Which is more surprising—the ocean of ink that has been drained by counselors and psychologists on the subject of husband-wife relations or the paucity of ink devoted specifically to that subject from the pens of inspired writers? It might be suggested that the former phenomenon is a symptom of ignoring the latter. God’s way is simple but effective; man’s way is complex and futile. We can see this truth reflected in the multiplication of ineffectual laws ostensibly designed to help society yet producing only oppression. They are man’s attempt to deal with the problems in human society after having rejected God’s simple instructions concerning right and wrong and how to respond to those who behave in one way or the other. Similarly, family relationships can certainly be indescribably complex, and both preventing problems and correcting them can be difficult to accomplish—but not because God’s process is complex or convoluted but only because of our carnal nature. Again, the New Testament has surprisingly little to say about marital relationships. But consider what most believers would think of as the primary instruction from the Word of God in that regard, namely Ephesians 5:22-33. In this remarkably short passage, God, in His perfect, infinite wisdom gives essentially two commands. Only two commands for establishing and maintaining a blessed, healthy relationship between a husband and wife? Yes, only two commands, provided both spouses are believers.
“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (v. 22). How simple is that? Simple to understand, yes, but not easy to do. Since we are all rebels by nature, submitting to anyone for any reason raises our hackles. Our inherent response to any command is to rebel, and it is only as we are redeemed and the Lord begins to sanctify us that we have the least inclination to submit to the authorities He has ordained to govern, guide, and support us. The wife who willingly submits to her husband’s God-given authority (unless he demands something unscriptural, immoral, unethical, or illegal) will immediately receive God’s blessing regardless of how untenable her natural circumstances may prove to be. And note that submission is determined by the will of the wife acting freely in response to God’s command, not by the threat of force or domineering personality of her husband. Submission because of coercion is not the biblical prescription for submission. God’s directive is to the wife to be in subjection, not to the husband to dominate. He may kindly, gently, patiently instruct his wife regarding God’s commands, but he cannot compel the kind of submission God commands; she alone can yield herself to the blessed obedience of this command.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (v. 25). Those who think that husbands get off easy regarding these two commands have a misconception of love and have ignored the qualification God gives regarding the nature of that love. This love is not merely some weak sentiment or passing emotion. Rather, it is a self-sacrificing commitment to the blessing and well-being of the wife—to the extent of giving all that he has and all that he is—in time, energy, and devotion, as well as in material things, even to the forfeiting of his life. It demands that he esteem his wife more highly than himself, that her needs and interests come before his own and that, if needs be, he crucify his needs and desires in order to fulfill hers (worthwhile, not sinful or frivolous ones). This he must do regardless of the response of his wife. Even if she remains unkind, unpleasant, demanding, and rebellious, he must love her—i.e., not feel a warm emotion toward her, but sacrifice himself for her benefit. He must do this regardless of response and whether or not he receives any positive return, that is, just as Christ gave Himself up for the church.
Consider these two final thoughts. First, a wife expresses love by willingly submitting to the God-ordained authority of her husband. Similarly, a husband expresses submission (cf., v. 21) by loving his wife. For there is no greater submission than to genuinely love another. Second, commands to both spouses are given in the context of their relationship to the Lord. The wife is to be subject as to the Lord. The husband is to love as Christ also loved. Though it may seem counterintuitive, when Christ is the focus of each spouse, rather than the other spouse being the focus, obeying the commands will not only be placed in the proper perspective but they will become a blessed delight rather than a burdensome duty. And the Holy Spirit will be actively engaged in helping both spouses overcome their infirmities respecting obedience to God’s commands.
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