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Paul's epistle to the Ephesians is, in some ways, a continuation of his epistle to the Romans. It enlarges upon Romans 1-8 in regard to the believer's position and right standing with God. We are "seated" with Christ, so we must "walk" according to our calling, and "stand" in the full armor of God against those who would oppose us.
Category - Bible Commentaries
Eph. 5:22-33 is a fairly long passage where Paul discusses marriage and family relationships in the context of the broader principle of Kingdom leadership. This is based on Gen. 2:23, 24 and 3:16, which sets the framework for all leadership positions and how to work as a team (or as a body).
These verses have been misunderstood since the beginning of time, causing a lot of bondage, hardship, and friction. This is because most people have been taught to think in Old Covenant terms, using soulish definitions of spiritual principles. These misunderstandings are resolved only with a clear comprehension of the difference between Old and New Covenant relationships.
It is because of this confusion that I find it necessary to expound in greater detail what Paul was saying in Ephesians 5. So I do not want to hurry through this section of Paul’s writing. It is important enough to spend some time on it and to define the words themselves through New Covenant eyes—as God intended.
Marriage requires teamwork to accomplish the purpose for Adam’s creation, which was to subdue the earth and make it fruitful. The man and the woman (yet within him) were given authority over the creation, but not over each other. It was only after sin entered the world that their unity was broken, and God said to the woman, “He shall rule over you.”
Therefore, God’s instructions regarding marriage set new rules by which this teamwork was to function for as long as the effect of sin might threaten their unity. In other words, authority was to be part of the Kingdom order until the Creation Jubilee, when all things are reconciled. Agreement will then replace authority.
Meanwhile, as far as possible, we are called to learn how to return to the Edenic state, where, as Jesus said, unity prevails (Gen. 2:24), divorce is unthinkable (Matt. 19:8), and there is no need to exercise authority within marriage.
Matt. 19:8 says,
8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.”
What was “the beginning,” and what brought about the change? We cannot assert that the law was faulty or that it did not reflect the will of God, for Jesus condemned the one who “annuls one of the least of these commandments” (Matt. 5:19). “The law of the Lord is perfect,” David says in Psalm 19:7. God did not grudgingly allow Moses to issue a license to sin.
No, “the beginning” was in the Garden of Eden prior to sin. Only after the advent of sin did marriages begin to degrade, as carnal minds sought to enslave and oppress others. Because of sin, there arose a need for all of God’s judgments. Divorce is actually a judgment for sin, for without sin there is no lawful ground for divorce.
We see, then, that the entrance of sin in the world altered the condition of marriage, for God foresaw conflict that would arise as time passed. Not only would there be conflicts within marriage, but also in all other forms of “teamwork,” such as kings and their kingdoms. As time passed, men began to oppress their wives and abuse their children. Eventually, this carnal behavior manifested in the rise of Nimrod who enslaved entire groups of people and formed the kingdom of Babylon.
Kingdoms ought to be led by responsible leaders who treat their citizens in a godly way, seeking to make the people happy, to establish the laws of God, and to teach God’s ways to the people. A godly society should have very little problem with crime or slavery. An ideal society is one that functions on the principles of the New Covenant.
In an Old Covenant marriage, disagreements are handled either by one party overruling the other or by reaching a compromise. In a New Covenant marriage, the husband and wife are not satisfied even with compromise. They press on and seek God’s will until they each find it and thereby maintain unity and agreement.
From the highest forms of authority to the lowest, the rules of teamwork apply, each in their unique ways.
It is clear that Jesus distinguished between marriage in Eden and post-Edenic marriage (when the law of Moses was written). Because of sin (“hardness of heart”), many Old Covenant marriages were sure to fail and would need laws regulating divorce (Deut. 24:1-5). Unfortunately, men often used the divorce laws to do injustice to their wives. But divorce laws were also absolutely necessary at times—for example, to protect the life of the woman from an abusive husband.
Studying the grounds for divorce is for another study. The point is that when sin entered the world, God knew that the original relationship in the Garden had been disrupted and that authority would be needed to maintain order in the earth. But, as Jesus said, “from the beginning it has not been this way.” Just as divorce itself was an accommodation because of sin, so also authority itself was an accommodation because of sin.
This is important, because the marriage relationship is the first example in Scripture of many relationships in the earth that require authority. The same principle of authority is seen between king and kingdom, president and nation, governor and state, mayor and townsfolk, etc. In most cases, these turn out to be Old Covenant relationships, because few have a New Covenant understanding of authority. Unfortunately, the church has followed the example of the world by idealizing authority rather than agreement.
