These small group studies of Ephesians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Ephesians 5:15-33 Bible Study Commentary – Husband and Wife Marriage Roles
I. Walk as wise men (15-18)
II. Have deep fellowship with one another (19-21)
III. Wives be subject to your husbands (22-24)
IV. Husbands love your wives (25-30)
V. Marriage in general (31-33)
I. Walk as wise men (15-18)
- What is the “therefore” there for?
- What does the term “be careful” tell us?
- What is the difference in how unwise men and wise men live?
- How can we make the most of our time?
- What kind of activities redeem the time?
- What is the reason given for why we should make use of our time?
- What kind of activities do many people engage in that are not redeeming the time?
- How can we understand what the will of the Lord is?
- Is a believer allowed to drink?
- What is forbidden here?
- How can we be filled with the Spirit?
- What do you think about social drinking?
- What should we do when invited?
Ecclesiastes 9:10 – Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Galatians 6:10 – Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
James 4:14 – Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
1 Peter 4:2 – As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
Proverbs 23:20-21 – Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Walk not as unwise but as wise – Wisdom in the Bible is not about IQ. Instead, wisdom refers to moral discernment, the God-given ability to apply His principles to our daily lives. It is actually much more closely related to obedience than it is to intelligence. A wise person obeys God’s instructions. Paul goes on to talk in verse 16 about one way God expects believers to be wise, that is in our use of time.
2. Making the best use of time – Life is short. In James 4:14 our lives are compared to a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes. One need only turn on the news to see how many people’s lives are snuffed out unexpectedly. This week I was surprised one morning to wake up and see that Kobe Bryant and several others had passed away in a sudden helicopter crash. They were going to his basketball center to play hoops, never imagining that their lives here on earth were almost at the end.
A person once compared people to candles. Two candles represented two people’s lives. One candle was tall, almost new, having only burned for a short time. The other candle was short, almost spent. The tall candle represents a young person who likely has most of their life in front of them while the short candle represents an older person. Both candles have something in common. Each day they keep burning. And each day they are one day closer to finally burning out.
Our lives are the same. God has put us onto this earth for a reason. He has prepared certain good deeds, missions if you will, which He wants us to accomplish for Him (Ephesians 2:10). Every day is an opportunity to fulfill the missions God has for us that day. But if we do not do them, they are gone and will never come back again.
Application: Do you make a habit of redeeming the time? When you have completely free time what will you normally do? Is there anything in your life that you feel wastes your time or distracts you from using your time well?
3. Do not get drunk with wine – Drinking some alcohol is not a sin. Getting drunk, and thereby losing self-control, is. Another factor to consider is if drinking will cause the people around you to stumble. Most importantly, you should ask if it is giving glory to God.
4. But be filled with the Spirit – How? A person is filled with the Spirit when he is sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and obedient to the Spirit’s conviction and promptings. The one filled with the Spirit will have the fruit of the Spirit in abundance.
The opposite of filling is quenching. When a person quenches the Spirit, he does not follow the Spirit’s leading. Saying “no” to God, he becomes less and less sensitive to sin, guilt, conviction, and any other promptings from the Spirit.
II. Have deep fellowship with one another (19-21)
- Speak with who?
- What is first required before we can speak with one another?
- How can we speak to one another in psalms? Hymns? Spiritual songs?
- What is the main point of this section?
- What is the most important ingredient in this? (Our heart)
- What does it mean to be subject to one another?
Acts 16:25 – About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
Colossians 3:16 – Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
James 5:13 – Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.
Colossians 1:11-12 – Being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.
1 Peter 5:5 – In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Speak to one another in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs –
Paul himself made a habit of this. He often shared what God was doing in his life with the people he ministered to. Instead of spending our conversations focused on casual or unimportant trivia, we should take initiative to steer conversations, making them edifying and beneficial, focused on God. This is the result of being filled with the Spirit. Our conversation will be like singing songs of praise, hymns of thanksgiving, and music of personal testimony.
