“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.”
In our culture, we are positively flooded with lies and misunderstandings on the subjects of gender, marriage, and what it means to be truly human. And conversely, we do not have many strong biblical voices countering the flood swirling and deepening around us.
On the one hand is male chauvinism and countless examples of the oppression and abuse of women. On that same side we have certain militant branches in the feminist movement trying to advance a kind of female superiority.
On the other hand there are strong currents in our society calling for an uncorrupted egalitarianism where men and women share identical roles of authority and responsibility in the home, church, and society. Some, in this group, go so far as to eliminate gender as a category altogether.
I am convinced that the Bible speaks to the question of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a women and it speaks to how men and women should relate to one another in the home, church, and society. What I see taught in the pages of Scripture is what has been called complementarianism.
This understanding holds that men and women share identical worth and value and have equal access to the Father through faith in Christ, while each continues to have a distinct God-given role which complement (fills out, brings to perfection, makes complete) the other as male and female.
Manhood with its specific God-given responsibilities is distinct from Womanhood with its specific God-given responsibilities, and neither one is complete without the other.
My goal in this message is to crack open and expose that which is “…fitting in the Lord” (verse 18) regarding the marriage relationship and to show that it is beautiful, very good, and something for which we should give thanks. To do this we will look briefly at the issue of gender because God’s design in creating maleness and femaleness undergirds the biblical understanding of marriage. Then we will consider the biblical roots of marriage. We will look at the specific call to the husband and the specific call to the wife. Finally, we will consider why all of this matters.
This subject is one of immense importance. This one little sermon can but scratch the surface of the many questions that we may have. I want to recommend a book called Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by Wayne Grudem and John Piper with 22 authors contributing very helpful chapters. I follow closely the vision for manhood and womanhood advocated in that work. [See: Grudem, Wayne and John Piper, eds. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Wheaton: Crossway Books,1991.]
God Created Gender:
I think it is important to begin by looking first at the broader issue of gender. There are many in the body of Christ who are not married. Some perhaps hope to be one day. Some, in God’s providence, may never be married, but Paul’s words to husbands and wives have their corresponding applications in other relationships between men and women. And this is because of what it means to be a man in this world and what it means to be a woman in this world.
Maleness and femaleness are a part of God’s good creation. There has been such a strong reaction (and rightfully so) against and away from inequality, oppression, and abuse of women that many have yanked the car off the other side of the road. For some equality has become the sum and substance of what they care to think about, but we ignore the precious and unique importance of women as women and men as men at our own peril.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Our understanding of who we are as human beings must be rooted in the created order. God made us male and God made us female. Gender is God’s good design. At the very least we can say, by this simply fact, that God created mankind with two distinct genders: male and female. God created manhood and God created womanhood and they are distinct and this is good and beautiful and profound.
Paul Jewett wrote a book called, Man as Male and Female. In it he says,
“Sexuality permeates one’s individual being to its very depth; it conditions every facet of one’s life as a person. As the self is always aware of itself as an ‘I,’ so this ‘I’ is always aware of itself as himself or herself. Our self-knowledge is indissolubly bound up not simply with our human being but with our sexual being. At the human level there is no ‘I and thou’ per se, but only the ‘I’ who is male or female confronting the ‘thou,’ the ‘other,’ who is also male or female.”
God designed and established mankind and made us male and female. As John Piper has said, “Nobody is a generic human being. There is no such thing. God never intended that there be. God created male human beings and female human beings. And this is a grand thing.”
And we are told that, “…God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” – Genesis 1:31
We should celebrate men as men and women as women, as uniquely designed to complement (complete and fill out) the other. God created gender and saw that it was very good. And we ignore and belittle that to our own peril.
Again Piper weights in,
“The point is that, married or single, your manhood or your womanhood matters. You dishonor yourself and your Maker if you disregard this profound dimension of your personhood. Our culture is pressing us on almost every side to discount this reality and think of ourselves and each other merely in terms of a set of impersonal competencies and gender-blind personality traits. It has the appearance of promoting justice. But the failure to take into account the profound and complementary differences of masculine and feminine personhood is like assigning a truck driver the task of writing the choreography for two ballet artists.”
Manhood and Womanhood Do Not Depend on Marriage:
I am convinced that the roles of husband and wife are closely tied to what it means to be a mature man and a mature woman. Getting married does not make you a man or woman, nor does being unmarried make you less of a man or woman. The marriage relationship is certainly a unique and special relationship established by God for a grand purpose, where manhood and womanhood are expressed in ways appropriate to that glorious, purpose-filled relationship.
