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  • Writer's picturePastor Rick

Husbands Who Love Like Christ

Ephesians 5:21–33


In the very strange climate that we live in today, it is important that we define the role of a husband (man) and wife (woman) in biblical truth. We are going to fly straight into the eye of this storm today… because we are going to understand without question the truth of what God has ordained in marriage. So with that being said…let’s jump to Ephesians 5:31. It’s a quote from Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.” In the next verse (verse 32), Paul looks back on this quote and says, “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

The Mystery of Marriage

Right from the start, it is obvious why there is such an attack on marriage and family today…and not forgetting the attack on gender. It is because of what the marriage represents in the kingdom of God. So, why is the coming together of a man and woman to form one flesh in marriage a mystery? Paul’s answer in verse 32 is this: the marriage union is a mystery because its deepest meaning has been partially concealed, but is now being openly revealed by the apostle, namely, that marriage is an image of Christ and the church. Verse 32: “I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

So, marriage is like a metaphor or an image that stands for something more than a man and a woman becoming one flesh. It stands for the relationship between Christ and the church. That is the deepest meaning of marriage. It’s meant to be a living drama of how Christ and the church relate to each other.

Notice how verses 28–30 describe the parallel between Christ and the church being one body and the husband and wife being one flesh. “Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it.” In other words, the one-flesh union between man and woman means that in a sense they are now one body so that the care a husband has for his wife he has for himself. They are one. What he does to her he does to himself.

Then he compares this to Christ’s care for the church. Picking up near the end of verse 29, he says the husband nourishes and cherishes his own flesh, “as Christ does the church because we are members of his body.” In other words, just as the husband is one flesh with his wife, so the church is one body with Christ. When the husband cherishes and nourishes his wife, he cherishes and nourishes himself; and when Christ cherishes and nourishes the church, he cherishes and nourishes himself.

If you want to understand God’s meaning for marriage, you must grasp that we are dealing with a copy and an original…a reality and a truth. The original, the truth is God’s marriage to his people, or Christ’s marriage to the church. While the copy, the parable is a husband’s marriage to his wife. It has been said that “As God made man in His own image, so He made earthly marriage in the image of His own eternal marriage with His people.”

I. The Roles of Husbands and Wives

One of the things to learn from this mystery is the role of the husband and the wife in marriage. One of Paul’s points in this passage is that the role of a husband and wife in marriage are not arbitrarily assigned and they are not reversible without obscuring God’s purpose for marriage. The roles of husband and wife are rooted in the distinctive roles of Christ and his church. God means (by marriage) to say something about his Son and his church by the way husbands and wives relate to each other.

We see this in verses 23–25. Verse 24 speaks to the wife about her half of the metaphor and verses 23 and 25 speak about the husband’s half of the metaphor. Wives find your distinctive role as a wife in keying off the way the church relates to Christ. Verse 24: “As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.” Then to husbands: find your distinctive role as a husband in keying off the way Christ relates to the church. First verse 23: “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” Then verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

II. The Redeeming of Headship and Submission

Think about this for a moment…when sin entered the world, it ruined the harmony of marriage not because it brought headship and submission into existence, but because it twisted man’s humble, loving headship into hostile domination in some men and lazy indifference in others. And it twisted woman’s intelligent, willing submission into manipulation in some women and brazen insubordination in others. Sin didn’t create headship and submission; it ruined them and distorted them and made them ugly and destructive.

Now if this is true, then the redemption in Jesus Christ is not the dismantling of the original, created order of loving headship and willing submission but a recovery of it from the ravages of sin. And that’s just what we find in Ephesians 5:21–33. Wives let your fallen submission be redeemed by modeling it after God’s intention for the church! Husbands let your fallen headship be redeemed by modeling it after God’s intention for Christ!

Therefore, headship is not a right to command and control. It’s a responsibility to love like Christ: to lay down your life for your wife in servant leadership. And submission is not slavish or coerced or cowering. That’s not the way Christ wants the church to respond to his leadership: he wants it to be free and willing…refining and strengthening.

So here is what this passage of Scripture does: it guards against the abuses of headship by telling husbands to love like Jesus, and it guards against the debasing of submission by telling wives to respond the way the church does to Christ.

III. Defining Headship and Submission

What is:

  • Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.

  • Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.

What About Mutual Submission in Ephesians 5:21?

The ideas of headship and submission are not popular today. The spirit of our society makes it very hard for people to even hear texts like this in a positive way. The most common objection to what we have read today of loving leadership and willing submission is that verse 21 teaches us to be mutually submissive to each other. “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Here is the truth of the matter, “The church thrives on mutual subjection. In a Spirit-led church, the elders submit to the congregation in being accountable for their watch-care, and the congregation submits to the elders in accepting their guidance.” In other words, when it comes to the church, we have no trouble seeing how mutual submission is possible between two groups, one of whom has the special responsibility to guide and the other of whom has the special responsibility to accept guidance.

“Headship is not a right to command and control. It’s a responsibility to love like Christ.”

IV. Practical Implications

1. The Transformation of Leading

The call in verse 25 for husbands to “love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” revolutionizes the way he leads. In Luke 22:26, Jesus says, “Let the leader become as one who serves.” In other words, husbands, don’t stop leading, but turn all your leading into serving.

2. The Transformation of Submission

Submission does not mean putting the husband in the place of Christ. Verse 21 says you submit out of reverence for Christ. Submission does not mean that the husband’s word is absolute. Only Christ’s word is absolute. No wife should follow a husband into sin. You can’t do that in reverence to Christ. Submission does not mean surrendering thought. It does not mean she has no input on decisions or no influence on her husband. It does not come from ignorance or incompetence. It comes from what is fitting and appropriate (Colossians 3:18) in God’s created order.

“Submission does not mean putting the husband in the place of Christ.”


When you study the Scriptures, you will find that God puts the primary responsibility for having a godly, biblical family on the man. I think that may be why men and husbands and fathers have been under such severe attack in American culture.

When a man senses a primary God-given responsibility for the spiritual life of the family, gathering the family for devotions, taking them to church, calling for prayer at meals — when he senses a primary God-given responsibility for the discipline and education of the children, the stewardship of money, the provision of food, the safety of the home, the healing of discord, that special sense of responsibility is not authoritarian or autocratic or domineering or bossy or oppressive or abusive. It is simply servant-leadership. And I have never met a wife who is sorry she is married to a man like that. Because when God designs a thing (like marriage), he designs it for his glory and our good.

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