One way to have an edifying conversation is to share our testimonies. As we do this, it reminds us to be continually grateful. We often consider that sharing our testimony is a witnessing tool and is beneficial to others. That is certainly true. But we often don’t realize that one of the most important benefits is to ourselves. When we share our testimony, we first remember it. We remember what God has done in our lives and articulate our thoughts on it. These things will generally stir in us a heart of thanksgiving as it did for Paul.
When couples have marriage trouble, counselors will often ask them to share how they first met or their first date or how they felt on their honeymoon, or similar testimonies. One reason they do this is to try to help both sides remember the good things they have experienced and in remembering to grow in or renew their love for the other side.
Application: Make a habit of telling others what God is doing in your life. It can include your salvation testimony but is not limited to that. When you have the habit to be sharing what God is doing in your life you will be more alert to the work that He is doing in you. And you will be more grateful for it.
Ask each person in the study to share a testimony of how God has worked in their life within the past month.
2. Always giving thanks – Our speech comes from our heart. We need to have a heart that is rejoicing in the Lord and His goodness to us.
Application: In what kind of situations is it easy for you to complain? How can you shift your attitude to be more thankful? What is something you are thankful for this week?
III. Wives be subject to your husbands (22-24)
- What does it mean that wives should be subject to their own husbands?
- What is the significance of “own”?
- To what degree should they subject themselves?
- What if they disagree?
- What if they have a better idea?
- What if the husband is an unbeliever?
- What does it mean that the husband is head?
- Can there be two heads?
- Some say that the husband is the head, but the wife is the neck who turns the head.
- Do you think this approach is right?
- What is the difference between the Bible’s approach and the world?
- In what areas should the wife be subject to her husband?
1 Peter 3:1 – Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives.
Titus 2:5 – Subject to their own husbands.
Colossians 3:18 – Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Genesis 3:16 – To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
1 Corinthians 11:3 – But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Wives submit to your own husbands – God has designed authority structures in every area of life. He has put authorities into place in the political sphere (governments), the social sphere (bosses and masters), the spiritual sphere (elders over the church), and the family sphere (parents over children and wife submit to the husband.) This should not be a surprise to us. God is an orderly God.
He doesn’t want confusion and chaos. He doesn’t want there to be multiple people or groups striving to lead and bickering about who is in charge. A home with multiple heads cannot function well. Neither can a home with no head. God’s design of one clear head is the best.
2. As to the Lord – Here Paul mentions the level that wives are to submit to their husbands. It is a very high bar. They are to obey their husbands as if it was the Lord Himself directing them. God asks us to submit to him with a good attitude and without complaining. He wants wives to treat their husbands the same way.
Submission is not manipulating, arguing, complaining, or nagging. Wives who truly seek to honor God will submit graciously and with a sweet spirit.
At the same time submission does not mean that the wives cannot share their opinions with their husbands or that husbands need not consider their wives. Neither does it mean that husbands should make unilateral decisions.
In my marriage, I always seek to talk with my wife about serious issues and come to an agreement before making decisions. Almost every single time, we are able to come to an agreement on a course of action. Other times, she may rely on my expertise or experience in a certain field and say, “I trust your judgment. You decide.” And sometimes if we don’t agree, it is also OK for the husband to say, “Let’s try it your way.”
Being the head means that final authority to make a decision is given by God to the husband so that the house will run in an orderly manner. It does mean that the husband should use this power in a selfish manner to get his own way.
Illustration: A marriage is much like a basketball team. Each player has a different position. They are to work together in harmony towards a common goal. This unity and teamwork allow them to cover the deficiencies of one team member and enhance their strengths. No one player can win by himself. A team needs each other.
This is like how God has designed the church and how God has designed marriage. Modern women buck at the concept that they should respect and submit to their husbands because they feel that that means they are inferior or less important. This is clearly not true.
God has designed different, but complementary roles for men and women. This is much like salt and pepper. Each has its own function, but they are best when used together in complement.
3. Wives submit to your own husbands – This is important because some men want all women to submit to them. But this is unbiblical. As a woman, you are not required to submit to all men. If you are married you are required to submit to your own husband.