Marriage relationships were established clearly in Gen. 2:22-24,
22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
We see no hint that God established any authority of man over woman here (prior to sin). Where there is unity, authority is irrelevant, for both could hear the voice of God perfectly, and both were equally obedient to God. One did not have to command the other to be obedient. To disagree was an absurdity under Edenic conditions.
This ideal condition is set forth in the New Covenant, which is described in Jer. 31:34 and quoted in Heb. 8:11,
11 And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.
This blessed condition pictures the whole world being in unity and agreement, each person hearing the voice of God and responding to it because his heart and nature has been transformed into the image of God. It is a condition where all of creation has been reconciled to God and where there is no disunity or disharmony between God and any part of His creation.
In such a state, all of humanity is pictured as the New Covenant Bride of Christ, and there is no need for any part of the Bride to exercise authority over another part. Agreement trumps obedience.
Christ married an Old Covenant bride at Mount Sinai. There the Israel-bride vowed obedience as a good Hagar-bride was expected to do. But the New Covenant Bride has a greater relationship with her Husband. It shows that Christ is looking for a Bride who is in agreement with Him, not one who is merely obedient. He does not want a Bride who is under His feet but one who is by His side—in essence, a Bride who returns to her original position as His “rib” (Gen. 2:21).
This is the position described by Paul in Eph. 2:6, where the church was to be seated “with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” She is not seated under His feet as a bondwoman, but “with Him” (in His throne) in a position of authority. Because she is in unity with Christ, she exercises the same authority that He does, all without conflict with His will, because her will and purpose is the same as His.
This is what it means to have the law written on our hearts, as the New Covenant also says (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10).
The law describes God’s nature, and at the present time He is writing His nature on our hearts so that our own nature can be the mirror image of His. Once this has been accomplished, the law will not be needed to enforce obedience, and so authority as such will be obsolete. Paul says that “the law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious” (1 Tim. 1:9).
In the presence of sin, the law stands as the standard of righteousness to point out the nature of God that we may use as our example. When lawless and rebellious people cease to exist, then there will be no further need to use authority to compel obedience.
This is the context of Paul’s statement in Eph. 5:22, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” We do not question either God’s statement in Gen. 3:16 nor Paul’s statement in Eph. 5:22. However, we must also understand that this relationship of subjection is not the biblical ideal in a marriage. There is something greater, which we can see by comparing marriage in Eden with marriage after sin entered the world.
We also see it in the ideal New Covenant relationship between Christ and His Bride, where she is seated with Him in His throne. When we compare this with Paul’s commentary on Abraham’s two wives (Gal. 4:22, 23), it is clear that the church’s ideal is to be Christ’s slave-wife, rather than relating to Him as a free woman.
That is seen most clearly in the idea of Papal supremacy, where believers are not permitted to hear God if it differs from papal decrees or church councils. This problem was glaringly evident in the year 400, when the Roman bishop decreed against the truth of universal reconciliation, ultimately causing the church to lose sight of God’s original purpose for creation.
Eph. 5:25 says,
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.
What is the practical outworking of a husband’s love for his wife? What does it look like? First, we should note the 16 characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13. Many husbands apply these things to loving one’s neighbor, yet they fail to apply these to those closest to them. It is often easier to show love to those who are afar than to those who are close. That is because it is easier to hide our faults from those who remain at a distance.
Love is a big word that covers everything. It is easy to claim that we love, but it is difficult to make love a way of life that covers all relationships. Love is the foundation of teamwork and is essential for true leadership to work properly. We cannot spend time dealing with the obvious failures such as when a husband beats his wife physically, psychologically, or emotionally. Our purpose here is to point out how love affects marriage relationships in the context of authority.
In other words, how does a husband exercise authority within the parameters of love?
It takes love to build trust in a relationship. When a woman knows that her husband seeks her welfare and wants her to be the happiest woman in the world, she can then trust him with her heart. When trust is not present, or when trust is broken, fear fills the vacuum. Fear is evidence of an Old Covenant relationship (“Hagar”).
A related question is this: How shall a man’s wife fulfill her own authority and calling as a double witness? A woman is not without authority in her own right, for as I have already shown, she was in Adam when Adam was given authority to subdue and rule the earth (Gen. 1:26). This principle of authority is referenced in Heb. 7:9, 10,
9 And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.
In other words, Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek when Abraham did so, because Levi, though yet unborn, was “in the loins of his father.” By the same principle, when God gave Adam dominion (authority) over the earth, Eve was “in his loins,” so to speak. Hence, she was given the same authority within the context of the Edenic order.
