26 – Ephesians 5:28-33 – Cohabitation

“Men should love and protect their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife is actually loving himself. For no man ever yet hated his own physical body, but attentively nourishes and cares for it. This is how the Lord treats His church, for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, be joined inseparably to his wife, and they two shall become one single body. This is a profound mystery, but I am speaking of the sacred relationship between Christ and the church. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself and the wife demonstrate respect for her husband.”    (Ephesians 5:28-33, paraphrased)

v. 28

Earlier in this letter, Paul addressed the Church as a body whose head is Christ (1:20-22). Now he stresses the intimacy of the Believer’s union with Christ.

Paul continues his magnanimous view of Jesus’ love for His Bride. Each verb in this verse is in the present tense, indicating the husband is to consistently and perpetually love his wife.  A man’s care for her should be as natural as self-preservation. In loving his wife, a husband loves himself, for Paul reminds his readers couples are one flesh (5:31). It is as unnatural to hurt one’s own physical body as it is to harm one’s mate. However, there is a deeper meaning here. The husband is to regard his wife as intimately united to himself.

v. 29

“Nourish” (ektrephei) is used concerning child-rearing in 6:4 and indicates the meeting of all physical needs. A husband must be as attentive to his wife as a mother is to her child. As a man naturally takes proper care of his body, so must he provide for and protect his wife. Allegorically, the Church is to Christ’s body as the wife is to the husband’s body. The way in which a man loves his own body parallels Christ’s treatment of His Church. Jesus loves her because He views her as His body. As Christ’s love is self-sacrificial, so must the husband sacrifice himself for his wife. Men have no right to treat their wives inappropriately, because Jesus never debases, abuses, oppresses, degrades, nor belittles His Church. The man who loves his wife only for her beauty does not love her as Jesus loves His Church. Jesus is committed to His bride despite her failures.

As the Lord supplies His people with everything essential for happiness, so is the husband is to care for his wife. A sweet picture of regard is embodied in this single word, “cherish.” Thalpei is a dynamic term, meaning “to warm and foster with tender regard.” Paul envisions a union so intimate that Christ and His Church are spoken of as being “one.” When a man wraps his arms around his wife, he wraps them around himself, for the two are one flesh.

v. 30

Paul never leaves the Garden of Eden in his analogy.  Eve was created from the man, for she was taken from his ribcage (Gen. 2: 21). This is analogous to the Church being derived from Christ, for the Church was formed and developed from the wounded side of Jesus. Affirming the intimacy of marital ties, Adam regards Eve as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (v. 23).  This proves the ideal marital relationship is in the mind of God at creation. When a couple is joined as one in marriage, any sin they may commit weakens their relationship with God and with each other.

v. 31

Prior to marriage, a man’s closest family bond would naturally be with his parents. However, the fulfillment of the marriage vows via the sacred conjugal union unites a man and woman more intimately than his former ties to his parents. “To leave and to cleave” means the husband and wife relationship create new familial obligations (Gen. 2:24). The betrothal of Eve to Adam prefigures that of the Church to Christ.  As there is a natural desire for a man to leave his familial home to form a new one, so Christ left his home in heaven to establish His Church on earth.

The term “joined” (proskollao) means “to glue or cement together;  to cleave to;  to unite;  to join firmly.” Conjugal intercourse is in view here. The compound verb “joined unto” denotes the most intimate of unions, for two persons are fused into a single entity. It is God’s will that a couple stay together for life.  Jesus’ love for them and the love they share as a Christian couple is intended to grow sweeter as their marriage progresses.

Paul’s use of the phrase, “two shall be one,” indicates the spiritual aspect of the marital union, for there is no stronger term of intimacy (Gen. 2:24). For thousands of years, this single verse stands as a sentinel against promiscuity, fornication, adultery, and polygamy. Eve is instantly recognized by Adam as “flesh of my flesh.” Jesus also quotes this Genesis passage when teaching on marriage (Mk. 10:7-9), validating the permanence of marriage from the time of creation. God the Father, the Son of God, and Paul stress the life-long permanence of the marital union (Rom. 7:1). This exalted biblical view of marriage has established the indissolubility of the marital bond throughout the past twenty centuries.

v. 32

This “great” (mega) mystery is clearly a reference to Paul’s preceding statement about Christ and His Church, not husbands and wives. No place in Scripture is marriage pictured as “mysterious.” Musterion does not refer to that which is incomprehensible, but only that hitherto it has not been understood. Musterion refers to something previously concealed into which one must be initiated before comprehending it. Interestingly, musterion in Latin is sacramentum. Christian couples would be wise to view marriage as sacred. Paul is “speaking of Christ and the church,” for he anticipates the revelation of an even greater mystery on that great day when the Church will be presented to Christ (5:27).

That this mystery is great is evidenced by the fact that it is best illustrated by the wonder of godly marriage. Since Paul spends so much time in the Garden of Eden, it can be said that the Bible virtually opens with passages regarding the sanctity of marriage. “I” is emphatic when Paul states “I am speaking of the relationship of Christ and His church.” This is Paul’s disclaimer, lest anyone imagine this passage calls attention only to marital relations.

v. 33

In this last verse, Paul highlights and underscores his thoughts. The use of the term “nevertheless” reaffirms the necessity of love and submission in marital life. “Nevertheless” proves the impossibility of separating the analogy completely. Although the nuptial figure prevails throughout this passage, Paul proves his primary focus is the Church, not marriage. The sacrificial love of the Heavenly Groom for His bride is typified by human marriage.  He loves His Church as His own body and has sacrificed Himself for His bride. The phrase “every one of you” means there are no exceptions. It expresses the absolute universality of the reciprocal love God intends for every married couple.

While it is true the word “fear” (phobetai) can include the concept of being afraid, in this context it carries the idea of veneration, respect, and honor. A believing wife will reverence and obey a godly husband (Pv. 31:30). He in turn will guide by love rather than fear. No Christ-like husband practices autocratic domestic leadership.

This passage verifies that Christ loves His Church with a love that took Him to Calvary and validates His global and original design for marriage. Paul’s view is uncomplicated: wives are to obey their husbands as the Church obeys Christ and husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves His Church. Both the man and the woman have reciprocal responsibilities to one another and to Jesus. 

When Paul wrote these words, the Church was in her infancy, too young to anticipate the future joy and blessings of the millions of couples who will serve God together. History has proven that those who adopt this holy view of marriage can expect a lifetime of intimate interaction with the Bridegroom. The Holy Spirit always guides and protects a marriage when both partners invite Him to join their family.

Points to Ponder

1. Paraphrase I Corinthians 6:17.

2. What does Paul say regarding his own life in Galatians 2:20?

3. According Malachi 2:16, what does God hate?

4. According to I Peter 3:7, who should a man honor and why?

5. According to Ephesians 3:2-3, how is a mystery revealed?

6. Why will a Christian husband never dominate his wife (I John 4:18)?

Maxim of the Moment

Love is made sweet by compliments; not commands.