Ephesians 5

Ephesians 5:21

and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

(a) Be subject may not be the best translation because it leads us to think of submission in terms of the strong dominating the weak or kings ruling over subjects. This is not the sort of submission that Paul is talking about. The verb he uses (hypotassō) means to place under. It is “submitting to” rather than “being subject to.” It is preferring one another and valuing others above yourself (Php. 2:3).

Submission, as Christ models it, is about loving the other and giving yourself up for them (Eph. 5:25). It’s God the Son submitting in all things to God the Father, and God the Father giving the Son a Name above all names. It’s the Son bragging about the Spirit, and the Spirit testifying of the Son. Submission is one of God’s most beautiful ideas. It is the very essence of other-focused love, and a vital ingredient in any healthy relationship.

(b) One another. Since the context is marriage, we can read it as “Husbands submit to wives and wives submit to husbands.” Genuine submission stems from love, not power. Submission is not forced on us from above; it is something we offer to another. It’s choosing to surrender because we want to, not because we have to. We yield to the other because we love and respect them. Indeed, submission is the essence of love. It is saying, “Because I love you, I choose to put you first.”

Further reading: “Submission doesn’t mean what you think it means

(b) In the fear of Christ. You should never be afraid of God. The fear of the Lord in the New Testament can be interpreted as reverence or worship (see Matt. 4:10). We submit to one another in love as an act of worship to the One who loved us first (Eph. 5:2).

Ephesians 5:22

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

Be subject is a poor translation indeed, or it would be except there isn’t any word to translate. (This is why be subject is in italics in some Bibles.) A literal translation of this phrase is, “Wives, with your husbands.” In context we can read it as, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Col. 3:18).

Many read this verse without reading the one before it and as a result they come away with the unbalanced view that only wives submit. In fact, Paul has far more to say to husbands on the subject of love and submission. Wives get three verses (Eph. 5:22–24); husbands get nine (Eph. 5:25-33).

Further reading: “Who submits in marriage?

Ephesians 5:23

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.

The husband is the head of the wife does not mean the husband is the lord of his wife any more than it means he is her Savior. Paul compares husbands to Christ because the manner in which Christ saves the church—by laying down his body—is the manner in which a husband serves his wife (see entry for Eph. 5:25).

Ephesians 5:24

But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

(a) The church is subject. Again, this is a poor choice of words (see entry for Eph. 5:21). The church is not subject to Christ as though he was Lord Vader forcing his will upon us. A better translation of this verb is submit. We freely submit to Christ because we know how much he loves us. Love is given, not taken, and it’s the same in marriage.

(b) So also the wives; see entry for Eph. 5:22.

(c) In everything. Being a one-flesh team is a 24-hour proposition. In the unity of marriage husbands and wives are mutually dependent. They need each other. Just as a head supports the body, the body supports the head. Paul is not saying that one should lord it over the other, for that would contradict what he has just said about submitting to one another (Eph. 5:21).

Ephesians 5:25

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,

Just as the love of God is revealed in a death, biblical headship is revealed in sacrifice. In the same way that Christ gave himself up for the church, the husband gives himself up for his wife. He crawls through traffic, fights grizzly bears, and catches bullets for her. He puts her needs and interests ahead of his own because he values her more than his own life.

Ephesians 5:28-29

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,

Aristotle said husbands rule their wives like kings, and Paul replies, “More like King Jesus.” Christ nourishes and cherishes his church. He cares for it and helps it grow. In the same way, a husband cares for his wife as he cares for his own body.

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