God has provided marriage for the security of husband and wife and also for the security of children
Some of the important issues about marriage are outlined in Gen. 2: 18 – 25. Almost every Biblical reference to marriage refers back to the creation story. God originated marriage and our marriages benefit from operating within the boundaries set by Him.
Marriage is a partnership. Marriage is a partnership, but our modern term “partners” will not do as it obscures the uniqueness of marriage. The rib was taken from Adam – he is incomplete without it. Men and women have different but complementary strengths – this is how God intended it to be. Matthew Henry in his commentary says “…not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved”. We lose this when our personal need for fulfilling our own desires becomes dominant. “What can I get out of it?”
The husband is God’s appointed head. Human reasoning questions this. God gives men the responsibility, and when a woman is prepared to trust her husband in this way, God works out the problems. Men are responsible for their marriages, and Eve was given as his helper. However, a husband, as head, has awesome responsibilities (Eph. 5: 23-33). He loves his wife sacrificially and unconditionally but purposefully. He loves and protects his wife, and needs to bring to her support and security – she is not his replacement mum. He will take on authority and responsibility. The buck stops with him. There may be many areas where the wife has more experience or skills than her husband, and she may decide and carry out many things, but God holds the man ultimately responsible.
Marriage involves the changing of existing relationships. This applies particularly to parents, but it also applies to friendships, which must always be inclusive of husband or wife. Interfering parents can wreck marriages, even when they mean well. This is why it is specifically said that a man should leave his parents. It does not mean cutting off your parents, but it does mean leaving their control. This leaving is essential if a man is really to be head of the new family and give to his wife unconditional exclusive love. Neither husband nor wife is allowed to go running off to mum (or dad). Here is a new unit, a new “one flesh”, which must stand in that sense alone.
Marriage is a “one flesh” relationship. Outside a physical, sexual relationship there is no marriage. Even the law recognises this – but God firmly intended it. The becoming one flesh often refers in the Bible to sexual union which is another indispensable part of marriage. It also helps us see why adultery is such an issue.
The two are united. This is about permanence. We have some humanistic based thinking today which says that we can always end a marriage if it does not entirely suit us. We emphasise rights at the expense of responsibilities and commitment and marriage suffers. In the Bible we find it is God’s fundamental building block for family. Adam “held fast” to his wife; the Hebrew word here means “was glued to”; two well-glued pieces of wood cannot be separated without a lot of splintering.
It is therefore not surprising that in the middle of a fantastic unveiling of vision for the Church Paul appears to break off and launch into key teaching on marriage. In the first place we have to understand he is not breaking off! There is no break between verses 21 and 22, which literally read “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives to husbands…” Paul is not changing the topic. Christian marriage demonstrates this glorious Church. The Church really is the hope of all the world, and part of that hope is our demonstration of a different way of life to the world. Just as we are demonstrating the wisdom of God to angels so we are demonstrating the power of God to change lives to the world. One of the huge problems of today is the state of marriages in our society. Our calling is to demonstrate something different, so that people have a hope. People have looked at the marriages in the Church and longed for something similar in their family. Our message of hope is primarily about eternal salvation, but it is also about the ability of people to have meaningful and good relationships now. This is really only going to happen in Jesus.
We do need to think a little more about that word “Submit”. First of all, it is actually not there! What Paul does say is “husbands love your wives; wives respect your husbands”. Many psychologists and writers on marriage have said just this; a man primarily needs respect, and a woman love. Paul is actually not subjugating women but giving a recipe for a successful marriage! To be subject to her husband does not mean she is in any way inferior to her husband. This does not rob her of dignity. A cricket team may win the Ashes because it is well led, but the whole team, not just the captain, share in the glory. What he is teaching is consistent with the OT teaching on marriage, and the teaching of Jesus Himself. It is in fact part of God’s eternal purpose to manifest his glory through the right relationship of a man and a woman in which a woman submits to her husband. This is examined further in the article on “Husbands and Fathers”.
Discourtesy to and oppression of women is even more of a contradiction to what the Bible teaches. Whether we are looking at a disrespectful wife or a unloving husband we are looking at sin. We are talking about a willing voluntary subordination that allows the husband to lead. This is not undignified; it is in fact what happens in the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, equal in deity, enter into a voluntary submission, the Son to the Father and the Spirit to Father and Son, even though each is equally God, equally eternal, equally Creator and equally powerful. The married relationship is a bit like that. But in all this, woman is given a status. So it is in marriage. It does not matter that the wife may be more gifted than the husband. She still submits to him, but may support him strongly in the areas of his limitations; for instance, the man may be responsible for the household finances, but if his wife is an accountant he would be foolish not to use her expertise.
Finally Paul says the wife is to submit to her husband as to the Lord. He does not mean treat your husband as God. There is a worship and unquestioning creation, the Church, to bring Him glory before men and angels by their submissive lives at home.
Husbands love your wives. A man’s love for his wife is not conditional on her behaviour in any way. It is like the love of Jesus – who even died for us when we were sinners . The husband who loves his wife will never become a tyrant.
Respecting, loving, and leaving all join together to make a new unit that is strong and will stand the test of time. Marriage to which we are called to be committed is part of the testimony of the Church to angels. Here is the wisdom of God in restored personal relationship and in homes where children are born and brought up in security, love and an ordered structure in turn to become part of this church which is hope to a desperate world and glorifies Jesus.
- Genesis 2:18-21
- Equally so does talk of “homosexual marriage”. The issue here is not the morality of homosexuality but the uniqueness of marriage. God’s boundaries were always “One man and one woman”.
- Genesis 2:24
- See article on Divorce and Remarriage
- Genesis 2:24
- In Ephesians 5:21-23 "submit" only occurs in v, 21 – we are all to submit to one another “Wives to husbands” is only a specific example of this.
- Ephesians 5:32
- Ephesians 5:25; Romans 5:8
- It is very important at this point to see the section on “Husbands and Fathers”!
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