Growing in Marriage (Part 1)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Let’s begin these messages on our homes and workplaces with a vital reminder: a text out of context is a pretext. These verses flesh out Ephesians 5:21.
We learned we demonstrate our being filled with the Holy Spirt (5:18) by singing (5:19), giving thanks (5:20), and submitting ourselves to one another (5:21). Verses 5:22 to 6:9 tell us how we are to submit ourselves to one another.How do wives submit to husbands? As the church submits to Jesus (5:22-24). How do husbands submit to wives? By loving them as Christ loved the church (5:25-33). How do children submit to parents? Obedience and honor (6:1-3). How do parents submit to children? By not being harsh, and by raising them for the Lord (6:4). How do employees submit to employers? By following workplace rules (6:5-8). How do employers submit to employees? With kindness, not threats (6:9). This section on submission is so all-encompassing that I am tempted to alter Watchman Nee’s sit, walk, stand division of Ephesians to sit, walk, submit, stand.
Eph. 5:22-24 Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is head of the wife as also Christ is head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Thank you, God, for “wives,” one of the most heartwarming words in the English language. This role made “Ruth” the most precious four letter word in my vocabulary. God, knowing we men had a vast void within, made for us a perfect counterpart; thus the verdict, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing” (PR 18:22).
Husband-wife is an extraordinary bond, unlike any other in the human realm. It is a union paralleled only by the relationship between Christ and His Church. Husband-wife is the highest of all human relationships, more important than parent to child, spouse to parent, sibling to sibling, friend to friend.
Young people need to understand and accept the priority of their parents’ relationship. When I was a boy, Dad always let Mom buy an extra milk-shake, ride in the front seat of the car, pick the motel we stayed in, etc. Dad was teaching me a valuable lesson, though it was painful at the time. To Husband, Wife matters most.
When Paul penned this word “wives”, it held little importance in the world. Roman society trivialized women. Having no authority whatsoever in the home, women were limited to preparing food and bearing children–period.
Men dominated every phase of home life and could do as they pleased. A woman was either her husband’s private property, a slave, or a public plaything.
The advance of women can be traced straight to Jesus, whose teachings Paul echoed. In a totally anti-woman world, Paul went everywhere with Christ’s message. It demanded marriage fidelity of men as well as women, and declared marriage vows were for life. Both these rules were a huge protection for women.
The wife’s role is not one of servility or inferiority, but rather one of honor and prominence. For starters, home is her domain. She should supervise the everyday affairs of her household. In Proverbs 31, the “excellent wife,” one whose “worth is far above jewels,” decides about clothing (v. 13), purchases food (v. 14), prepares meals and prescribes household tasks (15, NASB margin), purchases property, gardens (16), extends help to the poor and needy (20), dresses well (22), makes her husband proud to be her man (23), trades and makes money in the marketplace (24), and opens her mouth in wisdom, implying input in family matters (26). This is the passage that caused me to let Ruth handle our finances.
This does not sound like a repressed woman. Submission of a wife to her husband is never the subjection of an inferior to a superior, but the voluntary–emphasis on voluntary–submission of one equal to another. Not even God forces people into submission. Husband, never yell at, or hit, your wife. Do not try to coerce submission. No woman is to endure beating or abuse from a brutal husband, “a little, miserable, poorly-made toy of a man who is the head of his wife because he could not make himself the head of anything else!” (Parker).
Husbands are the head of the house as Jesus is the head of the Church. He is the Savior of the body.” Savior is a word of self-sacrificing love. Husbands should lead as saviors, as servants. Jesus is not a dictator, but a considerate administrator of love. He rules for the advantage of the ruled (Gore). Jesus safeguards His Church, looks after Her, cares for Her, nourishes Her, and cherishes Her.
Submission does not mean a wife is to kowtow. She submits because she chooses to, voluntarily accepting the husband’s leadership as rightful, not because he is better than she is, but because this is God’s organizational plan for the family.
A woman’s submission is solely to her husband, not to all men. Our text is not meant to repress women. They are free to exert leadership and authority in the work-place. The guidelines in our text apply to the inner workings of a home.
Efficiency demands a leader. A house with many heads is a monster; butting heads angers. A house with no head is a chaos; anarchy invites disaster.
Marriage is our most valuable institution, and God, deeming marriage too valuable to put at risk, did not let this wonderful jewel to drift aimlessly along on the tides of time. He Himself prescribed for it an effective form of management.
To properly understand the reason for this prescribed relationship, we must go back to Eden before the Fall. God’s original plan gives us the accurate, original understanding of the husband/wife relationship. Before woman was created, man already existed, already had an occupation. Adam was a gardener who had already begun to exercise dominion, to exert leadership. Woman was created to help the man. Eve was not inferior to Adam. She shared in his dominion over the creation (GN 1:26-28). The submission applied to her relationship in the marriage bond.
This first couple sets the example for all time to come. Husband led, Wife helped, everyone was happy, all was well in paradise, but something went wrong.
Since Eden, women have often been oppressed, and put down. What happened? We know our loving God would never ordain such a thing. Sin is the culprit. Marriage went amok when evil entered the world. The holy husband/wife relationship became distorted. After sin, wives sought to control and manipulate husbands, and husbands tried to tyrannize wives. This battle has raged ever since.
The good news is, though sin perverted things, Jesus can undo its damage. Paul’s words are not addressed to everyone, but to Christians who want to please God. These standards are impossibly high to achieve in our own strength, but by being filled with the Spirit (EP 5:18) any couple can be restored to the original joy Adam and Eve shared before sin entered the picture.
Within marriage, the wife is to submit “in everything,” a phrase we must view in context. “As unto the Lord” in verse 22 sets the limit. A wife must submit “in everything” consistent with the character of Christ.
Two months after my parents married, they left for college in Walnut Ridge AR. One Saturday night Dad told Mom they would sleep late the next morning and not attend church. This 15-year-old girl, away from parents, alone with a 21-year-old ex-marine, responded, “I always go to church.” Next morning, she got up early, put on her one Sunday outfit, a pretty yellow dress, and gently asked Dad, “Are you going to church with me?” Dad yelled, “No! I’m going to sleep late!” Mother was not harsh, she was kind and sweet, but went out the door and walked to church. Dad, steaming mad, decided to teach her a lesson. He left home to show her who was boss. He hitchhiked into town and loitered a while. Having no money, being hungry, and missing Doris, about 2:00 p.m. he decided he was being foolish. He hitchhiked back home, went to church with her that night, and they went to church together ever after. I’m glad Mom knew Jesus was her ultimate authority. A wife must never sin for her husband. Christ alone is a wife’s supreme authority.