Our previous article described what the Bible says about God’s good design and intention for marriage—one man faithfully married to one woman for the purpose of reflecting and multiplying God’s image in the world.
We saw that the Bible describes the marriage relationship as a coming together (“one flesh”) with our life companion. What a special gift that God would design us for this!
Yet there’s more to say about God’s purpose in marriage. We find a bit more commentary in the New Testament. This article elaborates on what the Bible says about marriage’s wonderful purpose. Through the Apostle Paul, writing in the New Testament book of Ephesians, God gives us a more detailed explanation of marriage than we see in Genesis.
As we noted in the previous article, God created us in his image as male and female (Genesis 1:27). Paul echoes that reality as he describes God’s specific intentions for husbands and wives for the Ephesian church—and for us!
God’s Design for Wives
The Bible says that wives should “submit in everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:24 ESV). Husbands must “love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28 ESV). These are different directives, and yet similar, as they can only be realized if we are, as it says in Ephesians 5:21, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
We must mention that the word “submit” has had a lot of negative press in terms of the way a woman’s role has been described. It’s grievous to us how some people have misinterpreted this passage to justify the abuse and mistreatment of women. Abuse is diametrically opposed to what God commands of husbands.
The original Greek word for submit is hupotasso, which means to “come under” as in a military or ordered organization. It doesn’t mean “subjugation” or even “obey,” but to be empowered under authority. It also implies personal volition or the willful determination to be under the direction and care of the leader.
To address another misconception, submission has nothing to do with who is the breadwinner in the family. It involves an attitude of heart, will, and mind as a wife looks to her husband for loving and careful leadership of their family.
Christ is the ultimate authority here. Husband and wife are equal and essential participants in his mission, and yet wives are given this specific directive to “submit” to a husband as the church submits to Christ. How does the church submit to Christ? By loving him and heeding his direction, and willfully living in the confidence of his care and love.
God’s Design for Husbands
As for the husband, he’s called to nourish and cherish his wife and love her as he does his own body, just as Christ loves the church. Loving one’s wife like Christ loves the church is a tall order—Christ died for the church!
Husbands are not to lord their authority over their wives—they’re not lord, Jesus is. Moreover, authority doesn’t mean wives need permission from their husbands to make purchases, wear certain clothing, or spend time with her friends (though it is wise and advised for husbands and wives to be on the same page). Authority does mean that the family’s well-being is the husband’s primary responsibility. This means the husband is to take the spiritual initiative in the life of his family, and in his relationship with his wife.
Jesus Christ “loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25 ESV). Jesus died to make the church beautiful. Husbands are to do the same. Husbands are to nurture and cherish their wives. It means a husband’s responsibility is to make sure his wife flourishes. Christ ensures that his church would flourish by giving her gifts (Ephesians 4:11-12) such that she would grow up into all maturity. For the husband, this means he is to interact with his wife in such a way that she feels empowered, secure, and cherished. Anything less is a failure.
Selfless Love Is the Bedrock of Marriage
This is the glory of marriage. As husband and wife live like Christ and the church, they display (imperfectly) Jesus Christ’s perfect love. God intends marriage as a demonstration of Christ’s sacrificial love, and as a reminder of the way Jesus loves those for whom he died. As we love and serve one another as husband and wife in a marriage relationship, we are reflecting Christ’s love for the church!
This is the profound purpose God intended for marriage.
Selfishness Is the Root Problem in Marriage
What gets in the way of this purpose being realized is selfishness. Selfishness is the fundamental problem of marriage. We get in the way of our own good when it comes to having good marriage that reflect God’s design. But Christ can work in our marriages. He wants to make us more and more selfless and move us closer and closer as couples to his intended design for marriage. He offers us freedom and cleansing from our selfishness when we humble ourselves and come to him confessing that selfishness (1 John 1:9), trusting in Jesus for forgiveness and the power to let go of clinging to our own desires and preferences.
Marriage is beautiful and good and brings God glory. But it’s also difficult as we fall so far short of perfect submission and perfect love. Of course, as sinful men and women, our marriages are never perfect pictures of Christ’s perfect example, but he offers us the chance to play the part, and in so doing to recognize our need for his sacrifice and forgiveness. As we fall short of being able to love perfectly, that experience only magnifies Christ’s perfect love for us.
Why Does God’s Purpose for Marriage Matter to Me Today?
But what does all this mean for me today? This still seems pretty idealistic!
Reflect on this:
Are you loving your spouse in a way that puts them first? If you’re a wife, how might you affirm your respect for and confidence in your husband today?
If you’re a husband, how are you doing at loving your wife sacrificially? What needs does she have that you might meet today?
If you are not married, are you trusting Jesus and his Word in the Bible for direction in your life, and are you loving others as you love yourself?
If you are struggling in your marriage, would you ask God to help you know the best way to show love to your spouse? Would you ask a friend to pray for you? Or, we would love to pray for you if you post to our Prayer Wall.