What Are We Getting Wrong about Biblical Marriage Roles?


“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).

When it comes to the issue of marriage and marital roles, at some point you are going to have to address Ephesians 5. In this chapter Paul talks about the roles of the husband and wife within a marital relationship. What should be a topic that brings freedom and liberty in marriage has far too often created confusion and even bondage.

For a few moments, let look at this passage and discover what are we getting wrong about Ephesians 5:33.

What Does This Verse Mean?

The first thing we should do is understand what this verse means. I don’t usually do this, but let’s look at the verse in isolation for a moment and define what is being required by the husband and what is being required by the wife, just in this verse.

What Must the Husband Do?

In Ephesians 5:33, the responsibility of the husband is to love his wife as he loves himself. The word for love here is agapao which is love that involves a deep level of affection and intimacy. It can also mean to take pleasure in and to delight in. One major characteristic of this type of love is that it is expressed or demonstrated.

If we just put it in the context of this verse by itself, it is the husband’s responsibility to show and demonstrate a deep level of affection and intimacy toward his wife. To delight in her, to take pleasure in who she is and what she is. To have an intimate interest in the things that matter in her life. As you can see, that is not an easy challenge. I will speak more on this in a moment.

What Must the Wife Do?

The responsibility of the wife in this verse is to respect her husband. The word for respect here is phobeo from which we get the word phobia. The Bible is not telling wives they should be afraid of their husbands. The word, when used in this context, is stating that wives should show reverence or respect to their husbands. When you read this verse in the Amplified Version, it brings clarity to these two ideals of love and respect.

“However, each man among you [without exception] is to love his wife as his very own self [with behavior worthy of respect and esteem, always seeking the best for her with an attitude of lovingkindness], and the wife [must see to it] that she respects and delights in her husband [that she notices him and prefers him and treats him with loving concern, treasuring him, honoring him, and holding him dear]” (Ephesians 5:33, AMP).

When you look at this verse in this light, it becomes a beautiful picture of how a truly loving marriage relationship is supposed to look.

What Are We Getting Wrong about Ephesians 5:33?

As you look closer at this verse, I want to address the question of what we are getting wrong about it. Here are three candidates for this list.

1. Marriage Is a Mutual Submission

When you look at this passage in full context, it begins with an instruction.

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).

The first thing we must recognize is marriage is a mutual submission. We first must be submitted to Christ, and then we are submitted to each other. The roles we submit to in marriage we do so out of reverence for Christ. If we are doing marriage right, then the marital relationship reflects the relationship between Christ and the church. When a husband is functioning in his role, he is doing so out of his reverence for Christ. This is also true of the wife. 

Since I am married, I will use myself as the example. When I love my wife as I love myself, which is the instruction in Ephesians 5:33, I am doing this out of a heart that is reverent to Christ. The same is true of my wife’s respect for me. 

2. The Husband Has the Greater Responsibility

Most of this passage in Ephesians addresses the role of the husband. I know much has been made in our society and in the church especially of the submission of the wife, but this passage spends more time talking to the husband. So to all the husbands out there, look at this passage and take note of the responsibility you have toward your wife.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’” (Ephesians 5:25-31).

Husbands, do you see everything you are responsible for here? You must love your wife as Christ loves the church. If we stopped there, that would be challenging enough. However, Paul continues to give us insight into what this love looks and what this type of love entails.

Sacrifice – Husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. This cannot happen without sacrifice.

Presenting her in her best light – Just as Christ aims to present the church to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, husbands are to do the same for their wives. This means husbands should always strive to present their wives in the best light possible, especially in a public arena. This includes covering your wife’s shortcomings, not exposing them.

Provision, Protection, and Care – He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body. 

Husbands are responsible to provide for, protect, and care for their wives.

As you continue to meditate on this passage, it is obvious the greater responsibility is on the husband to initiate love for his wife.

3. The Wife Responds to the Husband’s Love

If marriage is truly a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church, then in the marital relationship the wife’s role is to respond to the husband’s love with respect. This is a true picture of our relationship with Christ because we can only love God because he loved us first. Our love for him is a response to his love for us.

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Our entire Christian relationship is a response to love that God has poured out on us first. When you love your wife the way Christ loves the church, her natural response will be to respect you as her husband.

Over the years there has been a lot of pressure put on women to submit. Truthfully, the greater pressure should be put on men to love their wives as Christ loves the church. If husbands do this, then submission would not be a problem, but would be welcomed with open arms. I can say this with full confidence. If you husband will lead the way in loving your wife, she will willingly follow with submission and respect.

How Do We Put This into Practice?

How do we take this instruction and live it out practically? One way of doing this is by putting the fruit into action. The fruit I am referring to is the fruit of the Spirit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

When the fruit of the Spirit are lived out in a marital relationship, it will transform that relationship. It does not matter whether you are the husband or the wife, make an intentional decision to incorporate this fruit into your marriage. When you do, that mutual submission of love and respect is not only possible but more likely. 

As you think of what it takes to have a good marriage, I want to take you back to the first instruction from this passage. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Marriage is supposed to be a picture of loving affection coupled with willful submission. Honestly you cannot have one without the other – they go hand in hand. Good marriages don’t happen by accident, they happen by choice.

And the choices are simple. Husbands, will you love your wives, and wives will you respect your husbands? When these two ingredients are evident, marriage becomes the beautiful, loving, lifetime partnership that God intended it to be.   

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/PeopleImages


Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.





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