5:25 Paul turned to the duties of husbands. The society in which Paul wrote recognized the duties of wives to husbands but not necessarily of husbands to wives. As in Col 3:19, Paul exhorted husbands to love their wives; but Ephesians presents Christ’s self-sacrificing love for the church as the pattern for the husband’s love for his wife.
Husbands are to love their wives continually as Christ loves the church. The tense of the Greek word translated “love” indicates a love that continues. Love is more than family affection or sexual passion. Rather it is a deliberate attitude leading to action that concerns itself with another’s well-being. A husband should love his wife: (1) as Christ loved the church (vv. 25–27); (2) as his own body (vv. 28–30); and (3) with a love transcending all other human relationships (vv. 31–33).
5:25 Husbands, love. The emphasis in the passage is not the husband’s authority to govern, but his responsibility to love.
as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Nowhere in the New Testament is Christ’s self-sacrificing love applied more directly to a specific relationship as a pattern to be emulated (cf. v. 2).
5:25 Husbands, love your wives Paul is referring primarily to sacrificial actions for the benefit of the wife. The model for this kind of love is Christ’s death on the cross.
In the first century ad, a husband was not necessarily expected to show love for his wife. Generally, Paul’s model for household relationships affirms traditional roles but undermines cultural understandings of these roles. Paul’s exhortation to husbands (vv. 25–33) is the longest single section in this teaching on households (5:22–6:9). Paul takes great care to set his command that wives submit to their husbands (vv. 22–24) within its proper context, emphasizing the husband’s responsibilities in greater detail.
5:25 love. Paul now turns to the duty of husbands. He does not command the husband to submit to his wife but instead tells the husband that he must give himself up for her. Thus, husbands are to love their wives in a self-sacrificial manner, following the example of Christ, who “gave himself up for” the church in loving self-sacrifice. Clearly the biblical picture of a husband laying down his life for his wife is directly opposed to any kind of male tyranny or oppression. The husband is bound by love to ensure that his wife finds their marriage a source of rich fulfillment and joyful service to the Lord. Notably, Paul devotes three times more space to the husband’s duty (nine verses) than to the wife’s (three verses).
5:25 love your wives. Though the husband’s authority has been established (vv. 22–24), the emphasis moves to the supreme responsibility of husbands in regard to their wives, which is to love them with the same unreserved, selfless, and sacrificial love that Christ has for His church. Christ gave everything He had, including His own life, for the sake of His church, and that is the standard of sacrifice for a husband’s love of his wife. Cf. Col 3:19.
5:25 Husbands, love: Paul does not emphasize the husband’s authority; instead, he calls on husbands to love self-sacrificially. Husbands are to emulate Christ’s love, the kind of love that is willing to lay down one’s life for another person and serve that person even if it means suffering.
5:25. Husbands are commanded to love their wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her (cf. Titus 2:14; 1 Pet 3:18). The husband is to love his wife by giving himself for her.
The husband is to live in an understanding manner toward his wife (1 Pet 3:7), wanting her well-being and living with her in honor and support. It is a sacrifice for the man to live his life for his wife, and yet this is what Christ commands him to do.
5:25 If the foregoing instructions to wives stood alone, if there were no correspondingly high instructions to husbands, then the presentation would be one-sided, if not unfair. But notice the beautiful balance of truth in the Scriptures, and the corresponding standard they require of the husbands. Husbands are not told to keep their wives in subjection; they are told to love their wives just as Christ also loved the church. It has been well said that no wife would mind being submissive to a husband who loves her as much as Christ loves the church. Someone wrote of a man who feared he was displeasing God by loving his wife too much. A Christian worker asked him if he loved her more than Christ loved the church. He said no. “Only when you go beyond that,” said the worker, “are you loving your wife too much.” Christ’s love for the church is presented here in three majestic movements extending from the past to the present to the future. In the past, He demonstrated His love for the church by giving Himself for her. This refers to His sacrificial death on the cross. There He paid the greatest price in order to purchase a Bride for Himself. Just as Eve was brought forth from the side of Adam, so, in a sense, the church was created from the wounded side of the Savior.
5:25. After speaking of a wife’s submission to her husband (vv. 22–24), Paul then stated the measure of the husband’s love for his wife (vv. 25–32). Husbands are commanded, Love your wives (cf. v. 33) just as Christ loved the church. The word “love” (agapaō) means seeking the highest good for another person (cf. 2:4). This is an unselfish love as seen in Christ’s sacrificial death in which He gave Himself up for the church (cf. 5:2; John 10:11, 15, 17–18; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 5:25; Heb. 9:14). A wife’s submission in no way hints that a husband may lord it over his spouse, as a despot commanding a slave. The “submit-love” relationship is a beautiful mixture of harmonious partnership in marriage.
