This submission is seen in a twofold way:
1) Personal, v. 22a
She is in submission to ‘her own husband’. This is not church ground, where she is called ‘to be under obedience, as also saith the law’, 1 Cor. 14. 34.1 Here we are confronted with family matters, and it is only to her own husband that she has a responsibility to submit. I notice that she is not called to obey, as the children are to the parents, Eph. 6. 1. Submission is a voluntary exercise to a person, whereas obedience is compulsory and indicates the position one has. Wives submit to a guiding friend; children obey a lawful commander.
2) Spiritual, v. 22b
This submission is brought onto high ground, for she brings the Lord into her marriage, and she orders her life as if it is unto the Lord. In Colossians, the submission is simply ‘as it is fit in the Lord’, 3. 18. When the responsibility of the wife is seen, it is so ‘that the word of God be not blasphemed’, Titus 2. 5. The character that the wife displays in the home is for the salvation of an unsaved husband, 1 Peter 3. 1-6. What the word of God portrays as ideal womanhood is what even an unsaved man wants to see. This was displayed in Sara who called Abraham Lord, a true expression of her heart, for scripture states that she said it ‘within herself’ – this is what she thought of Abraham at all times, Gen. 18. 12.
Within a marriage there has to be one who takes responsibility for the union, and that is put firmly on the husband as he has been given the headship of the bond. Headship does not speak of superiority but of responsibility to order the home for God.
The husband is head ‘even as Christ is the head of the church’. No one would dispute the place that the Lord has in relation to His own, and this is acknowledged in the union of a husband and wife. The figure continues by adding ‘and he is the saviour of the body’. This has nothing to do with the salvation of the soul, something that the Lord alone can accomplish, but the preservation and sustenance of the church which is in the hands of Christ. So a man is responsible to provide for, and protect his wife and family.
The measure in which a wife manifests subjection is that which is seen in the subjection of the church to Christ, that is, ‘in everything’. I wonder if Eve was in the mind of the Spirit when He had Paul pen these words, for, in the act of taking of the fruit, she was not subject to Adam, and it had such a devastating outcome.
If in the wife we have the submission of love, here we have the husband’s responsibility, which is the sacrifice of love. Having been married for over fifty years, I recall reading a statement by Augustine before my marriage, ‘It is a man’s responsibility to keep his wife’s love warm’. It would seem he had these verses in mind.
The verses have a fourfold division:
The exhortation to every husband is very clear; he must love his wife. Love is not so much an emotion as an act. Love must give, as God did, who loved the world and demonstrated it in the giving of His Son. Again, a man does not love his wife for who she is, but for what she is: his wife, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. To love one’s wife is obviously within the compass of every man’s ability, for this is an injunction of which all are capable.
The word for love is, of course, the word that speaks of God’s love, agapao. This is a love that has no cause and moves across every failure and folly that marks humanity. It is the love that knows no bounds or limits to its desire to be a blessing to the object of this love; it took the Lord Jesus to the cross. No man is told to exert his headship and rule over his wife, but three times he is told to love his wife, vv. 25, 28, 33.
Could greater stress be put upon a husband as to how he must love his wife, ‘even as’? Such is the love of Christ for His bride that He ‘gave himself’. The word gave is paradidomi, which means to surrender, to yield up.
If in verse 25 we see the bride as the past object of His love, in verse 26 she is the present object of His cleansing; in verse 27 she is the future object of His glory; and, in verses 28-29, she is the constant object of His care.
We have a lovely demonstration of His giving Himself as seen in the life of Jacob, where, for Rachel, he served a total of fourteen years to make her his bride, Gen. 29.
If in verse 25 we can see the example of Jacob, it is beautiful to see, in verse 26, the relationship between Boaz and Ruth, Ruth 3. Though the desire to cleanse and sanctify was on her part, here it is the Lord who fulfils the needed cleansing. In verse 27, we see Isaac with Rebekah presenting her to himself as he took her into his mother’s tent and she became his wife, Gen. 24. 67.
Here we see three thoughts expressed:
1) Sanctification, v. 26
If we are to share the glories of Christ then we must be a fit companion. The word of God is to sanctify and cleanse. To sanctify is to make holy, purify, and consecrate. Whenever failure comes in to mar and sully our lives, it is because we are not taking heed to the word. The word ‘cleanse’ simply means to purge and make ceremonially clean.
2) Presentation, v. 27
As far as the saints are concerned, it is the Lord who will present us to Himself. In the Greek ‘he’ is emphatic to stress the Lord’s personal action. ‘The heavenly Bridegroom cleanses and sanctifies the church His bride, and then Himself presents her to Himself in the glory of immaculate beauty and unfading youth’.2
3) Perfection, v. 27
The beauty of the church will surpass anything ever seen before. Those things that mar the beauty on earth will not be seen in the church. No freckle, spot, flaw, wrinkle, and no fault or blemish, will diminish the glory that will mark the church in that day.
This love is physical and personal, v. 28, while we find it both material and beneficial in verse 29. To love one’s wife is to love her as a man loves himself, for this love nourishes and cherishes. It is interesting to see the stress that the apostle places on a man’s love, ‘so ought’. It is set forth as a debt that is due; it is an obligation to pay. So with his wife he must seek to rear up and bring to maturity, for this is the meaning of the word ‘nourish’.
He must not only take the opportunity to provide, he must also make her an object to prosper, for to cherish means to make warm, to heat, as a bird shelters its young. Does this not reveal something of the tender care a man must have for his wife?
The closing section of the chapter has four prominent thoughts:
The members of Christ, v. 31
This verse emphasizes the intimacy that exists between believers and their Lord, as we are members of His body. The word always refers to the various parts of the anatomy that make up the body, and would indicate the harmony, unity, and vital necessity of every member of the body.
As Eve came out of the side of Adam, so we are united to the Lord as coming out of His death at Calvary. Yet it must be remembered that it is on resurrection ground that we are linked to Him, and that might be the implication of the expression ‘of his flesh, and of his bones’. When the Lord presented Himself to the disciples after His resurrection in Luke chapter 24, His words ’Handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have’, v. 39, would bring us to resurrection ground.
The movements in marriage, v. 31
The marriage bond formed in Genesis chapter 2 verses 18-25 is the basis for all marriages, even that of Christ and His bride. As far as Eve is concerned, she was in Adam, even as we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. She came from Him, and was for Him, and was presented to Him. All this is but a reflection of the present relationship between Christ and His bride. We are now waiting only for the presentation.
In the clause ‘for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother’, we see how a man leaves the headship of his parents to establish his own headship in the home. The wife moves out of one sphere of headship into that of her husband.
The mystery of marriage, v. 32
The order of the original text tells us that ‘this mystery is great’. There is no indication in the Genesis record that God had in mind other than the union between a man and a woman. We now discern that a far higher truth was involved in that original act of creation. The Lord looked down the ages to see a bride He was going to purchase for Himself, making them one flesh. That is the great mystery.
The apostle, having elevated the marriage bond to recognize the divine union that has been formed, does not want his hearers to forget the true relationship that now exists between a man and a woman. Nor does he want the dual responsibilities to be overlooked. As a result, he begins, ‘nevertheless’; we might say ‘however’. If believers were to follow the principles laid down and the pattern left by the Saviour, there would not be the moral breakdown of so many marriages that is so evident in our day.