17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph 5:17-33)Ephesians 5 is famous for what it says to married couples. Or should I say "infamous"? Truth be told, a lot of people, even Christians, don't much like it. All that "wives submit" stuff and all. Gotta do something different, right? Well, in fact, we don't get that option if we're going to be true to the Word of God. We need to stick with what He says. My point here, however, is not to repeat the very clear commands of God that wives submit to their husbands and husbands love their wives as themselves. I mean, it's abundantly clear, even if you don't like it. You'll have to decide whether you're going to classify your feelings and preferences as right ... or God. My consideration here is the question of divorce in light of the text.
Now, to be sure, divorce is not mentioned here. You won't likely hear a preacher come to this text to talk about it, for or against. It's just not in here. I, however, would like to consider divorce from the perspective of what Ephesians 5 says here on marriage. Note, first, the aim of the text: "Understand what the will of the Lord is." Now, all Christians want that, right? So let's go there.
Paul here gives the famous "do not get drunk with wine ... but be filled with the Spirit" line. This, then, ought to be our starting point. We aren't reveling in our personal passions; we're operating on the Spirit. And what first do we know about the Spirit-filled life? "Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit." (Rom 8:5) "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." (Gal 5:16) So, "flesh" and "Spirit" are opposed and those who live by the Spirit aren't fulfilling the sinful desires of the flesh. Got it. That's how we get to the command that we should be "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ."
This brings us to the upsetting text. On one hand we have, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord." Many people (especially of the female persuasion) don't like that one. Somewhere along the way "submit" became a bad word. It is, of course, biblical (e.g., 1 Cor 14:34; 2 Cor 9:13; Heb 13:17; James 4:7; etc.), but that doesn't seem to help. Jesus submitted Himself to the Father, but that's Him, not us. So "submit" is bad and "wives submit to their husbands" is really bad; somewhat sexist, isn't it? "Me? Submit to him? Not likely." The other "offense" doesn't seem to be quite as offensive: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church." "That seems reasonable," most wives will say, even when you point out that Christ loved the church to His own death. At that point, however, most guys balk. "Wait ... that sounds a lot like submitting my own interests to taking care of her over myself." And we're stuck again with an unpleasant idea. So let me point out, regardless of how you feel about it, it's in there. It's biblical. These are the commands of God. Like them or don't, obey them or not, you will be doing so to God.
So, what do we see regarding marriage in this text? We see that wives are to submit to husbands as to the Lord. How does that work? Do we submit to the Lord as long as we like what He says and stop when we don't? Do we submit when it's comfortable and not when it's uncomfortable? Wives are commanded to respect their husbands (which, by the way, includes the same sense of "fear" that the Bible commands all believers to have toward God). Do we respect (fear) God only when He earns our respect and not when He doesn't do what we want? Clearly, no, in all cases. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. How is that? Well, when everyone was in rebellion ("while we were yet sinners") He died for us. That is, it isn't merely doing what's best for us in a friendly situation. Christ died for a Church that was, at the time, hating Him. That is the kind of love husbands are supposed to have for their wives. Paul also describes it as "husbands should love their wives as their own bodies." This isn't a part time or variable. It is without reserve. That is, it is a form of submission on the part of the husband where his personal comfort and preferences are secondary to the needs of his wife.
And how is this related to divorce? When the Jews asked Jesus, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" His reply was not ambiguous. He answered, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." (Matt 19:4-6) Short version: "Is there any reason one can divorce one's wife?" "No." Now, that is a shorthand "no", but when you consider what is commanded of a wife to submit to her husband as to the Lord and what is commanded of a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, on what possible basis can you come up with a "yes" answer to their question? How would divorce fit into that submission of wife to the Lord and that love of husband as Christ loved the Church? When don't we submit to the Lord? When does Christ stop loving the Church? When, then, do we get to give up our marriage?
Now, sure, there are situations, instances, events, things that might make for exceptions. I'm not writing here about exceptions. I'm writing here about the rule of thumb. I'm writing here about the vast majority of Christians who are married. Given the relationship commanded by God in this passage of wives to husbands and husbands to wives, surely you can agree that divorce among Christians ought to be a rarity rather than a common occurrence. If this is true and our experience does not bear this out, where is the problem? It is not in the marriage. It is in our failure to obey Christ. And that's not something we should tolerate in ourselves.