The admonition addressed to husbands begins as follows: 25. Husbands, love your wives, just as also Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. The love required must be deep-seated, thorough-going, intelligent and purposeful, a love in which the entire personality—not only the emotions but also the mind and the will—expresses itself. The main characteristic of this love, however, is that it is spontaneous and self-sacrificing, for it is compared to the love of Christ whereby he gave himself up for the church. More excellent love than that is inconceivable (John 10:11–15; 15:13; 1 John 3:16). See also on 5:2.
When a believing husband loves his wife in this fashion obedience from the side of his believing wife will be easy. Illustration taken from life: “My husband loves me so thoroughly and is so good to me that I jump at the opportunity to obey him.” That was putting it beautifully!
Ver. 25.—Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for her. The husband’s duty to the wife is enforced by another parallel—it ought to correspond to Christ’s love for the Church. This parallel restores the balance; if it should seem hard for the wife to be in subjection, the spirit of love, Christ-like love, on the part of the husband makes the duty easy. Christ did not merely pity the Church, or merely desire her good, but loved her; her image was stamped on his heart and her name graven on his hands; he desired to have her for his companion, longing for a return of her affection, for the establishment of sympathy between her and him. And he gave himself for her (comp. ver. 2), showing that her happiness and welfare were dearer to him than his own—the true test of deep, real love.
25. “Thou hast seen the measure of obedience; now hear also the measure of love. Do you wish your wife to obey you, as the Church is to obey Christ? Then have a solicitude for her as Christ had for the Church (Eph 5:23, “Himself the Saviour of the body”); and “if it be necessary to give thy life for her, or to be cut in ten thousand pieces, or to endure any other suffering whatever, do not refuse it; and if you suffer thus, not even so do you do what Christ has done; for you indeed do so being already united to her, but He did so for one that treated Him with aversion and hatred. As, therefore, He brought to His feet one that so treated Him, and that even wantonly spurned Him, by much tenderness of regard, not by threats, insults, and terror: so also do you act towards your wife, and though you see her disdainful and wantonly wayward, you will be able to bring her to your feet by much thoughtfulness for her, by love, by kindness. For no bound is more sovereign in binding than such bonds, especially in the case of husband and wife. For one may constrain a servant by fear, though not even he is so to be bound to you; for he may readily run away. But the companion of your life, the mother of your children, the basis of all your joy, you ought to bind to you, not by fear and threats, but by love and attachment” [Chrysostom].
gave himself—Greek, “gave Himself up.”
for it—Translate, “for her.” The relation of the Church to Christ is the ground of Christianity’s having raised woman to her due place in the social scale, from which she was, and is, excluded in heathen lands.
5:25 / Lest husbands come to believe that Ephesians 5:21–33 is a document legitimizing their authority to restrict the freedom of their wives, it should be noted that the admonition for husbands to love their wives puts a greater responsibility on them. Agapē means to subordinate one’s own interests, pleasures, and personality for the benefit of someone else. In fact, Christ’s love, which the husband is to model, was completely sacrificial—Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. The church is considered as the sum total of persons for whom Christ died (Rom. 4:25; 8:32; Gal. 1:4; 2:20). Loved (past tense) refers to some definite action in the past, such as the cross.
25 As in Col. 3:19, husbands are exhorted to love their wives, but here the self-sacrificing love of Christ for the church is set forth as the pattern for the husband’s love for his wife. This does not imply a nobler view of the institution of marriage than that expressed in the earlier Pauline letters: even there Paul shows himself to be a “philogamist,” regarding matrimony as the norm for the majority of Christians and commending it as a way of life sanctified by God (1 Cor. 7:3–14). In 2 Cor. 11:2–3 he has already used the marriage relationship as a figure for the union between Christ and the church; in the present household code this figure is worked out in greater detail. It is sometimes pointed out that the Greek word for “bride” appears neither here nor in 2 Cor. 11:2–3—as though its appearance were necessary when bridal language is so plainly used. In both places the bridal language is used by way of a simile; there is no reason to give ontological status to a figure of speech. The believing community is here compared to a maiden for whom Christ laid down his life that she might become his bride. In v. 2 of this chapter Paul has said that “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us”; now he repeats the statement, except that instead of “us” the object is “the church,” referred to by the feminine form of the third person singular pronoun (“her”). Christ’s love for the church is a self-sacrificing love, and the same, it is implied, should be true of husbands’ love for their wives. The idea of self-sacrifice inheres not in the verb “love” as such, but in its context.
