Series: Marriage East of Eden, by Rosie Moore
“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them”. (Col 3:19)
I’ve always loved watching my parents dance! Rock n Roll, Swing, Jazz, Waltzes— even in their eighties, my dad still leads my mom across the floor, much to the amusement of their teenage grandchildren! Fifty years ago, they were probably awkward and stood on each other’s toes, but today they move comfortably in unison. My dad is clearly the leader and my mom keeps in step. Their dance reminds me of what the Bible teaches about marriage in Ephesians 5:22-33: Equal in value and worth; one in heart and purpose, yet distinct and complementary in roles. Marriage is not supposed to be a lifelong battlefield or an oppressive prison, but a rhythmic dance choreographed by Christ Jesus himself. The dancers are an imperfect husband and wife living and growing together, in step with their Redeemer, and in step with one another. This is the redeemed marriage, which is as foreign and radical today as it was when Paul wrote his letters to the first century believers.
Before you burn this blog, let’s dismantle a few cultural roadblocks which have twisted our understanding of authority into something archaic, evil and oppressive to those who submit to it. Let’s cling instead to the truth of servant leadership that Christ taught and lived out (Eph 4:21; Phil 2:5-8). As King of Creation, Jesus expressed ultimate authority. And as the suffering Saviour, He expressed ultimate submission to God His Father. In our own marriages, let’s turn to Jesus and take our cue from His surprisingly radical authority and submission, rather than from our culture’s ideas on these things.
So, what does the Bible say about authority in our imperfect marriages?
There’s no way to explain away God-ordained authority in marriage. As offensive as this idea may be to minds that have marinated in feminism for the last sixty years, it’s taught without apology throughout the Bible (Eph 5:22-25; Col 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7; Titus 2:4-5). Each text teaches a wife to respectfully submit to her husband, and a husband to lovingly and sacrificially lead his wife as head of their family.
So, in the partnership of two spiritually equal human beings, the husband bears the primary responsibility to lead the marriage in a God-glorifying direction. He is committed to his wife’s physical, spiritual and emotional maturity (Eph 5:26-27). He is to be considerate and humble, treating his wife as a sister in Christ, not an object who exists for his own convenience (1 Peter 3:7). For “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Eph 5:29). And the woman is to love her husband by supporting him in that godly undertaking (Eph 5:22-24). Each must do their own verse, but if I’m honest, I think the wife’s job description is a whole lot easier!
Headship and submission is like the mantlepiece within which love is encouraged to burn brightly between husband and wife, bringing warmth and blessing to everyone near them for generations to come. It is a legacy that will be passed on to your watching children.
But I can hear you say, “This picture sounds so warm and cozy, but you’re living in a dreamland! Most marriages are as frosty as the Arctic! What about the scourge of gender based violence? What about abusive husbands and women’s rights? Doesn’t man’s headship means woman’s inferiority and oppression?”
Given the nature of our fallen world, it is natural to be suspicious of authority. Power is often abused and all of us bring baggage to the idea of authority. We carry baggage from the dysfunctional marriages we’ve seen and those we’ve personally experienced.
But listen to the solutions proposed by two radical feminists:
“Under patriarchy, no woman is safe to live her life, or to love, or to mother children. Under patriarchy, every woman is a victim, past, present, and future. Under patriarchy, every woman’s daughter is a victim, past, present, and future. Under patriarchy, every woman’s son is her potential betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman” (Andrea Dworkin).
“The nuclear family must be destroyed… Whatever its ultimate meaning, the break-up of families now is an objectively revolutionary process…. No woman should have to deny herself any opportunities because of her special responsibilities to her children… Families will be finally destroyed only when a revolutionary social and economic organization permits people’s needs for love and security to be met in ways that do not impose divisions of labor, or any external roles, at all” (Linda Gordon).
The problem is that if we allow our baggage and our bad experiences to define what manhood and womanhood are, we will be be swept away by the cultural tsunami of feminism and male domination, which leave only hatred and misery in their wake.
Scripture shows us a much better way than male domination or feminism. It involves the redemption, not the destruction of a husband’s authority in the home. Marital roles are not a question of who does what in the home, but ultimately a heart issue.
On his final journey to Jerusalem, Christ offered a radically different picture of roles and authority than our culture. He showed us that authority doesn’t need to be toppled, but redeemed. His disciples, James and John were jostling to sit in the places of honour (Mark 10:35-38). Like us, they were tempted to use their position to wield personal power and glory. They expected a Messiah who would operate the way politicians do, wielding power for personal gain. But Jesus’s response to his disciples was striking.
“Not so with you! Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:31-32).
Jesus’s role was not to deny his own authority, because it was God’s gift. On the contrary, Christ showcased his power over nature, sickness, demons, the Pharisees, sin, Satan and death. But Jesus’s role as God’s Son was to meet people at their level, to be a blessing to them and ultimately to sacrifice himself for the people He loved, his Church. Against every human instinct, Christ entrusted himself to His Father and gave His own body for His Bride. Humility was what His authority and submission looked like.
Jesus knows the way authority is abused in our world, but He says to Christian husbands and wives today, “Not so with you!” Jesus redeems our marriages. He shows us with his life that a husband’s authority is God’s gift for the purpose of expressing love to his wife and presenting her holy. Leadership is about service, not a thirst for control. And a wife’s respect for her husband is a way of entrusting herself to Christ’s care and submitting to the Lord’s authority (Eph 5:33). This is the way the great Choreographer leads us in the dance of marriage. Let’s follow in His footsteps.
Join us next Friday for some practical implications of Redeemed Roles: