In the recent Desiring God article Husbands, Get Her Ready for Jesus, a pastor writes:
It’s crystal clear: God calls husbands to be instruments of his sanctifying work in the lives of our wives.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” (Ephesians 5:25-26)
The problem is that the passage does not lead to the “crystal clear” conclusion the pastor posits.
He takes the description of the extent of Jesus’ love and makes it prescriptive for husbands in foisting a responsibility on them that is not found in the Bible. Another way to see the passage is as an explanation of how love works: Jesus loves his people even when his people don’t love him back.
In isolation, neither reading is “crystal clear.” So how to know which is most reasonable? As always, it comes down to context. This brings an understanding that truly is crystal clear because it is consistent with all the Bible teaches on love, both God’s love and our love for each other whether in marriage or in other relationships.
The Ephesian Context Is the New Covenant Context
Earlier in the letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6.)
Wives – just like husbands and single women and single men and children and widows and widowers – have one hope, and it’s not in their husbands being their personal savior. It’s in the One Savior.
Jude honed in on this when he wrote:
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 24-25.)
It is Christ and Christ alone who is our Lord and Savior who died for us all and presents us holy and without fault.
Women Priests, Men Priests, All God’s People Are Jesus’ Priests
As Paul wrote his friend Timothy, the pastor of that church in Ephesus:
For there is one God and one mediator between God and people, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. (1 Timothy 2:5-6.)
Which means that reading verses 25-26 as putting this responsibility for a married woman’s spiritual readiness for heaven on the husband is nonsense, especially in light of Peter’s declaration:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9.)
It is God who brings women and men alike from the darkness into the light, that is, salvation. And all God’s people, women and men, girls and boys, are royal priests qualified by God to declare that salvation. But to take Ephesians 5:25-26 as the pastor who wrote that article sees it would mean husbands are more priestly than wives. That would require reading something into Peter’s letter that just isn’t there.
So looking at the Ephesians passage in light of Scripture, what’s clear is not that husbands are somehow responsible for preparing their wives for heaven but that women and men both have the same status in Christ and each rely completely on Jesus for sanctification.
That’s the clear gospel truth.