The Gospel Marriage


NOTE: this page is a compilation of posts (in order) of posts tagged: "The Gospel Marriage".
INTRODUCTION
I have a confession to make. As many of you know when Kim was battling stage IV cancer much of last year I was pumping out blog posts like my life depended on it. So many of you prayed for us and I felt like as a husband there was little more I could do than share our story and beg for prayers. I wrote about every step of our cancer journey, how it affected me, Kim and our kids. I wrote about our love story - my three year pursuit of Kim (and her repeated rejections). I wrote about the need for bone marrow registration and the health struggles of some dear friends who were also battling cancer. But there was one thing that I held back from sharing. Something that consumed much of my thoughts and energy during that time and still does today. And that is marriage.

Outside of a few close friends and family no one really knew this but when Kim was getting chemo treatments I wrote tirelessly on the topic of marriage. I was getting about 4 hours of sleep a night and we spent 42 nights in the hospital last year so I had plenty of time to write. It was a welcome distraction from the daily stresses of cancer and despite undergoing the challenges of chemotherapy Kim was supportive every step of the way. Insecure about the fact that I still have so much to learn about marriage, unsure of the best medium to communicate this and at times afraid of what people might think I've been holding back on sharing it on this blog up until now. (I'm out of excuses) I know this topic tends to be a very sensitive one for many and a lightning rod for controversy and so I'm going to try and balance what I share with equal parts grace and truth (would Jesus do any different?) with the hope that it will generate more light than heat.

I don't think I need to spend much time trying to prove that marriage today is "broken". The statistics on marriage speak for themselves. In the last 30 years the marriage rate has dropped by 1/3 while divorces have tripled. Children living with single parents has doubled and child births from unwed mothers has quintupled (now 35% of all births). For the first time in the history of this great country there are more unmarried people over the age of 18 then there are married. Marriage is being redefined by our culture today and the next generation's worldview of sex, love and marriage is being radically transformed. If you don't believe me check out this recent article from Vanity Fair entitled "Friends Without Benefits" (if you have kids or want to some day have kids, regardless of age, you owe it to yourself to read this article).

So what in the world has happened to marriage?

And how are we to view marriage? Is it a man-made invention that is open to interpretation and up for redefining in lockstep with the "evolution" of a culture? Or was it created and defined by God and if so for what ultimate purpose? If marriage was created by God how are we to understand God's design for marriage for our lives and for this world? 

Well, I hope my next few posts will address some of these important questions. I think you will find that marriage does not teach us so much about how to love one another as much as it teaches us how much God loves us. I think you will find that marriage is not about me and my happiness but God and His glory. I think you will find that marriage is not about protecting a decaying tradition but proclaiming a divine truth.
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LOVE AND MARRIAGE
"Love and marriage, love and marriage, Go together like a horse and carriage. This I tell you, brother, you can't have one without the other...try, try, try to separate them, it's an illusion.Try, try, try and you only come to this conclusion..."
This classic song was sung by Frank Sinatra in the 50's but if you grew up in 80's you might recall it as the intro of the FOX tv sitcom Married with Children. Although, in my opinion, the show itself was pretty lame there is a great truth coming from that song. Love and marriage are inseparable entities and were meant to go together. Therefore, before we can understand God's purpose for marriage I think it's important to first have a basic understanding of love.

French novelist George Sand once said, "There is only one happiness in life -- to love and be loved." There is great truth in that statement because God made every single human being unique from all other creatures in that we have this innate desire and longing to love and be loved. It is the most basic need of the human experience and perhaps the greatest evidence that a loving God does exist and did create us and in our greatest moments of love we are but imperfect facsimiles of His loving nature.

Regardless of our race, gender, sexual preference or personality type each and every one of us is born with an innate desire to love and be loved. We have some good friends who adopted a wonderful boy from China who spent the first 8 years of his life in an orphanage where apparently he received little attention. Despite spending the last five years in a loving home he will still occasionally repeat a lifelong habit in which he wraps his arms around his torso and twists violently from side to side. He does this subconsciously and doctors have concluded that it likely comes from the fact that he was rarely held as a child.

God has created us with an instinct to be loved. From an infant's innate longing to be held, to an old man grappling with the fear of dying alone - love is at the center of the human experience and gives meaning to our existence. There is a reason why the Beatles song, All You Need is Love became one of the most popular songs in the history of music. Have you ever wondered how a song whose very title is the chorus repeated ad nauseum could cross generations and cultures and elicit universal appeal? Because we all resonate with that simple truth. We all need love and love is all we need.  The truth is, if you ever stop and really listen to many of these classic love songs you will find that this world is desperately seeking love - but not just any love....a true, lasting and purpose-defining love.

So if there is a God and if He is loving and if He did create us why did He create us with such a powerful desire to love and be loved? Why not just leave love out of it and make us with a basic instinct to procreate like all the other creatures of the animal kingdom? Doesn't love just complicate matters?

