Husbands and Wives in Ephesians 5 — Sojourn Marriage Sermon

by Bobby Gilles

in Liturgy & Sermons

Below you’ll find my sermon on marriage from Ephesians 5:21-33. You’ll see the full sermon video, my full manuscript, and then a series of 1-2 minute video excerpts from the sermon. You can also hear the audio, here.

August 18, 2019 – Ephesians 5 – Bobby Gilles from Sojourn Collective on Vimeo.

Theme: Ephesians 5 presents a kingdom-version of marriage that sees the goal as the fulfillment of the one flesh union, which shows the world something profound about the union of Jesus and his church.

Tag: It’s not about control, it’s about being whole.
Bonus tag for men: Don’t leave; cleave.

Ephesians 5:31-33
31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.


Today we begin our new series Bliss Or Miss: Marriage In God’s Kingdom. In our culture we dream that our wedding day is the beginning of “happily ever after.” Then we think back to our childhood experience, the lives of people we know, or even our own adult relationships and realize life often reads more like the lyrics of Don Henley’s song “End of the Innocence.”

When “happily ever after” fails
And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly

On our wedding day we thought we’d finally be whole, but it quickly turned into a fight for control.

Our heavenly Father loves us with a staggering love. His word gives us a blueprint for marriage in all its fullness, and His Spirit gives us the power to live into it.

Let’s dive in:

Ephesians 5:21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The “and further” indicates that Paul is carrying on his topic from the beginning of this chapter, which is all about being filled with the Spirit. This culminates in believers submitting to one another – loving, supporting and preferring each other, rather than fighting for control.

So we have:

v.21  submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

  1. 22 For wives, this means …
  2. 25 For husbands, this means …

What is “this”? Mutual submission. To make this even more clear, what Paul is saying is:

For wives, “submit to one another” means (v 22)
For husbands, “submit to one another” means (v 25)

He expresses a similar thought in his first letter to the church in Corinth:

The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. 1 Corinthians 7:4

So here we go, frolicking into the woods of Ephesians 5.

Pt 1. Wives

v. 22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord.

He’s just told all believers to submit to each other. In Colossians Paul tells all believers to do whatever we do as we’d do it for Jesus. Here he specifically asks wives to take this posture with their husbands.

Wives, your challenge is to honor and respect him regardless of whether he deserves it, but because Jesus deserves it. Extend the grace to your husband that Christ extends to you.

And to recognize that he’ll need your help to become more like Jesus. Men always have needed women’s help. Eve was created to be Adam’s “helper,” and this isn’t like Adam’s the owner of a grocery store and Eve was his little helper who re-stocked the shelves after hours.

The word we translate as “helper” in English means so much more than we read into it in our culture. It comes from the Hebrew word “Ezer,” which is only used 21 times in the Bible: twice it refers to Woman. Three times it refers to ally nations that Israel was appealing to for help or rescue from a common enemy. And the other 16 times Ezer is used, it describes God as the helper, the Ezer, of His people.

Could women survive in a world without men? Maybe 100 years until the species died out. But men probably couldn’t make it 100 days in a world without women.

Eph 5:23  For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church.

Is “headship” in the church a system of “control and command”? Does it come from an inherent female inferiority of intellect, willpower or leadership skills? Sometimes men have used verses in the Bible to make that claim:

1 Timothy 2:13-14   For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result.

Paul is writing these words to help Timothy pastor the people of Ephesus – the same people to whom Paul wrote today’s letter. Does this passage indicate that women are more gullible or susceptible to temptation?

  • Do women or men primarily keep the sex industry in business?
  • From which sex come nearly all serial killers?
  • Child molesters?

History and cold, hard data teach us that women, as a sex, are not more susceptible to temptation than men.

Could it be that women don’t have the intelligence? They should just let the men do the thinking?

Well, current studies show that girls outperform boys in all subjects in primary school. They outnumber males in college, they graduate at a higher rate and earn more advanced degrees.

Also, in another New Testament letter Paul says that both women and men can be deceived like Eve:

2 Corinthians 11:3  But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent.

So what do we make of 1 Timothy 2:14?

