The Marital Analogy of Christ and His Church

Foundational Scripture

Our focus is Paul’s epic analogy concerning the connubial love of the husband for his wife and Christ’s agape love for His church in Ephesians 5:22-33. This is the defining passage of our missionary endeavor and is absolutely foundational to our vision. Our marital ministry is established on the premise of mutual consideration and respect. As we will unfold throughout this passage, although each partner is not under equal authority, each has equal responsibilities to one another and to the Lord. As this passage is examined in detail, it epitomizes a crystal-clear statement of our goals, vision, focus and purpose.

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the 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, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” Ephesians 5:22-33.

Theology of Marriage

While polygamy and concubinage were legally sanctioned throughout the Old Testament, there was a marked distinction between the sexual morality of the husband and that of the wife. Christian ethics have elevated marriage to a higher level, regarding both husband and wife worthy of equal honor because of Christ’s sacrifice.  Marital co-habitation, as a reciprocal relationship, perfectly mirrors God’s purpose for the church. Years earlier, Paul wrote an analogy concerning Mount Sinai and Jerusalem. Christ’s love for His church, in this allegorical teaching, is the paradigm for a husband’s love for his wife. Paul’s analogy here is not new, for Israel is referred to many times as Jehovah’s wife. Some accuse Paul of presenting a degrading view of marriage in I Corinthians chapter seven, but Paul exonerates himself totally in Ephesians five.  Isaiah wrote that “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (62:5). In view of the current divorce epidemic, isn’t it interesting that Paul takes us back to the Garden of Eden to establish timeless marital principles?

Verses 21-22

Many commentators hold that verse twenty-one is a link, for while it completes Paul’s desire for all to be filled with the Spirit (5:18-20), it immediately connects us with high standards regarding the marital union. We should note the vital role of the Spirit in Christian marriages. At first glance, it may seem contradictory for Paul to declare woman as absolutely equal as a member of the body of Christ (Gal. 3:28), yet here make such a bold statement concerning the wife’s submission. Wives are equal and often superior to their husbands in spirituality, intellect, sympathy, self-denial, patience, discernment and discretion. However, Paul’s remarks in this passage were revolutionary in an era when men were the dominate gender.

Due to the plague of biblical illiteracy in the twenty-first century, many of God’s truths appear dated. The feminist movement bristles at phrases such as “the head of the woman is the man” and “woman was created for man” (I Cor. 11:3-9), but God has given no provision for His standards to be downsized to fit contemporary sociology.  Submission does not mean that husbands are to treat wives as subjects . It means neither subservience nor the denial of a woman’s rights. This passage serves as a model for the way in which the husband relates to his wife and Christ’s relationship with His church. If the husband is to pattern his life after Christ, he must bear in mind that “greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).  “As unto the Lord” is the phrase that establishes the parameters of the wife’s subjection. She cannot violate God’s Word to please her husband. The phrase “your own” means “one’s private and unique possession.” She is to please her own husband, not men in general.

The verb to “submit” ( hypotasso) occurs 23 times in Pauline literature and denotes subordination to another worthy of respect. It has a very different meaning than the term “obey” in 6:1 and 6:5 concerning children and servants. She is not commanded to obey (hupakouo) her husband as a child or a slave. Hypotasso is in the Greek middle voice and stresses the concept of voluntary, continuous submission and an unwillingness to argue.

At the heart of submission is the concept of functional order. Peter’s admonition in I Peter 3:1 reinforces the concept of the wife’s submission. Here also hupotasso carries the concept of willing obedience under godly leadership, and bespeaks a cheerful cooperation. When commands begin, happiness ends, for domination does not breed love, but resistance. The passage as a whole deals with voluntary submission, thus any delusions of autocratic rule are eradicated.

Verse 23

In verse twenty-three, without apology nor explanation concerning God’s leadership model, Paul addresses all believing wives. Although Christianity promotes and exalts a woman to be under a godly man’s protection and provision, there is a shortage of godly men in America. The husband as head of the home is God’s universal plan for happy marriages, though it is fashionable to blur or erase the lines of God’s constituted authority. “Head” here means source or origin, and points back to Genesis chapter two where woman is made from the man. It is the function of the head to plan and secure the safety of the body. As Adam is the “source” of his wife’s existence, so Christ is the source of the existence of the Church.