This relationship takes priority over your relationship with a boss. If your husband and your boss want you to do two different things, you need to follow your husband.
This relationship also takes priority over your relationship with your parents. Once married, you have created a new family unit (Genesis 2:24.) There will be times when your parents want you to do one thing (for example take a certain job, move to a certain city, put your kids in a certain school, etc.) Your husband may want to do another thing. In this case, you must follow your husband’s leadership and politely decline your parents’ suggestion.
At the same time, you are not subject to all men. While single, who is a Christian sister subject to? Her parents and her church. A single sister should look to the church for Christian guidance and put herself under the authority of the leadership there.
Application: A side note to guys: don’t try to command all women around. Certainly, if you are in a position of leadership in the church, you need to lead. Otherwise don’t stick your noses where they don’t belong!
4. What can you as single women be doing now to prepare for submitting to your husbands? You should practice following, especially at church. During church activities try to be a good follower and supporter. You can gently encourage the brothers to take the lead. Practice an attitude of humility towards your church leadership. Before making big decisions, ask your elders or other leaders for advice. Make a habit of listening to this advice. Show more honor and respect to your parents, especially your dad. Ask his opinion on things. Listen to his counsel. Respect his rules. Learn to pray for those in authority and forgive their mistakes instead of nitpicking.
5. Guys, what can we do to make this task easier for our wives? – The simple answer is that when you love your wives (more following) you make it far easier for them to submit to you. Some women may say “Sure, I can submit to the Lord. He is perfect. But you don’t know my husband!” While wives should submit to their imperfect husbands, you can help them to do this by fulfilling your own role properly.
IV. Husbands love your wives (25-30)
- What is the husband’s responsibility?
- With what kind of love? How did Christ love the church?
- How is this different than the world’s standard? What kind of love do most worldly husbands have?
- What other jobs do the husbands have (helping to edify/cleanse their wives)?
- What other degree are we to love our wives (as much as our own body)?
- Why does it say “he who loves his own wife, loves himself”?
- When must a husband love the wife? What if she is being unsubmissive? What if she is doing wrong?
- How can a husband nourish and cherish the wife?
- How successful do you think a marriage following this pattern would be?
Colossians 3:19 – Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
1 Peter 3:7 – Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
Case Studies – How To Love Your Wives?
A. You find out that your wife has not been reading the Bible regularly. She is discouraged in her walk with the Lord and is not diligent. What is the loving thing to do?
B. Your company offers you a promotion. It will mean more money for your family. But it will also mean you are required to do more OT and will have less time to spend with your family. What is the loving thing to do?
C. You have been working OT and are tired. Your baby wakes up repeatedly in the middle of the night and cries so it is hard for you and your wife to sleep. What is the loving thing to do?
D. You have just returned from a tiring day at the office. You want to just relax and browse your phone or watch TV for a while. Your wife starts telling you many details about an event that seems insignificant to you. What is the loving thing to do?
E. Your wife has a bad habit of speaking before she thinks. You notice that she is saying some insensitive words to a sister at church. What is the loving thing to do?
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church – Throughout the Bible (ex: 1 Peter 3:7), we see that God’s key instruction to husbands is to love their wives. The husband is to perform his role as head of the family lovingly and kindly, considering the needs and feelings of his wife.
Husbands are instructed to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Paul sets a very high bar and points to Jesus as the example for husbands. So how did Christ love the church?
- He sacrificed Himself for the church.
- He never leaves or forsakes us.
- He put our needs above His own.
- He is always considering our good.
- He served us.
- He gave God’s message to us.
- He loved us unconditionally.
These are the ways a husband is to love his wife. A husband should not treat his wife like a slave simply because he is the head. Jesus is the highest authority and He still humbled Himself to be a servant (Philippians 2.) Therefore Biblical leadership is servant leadership. Biblical love is unconditional and self-sacrificing.
When husbands love their wives in this way, it is much easier for wives to respect and submit themselves to their husbands. And when wives practice respectful submission it is much easier for husbands to practice loving leadership.
