Proclaiming the Unsearchable Riches of Christ (See 3:8)
The Missing Link in Modern Marriage
“Wives, submit to your husbands.” (“Gasp!”–from the ‘feminist’)
“The husband is the head of the wife…” (“You’ve got to be kidding” snorts the grad student)
“Husbands, love your wives” (“Hey, I do” protests the salesman; “I work fifteen hours a day and she doesn’t lack for anything, boy, I�ll tell ya’. But when I come home, she’s nothing but crabby. When’s she going to start loving me, huh?”)
Marriage, by all accounts, is supposed to be a state of harmony, pleasure, and bliss. But it seems that no social institution is more troublesome to so many people today than marriage. Even very fine Christian people may at times find marriage to be difficult and contentious.
In the letter to the Ephesians we find Paul offering a means of improving the situation. But his suggestion, as we noted above, is all too often reviled as paternalistic, branded as sexist, and derided as outmoded. “It can’t work,” couples protest.
The Model for God-pleasing Marriage
If taken as presented above, they may be right. The ‘husband-as-the-head, wife-as-submissive-partner’ arrangement of Ephesians– taken from a worldly point of view–invites all of those criticisms and fears.
That is, it does–as we presented it above–where there are only the two parties in the relationship. But something has been left out, hasn’t it? There is a missing link to the union.
That missing element is Christ, the Savior. He is the One who brings grace into the lives of husbands and wives the world over. He is the One who by faith receives them into His Church and brings them under His guidance, counsel, and power. He, through His Spirit, has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. If He can do that, we have no doubt that He can make husband and wife live together in harmony and blessedness. As was previously noted in this series, “Paul emphasizes the impact God’s wonderful grace in Christ has upon how a believer lives his life. Grace has made us different people.”
So let us understand that Paul was not trying to market himself as a marriage-guru to the secular world. He was speaking to those whose hearts had already been quickened (made spiritually alive). He counseled those for whom the Word of the Lord was already a powerful influence on their hearts and minds, and he urged every wife and husband to reflect on the parallels between their wedded estate and their spiritual estate.
Christ and His Church are the model for a God-pleasing marriage.
Husbands . . .
“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it.” The love of Jesus, who gave His life for the Church, becomes the model for husbands in their demeanor toward their wives.
The love of Christ was not a self-serving hunt for pleasure, but a sacrificial, self-denying mind and will. Jesus “laid down His life for the brethren”; everything leading up to the Cross and everything that happened on the Cross was done for the love of the Church. A man’s love for his wife is to mirror that selflessness.
Jesus’ love was also purposeful; He gave Himself for the Church to the end that “He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word . . . not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” In other words, His objective in dying for the Church was that she would be saved, would flourish, would shine under His favor with genuine beauty and purity.
Let that be a husband’s chief goal in marriage–to see to it that his bride does flourish and prosper under his loving kindness, protection, and leadership.
Wives . . .
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” The pattern for the wife is the Church’s submission to her Lord. Such “surrender” to Christ is not manipulative and resentful; the Church genuinely loves and honors Christ as her Lord.
Christian wives are among that devoted assembly. Now it is laid upon them to render a like honor to their husbands. No, he (your husband) certainly didn’t suffer and die for you. But he has accepted his role as your head. He has taken on the Lord’s charge to “nourish and cherish” his spouse. She who looks to Jesus with grateful respect as Savior and Lord needs to cultivate that same attitude toward her own husband.
Wives respond to gentle love; husbands respond to grateful respect. That’s not to say that one’s spouse will always fulfill his or her duties to the other’s satisfaction, but it is not to the spouse, but rather, our Lord, to whom submission and trust is first offered. Many times following this course may challenge the fleshly instincts; human nature will find reasons not to love or submit; but one can never expect to improve the situation by rejecting these roles.
This is spiritual truth, not worldly wisdom. Christian couples will spend a lifetime trying to apply and appreciate this counsel. Their pastor (whose very call is to bring Christ and His work to bear on their lives) will be an important aid in helping to apply this.
Also, this counsel should not be taken as requiring a spouse to keep him/herself or the children in a dangerous situation. If there are concerns about one’s safety, find a place of refuge, and go to seek the counsel of your pastor.
According to this portion of Scripture, the complementary roles–a husband’s love, a wife’s respect–are the chain that strengthens a marriage.
When it seems that the chain will not hold, realize that Christ is the missing link.
–Pastor Peter Reim