Message: Wives, Christ’s Image of Glory | Scripture: Ephesians 5:22-24 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: All Creatures of Our God and King; Turn Your Eyes; All I have Is Christ; Christ, the Sure and Steady Anchor.
- The Bible tells us that we’re to submit in all kinds of different ways to those whom God has called to cherish us, but why does God tell us to do this? What is he trying to accomplish in calling us to submit, and what does it ultimately point to? How does submission point to that ultimate thing?
- Why is it so important that we get this language right in the kind of world that we live in today?
- What do you observe in the world? Do you feel like its system is better than the one called for here in the Bible? Why/why not?
- Do you practice functional submission in the relationships in which Scripture calls you to do so?
- What does the gospel reveal about submission that creation, itself, did not reveal? How should this cause us to react in our day-to-day relationships, especially in those we’re called to be subjected to?
- How do we persevere in those relationships that are difficult to be submissive in? Do you do this, or do you often try to solve the problem on your own (if you’re solving it on your own, what does this reveal about your heart and your ultimate hope)?
- Does submission mean taking in abuse, feeling trapped, or being ignored for your opinions/desires? Why/why not?
- What have you been learning from this week’s (or previous weeks’) sermons that have caused you to see Christ more clearly and to apply those principles more ardently in your own life?
- In what ways do you personally struggle with texts like these that call us to submit/do things that the world is very unwilling to do?
- How can I be praying for you this week in either your victories or struggles?
- Make sure to spend adequate time in prayer, especially for those who have made a request for it.
I have a friend who I always turn to when I want to discuss issues of theology. He and I became very interested in biblical matters at about the same time in life, and we both excelled in the pursuit of this kind of knowledge. So, one day, while we were reading through a systematic theology together, we came across the topic of unity, and in particular, unity of Christians within a church. And I remember his reaction as we came to the chapter, he said, “I really dislike the concept and discussion of unity, because I feel like my church has abused that term my whole life. In fact, when I think about unity, all I can think about are men and women using the word to suppress truth and instill fear in people whenever they suggested certain biblical changes be made. Unity was just a weapon—something that people pursued at all costs because they wanted to avoid conflict and because they desired the appearance of peace rather than deal with messiness and sin to get to real peace.” To my friend, unity was a force for injustice and silence and not of Christian freedom. It was a means to harm and not the end of pursuing God-honouring holiness together.
What we have to remember about Ephesians is that its underlying theme is unity, and Paul is telling us in these verses that one of the means of achieving that unity within our churches and within our personal relationships is through observing structures of authority implemented by God himself in creation. The problem for my friend, however, was that his church often used terms like unity and subjection or submission in ways that said your opinions and thoughts were irrelevant and unimportant. For that reason, this friend of mine had lingering trauma from church and relational pursuits for unity and rightly so! In a kind of pre-emptive way, Paul wants to deal with this wrongheadedness about unity and about submission and subjection. Unity is not something we pursue for unity sake; we don’t submit ourselves to authority naturally. And the best way to exemplify this for the church is by zooming into the relationship between husband and wife. For so long, the church and Christian couples have languished with this idea of unity through subjection and submission, but it’s not supposed to be a languishing kind of thing. It’s not meant for one party to stand over another and make those under their authority feel irrelevant or unimportant. No, marriage, and by direct comparison, the church, is supposed to portray a drastically different image. This is the image that we’re going to try and reveal this morning. Read Ephesians 5:22-24 with me. TWoL.
Wives, subject yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Saviour of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
Our proposition this morning follows the main imperative that Paul uses: “subject” or “submit.” Submit as God intended for Gospel Order and for the Promise of Glory, and I want to walk through the different aspects of the proposition.
- The Request to Submit;
- The Order of the Gospel; and,
- The Promise of Glory.
When we consider what it means to submit for unity in the gospel and for the promise of glory, we get that these ethical requirements from Paul, they’re not just principles that the Ephesians to follow—we’re to follow them—we’re to follow them because they’re grounded in and pointing to something far greater than just a wife and her husband, or even a church and its pastors or leaders. There’s more here, and we want to take a look at that more by looking first at:
1) The Request to Submit
For context, remember last week that discussed submission in verse 21, and our four affirmations and denials about what it is and what it is not. I also explained to you last week that verse 21 functions as the fourth result of those who are filled by the Spirit with the understanding of the wisdom of God. They sing, their hearts are changed, they live in an overflow of thanksgiving, and they submit to those who God has called to cherish them. Submission or willing humility is that unique Christian act that displays your gospel understanding most brilliantly. So, Paul takes this concept of submission within the context and relational structure of the covenanted church, and he narrows its scope and applies it specifically to our personal, more intimate covenant relationships.
