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Ephesians 5:21-33
9th November 2003

Beverley and I produce the magazine "Marriage Works" because we want people to make their marriage work! I was shocked to discover that more than one million Australian children will see their parents divorced in the next 20 years. 40,000 divorces occur each year and a growing number of children find alternate, or substitute parents, and sometimes foster parents. We see an increase in single parent families. We see a disappointing rate of failure in second time around marriages. 87% of people in Australia believe that marriage is an essential part of family life. They believe it is much more than a piece of paper and is essential for the benefit of the community. Many believe that yet their lives reflect something different.

There is also a move today to make marriage simply a commitment of people to each other, not involving God and often of people of the same sex. Bill Muehlenberg, National Vice President of The Australian Family Association, recently wrote: "Perhaps the most disconcerting item on the gay agenda is the desire to equate same-sex relationships with normal marriage and family life. Federal Cabinet recently decided to include homosexual couples in its definition of families for the purpose of future census taking by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Also, in New South Wales it has just recently been decided that gay couples are to be recognised as "family". Homosexual marriage is simply an oxymoron. However, with de facto relationships now on a near par with marriage relationships, the gay lobby feels it can make a strong case for equating same-sex relationships with heterosexual marriage." Family law has been rewritten to dilute both the rights and the obligations of marriage. Soon there may be little of marriage left.

It may also place other relationships, from adulterous liaisons to homosexual partnerships, on a legal par with marriage. Others claim that homosexual partners would want freedom for "extra-marital sexual outlets". That undermines the very essence of marriage, which is the covenant of life-long sexual faithfulness. All cultures have recognised marriage, but only of the heterosexual variety. Marriage has always been associated with procreation. Marriage, as we traditionally know it, is our most precious and important social act. That is the accumulated wisdom of millennia and the teaching of every major religion. If we legalise marriage of homosexuals, the same arguments could be used to argue for legalising incest, polygamy, and many other sexual combinations. One expert says, "What we are doing by creating this institution to be called 'gay marriage' is smashing marriage and replacing it with a whole new set of arrangements that apply to everybody, not just homosexuals, everybody, in which marriage is a unique contract between any two or more adults who want to enter into it and set by any rules. It makes marriage impermanent, and it turns children into commodities."

One point you rarely hear from homosexual partners is: what about the children? If we allow homosexual marriage and adoption rights, what will be the effect on children? Paul in Ephesians 5: 21 33 talks about our relationships and says that people have sexual, social, and economic relationships. People criticise Paul because they do not listen to all he says. Too many just quote a phrase out of context. Listen carefully to all four things in this Scripture that will help make good marriages better and help give poor marriages the right kind of foundation for a future.


v21"Submit yourselves to one another because of your reverence for Christ." I often hear people say wives must obey their husbands. That word "obey" is not used in Scripture except for the fact that all of us are to obey God, and children are to obey their parents. Wives are not told to obey their husbands. Husbands and wives are told to submit to one another. The husband to the wife, the wife to the husband, and both to God. The basis of marriage lies in mutual submission to the other. It is a mutual service of a lover, who says to the spouse, "What can I do for you?" That is the basis of marriage not "what can I get out of this?" It means learning from each other, adapting to each other.

There is no class, there is no distinction because of sex, there is no one person better than another. There is a mutuality of submission. Why? It is out of our reverence to Christ. In a Christian marriage it is our allegiance to Christ that first of all enables us to get on with each other and to submit ourselves to each other. The head of the house is not the wife, nor the husband. "The Head of this house is Christ, the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener to every conversation." Christ is the Head of the Christian house. That is what the Bible clearly says: "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who seek to build it." A good marriage has wholehearted commitment by both partners. Pride, an overbearing attitude, authoritarianism, selfishness, will ruin any marriage. Paul starts with a point of learning to be humble and submissive to each other, learning from each other, adapting to each other. That a psychological sound basis for a good marriage of equals. To learn to adapt to each other's needs and wants is essential.


Paul always has an equal balance. There is a reciprocity of obligation and privilege. He starts here with the wife. We welcome the liberation of women from the shackles of exploitation. There is no place in Christian marriage for exploitation. There is no place in Christian marriage for putting down women. Note carefully how Paul gives the roles of the wife and then the husband.

