Marriage: Our God-Given Roles
In part one of our week on marriage, we examined the biblical purpose and design of marriage. In part two, we will look at the roles assigned by God within marriage.
God’s Assigned Roles Within Marriage
In order for the metaphor of Christ and the Church to accurately display the Gospel, there have to be two parties involved. One has to be a leader who initiates the relationship, leads spiritually, and loves sacrificially. This represents how Christ loves His Church, and this role has been assigned to the husband (Eph. 5:25-30). There also must be someone for the leader to love, lead, and pursue. The Church is on the receiving end of Christ’s loving leadership and pursuit, and this is the role assigned to the wife (Eph. 5:22-24).
We ought to strive to fulfill these God-given roles, not out of legalistic drudgery, but out of a desire to show the world a glimpse of what it looks like to love like—and be loved by—Christ. With this in mind, let’s look briefly at God’s design of roles within marriage according to Ephesians 5:22-33:
“22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body.24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.
Submission, to most of us, can feel like a dirty word. It can give the implication of inferiority in our role or even in our worth. This is not a biblical view of submission. The Bible calls wives to submit, and it never gives the impression that we are of lower value. In creation it was declared that we have been made in the image of God just like men. Likewise, in Galatians 3:28 we are told that there is neither “male nor female…” when it comes to our salvation.
In addition, we would never consider Christ to be an inferior person of the Trinity, however, He was perfectly submissive to the Father’s will. His submission did not prove Him to be inferior to the Father, rather it beautifully displayed the unity in purpose and will shared by all three Members of the Trinity. Submission serves its purpose by maintaining an organized unity, but it does not declare worth.
Submission can also be complicated and difficult when our husbands aren’t always perfectly Christ-like. On this fallen side of eternity, it will be impossible for them to perfectly lead us. Our respect and submission to our husbands should not be dependent upon or detoured by their performance. Ultimately, we submit to our husbands out of obedience to God’s command to us and out of our desire to do our part in displaying the Gospel to others.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. 27 He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. 28 In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 since we are members of his body.
Husbands have been given the weighty task of representing Christ in the metaphor. Jesus literally gave himself up as He died on the Cross to purchase the Church as His Bride. He was and is perfect in His pursuit and sacrificial love for us. Husbands are to model this sacrificial love and are called to not use their leadership as a means of personal gain, but rather to give themselves up for their wives (v.25).
This passage also explains that Christ cleanses His Church with the Word of God, and therefore husbands ought to do this with their wives as well. When the husband is faithful to lead his wife spiritually by continually speaking of and from the Word of God with her (v. 26-27), he foreshadows how God will prepare His Bride for Himself at the ultimate Marriage feast (Tit. 2:14; Rev. 21:9-11).
The husband lovingly leads (notice how many times the word “love” is used in this command!), and the wife responds to his leadership by respectfully letting him lead (v. 33).When both spouses strive to faithfully fulfill their roles, they lighten the burden for the other. It is easy to submit to a leader who is sacrificial and loving, just like it is much easier to lead someone who shows you respect and willingly follows as you lead.
31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 32 This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.”
At the end of this passage, Paul reiterates to us that the primary purpose of marriage is to display the beautiful relationship between Christ and the Church. He describes this metaphor as a profound mystery. Sin has devastated the world since the creation of the first marriage in the Garden of Eden. No doubt this is why it seems a mystery that our broken imperfect marriages could ever accurately communicate gospel truths.
Our marriages are worth fighting for. They serve a purpose much bigger than just our happiness. The stakes are much higher than just our reputations. We have an opportunity in our marriage relationships to put the faithful and unrelenting love of Christ for His Church on display to a lost and watching world. In order for us to do this faithfully, we must not deviate from God’s blueprint for our marriages but, rather, continue to look to the Bible’s description of Christ and the Church as our model for its purpose, design, and roles.