Marriage is the most wonderful human relationship that God designed. It allows a husband and wife to share fully and pursue God together. A strong marriage is not one with no challenges or conflict, but one where challenges and conflict are overcome by the husband and wife going to God. Achieving and maintaining a strong marriage takes a lot of work. Thankfully, God has lovingly provided us with instruction and examples to follow in this category. In this article we will see how Jesus Christ is our example in marriage. And somewhat surprisingly, we’ll see that Jesus serves as an example to both the husband and wife.
Ephesians 5 tells us how to behave in relationships, and culminates with instruction on marriage.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (ESV)
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The word ‘Therefore’ indicates that we need to look at the previous verse.
Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
We are to be imitators of God in kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love. That is where all of our actions should start. We pattern our actions and lifestyle after God and His son Jesus Christ, who lived perfectly for God.
The first two verses of Ephesians 5 set the stage for any relationship, but especially marriage. We are to:
- Imitate God in love
- Walk in love as Christ
Verse 21 tells us how to behave toward others in the Body of Christ.
Ephesians 5:21 (ESV)
submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
We are to submit in the Body of Christ. The Greek word for ‘submit’ is hupotassō. It means to subject one’s self or obey. Out of respect for how God fitly joined the Church, with Christ as head, we make ourselves subject to each other. We are meek and receptive to each other, holding God’s Word as our standard for living.
First Peter confirms this:
I Peter 5:5 (ESV)
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Giving and serving together with mutual respect is how God designed the Body of Christ to function. And as we will see, this is even more important in the marriage relationship. It is so easy to take the ones you are closest to for granted. We are often more deliberate and careful in our actions and communications with friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and even complete strangers than we are with our spouses. If anything, your spouse deserves even more consideration that others. A strong marriage takes a concerted effort to imitate God’s ways toward your spouse on a daily basis.
Ephesians 5:22-24 (ESV)
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
A wife is to submit (hupotassō) to her husband. She is to willingly submit to him. It doesn’t say, “Husbands, make your wife submit.” A wife submits to her husband as the head of the household the same way the church submits to its head, Christ. This is a benefit, not a burden.
In our day and time, there are many extreme opinions on how to interpret this section of scripture. Some advocate that the husband is to rule his wife with an iron fist. Others are horrified by the perceived oppression of women. These views and opinions are both contrary to God’s Word.
Others have suggested that this section is based on the culture of the time in which it was written and doesn’t apply today. However, verse 23 clearly compares the husband as the head of the wife to Christ as the head of the church. Christ still is and will continue to be the head of the church. Therefore, this is not a cultural statement. It is God’s design for loving marriages today, just as it was centuries ago.
While the wife is responsible before God to submit to her husband, God has given the husband great responsibilities towards his wife as well. We will see the husband’s responsibilities soon, but first let’s look at godly submission a little bit more.
Let’s consider how Jesus Christ set an example of submitting (hupotassō).
Luke 2:48-51 (ESV)
And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.”
And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.
And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive [hupotassō] to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
Joseph and Mary had left Jerusalem without Jesus. When they realized he wasn’t with the caravan, they went back and looked for him for three days before they found him in the temple. Jesus had been doing his Father’s (God’s) will, however Jesus willingly submitted to his earthly parents when they found him. His parents didn’t fully understand the situation, but Jesus still submitted to them. He chose to follow their instruction and guidance because he realized that was God’s will. God doesn’t tell us to do anything if there isn’t a benefit. When we do God’s will, we are submitting to Him.
Submitting is not a burden, but a show of trust in God. When we trust in God, we reap the benefits of His divine design.
Ephesians 5:25 (ESV)
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
Men are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. This is the husband’s responsibility in a nutshell. Those are some rather large shoes to fill. So how does a husband go about doing that practically? To answer that question, let’s take a look at a day in the life of Jesus.
Mark 6:31-34 (ESV)
And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.
Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.
When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
Here, Jesus was tired. He and his disciples had been going nonstop and hadn’t even had time to eat. They got on a ship to go up the sea and get away. But the people followed along the shore and were waiting for them when they disembarked. I know that when I’ve been going and going and haven’t had anything to eat, I get grumpy. But instead of focusing on his own need, Jesus had compassion on the crowd and taught them. But the day doesn’t end there.
Mark 6:35-44 (ESV)
And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late.
Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?”
And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”
Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass.
So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties.