I think the answers to these questions are fairly simple. God created us with a longing to love and be loved because His desire is that we long for Him and love Him - both for His glory and for our good. This is what King Solomon meant when he said God "has placed eternity in our hearts." (Eccl 3:11). This is why St. Augustine said: "Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee." This is why the great philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote, "There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus."

Last year I put together a video which compares secular loves songs to some Christian worship songs. I was amazed at how often times there is very little difference between the two - in fact sometimes the lyrics are the exact same. Both cry out for love and both long for a transcendent love to fill the void in our hearts but only one has the true answer.


If God is the only one who is capable of filling the "love void" in our hearts than if you think about it, it is good and gracious of Him to ask us to love Him first and foremost. Suddenly, the first commandment in the Old Testament: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Ex 20:3) and the greatest commandment in the New Testament: "Love the Lord your God with all you heart, mind, soul and strength" (Lk 10:27) no longer seem like capricious mandates of an insecure and insatiable God but good and gracious direction given by a Creator who knows us best and desires our best. Oswald Chambers said it best when he wrote:
"God nowhere tells us to give things up for the sake of giving them up. He tells us to give them up for the sake of the only thing worth having - life with Himself." 
At this point you might be saying, "Okay, I get it already, God created us to be in a love relationship with Him and we won't ever truly be happy until we enter into relationship with Him...

So what does all this have to do with marriage? 

Well, here's where I'm going with this. I believe God did not ultimately create marriage to teach us what it means to love another person. I believe God created marriage to teach us about His great love towards us. In other words, marriage was never meant to strictly be a horizontal affair. God did not create marriage to be just about you and your spouse, you and your dreams, you and your happiness. God created marriage to be vertically significant - about you and Jesus, you and the gospel, you and God's glory. When you realize this truth it takes the institution of marriage to a whole other level - from a worldly plane to a transcendent one. Marriage is no longer a selfish enterprise created by man to meet man's needs but a sacred gift created by God to shine the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

THE MYSTERY OF MARRIAGE
Have you ever noticed that the Bible opens with a marriage on earth and closes with a wedding in heaven? This is no accident. If there is one over-arching theme in the Bible that stretches from beginning to end, it is a story of love. But it’s not a story of love between a man and a woman. No, it’s much bigger than that. It’s a story of God’s love for us. And this inexorable theme of a transcendent love weaves itself like a “scarlet thread” throughout all of Scripture.

Over and over again God in His mysterious wonder uses ordinary human love to point us to His extraordinary divine love. For example, on Mount Sinai the very first commandment God gives Moses is a call to a faithful and undivided love towards Him. While in the seventh and tenth commandments we see a mandate for a faithful and undivided love towards our spouse. In the prophecies of Jeremiah we see the despair found in the brokenness of a marriage, and in the poetry of the Song of Solomon we see the unbroken joy found in a faithful one. In the book of Hosea we are confronted with a man and a woman who play out a heart-wrenching story of unrequited love, and in the book of Ruth we witness a man and a woman play out a heart-warming story of unconditional love. It's as if God is trying to make parallels between our imperfect love experience to point us to His perfect love. A wedding is the site of Jesus’ first miracle and the setting of his last parables. As you can see, marriage literally begins and ends as God's idea. It is God's creation, God's institution, and God’s glory.

THE AUTHOR OF MARRIAGE
Therefore the first and most basic question one must settle on marriage and the one which will unequivocally shape your worldview on marriage is this:

“Who created marriage?”

Perhaps you feel you already have the answer or it was never a question for you to begin with. However, keep in mind that the answer to this question is of utmost importance, because it will determine everything you ultimately believe about marriage. In this case where you start truly determines where you finish.

I would argue that GOD created marriage. This was not man’s idea or man’s creation; it begins with God (Gen 2:18-25) and ends with God (Rev 19:9). And this is not isolated to the Old Testament. Jesus emphatically reaffirms this truth in the gospels (Mt 19:1-12), and the apostles do the same  (1 Cor 6:12-20Heb 13:4Eph 5:22-331 Pet 3:1-7). To argue otherwise would force one to completely dismiss large portions of Scripture in order to make it fit his or her own personal agenda.

Below is a diagram I put together which shows what I believe to be the three basic worldviews on marriage. The first is very worldly – marriage was created by man for man, and therefore it can be redefined as man sees fit because it’s ultimately about me and my happiness. The second worldview sees marriage as something that God created for man. Therefore, while it is from God - it is for me. It’s about making my children, or curing my loneliness, or serving my spouse, or even working out my sanctification.  The third is very different from the first two.  It is not about me at all, but all about His glory and His purpose. 


