By Simon Presland
After a recent service at my church, a young man approached me holding a newborn. He had responded to an invitation for prayer that follows each of our services. The sadness in his eyes told me he was burdened.
“I’d like prayer for my marriage,” he said, as tears dripped down his cheeks. “My wife and I are not doing so well.” We talked for a few minutes, then I prayed for him, his wife, and their marriage.
Relationships can be an enigma. Two people who are dating cannot wait to spend every minute together. But once married, offenses and resentments set in, and many couples find they cannot stand spending time together. What happens between the love affair of dating and the inevitable struggles that marriages go through?
While it is impossible to address the full range of issues in this article, here is a truth: God’s Word gives us a blueprint to help us deal with and overcome marital discord. The problem? When issues arise, emotions take over, and reason, sensibility, and God’s Word are forgotten. God understands this. Thus in Ephesians 5:21-32, he lays out a blueprint for marriages and defines spousal roles and responsibilities for each partner. God knows us intimately, and he knows how easily we can get side-tracked and self-centered when problems arise in our marriage. However, if we follow his ways, much of what we deal with as couples can either be avoided or handled in ways that bless, edify, and bring strength and harmony to our relationship. Let’s look at these verses together.
I’ve always found it interesting that when it comes to submission in marriage, the focus is on wives being submissive to their husbands, as Ephesians 5:22 states. However, there is a principle in Scripture referred to as the “higher law.” To understand submission within a marriage, we must first look at verse 21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Paul intentionally includes this lead-in to his teaching on marriage. He notes there is a mutual submission that Christians owe one to another—it is a pattern of living that Christ himself modeled.
Philippians 2:7 states that Jesus “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Jesus was fully submitted to his Father, but being in “human likeness” he also dealt with the range of emotions we feel. In doing so, he laid down a pattern for us to follow: choose God’s Word and ways over our feelings. While we cannot do this in our own strength, as believers in Christ, we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us to overcome our “fleshly nature.” Therefore we can choose to submit one to another, including husbands and wives.
Christ did not dominate or lord his “headship” over those who followed him. He never held his followers to the letter of the law (legalism), but to a higher standard of loving one another.
When there is mutual submission in a marriage, then respect, consideration, and attentiveness will result. For example, if one spouse is going to be late coming home, a quick phone call will defuse worry and eliminate a cold meal on the table or an icy stare from the waiting mate.
Submission is a two-part word. Sub means “under,” and mission means “an important assignment carried out.” For all couples, the goal is to have a mutually satisfying marriage. Therefore spouses need to submit to one another in ways that accomplish their mission.
God Speaks to Wives
In verse 22 Paul counsels, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” Therefore, honoring and obeying one’s husband out of love means doing so as a devotion and commitment to the Lord first. Here is a key: Women do not have a problem submitting to Jesus when they fully understand how much he loves and cares for them. Jesus can be trusted to do what is right: to cover and protect; to lead in the right direction and to make sound decisions.
Husbands, however, cannot possibly do everything right. That is why Paul tells wives to submit “as you do to the Lord.” A wife must trust God first and trust the fact that he is working in her husband’s life. As long as her husband is seeking Christ and doing his best to be Christlike, she can accept his shortcomings, as he does hers.
God Speaks to Husbands
I’ve always found it interesting—and convicting!—that Paul devotes nine verses to teaching husbands how to love their wives in the Ephesians passage.
From Genesis onward we see that God holds men responsible for the condition of their marriages. In Genesis 3, it is Eve who sins first. However God asked Adam, “Where are you?” when they were hiding (Genesis 3:9). Sadly Adam immediately blamed Eve, and the sin of abdicating responsibilities and blaming wives has been prevalent ever since. While wives are not innocent of wrongdoing, God looks to husbands first to follow the marital principles he has laid out.
Man was made in God’s image and likeness—his character and attributes—and if God loves, then men must learn to love first and foremost. When a husband develops a relationship with God, loving his wife, as Ephesians 5:23 states, will be a natural outflow.
“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 5:31). Paul refers to this verse as a “profound mystery” in verse 32, then states “but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
Referring back to verses 25-29, we see exactly how much Christ loves the church: he gave his life for her; he cleanses her “by washing her with water through the word”; he makes her holy and blameless by cleansing her through the Word; he presents her to himself as a “radiant church, without stain or wrinkle . . . holy, and blameless.” These verses were a “mystery” to the churches Paul established. In his day most women were not valued; they were chattel, something to be bought, sold, used, and discarded. But Paul introduces men to the mystery of love—to become “one flesh” with their spouses and to place this relationship as high priority.
When husbands and wives follow the principle of “leaving and cleaving,” the concept of mutual submission will become part of their lives and both spouses will begin to fulfill their roles as determined by God. When spouses live according to God’s direction, the inevitable trials and tribulations that all marriages face can be talked about and handled according to God’s ways. When God’s blueprint is followed, marital bonds are strengthened, love grows deep, and mutual trust and respect are present. The result is a match made in Heaven for both spouses—something that all married couples desire.
The young man I referred to earlier is now attending our church with his wife. One evening after our Wednesday night marriage class, he approached me and said, “Thanks for your prayers. We’ve been reading our Bible together, and it’s making a difference.”
Making a difference: that’s what God Word does when we apply it to our lives and our marriages! T
Simon Presland is a freelance writer in Clinton Township, Michigan.
Bust Out of Your Date Night Rut!
1. Take a walk in a park—maybe one you’ve never been to.
2. Recreate your first date.
3. Go to a thrift store and pick out cheap/funny/thoughtful gifts for each other.
4. Read at home or at a coffee shop; then talk to each other about what you’re reading.
5. Surprise your spouse with a date at breakfast, lunch, midafternoon—whenever he or she is not expecting it and would welcome a change of pace.