The husband becomes a type of “savior” (soter) only in the sense of a protector. In the two dozen times soter is found in the New Testament, it always refers to Jesus or God, never to human beings. But although a man cannot save his wife, he can gently guide her into the arms of her Savior. As our Savior offers His Church fellowship, protection and security, so must the husband. The Church, as His bride, accepts Christ’s authority, but to carry the analogy of the husband as “savior” any further is to do our text an injustice. 

Verse 24

The statement “subject in everything” in verse twenty-four needs qualification, for the text conveys no disparagement of women. The reason for the subjection is found as the passage is considered as a whole, for any thought of servility is totally absent. Paul refers to everything that is not contrary to the will of God, as Sapphira discovered prior to her untimely demise. Most ethnicities place wives at least somewhat lower than husbands and in some societies, much lower. It is better to lean toward the biblical standard than the global average treatment of women.

A balanced theology of the curse of original sin is in danger when one holds that it includes the husband’s rulership over the wife (Genesis 3:16). God’s curse was in response to the actions of the carnal nature, but the curse did not give humans new tendencies. The wife is not “the weaker vessel” (I Peter 3:7) as a result of the curse. This weakness is to her advantage, for it is God’s design that she be protected and cared for by a loving husband. She is to be as supportive as he is to be protective. The wife “being subject to [her] husband as is fitting in the Lord” (Col. 3:18) reaffirms this is an aspect of God’s timeless plan, rather than a consequence of the fall of man. The wife’s “gentle and quiet spirit” which is “precious in the sight of God”  (I Peter 3:4), is meant to help offset the stress of the husband’s greater responsibilities. The concept of her obedience was instituted “that the Word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:5). A wife who respects her godly husband is a God-given channel of grace for she walks in a freedom unknown to to the unsaved woman. Eve was created to complete Adam man rather than to compete with him (I Cor. 11:9). Is it not the carnal nature that drives women to usurp authority over men and for men to belittle women? No woman tends to submit to an ungodly man. This is why reciprocal respect is so vital to joyful, functional marriages.

Verse 25

In Greco-Roman society, the wife had obligations to her husband, but not vice-versa. But if the obligation of submission here seems demanding upon the wife, it is far outweighed by the duties of the husband. There are 143 words addressed to husbands in Ephesians. That’s three times more instructions to husbands than to wives. Ephesians reinforces the sacrificial nature of the love required of husbands via this Christological analogy. It is noteworthy that although this section is addressed to husbands, in a larger sense it reflects the respect Christian men should have toward all women. Paul does not place the wife on the same level as the husband, but neither does he place the husband on the same level as Christ. This is reinforced in I Corinthians 11:3 where he states that God is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of the man and man the head of the woman. In each case, there are obligations and responsibilities to another. No one is exempt but God Himself.

The command for husbands to egapesen  their wives is thrice repeated (vv. 25, 28 , 33), and always means that self-sacrificial love which impels the one loving to give himself for the advancement of the object of his affection. Paul admonishes husbands in Colossians 3:19 to “love your wives and be not bitter against them. A husband’s love is to be measured by the extremely high standard of Christ’s vicarious, selfless love for His Church. Just as everything Jesus does for His Church is for our edification and advancement, so a husband will regard no sacrifice too great if he has Christ’s spirit of self-denial. By setting the standard so high, the dignity and welfare of the Christian wife is safeguarded.

Christ’s love for His bride is without reservation. He made no prenuptual agreement with her. His dowry was His blood. Paul’s analogy builds more momentum as we consider that the word ekklesia is feminine. His vicarious giving of Himself was for her. In offering Himself as our mediatorial sacrifice, He was determined to save our lives at the expense of His own. Though we as His bride, are unworthy of Him, He prepares us to be received as worthy. Jesus did not love His Church because she was lovable, nor to make her lovable, for there is no human rationale for loving us at all. He loves because the objects of His love need to be loved, not because they deserve it.  Christ’s “unreasonable” love for us proves that a husband simply cannot love his wife too much.  One loves his wife too much only when he loves her more than Christ loves His Church, so any real danger lies on the side of deficiency rather than excess.
There is an ancient Lakota story which tells of a mother and child caught in a terrible snowstorm. She took off her outer coat and wrapped it around her baby. As the storm raged on, the mother died. The babe was discovered, and greeted the tribal members who found her with a smile. Because the concept of self-sacrifice is absolutely universal, such stories are appreciated throughout the world. It is only the unregenerate heart that is cold to the passion and sacrifice of the Son of God. It was His love for His church that held Him on the cross, not the nails.

