Over the past seven years, we’ve walked with couples through a number of difficult situations. We have heard it all, and then some, and we are convinced that infidelity is a symptom rather than a disease. We are facing a crisis of epidemic proportions. More than ever culture is filling our heads with lies, attacking our ability to lead and undercutting our roles in marriage. So, what are our roles in marriage? If you think you know, or you think you know what I’m going to say, read on.
Can you guys give me some space to challenge and some grace to think out loud? If so, I think we can learn something new from a passage that you are most-likely familiar with. But, let’s flip the rhetoric here and read Ephesians 5 through a different lens.
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:22-24
Wives, if I haven’t lost you. Hold on. This is not a curse. The curse that placed a man over a woman (Genesis 3:16) was broken through the blood of Christ. Submission is no longer something forced upon you. Many Christians focus on this as a way to reinforce patriarchal ideology that allows a man to dominate a marriage or a family. This belief is not only unhealthy, it is destructive and a misinterpretation of the Word of God.
In this passage, Paul is using a cultural observation to point the church to Christ. He has observed that the women in Ephesus submit to their husbands, as was culturally acceptable at that time. Paul is admonishing women and the church to submit to Jesus like the women in Ephesus are already submitting to their husbands. He is stating that as men are the head of the household in Ephesus, so Christ is now the head of the church.
The Hebrew translation of submit is gynaikes which translates to “And many women were there.” It indicates that this is already happening. It’s not a command. It’s a statement.
Paul is using what everyone in Ephesus already knows and is comfortable with to explain Christ’s new role in the church. He is not commanding women to submit to their husbands. Why? Because, at the time, it would have been punishable by death for a woman to do anything but submit to her husband. Paul was not talking to a feminist coalition here, nor is he reinforcing cultural norms. He is explaining something new, something revolutionary, by using something everyone in Ephesus could already relate to.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Ephesians 5:26-27
Ladies, you’re gonna love this. Here is the command and the challenge against cultural norms…and it isn’t to us! Let’s all take a moment to thank the Apostle Paul. He issues a shocking cultural admonition that I would have loved to have witnessed first hand.
Paul not only makes a bold statement about Christ as the head of the church, he is also stating that women are no longer under the curse of Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22). He is telling the men in Ephesus that a husband is to love his wife in such a way that she is covered against anger, insecurity, lust, anxiety, fear, depression, doubt, hopelessness, etc. just as the blood of Christ covered the sins of the church and made each of us presentable before God. He is verbally crushing the idea that men are superior to women. Whoa!
“In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Ephesians 5:28-31
If you’re like me, you may be wondering why Paul had to use marriage to make a point about Christ as the head of the church. Surely there was a better analogy that could have been more effective. “For Caesar is the head of Rome” sounds good, right? The church in Ephesus would certainly understand this analogy. So why marriage?
I believe we find our answer by searching in another book of the Bible. You see, Paul did not visit Ephesus alone. Paul brought with him a married couple, Aquila and Priscilla, that he left in Ephesus to establish the church there (1 Corinthians 16:19). Together Aquila and Priscilla established the church in Ephesus.
Just a few verses earlier, we learn that there is quarreling in Ephesus. While we don’t know the exact cause of the tension, I believe that it is not random that Paul jumps from quarreling to marriage. Perhaps the quarreling was about marriage. Perhaps the church was questioning why Aquila chose to partner with his wife, Priscilla, instead of lording over her. Perhaps others were questioning Aquila’s ministry by focusing on his marriage. Perhaps. While I can’t know for certain, I do know what follows.
“This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:32
Paul says this is not about marriage!!! The most-quoted passage in the Bible about marriage is not even about marriage. Paul writes, “I AM TALKING ABOUT CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.” Our lives are not about how we submit to our husbands or how they lead or love us as wives. Our lives are wholly about the fulfillment of God’s plan in us through the local church.
I am convinced that the enemy is attacking marriages as a way to distract us from our purpose. When we focus on the brokenness in marriage, we cannot focus on God’s purpose. When we try to fulfill God’s purpose apart from our spouse, we are not effective. When we think that marriage is anything other than a representation of Christ and the church, we are fooling ourselves. If this passage tells us one thing about marriage, it is this: culture has always tried to distract us from God’s calling by focusing on our individual roles in marriage. It has been over 1900 years since Paul wrote this letter, and in many ways, we need his admonition more than ever.
Wherever you are in your marriage, look to Aquila and Priscilla as an example of your rightful role in marriage. Their passion for Christ and their hunger to share the message of the Gospel is told almost 2000 years later. Together they faithfully served the Lord, regardless of position or authority to one another. That same message has the ability to change your relationship with each other because it realigns your marriage with its original intent, and we believe that this will be the start of true change.