Instructions For Marriage

Ephesians 5:25-33

Most people would agree, I think, that one of the happiest of all occasions is the wedding day. Young couples (and older ones too!) dream of it and look forward to it, detailed plans and preparations are made, friends and family gather to honor the couple and to wish them well, and underlying it all is the sense that this is a good thing.

Interestingly enough, though, marriage and weddings are not just social occasions, they are not just legal transactions, nor just a custom carried out in different ways in different cultures. Of course, marriage is all of these things, but many people would be surprised to know that at its heart, marriage is a spiritual rite, a transaction between God and a couple, initiated at the very beginning of the human race. In Genesis chapter one, where we find the details of the origins of all things, including the human race, God instructed the first human couple, Adam and Eve, to “leave father and mother and cleave unto each other and become one flesh.” Many years later the Apostle Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to explain that marriage is actually meant to be a demonstration of how Christ loves his spiritual children and how we Christians are to love Him.

As we come to the last verses of Ephesians chapter 5 we find instructions about all kinds of Christian relationships, in the home, in society, in our work and in the church. And so it is fitting that we would also find instructions here about the most personal relationship of all, the marriage relationship. Actually there are two basic passages of scripture where these instructions are giv­en; here in Ephesians chapter 5, with further instructions in I Peter chapter 3. And the fact that there are these two sets of instructions shows just how important this relationship is. Here in Ephesians we have the instructions themselves, and then in I Peter we have explanations about how those instructions can be carried out. So let’s look now at verses 22 through 29 of Ephesians chapter 5:  

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord (23) for the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. (24)Therefore just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

During all the years of my ministry as a pastor I have used these verses in pre-marital counselling. And when I get together with the couple I like to take the verses that are addressed to the husband first, because people who know very much about the Bible have trouble with the verses that relate to the wife’s responsibility. But I firmly believe that if wives understand what the husband’s responsibility is and if the husband faithfully carries out that responsibility throughout the marriage, the wife will have little problem in carrying out her part of the relationship.

So let’s delve into these verses about the husband’s responsibility, verses 25 through 29:

Husbands, love your wives even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it, (26) That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, (27) that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. (28)So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. (29) For no one ever hated his flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord the church. (30) For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones, (31) “For this reason a man shall leave father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. (32) This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (33) Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

The first responsibility for the husband is to love his wife. Now any man who is approaching marriage probably feels that he has that responsibility under control. But when we look at the next phrase we find out that it means more than it appears at first glance. Notice the phrase “as Christ loved the church.” Now “the church” is not talking about the Baptist church or the Methodist church or the Presbyterian church, it is a term that is often used in the New Testament to refer to all Christians – all who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. So the question is, how did Christ love the church? Well, look at the next phrase: “and gave Himself for it.” This is a reference to His death on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins that you and I have committed. The short answer would seem to be that “He died for us.” So the standard teaching about this verse is that a husband should be willing to die for his wife.

Now I think that most men would be willing to die for their wives, especially if somebody was watching, but really, how likely is it that that need would ever arise? The odds are pretty high that it would never be necessary. So if that is all that it means, it really isn’t very important. But let’s go back and look at the bigger picture. What did it mean for Christ to die for us? Well, for one thing it meant that He had to leave the glories of heaven, where He had every right to be, and come to earth – the equivalent of a man becoming a flea. In other words, He had to be willing to give up His rights to meet our need for salvation.

Here is where the practicality of this statement of Christ’s sacrifice comes in. While there is little chance that a husband in today’s world would ever need to literally die for his wife, there are countless opportunities for him to make sacrifices for her. Add to that the fact that Christ made that sacrifice even though He did not have to, and we can see that a husband who loves his wife as Christ loved the church is a husband who is willing to do whatever it takes to meet his wife’s needs even if it involves giving up some (or even all!) of his rights in order to do it. I don’t know how many times in marriage counselling situations I have heard a wife say, “all I’m asking is that he do this” or “stop doing that,” to which the husband would say almost explosively, “she has no right to ask me to do that!” Well, husband? Do you love your wife (or your fiancé) enough to do what God tells you to do to have the kind of wife that you want to have?

At this point we need to go back and look at some verses that I deliberately skipped over earlier.

Look at verse 27 again:

(27) that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. (28 )So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.

Christ made this sacrifice to meet the needs that we could never meet. And in response we love Him for it. And the more we develop and grow as Christians the more we love Him.

And this principle applies to our human marriages as well. I John 4:10 says, “We love Him (speaking of God) because He first loved us. Let’s look at verse 28 again:

(28)So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.

