A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 5:25-33. 3). The duty of husbands (continued).
This exhortation to a husband to ‘nourish and cherish’ his wife as he does his own body is more than a useful guide to daily behaviour, however. It also contains an inner appropriateness, since he and his wife have in fact become ‘one flesh’. Yet God intends sexual intercourse not only to be a union of bodies, but to symbolize and express a union of personalities. It is when husband and wife become thus deeply one with each other that truly *he who loves his wife loves himself*.
This leads the apostle to return in his thought to Christ and so to reach the climax of his argument. So far he has used two analogies for a husband’s love of his wife, namely Christ’s loving sacrifice for his bride the church, and the husband’s loving care of his own body. Now he fuses the two. Christ’s bride and Christ’s body are the same (see verse 23), *because we are members of his body* (verse 30 – the AV ‘of his flesh and of his bones’ does not belong to the original text. It was doubtless added as an echo of Gn. 2:23). He has incorporated us into himself, made us part of himself in a profound, indissoluble union. This leads Paul to quote 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 flesh* (verse 31) and to declare that *this mystery is a profound one* (verse 32). (Jerome’s Latin translation in the Vulgate is *sacramentum hoc magnum est*. He used *sacramentum* in its older meaning of a ‘mystery’ containing some hidden truth or sacred symbolism, as in 1 Tim.3:16. He did not imply, nor does the Greek teach, that marriage is a ‘sacrament’ in the sense which later Roman Catholic theology gave it.
It is ‘sacramental’ only in Paul’s sense here, namely that the union of husband and wife symbolizes the union of Christ and his church.) There seems no reason to doubt that in the first instance he is referring to the mysterious and sacred depths of sexual union itself. But then he immediately goes on to its yet deeper symbolism: *I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church*. In so doing, he not only uses the *ego* of his apostolic authority but actually employs the very expression *ego de lego* (‘but I say’) which Jesus himself used in the six antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount (see Mt. 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). It is appropriate for him to do so because a ‘mystery’ is a revealed truth, and the profound ‘mystery’ here, namely the church’s union with Christ, is closely akin to that of Jewish-Gentile unity in the body of Christ, which had been revealed to him and of which he has written in 3:1-6. He thus sees the marriage relationship as a beautiful model of the church’s union in and with Christ. When applied to Christ and his church, the ‘one flesh’ is identical with the ‘one new man’ of 2:15. Indeed, the three pictures of the church which Paul develops in Ephesians – the body, the building and the bride – all emphasize the reality of its unity on account of its union with Christ.
Verse 33 is a succinct summary of the fuller teaching which Paul has been giving to husbands and wives: *Let each one of you love his wife as himself*, for she and he have become one, *and let the wife see that she respects her husband*. It is true that ‘respects’ translates *phobetai*, meaning literally ‘fears’, but this verb ‘may express the emotion of fear in all its modifications and in all its degrees from simple respect through reverence up to adoration, according to its object’. The apostle began with one couplet ‘love’ and ‘submission’. He ends with another ‘love’ and ‘respect’. We have seen that the love he has in mind for the husband sacrifices and serves with a view to enabling his wife to become what God intends her to be. So the ‘submission’ and ‘respect’ he asks of the wife expresses her response to his love and her desire that he too will become what God intends him to be in his ‘leadership’.