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Held in Honor

10/15 – For the Other (Ephesians 5:21-33)


Introduction — Here Paul continues practical advice to the church. He tells them to be imitators of God, as beloved children. Paul directs them to walk in love. He urges them to leave behind any hint of impurity among them. He wants this church to live as believers saved by God’s grace through faith. Paul warns them to be careful how they walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time. Paul writes that they must be filled with the Spirit, (1) speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, (2) singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord, (3) giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and (4) being subject to one another in the fear of Christ. As the Spirit fills them, and as the awe of Christ grips them, each of these folks will submit to the other. They will honor the other. Paul then narrows the focus. He speaks to husbands and wives in the church. To the wives he states, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” To the husbands he states, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Paul shows these couples how Christ should be the focus of their marriage relationship. As he writes, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Through their mutual submission to one another in the fear of Christ, through the wife’s respect for and submission to her husband, and through the husband’s sacrificial and cherishing love for his wife, these married couples portray the gospel of Jesus Christ to the church and to the world. They are there for the other. They are there for the church. And they are there for Christ.


This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.  To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband. (32-33)


Wife, here’s how to be there for your husband. (22-24)

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord23 for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to submit to their husbands in everything


Comment: In the context of this discussion, Paul turns from addressing the church in general to speaking to three groups in particular. Here he speaks to wives and husbands. Paul first tells the wife how she can be there for her husband. Each wife in the church must submit to her husband as to the Lord. Just as the church submits to Christ, so the wife is to submit to her husband in everything. This action by the wife takes great trust in her husband. To follow the lead of the husband requires confidence in him—his faith in Christ, his love for Christ, and his submission to Christ. She does not submit from abject fear of her husband. She does not submit because she thinks of herself as inferior to her husband. She submits to her husband because she knows her Savior. This wife knows that she is a new creation in Christ. Therefore, she is a wondrous, beautiful child of God.

And because she’s a child of God, she wants to obey God. And God directs her to follow her husband’s lead, to see that He placed her husband as the head of the family. She sees God’s purpose and order in marriage. So, she submits to her husband as to the Lord. Question: Wives, do you have difficulty following your husband’s lead? Do you submit to him as to the Lord? Do you embrace this area of obedience to God? Application: Wives, continue to draw closer to God. See your relationship with God as primary. Spend time in prayer with God. Read His word. Study and think about His word. Talk with God throughout the day. Submit yourself to Christ. Submit yourself to your husband as to the Lord. Be there for your husband.


Husband, here’s how to be there for your wife. (25-30)

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. 27 He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. 28 In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 since we are members of His body.


Comment: Paul gives vivid direction to the husband. The husband is to love his wife in two ways. One, the husband is to love his wife just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. Second, the husband is to love his wife like his own body. The husband must sacrifice for his wife. The husband must be willing to lay down his life for his wife. The husband must serve his wife. The husband must provide for his wife. The husband must cherish his wife. The husband must want the best for his wife. The husband must submit himself to Christ. The husband must remain close to Christ. The husband must lead his wife closer to Christ. By his words and actions, the husband must show his love and devotion to Christ. By his words and actions, the husband must show his love and devotion to his bride. Question: Husbands, do you lead your wife closer to Christ? Do you love your wife with an intense, Christ-like love? Do you sacrifice for her? Do you provide for her? Do you cherish her? Do you serve her?

Application: Husbands, continue to draw closer to God. See your relationship with God as primary. Spend time in prayer with God. Read His word. Study and think about His word. Talk with God throughout the day. Submit yourself to Christ. Be there for your wife. Love your wife as Christ loved the church. Love your wife as your own body. Hold your wife close. Honor your wife.  Provide for your wife. Cherish your wife. Lead your wife closer to Christ. See the unity you have in Christ. Shine the love of Christ through your marriage. Show the gospel to the church and the world through your marriage. Show the union of Christ to His church through your marriage. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. To sum up, each husband is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband. Be there for one another.