This is where we pick up in verse 22: Wives, subject yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord. Remember last week, the first denial of submission—it is not active nor passive submission, it is reflexive—it is something that someone does to themselves. Well, we see that reflexivity here in verse 22: Wives, subject yourselves. This is the main point of Eph 5:22-24. Wives, subject yourselves, and yet, even though it is a principle that is extremely easy to interpret, we often forget that it’s a command written in the reflexive voice. It is something that women in married relationships are called to do of their own volition. They are not to be subjected against their wills. Husbands do not get to remind their wives or force their wives to be submissive. No, a wife’s humility to her husband is something that she desires to do, and not something that her husband requires from her.
We should also see that the verb “submit” here makes no reference to the wife’s value. One commentator puts it this way, “that the verb ‘submit’ can be used of Christ’s submission to the authority of the Father also shows that it can denote a functional subordination without implying inferiority, or less honour and glory.” A wife’s submission has everything to do with her role in this life, but it has nothing to do with her dignity, value, or worth to the God who created her and who ransoms her unto eternity. Nor should it have any bearing upon a husband’s desire for her, to value and prize her as God’s greatest gift, and to heavily consider all of her input in the decisions that he will ultimately have to make.
Furthermore, notice that wives do not desire to submit because their husband is good looking, or because he’s benevolent, although he should be, or because he’s an exceptional leader, or even because he has all the answers. They desire to humbly submit to their husbands as a display of how they willingly and humbly submit to the Lord. See, how Paul gives us comparison language—submit yourselves to your husband, as to the Lord. Read in longform, it says, “submit yourselves to your husband, as you submit yourselves to the Lord.” Paul is telling wives that there is no difference between your submission to Jesus and your submission to your husband—when you submit to your husband, you honour your Lord. If you love Jesus, love your husband. If you submit to Jesus, submit to your husband. This is an enduring request. It’s one that stands the test of time. Why? Because so long as wives are living, and so long as wives call themselves believers—they will always be subjected to the Lord. So too, as long as wives continue to subject themselves to the Lord, they are to subject themselves to their husbands.
Now, I want to be careful here, because I’m sure some of you are asking, “what about in abusive relationships, do I submit to my husband then?” And I believe the answer to that question is in the text. You are to submit to your husband as you submit to your Lord. As your Lord loves you unconditionally, sacrificially, affectionately, and purposefully, so too ought to be your husband. It is when your husband falls outside that scope, it’s not that you stop submitting to him, but rather, you submit to him by helping him see the Lord whom he is called to emulate and whom he is ultimately accountable to. Remember last week, submission does not mean silence and inactivity. You are not to simply take his sin and leave him be. Rather, you’re to be an active component to his physical, emotional, social, and spiritual development. This may mean calling the cops, running to other members of your church to help protect you, and turning to your pastors, other men, and people placed over him in authority to take drastic measures to intervene, counsel, and discipline.
Wives, subject yourselves to your husbands, as you subject yourselves at all times to your Lord. It may not be that you live in an abusive relationship. It may simply be that your husband refuses to lead, love, and care for you as your Lord does. In those instances, just as much as in the instances of abuse, your duty, as a wife, is to submit to your husband by pointing him to Jesus. By bringing your pastor or elder alongside you. By encouraging him to read his Bible. By helping him see the benefit of small groups and the necessity of gospel-community. Above all of these things, by praying for him without ceasing that he might repent and return to his role as a husband who reflects his Christ.
Yet, notice how, through all of this, I have not entertained the idea of breaking the covenant, and that is because Paul is not considering this here. Yes, there are circumstances where it is permissible, but the whole point of Paul’s writing to the Ephesians is to emphasize the ubiquity, the stability and enduring nature, of a covenant. God has made a new covenant through Christ’s blood. God has instituted a mandate for a covenant between people of the same church whether Jew or Gentile. So too, God has mandated a covenant be given between a man and a woman who wish to be joined in marriage. When we enter into a covenant, it is a severe thing, and our willingness to break them shows our equal willingness to incur the righteous anger and judgment of our God.