First, Paul had to combat several “battle of the sexes” errors in Ephesus (like the worship of the fertility goddess Artemis). Her temple in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was led by female priests. Male priests showed their subservience through ritual castration. That battle for control left men … not whole.

More common in churches were heresies that taught a different version of Genesis. In Ephesus there was a myth that Eve was created first and she was Adam’s teacher.

According to these tales, women should dominate their husbands because headship actually belongs to them. Paul knows the real Genesis story — specifically that Adam was created first and that Eve’s decision led to something bad, not good.

Here’s what we miss, when we get caught up on whether Eve’s deception means she was more gullible than Adam: Eve didn’t receive the command about forbidden fruit from God; Adam did. Because Eve told the serpent about this command, we assume Adam told God’s warning to her.

This doesn’t mean God never speaks directly to women. There are many female prophets in the Old and New Testaments. But he didn’t speak to Eve. Quick refresher:

Gen 1:28 Women will share authority and dominion over the earth. Can a woman be president? Sure. Can a woman run General Motors? A woman does run General Motors.

Gen 2:15-17 Adam is commanded not to eat the forbidden fruit. Eve isn’t created yet.

Gen 3:3 Eve responds to the serpent by quoting the command, but she doesn’t get it quite right. And the serpent seizes this opening to deceive her.

Gen 3:6  We learn that Adam was with Eve the whole time. Not once did he stand up to the serpent or even say to Eve, “No, that’s not quite what God told me. Maybe I didn’t communicate well. Here’s what he said. Watch out for this serpent, he is lying.”

Adam was no better than Eve – in fact his transgression was worse – but God did give him a different responsibility than he gave Eve. He failed miserably, so thanks be to God for sending a “Second Adam” (one of the ways Paul describes Jesus).

When we finish our passage in Ephesians we’ll learn more about what happened in Genesis, how Jesus – our “second Adam” – changes things, and how it makes all the difference in your marriage, your happiness, and your legacy.

But for now, what does a submissive wife do?

“Leadership” isn’t mentioned much in the Bible. Servanthood is. But “leadership” is a big word in our cultural context so let’s look at where leadership comes in, in the context of the wife:

  1. The wife is like the church in how it relates to Jesus.
  2. The church is all of us.
  3. If we want to know what it means to honor Jesus, what example do we have?
  4. The Christian wife!

This is leadership-by-example at its highest level. If you want to be devoted to Jesus, hopefully my sermon might help you do that. But do you know what’s really going to show you how it’s done? Kristen’s life.

What might a submissive wife look like? Does she cook, clean, take care of the kids and nothing else? Proverbs 31 is known as the “godly wife” chapter, and there’s a lot in there about the home. You can be a housewife or a stay-at-home mom and be a wonderful, godly example. But God may equip and call you to other things, and that’s good too:

v. 16 She goes to inspect a field and buys it;
with her earnings she plants a vineyard.

Today this might be, “She inspects a restaurant and buys it; with her earnings, she franchises.” “She inspects a tech startup and joins the board of directors; with their earnings, she advises them to expand the product line.

v. 17-18 she is energetic and strong,
a hard worker.
She makes sure her dealings are profitable;

This is not some fearful, timid woman who shirks into the background, sure that she would never have anything intelligent or meaningful to contribute to the discussion. In fact,

v. 26 When she speaks, her words are wise,
and she gives instructions with kindness.

By the way, the entire book of Proverbs is about the accumulation of wisdom. The Hebrew word for “wisdom” is hokmah, which is grammatically feminine. And Proverbs personifies “Wisdom” as a woman. In other words, if Proverbs were a graphic novel, the main character would be a female superhero named Wisdom who saves people from the villain Foolishness.

And what is the effect of the Proverbs 31 woman on a godly husband? Is he emasculated? Intimidated? Ashamed?

v. 28-29 Her husband praises her:
“There are many virtuous and capable women in the world,
but you surpass them all!”

It’s not that she can’t do lots of things. It’s about the posture of a godly wife to her husband. She is his Ezer, helper, ally. The submissive attitude she extends to every fellow believer is expressed most devotedly to him.

Pt. 2 Husbands

And speaking of this fellow:

v.23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church.

