A Biblical Encouragement for Marriage

As my first appointment of the morning entered my office, it was hard not to see they weren’t happy. Wife sat at one end of the couch, husband on the other. Plenty of space between them. Arms crossed over chests. Frowns and scowls all ‘round.

I asked, “What brings you to my office today? How can I help you?”

Husband’s answer was immediate. “My wife won’t submit to me!”

I had a pretty good idea where this was going. Not like I hadn’t seen it before. “What makes you think she should?”
Husband was shocked. “Well … well … the Bible! It says so!”

With a smile, I handed him my Bible and said, “Show me.”

Husband flicked trough the pages. When he found the chapter he wanted, he poked his finger at the verse and said, “Here! Right here!”

I nodded. “Ephesians five. How about you read it.”

“Yes! Verse twenty-two, it says, wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as you do to the Lord!” Husband’s voice was full of vinegar. The look he gave me was triumphant; the one he gave Wife was poisonous.

Arms folded tight, lips compressed, Wife’s glower at Husband could have struck sparks. Not wanting to be stingy, Wife gave me some, too.

To Husband, I said, “Back up a verse. Read twenty-one, too. If you would.”

“Uh … oh … uh.” Husband gave me a hopeful look, wanting reprieve.

I gave Husband an uh-uh and another smile. “Read it. Aloud. Please.”

“Mmm, uh, Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

To Wife, I asked, “Does Husband do that? Submit to you out of reverence for Christ?”

Wife’s glower ramped up to near-atomic proportions. “No. He doesn’t.”

To Husband, I asked, “So, Husband, you see the solution to the problem here?”

If only solutions to marriage problems were so easy.

As a Christian counsellor, I don’t think I could count the hours I’ve spent counseling married couples. Let’s just say there have been many, but in nearly every one of these encounters, the core issue has been the same: control. Who will be in control. How that control will be attempted.

Invariably, the need for one marriage partner to control another can quickly devolve into disrespect: insult … humiliation … lying … hyperbolic defensiveness … foolish assumptions … groundless accusations … anger … fear (lots of fear) … and, in some cases, physical violence. None of it helps. None of it solves the problem of marital conflict.

In Ephesians 5, Paul offers some advice. Sound advice. Biblical advice. But Paul can be a little hard to understand sometimes, leaving us uncertain as to how to actually apply it.

The advice is sound. Reliable. Paul was married. He knew what he was talking about.

What follows is a very loose paraphrase of Ephesians 5:21-33, contemporized and expanded. I recommend saying a prayer before you read it. Another one after.


Husbands and wives, because of your reverence for Jesus Christ, protect your marriage from becoming tarnished by conflict and hurt feelings. Overcome your desire to challenge and confront your partner about who is right, who must be in control. Realize, instead, that the Lord is in control. Consider this: Because he has joined you in marriage, because you have become one,[1] God has called you to serve Him by serving one another.

Wives, would you try to manipulate or control or devalue Jesus or the holy word of God? Surely not. Likewise, restrain your desire to confront your husband, to challenge him with complaint and criticism, to try to manipulate him or call him down in your effort to control him. Instead, by self-control,[2] you will encourage your husband to properly assume leadership for your relationship and your family as well, this in the same way Jesus, your Savior, freely assumes leadership for his Church.

Consider this: in the same way the Church willingly places herself in relationship to Christ so that the will of God the Father can be accomplished, wives are called to place themselves in relationship to their godly husbands so that his plans for the welfare of the marriage and the family can be achieved.

Now husbands, don’t misunderstand your wife’s self-control as a surrender of her personality or mind or spirit; this does not mean she has made herself to be your doormat. Rather, because she has chosen to submit (not argue about who is in control) to you, it is because she loves Jesus, honors God’s word; because she honors your marriage, and because she honors you as a beloved child of God. Never should that be considered as a reason for you to lord it over her.[3] Instead, it is the opportunity God has given you to love your wife in the same way Jesus Christ loves his Church.

Give thought to how Jesus loves his Church: his sacrifice for her was complete, made willingly in order to make her pure and righteous and holy.[4]

In the same way, husband, Jesus calls you to a sacrificial heart’s attitude toward your wife, so as not to hinder her or deter her own pursuit of holiness. Whenever you are struck with that sudden urge to confront her, to criticize her; to ridicule or shame her; to hold her in contempt – all because she did not live up to your (unrealistic? foolish?) expectations, and because you don’t get what you want. Take care not to disrespect her and so hurt her feelings, giving her cause for retaliation and anger[5], for such a response dishonors your wife and the Lord.

Instead, take care not to do or say things that hurt her feelings or make her angry. Ensure that you put her needs well before your own, giving prayerful consideration to her thoughts and feelings, her expectations and heart’s desires.

You know how Jesus cleansed his Church by washing her with the purity of God’s Holy word. In the same way, husband, attend to your wife’s purity by keeping her and your household holy. Do nothing to bring any sort of defilement or impurity into the home, most particularly into the marriage bed.[6]

By conducting himself in holiness, Jesus was able to present his Church, holy and blameless, to himself as his bride, radiant, without stain or blemish. Husband, do the same for your wife; love her in the same way as you love and care for your own body.

This way, you, who loves and accepts your wife, also demonstrates love and acceptance for himself, showing value and honor for the person God has created, and for God himself. After all, people don’t hate their own bodies, but feed and care for them, just like Jesus Christ feeds and cares for the Church. And are you not a member of his body?

It is written, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. [7] Husband, make good effort to honor and love your wife in the same way you love yourself; wife, you as well are called to honor and respect your husband.

In doing those things that please the Lord, his reward and blessing will be that you, husband and wife, shall live as children of light, for the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness and truth.

As dearly loved children, be imitators of God as you live your life together in love – the very same love Christ expressed ash he gave himself up for you as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Be filled with the Spirit. Let your words to one another be blessed with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; make song and music in your heart to the Lord. Always give thanks to God the Father for everything[8] in the name of our Lord Jesus.[9]


[1] Matthew 19:5-6

[2] Galatians 5:23

[3]    Matthew 10:25; Mark 10:42; Luke 10:25

[4]    Romans 3:25; 12:1; 1 John 2:2

[5] Matthew 7:1-2

[6]    Matthew 5:27-28; 15:19; Mark 7:22; 1 Corinthians 7:14

[7] Genesis 2: 2:24

[8] Philippians 4:4-8; 1 Thessalonians 5:18

[9] Ephesians 5:19-20