Just like for wives, this is a sobering reminder for us men—both married and non-married. For those who are married, it’s sobering because it reminds us that there is never a circumstance when it’s okay for us to stop displaying Christ to our bride. That’s not to say that we don’t fail, but our every effort and our hearts aspire to her every goodness as much as God enables us to do so.
For single men, especially those who desire to be married—whether or not you do get married, this applies to you because in every season, you are called to be preparing yourself so that you reflect with increasing measure the character of your Lord. To all men, I ask, if you’re not spending daily time with him, how can you expect to exemplify and lead your wife to Christ on a regular basis? If you treat him like someone who is there only for your personal gain, how will you end up treating your wife who is called to submit to you? Do you have a heart of service and sacrifice? Is your care for the orphan and widow? Do you go to those who are lowly and humble? These are things that our Lord actively did, and he did them not only because they were right or because the Father told him to, but also because he was preparing himself for his bride. Don’t waste your marriage, and don’t waste your singleness. Prepare and equip yourself in every circumstance because it is necessary. Prepare and equip yourself because it brings you closer to Christ.
Finally, a word to our single women. You are not subject to your brothers in Christ unless they are your boss or your pastors/elders, and even in those relationships, you submit to them in the context of the authority that God has given them in Scripture and nothing else. They do not possess an authority over you by virtue of their own person. Authority is not derived from people; it is derived from God in his Word. Just like your single brothers, don’t waste your singleness—you, too, are to reflect your Christ in everything. This goes without saying, but for those who desire to marry, don’t enter into a covenant with a man carelessly because Paul doesn’t mince his words here. When you marry, when you are a wife, you are to submit yourself to your husband, as you submit yourself to the Lord. He becomes your most important ministry. This is the apostle’s request to submit given to women and applied to all of us—may we pay serious attention to it.
2) The Gospel Order
Now, look with me at verse 23. Paul has told women to submit to their husbands as they submit to the Lord, and here, in verse 23, Paul gives us the reason why. You are to submit to your husband because it displays gospel order. “For the husband is the head of his wife, just as Christ also is the head of the church, he himself being the Saviour of the body” There are two main parts to this verse, and the first portion of it has to do with the proper ordering within the home, and we’ll look to this part first.
Much has been made about the fact that maybe, when Paul uses the word “head,” he does not mean that there is an order. They argue that the husband does not have authority or leadership over his wife, or that her submission does not imply following her husband’s decisions. But if we look at the two other times the apostle uses this word in Ephesians 1:22 and 4:15, he refers both times to Christ, and in each of these cases he clearly means that when we submit to Christ, or when we are put under him as our head, we follow him, and that he rules over us for our good.
But let’s do a deeper dive on this because we have to get this right. Where else does Paul make a significant claim about the headship of man over the woman? We see it most prominently in 1 Corinthians 11:3-12. In verse 3, he says, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” And then, in verses 8-9 of 1 Cor 11, he provides the ground for verse 3 by saying, “For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.”
So, I ask you, “What is the ground for a wife’s submission to her husband?” Is it because Paul is arbitrarily determining that husbands are now the head? Is he instituting a new law and ethic for households under the new covenant? No. Paul, in 1 Cor 11:3-12, grounds headship of a husband over his wife in creation, and the significance of this is to point out that all of it took place before sin’s entrance into the world. This is why even today, especially for Christians, women are to submit to their husbands, and men are to lead their wives. True marriage—a relationship that reflects both patient leadership and humble submission simultaneously—is something that pleased God—something that he declared to be very good in creation as something he envisioned from his own being. Thus, we can know that it is still something that pleases God today because it is what he intended from his own mind as a part of his creaturely plan.
In other words, the ground for biblical manhood and womanhood—both in marriage and the church—is rooted in the character and orderliness of God himself stamped onto and into the world when it was without sin. God is the maker of man and woman, and he has made them to bear his image both in their being and in their doing. Both are meant to reflect him, and they’re to reflect him in specific ways. Oliver O’Donovan puts it this way, “the simple fact that there is a Creator implies that there is also a creation that is ordered to its Creator, a world that exists as his creation and in no other way, so that by its very existence, it points to God. But then, just because it is ordered vertically, it must also have an internal horizontal ordering among its parts.” This is what we see in marriage. As God orders creation vertically in subjection to him, so too, on a horizontal plane, he places husbands over their wives.