  1. v22 "Wives, submit to your husbands". Paul started by saying submit to each other. Now he looks at the wife first and tells her to submit to her husband. There are people who think that maybe they should change partners because they have married the wrong person. Let me say you did not marry the wrong person. When your family changes and the house does not suit, it is better to renovate than relocate. I think that is what we should do within our marriages renovate them, extend them, build them, improve them. Do not relocate except as a last resort, never as just a preferred option.
  2. v22 "as to the Lord." We are talking about a submission the same as you submit to the Lord. Some husbands are not worthy of that, some do not earn that submission, and the wife has to submit as to the Lord. That means willingly, lovingly, prayerfully.
  3. v23 "for the husband has authority over his wife." Why is this so? Thirteen times in the New Testament Paul says that the husband's role is to be the leader within the family and within the marriage. Some husbands are not worthy of that and do not live up to that. But it is God's intention that the husband should give the leadership within marriage and the family.

"Just as Christ has authority over the church;" v23 served the church and denied Himself for it, so the husband must be prepared to give himself for his wife, provide and care and even sacrifice himself for her. "Christ is Himself the Saviour of the church, His body, so wives must submit themselves completely to their husbands just as the church submits itself to Christ." Some women complain about submission, but they have not read that their husbands are to submit to them, nor have they read the verses immediately following saying husbands must provide for them. To be head is to be responsible and accountable, "loving their wives as their own bodies."

Every known civilisation reveals what one anthropologist called "the inevitability of patriarchy". In other words, husbands inevitably are the head of the family. Professor Margaret Mead, one of the greatest anthropologists and a liberationist, has likewise said, "All claims so glibly made about societies ruled by women are nonsense. We have no reason to believe that any existed." These anthropologists claim this is a pattern of humanity. A wife should submit to the leadership of a husband and the husband must fulfil the obligations of headship.


Husbands must exercise love, not domination. Paul compares the same love Jesus has for us and the church. v25 "Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. He did this to dedicate the church to God by his word, after making it clean by washing it in water, in order to present the church to himself in all its beauty-pure and faultless, without spot or wrinkle or any other imperfection. v28 "Men ought to love their wives just as they love their own bodies."

  1. As Christ loved the church, so men ought to love their wives, with a deep caring love, so she can be radiant, "without spot or wrinkle or any other imperfection." Not with authoritarianism, but with responsibility "to provide for, to protect, to care for, to sacrifice for" - the willingness to sacrifice self for your wife.
  2. v28 "Men ought to love their wives just as they love their own bodies. A man who loves his wife loves himself 29 (None of us ever hate our own bodies. Instead, we feed them, and take care of them, just as Christ does the church; 30 for we are members of his body.)" Marriage is based upon a bond that is physical, emotional, psychological and sexual, a oneness in marriage. A husband has a right to provide for his wife, to care for her, to protect her and he has a right to sacrifice himself for her and be faithful to her all of his life. Those are the rights that are mentioned in Scripture.
  3. v31 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother," Paul quotes from the Old Testament Genesis 2: 24. When a couple come to be married, they leave their parents because they are starting a new family. Many marriages could have been improved by following that practice: leave your father and mother; establish a new unit, a new family, a new togetherness.
  4. v31 " and unite with his wife, and the two will become one." That union is mutual now you share with each other, and that means communication. Where marriages break down it is at that point of mutual sharing, it is at that point of communicating. No union leads to no communication. No communication is the reason for the death of many marriages.

Love is sexual the two shall become one, meaning one in sexual relationships. Their sexual love is an important part of their total togetherness. It is conjugal love. It is based upon their loyalty and fidelity to each other not to his mother or her father, not to anybody else. It is theirs alone for each other. And it is continual. It is to last a lifetime. Scripture does allow for divorce, because people are sinful, foolish and marriages break down. Divorce is allowed in Scripture, but the intention of God is that partners should be together mutually, sexually, conjugally and continually.


It starts with a reverence for Christ and a mutual submission to each other and ends with "every husband must love his wife as himself, and every wife must respect her husband." As you love yourself, provide for yourself, support yourself, you must love your wife, provide for her and support her in exactly the same way. The husband must love, and the wife must respect. Respect can only come when love is given. Christian marriage is very sophisticated. And it works!

It starts with reverence to Christ. It goes out with our sense of service and submission to each other. If we start with a mutual submission to Christ then our obligations and responsibilities easily follow after. It is a wilful, proud, independence that does not allow submission to Christ, and therefore to each other that is the basic cause of so many marriages not working. It is the basic reason why so many good marriages do work. If we look to the good marriages, you will see submission to God. Start again tonight with both of you submitting to God now!


  • Bill Muehlenberg, The Australian Family Association, Journal August 2003
Wesley Mission, Sydney.