The Profound Theological Importance of Husband-Wife MarriageDownload Study
If you debate marriage based upon personal happiness, you will lose the argument. If you debate it from theology, you will not.
Certainly God intends marriage to be a source of great personal satisfaction. We live in a fallen world full of disappointments and heartaches and it is such a blessing to have a soul mate who is dedicated and loyal to you. I praise God for my wife Danielle in this regard.
But there is much more to marriage than personal happiness. When America in any way denigrates God’s ordained institution of husband-wife marriage, our nation loses one of His primary means of heralding His nature to our country! Such loss has serious long-term repercussions both in terms of national cultural patterning and moral direction. Why? Because God designed marriage between a man and a woman to be an emulation of His very nature! To lose the husband-wife model of marriage is to lose an archetype of His otherwise invisible attributes, His eternal power, and His divine glory.
My friend, don’t argue marriage as if it’s all about personal happiness! There’s a whole lot more to it than that! Read on.
Ephesians 5:22–33 contains a large embodiment of the divinely inspired Apostle Paul’s teaching relative to the relationship of husbands to wives. The context of this passage in the epistle is within the section where Paul is expressing the behavioral aspects of the called-out ones (cf. 1:4, 5; 2:10).
The overall organization of the book of Ephesians is simple to understand: Paul has expressed the doctrinal truths and the calling of believers in chapters 1 to 3. He then segues to express the various practical aspects of the conduct of believers in chapters 4 through 6:9 (all based on the prior doctrinal truths he has previously stated). Within this latter delineation on the behavioral elements of believers, he specifically addresses the husband-wife relationship. More pointedly, Paul addresses the walk1 or practices of the believer in this section, calling him or her to walk2 in unity (4:1–16), in holiness (4:17– 32), in love (5:1–6), in light (5:7–14), and in wisdom (5:15–6:9). The passage, 5:22–33, follows:
“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.”
Given the fact that the passage under investigation appears below the wisdom banner when outlining the book of Ephesians means that for the believer to walk in wisdom, he or she must understand the God-ordained relationship between husband and wife—the way God intends it to be. Of course, too, the presumption is that God expects you and me to obey what He says here. In addition, God expects lawmakers to take His wisdom on marriage into consideration when constructing (or reconstructing if need be) marriage legislation for a nation.
More so, by living in accordance with the guidelines of Ephesians 5:22–33 and enjoying the wonderful benefits of blessing that stem from following such guidance:
The believer’s allegiance to God’s manuscript on marriage serves to manifest His glory to the world.
Exactly what do I mean by this assertion? In Romans 1:20 Paul states, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.…” Clearly, in addition to God’s wonderful manufacture of organic and inorganic substances within the first days of creation, He fashioned marriage soon thereafter (cf. Genesis 2:24, 25). Therefore in proportion to a believer and societies’ obedience to God and His ordained guidelines concerning marriage, His attributes, power, and nature are on display in and to a man-centered, God-rebelling, lost and fallen world.
Herein is perhaps a whole new motive for couple to work and strive for a godly marriage—a reason and a motive that should eclipse each one’s quest for self-satisfaction only. When people steadfastly obey Scriptures’ specific blueprint for marriage, they mightily testify of God’s existence and greatness. Your marriage can and should be a powerful manifestation of God’s invisible attributes, eternal power and divine nature. Your marriage should and most definitely can preach God’s glory to a lost, watching world!
In addition to motivating every true believer to be extra-sensitive and careful as to how he treats his spouse, this truth also explains the reason why the forces and agents of evil continually labor to expunge God’s model of marriage from the face of the earth. To do so results in the fact that God’s existence is less apparent. Marriage, as we shall examine, provides all of us with a magnificent glimpse of what God is like! Should it be any wonder, therefore, why such a powerful force is afoot to redefine marriage? To do so is to extract a testimony of and by God, as well as to erode one of the five foundational pillars that He intends to manifest His reign in the world prior to His Second Coming.
How then does the biblical pattern of marriage illumine the reality of God? That question is answered in this passage. Specifically, the relationship of husbands to wives helps to illustrate and reveal the following three major aspects dealing with God’s attributes, power and nature.
II. THE INTERRELATIONSHIPS OF THE TRINITY
God has ordained marriage to reveal intensively, but not extensively, His nature as it exists within the triune Godhead. The following four godly characteristics are revealed on earth through His ordination of the husband-to-wife relationship.