25 We might expect that when Paul turned to husbands, he would admonish them to exercise their headship well, to instruct their wives properly, or perhaps to rule benignly. If he had been seeking to make no waves within the Roman culture, he would have soft-pedaled what he said to husbands with such words as, “Be kind to your wives,” or, “Do not treat your wives too harshly as you rule over them.” In fact, what he says goes against all cultural expectations for husbands; the words that follow are astonishing, to say the least. He commands husbands to keep on unconditionally loving their wives (using the present imperative form). This is not sexual but self-sacrificing love. In fact, the standard against which to define and measure their love is Christ’s love and self-sacrifice for the church (vv. 1–2; cf. 1 Jn 3:16; 4:10). The model of Christ ought to transform how husbands view their positions within the family. Paul does not call on husbands here to submit in so many words, as he does wives (and oddly, he never calls on wives to love their husbands). Yet, this is how the husband’s exercise of the mutual submission command (v. 21) operates in his role as “head” in a marriage. He does not submit to his wife; he loves her as Christ loves the church. In effect, Paul issues a radical call that revolutionizes the partriarchalism of the day.
The word for “love” is agapaō (GK 26), already used of God’s love for Jesus (1:6) and for his people (1:4; 2:4), and of Christ’s love for the church (5:2). Love ought to characterize the lives of all God’s people (4:2, 15–16; 5:2), but no less husbands as they exercise their headship in the household. They emulate Christ’s love for the church. In short, a husband’s role as “head” does not entail seeing what demands he can make on his wife, but discovering how he can love her sacrificially for her benefit. His authority exists for service and not for prestige, for his own advantage, or so he can get his own way. And as before, Paul commands husbands to respond as Christians without regard to their circumstances. A husband must be faithful to love his wife, whether or not his wife submits to his headship. As Christ’s love for the church did not depend on whether or not people submit to his lordship, so a husband’s love is not conditioned on his wife’s submission; he must love.
25 Οί ἄνδρες, ἀγαπᾶτε τἀς γυναῖκας, καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς ἠγάπησεν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ ἑαυτὸν παρέδωκεν ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” After the exhortation to wives to submit, with its depiction of husbands as heads, what might well have been expected by contemporary readers would be an exhortation to husbands to rule their wives (cf. Schrage, NTS 21  13). Instead the exhortation is for husbands to love their wives. This takes up the first five words of Col 3:19, omitting the injunction “do not be embittered with them” and replacing this with a Christological grounding and a further lengthy elaboration, in the course of which the exhortation to love occurs twice more. There is no contrast with the Colossians passage, where “masculine love is an emotion of inner attitude” and “men are invited to feel love,” while Ephesians calls for a different quality of love (pace Terrien, Till the Heart Sings, 185). Rather both passages see the love required as involving an act of the will (cf. also Col 3:12–14). It is simply that Ephesians reinforces this by showing the radical extent of that love through its analogy with Christ’s love for the Church.
Elsewhere in the letter, love has been seen as an essential quality in Christian living (cf. 1:4; 3:17; 4:2, 15, 16). Significantly, the call to all to loving sacrifice for one another in 5:1, 2 takes a similar form to that directed to husbands here in 5:25, since in both places the analogy with Christ’s own self-sacrificing love provides the warrant for the appeal. The exhortation to sacrifice one’s own interests for the welfare of others, which is so necessary for the harmony of the community, now finds a more specific application in the husband’s role in contributing to marital harmony. Husbands are asked to exercise the self-giving love that has as its goal only their wives’ good and that will care for their wives without the expectation of reward. It can now be seen clearly that for this writer the exhortation to wives to submit is not to be separated from this call to husbands to give themselves in love and that any exercise of headship on the part of husbands will not be through self-assertion but through self-sacrifice (cf. also Gnilka, 279). The parallel to the love of Christ for the Church means, of course, that the husband’s love is one that will make even the ultimate sacrifice of life itself. In the marriage relationship this love demanded in terms of the most profound self-sacrifice is not separate from, but takes place in and through, natural affection and sexual love.
Exhortations to husbands to love their wives are found outside the NT but they are fairly infrequent (Ps.-Phocylides 195–97 uses the verb στέργω in commanding husbands to love their own wives, while in the rabbinic tradition b. Yeb. 62b is “concerning a man who loves his wife as himself”). It is noteworthy, however, that ἀγαπᾶν does not occur in Greco-Roman household codes in setting out the husband’s duties. So in terms of contemporary instructions on marriage, this writer’s exhortation to husbands is by no means conventional or matter of course. In any case, he makes it distinctive by radicalizing the love for which he calls, as he models it on that of Christ for the Church. Schüssler Fiorenza (In Memory of Her, 269–70) can, therefore, rightly assert, “the patriarchal-societal code is theologically modified in the exhortation to the husband.… Patriarchal domination is thus radically questioned with reference to the paradigmatic love relationship of Christ to the church.”