And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.
And they all ate and were satisfied.
And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.
And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
Jesus spent so long teaching that it became late, and everyone needed to eat. Jesus recognized the needs of the huge crowd before him. And instead of sending them away to fend for themselves, he walked with God to perform a miracle that met their needs (and his own) abundantly. But wait, there’s more.
Mar 6:45-51 (ESV)
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.
And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.
And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them,
but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out,
for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded,
So now that Jesus has taught and fed everyone, he sent off his disciples and went up a mountain to pray. When Jesus needed to recharge his batteries, he went to God. He prayed, pouring out his heart. That is how he stayed strong. And as we can see, he needed to stay strong. After coming down the mountain, he saw his disciples were having trouble with bad weather on the sea. So, despite it being about 3 AM, he did the practical thing and walked out on the water to them and calmed the sea.
If you keep reading, you’ll see that when they landed at Gennesaret, the town brought all the sick to him to be healed. Our lives may seem overwhelmingly busy at times, with our attention being required by our spouse, children, coworkers, and friends. But when we follow Jesus Christ’s example, we see that busy schedules, big expectations, and physical needs are not an excuse to forego kindness, compassion, and love towards others.
I know there have been many times when my wife has had a need and my thinking went something like “doesn’t she know I’m tired, I’ve been working all day. This is a ridiculous time to have this need.” However, a husband following Jesus Christ’s example will be moved with compassion toward his wife and believe God to energize him to meet the need.
I personally find it especially hard to be compassionate when I’m tired. The sympathetic part of my brain kind of takes a break. However, if I follow Jesus’ example, I will walk in love no matter how tired I am and I’ll look to meet the need. Jesus went to God for rejuvenation. He took every opportunity to pray and spend time with his Father so that he could continue to give. We do the same. Walking with God is vital to being our best. And walking with God is seeking opportunities to do good (Gal. 6:10).
Ephesians 5:28-29 (ESV)
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,
Men are to love their wives like their own bodies. They are to cherish and nourish their wife like themselves. When we got married, we became one flesh (Matt. 19:5-6). This means taking care of your wife is the same as taking care of yourself.
These verses remind me of the song “Lovin’ on You” by Cary Brothers. The chorus starts like this: “Lovin’ on you was the best thing that I ever did for me.” I think that is a great way to think about caring for your spouse. Loving your wife is the same as loving yourself. The same goes for the wife. God designed the marriage relationship to be so intimate that care for the other strengthens both.
The Greek words for ‘nourish’ and ‘cherish’ in verse 29 are interesting. Both are each only used one other time in the Bible.
Nourish – ektrephō – nourish, nurture, bring up. The only other time it’s used is in Ephesians 6:4.
Ephesians 6:4 (ESV)
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
A big part of nourishing your wife like you would nourish your body is by giving her the Word.
Cherish – thalpō – to cherish with tender love, to foster with tender care. Also only used one other time:
I Thessalonians 2:7 (ESV)
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.
Think about the level of love and care a nursing mother gives her child. A nursing mother is ready to quickly meet any need that arises for her child. That is a husband’s heart towards his wife.
Ephesians 5:31 (ESV)
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
The man is to leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife. The man’s primary responsibility becomes his wife and family. When it comes time to prioritize, the family comes before parents, friends, job, and anything else except God.
Ephesians 5:33 (ESV)
However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
God sums it all up here. The man loves his wife as himself. And the wife needs to respect/reverence her husband. In some ways, I think the terms respect and reverence have gained a harsh connotation in our culture. But that is not God’s heart. Let’s look at the definitions for respect and reverence to help clear things up.
Reverence – deep respect for someone or something; synonyms: high esteem, high regard, great respect, acclaim, admiration, appreciation, favor.
Respect – a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
When a husband loves his wife like Christ loves the church, it’s easy for her to reverence, respect, and submit. This relationship is made easy when both husband and wife are imitating God. A husband’s love builds the wife’s respect. A wife’s reverence and respect builds the husband’s confidence and encourages his ability to grow. A loving, godly marriage builds strength for the couple and the family.
A thriving marriage requires a lack of selfishness. It means constantly looking to meet the needs of your spouse. It means having compassion, not dwelling on how you’re feeling at that moment, but trying to think about how the other is feeling at that moment.
As we focus on taking care of each other instead of ourselves and going to God for direction, we will see our marriages flourish.