The goal of Christian marriage is unity. An intimate relationship between a man and woman was the first of all human relationships. Although Adam and Eve didn't possess a marriage license issued by a county clerk, we see the foundation and model for what we understand to be the marriage commitment. The first couple were created as complements for a special physical and emotional intimacy and to produce children and be a family.
For professing Christian couples there should exist more than merely a desire to be happy with the relationship. There should be more than simply caring about personal gratification. As people who want to do things God's way, we should earnestly desire to know God's instruction about marriage and have a disposition toward obedience to God. Honestly, for Christians that ought to be a no brainer!
But even for Christians, when it comes to marriage, our modern notions get in the way of our obedience. The reason for this is that we run into the word submit, and we really, really, really don't like this word and what we think it means. Furthermore, when we look into passages that address husbands and wives, we consistently observe this word and we have a tendency to either ignore it completely or work hard at explaining that submit doesn't mean submit.
Christians need to learn to embrace the concept of submission in marriage, with the right understanding and application. Yes, even today! We have to get it engraved into our minds that doing anything, including marriage, God's way leads to two critically important results. First, we honor God through obedience. Second, we secure for ourselves our greatest happiness.
The idea of submission in the marriage relationship offends our modern senses because we find that the idea within the biblical content appears to be aimed more toward the wife than the husband. It just seems a little one-sided. Because we have a modern egalitarian bias embedded firmly in our minds, we react negatively. Non-Christians easily reject the teaching of a wife's submission to her husband. They attribute such content to an archaic, less enlightened culture. However, for the Christian (and church), who truly wants the Word of God to be the guide on all matters of faith and practice, ignoring what God says is rebellious. It's like that defiant toddler who stands in the kitchen, arms folded, stomps the foot and yells "no!" The problem is not that God's Word on marriage is at best out-of-date or at worse repressive, it's that our hearts are rebellious. We don't want to bend our wills to His.
There are two informative passages in the New Testament that speak directly and clearly to how Christian husbands and wives should relate to one another: Ephesians 5:22-33 and 1 Peter 3:1-7. Of course, there are numerous other passages that inform us about issues of the marriage commitment and sexuality, but I'll just interact with the thoughts contained in these.
When we look at the teaching from the Bible on Christian marriage we see that God has given a pretty simple instruction to the couple that will produce the unity and intimacy marriage is designed to possess. God has given each a key of his and her own that cooperatively provides this oneness.
The wife's key that creates unity is showing respect to her husband. Both in Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 the wife is instructed to submit to the leadership of her husband. To submit means to voluntarily make yourself lower or second place to another who has authority. It is right for a wife to place herself under the headship of her husband. This biblical instruction does not teach or imply any kind of inherent female inferiority. It's only our modern bias that makes us leap to that conclusion. We completely understand the idea of headship in other relationships in which one has authority over another, but we tend to resist the thought that God instructs this kind of relationship between a husband and wife in a Christian marriage. This resistance occurs because we wrongly equate submission with inferiority. A wife is no more inferior to her husband, than a child is to a parent, or an employee to an employer, or a youth to and elder. By acknowledging that God has called her husband to lead the home does not diminish one bit her shared humanity, dignity and worth. Even within the Godhead, we see a clear submission of the Son to the Father within the relationship even while they share oneness in being.
Peter agrees with Paul, adding that a wife should engage her husband with a gentle and quiet spirit. Again, our modern ears are tempted to infer that "gentle and quiet" means weak. However, exercising this gentle and peacemaking spirit is a way a wife shows respect to her husband and creates a godly climate in her home. This doesn't mean that she neither has her own brain and opinions nor ever disagrees with her husband. That would be biblically unfounded and absurd. Showing respect through a gentle spirit is how God desires for her to interact with her husband through of all life's events and challenges.
The bottom line is showing respect is something a Christian wife does, not always feels. A Christian wife seeking to obey God first chooses to respect her husband. A selfish wife reasons that she will show respect when, in her opinion, he deserves it and she feels loved by him. But what the Christian wife, who is seeking God, needs to understand is that God's command to respect though submission and a gentle spirit is the key that He is giving her to unlock the very best in her husband's love.
The husband's key that creates unity is showing love to his wife. In Ephesians 5 husbands are instructed to love their wives. To our modern ears, it may sound as if the husband is getting the easier command in the marriage. However, you only are tempted to think this if you're operating with a definition of love that falls short of what Paul actually describes. A husband's love for his wife is to be like Christ's love for His church. As a man, simply contemplating loving my wife like this first takes me to submission to God because of my desperate need. How can I possibly love her like that? God may not be calling me to submit to my wife like he calls her to submit to me, but He is calling me to a greater submission to Him in order to love like Him.
God has granted the husband a role of leadership, but it is the servant-leadership that Christ himself modeled. Jesus demonstrated this leadership through a gentle strength and self-sacrifice. Paul says it is the kind of love that caused Christ to give himself for the church so that the body of Christ could be forgiven of sin. A Christian husband's disposition toward his marriage should be selfless. He should understand that God has first called him to cherish, protect, nourish and care for his wife. As he selflessly does these things, he puts on Christ while submitting himself to God's instruction. He doesn't shallowly see marriage as something that exists merely for his own happiness and gratification. It's not a relationship in which he can just get some sex when he wants it, while not treating her as he should. God's calling the Christian husband to something greater.
The bottom line for him is that showing love is something he does, not always feels. The Christian husband who desires to obey God chooses to love his wife sacrificially. He cares for her needs and thinks about her before himself. He makes himself second in order to love her as commanded. In other words, he submits too. He needs to understand that God's command to love like Christ as the key that He is giving him to unlock the very best of his wife's respect.
There is a bigger picture that both husband and wife should keep in mind. Paul weaves through the Ephesians passage the fact that marriage is an analogy for the relationship Christ has with His church. The big story of history is God's redeeming work through Christ to make a people for Himself - His called out people, the church. Marriage is a subplot to this main plot. From beginning to end in Scripture marriage is used as a way for us to understand the intimacy of the relationship God has with his redeemed people. Marriage was instituted in the garden and the imagery of Christ returning in Revelation is as a groom coming for His bride. Jesus told us that after this life marriage will no longer exist (Mark 12). Therefore, Christian marriage, right now is a beautiful gift and picture from our God to remind us of the love that is shared between Christ and His church. Christ is the head of the church, but he lays down His life for her. The church willingly submits to Christ as her head, but not from fear or intimidation, but because of love and gratitude. When a Christian couple relates to each other this way, not only are they obeying God's instructions, therefore honoring Him, they are holding up to the world a picture of Christ and His church and what godly love looks like.
It's still possible that you may not be buying all this, especially if you're the wife. I would encourage you prayerfully to read the biblical passages and just meditate on the content. Then I would recommend that you just see if it works. Don't wait for your spouse to start. Don't play that game. You just get busy doing your part. The problem we often have is we allow our feelings to dictate our actions, which can put us into some pretty dysfunctional cycles of behavior. What we have to understand is that God always calls us to action, which is always to obey Him in all matters. It's when we finally get that through our thick heads and hearts that we begin to experience the truth that the feelings we have longed desired follow the right actions.
It may sound crazy to you and your friends, but the biblical command of submission, properly understood, within a Christian marriage is the key for which you've been looking. Surprise! It's not that it wasn't there, we've just been ignoring it for a long, long time.
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