My Wife Has a Savior and I’m not Him

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.


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49 Responses to My Wife Has a Savior and I’m not Him

  1. Angie says:

    You would think this shouldn’t have to be said, but it does. Thanks for saying it.

  2. Thanks for this! Here’s my own take on the same article (which looks to me like pretty much full-blown patriarchy):

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for the link, Rebecca. I read your post yesterday just minutes after I finished writing mine. Someone on Twitter had linked it and I thought you did a great job.

  3. Jennifer says:

    I asked my husband to read the other article first and then I wanted his opinion.
    It was the same as mine.
    First, the author talks about his wife like she is a pet. Secondly, does he allow her to correct him when he’s not right? Thirdly, he’s not accurate in the way he uses that scripture.
    So then I told him to come read your post. So much better a description of that passage!
    Thanks for writing this.

    We’ve been overseas 20+ years and I’m hearing more and ore stuff like this from the mouths of the newer folks landing over here. It baffles me. This is not what I grew up being taught or studied at seminary and yet it seems that more and more are leaning this way.
    One young lady requested prayer because her husband had said he wasn’t respectful enough towards him. So she wanted prayer that her heart would be right and she would respect him more. I just sat there and nodded. I couldn’t believe this.
    It makes me sad.

    • Tim says:

      It saddens me too, Jennifer. A demand for respect doesn’t result in respect. It results in guilt, shame and ultimately fear.

      • Anu Riley says:

        Well said, Tim. Boy I hope many men read your comment and a light bulb comes on.

        It makes me laugh about treating wives as a “pet.” You should have met our beagle Charlie. A “pet” he was not, though technically he was (we never told him that, tho). He was a full fledged member of our family and frankly ruled our house with an iron paw. Whoever thought of the idea as wives as pets obviously never met Charlie Riley.

        Have you read Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House?” It’s been SO long since I read it, but it was “the door slam heard around the world” when the wife left her husband. She was sick of being treated as a “pet.”

      • Lea says:

        “A demand for respect doesn’t result in respect. It results in guilt, shame and ultimately fear.”

        Probably also irritation. Or at least it would for me!

  4. joepote01 says:

    Thank you, Tim, for speaking out on this topic with clarity.

  5. Julie Frady says:

    You know, when I was in a large Southern Baptist church in the early 90’s, the prevailing wisdom was that adults were not truly “mature” until they got married. Singles, no matter how old (unless they were elderly widows or widowers of course), were just not able to mature as much as married people. This was never said outright, of course, but it was obvious from the way people treated us single adults in the church.

    Now, however, it is apparently *married* women who become childlike and childish, needing correction from husbands who must “get them ready for Jesus.” Single women are either able to make do on their own (or more correctly, through the Holy Spirit) to “get ready for Jesus” — or else they don’t make it at all? Surely not. No, it must be that a woman magically transforms into a spiritually immature creature upon saying “I do,” someone who now needs husbandly correction in order to make her able to receive Jesus’ sanctification.

    Is that really what the Desiring God crowd means to say?

    • Tim says:

      I think they mean to say just that.

    • Anu Riley says:

      Wow. That is just unbelievable what you wrote about! But so well spoken.

      Marriage does require a certain level of maturity because sharing your life with someone is a very “grown up” endeavor. However, NO ONE should use it as a way to feel superior. What gain do you get by putting someone else down like that? A brother or sister to boot! And frankly, if marriage is not a humbling experience—then I think something is wrong. I cannot imagine “lording” may marriage a single person, because marriage has helped me see the intrinsic value and worth in other human beings.

      I don’t understand why we’re constantly looking for ways to look down on others. This is not how Christ lived His life, and we are not representing Him by rejecting Him like this.

      I took what you said about suddenly becoming “spiritually immature” to heart, because that was just so spot on. I think the attitude is as a single woman, you “do the best you can” to grow in Jesus, know Him more and be morel like Him—He is truly your all in all during that season in your life. You do the best you can with Him as your source of maturity, but since you’re not married, it’s might not be as good as you can be.

      Along comes a man, who is going to now “co-pilot” with Christ to REALLY grow you, know Him more, and be more like Him. Now you’ll be much better off, and sure, single women CAN be “ready” for Him (I guess He’ll suffice in getting you there), but married women? They have an edge, an extra source of certainty of being ready for Him. Now she’ll grow in leaps and bounds like never before. She may have though she was mature as a single woman, but like you said—she never saw how immature she was until her husband came along to show her all her shortcomings, faults and areas to do some real growing in.