Word Study for Ephesians 5:21-33

21 be subject (hypotasso—place or rank under; submit; subordinate)[1]

21 one another (allelon—each other; a pronoun which marks reciprocation between two persons or groups)

21 fear (phobos—reverence; sense of awe; source or occasion of fear)

23 head (kephale—leader; chief; leader)

23 church (ekklesia—congregation; assembly)

23 Savior (soter—deliverer; rescuer)

24 everything (pas—all; total; whole; every kind of; every)

25 love (agapao—show love; take pleasure in; to prize; demonstrate love; value)

25 gave (paradidomi—hand over; give over; grant; deliver over)

26 sanctify (hagiazo—dedicate; make holy; consecrate to)

27 present (paristemi—make to stand or stand beside; stand near; to bring in)

28 ought to (opheilo—be obligate; owe; be in debt; must)

29 nourishes (ektrepho—provide food for; bring up from childhood; bring up to maturity)

29 cherishes (thalpo—comfort; take care of; keep warm; nurture; tenderly care)

30 members (melos—part; limb; part of the body)

32 great (megas—big; large; important; surprising; astonishing; deep)


Application for Ephesians 5:21-33

Let’s submit to one another in the fear of Christ.

Let’s encourage a wife to submit to her husband, as to the Lord.

Let’s encourage a husband to love his wife, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.

Let’s teach a husband to love his wife as his own body, nourishing and cherishing her.

Let’s remind each other that we are members of the body of Christ.

Let’s see marriage as pointing to the mystery of Christ and the church.

Let’s be there for one another.
Let’s be kind to one another.


Gospel Connections for Ephesians 5:21-33

Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might make the church holy. Christ nourishes the church. Christ cherishes the church. Christ is making the church beautiful, a holy and blameless bride. Christ calls the church to Himself. The wonder of marriage between a man and a woman points to a deeper truth about Christ and His church. This mystery is great.


Thoughts and Quotes for Ephesians 5:21-33

 Love is not maximum emotion. Love is maximum commitment. ~ Sinclair B. Ferguson


The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. ~ Timothy J. Keller, The Meaning of Marriage


Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christ-like, servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home. ~ John Piper, The Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence


It is perhaps, one of the hardest struggles of the Christian life to learn this sentence—“Not unto us, not unto us, but unto Thy name be glory.” ~ Charles H. Spurgeon


When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now . . . When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.  ~ C.S. Lewis


Commentary for Ephesians 5:21-33

Holy Living (4:17–5:21)

In this very practical and challenging section Paul focused on holy living. Believers are to walk in purity as well as unity. The apostle first showed negatively how believers should not walk. Then he provided positive aspects of Christian conduct.

Paul distinguished between those characterized by rebellion, obstinacy, and darkened understanding and those who respond to Jesus Christ as both subject and teacher. The first group is called the “old self” or unregenerate self. The second group is called the “new self.” Paul exhorted believers to live out the reality of their new position with an inward renunciation and restoration.

The conclusion of chapter 4 includes ethical exhortations grounded in theological truth. Believers are to rid themselves of vices like “bitterness,” “anger,” and “slander” and instead imitate the compassionate kindness of Christ.

Believers are to walk in love, please God by avoiding evildoers, and walk in wisdom. The church is enabled to do this by the empowering (filling) of the Holy Spirit. When this happens, believers can together praise God, constantly offer thanksgiving in all things, and mutually submit one to another.

New Relationships (5:22–6:9)

Paul now applied his teaching to particular life relationships. Wise believers filled with the Spirit who mutually submit one to another are to live out these truths in household relationships. Three relationships are addressed: wives and husbands, children and parents, servants and masters. In each of these relationships the first partner is exhorted to be submissive or obedient. The second person in the relationship shows submissiveness by Christlike love and concerned care. All relate to one another as service to the Lord. All concerned experience personal worth, value, security, and significance when these reciprocal relationships are exercised under the lordship of Christ.[2]


Submission: Ephesians 5:21

It seems strange to find Paul speaking of submission in view of his emphasis on unity. Accept a subordinate position? We who are lifted up in Christ, made so completely equal that Paul himself insisted, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

This idea of superior/subordinate positions—of submitting within the framework of societal roles and relationships—must have troubled the early church as it does us today. In three of the New Testament letters this same issue is explored. We hear the same message from each: “Wives, submit to your husbands” (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; see 1 Peter 3:1). “Children, obey your parents” (see Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20). “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear” (Eph. 6:5; see Col. 3:22; 1 Peter 2:18). And for all, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men” (v. 13). It is in the framework of the real world of human differences and inequalities that the church’s oneness is to be expressed.