But only a mature man can truly be a husband as God intends. And only a mature woman can be a wife as God intends. God made Eve to be the helper suitable to Adam. Men and women were made to complement one another. Marriage is a unique expression of that, for a glorious purpose, but it does not create that complement.
Men and women are not gender neutral until they marry. An unmarried man should be striving toward mature manhood so that he will be the kind of man a woman wants for a husband whether or not he ever marries. And an unmarried woman should be striving toward mature womanhood so that she will be the kind of woman a man wants for a wife even if she never marries. These are not two very different conversations. Manhood and womanhood are closely tied to our understanding of God’s good design in the institution of marriage.
Men and Women in the Church:
Very briefly, I want to show that this is the only way to understand the NT’s understanding of the roles of men and women in the church body. Without unpacking all the practical out workings of these things here, listen to 1 Timothy 2:9-13 as Paul describes how women are to conduct themselves in the church:
“…women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self- control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. [Then Paul appeals to Genesis] For Adam was formed first, then Eve;”
The point is not to unpack all of the content here, but simply to point out that Paul appeals to the creation order and what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman as he describes how women are to conduct themselves in the church.
I believe it is an error to think that manhood and womanhood only find expression in marriage. You are a man or a woman to the depths of who you are, in or out of marriage. And here, Paul points to the creation account where the man is formed first and has the primary weight of responsibility for leadership. It is Adam that God called first to give an account after they blew it, and it will be to men that God will call to give an account for how they took the lead, and not just in marriage. There is a burden on men as men to take the lead (in laying their lives down for the good of others). And here there is a call to women as women to recognize this and receive this with a quiet and gentle spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 3:4).
I believe men, married or unmarried, will given an account for how they humbly, tenderly and sacrificially led, provided, and protected the women in their lives in ways appropriate to their various relationships. I believe women, married or unmarried, will give an account for how they responded, respected, joined, helped, honored and strengthened the leadership of godly men in ways appropriate to their various relationships.
God designed us with gender.
As you may recall, Colossians and Ephesians run parallel to one another in quiet a few places. For this reason, I would like to jump over to Ephesian 5:22-33 this morning as Paul treats our subject more fully there.
God indeed designed and established manhood and womanhood for our good, but God also designed and established the institution of marriage with purpose.
Marriage is a glorious purpose-filled gift. Let’s read about it:
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
Jesus on Marriage
First of all, I’d like you to focus in on verse 31. Here Paul quotes Genesis 2:24:
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
I believe that it is significant that Jesus appeals to this passage in Genesis when the Pharisees came to test Him in Matthew 19:3-6. They ask,
“Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
This passage in Matthew reveals that Jesus understood the creation account in Genesis as authoritative to establish God’s intention and good design for marriage. Jesus was clearly teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life. Any deviation from this is to corrupt God’s very good design for marriage, whether that deviation is divorce, polygamy, unfaithfulness, homosexuality, etc.
But the reason that marriage is so precious, and why it is such a travesty to distort it, as Ephesians makes plain, is that God designed it to be a picture of Christ’s relationship with His beloved bride the church. The reason marriage matters is because God designed it to point us to the incredible reality of Christ’s covenant with His holy, chosen, and beloved bride.
So as we unpack the role of husbands and the role of wives – we are not speaking merely of earthly things. We are not talking simply about horizontal things. We are talking about heavenly and eternal things. We are talking about the initiative of Christ to nourish and protect and rescue His beloved and her response in humbly, joyfully, thankfully receiving that initiative. And how that is to be seen in marriage.
God’s Call to Husbands:
So, what has God called husbands to? Here unmarried men should not be tuning out. You should be asking, “Are the roots of manhood, which are required in order to be this kind of husband, present in me?”
1. The first thing to recognize is that the role of a husband is the role that pictures Christ. You want to know what you are to do and be as a husband, look to Jesus and His relationship to the church. Verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church…”
2. He husband is the head. Verse 23 “…the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.” Yes, we are talking about leadership and authority, but the kind of leadership and authority that Christ modeled. We must build our understanding of leadership and authority from Christ.
The husband bears the primary responsibility before God to lead His wife, but as we will see, this does not have to do with power, rights, or being served. It has to do with bearing the responsibility for selflessness, sacrifice and service.
