In this third message of our Worth the Risk series, Greg talks about marriage relationships and explores the meaning of Ephesians 5:22, which says that wives must submit to their husbands.
This week’s sermon started with a skit, of a young unmarried woman weighing the pros and cons of submitting to her husband, as prescribed in Ephesians 5:22.
First, Greg affirmed that it is perfectly okay not to ever get married. There seems to be a belief among some people that getting married is what “normal” people do. This is not the case, and in fact both Jesus and Paul affirm staying single as an advantageous way to serve the kingdom.
For those who are married, though, today’s sermon is about Ephesians 5 and what that means for modern marriages.
In Genesis 2 when God created woman, she was made to be a “suitable helper” for Adam. This had a connotation of being a complementary equal. The two in a very real sense were made into one flesh– this includes not just intercourse but also commitment to live together as one. The phrase Suitable Partner also has a connotation that they were brought together for a task. Eve was not an assistant, but a co-equal partner. The task they came together for was to be fruitful and multiply, and carry out God’s loving care over the earth and animals. It truly is a partnership with a purpose.
In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God.” This means not in just certain circumstances, but rather in all things at all times with all people we should have our minds set on the kingdom. Whether you are married or not, if you are a follower of Jesus, you are here on assignment — to be ambassadors of the kingdom of God and represent Christ to the world. This applies to everything, and therefore it also applies to marriage.
Many people do not have this mission on their minds when they get married. This is normal, but we need to start retrofitting the kingdom into our marriages. We need to start asking how can I help my partner be the best kingdom person he/she can be? Recognizing that the kingdom is our most important purpose in being married is one of the best things we can do for our marriages. The kingdom is the strongest glue there is! It puts everything else in perspective.
The traditional view is that the man should control the finances of the family. (Greg & Shelley’s marriage is a great example of why this traditional view is not always right!) There is no “one size fits all” formula for how to divide up marriage responsibilities.
Two questions remain — what to make of the biblical teaching that the man is the head of the wife, and whether or not this is a timeless teaching.
First, it is important to explore the context of this passage. The context in this case starts earlier in Ephesians 5 where Paul teaches us that to be imitators of God is to “live in love as Christ loved us and gave his life for us.” He then explores what this looks model like in different areas of life. When he gets to marriage, it is consistent in that we should submit to (sacrifice, come under) one another in reverence to Christ.
This was a radical view at the time it was written. When Paul wrote these words, women were essentially the property of their husbands. So telling husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (i.e., give himself up for her) was a radical idea!
During the fall, the curse which came upon humanity and the earth was that wives would “desire” (the meaning of which is actually to manipulate or try to control or connive against) their husbands, and the husband will rule over (the meaning of this word was to tyrannize, conquer or dominate) over her. In this curse, the beautiful plan that God had for two to become one flesh and work together to bring about the kingdom has turned into a power struggle. So in prescribing for us to live in love as Christ did and sacrifice for one another, Paul is showing that faith in Christ reverses this curse and reclaims marriage as God designed it to be.
The distinctive thing is not wives submitting to their husbands, since they were already doing that. The important thing is the reason why — it is now out of love instead of fear. And it is especially distinctive that the husband is responsible to initiate this submission — he has all the power, so he must lay it down for his wife, just as Christ emptied himself and sacrificed himself for us. And in response, wives submit to him in love. So now instead of a power struggle pushing each other down, it’s a beautiful dance, each lifting the other up.
As for whether this teaching of the husband being the head is timeless, there are two schools of thought. Egalitarians believe that husbands were the head of the family in the first century, but they would say this does not always hold true now. The other view is called Complimentarian, they believe that the teaching IS timeless. But BOTH views are fine when you are defining marriage like Paul does, as mutual submission. The only difference is who initiates the submission. But it does not change the dynamic.
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