Last week we began looking at the roles God has set out in his word to guide Christian marriage. Usually men, in their carnality, love to hear the passages of Scripture that deal with submission. It can awaken a sense of entitlement, or pride. God anticipates this reaction when dealing with Christian marriage. Immediately following his teaching to Christian wives he follows up the husbands.
In Eph. 5:22-33 you may notice that, while 51 words are used to instruct the wife the husband needs 102. It is exactly in combining the instruction to the man with what we have previously seen given to the woman that we see the compelling beauty of God’s design for marriage. Here, God gives men the following instruction about his relationship with his wife.
- Husbands are to lead as servants. The expectation of many is that men, in marriage, will be the selfish oaf sleeping on the couch while the wife scurries around doing all the work. Nothing could be further from the ideal, as far as Paul is concerned. The husbands is to love is wife as Christ loved the church (5:25). Christ loved the church by giving up the splendor of heaven and suffering humiliation from the day he was conceived up until the point when he is raised from the dead. He suffers those things to redeem his church because he loves her. Christ is the picture given to the husband to follow in leadership. He must be willing to give up the greatest personal comforts for the sake of his bride, just as Christ was. Therefore, the husbands concern in marriage is not his happiness and ease, but his wife’s.
- Husbands are spiritual leaders. True happiness is not found in stuff, but in faith in Christ. Often the man is seen as the provider, which is part of his job in marriage. However, he is primarily to be the spiritual leader of his home. Christ gives himself up to sanctify the church, cleansing her through the washing with the word. That is where true joy is found. Therefore the tired, discouraged husband still takes time to open the Bible with his wife, to lead her. The husband does not affect spiritual change in his wife, but can be used by the Holy Spirit to bring about such transformation.
- Husbands are to lead as they would like to be led. Husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies (5:28-29). I don’t know many men who would like to be ignored, taken for granted, and treated badly for the sake of some personal convenience. Therefore they are not to treat their wives that way.
It is in combining biblical submission with leadership that the beauty of God’s design for marriage is seen. The wife joyfully follows her husbands leadership trusting him to lead her spiritually as they are sanctified together by the Holy Spirit. That, my friend, is true joy.
Having laid out foundational assumptions in last week’s installment we can now begin to address the issue of marriage. In Genesis 2:18-24 God establishes marriage in this order: 1. God made man; 2. God made woman; 3. God brings them together; 4. therefore, marriage. But God does much more than simply establish marriage. Our God and Savior gives us roles within marriage to be practiced for his glory.
There are three primary biblical texts to which we can turn for instruction on the roles of husbands and wives within marriage: Eph. 5:22-33, Col. 3:18-19, and 1 Pet. 3:1-7. In examining biblical roles we will mostly use the Ephesians passage. This text begins by addressing the woman’s role in marriage.
In Eph. 5:22, Paul calls the wife to “submit to your own husbands”. Paul helps us understand what this means through a word-picture. “Now, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Eph. 5:24). In our day, submission is often associated enslavement to tyranical napoleon complex types. Even “complementarians” can do summersaults to avoid the cultural backlash of using this word. But if God says it, it must be good. So what should we consider when it comes the issue of biblical submission?
- The cultural definition of submission is misrepresented and/or misunderstood. Submission is not an enslavement, but rather a joyful yielding of our rights to one in leadership over us. Each day we submit to many things such as traffic laws, lines at customer service counters, our bosses, clients, and the list goes on. Why then would a woman submitting to the man she loves be a bad thing?
- The nature of submission is misrepresented and/or misunderstood. Submission is not an assessment of the value or rank of a person. Therefore there should be free and open discussion between husbands and wives on the decisions that will be made in their marriage.
- Wives are to follow the leadership of their husbands. The church is led by Christ, and marriage is a picture of that relationship. The wife takes on the role of the church and the husband that of Christ. Therefore, the husband leads the marriage, and the wife follows his leadership.
- The wife is to submit to her husband in everything. The Bible teaches that, unless the husband is leading to sin, the wife is to submit to her husband. In everything. My next post will show this instruction to be less risky than it may appear to you now, especially when considering a properly functioning, Biblical marriage.
The challenge of examining biblical roles for marriage by weekly installments is that we look at each role in isolation. The Bible teaches on these roles in relation to each other, so our conclusions on roles within marriage will have to wait until next week when we examine the Bible’s prescribed role for men.
If parenting is a labor of foggy love, so is marriage. Of course it does not start out that way. When I started dating my wife 24 years ago, our first days were all excitement, sunshine and roses. Nary a cross word was spoken between us, and we had limitless patience for each other, or so it seemed. We were young, foolish and ran into all sorts of trouble. Lisa was eighteen years old when we married, and there was a pressing motivating factor behind our marriage who arrived six months later. For people looking at our start, the most likely outcome would be two (or three) ruined people and one ruined marriage. However, by God’s grace he preserved us, using people and his word to sanctify us and accomplish his purpose in us.
Now I’m no marriage guru, but I think I have learned a couple of things after 22 years. I want to walk through some of what I’ve learned in my own marriage and try and clear the fog a little. However, first there are foundational assumptions to lay out:
- Trust the Bible. Christians start with the sufficiency and perspicuity (why just say “clarity” when you can say “perspicuity”?) of the Bible to give stability to every part of life, including marriage. The Bible and the Bible alone is our final authority when it comes to every single minuscule detail of our lives. Sorry Oprah.
- Biblical Obedience Presumes Regeneration. It seems one always has to make this disclaimer when teaching the commands of Scripture. As soon as the “thou shalts” of the Bible come out, so do the cries of “legalism!” In the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 16, good works are described as acts done according to God’s command, out of faith in him, as we live empowered by the Holy Spirit, bearing his fruit. That means biblical marriage does not make you acceptable to God. Instead, you are acceptable to God by the work of Christ alone, therefore you should honor him in your marriage.
- Command and Principle. Though the Bible will be specific in its commands, there will areas of marriage governed by application of biblical principle. In these there can be variety among faithful Christians. It is my goal to be gracious in teaching application, yet uncompromising in the Bible’s requirements for obedience.
- Men and Women Are Different. In some quarters there is a desire to minimize differences between men and women. However, the Bible does not operate that way. For example, the curses given to Adam and Eve after the fall are not the same. God curses Adam with hardship in his work, and curses Eve with hardship in bearing children and submission. If men and women are the same God would not need to make distinctions along gender lines in his curses.
So, no legalistic righteousness through marriage. Instead we will look together at God’s requirements for his people in marriage so we would know how to honor him.