How can this be? How can we experience oneness while recognizing and respecting the rights of those placed “over” us?

Mutual submission. Whenever we move into this area of authority, we tend to emphasize the “rights” of the superior to control or influence the person below. Paul immediately showed that control is not the frame of reference from which to begin. His discussion began with the command, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). We are to maintain a humbleness that considers others—whatever their place in life—as “better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3–4). Maintaining an attitude of loving concern for one another strips authority of its “rights” and also strips submission of its humiliation. Whatever role we have been given provides an opportunity to serve our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Mutual responsibilities. Reading through the passages in Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter that deal with human relationships and societal roles, we find that the scales are not weighted in either direction! The child obeys parents in the Lord, but parents are not to exasperate or embitter their children. Discipline is to be distinctively Christian. The slave is to serve wholeheartedly. But masters are to treat the slave with consideration and concern, doing what is right and fair.

Within the context of whatever role, the Christian’s deep concern for others as persons is to guide and control.

Occasion to serve. The underlying thought is that authority and submission are not to be viewed as humiliation, but as providing different opportunities to serve. If I am a master, I serve my slaves by treating them with fairness and respect. If I am a slave, I serve my master with wholehearted loyalty.

The Christian attitude toward authority and submission is drastically opposed to the perceptions of the world, which see the one in authority as exalted, and the other as debased. There, each person’s value is determined by the position he holds. But in Christ’s church that whole pattern is rejected. Each persons’ value exists apart from his role. The slave is just as important to God as the master, the child as the parent, the woman as the man. It is simply that one who is a slave has a different kind of opportunity to serve than does the master. The Christian view of authority and submission shifts the focus completely from power, to service.[3]


Husband/Wife Relationships: Ephesians 5:22–33

Nowhere is this concept seen more clearly than in marriage.

The pagan view. In Paul’s time, pagans saw women as inferior beings, playthings for the dominant male. To be “head of the house” was to accept the common notion that authority was the male’s rightful providence. Children and wives were only responsible to obey. The wife was not equal to her husband as a person, or in any other way. His needs and concerns dominated the household, and the wife existed to fulfill those needs and to serve him.

Contemporary interpretations of Ephesians 5 that describe the wife as finding total fulfillment in her relationship with her husband and household reflect the pagan, not the Christian view. So does the notion that the wife is so “under” the authority umbrella of her husband that she is not to speak or act except at his direction.

The Christian view. The Christian view is quite different. Women are seen as persons of equal worth and value. In the structure of society, men are given the role of head of the house, a role affirmed by God in this passage. But their headship is modeled on the way Christ loved the church, not on human systems of authority. This headship focuses attention on the way a “superior” is called to serve the “subordinate”! Specifically, Ephesians 5:27 portrays Christ as giving Himself up for the church “to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” In pursuit of this ministry, Christ nourishes and cares for the church. In the same way, husbands are to nurture their wives, seeking always to help the wife grow as a person and as a Christian.

What a contrast with the pagan view! Suddenly things are reversed. The wife is transformed from an unimportant adjunct, who exists only to meet her husband’s needs, to a person of intrinsic worth and value, becoming the focus of her husband’s concern. Instead of demanding that she live for him, he begins to live for her! Rather than keeping her under, he seeks to lift her up. Christian headship lifts the wife up as the rightful object of a husband’s loving concern.

In this context, the husband serves by being a Christlike head; the wife serves in responsive submission to one who lifts her up and holds her beside him.[4]


[1] Word studies from various sources on Logos Software, including, but not limited to Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains by James A. Swanson


[2] Dockery, D. S. (1998). The Pauline Letters. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary (p. 580). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3] Richards, L., & Richards, L. O. (1987). The teacher’s commentary (pp. 929–930). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4] Ibid. (pp. 930–931).