Verse 26

The twenty-sixth verse contains powerful imagery, for who could imagine a dirty bride? Common to both testaments is the idea of external washings as symbolic of internal cleansing. The phrase “having cleansed” is congruous with the figure of the laver, but here it is a reference to the prenuptial bathing of the bride. None would argue that the Corinthian church had her share of spots, yet Paul’s aim was to “present her as a chaste virgin to Christ” (II Cor. 11:2).  The purpose of Christ’s passion was to sanctify and cleanse His Church as a bride is cleansed prior to her presentation to her husband. He must cleanse and purify (hagiase) us in order to be accepted into His presence, for purification for presentation is essential, not optional. “Cleanse” is a modal participle, showing how the sanctification takes place. The Word taken to heart has a cleansing effect on couples and individuals.
Some have argued that “washing” (loutron) here refers to water baptism, but New Testament writers often use water in the metaphoric sense. “Now are you clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you” (John. 15:3). Furthermore, loutron literally means “a bath” and baptism is never referred to in the sense of bathing. Paul points out that the Word has the cleansing effect, while stating nothing concerning immersion. The cleansing of the bride is an obvious symbol of regeneration, not baptism. To be unwashed is simply to be unsaved. This becomes evident as we note that the only other New Testament use of the noun “washing”  (Titus 3:5) states that Jesus saves His people by the “washing of regeneration.” Any concept of the ritualistic, sacramental view of baptism here it conspicuously absent.
Personified as a bride, the Church has been similarly cleansed (I Cor. 6:11). The eschatological Church will be presented to Christ as a pure virgin to her husband (II Cor. 11:2). Christ sacrificed Himself in order to betroth us to Himself. Although unworthy of His affections, He has orchestrated the circumstances whereby He can present us to Himself, in unsullied splendor, being washed and sanctified. In ancient Jewish weddings, the groom said to his bride, “Behold, thou art sanctified unto me,” as he placed the ring upon her finger. In this verse, Paul refers to the cleansing influence of the Word of God. Yet, how many couples study the Bible together? The written Word was given to Christian couples as The Answer Book to twenty-first century marital questions.

The word hagiazo  means “to set apart for sacred use.”  Since this verse deals with sanctification, a primary husbandly duty is to promote his wife’s spirituality. In John 17:17, Jesus prayed for His disciples to be sanctified by the truth, for His Father’s Word is truth. We, as His bride, must be cleaned by His chosen instrument of truth—His Word. Since rhemati  refers to “what is uttered by a living voice,” is it not exegetically correct to conclude that Pentecostal couples must remain open to the guiding voice of the Spirit? Should they not also hunger to serve God together in a full-Gospel church?

Verse 27

Christ’s ultimate aim is the escotalogical presentation of the Church to Himself (Rev. 21:9) and He is the only One qualified both to prepare us and to present us. We are the sole object of His affection and He will never divorce us. The love of Christ for His Church defies explanation, but I often wonder if His great heart went out to us because of our spots, not despite them. By His work on the cross, Jesus removed the spots of sin which would make His bride unattractive. Although “spot” (spilos) in its Hebrew equivalent is used concerning sacrificial animals, the stain referred to here is used metaphorically regarding any moral blemish. The same basic word indicates defilement in Jude 24. Spots refer to stains and wrinkles to signs of decay. Paul’s use of the term “without spot or wrinkle” is simply the negative side of the term “glorious” in this same verse. Classical Greek writers employed the term in the sense of “blame.” In speaking of spots, stains and impurities, Paul retains his allusion to the bridal prenuptual preparation. Paul’s “spotless church” is not idealistic, but realistic and futuristic. Since His blood was our spot-remover, we will be presented perfect and glorious on that day.

