Marriage

“For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”
“For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her”.
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:22, 25‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We can’t lift Ephesians 5:22 out of this Scripture passage, taking it out of context. Some have attempted to do this in the past, with disastrous consequences. But in the misogynistic society in Paul’s day, a wife’s place was often little better than a servant’s. Even today, some Middle-Eastern countries still have the same cultural expectations. So as the letter to the Ephesians was being read out, you can just imagine the emotions and thoughts that would have been swirling around in people’s minds. Often people hear only what they want to hear, and verse 22 perhaps resonated in a male mind, leading to a confrontation between a husband and wife when they returned home, verse 25 forgotten or ignored.

There is something special about a God-ordained and God-focused relationship. In a marriage, both the man and woman have their own particular roles. Roles designed by God, who clearly understood how marriages will work. And we find that successful, life-long, marriages have in place a mutual love and commitment, that weathers all the storms of life. That is not to say the lives together have all been easy, but the husband and wife have worked through issues together.

The marital model Paul wrote about, as captured by our verses today, is based, first and foremost, on a husband loving his wife, in such a way that it mirrors the sacrificial love Jesus had, and still has, for His church. A husband lays down his life for the sake of his wife. That means he puts her needs first. He looks after her, giving her protection and security, dealing with any marital issues with compassion and leadership. In return, the wife uses her experience of submission to Jesus as the basis of her submission to her husband. In the issues of life, the marital love-submission model concludes with the husband making the final decisions, but in reality, such conclusions are jointly made.

So what does today’s pilgrim make of marriage? The image of a lonely single man or woman walking the paths of life, facing into whatever dangers and difficulties are around the next corner, is somehow softened by two pilgrims, hand in hand, helping each other through whatever is before them. There is a Scripture that, in the end, defines a successful outcome to the pilgrimage, all obstacles resolved. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 reads, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken”. The secret lies in the third cord. Though a man and woman can weather many of the storms of life together, the addition of a third Person makes the marriage invincible. A couple who are close to God inevitable end up closer to each other. They pray together. They worship Him together. And in times of discord and disagreement, coming before God with the issues will result in a remedy. With God being the most important Person in the marriage, it cannot fail to succeed. 

Submission

“And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Ephesian 5:21

Here’s a difficult verse. At the very mention of the word “submission” people’s hackles start to rise. We ask ourselves did Paul really get this right. Did he really mean that we should submit to someone else in the church family, perhaps someone who might be younger or less experienced than us? Mutual submission is an important component in church unity, because it takes out the “it’s all about me” factor. Instead, selfishness is replaced by an appreciation that, regardless of how we perceive another person, we treat them with respect and courtesy, listening to what they have to say and considering it carefully. After all, what they say could be the Holy Spirit speaking through them. A poet called John Donne is reputed to have written, “No man is an island, entire of itself“. And that is particular true in our church communities – we individually don’t have all the knowledge and abilities required to build the church. Corrie Ten Boom once said (my paraphrase), “I can do things that you cannot, and you can do things that I cannot. But together we can do great things for God“. And that is really the essence of why we must submit to each other. The church model where the minister does everything and the congregation sit in the pews will never be able to build the church of Jesus Christ. As we submit to one another, different gifts and abilities come together and generate a powerful community. 

But there are two other phrases in the verse worth considering. The first is “one another”. This two word phrase crops up about 100 times in the New Testament, and almost always in a context of relationships. How we relate to each other in extremely important. Modern television presents a corrupted view of relationships, with fighting, verbal abuse, suspicion, manipulation, lies, slander, divorce, and gossip as the norm. But as God’s “one anothers” we know a better way. A way based on love and mutual submission. A way of looking out for one other, helping one another, praying for one another, being a true “one another” to our Christian brothers and sisters.

And then we have a second phrase in this verse that is very important. That is, we submit to one another “out of reverence for Christ“. We submit to one another because Jesus wants us to. That’s good enough for me.