Biblical roles for men and women aren’t something obsolete. In fact, the reason why so much of the world doesn’t practice these God-ordained roles in the home is because sin has corrupted it, and we’ve made excuses that these original mandates are oppressive, but what I’m seeing today in the world proves the exact opposite. We simply have to evaluate these so-called feminist movements, the LGBTQ culture, pro-choice activists, the black lives matter—their aim is to oppress, reject God’s mandates, and declare their own prerogatives as the standard for humanity. Those who reject these social initiatives are then cast out, silenced, considered unintelligent, and villainized. What they don’t see is that they are doing the exact thing that they claim others to be doing to them.
Yes, there are cases where people abuse what God has instituted, but that’s not because his system is broken, it’s because people are broken. God’s order is to protect us and to flourish us. Just think about it. There are two primary institutions given within creation as reflected in Genesis 1 and 2. Man is called to work or govern and to establish the earth through the family—two institutions. Let’s just focus on the institution of family. How does a child know how to function within society? He or she learns it from his or her parents. Sure, there are other things that influence him or her, but nothing will impact like a father or mother. Through marriage, life is made, shaped, learned, and evaluated. Now, take that institution and corrupt it. Introduce the neglectful dad, or two moms or dads, or an abusive, overbearing mother. What happens then to the child? What is she observing, and will she not take what she observes and live that out in the world, in her relationships, in her attitude to her own children? Then how will those children interact with the world and their children? God establishes order for our good and for our flourishing, even if we reject him—promoting his order to the ignorant is for their benefit. When the order of God is subverted, the equilibrium of the world is disrupted, godlessness ensues, chaos becomes the norm, and destruction becomes a very plausible reality for our future.
And we know this is true at an even greater level as Christians because we are created to reflect God’s own character. The three persons work in perfect harmony, why? Because each seeks the betterment of the other, and this is their attitude in creation—they are in the Godhead itself wholly and perfectly good, and so, when they go to make the world, the world is good, and the pinnacle of his creation, man, he says, is very good. This is what Paul is trying to impress here in Ephesians. He is reorienting the Christian’s ethic back to what it was supposed to be like. Husbands are supposed to lead, wives are to submit, and both are to reflect God’s character as he’s revealed it from the beginning because it’s the means of both maintaining the world and in glorifying him in it! There is no difference. How is the world maintained? By glorifying God. How do we glorify God? By doing the things that he’s instituted to maintain the world. This deals with the first half of the verse—the husband is the head of the wife because it glorifies God’s created order.
But then there’s that second part: “as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Saviour of the body.” Headship might be grounded in creation, but Paul doesn’t bring up creation here explicitly. Instead, he draws us to the gospel. Why does he do this? It’s because while creation is a sufficient answer, it isn’t complete. The situation for Adam and Eve in Eden was a test to show their dependence and love for God, and they failed that test. And it was the kind of test where there are no do-overs. This means that, for us, for those who follow in their footsteps, there’s no way for us to return to the state of creation. There’s no way in us, in our sinfulness, to get back to that point of goodness and sinlessness. Too much has taken place, there has been too much sin, and, even if we desired to follow God’s order now willingly, it would be too little too late. In this world, and in our lives, we are at the mercy of a holy God who stands as judge over us.
Here’s the problem that Paul is presenting, and it’s the same message Jesus gives us in the gospels—in order for us to get back to God—in order for us to reflect him and his character as he intended from creation—it’s not enough for us to simply go back and do ethical things. It’s not enough for us to try and carry out righteous action as Adam and Eve ought to have done in Eden. No, something has to happen in our corrupt hearts. It’s a heart issue. God doesn’t delight in order for order’s sake, he delights in order for his sake. It’s not enough to obey him externally, that’s not devotion—our external must be reflective of who we are and what we want internally.
