“[Christ died for the church] that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (v. 26).
Remarkably, the Bible has very little to say specifically about how a wife’s submission to her husband is to look in practice. Certainly, it is clear that the wife is to follow the loving direction of her own spouse, for “the husband is the head of the wife” (Eph. 5:22–23). Furthermore, although today’s passage indicates that the husband’s spiritual leadership is of utmost importance to the family, it seems plain that the husband’s authority is not limited just to spiritual matters. After all, wives are to submit themselves “in everything to their husbands” (v. 24).
Still, the practical outworkings of wifely submission are never specified in great detail. Consequently, each family possesses a great deal of flexibility to decide how it will function. Of course, the husband is the final decision-maker when a couple cannot agree upon a choice between two or more godly options. This preserves the principle of male authority and helps ensure that chaos does not rule the home, which would be at cross purposes with Christ’s work to unite all things in perfect harmony (Col. 1:19–20). But nothing says male headship means that he keeps the checkbook and that she does all the housecleaning. Examples could be multiplied, but the point is that the church must give every family latitude in figuring out what headship and submission looks like in its own home.
Christian husbands, however, are accountable to love their wives as Christ loves the church, and a passionate concern for the wife’s spiritual well-being is essential to this love. Ephesians 5:26–27 reveals that one goal of our Savior’s affection for His people is that He might present the church fully sanctified and flawlessly beautiful to all creation. Paul borrows imagery from Ezekiel 16:1–14, wherein God washes Israel and takes the nation as His bride. This act reaches its ultimate fulfillment in the new covenant as we are washed by the “word” of the gospel and given a bridal gown that is as white as snow (Isa. 1:18; Zech. 3:1–5; Rev. 19:6–8).
Unlike Christ, husbands possess no inherent power to sanctify their wives. But since Jesus’ love serves as the husband’s model, he must do all that he can to encourage her sanctification. As Christian husbands rightly love their wives, the beauty of their wives’ holiness becomes indescribably magnificent.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
The husband is called to be the spiritual leader of his home, which requires that he take the initiative in family worship, helping his wife and children learn the things of God, and much more. This should be the primary focus of his leadership — doing whatever he can to further the sanctification of his wife and children. Husbands, are you taking the lead in spiritual matters and directing your families to glorify God?