      It sounds so ridiculous in writing it out, but I think that’s what this article is pointing to, even though I noticed they tried to cover all their bases and be constructive.

  6. Pingback: Husbands, get her ready? | See, there's this thing called biology...

  7. Thanks again Tim for your insights.

    I see the DG article as yet another one that continues to misread Eph 5 as if there was something special being bestowed by God on a husband in terms of responsibility. It is exactly because of their assumptions about gender roles that they misread it in this way. All believers are called to love like Christ and Paul had just pointed this out in Eph 5:2. What Paul is doing is EMPHASIZING this general Kingdom principle to 1st century husbands at Ephesus to specifically love their wives, because this was revolutionary to the prevailing Greco-Roman cultural attitudes and was therefore a temptation for a believing husband to NOT do.

    • Anu Riley says:

      Wonderfull said! I don’t think “love” or “being loved” played a major part in getting married back then? Someone is free to correct me. It seemed more like a business arrangement, or a way to procreate. So the idea that husband were supposed to love his wife (and guess what, she’ll know she’s loved) was quite out of the ordinary. Husband weren’t used to having that kind of responsibility in marriages back then. They were often free do to as they pleased, and the weight of the marriage was mostly put on the women. Ouch.

      • Ephesus was a Roman city that was under Roman law in the 1st century. The Roman empire had a classist and sexist structure imbedded into the laws and culture. Roman citizens were on top, then Free Greeks, then Freed Greeks (former slaves), then Slaves. And since it was patriarchal, men over women in each class. However, there was a provision that if a slave was freed by their Roman master (for example, on the master’s death or for exceptional service), then the slave became a Roman citizen; so deliberately doing this was a way to climb the social ladder.

        The primary purposes of marriage were to forge and cement alliances in the honor/shame society and to produce legitimate offspring to inherit. Some marriages were loving marriages, but this was the exception. After a dinner party, it was just expected for the host to provide sex slaves for his male guests. Male promiscuity was flaunted, female faithfulness was expected, except there was a new idea about the “new Roman woman” that was gaining rights and therefore more free than in the past.

        With that kind of expectation, Paul telling a husband he was to love his wife by laying down his life was radical, so radical as to seem preposterous.

        • Anu Riley says:

          Thank you Don! That was quite an education! Life was especially hard for a women, throughout history, but certainly in those times as well.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for adding in the cultural context, Don. Paul wrote to real people who faced real circumstances.

  8. Anu Riley says:

    I read the whole Desiring God article, so apologies if that makes my comment confusing:

    Well, I guess they tried to wiggle and wobble with the “don’t get angry, but don’t be passive” when correcting your wife (trying to cover all prospective what ifs). They even tried to give practical, step by step guidelines on how to work this out.

    The problem? Their entire premise for all this counsel is just WRONG, WRONG WRONG. The Ephesians 5:25 verse was absolutely twisted. Christ alone sanctifies us and makes us holy—women included. The commandment was given to husbands to love their wives and that’s where it ends. It never says anything about husbands making us holy but that is their wicked premise: “God calls husbands to be instruments of his sanctifying work in the lives of our wives.”

    WRONG! I am so offended I just want to kick something. I would be mortified if my husband really thought he was working hand in hand with the Lord Jesus Himself in sanctifying me. That is His work and His alone, being the Potter and I am His clay. I’m beyond blessed that he prays for me, makes time for me to read the Word and pray, and yes—calls me out and corrects me when appropriate—but guess what? I do the exact same things for him!

    What does this mean for single women, widows or divorced ladies? Are they lacking something b/c there’s no husband to “help” promote their holiness?? Of course not!!

    I have two sisters in Christ in my life: one is divorced, one is single. You know what? They’ve shined His light more radiantly than some married women I know. So, are their husbands “failing” them in some way? Of course not!!

    This also puts husbands in a terrible position of being blamed if their wives aren’t “holy” enough. Aren’t “ready for Him” enough—and it’s somehow your fault. Or it’s her fault for not being submissive enough, or teachable enough. More than likely, it will be the latter, but I’m also not interested in throwing husbands under the bus under this false teaching premise.