A seminary definition of the Trinity is this: God exists in three personages of the same numerical essence. The close study and comparison of various scriptural passages remarkably and unmistakably reveals this truth. Accordingly, God’s essential nature is characterized by fellowship and communication within the Godhead. And these two attributes, fellowship and communication, are beautifully portrayed by and in God’s construction of marriage.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word for one (echad), as used in Deuteronomy 6:4 to describe the oneness nature of God, denotes a pluralistic unity. The same word is used in Genesis 2:24 and quoted by Paul in Ephesians 5:31 to describe the husband and wife as one flesh, i.e., they are one, but remain two separate personages: a pluralistic unity. Therefore, a good marriage where the husband and wife freely communicate and enjoy fellowshipping with one another vividly displays God’s divine nature. So then:
To the degree that you, as husband and wife, are communicative and enjoy one another’s company is the degree to which you give glory to God in your marriage.
I love talking to my wife, Danielle, and greatly enjoy her company! We continually discuss everything going on in our lives. The point is this: to abstain from regular communication and fellowship is sinful because, in part, the believing couple is failing to manifest God’s character.
B. AUTHORITY AND SUBMISSION
The second characteristic of God that is on display through His ordination of marriage is the way in which He interrelates within Himself and with His creative order. Throughout all of the Godhead and creation, there exists authority-submission3 relationships. In the Trinity, the Son (as depicted by His name) is subject to the Father. Matthew 28:18 and John 5:26–27 bear out the fact that the Father gave Christ His authority. Marriage is likened to every other God-ordained institution whereby there exists an authority/submission relationship, husband to wife respectively (Ephesians 5:22–23). The character of God is thereby revealed.
To further illustrate the authority-submission construct nature of God, note that in the institution of the family, the children are to be subject to the parents’ authority (Ephesians 6:1); in the Church, the believer is to be subject to the elders (1 Peter 5:5); in commerce, the employee is to be subject to the employer (1 Timothy 6:1); and in the state, the citizen is to be subject to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1).
Specifically, the wife’s submission to her husband, among other things, is a powerful picture of Christ’s submission to the Father when He went to the Cross. “… My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39b). Or of the Holy Spirit, who is called the Helper by Jesus Christ in John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”
The third characteristic of God revealed by marriage is His love. First John 4:16b states, “God is love.…” Accordingly, Ephesians 5:25 commands husbands to love their wives. Paul reiterates the essential importance of this mandate no less than two additional times in the same passage: “So husbands ought also to love their own wives…” (v. 28), and “Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself…” (v. 33). This selfless agapé love4 displayed by the spiritually mature husband portrays the very character of God to an onlooking, God-scrutinizing world. Not only does the husband love his wife because in his obedience he will be blessed, but he loves his wife because his love reflects the very essence of God to the world.5
The respect of the wife for her husband (Ephesians 5:33) is the fourth characteristic of God’s emulation in the similitude of marriage. Wives are commanded to respect their husbands which reveals the respect that Christ has for the Father. Such respect is implied in Philippians 2:6–7 where Paul says of Christ: “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself.…” Christ willingly took a different position during His incarnation, even though in His essence He was equal with God as the second member of the Trinity (cf. John 5:18). Out of respect for fulfilling the ultimate plan of God, and with redemption of the elect in view, He was willingly subservient to the One to whom He was equal. The respect of the submissive wife to her husband then becomes a tremendous physical picture of the interrelationships existing among the members of the Trinity, i.e., the Son’s respect for the Father’s authority. This human modeling is essential to the warp and woof of successful cultures.
Marriage, as depicted by Paul in this Ephesian passage, attests in these four aforementioned tangential ways to the very nature of God. Accordingly, the believing husband and wife need be obedient to these biblical precepts if the couple is to “Let your [their] light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Herein then—illustrated theologically—is revealed why God is for marriage between a husband and a wife: it serves to reveal His nature and attributes.
III. THE UNITY WITHIN THE TRINITY
The second main category of understanding that is depicted by God’s observable model of marriage is His unity within diversity within the Trinity.6 In this Ephesian passage, combined with Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3:28, there exists a tension in marriage that also exists in the Godhead, that being the equality of the members in the midst of their dissimilarities regarding role and function. Accordingly:
For marriage to reflect God’s essence, there must be practiced a distinction of role and function in the midst of equality between husband and wife.
