A man who had not married was destined to become the greatest example to every husband in the Truth, showing him how to treat his wife to make her the most glorious partner he could ever desire. The language of Ephesians 5:21–33 captures this theme of the way our Lord behaved towards his bride, the ecclesia, and tells us of the parabolic message of marriage.

It is important that we do not treat the message of Ephesians 5 merely as a lofty ideal, but rather as a very practical and deep insight into what makes the human relationship a wonderful training ground for our association with our Lord Jesus Christ, both now and forever.

Never underestimate the value of having to overcome personal differences, of growing together, of experiencing mutual submission rather than demanding the submission of the other partner. When a husband and wife come to know by experience the lessons that each can impart to the other concerning the role of the Lord Jesus Christ and his bride, then the value of marriage will be enriched.

Mutual Submission

 What we are called upon to practise in our personal lives is “mutual submission”. It was not a one sided arrangement for Christ or his disciples, neither should it be for us. Our Lord submitted himself for the sake of the needs of his bride, and she submitted herself for the sake of the work of her bridegroom. The events involved in submission are shown by Paul in Ephesians 5 to be of great importance, and by Peter to be “of great price” or “of the highest cost” (1 Pet 3:4). The reason for the “great price” is because of what is involved in a “meek and quiet spirit” (1 Pet 3:4). The terms “meek” and “quiet” do not capture the fullness of the Greek expressions used. “Meek” involves an accepting state of mind, not disputing the way God is dealing with us. “Quiet” expresses the tranquillity which arises from within when we have submitted to the hand of the Father. These qualities breathe confidence in God and, having learned them, we find it easier to implement what Paul talks about in Ephesians 5:21: “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God”.

 This act of mutual submission involves selfdenial. The only way this may be done with an acceptable attitude is if our love for the other person is so great that it places him or her in an exalted position above ourself in our own eyes. How important is the right development of affection and the continuing development of love after marriage.

Life of Submission should be Seen in the Home

 “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph 5:22). It is important to note that this “submission” is something that comes voluntarily from the wife; it is not something that the husband can demand or force from her. Our Lord expects us to follow the example of our Heavenly Father and His offering of His only begotten Son: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things” (Rom 8:32). Our personal need to submit ourselves to our Lord is known by all, yet our whole life is taken up with trying to put this into practice. Patience in the translation of this principle into our family life is also needed. We need to use our own family environment to help us to develop this attitude towards our Lord. Every day of our lives the opportunity is presented to do this to the ones that we love.

The reason for this submissive spirit from the wife towards her husband is because he, as the “head of the wife” (Eph 5:23), should give that clear spiritual direction and example that leads the two of them as “the ecclesia” to their ultimate salvation in the Kingdom. Through this “he is the saviour of the body”. As a husband, a brother in Christ takes on the responsibility of bringing his wife into the Kingdom. We all want to see our partner in the Kingdom and this is the ultimate responsibility enjoined upon us::“and thy desire (or restoration) shall be (subject) to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen 3:16).

The husband who is fulfilling his God-given responsibilities wisely should receive a response from his wife parallel to that expected by Christ from the ecclesia: “Therefore as the ecclesia is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (Eph 5:24).

What Demand does this Expectation Place upon the Husband?

 “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the ecclesia, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious ecclesia, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25–27).

The language of these verses is the language of Genesis 2, as Adam suffered to gain his bride. The example is that of our Lord himself as he “delivered himself up on her behalf” (Diag), most certainly a freewill offering, as neither Eve nor the bride of Christ were in a position to demand it. He did this that he might place her beside himself, or “place the congregation by his own side” (Diag), she having been sanctified and cleansed by the washing of water with the Word, “not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing”. Brother Thomas captures this in Elpis Israel where he writes: “His object in giving himself for the ecclesia before it was formed, was that those who should afterwards compose it ‘might be sanctified and cleansed in the laver of the water by the word, that’, at the resurrection ‘he might present it to himself a glorious ecclesia, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but holy and without blemish’” (page 51). This speaks of a cleansed and purified sacrifice, one which is holy, sanctified, set apart, for the laver was where the sacrifices and the garments were cleansed.

In the offering of Adam and our Lord Jesus Christ to gain a bride, it was not a substitutionary sacrifice. The bride was called upon to fulfil her part in a life of service and self-sacrifice to her husband. A husband or wife cannot be expected to substitute for the sacrifice of the other. Family life in the Lord should reflect that the husband and wife are “heirs together of the grace of life”. They both have their role to play.

The picture of the labour of the husband is captured in the words of Isaiah: “I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself (or “officiates as a priest”, cp AV margin) with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so Adonai Yahweh will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations” (Isa 61:10–11). The bride of Christ or “garden enclosed”, nourished and protected, and the husband, the Lord Jesus Christ as “Adonai Yahweh”, have joined together to complete the work, causing “righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations”.

 If the husband performs his God-given role in marriage, then he too shall have pleasure in seeing both himself and his wife accepted by their Lord, and blessed as part of the ecclesial bride in the day of glory at our Lord’s appearing.

Learn to Express Affection

 It is important for the husband to express to his wife his feelings for her, giving her the honour that is due to her: “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Pet 3:7). For the husband to be able to say, “Thou art fair (Heb “yapheh”), my love; there is no spot in thee” (Song 4:7), requires an intimate knowledge of the character of his wife. For him to tell his wife that she is “bright and beautiful” (Heb “yapheh”), that she is wonderful in his eyes, will evoke from her a response of loving affection.

What is our Focus?

 The focus within marriage is so different from what the world understands. The outworking of the human relationship from courtship to marriage, and then to the increasing of the family, should reflect the grand purpose of Yahweh to fashion a people who reveal the character of their Lord and who can share in the glory of His Kingdom.

Let these principles be seen in our own homes, with the husband nourishing and cherishing his wife, even as the Lord does the ecclesia (cp Eph 5:29). Brethren must spend quality time “nurturing” and “cherishing with tender love”, or “fostering with tender care” as the Greek expresses. The wife is too precious to be only given what time is left over (if any) after everything else is done.

Paul goes on to say that these things are “a great mystery” or great secret, appreciated only by those who understand the parable of marriage. Marriage has often been the subject of unspiritual comments and foolish jesting from those who have failed to implement the God-given course in their own personal relationship. It is necessary to remind ourselves that Paul said: “But I speak concerning Christ and the ecclesia”—we don’t jest about that relationship! “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself, and the wife see that she reverence her husband”. If we do this then our families and the ecclesia will reveal a healthy God-honouring spirit which will enrich our association with our Lord.