    Articles like this truly puzzle me, because in my own VERY personal experience—-I’ve seen wives take so much more of a lead, spiritually, than husbands. Whether it’s because they’re thought of as more mature, more gifted, or more invested in their walks with God, I don’t know. I also don’t think this is always healthy. A wife does NOT want to be told, or be put in a position to “get her husband ready for Jesus.” Please, don’t ever put that on my shoulders! I will reject it.

  9. K says:

    When we were younger before kids, my husband believed he needed me to believe exactly like him. If I dare disagree we would have horrible fights with him trying to get me to believe exactly like him so he was in charge. This led to frustration, bruises on my arms, cussing over what bible translation was right, etc and even a punch into a door over theology because I would not mindlessly agree to his biblical approach. This lasted 5 years. It was horrible. He has since apologized, got counseling and has changed this completely. The theology of him being responsible for me and in charge of me caused so much marital damage. I didn’t know if we could make it and I dealt with guilt and severe depression. We no longer felt free to speak what we really felt and a large chasim formed over the next 10 years of our marriage.

    My husband and I believed this “comp” theology for many years but trying to implement it was a marital disaster. My husband was the leader of the churches small group ministries and I was a worship leader. (I had to write out my prayers, verses, comments and have a man read it because I was a woman. The crazy thing is I wanted to please God so badly I did this for 7 years even though it never felt right.

    My husband was good at teaching adults but really struggled to lead family devotions with our school age kids. There were so many times he just wouldn’t do it. I would then get upset and tell him he was the head of the house and should be teaching his kids about God. So he would feel bad and awkwardly try to “lead” devotions which bored the kids to death. I would try to chime in to help as I watched the kids hanging upside down on the couch and playing around with the strings on their PJ’s. I would try to engage the kids with more appropriate questions, etc. This would make my husband so mad and by the end we were not talking to each other. Me being upset because he was such a poor “leader” and him being mad because I “emasculated” his leadership in front of the kids. Now, we both share as we have ideas and for the most part I lead the family devotions. He feels so much better not having that on his shoulders because it is not his gifting.

    When we started getting involved with a church called Grace Bible Church we thought we now understood how this comp stuff worked. We calmed down a bit but our marriage was hollow. I now wanted to “submit” but my husband had become “passive” and distant. He buried himself into Seminary, ministry and church. The weaknesses my pastor saw in our marriage he used to exploit an immoral relationship with me. Over 4 years of counseling and working as a worship leader (silent one) he put down my husband’s lack of “control” in the household. I would get so angry at my husband for not leading this way, or that way. I became the one abusing him now. My pastor was mentoring my husband to be a pastor. But at the same time used this “comp” expectations to break our marriage even more. I remember saying to my husband “I want to submit, give me a strong man to submit too!” It was horrible and fed by an unethical pastor (who BTW is doing online marriage life coaching and preaching). My respect of my husband began to dwindle as the pastor pointed out how much better he was at taking care of his wife and kids biblically. In hindsight, demonic. This theology is demonic.

    Once the pastor exploited this over 4 years I stopped what he was doing and made him confess and resign. The damage that doctrine did over the 20 years of our marriage and on top of that an unethical pastor exploiting it nearly destroyed our family. I attempted suicide one time during my pastors exploitation and anger at God and was hospitalized for a suicide attempt once after I stopped the pastor.

    My husband and I have gone to trauma counseling and I can say over the past 3 years have discovered what it really means to love, honor and respect each other. We renewed our marriage vows and left the “comp marriage” S**** in the pit of hell where it belongs. Our kids are happy, healthy and growing in their faith. They tell us all the time they hope their marriages are like ours someday. The love is there and I am so thankful God has saved and restored our family. This comp stuff if lived out takes all the love and respect out of the marriage bond and replaces it with religion, roles and separation of hearts. I love my husband and he loves me and our marriage is based on that alone.

    • Tim says:

      You lived through some horrible times. I am so glad you and your husband survived it and are now enjoying a thriving relationship in Christ. What a blessing for your children too!

      • K says:

        Thank you Tim! We are so thankful for restoration from religion. I couldn’t even read this article. It would be like looking back into evil. I pray for other couples to not get pulled into this cultic theology when they are searching for truth and the real God.

    • Anu Riley says:

      Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry for all that you’ve been through. I could say a lot more, because you shared so much, but you nailed it: “This theology is demonic.” Looking at what it did to you, your husband, your family for so long is proof of that statement. I’m especially worked up about a pastor exploiting the dysfunction (for some personal or church related gain, since you both worked there and he was mentoring your spouse?)