(Give false answer: “President is the head/boss & Jesus is King, so that means husband is boss and king of the castle.” Instead, let the Bible interpret the Bible)

Ephesian men were saying, “Yeah! Forget about being whole – we’re in control!” But Paul reverses the cultural expectations of “head” according to the radical values of God’s Kingdom.

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her. – Ephesians 5:25

This is crazy in Greco-Roman culture. Ephesian men may have said, “Paul, that’s not what it means to be the “head,” (show Princess Bride “You keep using that word” slide).

They believed in protecting the head at all costs. The body sacrifices for the head, and the head’s job is to ensure self-preservation. It was the duty of a leader, a husband, a “manly man” to see to his own needs and demand his subordinates see to his needs.

A famous Greek historian named Plutarch wrote,

“… his first duty is to save the one who saves everything else.” — Plutarch

When Paul began this metaphor, the Ephesians would have expected him to say the head is the leader and provider of the body, he needs to “Look out for #1,” and the body needs to serve and sacrifice for the sake of the head.

Christian husbands will define headship as the authorization to serve and sacrifice.

v. 26-27 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish.

Christ’s love for his church is described in metaphors of domestic chores normally performed by women in patriarchal societies: giving a bath, providing clothing, doing laundry. What? Are Christian men supposed to be sissies? Why not use macho, warrior metaphors?

This is “headship”? It gets worse.

Ephesians 5:28-29  In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church.

Again, the domestic chores described are typical of women’s work: the husband “feeds” and “cares” (more literally translated as “nurture”). Paul uses this same word to describe the apostles 1 Thessalonians 2:7 –

But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.

These are just metaphors – Paul isn’t saying, “I command the husband to cook and clean.” But Jesus in-the-flesh made his church breakfast while she went fishing. (John 21:9-13). And Jesus-in-the-flesh washed her feet. (John 13:1-17). Jesus-in-the-flesh said,

Luke 22:25  “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people … 26 But among you it will be different … 27 Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.”

Because Paul understood Jesus, his message about male headship was, “I know you’re used to this “head” metaphor meaning one thing, but not here! Among you it will be different.”

The point about these “headship” metaphors and the Proverbs 31 woman isn’t that all women should actually be working outside the home and all men should be cooking and cleaning. It’s that marriage and headship is not about control; it’s about being whole.

There’s not some list: here are all these tasks that only a wife does and that all wives must do. Here are all these tasks that only a husband does and that all husbands must do. Only the wife is nurturing; only the husband is strategic.

When we discover this, then “Who should cook” or “cut the grass,” or “lead the children’s devotions” or “do the budget” aren’t insurmountable issues. Two Spirit-filled Christians — whose only competition is to outdo one another in affection — sit down and decide, “Which of us is better suited for this task? Which of us enjoys it more? How can we make our home work best and honor God most?”

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 

Men, this is finally where you get to accept a “great adventure” challenge. You get to lead the way in righting a wrong from the dawn of time.

Adam’s responsibility to Eve, who was created from his side – is to “cleave” to her so that they might be one flesh. Paul has just quoted Genesis 2:24 so let’s go there. This verse occurs right after the creation of Eve.

Gen 2:24  This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined (cleaves) to his wife, and the two are united into one.

The creation of Woman is the climax of Genesis 2. God puts Adam to sleep and creates Eve from his side (not his feet). He wakes up, takes one look at her, and falls head over heels (cartoon slide).

He sings, “Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” – and so when Woman is created, Poetry is born. This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and the two are united into one. – Genesis 2:24

It all went south for Adam and Eve because they fell to temptation, and Adam failed to cleave to his wife in the episode with the serpent. He even distanced himself from her when God confronted him.

Fostering unity is the Christian husband’s primary duty. He’ll give himself for his wife rather than abandon or blame her, because he imitates the second Adam, not the first.

In Christ, husbands will no longer separate from their wives but instead champion the unity that God intended from the beginning – this is the essence of “headship”: to be the champion, cheerleader and guardian of a one-flesh union that shows the world what union with Christ is like.

What’s great is that any husband can do this. Doesn’t matter which spouse has read the Bible more, or has been a Christian longer, is more assertive or extroverted. And she doesn’t have to play dumb to let you do this, like when she lets you win at Scrabble. Nor does it matter who drives the car or makes more money.