Verse 28

Paul links his thoughts with both the Golden Rule and the Decalogue, for we are taught by both Christ and Moses to love our neighbor as ourselves. A man’s care for his wife should be as natural as self-preservation. In loving his wife, a husband loves himself, for Paul will soon remind us that they are one flesh. As it is carnal madness to hurt one’s own physical body, so it is spiritual insanity to harm one’s soul-mate. Since the wife is a part of the husband’s self, when a man is unfaithful to his wife, he is unfaithful to himself. 

The use of such powerful imagery demonstrates the dynamics of human marital relationships. No passage in God’s Word states that the married must be miserable. Only the Word of God can change behavioral patterns. The concept of radical self-sacrifice in our passage is foreign in this century to the majority of couples, for such sacrifice is costly. The New Testament husband is always portrayed as one who is sacrificing more than the wife in terms of care and affection. Although the man is not promised that all his self-sacrificial acts combined will cause him to reap more than he has sown, this was certainly true of Christ’s sacrifice for His bride. He sowed one life to reap millions.

Verse 29

“Nourish” (ektrephei) in verse twenty-nine is used concerning child-rearing in 6:1, and indicates the meeting of all physical needs. The suggestion is that a husband must tenderly care for his wife as a mother would care for her child. The point here is that a man must be attentive to the needs of his wife. As a man naturally takes proper care of his body, so must he provide for and protect his wife’s body. The way in which a man loves his own body is related to Christ’s treatment of His body the Church. Jesus does not love His Church as if it was His body, but because it is His body. As Christ’s love is self-sacrificial, so must the husband sacrifice himself for his wife. Jesus never debases, abuses, oppresses, degrades nor belittles His Church, nor must men their wives. The man who loves his wife only for her beauty does not loves her as Jesus loves His Church.  We are cleansed for service, not as a showpiece. In fact, Jesus loves His bride despite her failures.

As the Lord supplies His people with everything essential for happiness, so is the husband to care for his wife. What a sweet picture of regard is embodied in this single word, “cherish”. Thalpei is a dynamic term, meaning “to warm, and then to foster with tender care.” Paul pictures a union so intimate that Christ and His Church are spoken of as being “one.” To wrap my arms around my wife is to wrap my arms around myself, for we twain are one flesh.

Verse 30

As Paul prepares to write his final comments, he is in no danger of using words and imagery too powerful in describing the union between Jesus and His disciples. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul addressed the Church as a body whose head is Christ (1:20-22), but now he stresses the intimacy of the Christian’s union with Christ. Paul never leaves the Garden of Eden in his analogy. Here he takes us to Genesis 2:28 when Adam referred to Eve as “now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” This denotes that the ideal intimacy of the marital relationship was in the mind of God at creation. We must come to view ourselves as living parts of His Body. As sin weakens one’s relationship with Christ, so every aspect of ungodliness weakens one’s relationship with their spouse.

Verse 31

Prior to marriage, a man’s closest family tie 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 parental ties. Paul continues to keep us in the Garden of Eden as he goes on to quote the familiar words used in most marital vows.  “To leave and to cleave” is his way of stating that the husband and wife relationship supercedes that of parents and children. As there is a natural desire for a man to leave his parental home to form a new one, so Christ left his home in heaven to establish His Church on earth. The formation of Eve as Adam’s spouse prefigures the foreordination of the Church as betrothed to Christ. Thus, the origin of woman forms the basis of marriage in Scripture.

Paul’s use of the phrase, “two shall be one,” here validates the spiritual aspect of the marital union, for there is no stronger term of intimacy. Eve was instantly recognized by Adam as “flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). Jesus also quotes this same verse when He taught on marriage (Mt. 19; Mark 10), validating the permanence of the marital bonds from the time of creation. Both Jesus and Paul stress the “till death do us part” permanence of the marital union. 