3. The Husband is to love his wife like Christ loved the church. That is, in the total sacrifice of his own life for the good of his covenant bride. Again verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,”
4. The husband is to nourish and cherish his wife as he nourishes and cherishes his own body/flesh, just as Christ does his own body, the church. Verse 29: “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” As you are gentle with your own body so treat your bride with gentleness. Colossians 3:19, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” You nourish and cherish your wife.
To summarize, the role of a husband is the role of headship just as Christ is the head of the church. This means that the husband bears the primary responsibility to lead, to take initiative, to protect and provide for his own bride, loving and cherishing her, sacrificing his own life so that she may flourish.
Please notice that there is not a whiff of arrogance, heavy handedness, abuse, pride, selfish ambition, or domineering in the role of Christ to His bride. Neither should there be in our lives. Every husbands who understands this gospel reality, comes to their high calling, as one who is himself in desperate need of Christ and cannot assume his role with arrogance or grasping for power. The husband is an earthly illustration of the kind of leadership that humbles itself, comes under, to serve his wife no matter the cost.
“This is not about rights and power, but about responsibility and sacrifice.” – John Piper.
God’s Call to Wives:
And what has God called wives to? Again, unmarried women should not tune out. You should be asking, “Are the roots of womanhood, which are required in order to be this kind of wife, present in me?”
1. The first thing to recognize is that the role of a wife is the role that pictures the church, the bride of Christ. Again verse 23: “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.”
2. As the church receives and submits to Christ her head – the wife is to acknowledge and submit to her own husband who is her head. Verse 24: “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”
3. As the husband takes the primary role to lead, protect, and provide, loving and cherishing her, sacrificing his own life to serve her, she responds to his initiatives with respect for the burden that is his and she joins him and comes along side him and as one body they do what God has for them together to do. Verses 31-33: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
I want to make sure that we see that these roles have nothing at all to do with worth or value. They have nothing to do with ability or competency. Submission in marriage is the acknowledgment and respect for the legitimate God-given weight of responsibility upon the husband to lead. Wives are to use their needed gifts and competencies and strengths to build-up and carry forward the purposes that neither one could accomplish alone.
Submission, if we understand it biblically, should not be a dirty or ugly word among believers. Even among the Godhead, we see three distinguishable persons, equal in power and glory. One God, existing eternally in unity, and existing in relationship with one another as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If submission is essentially an ugly thing than the Son and Spirit have been in an eternally ugly relationship with the Father. Not so. There is perfect joy in the Godhead as they together pursue one purpose, each embracing their role.
Our roles do not have to do with ability or competency. They have to do with the intention of God to display His glory. We have been called to illustrate the divine drama of covenant love. Marriage is to be a proclamation, a witness, to the incredible sacrificial love of Christ for His bride and her joyful response in joining Him. Marriage matters. Embracing what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman matters. When godly men and godly women are united in marriage that union is designed to give us a picture of the gospel. This is God’s design for fullness and fruitfulness and to bear witness to the gospel of grace.
What we have looked at regarding gender and marriage, really only begins the discussion. No one has fully worked out what this ought to look like in every moment and detail of marriage or in every circumstance of church life. But we do have a starting point and there are things that are clear. And so we ought to keep working to reflect more and more the divine drama.
But it is not just that we lack understanding of how these things work, the deeper problem is that we fail as men and as women, fail as husbands and we fail as wives. Our culture would have us shrug off our God-given roles altogether. And aren’t we often tempted to do just that? But even as we strive toward what “is fitting in the Lord,” we often fail.
But the glorious news, for which we should be giving thanks, is that we have One who is the perfect husband, who is bringing His bride to glory without spot or wrinkle because He laid His life down for her – that is what marriage is supposed to point us to. Even as we only weakly reflect the divine drama, let that heavenly reality of Christ’s perfect work move us on toward maturity.
Andrew “Andy” Murray was born and raised in New Hampshire. His father, pastor Loren Murray, served Fellowship Bible Church in Chester, NH. At six years of age Andy trusted in Jesus Christ and was baptized. He was brought up “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” At the age of 12 his father was in a fatal car accident. Reflecting on the loss of his dad Andy writes; “I see now the wise and loving hand of Christ in my life, as He used this event to, shape, mold and press me toward Himself. It was this event that sparked in me an earnest desire to know God from His Word. By His grace, this desire has continued to grow.” Andy met his wife, Elizabeth, at Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University). They have four wonderful boys. Visit Windham Bible Chapel.