Let me bring it all together. Submission was instituted in creation, but it is perfected and fulfilled in redemption. God not only seeks to order everything from the beginning of the world, but by his own work, power, and wisdom, he enacts for us, in time, what proper functional submission looks like by sending his own Son to come into a world that has long since rejected him, and this Son lived in perfect obedience to that order. When we rejected him, again, this Son died upon a cross willingly for us not only to bring us back to what we were supposed to be in creation but so that something more beautiful might result in our redemption. Through his death and resurrection, he has inaugurated an order that’s not only derived from creation, but it’s one that moves us toward an end in which all things are being made new. It is because the Son did this, willingly, obediently, submissively, and lovingly, that God has placed him as the Name above every name. He is exalted as the glorious one. He’s the head of the body because of how he first submitted himself to the cross. Wives follow your husbands because this is the kind of man he strives to be. Submit to him because he dies for you. Submit to him because he seeks to exalt you. Submit to him because he points you to a new reality and a new creation and a new, eternal order in Jesus.
3) The Promise of Glory
Verse 24 starts with the word, “but,” and it’s difficult to know exactly why Paul includes it here, but I believe the best explanation for it is that Paul does not mean to imply that husbands save their wives. He has just told the Ephesians that husbands are like Christ, and Christ is the head of the church because he saved her. This isn’t true about husbands. They don’t save their wives. They point their wives to Jesus, but it’s Jesus who does the saving. So, verse 24 starts here as a concession, despite the fact that your husband does not save you, you still submit to him, and you’ll submit to him in all areas of life, because he’s the one who is supposed to point you to Jesus. We’ve heard it said before, and I’m not here to reinvent the wheel: marriage between a man and a woman is a reflection of Christ and his marriage to the Church, but we must remember that it is a reflection. This is why the apostle says, “as the church is subject to Christ, so too, wives be subject to your husbands in everything.” Marriage is an imperfect shadow of what is to come.
What is coming is glory. Next week, I’ll talk about men and how leadership in the home is our promise of glory, but for women, submission is yours. And I don’t mean that to say that submitting is saves you. No, I’m saying that submitting in a marriage union, or for those of you who are single, submitting in the context of your church’s pastors and in your job, if you have a boss, this is the primary means by which you display the knowledge, reception, and belief of the gospel in your life. No one person can perfectly epitomize in themselves what Christ has accomplished for us in his atonement, and so God, again in his wisdom, structured us, male and female, in such a way where both man and woman get to display different sides of the cross. Yet, both are called to lay down their life for the sake of the other, and women, wives, do this by submitting.
Sisters and Candace, this is not an easy thing to do. Your husbands are imperfect vessels of pointing to a perfect Christ, and their mistakes only emphasize for you more and more that day when you will be united to your incomparable groom. But don’t use your husband’s mistakes as permission to look past him. No, God through Christ has given you this man so that you might look directly at him in the same way that you might look at and to your Lord. What’s better is that your husband’s imperfection ought to remind you of your own imperfection and that you are not in this marriage for yourself. No, you’re in it to display your Saviour, you’re in it to make each other holy, just as he is in it to display his Saviour, and just as his Saviour is holy. Show grace when your husbands and when your brothers fail you because Christ has shown you grace in all the times you have failed him. Husbands, this is no excuse for you, be quick to apologize and humble yourself when you fail.
It is in this complementarity that true unity is brought about. Marriage is simply another word for union. This is why I started my sermon with that analogy about my friend who struggled with the concept of unity. This whole book of Ephesians, the main theme is about unity. Unity brought about through the gracious atonement of Jesus Christ between sinner and God as one family. Unity brought about among those who were once enemies—Jews and Gentiles—as one church. And unity, most beautifully displayed, between two people, a man and a woman, in holy marriage as one person. All of it reflect a union that is coming—one that we can wait for with longing and hopeful expectation. But how is the shadow of our future union achieved in this life? It is only when unity is pursued within the lens of the gospel—when truth is allowed to prevail just as much as love and grace—when people are doing what they are supposed to be doing according to the ordering of God in creation and in redemption—when we are given hearts that desire and long to make much of our Saviour together—only then shall we have it. Wives and women, married and unmarried, you are Christ’s Image of Glory because just as Christ submitted himself to the Father, you, too, submit yourselves to your Christ, your husbands, and to your pastors. And just as Christ was and is glorified through his perfect submission to his Father, you too shall be glorified as one who has displayed his gospel for all the world to see. Ensure that you do this for him who is your betrothed and to the glory of God the Father.