By the way, if you think it’s unmanly to derive any financial support from a woman, you should take it up with Jesus:

He took his twelve disciples with him,  along with some women … Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus … – Luke 8:1-3

So men, your wife can be a Hebrew scholar who serves Bible translation committees, and you can work at the Jiffy Lube. Doesn’t matter, you can still be the champion, cheerleader and guardian of one flesh union.

(Posture: To be the “head” is to be life-giving, or foundational. “I’m sticking to you like glue.” 

Outside the Kingdom of God, men leave. We have an epidemic of men running away from their families. And many who don’t literally run away become workaholics instead, hiding behind a false view of the Bible that says men are just supposed to bring home a good paycheck. Others mentally “check out” and hide in their hobbies and vices.

But among us it must be different. We don’t leave, we cleave.

Adam ran from Eve by blaming her. He was willing to sacrifice her to save himself. This is headship as the world sees it. Now the husband who is in Christ considers the woman as his very body.

Pt. 3 Jesus

Paul says the order of creation and the establishment of marriage happened the way it did to tease a great mystery at the beginning of the Bible, which is revealed in the end:

Woman: comes from Man, who is glorified in her. He leaves his home and cleaves to her so they can be one in all of life.

The Church: comes from Christ, who is glorified in us. He left his home in heaven to cleave to us so we could be one in him for life eternal.

Ephesians 5:32  This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.

And where does this relationship lead?

  1. Jesus (our head) has ultimate authority. He has authorized men to represent him in a specific manner.
  2. The church is Christ’s body, which derives its life from him, and is enthroned with him.
  3. The Son of God shares his inheritance with us. This comes with awesome power and responsibility:

1 Cor 6:2-3  Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? … Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? 

The analogy between Christ and the husband encourages men to share authority and treat women like our head, Jesus Christ, treats us. If anyone in this world must be concerned for the status of women, it is Christian men.

(keep the metaphor the metaphor: head/body, not boss/secretary)

Ephesians 5:33  So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

This reversal of pagan headship leads to the fulfillment of the one flesh union of Genesis, and enables the husband and the wife to flourish as they honor God together.

It’s not about control, it’s about being whole.

Monday challenge:

Signup for Redeem Marriage. (work this). Talk to each other. In what ways are each of you battling for control? How can you lay down your “rights” and live into the reality of being one flesh?

It’s not about control; it’s about being whole.


But what about singles? Are we saying they can’t be whole? Marriage symbolizes the union of Christ with his church. Singles, if you’re looking at the example of married friends who have a life-giving relationship, you’re looking at the embodiment of your hope.

Not hope that you’ll find someone – although there’s nothing wrong with praying for this. When you look at that couple, your hope is, “They give me a picture of a union that I know I will enjoy, for all eternity, with a savior whom I will see face to face and be “one” with, forever.”

And this savior stopped at nothing to be with you. On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he took a piece of bread, like this one. And after giving thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you.”

Then he took a cup of wine like this one, and he said, “This is my blood, shed for you. Drink this to remember what I’ve done.”

He didn’t leave. He cleaved.

In just a moment you’ll come forward (or to the back if you’re in the back half of the room). You’ll stand before a woman, called to represent the body of Christ and also holding a loaf of bread which represents the body of Christ. And she will look you in the eye and say, “The body of Christ was broken for you.”

You’ll tear off a piece of bread and dip it into a cup, held by a man, called to serve and sacrifice like Christ, pouring out his life like a drink offering. He will look at you and say, “The blood of Christ was shed for you.”

It’s not about control; it’s about being whole. United in Christ with each other to the Father by the Spirit because of the cross. In this way we participate in the triune life of God.

If you need gluten free communion elements you’ll find them in the far corner – my left, you’re right.

If you’re not a Christian, don’t come forward because it symbolizes something you haven’t accepted yet. This is a covenant renewal ceremony. You don’t participate in a renewal of wedding vows if you haven’t been married in the first place. Instead I urge you to accept Christ for the first time. Then we can prepare you to be baptized and begin taking communion with us in the weeks and months to come.

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