      I so related to some of what you shared, and I am sure many others will, too. When the Word is not rightfully divided, the results are disastrous.

      I’m so glad you are all doing so much better. Thank you so much for sharing!

      • K says:

        Thank you Anu. It was a bumpy journey but now on the other side we have learned so much about evil, wolves, damaging faulty doctrine and depending on men and institutions as a necessary part of our relationship with Christ.

        We are taking a very long, maybe permanent break from institutional church. We are depending on Jesus alone. If He isn’t enough then His life and message is an error. ❤️

  10. Long before this awful essay from “Desiring God” was published, I had noticed a few years back that a lot of Christians (usually complementarians) believe that it’s a husband’s responsibility to sanctify a wife – or – they believe that marriage generally causes sanctification, even if they don’t specifically associate it with the complementarian doctrine of “male headship”.

    I did a blog post or two about it at my Word Press blog called “Christian Pundit.”
    I think I did two or three posts about the subject, and one of them is ((located here))

    I’m not sure but if the problem is the over – glorification of marriage. Many Christians consider singleness to be a second rate status, or they feel if you’ve not married at all, or have not married by age 30 or so, that you are a failure.

    They seem to believe that God wants all adults to be married, but the Bible does not say this at all.

    There is just way too much emphasis placed upon marriage by many Christians to the degree that singleness is viewed as wrong, second best, sinful, or failure.

    I also have a few posts on my blog about parenthood – just as a lot of Christians elevate marriage at the expense of singleness and teach that marriage is necessary for sanctification, some of them also do this with parenting.

    All of this teaching marginalizes adults who are single (never married, widowed, divorced) or who may be infertile or childfree or childless by circumstance.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for linking to your posts. The idolatry of marriage and parenting is abhorrent.

    • Anu Riley says:

      Jeremiah was told by the Lord to not to get married—due to his ministry and the disaster of God’s judgment coming. And Jeremiah was one of the most wonderful prophets, ever.

      I relate to you about how getting married seemed to elevate your ‘standing.” I felt it when I was single. It is absolutely ridiculous. We need to reject these lies because they are bringing nothing but darkness and demonic influence into the body of Christ. Satan loves to minimize the worth of any human being, and this feeds into that.

      It is not much different when people start having kids. Suddenly they are in a higher “tier” and elevated even more. This tends to demean others even further.

      Why we keep looking for ways to look down on each other is hindering growth in the Lord, and we have no one but ourselves to blame for it. This is something that can be easily thrown out the window in a heartbeat, yet we insist on clinging to these moronic views.

    • K says:

      The funny thing about all this marriage focus is that Christian’s divorce rates are no different than the unchurched! Also, over 40% of senior pastors and 60% of youth pastors are addicted to porn. Pastors are exploiting congregants for sex at a 30% rate. The church is highly hypocritical with all its marriage focus. It is much deeper than idolizing marriage. John Piper is a cult leader as far as I am concerned. I know his stuff well because my husband spent years teaching his garbage at church. We actually believed it! Nearly destroyed our marriage. Thank God we left the church. We are spiritually much healthier and our marriage has recovered!

      • K: about divorce rates, porn use among married Christian men, etc. Oh yes, believe me, I know. I have blogged about those topics before on my blog.

        Complementarianism (and the equally yoked marital rule) are not guarantees for getting married, or a marriage lasing, contrary to what complementarians keep teaching.

        I have a list on one post on my blog that I update periodically chock full of nothing but links to news articles about Christian men who have been outed or arrested for using child porn, wife abuse, soliciting prostitutes, and a host of other, horrible things.

        I make it clear on my blog I am not saying all married Christian men are perverts (obviously they are not) – that is not the point of the post.

        The point is that if complementarian “Male Headship” and Christian “Equally Yoked” beliefs were as biblical or vital for people or for getting married or staying married as complementarians think they are, I don’t think we’d be seeing all the news stories of married Christian guys who have been jailed for domestic violence, child porn, running prostitution rings, etc.

        Then, of course, we see testimonials from people such as yourself who say they tried complementarian teachings, and it almost ruined their marriages.

  11. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    Thanks for this response, Tim. I wonder how single women get “ready for Jesus.” Oh well, I guess they’re on their own with that.

    I admit my sarcasm meter is a little off-the-charts today, but I also had to smile at the unfortunate comma usage in the author’s bio at end: ” After Jesus, his passions include his beautiful wife, Sharon, their four children, coffee, and running.” It’s nice that his wife takes priority over Sharon (whoever THAT is), at least….