Galatians 3:28 reads, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” According to the latter portion of this passage, there is no spiritual distinction between the genders. One leading commentator on Ephesians puts it this way: “In the dimension of spiritual possessions and privilege, there is absolutely no difference.” Both are “heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). This is the conclusion of the extensive exegetical work done by S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., in Role Distinctions in the Church: Galatians 3:28. He states the following:
The richness of the oneness, without any denial at all of role distinctions, is the preeminent thrust of the section we have been considering. Justified by faith in Christ, both male and female are “sons of God” (v. 26), both are “in Christ Jesus” (v. 26), united in Him in eternal union through the baptism of the Holy Spirit (v. 27), both have clothed themselves with Christ and are one in Him (v. 28).
Accordingly, God has designed both male and female, heretofore, husband and wife to be equal before Him in position. This construction exactly parallels that of the unity within the Trinity: Each member possesses homogeny and essential similarity.
The egalitarian equality of the genders as explicated by Paul in Galatians 3:28 in no way erodes or contradicts the diversity of them stated elsewhere, especially in Ephesians 5:22–33. Here their roles are distinctly differentiated. In addition to this passage, elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments is communicated under divine inspiration the delineation of husband-and-wife responsibilities.
Paul’s teaching stems from that given in the book of Genesis where, in summary, God describes the role of the husband as one of headship, and the wife in terms of a helper (see Genesis 2:18–25). Ray Ortlund, Jr., has provided the leading exegetical work on this along with Dr. Wayne Grudem.7 The Scriptures not only describe their differences in these general terms, but more specifically in terms of unambiguous responsibilities.
The following are some of their scripturally definitive differences:
These differing role functions of the husband and wife are not intended to suggest a superior/inferior relationship in the marriage any more than the role of Christ in salvation, which differs from that of the Father and the Holy Spirit.8 Similar to God’s expression of salvation being a team effort whereby varying God-assigned responsibilities are assumed and accepted by each member of the Trinity, so are roles in marriage. Each gender possesses God-designed and imbued proclivities.
This concept of role specificity should not prove new, difficult or alarming to the believer. Paul forthrightly presents this same principle of role differentiation in the context of the unity of the Church and its diversity of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:12–18:
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.”
The body of Christ is composed of varying gifts and, therefore, varying responsibilities and roles per God’s eternal design—all with the same value and worth. Accordingly, the relationship of husbands and wives, in their essential unity and specified role diversity, give witness to God’s triune nature.9
IV. CHRIST AND THE CHURCH
Lastly, the relationship of husbands and wives serves to illustrate the relationship of Christ and His Church. Ephesians 5:27 states, “that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” Colossians 1:22 is a parallel passage in statement and meaning. In summary, God is preparing a bride, which is the Church, for Christ. Whereas in the Old Testament Israel is pictured as the wife of the Lord (cf. Isaiah 54:5; and Hosea 2:19–20), in the New Testament the Church is seen as the bride of Christ, with Christ as the bridegroom (cf. Mark 2:20). Furthermore, in His Second Coming, Christ will be united with His bride and appear with her in His glorious, triumphant return. Such splendor is revealed in the following passages of the book of Revelation:
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7).
“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).
“And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, came and spoke with me, saying, ‘Come here, I shall show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9).
Herein is an astounding metaphor of the husband-wife relationship:
If it is theologically evident that Christ died for His church to save her, and is in the process of sanctifying her and will someday glorify her, then those same elements seemingly would appear in the metaphor of human marriage, and they do.
Accordingly, the husband’s responsibility in marriage is to present his wife sanctified, “having cleansed her by the washing of the water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26). Men, here is another reason you should be in Bible study— because you need to be teaching God’s Word to your wife in order to fulfill your responsibility before God as a husband! What follows are three theologically-basic responsibilities you have in relationship to your wife:
In Ephesians 5:25, Paul states:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
Herein is a direct parallel contained in one passage connecting the metaphor of marriage to the redemptive work of Christ for His Church. In that a physical husband cannot spiritually save his physical wife, he is commanded nonetheless to display the same sacrificial love to the point of death so as to depict the ultimate love of Christ for His called-out ones.
The husband is to display his love by his actions; to her, his vocabulary is a much less impressive conduit than his volitional sacrifices for her best interests.
To the degree that he sacrifices his own desires for those of his wife is the degree that she senses his true love.
In Ephesians 5:26 the passage continues to indicate the cleansing metaphor of the husband to the wife in parallel to Christ and His Church. It reads,
“so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”
In marriage the husband is to know how to deal with his wife’s sin. In Stuart Scott’s book, The Exemplary Husband, he includes a chapter titled “A Husband’s Resolve: Helping His Wife Deal with Her Sin.”10 Scott’s thoughts are motivated from the gravity of the aforementioned passage, i.e., it is the husband’s responsibility to grow his wife spiritually. Why? It models sanctification: Christ’s building, cleansing and washing His Church.
