A Commentary by John Stott

Ephesians 5:21-31. Summary (continued).

b). The wife’s submission is to be given to a lover, not to an ogre.

The apostle’s instruction is not ‘Wives submit, husbands boss’; it is ‘Wives submit, husbands love’. Of course there have been examples in every age and culture of cruel and tyrannical husbands, and there have been painful occasions in which in order to maintain the integrity of her conscience, a wife has been obliged to resist her husband’s authority. But Paul is describing the Christian ideal, not the hideous deviations from it. This has always been obvious to commentators. Back in the sixteenth century Calvin preached. ‘Husbands…should not be cruel towards their wives, or think all things that they please to be permissible and lawful, for their authority should rather be a companionship than a kingship.’ Three times the apostle repeats this fundamental charge: *husbands, love your wives* (verse 25); *Husbands should love their wives* (verse 28); *let each one of you love his wife* (verse 33). If then the husband’s headship is expressed in responsible love for his wife, why should she be reluctant to submit to him? And if a husband desires her to do so, he will know that it is only by loving her that he will succeed.

c). The husband is to love like Christ.

Does the requirement of ‘submission’ sound hard to a wife? I think what is required of her husband is harder. This is not that he ‘love’ her with the romantic, sentimental and even aggressive passion which frequently passes for genuine love today; instead, he is to love her with the love of Christ. If the husband’s obligation to love is repeated three times, so is the requirement to model his attitude and behaviour on Christ’s. He is the head of his wife *as Christ is the head of the church* (verse 23); he is to love his wife *as Christ loved the church* (verse 25); and he is to nourish and cherish her *as Christ does the church* (verse 29). Thus his headship, his love and his care are all to resemble Christ’s. The highest pinnacle of demand is reached in verse 25 where he is exhorted to love his wife *as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her*. This is the totality of self-sacrifice. He is to love her with what is sometimes termed “Calvary love’; no higher standard is conceivable. A Christian husband who even partially fulfils this ideal preaches the gospel without ever opening his lips, for people can see in him that quality of love which took Jesus Christ to his cross.

Tomorrow: Ephesians 5:21-33. Summary (continued).

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.