    • Tim says:

      He never says how single women get ready for Jesus. Hmmm.

      • Yes, I noticed that too – his view doesn’t take singles into consideration. I do have a blog post on my blog with a title that goes something like, “Gender Complementarian Views Are Irrelevant to Single Women.” They hype up the marriage and motherhood aspects of femininity to the point that never married and childless women like me don’t find anything relevant in their teachings.

  12. Pingback: Horrible Sexist Blog Post from John Piper’s Desiring God Site: ‘Husbands Get Her Ready for Jesus’ – Christian Pundit

  13. Marg says:

    Excellent article, Tim. I love the title! And thanks for highlighting “crystal clear”. As soon as I read “crystal clear” in the original article I realised the author had a lot to learn.

    The idea that Paul’s statement in Ephesians 5:25-26 is clear, let alone crystal clear, is foolish to say that least. The statement was made in a letter written 2000 years ago in a foreign, dead language, in a passage that uses literary devices many of us are unfamiliar with (e.g., a chiasm), and is addressed to a group of people with a vastly different world-view and culture with different societal values as us modern westerners. But most importantly, the author has confused the bit about husbands with the bit about Jesus. And he’s a pastor!

    In his case, the author should have described Ephesians 5:25-26 as “confusing” rather than “crystal clear”. Many complementarian, as well as egalitarian, scholars correctly distinguish between Paul’s instructions to husbands in Ephesians 5:22-33 and Paul’s comments about Jesus, but not this pastor.

    Here’s what David Croteau wrote in a paper published by the staunchly complementarian Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:

    “Analysis of the structure and context of Eph 5:25–27 demonstrated that a husband is given only one command in the passage: love his wife. The rest of the passage used Christ’s love for the church as a comparison for the sake of explaining the depths of the sacrifice of this love. . . . Attempts to apply the specifics in verses 26 and 27 are misguided as it is specifically talking about the way Christ loved the church.”

    “None of this means that a husband shouldn’t seek for his wife to become more like Christ daily. Since every Christian should desire the progressive sanctification of each other, how much more a husband with his wife. However, the main point of this paper is to say that Eph 5:25–27 does not directly address this issue.”
    David Croteau, “To Make Her Holy” (Ephesians 5:26): Are Husbands Responsible for the Spiritual Maturation of Their Wives? JBMW 21.1 (Spring 2016).

    Furthermore, all Christians are to love as Christ loves (Ephesians 5:1-2)!

    Here’s what I’ve written on the subject:

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Marg. I appreciate Mr. Croteau’s explanation of the passage as descriptive. It’s nice to know a comp like him and an egal like me can agree on how that is to be read. And thanks for the link to your own post. Very helpful. Just tweeted a link to it.

  14. Jennifer says:

    Had my teenager read the Desiring God article. The comment? The article should be called, “How to Train Your Wife”! How can a teenager get this and grown men can not?

  15. A simple thank you. We women can speak up all we want, but having our words seen in the current double-standard light dulls, contradicts, and makes our message ineffective.

  16. Miriam says:

    Yes, this. Just yes.
    Thank you everyone for sharing your own insight and stories, it can be so hard to vulnerable. It’s so helpful to read examples how this kind of twisted theology can have real harmful effects, and how honouring God’s word by seeking to understand His directions has such healing strength!

  17. Pingback: Are Husbands Supposed to “Get Their Wives Ready for Jesus”? - The Aquila Report

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  19. Pingback: Jesus alone is the true “Shape” of the gospel- Not your relationship status! – bereanthinking

  20. ad says:

    I think 5:23 was talking about ongoing physical salvation in the form of material provision and preservation. This is why I believe husbands were compared to Christ and called the head of the wife. I think it was allegory for a provider and protector which is what husbands were in that culture. Only they were also tyrants on account of it.

    So verse 24 tells husbands to give themselves up for their wife. It is stated in the present tense and not something to be done in the future like physically dying for ones wife if the rare occasion comes up. Its also not something the husband does to the wife like “leading” her, its something the husband does to himself for his wife. Then verses 25 and 26 speak of Christ’s sacrifice and how it redeemed and restored that which was lost to a state of glory. I think it was telling husbands to die to their egos so that the wife can be elevated in glory next to him as an equal. It was supposed to be a death blow to male hierarchy but unfortunately it has been used to enforce it.

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