Although this changed later through sin, we ought not to think that a wife is inherently a bondwoman. If she were, then how could the Bride of Christ be seated in Christ’s throne in the heavenlies?
Personally, I considered it to be my responsibility through love to create conditions whereby my wife could be transformed from Hagar to Sarah. I understood that if I failed in this, God would hold me accountable. Authority and responsibility go in equal measures, and as “the head of the wife” (Eph. 5:23), I saw this authority as a responsibility—not as a mandate to have a servant.
In fact, we were both servants, each to the other, as Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 7:4,
4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
Husbands and wives have authority over each other, Paul says. This is not one-sided authority, as so many have taught. Husbands and wives serve each other (under Christ, of course), each putting the other’s interests first. Of course, this works well only if both are able to do this. It must be equal. If one takes advantage of the other’s servitude, it can no longer be called a New Covenant marriage.
Jesus’ policy is to love the church, for Eph. 5:26 says,
26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.
This is the practical manner in which Christ shows His love for the church. The purpose of His sanctification is to bring His Bride to the Edenic state, so that she may be Christ’s double witness that establishes righteousness in the earth. Husbands too have a responsibility that manifests the outworking of love. It is to do what Christ Himself does, except on a smaller scale. To do that, we need to be washed with the word, for therein lies the revelation of God’s heart.
First, I had to learn how to love and to see that love compelled me to set my wife free. Yet it was in my own best interest to follow Christ’s example by raising her up to be seated with me in my throne, as it were. It was in my own best interest to upgrade our Old Covenant marriage to a New Covenant marriage, where both of us could exercise our respective callings as a team with a common purpose and goal. A happy wife makes a good husband happy as well.
Paul says that love “does not seek its own” (1 Cor. 13:5), that is, its own advantage. It is not self-serving. Love seeks to bring others into their full potential so that all may fulfill their various callings. This is only possible when a wife is a free woman in unity with her husband—or when a king rules over a free people in a unified kingdom.
Not many are able to achieve this goal, because it takes two to achieve success. Both must hear God's voice in their own way. Nonetheless, some have achieved a high degree of success. It really depends on the word that has been revealed to us, which washes away our incorrect or incomplete understanding of the heart of God.
Eph. 5:22-25 says,
22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.
Traditionally, the church has long interpreted this in a way that establishes Old Covenant marriages, with the wife being, essentially, a bondwoman on the order of Hagar. Although Christ came as the Mediator of the New Covenant, most believers throughout history have failed to understand the nature of the New Covenant.
This led to the idea of Papal supremacy that put the church into a position of the bondwoman. Politically speaking, kings too have thought of “the divine right of kings” as the right to rule as tyrants over the common people. Relatively few have understood the principle of Kingdom Leadership set forth in Scripture.
In recent decades, the Women’s Liberation Movement has arisen, where feminists have rejected the bondwoman position. Unfortunately, being unschooled in biblical principles of leadership, they concluded that the Bible teaches that women were created to be bondwomen. The church failed to refute such ideas and to train Christian families in the principles of New Covenant marriage. So God has used this worldly feminist movement to raise this question and to pressure the church into rethinking and refining its position.
Unfortunately, because feminism arose without being founded on Scripture, most believers simply rejected their views as a revolt against Scripture. If the church had understood the two covenants and the biblical allegory of Hagar and Sarah, perhaps women would not have felt the need for liberation from the beginning.
As for me, God led my wife and I on an independent (and unexpected) journey. For our first 21 years of marriage (1971-1992), neither of us knew that there were two types of marriage relationship set forth in Scripture. My wife was the perfect Hagar, having been raised that way from childhood in the church.
I myself knew little about marriage and spent the first year learning how to make a woman happy, according to Paul’s admonitions in 1 Cor. 7:33,
33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife.
My wife was glad that I was teachable and that I wanted to make her happy, and this laid foundations for the revelations yet to come. Again, speaking of married women, 1 Cor. 7:34 says,
34 … but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
In 1982, it occurred to me that the purpose of marriage was to provide a double witness within the core family unit, so that we would always know the will of God for the family. I began to learn to hear God’s voice June 5-7, 1982, but it took my wife longer. In fact, it took her 10 years, until finally her breakthrough occurred on June 5-7, 1992.
In the interim, I had to look for others to provide the double witness for my own revelation, and this led to problems. Others were bearing witness to me when my revelations were faulty or even downright wrong. It’s not that others are barred from providing double witnesses, but that in my case God intended for my wife to fill that role.