This husbanding skill requires the abilities of being gracious, patient, loving and correcting (think of that in terms of 10-10-10-01 in respective proportions I might add!). In addition, it requires the ability to discern true repentance and practice biblical forgiveness. Each ingredient is representative of the process our Lord uses with His Church to sanctify her. Again, in terms of a husband’s sanctifying his wife, we see the wondrous illustration that marriage emits relative to God’s nature, character and purposes in the world.
Lastly, if marriage parallels Christ and His Church, wouldn’t that model also parallel in some way the eventual marriage of believers to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ in His Second Coming? Indeed, that is exactly what the marriage ceremony of husband and wife depicts! It is a coming together, the long-awaited consummation of the courtship that in a small way symbolically embodies the marriage of the Lamb of God to His Church. (See the previously indicated passages listed from the book of Revelation.) Although somewhat anachronistic in the physical realm (in human marriage, the glorification stage comes before the sanctification), the marriage ceremony nonetheless captures the excitement and anticipation that the followers of Christ sense as they await the consummation of the Church Age and the Second Coming of the Lord: At last Christ is united with all of His called-out ones and reigns triumphant!
These are the many ways that the relationship of husbands and wives models and describes the spiritual realities of the living God of the universe who has revealed Himself in the Scriptures. The mere fact that the physical reality of marriage over the centuries has outwardly portrayed and paralleled the profound symbolism attested to in Scripture evidences the authorship of God not only on marriage, but His penmanship of the Bible. Their respective proclamations have matched up with one another for centuries! And:
As the institution of marriage goes, so goes a nation’s culture.
Lastly and most importantly, in that God has so identified Himself to His creation through His construct of the institution of marriage, true believers should be extremely motivated to pay special, close attention to their marriage. They are to give it the priority and energy it deserves and requires in order to best proclaim God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature to an unbelieving world. This should be especially true with lawmakers who publicly profess Christ.
The health of your marriage is a fundamental signature to your long-term, overall effectiveness and influence.
Beloved, hopefully this study will provide you with a different and even more powerful motive for working attentively, diligently and forthrightly on your marriage! There is so much more to the divine institution than your personal satisfaction (as important as that is in a fallen, disappointing world).
In a cultural sense even more is at stake: When America in any way denigrates God’s ordained institution of husband and wife marriage, our nation loses one of God’s primary means of heralding His nature to our country! This loss has serious long-term repercussions in terms of cultural patterning and moral direction. In this sense, and hope you clearly see why:
There is a whole lot more to marriage than personal happiness!
There is much more to marriage, and much more rides on defining marriage God’s way—than on a person’s personal pleasures. As a lawmaker, it is critically important for you to understand this truth.
1. The word “walk” is used by Paul metaphorically throughout the epistle to capsulate the believers’ process of sanctification or becoming Christlike.
2. Cf. Genesis 1:26 and Deuteronomy 6:4.
3. The one exception to submission to authority relates to those in authority asking another to violate God’s clear commands.
4. In the Greek NT, agapao signifies unconditional love and is based on a person’s character, in contrast to a responsive love that is determined relative to how one is treated.
5. There is a gradient ease or difficulty in the submission of the wife relative to the love—or lack of by the husband, and vice-versa. Note that these indispensable ingredients of submission and love in marriage are exemplarily and simultaneously modeled in the Trinity.
6. Theologically, this is the tension of synthesizing the Economic Trinity with the Ontological Trinity. Both are taught in Scripture. The Economic Trinity refers to how the persons of the Trinity relate to each other, and the Ontological Trinity depicts God’s overall being and existence.
7. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991), 160.
8. Raymond C. Ortland, Jr., Male-Female Equality and Male Headship; Genesis 1–3, quoted in John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991), 95.
9. Failure by one to accept his God-given role is first illustrated by Satan. He rebelled against his God-created position of being an angelic being (cf. Ezekiel 28:11–19; Isaiah 14:12–15; Genesis 3:1–13). In essence, rebellion is the sin of rejecting your God-given role; it is wanting to be someone other than the person and position God created you to be and fulfill. Rebellion develops when a person thinks he knows better than God, which is a statement that he wants to be God. It is the sin of pride. Lastly, rebellion is listed as a characteristic of an apostate in Jude (vv. 8–11).
10. Scott, Stuart. The Exemplary Husband (Bemidji, Minnesota: Focus Publishing, 2000), 205.