The term “joined” (proskollao) means to glue or cement together; to cleave to, to stick to; to unite; to join firmly. Conjugal intercourse is in view here. The compound verb “joined unto” denotes the most intimate of unions, as two persons are fused into a single entity. It is God’s will that a couple stick together for life!  Jesus’ love for us does not diminish over time. The longer we know Jesus, the more we love Him. Why can’t the love between a Christian couple grow sweeter as well? It is due to this exalted biblical view of marriage that the Church has taken its stand of the indissolubility of the marital bonds throughout the past twenty centuries.

However, concepts of constituted authority present unique challenges. We are always on safe and holy ground when we promote God’s Word as our ultimate marriage manual. Whereas the Church serves as an example of the wife’s subjection, Christ serves as an example of the husband’s love. As a bride, we have taken on the name of Christ, and are henceforth called Christians. Like an earthly marriage, it is a relationship based on mutual respect, honor and responsibility. We must manifest a character worthy of His name. Our nuptial feast will be the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Verse 32

“This great (mega) mystery” (v. 32), is clearly a reference to his preceding statement about Christ and His Church, not husbands and wives, for marriage is not mysterious. In 3:2-3, Paul has already shown that mysterion means a revelation made known through grace.  Mysterion does not mean a thing can never be known, only that hitherto it has not been. Paul’s statement, “speaking of Christ and the church” anticipates the revelation of a greater mystery on that great day when we become one with Him.

It is noteworthy that the Latin Vulgate translates this as the magnum sacramentum, which is the Latin equivalent of mysterion, thus the Catholic Church has come to consider marriage a sacrament. I wonder if we as Pentecostals would not be wise to expand our short list of sacraments, currently comprised of only communion and baptism, to include the covenant of marriage as well.

“Mystery” here refers to something previously concealed or hidden; something into which one must be initiated before understanding it. This mega-mystery is wonderful, yet not incomprehensible. That this mystery is great is evidenced by the fact that it is best illustrated by the wonder of godly marriage. As the desire to marry is instinctual, so the analogy of Christ and His Church has its counterpart in nature. Since Paul spends so much time in the Garden of Eden in this passage, it can be said in retrospect that the Bible virtually opens with passages concerning the sanctity of marriage. “I” is emphatic in verse 31, where Paul states “I am speaking of the relationship of Christ and His church.” This is Paul’s disclaimer, lest anyone claim this passage is strictly marital.

Verse 33

Although the nuptial figure prevails throughout this passage, Paul reaffirms his primary focus is the Church, not marriage. The use of the term “nevertheless” verifies that he does not miss the opportunity to reaffirm love and submission between a married couple. In this last verse, Paul highlights and underscores his thoughts. The prototype for Paul’s instructions regarding marriage is the same foundational bond between the heavenly Groom and His bride. The sacrificial love of Christ and His Church is typified by human marriage. He loves His Church as His own body and He has sacrificed that body for His bride. The “nevertheless” here proves the impossibility of separating the analogy completely. Paul will not exceed the boundaries of his illustration. This summary verse serves to reaffirm the love and submission initially referred to in verses 22-25. While it is true that the word “fear” (phobetai) in the present middle subjective can include the concept of being afraid, in the context here, it carries the idea of veneration and reverential obedience. “Mature love casts out fear” (I John 4:18). A woman of God will reverence God and her godly husband (Pv. 31:30), and the godly man will guide by love, not fear. No Christ-like husband would burden his wife by autocratic domestic leadership.

“Every one of you” expresses the absolute universality of the reciprocal love that God intends for every married couple. It is vital to note that in Paul’s final exhortation to love, the “every one of you” refers to each and every wife and husband without exception. Paul’s parting comment highlights intense love, for agapato is in the present active imperative. A husband is to love his wife and continue to do so.


Paul’s passage proves three things:

1. Christ loves His Church with a love that took Him to Calvary.
2. His purpose was the spiritual purification of His Church.
3. His ultimate purpose was to mature His Church that He might present it to Himself.

Considered as a whole, 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. The Pentecostal couple has a dynamic advantage, for they have direct contact with God through His Holy Spirit. When Paul wrote these words, the Church was in her infancy, too young to comprehend the future joy and blessing of a Spirit-filled couple praying together.


Maxim of the Moment

Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there. - Will Rogers