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  • February 2010
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Christ and the Church – Ephesians 5:22-33

Most Bibles have “Husbands and Wives” above Ephesians 5:22-31. It is a good text to discuss with husbands and wives – but Paul said at the end of it that he was talking about Christ and His bride, the church.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with wter through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 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. “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 5:22-33

Does Paul use marriage to illustrate the relationship between Christ and the Church – or does he use it to illustrate the relationship between husband and wife? Perhaps it is a bit of both. Of one thing we can be certain. It does speak of a profound mystery either way.


Have you ever noticed how many men can quote verses 22-24, if not word-for-word, at least in their essence? These verses, however, are not addressed to men – but to their wives! In each of these three verses, the wife is instructed in how to love her husband by looking to Christ and His church.

  • Submit to your husband – as to the Lord.
  • He is your head – as Christ is head of the Church.
  • Wives should submit – as the Church submits to Christ.

How do we submit to Christ? What does it mean that Messiah is head of the Church?

Submission to Christ is with loving trust. It is with joyful obedience to Him who said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.

There is nothing here to justify the chauvinism that would make a wife a door mat for her husband – or to suggest a woman beaten by her husband should justify him by saying, “I had it coming.”

Is there anything here to suggest a woman should never do anything unless her husband has specifically told her to do it – or maybe implied it obliquely? The dutiful wife does not really think that her husband’s silence is a prohibition, nor does she constantly review in her mind everything he has said to see what she should read between the lines to infer what he expects of her, but has never told her directly, does she?

By using husbands and wives as an example, Paul helps us better understand how we should, in the Church, relate to Jesus.


Have you ever noticed how few husbands are familiar with the later part of this passage – the part addressed specifically to H U S B A N D S ? [Why is it that so many of us know what the Bible says to someone else, but overlook what it says specifically to us?]

Husbands are first told to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. This makes some men think that what they are to do is to “take a bullet” for their wives if need be – but they don’t expect to ever need to do this.

An example of this in action is in the movie Fireproof. The husband had been saving for a boat. His wife’s mother needed a specialized piece of medical equipment. When he finally learned what it meant to love his wife, he gave up his boat to give his mother-in-law what she needed. John, who is often called the apostle of love, wrote:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. – 1 John 3:16-18

The agape love husbands are to have for their wives is sacrificial. It wants the very best for the one loved, even when it costs the lover a great deal. Christ’s love cost Him His life. What does your love for your wife cost you?

As a lover, a husband is also to be a nurturer. Why do we think only of women as nurturers? Christ sets the example by loving us in a way that seeks to clean us up and make us holy. His love helps us to grow. What do I do for my wife that will help her to grow into a better person? I may help her grow in patience – at least by giving her plenty of opportunity to practice it! But do I seek her spiritual well-being? Jesus seeks the spiritual well-being of His bride, the church. Do I follow His example?

Paul said that if I genuinely love my wife, I love myself. In a very real way, men, when we love our wives with the Jesus-kind of love we are better off. Love your wife as Jesus loves the Church, and she will do anything you ask of her. One reason for that is that if you love her as Jesus loves us, you will not ask her to do anything that she would really hate to do. Does Jesus do that for us? Does He ask anything of us that we just really hate doing?  Sometimes our brethren expect things like that of us – but does Jesus?

When I love my wife, my interest is to care for her, nurture her, provide for her, and elevate her to the best of my ability.

This is why, Paul says, a man leaves his parents to cleave to his wife in a one-flesh union. We are also one-flesh with Jesus in His church. After all, the church is His body, isn’t it? He is the head of the church as the husband is the head of his wife.

The word head does not mean boss, as it can at times in English. It just means head – as in a head with eyes, ears, and hair (unless, like me, you have lost that!). The body without the head is dead. The head without the body is incapacitated. The figure simply means that the Church and the Christ are co-joined in a way that neither is complete without the other.

It is at this point that Paul said he was talking about Christ and the Church.

Do I understand this mystery? Certainly not completely. As I grow in my understanding, though, I am better able to apply the lessons I learn to my relationship with my wife – and vice versa. As I grow in my relationship with my wife, I better understand God’s plan for what He wants to exist between me and my Savior.

The more I understand the Church as the bride of Christ, the more I, as a member of His body, will seek to keep myself and the Church pure. As Paul wrote to another congregation,

I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to Him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. – 2 Corinthians 11:2-3

The more this relationship is real to me, the more I will look forward to the time John saw in his vision at Patmos:

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory!

“For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.

“Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)

Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” – Revelation 19:7-9

NEXT: Parents and Children – Ephesians 6:1-4

PREVIOUS: Walk in Wisdom – Ephesians 5:15-21

6 Responses

  1. I received the following from a friend via direct email to me:

    Good morning Jerry.

    Just read your above post. Ironically I am concluding a series on this passage using the physical marriage relationship to teach about the spiritual relationship.

    The concept of the husband/wife relationship teaches the necessity of companionship – the first principle of marriage that man should not be alone!

    The concept of romance between husband and wife teaches the necessity of fellowship – as Paul taught, stop depriving each other.

    A third concept is the Creation Law of procreation. Children are to be born of a marriage. With the Christ/Church relationship this translates into evangelism. The biblical teaching of legitimate versus illegitimate children and their ability to inherit stresses the necessity of being legitimate children of God through the process of immersion plus teaching which is a new birth and cleansing.

    A fourth lesson is planned based upon Hezekiah showing Babylonians his possessions. The concept here is the spiritual example of the husband and wife.

    Grace and Peace,

    I like you first three points. I’m not sure I understand how Hezekiah showing his possessions to the Babylonians ties in with the husband-wife relationship though.



  2. My correspondent replied directly to me again. He wrote:

    “Not so much the Eph 5 connection, but the example of what people see in your house (household) as an example – morality, honesty, ethics, work, etc. ”

    I responded: OKAAY – I think. But Hezekiah’s pride in showing off his treasures planted a seed of covetousness in the Babylonians that finally led to Nebuchadnazer sacking Jerusalem, didn’t it? Is that the best you can do for an example????


  3. He came right back:

    Basically, we show pride in what we have. Are you proud of the right kind of things or filled with vanity. Hezekiah should have shown the humility of a servant. Rather he showed the vain glorious pride that caused his nation’s down fall. As Christians we are to provide the right kind of example to the world – light and salt. If we do not, then the church gets trampled upon.

    I guess that can work – though I would personally have a hard time “selling” that as the best illustration of what you’re trying to say. I have confidence in you, though, that you can pull it off!


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  5. I am happy to read what you have written in the relationship between a man and a woman but I hope it’s understood.

    “He who loves his wife loves himself” again the same teaching of love one another as you would like to be loved but the new commandment is love each other as God has loved you and God gave his only son that we should be saved and Jesus Christ gave more than the Church (his people) gave for him because even his apostles hid in fear when Jesus was crucified. And look at us today, his church aren’t we still sinning? One flesh, is inseparable so when a man beats a woman it is as though he beats his own body but since he does not see a woman as his own body he treats her worse than a stranger and even a stranger we must be good to in commandment, how much more to a wife who is “flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones” one body inseparable. And Jesus Christ served, he taught that it was good to serve others and washed the feet something a servant would do. I am not saying that a husband should bow down to his wife and serve her as a servant but Jesus knew how men treated women and was clear to show that true love is in laying one’s life for another and if it is taken to that extreme then how easier it is just to be kind to a wife without having to be put in a position where they are a servant or to be betrayed, ridiculed, rejected, tortured, and crucified. How much easier to be kind to a wife especially today where world-wide women remain the number one victim in crimes above men.


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