Note also that Jesus loved us first (1 John 4:19). He loved us when we were unlovely and undeserving. In broken and struggling marriages it is common for both sides to be hurt and unwilling to make themselves vulnerable by being the first to take action. However, husbands are required to love as Christ did. That means husbands should take the initiative to show love in action to their wives, even when their wives may be in the wrong in some area.
Hosea is a clear example of this. Over and over again he showed unconditional love to his wife, who betrayed him by being faithless.
As a loving leader, husbands can be the first one to apologize, the first one to approach their spouse to find a solution to an argument, and the first one to say “let’s pray about this.”
Application: Wives, how would you like your husband to show love to you? What kind of things does he do to make you feel like you are loved? Husbands, how can you better practice servant leadership? What is one area you need to show love in action to your wives this week?
2. One of the other famous instructions to husbands in the Bible is 1 Peter 3:7: Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
Here are a few more lessons husbands can glean from this verse:
A. He should be considerate. He is to treat his wife with honor and respect. In Genesis after the fall, God told Adam and Eve that part of the curse is that men will dominate women. Since men are more powerful they will naturally use that power and authority to suppress and control and exploit. Many guys’ idea of leadership is to “lord it over” their wives rather than to serve them. But Jesus expressly told His disciples that a true leader is a servant. A husband should never abuse his authority as the head. In Ephesians 5 a marriage is compared to Christ’s relationship with the church. Christ is the head of the church, but He sacrificially gave His own life for her. That is to be how a husband treats his wife.
Illustration: A couple discusses where to go for lunch. The husband wants to go to a steakhouse while the wife wants Italian. A husband could say, “I am the leader. We go to the steakhouse! Meat!” But this is not how God wants husbands to use their authority. Instead, he should serve his wife and make choices to show his love, respect, and care for her. To love his wife, he may need to give up the steak and go eat Italian.
B. Some translations say that a husband is to “live with his wife in an understanding” manner. Learning one’s wife is a key quality that guys need to exercise.
Understanding one’s wife requires study and patience. What is your wife’s favorite food? What are the things that cause her stress? What does she like for you to do for her on a date? What does she consider is romantic? When she says, “everything is fine,” is everything really fine? Does she want to talk through problems immediately or have time to cool off? By truly understanding your wife, her emotions, her thought processes, her likes and dislikes, you can properly serve her by sacrificially loving her according to how she needs to be loved.
C. Women are naturally weaker than men. Therefore guys are to help take the pressure and load off of their wives. Some ways to do this include carrying the baby, loading and unloading the car, helping get groceries, being quick to fix things, giving adequate time for rest, going to bed earlier, etc. Men must understand that women are different, physically and emotionally. Instead of saying, “why can’t she be more like me,” you should say “how can I know her better.” One key difference between men and women is that women generally like to talk a lot more. Instead of looking up from your computer and grunting a weak affirmation, focus on your wife and give her the quality time she needs.
D. Women are fellow heirs of the grace of life. Men and women have equal value in God’s sight. Although our roles are different and complementary, our value is the same. Different roles and positions does not equate to different levels of worth. We are not clones with the same function and purpose. At the same time, two are better than one. Your strengths can help cover each other’s weaknesses.
E. The consequences of mistreating one’s wife are serious. In the verse, you can see that the prayer life will be hindered by the inconsiderate husband. In other words, a poor marriage affects the relationship between man and God. God is saying, “If you don’t treat your wife whom I have given you well, then I will not listen to your prayers.” That in itself shows how highly God values women and how important it is for husbands to treat their wives well.
Application: Men, list out several specific ways you can show respect to your wives this week. Women, list out an area you want your husband to understand you better.
3. The husband’s goal (verses 26-27) – Paul tells us why Christ loved the church to this degree. He loved the church because He wanted us to be sanctified, cleansed, and made holy. Jesus wants to build us up and help us grow in our faith and relationship with God. He had no selfish motivations for His love.