The analogy with Christ’s love for the Church is introduced by καθώς, which in addition to its primary comparative force also has causal connotations. Christ’s love for the Church not only presents the model but also provides the grounds for the husband’s love for his wife. On the traditional formulation of the language of Christ’s loving and self-giving, see Comment on 5:2. What is unique about its use here in 5:25 is that the recipient is the Church as a corporate whole. That the Church can be linked to Christ’s death in this way does not mean that the writer believed it to have been already in existence when Christ died (pace Schlier, 255–56). This is a retrospective way of talking about the significance of Christ’s death for the present Church (cf. also Schnackenburg, “Er hat uns auferweckt,” LJ 2  178). Christ’s death is seen as the particular point in history at which his love for the Church was demonstrated and at which his loving relationship with her began (cf. also 2:13–16). For the writer to the Ephesians, this love of Christ for the Church should find its reflection within the Christian community, particularly in the love of husbands for their wives.
25. Husbands, love your wives. From husbands, on the other hand, the apostle requires that they cherish toward their wives no ordinary love; for to them, also, he holds out the example of Christ,—even as Christ also loved the church. If they are honoured to bear his image, and to be, in some measure, his representatives, they ought to resemble him also in the discharge of duty.
And gave himself for it. This is intended to express the strong affection which husbands ought to have for their wives, though he takes occasion, immediately afterwards, to commend the grace of Christ. Let husbands imitate Christ in this respect, that he scrupled not to die for his church. One peculiar consequence, indeed, which resulted from his death,—that by it he redeemed his church,—is altogether beyond the power of men to imitate.
Paul says, “Love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” An essential resource that husbands are to use for enacting their headship is selflessness.
A leader not only in his home but also in the evangelical world is J. Robertson McQuilkin. In 1990, however, he resigned prematurely from the presidency of Columbia Bible College and Seminary because his wife Muriel, afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, needed his care. During his last two years as president he wrote that it was increasingly difficult to keep Muriel at home. When she was with him she was content, but without him she became distressed and panic-stricken. Although the walk from their home to the school was a mile round trip, Muriel would often try to follow her husband to the office. Seeking him over and over she would sometimes make that trip ten times a day. When he took her shoes off at night, McQuilkin sometimes found her feet bloodied from all the walking. Washing her feet prepared him for a similar Christlike act that he ultimately performed for her. He sacrificed his position to take care of her.
This is the leadership of humility, the headship of service—husbanding by sacrifice. To it God calls men who would be biblical heads of their homes. A Christian husband leads by service. He heads his family through selfless love. He has the primary biblical responsibility in the home to set a spiritual standard by his own sacrifice to make God’s grace evident.
What kind of authority is this? There is no easy way to describe it. I often hear Christians try to define male headship in the home by saying that the husband has the last word or is the final authority in decision making. This is certainly true, but without an understanding of biblical priorities such a definition can be terribly misused. Does it mean that even if the wife hates the idea of moving to a distant town, doesn’t want a particular home, thinks that a child does not need another after-school activity, doesn’t want a certain kind of love-making, disagrees with a husband’s discipline of their children, or believes an investment is unwise, that the husband should insist on his wishes anyway because he is the head of the home and has the final word? If having the final word means that others’ view and feelings do not have to be considered, then I do not see such a definition ever provided for biblical headship.
Far from encouraging a husband to exercise his authority for personal privilege, the Bible takes care to direct a Christian husband to use his authority for the benefit of his spouse and family. Thus biblical headship shifts the focus of husbanding from taking charge to taking responsibility, and from asserting one’s will to giving one’s self to the good of another. Headship is more a function of controlling our nature than controlling our wives. We are always “Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). To represent him we must be willing to suffer for his name, stand for his principles, and support his people—even if the place for doing so is in our own homes.
With great wisdom the Bible mandates no particular style, manner, or set of behaviors that alone qualify as biblical headship. In fact, if this aspect of the believer’s life holds true to other mandates for Christian character, then there are probably as many legitimate expressions of headship as there are variations of personality. Biblical headship is simply the exercise of God-given authority whereby a man does all that is within his power to see that love, justice, and mercy rule in his home even when fostering such qualities requires his own personal sacrifice.
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