanism) deprives Christians of religious freedom (such as restriction of public expression of our faith).

Before talking about submission, we have to accept 3 Biblical truths: [1] “dignity” of womanhood, childhood, and servanthood; [2] “equality” before God of all human beings; [3] “unity” of all Christian believers, as fellow-members of God’s family and of Christ’s body.

Submission is not another word for inferiority. Submission is based on different roles that God put us in. Roles are different from persons which are characterized by the 3 truths above. Martin Luther said, “The man who is called Hans or Martin is a man quite different from the one who is called elector or doctor or preacher.” When someone assumes a God-appointed leadership role, he has a certainly God-given authority. It must be stressed that all authorities originate from God. Submission is a humble recognition of the divine ordering of the society. That is why the reason for mutual submission in this verse is “out of reverence for Christ”.

Because God is the originator of authorities, the authority of husbands, parents, and masters is not unlimited. If they misuse their God-given authority, a Christian is obligated to refuse to submit as a result of our higher submission to God. Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Ac 5:29)

How is the divinely delegated authority to be used? It must never be used selfishly, but always for the benefits of the other party. The Bible lays down the reciprocal duties in each pair of relationship. While the requirement of submission presupposes an authority, yet the word “authority” (Gr. exousia) is not used once in this passage. On the contrary, Paul warns them against improper use of their authority, forbids them to exploit their position, and urges them to remember their responsibilities both to God and to the other party: husbands are to love their waves and care for them (5:28-29); parents are not to provoke their children but bring them up sensitively (6:4); masters are not to threaten their slaves, but treat them with justice (6:9).

Of course, the submission refers to an attitude of the heart. Just as described above, we do not submit to others in everything. The same applies to the command to obey the leaders in Heb 13:17. The key to follow this command is to have a willingness to submit which is actually more difficult than simply submission in action.

“Out of reverence for Christ” is more precisely “in the fear of Christ”. Here is Paul’s declared belief in the deity of Christ since the regular OT requirement was to live “in the fear of God.” (see also Ro 9:5; Titus 2:13)

5:22     FOR WIVES: Wives are to submit to the headship of the husband. One reason given for this command can be found in 1Co 11:3-12 in which the order is based on creation in Gen 2. Paul points out that woman was made after man, out of man, and for man. Although Paul adds that man is also born from woman, so that man and woman are dependent on one another. The emphasis of the  passage is on the order, mode and purpose of the creation of Eve. Since man’s position of authority is based on the original intention of creation, it can not be superceded by the argument of cultural application (such as the argument on veiling) and should still be applied today. However, this applies only in marriage, not to man-woman relationship in general.

5:23     An additional reason for submission of the wives is based on the example of Christ. As Christ is the Head of the church, the husband is the head of the wife. How should we understand this headship? Here, from the example of Christ, He is the Saviour not the dictator of the church. In 4:15-16, Christ is the Head that the body derives its health and grows into maturity. His headship expresses care rather than control, responsibility rather than rule. The Greek word (kephale) for head means physical head or “one who precedes another into battle”; if Paul wants the word to denote boss or chief, he could have used another Greek word (arche).

5:24     While the head of the married couple is the husband, he is not to be a tyrant or a dictator but a care-giver and a leader. On the other hand, the wife is to submit voluntarily just as the church is to submit voluntarily to Christ. An organization needs a leader or else there will be frequent power struggles. So is a family. While a leader has the authority to lead, he also has the responsibility to care and to provide and to bear the blame for any failure.

5:25     FOR HUSBANDS: The husband is commanded to love the wife as Christ has loved the church. Jesus referred Himself as the Bridegroom (Mk 2:19-20). The commitment of Christ to His bride is described by 5 verbs: [1] He loved her, [2] gave Himself up for her, [3] having cleansed her, [4] sanctify her, [5] present her to Himself. The statement is so complete and comprehensive that some scholars think it may be a quotation from an early Christian confession or hymn. It traces Christ’s care for His church from the past to the future eternity.

[1]   Christ loves the church. It is a sacrificial love or “agape-love”, more than just emotional love (Gr. phileo).  It seems to look back to His eternal pre-existence in which He set His love on His people and determined to come to save them.

[2]   Christ gave Himself up for the church. This clearly refers to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The purpose is to cleanse the church and sanctify the church.

5:26     [3]        Christ cleanses the church by washing with water through the word. While this phrase follows the one on sanctifying, the tenses of the verbs suggest that the cleansing precedes sanctification. It refers to the cleansing from sin and guilt when we first repent and believe in Jesus. “Washing with water” clearly refers to baptism. The “word” is not the Word of God (the Bible) but is the speech. Some think that it alludes to the confession of faith by the one to be baptized. Some think that it refers to the promise of covenant love by Christ.

[4]   Christ sanctifies the church. If refers to the present process of making the church holy in character and conduct by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

5:27     [5]        Christ presents the church to Himself in splendour (Gr. endoxon), holy and blameless. This refers to the presentation of the church as the bride in the wedding supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9; 21:2,9). “Splendour” may hint at the bride’s beautiful wedding dress as the word is used for clothing but it refers to the glory of God. On earth, the church if often stained and ugly, despised and persecuted. In eternity, the church will be holy and without blemish.

The whole picture describes how Christ is never a tyrant to the church but instead loves the church, sacrificed for the church, and helps the church develop her full potential under God. This is the model for the husband’s love toward his wife.

5:28     While the above may appear as an ideal, a more practical advice is Jesus’ golden rule of treating others as we would like ourselves to be treated  (Mt 7:12). This is more than a useful guide to daily behaviour. Since the husband and the wife have become “one flesh”, therefore he who loves his wife loves himself.

5:29     A person provides sustenance and care to his own body out of instinct therefore the husband needs to do the same. And Christ does the same to His church too.

5:30     Paul uses two analogies for a husband’s love of his wife, namely Christ’s loving sacrifice for His bride the church, and the husband’s loving care of his own body. Now he fuses the two because Christ’s bride and Christ’s body are the same.

5:31     The quote is from Gen 2:24 about the sexual union of the husband and the wife.

5:32     This union is fact a symbol for the union of Christ and His church. Paul describes this as a profound mystery. As a mystery is a revealed truth, Paul attributes this linkage of husband/wife and Christ/church as a revelation from God.

Paul’s use of “but I say” is a strong one. Not only does he use the strong Greek word for “I” (ego) to inist on his apostolic authority, his use of “but I say” (Gr. ego de lego) imitates what Jesus used 6 times in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:22,28,32,34,39,44).

Paul starts with the loving relationship between Christ and the church and this is the model for the relationship between the husband and the wife. This passage ends with the union between the husband and the wife and this is the symbol for the union between Christ and the church.

5:33     To sum up, Paul once again commands the husband to love the wife and the wife to respect the husband. The word “respect” is different from “submit” at the beginning of this passage. It emphasizes the inward respectful attitude more than the outward submission. It also is love’s response to love (of the husband).



        We have seen that the essence of Paul’s instruction is “wives submit, husband love” and that these words are different from one another since they recognize the headship which God has given to the husband. Yet when we try to define the two verbs, it is not easy to distinguish clearly between them. What does it mean to submit? It is to give oneself up to somebody. What does it mean to love? It is to give oneself up for somebody, as Christ gave Himself up for the church. Thus submission and love are two aspects of the very same thing, namely, of that selfless self-giving which is the foundation of an enduring and growing marriage.





        If you are married, thank God for the gift of your marriage and the privilege of representing to the world Christ’s relationship with His bride. If you are not married, pray for marriages in your community, that they will grow and represent Christ well.