Ephesians 5: 28-33
I was puzzled over this next verse when I was first reading it as a teenager. First of all, being a teenager of itself is stressful due to the search for a positive body self-image, the awkwardness as the brain tries to catch up to the growing body, and the lack of life experience. Then we come across this verse:
“In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” [Ephesians 5: 28. NIV]
I had a difficult time understanding this verse and the following verses as a teenager. I didn’t love myself! However, even if you don’t love yourself, you still care for yourself (unless you have an emotional, mental or physical incapability or illness). You feed yourself, you drink liquids as needed, you sleep. Are you reading this? If you have difficulty loving yourself, you’ll have difficulty loving others. During this pandemic, there has been an increase in domestic violence. In the case of domestic violence perpetrated by men, how much of that stems from an inability to accept or love themselves?
Note, if you will, that in the verses I am continuing to emphasize the use of the Greek word for love [agape – “ah-GAH-peh”]. This word refers to a self-giving kind of love that is exemplified by God.
“After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body.” [Ephesians 5: 29-30. NIV]
Does this sound like a dictator who demands obedience from the spouse? Is this the picture of a husband who asserts his dominance in the household – and indeed, demands it? No, this description is that of a nurturer, one who cares for his family and wants the best for it, even at his own expense.
Then Paul gets weird!
“ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” [Ephesians 5: 31-33. NIV]
Remember that the theme of Ephesians is “The Church, of which Christ Is the Head.” The theme of Ephesians is about the church and how Christ is the foundation and the caring head of the church. Paul was talking to husbands about loving their wives as their own body. The example was that of Christ, the lover and nurturer of his body, the church. His thoughts in verses 29-30 caused him to suddenly switch from talking about the human marriage relationship to the relationship between Christ and the church (which is often referred to as “the Bride of Christ”). He quotes from the foundation of marriage in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2: 24, then says he is talking about Christ and the church. Paul is full of the vision of the marriage relationship as exemplified by the husband and wife – and as a picture of Christ and the church.
This is the big picture Paul had for marriage and how it is a portrait of the relationship between Christ and the church. However, Paul previously wrote some guidelines for how believers should act within the context of the church. Note, if you will, that he wrote the following JUST BEFORE THE PASSAGE ON WIVES AND HUSBANDS! The thought starts with verse 15. But I want to draw your attention to what Paul wrote to the church just before his encouragement for wives:
“19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21[submitting] to one another out of reverence for Christ.” [Ephesians 5: 19-21. NIV, with modification as noted below]
Look at verse 21. [This could be an independent participial phrase standing by itself as some translate it in their versions of the Bible. However, I tend to agree with Dr. A. T. Robertson, formerly the Professor of Interpretation of the Greek New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “The construction here is rather loose, coordinate with the preceding participles of praise and prayer. It is possible to start a new paragraph here and regard [Greek word] as an independent participle like an imperative.” [Word Pictures in the New Testament. A. T. Robertson. Volume 4, “The Epistles of Paul”, page 544. Broadman Press: Nashville. 1931.] As such, I think of it as a linking participial expression between Paul’s guidance for spiritual behavior within a church and his instructions for the marriage relationship.] Even as we consider the wife as submitting herself to her husband in verse 22, immediately preceding that instruction was the admonition to submit “to one another [in the church] out of reverence for Christ.” In other words, Paul is not telling the wives to do anything in verse 22 that he hasn’t already instructed everyone to do in the preceding verse.
In essence, Paul talks about how people in a church should worship and act in their relationships with one another. Then Paul says, in effect, “While we are on the subject of relationships within the body of Christ and submission to one another, let’s talk about marriage.” When one looks at the big picture of the overall passage, it is less startling to suddenly come upon “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”
In conclusion, let us behave appropriately and spiritually to one another in church as well as within our marriage and other relationships. Remember, wives, you are not a doormat, but you are a partner in the relationship in the same manner that you relate to Christ. Husbands, yours is the more important road to travel as you (1) exemplify Christ to your wife, family and to the world, and (2) as you love your wife as much as Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her, even to death on the cross.
In pondering where I’m going after this, the logical progression would be to continue to the next passage in Ephesians 6. However, all this discussion of love and the marriage relationship led me to a very related study. I often hear passages from 1 Corinthians 13 (also known as “The Love Chapter”) recited in weddings as part of the ceremony. What do those phrases really mean: Love is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast and so on? I’ll study those with you this week or the next. Please keep your eye out for my next blog.