She submits; he sacrifices.
She follows; he leads.
She affirms; he initiates.
She reflects Jesus; he reflects Jesus.
The greatest privilege in marriage is reflecting our Savior. And, in God’s design, the privilege is equally great even though Jesus is reflected differently and uniquely by a husband and his wife.
Seeing Jesus in a Husband
He reflects Jesus. “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). Husbands are to love their wives. To love is to desire, plan, and act for the ultimate good of the beloved. So the husband must know what’s best for his wife; namely, God himself. Then he must plan, desire, and act in every way conceivable to bring her to a greater knowledge and enjoyment of God.
Jesus did that for us by dying for our sins. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring [you] to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Jesus humbled himself by becoming a slave and serving to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:6–8). The husband gets to reflect the sacrificial love of Jesus by dying to himself — his sin, his selfishness, his own interests — and instead enlarging his interests to include his bride’s joy in God.
That means he must die to any ambition to be god in his wife’s heart. He must die to insisting on his preferences when putting hers above his own will not lead to sin. In this sacrificial love, the wife will see the Messiah while she looks at her man. And this love breeds trust.
Lastly, the husband reflects Jesus to his wife and to the world by washing his wife with the water of the word. His goal is her holiness — her obedience to her heavenly Father and her satisfaction in him. So he speaks God’s words to her. He reads the Bible with her. He insists on disagreeing and rebuking her gently when she is transgressing the word. He confesses his sin to his wife and repents according to the word. The Bible saturates the marriage, the conversation, the conflict, the resolution, the decision-making, and the movement of their marriage. In this unswerving allegiance to Scripture, the husband echoes Jesus’s refrain, “It is written” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).
Seeing Jesus in a Wife
She reflects Jesus, too. “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:22–23). The wife reflects Jesus by submitting to her husband as her head. How? Paul teaches us that Jesus is under the headship of the Father, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3). And so Jesus the Son submits to the Father.
While fully God himself, he humbled himself by becoming a human (Philippians 2:6–7). And in his humanity, he became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8). Jesus submitted to the Father. When he asked his Father for the cup (symbolizing his impending death in our place on the cross) to be passed from him, he finished the request by saying, “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).
A wife reflects Jesus when she submits to her husband’s will. This means that she will follow her husband’s leadership, even when she prefers or desires another way. Jesus did. Do not pass over that reality too quickly. No matter how strong her desire is for a different direction than her husband’s, her desire to conform to her husband’s will is greater. Jesus’s desire was. As a godly woman wedded to a man, she will submit to his will and so reflect the glory of Jesus’s submission to the Father.
The one exception to this is when the husband’s will would lead her into sin against God. But even when she faithfully and graciously resists his lead, her resistance is with a broken heart. She wants her husband to honor the Lord. Her resistance is a winsome call to repentance. In this she reflects Jesus as a wife.
Lastly, in her humble submission to her husband’s leadership, she will be exalted. Jesus humbled himself taking the form of a slave and going to the cross in submission to the Father. Paul tells us what comes out of that greatest act of submission: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). God exalted Jesus because he humbly submitted himself to the Father’s headship.
James and Peter give us the principle, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). So Peter calls us to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, “so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6). There is a time to be exalted. This correlates directly with humility and submission. God will often exalt the persevering godly wife in this life: “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all’” (Proverbs 31:28–29). And even if not in this life, certainly in the judgment to come she will receive her reward for her submission. And in that final, glorious exaltation, she will reflect Jesus Christ who was exalted for his humble submission before her.
The husband reflects Jesus’s love as he serves and sacrifices for his wife’s good. The wife reflects Jesus’s love as she humbly and boldly submits to the will of her husband, looking forward to the exaltation to come. Therefore, marriage is a unique and wonderful stage filled with opportunities every day to reflect the glories of King Jesus.