I heard another pastor say that this verse is for husbands who aren’t spiritually mature enough to understand the concept of loving your wife as Christ loved the church. That’s kind of funny, but its true as far as it goes. Let’s face it, men, we take pretty good care of ourselves don’t we? If there’s a golf club or a fishing rod that we would really like to have, we find some way to work it into the budget, don’t we? When our wife is talking about something she would really like to have would we go to those same extremes to get it for her?

Well, men, these are big responsibilities, aren’t they? And they may seem impossible to us. But if you remember, I said at the beginning of this study that there is another passage of scripture that helps us with these principles. Let’s look now at I Peter chapter 3, verse 7

Likewise you husbands, live with [your wife] with understanding, giving honor to the wife as to the weaker vessel and as being heirs together of the grace of life.

The first thing we need to look at in this verse is the word “understanding.” This word is a translation of a word that means “knowledge.” There are two words for “knowledge” in the Greek language. One is a word that means knowledge gained by just observing the things around you. We might use the illustration of the difference between knowledge gained by walking through a beautifully manicured garden and that gained by taking a course in botany. The word used here in verse 7 is the word for gaining knowledge by study.

What this verse is telling us is that the way to develop the ability to love our wives as Christ loved the church is to make a study of them – a lifelong study, preferably. This is actually the kind of thinking that spurred our spiritual forefathers to develop the engagement period. That has largely gone by the wayside, it seems, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t still be done. Bill Gothard used to say in his Seminar in Basic Youth Conflicts that agreeing to be engaged gives both of you the right to ask personal questions that you wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to ask and answer.

Back in the days when I was doing pre-marital counselling and weddings I used to use these principles as the one of the bases for that counselling. One of the assignments for the potential husband was a “knowledge inventory assessment” that I had developed. It started out with simple questions such as what color are her eyes.” (And you would be surprised how many men couldn’t answer that question correctly) And it went from there to “what would she say is a “lot” of money? And “what kinds of things make her really happy?” to successively bigger and more important questions.

Let’s look at one more phrase in verse 7 that is very important. And that phrase is “giving honor unto the wife as to the weaker vessel.”


As you make this study of your wife-to-be, or your current wife, for that matter, you will no doubt find some areas of her knowledge and wisdom and intellect in which she is stronger than you. The phrase “weaker vessel” here is a poor translation in my opinion. A better translation would probably be “the more delicate” vessel. There is all kinds of data that shows that women are inherently more adept at dealing with matters of the heart, matters of relationships, than men are. I heard James Dobson say one time that in the early years of their marriage he would be thinking about hiring a certain person or making some kind of business decision and his wife would say that she had some misgivings about the decision or about the person. He said that it didn’t long for him to realize that she had a gift of insight to what people were really like. And he said that he pretty quickly came to the place that if she had misgivings he didn’t even give it any more thought. He took her advice.

Similarly, you may discover that your wife or wife- to- be can handle some things better than you can. Believe it or not, you may even discover that she is smarter in some areas than you are! If that is the case you should do what verse 7 says: honor it, make use of it. I can’t remember how many years ago it was that  I realized she had better skills in that area and  turned our household finances over to my wife. What a relief that has been, and in how much better financial shape we are  since I made that decision.

Now we have been talking about the husband’s responsibilities in Ephesians 5:25 through 29

And I Peter 3:7. But now we need to go back to these same passages and look at the wife’s response


Let’s look first at Ephesians 5:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord (23) for the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. (24)Therefore just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

These verses have been criticized and misunderstood down through the years. But I believe that that is largely because they have not been taken in the context of the verses about the husband’s responsibility. If a husband is faithful to obey God’s Word concerning marriage, his wife will have little problem in responding in a Godly manner. Nevertheless, a quick look at the instructions found in I Peter chapter 3 will give further encouragement to husband and wife alike. Look at Ist Peter 3:1 through 4:

Likewise you wives, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word they, without a word may be won by the conduct of their wives, (2) when they observe the chaste conduct of their wives, accompanied by fear. (3) Do not let your beauty be that outward adorning of arranging the hair, of wearing gold or of putting on fine apparel; (4) But let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.

These verses give God’s own priorities in the lives of Godly women. In short, what they are saying is that you can’t build a marriage on outward appearances. Someone has said that there is no woman more beautiful than a bride on her wedding day. Through the years I have watched many brides as they process down the aisle with their eyes on their soon-to-be husband, and they are radiant.

In past generations some have taken verse 3 to mean that women should never wear jewelry or fine dresses or have their hair done at a salon, and so forth. But with better study methods and careful attention to the text it is now believed that the meaning of the verse is that a woman’s emphasis should not be on these things. And verse 4 goes on to say:

But let it be the hidden person of the heart with the ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God

Styles in clothing and jewelry and hairstyles come and go, but a gentle and quiet spirit; “a heart for God,” will be of value forever.


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