– Pastor Brandon’s article from the July 2016 Newsletter
Back in May, I attended the wedding of one of my friends. It was an awesome weekend of celebration full of music and dancing, lots of laughter and joy, and great conversations with old friends. The ceremony itself was a wonderful reflection of the happy couple—light-hearted and beautiful. I smiled as the groom entered to the music of the “Imperial March” from Star Wars, and moments later the bride walked down the aisle to the theme from Beauty and the Beast.
Yet, there was one element of the celebration that has stuck with me more than these. During the ceremony, the couple took a moment to wash one another’s feet. Following the example of Jesus, they made a public demonstration of the kind of loving service that would characterize their marriage. To me, it was a holy and tender moment and an important reminder of the way I desire to love my wife.
As I reflect on this act of service, I think back on God’s instruction for the marriage relationship found in the letter to the Ephesian church:
Wives, submit to your husbands as 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. 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. 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 his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, 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.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33)
Here, we see that the husband-wife relationship is designed to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. We all understand Christ’s leadership in our lives and our need to follow his example. When it comes to marriage, however, many people get tripped up over the ideas of submission and headship in the family. But, if we are to experience God’s best for us, we need to develop a biblical understanding of these concepts and apply them to our marriage relationship.
In the passage above, we read that the husband is the head of the wife. This means that he has been given a leadership role within the marriage. This does not imply that he is somehow better or more qualified than his wife, but simply that he has been given a responsibility to lead the relationship in a way that honors God. It does not mean that he makes all the decisions, gets his way all the time, or is always right. Rather, he is called to exercise his authority in loving, humble service to his wife.
Jesus’ teaching on what leadership and authority look like in the kingdom of God is helpful here. As the disciples argued about which of them was greater, Jesus sought to change their perspective, saying, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus exemplified servant leadership, and the husband must follow suit. Just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for us, the husband should give of himself sacrificially as he loves and cares for his wife.
The wife, in this passage, is called to respect her husband and submit to his leadership. Again, this does not mean that she is somehow inferior or incompetent in comparison to her husband. Submission simply means to line up under the order that God has established. It is not forced, but offered voluntarily out of love. We see this kind of submission evident in the workings of the Trinity. The Son is truly God and equal to the Father in every way. Yet, he willingly submits himself to the Father’s plan to redeem humanity. In a similar way, as the two become one flesh in marriage, the wife is called to line up under the leadership of her husband out of love for him.
The image of Christ and the church is also helpful here. My submission to Christ is a response to the fact that he has given himself completely to me. Furthermore, my submission stems from my trust that he has the best for me in mind. This is a picture of how marriage is supposed to work. The husband loves the way that Christ loves. He cares for his wife and serves her in a way that enhances her holiness and beauty. The wife, then, follows his lead just as the church follows the way of Christ.
While God does not call everyone to marry, marriage is a powerful way in which God reveals the nature of his love to us. Marriage is a partnership marked by mutual giving and receiving as the couple follow God’s leading and accomplish his purposes in the world. The husband’s job is to lead the way in sacrificial giving and serving. His goal should be to do the things that bring out the best in his wife, cherishing her and accentuating her beauty. The wife should then follow suit, serving her husband in a way that honors his sacrificial love. As the two give of themselves in this way, both are strengthened in this life, and Christ is glorified.