Ephesians 5:21ff

I wrote this as an email to a Pastor friend of mine when he asked me how I view this particular passage now that I’m out of my addiction; he needed it for a sermon he was preparing.

“Ben (not his real name) – I am no theologian. You know this. You’ve asked me for the “Rest of the Story” as I believe God has shown it to me and how it pertains to this Scripture passage. I am trying not to “doctor” this email and make it pretty – only share info that you may use in any manner God sees fit to use through you.

My understanding comes from my John MacArthur study Bible commentary, Tony Evans’ book “The Power of God’s Names,” my own journey and inspiration from God to a now very open heart.

  1. Vs. 21 is short but foundational.  In one little sentence Paul sets up the rest of the chapter. We are to submit to one another in reverence for Christ.  We are all the same; equal. John MacArthur (JM) says, “… by declaring unequivocally that every spirit-filled Christian is to be a humble, submissive Christian. This is foundational to all the relationships in this section. No believer is inherently superior to any other believer. In their standing before God they are equal in every way (Gal. 3:28). The believer’s continual reverence for God is the basis for his submission to other believers.” Equal status in Christ Jesus. In my experience, this has often been overlooked when moving on to the next section about women and submission.
  2. I’m not sure why Paul starts with the wife but I do find it interesting (and very important) that he starts with wives and finishes the chapter with wives. I also find it very interesting and important that he spends three verses at the beginning and half a verse at the end on wives and nine and a half verses on the husband’s responsibilities. That tells me that the emphasis over the centuries may be on the wrong part of the passage.
  3. Submission by a wife to her husband is 100% a willing choice by the wife. A husband cannot demand it. He cannot expect it. He cannot command it. Based on her submission to Jesus Christ (vs 21) she offers it willingly and lovingly;
  4. “Your own husbands” limits the scope of this submission to the one man God gave her and gives a “balancing emphasis that HE IS HERS AS A PERSONAL INTIMATE POSSESSION (Song of Solomon 2:16; 6:3; 7:10).” (JM)
  5. Her submission to Jesus Christ is the basis and she submits to her husband in her obedience to this foundation in Christ;
  6. So Paul makes the point that the husband is the wife’s personal, intimate possession and because of her obedience and submission to Christ, she chooses to submit to one man, her husband. I found the SS references to be especially eye-opening.  Important words here are personal and intimate. He is tender and caring. Concerned about only her;
  7. Key emphasis going forward is the husband’s responsibility in the relationship. In my experience it has been (not literally but close) “woman, submit!” regardless of whether the husband was a jerk-face or not. You can quote me on that. The husband’s responsibilities:
    1. He is the head. Tony Evans, when he talks about God’s name “Adonai” – Lord, Master, OWNER – references 1 Peter 3:6 where Sarah calls Abraham “lord.” But what made such a HUGE impact on me is the RESPONSIBILITY that is demanded by taking on the mantle of lord or head. Sorry this is such a long quote from Tony’s book but it blows my mind every time I read it and equate it with the Ephesians 5 passage: “Ownership has much more to do with responsibility than with mere dominion. Husbands can’t just walk around saying, “I am the lord [head] in this home, like Abraham.” As a husband, you have to ‘be’ the lord (or head). You have to be responsible. Husbands need to own their role as the head and not just use the term. You have to take care of, provide for, guide and protect your wife. Unfortunately, today too many men expect the term adon to be given them without the accompanying responsibility.”
    2. These responsibilities, in my opinion, in no real order but I think are expressed in this passage:
      1. sacrifice as a savior – not only throw ourselves in front of a bus for our wives but even MORE difficult, to sacrifice our self, our ego, our machismo, our dominance. This is way harder to do than the bus thing because there is no glory in it. It’s quiet. It’s hidden behind closed doors. It’s not worthy of an epitaph like the bus thing. No one sings our praises when we sacrifice our selfish desires for our wife;
      2. service – Our own submission to our Savior (Paul set this up in vs 21) REQUIRES our unselfish service to our wife;
      3. Love – agape love – willing to do #1 and #2 above without expecting a parade when we take out the trash.
      4. Intimacy – not physical but true, vulnerable, transparent INTIMACY with our wife. Kicking out the stupid stereotypes that men and women are different. Yes, there are some ways but in the end, we are both created in God’s image and he is a RELATIONAL God, full of emotion and we OWE our wives the dignity of intimacy. If she’s wise she won’t choose this particular moment to want to talk but if it’s important and she chooses that moment, we don’t wait for a commercial time-out and give her 30 seconds to spill her guts until the commercial is over. We intentionally take the remote and turn off the game and look her in the eye and LISTEN. Yes, I’m a stinkin’ task-master but it’s what Jesus would do – ask the Samaritan woman at the well if she got more than a commercial break when he was dead tired;
      5. We are responsible for not being a stumbling block to our wife’s relationship with God and help bring her to purity so we can present her to Christ who presents her (as part of His Church) to God, holy and blameless. This one hits especially close to home as my past has hindered this with Lynn. Yes, that relationship is between her and God but it is quite possible for a husband to shirk the responsibility of leading her (and his family) to holy purity;
      6. Paul reinforces the divine plan for marriage by quoting Gen. 2:24;
    3. And finally, what really slapped me upside the head in my studies of this passage, is verse 33. Husbands are called to LOVE our wives. I assume, not being a Greek student at all, that that is AGAPE. Nothing new here based on the bullet points above. But the wife is not commanded to love her husband. She is commanded to respect him. What’s the difference?Respect is EARNED. Love is a choice. Agape. But respect is earned and we as husbands tend to spend all our discussion time on verses 22-24 and gloss over this last half a verse. We don’t get to “claim” the headship of our family. Yes, I believe it is given to us in these verses but in the context of being CHRIST-LIKE. When we fail to be “respectable” in our dealings with life and our wives and families, we don’t get to claim “headship”, lord or adon.
  1. I told Lynn I wrote this for you and we feel I should add an emphasis that once trust and respect has been broken (CRUSHED and SHATTERED in our case) submission requires the “test of time” just like my purity and newfound spirituality. Lynn is not defiant by any stretch but right now, until I pass the “test of time,” she is not interested in my attempting to teach or lead her spiritually. It hurts to my very core that I have shattered that piece of our marriage. Yup, God is at work and He will sort it out but once trust and respect are broken submission is no longer part of the equation. It’s now a trust issue and a “test of time.”


Questions?  Comments?  Discussion?  Please leave a Reply below.

2 responses to “Ephesians 5:21ff”

  1. […] Venus comes right after God, Jesus & Holy Spirit and most definitely before Mars (see my Ephesians 5 post). Venus’ needs, her security – emotional, Spiritual, physical & financial – […]

  2. […] A few traditional misunderstandings, or possibly selfish misinterpretations, of Scripture (see my Ephesians 5 blog) and suddenly a wife has a duty to perform.  If she isn’t “performing her duty” to […]

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