In relationships, people often say, “I love you.” Many times this is not real love at all. It is often selfish motivation. One of the clearest examples is when a man tells a lady, “I love you so you should sleep with me.” Even when these words are not spoken or hinted at, lust is at the heart of many declarations of love. In 2 Samuel 13:4, Amnon declared his “love” for Tamar. 2 Samuel 13:1 even says he “fell in love” with her. So he forced her to lay down with him. After he had done the deed, he hated her (2 Samuel 13:15). Did he ever love her? Why did he change so quickly?
The answer, of course, is that he never loved her in the way that a man should love his spouse. He did not love her unconditionally. He did not sacrifice himself for her. He did not put her needs or feelings above his own. He lusted for her. Amnon wanted to use Tamar as a tool to satisfy his own desires, never caring about what she wanted or what was best for her. After he got what he wanted, he discarded her like trash.
The problem with the modern-day concept of “falling in love” is that you can fall out of it again. We see this so often. Couples say “we don’t love each other anymore” and then they divorce.
But real love is not a feeling. It is not simply a romantic attraction. Feelings of attraction and romance go up and down over the course of one’s married life. Real love is a decision, a decision to act in the best interests of another person no matter what it costs you.
According to these verses, husbands are to seek to edify their wives and build them up in the faith. Here are a few ways husbands can do this:
- Pray for your wife regularly.
- Set a good example for your wife.
- Open the Bible with your wife to share with them.
- Encourage your wife from Scripture.
- Gently use the Word to correct your wife, when she goes astray.
- Take note of your wife’s weaknesses and over time help lead them to grow in these areas.
Application: Wives, how would you like your husbands to help you grow in the Lord? What is one thing you hope they would do to help you in your relationship with God? Husbands, think about the above list and choose one way to help your wife grow in the Lord this week.
4. Love your wives as your own body – Here is yet another illustration of the degree to which husbands should love their wives. He should love his wife as his own body. He should take care of his wife just as he takes care of himself, or even better!
V. Marriage in general (31-33)
- Where does verse 31 come from?
- What does this tell us about God’s design for marriage?
- What does it mean to leave parents?
- Who are the husband/wife first responsible to?
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Leave father and mother – One of the basic truths of marriage is that a newly married couple should establish their own family unit independent of their own parents. This involves leaving and cleaving. A couple is to leave their parents. One aspect of this is a geographical leaving. It is far easier for a couple to establish their own family if they do not live in the same home as their parents.
I have seen many cases of married children living with their parents. And in almost every single case there are many issues and problems that spring up from this arrangement. Many parents find it quite difficult to control themselves and not offer frequent suggestions, lectures, and criticisms, which adds tension and stress to what should be a joyful time of union with one’s spouse.
Certainly, children are required to honor their parents. They also need to take care of them when they need help. So sometimes it is necessary to live with parents to fulfill these responsibilities. When possible, it is advisable to establish one’s own family unit first and later ask your parents to move in with you rather than never moving out from the parents.
In addition to the geographical leaving, there is also a psychological leaving. Children should not depend on their parents emotionally after their marriage. Neither should they seek to please their parents first. A husband is first responsible to please his wife and consider her feelings and after this the feelings of his own parents. Many a marriage has been ruined when a son lives to please his mother rather than his wife.
Finally, a couple should leave their parents financially. When they establish financial independence, then it is easier for them to make their own decisions in regard to their family without undue interference.
Like in all aspects of life, there is a balance. From my time overseas I have seen a great difference between how Asian families approach this issue and how Western families due. Generally, Asian families live together with their parents even after marriage, causing a host of problems. On the other hand, many Western couples do not give appropriate honor or consideration to their own families.
Application: How can you honor your parents more in a Biblical way? Is there any area where you need to “leave” your parents?
2. Cleave to one another – When a couple leaves their parents, they are to cleave to each other, creating a new family unit. One aspect of this cleaving is weaving. Two lives are weaved together into one. When possible, it is good to have common hobbies, common friends, and common ministry.
Application: Think of ways to develop a closer relationship with your spouse. What is one thing you can begin to do together (to grow your relationship) that you currently do separately?
Ephesians E-Book Study Guide – If this study is helpful, you can download our complete Ephesians study in PDF or other E-book versions.
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