Seeing marriage as God’s double witness program is a foundational revelation and calls to the forefront the nature of a proper witness. If the witness is a bondwoman, it is nearly impossible for her to provide an independent witness, because she is expected to agree with whatever her husband hears, whether or not it is truly from God.
In fact, her husband may consider her to be insubordinate if her revelation differs from his. Worse yet, the husband might browbeat her until she complies with his viewpoint, rather than letting her hear from God independently. That is called tampering with the witness.
Abraham had two wives, each illustrating a different covenant and marriage relationship (Gal. 4:22). His relationship with Hagar can be seen as a vertical straight line with God at the top, Abraham under God, and Hagar at the bottom. She was a servant and had no input into the decision-making process. She had to hear God through her husband and comply whether or not he was hearing correctly.
This describes an Old Covenant relationship, as Paul tells us in Gal. 4:24, 25. It can only bring forth an Ishmael, a child of the flesh (Gal. 4:29), who invariably persecutes “the children of promise” (Gal. 4:28), who are born according to the pattern of Isaac.
In other words, the ideal relationship, promoted commonly in the church, is based on the pattern of Hagar, not Sarah. This is how Eph. 5:22 is normally interpreted by those who have an Old Covenant perspective. Yet I can testify that it does not have to be this way. My own marriage changed and improved dramatically in 1992, and this led us into a New Covenant relationship. Prior to this, we did not know that this was even possible.
Then God revealed to her and to me that she was indeed hearing from God for herself, and suddenly, a New Covenant marriage became possible. Actually, she had been hearing from God for some time prior to 1992, but she did not know this, because she was hearing in a different manner from the way I heard Him. Lacking confidence, she deferred to me and my revelation, as a good Hagar was expected to do. But after 1992, we both knew conclusively that she was hearing from God as well. Whereas I was able to write down the things that God told me, she heard and knew more instinctively without being able to verbalize it or write down words and sentences.
We discovered that God was both male (Yahweh) and female (El Shaddai) and that He spoke with a different “voice” to each of us. Once we understood how this worked, I knew that I now had the double witness that I needed in order that my ministry and my calling itself could produce an Isaac.
My wife and I have now had more than 30 years of experience to test this revelation in practice, and we have found it to be fully valid. It is not that we have always been in agreement. But when we found ourselves with different revelations, we knew how to resolve the differences. We learned to appeal the case to God, who is the Source of all revelation. We prayed that God would reveal the truth, and eventually, He brought about circumstances that clarified all things.
I know that God has brought us through such experiences to prove to us the proper way to solve differences of revelation. That way, a wider audience can learn through our experiences and perhaps avoid problems of disunity that have plagued the church for centuries.
When God gave Adam the dominion mandate in Gen. 1:26 and the fruitfulness mandate in Gen. 1:28, he gave no particular instructions on how to implement these mandates. He was simply instructed to “rule” and to “be fruitful.” But how?
During that time, Eve was yet within Adam, for God had not yet taken the woman out of the man to make two separate individuals. Hence, these mandates were given to both the man and the woman within him. Perhaps we can say that the dominion mandate was given to the man and the fruitfulness mandate to the woman and that this carried over after the two were separated.
If so, it is clear that the man could not be fruitful apart from the woman, as he was given only his half of the overall birthright. Without each other, both were incomplete. When the two were separated, it would require both to be in unity and agreement in order to implement the full birthright properly and completely. This alone shows the importance of the role of the woman. A man cannot fulfill his calling without her.
Even Christ Himself cannot fulfill His calling apart from the Bride who is taken from His side. She is the key to the success of His plan to restore all things. But if His Bride were patterned after Hagar, the plan would fail. In fact, God’s first marriage at Mount Sinai was indeed patterned after Hagar, for it was an Old Covenant marriage. It ended in divorce (Jer. 3:8).
Christ’s second marriage is based on the pattern of Abraham and Sarah, the free woman. Those who enjoy a New Covenant marriage relationship with Christ are the only ones who can be fruitful in the way that God originally intended. Those who have a Hagar relationship with Christ will have to upgrade their relationship with Christ at some point in the future. To do this will require an understanding of the New Covenant and its goal—the restoration of all things.
But how does one move from being part of the Hagar company to being part of the Sarah company? How does one go beyond obedience to agreement? Should Christ subject the woman to himself and force her to be fruitful in order to fulfill his own calling? That would make her a bondwoman, and the child of such a relationship would then be an Ishmael, not an Isaac.
No, the Bride of Christ must be in agreement in her heart, not by force. She must have the same revelation as He has, so that she rejoices in the divine plan and purpose for creation. If she is resistant in any way, then she is still learning obedience and must subject her will to His, as a good bondwoman is expected to do.