“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish … this is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:22-27).
While we recognize the message of Scripture to husbands and wives, we sometimes fail to read on far enough — to verse 32 — to see the mystery and see the significance of these verses for us in our relationship to Jesus Christ. We see that wives are commanded to submit to their husbands and that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, but do we see what these words teach is also in regard to our relationship with Christ Jesus?
The Church, which is made up of all true believers in Christ, is to submit to Christ in all things. This is, of course, what Jesus commanded in the Great Commission. His apostles were to disciple the nations by going out, baptizing in the name of the Triune God and by teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded (cf. Matt. 28:18-20).
Christ is the Savior and Head of the Church, and we, as believers, are His body and submit to His headship by listening to and obeying all that He teaches in His Word.
And why do we do so? It is because He loves us, His Church, and gave Himself for us when He died on the cross for the sins of the world. And He did this in order that He might set us apart as His own and cleanse us from our sins in Holy Baptism and present us to Himself “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”
In other words, Jesus Christ so loved the world that He suffered and died and made atonement for the sins of all. And He did this that, through the preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of Holy Baptism, He might bring us and all the elect to repent of our sinful ways, trust in Him and be baptized and so have our sins washed away in His blood. And He did this that the Holy Spirit who brought us to faith might keep us trusting in Christ unto the end and that we might be presented to Him holy and blameless on the Last Day and dwell with Him forever in heaven!
And because Christ loves us and is working for our eternal salvation, we trust that what He teaches and commands in His Word is true and right and for our good. Thus, as the bride of Christ, we submit to His Word in all things.
Jesus said, “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God” (John 8:47). In fact, it is a mark of believers to hear and believe God’s Word, and it is a mark of unbelievers to reject and argue against the clear Word of God.
When we speak of the true (or faithful) visible church in this world, we speak of the church that preaches and teaches the Gospel in its truth and purity and administers the Sacraments in accord with Christ’s institution. Any ongoing compromise of the Word of God, any ongoing unfaithfulness to what He teaches and commands, makes a church unfaithful and untrue to Christ, our Head.
And, it often happens that people turn away and are unwilling to submit to Christ and His Word. Instead of listening to Christ, the Savior and Head, they follow their own thoughts and opinions. Jesus encountered it in His ministry when many of His own disciples were troubled over a part of His teaching and turned back: “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:66).
“Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’ But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (John 6:67-69).
Do you see the mystery?
“Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word; curb those who fain by craft or sword, would wrest the kingdom from Thy Son and set at naught all He hath done.” — Martin Luther, 1542
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.