I have found that if you believe in worldview #1 - that marriage was created by man for man - then to me it's quite logical that marriage be re-defined as the culture (or man) sees fit. There is no point in slinging mud at someone that disagrees with you when they are simply following a natural conclusion to their personal worldview. (SOAPBOX: I wish more "Christians" would be able to engage, debate and provide answers on this topic with more "gentleness and respect" (1 Pet 3:15). We miss out on an awesome opportunity to share the gospel message in marriage when we fail to share it with a "gospel love" (i.e. grace & truth.) 

In regards to worldview #2 - I can't tell you how many Christian books on marriage I've read which essentially hold to this worldview. While I agree that God did create marriage for a number of reasons like companionship, procreation and even our own sanctification, if we stop there marriage still stays ultimately with "me" (a somewhat egocentric affair) and I think we've missed the big point.  On to worldview #3 - when we look at Ephesians 5:32 we come across, I believe, the most important verse on marriage in the Bible - this is the lynch pin verse.  For context, Paul goes back to the very first marriage in Eph 5:31 by quoting Genesis 2:24 and writes: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” and then he shares something that should forever change the way we view marriage. He writes:

 "…this mystery is profound and I am saying it refers to Christ and the Church.”

THE MYSTERY OF MARRIAGE

your services are not needed for Eph 5:32...thank you.
What is Paul saying here? Well, when Paul uses the word “mystery” here, it is not in the way we typically understand mystery in our culture today. In other words, it is not something that requires Sherlock Holmes to be solved. It is not an abstract concept to decipher. It is not even something that is meant to be difficult to understand. It’s virtually the opposite actually! When Paul uses the word “mystery,” he is using it as something that was concealed in the past – but is now fully revealed. Check these verses if you are unconvinced: Rom 16:25, 1 Cor 2:7, Eph 1:9, 3:3, 3:9.  In other words, He is saying we may not have understood if before, but now it can be understood!  It once was hidden and now can be known! In fact, this was Paul’s very prayer request  – that the mystery of the gospel would be made known and that he would make it known (Eph 6:19). The other thing I want to point out is that Paul says this mystery/revelation is "profound". Now, the actual Greek word used here is "megas". Which, as many of you know, means "big" or "huge".  So with my limited Koine Greek knowledge (coupled with my sanctified imagination) I'd paraphrase Eph 5:31-32 like this:
"Hey everybody! Listen up!! I need to tell you something that wasn't understood in the past but now can be fully understood! God is revealing something to us about marriage and it...is...HUGE!! Are you ready for this?!? God created marriage to reveal something HUGE...and that is...wait for it....wait for it....to reveal His love towards YOU and ME (i.e. the Church)!! BAM!!!"                    

Therefore marriage is not a convenient metaphor or an accidental after-thought of God. Rather, there is a divine plan and a sacred purpose for marriage and we should not miss it. God created marriage first and foremost to be a powerful, poignant and persistent picture of His love towards us. And as such, we should want our marriages to be faithful to the gospel picture that God intended it to beThis cannot be overstated. If you miss this I'm not sure you will ever find true and lasting happiness in your marriage because marriage will always be about you and for you and you will be trying to force marriage to do something it was never intended to do - serve yourself. But marriage has a greater message, a greater model and a greater motive and they all point to the greatest one....Jesus Christ. Praise God! The mystery has been revealed! 

C: THE COVENANT OF MARRIAGE


Above is a clip from Disney Pixar's Up chronicling the marriage of Carl and Ellie. In 4 brief minutes it encapsulates a beautiful union and I doubt you will find yourself so moved by another animated short - especially one where not a single word is uttered. I am convinced that the reason why it tugs at our heart so powerfully is because we are not just seeing the enduring love shared between a husband and wife but we are also witnessing a small glimpse of God's great love towards us -- a love each and every one of us were created to receive.  

In my previous marriage posts (found HERE) I have attempted to stress that God’s central purpose for creating marriage was that it might be a picture of Christ and the Church, for our good and for His glory. I understand that this might sound nice for the “theologically-inclined” but you're probably thinking "What relevance does this have for my marriage today?" Well, in very practical terms I think one of the most profound ways in which a marriage between a man and a woman can picture Christ’s love for the Church (i.e. me as a believer) is in the way we view and honor our marriage covenant.

WHAT HOLDS A MARRIAGE TOGETHER?
When you think about weddings what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Perhaps it’s the flowers, the music, the tuxedos? Maybe it’s that dress, the procession, or the rings? But beyond all the pageantry what do you think is the most important part of that wedding day? It’s not when the father hands his daughter over to the groom. It’s not when the preacher gives a poignant sermon. It’s not even when the newlyweds kiss to seal the deal. There is really only one part of that special day that if you removed it from the program, it would no longer qualify as a wedding, and that is…..the “exchange of vows”.

This is that salient moment where the husband and wife look into each other’s eyes and while standing before family, friends and most importantly God Himself – they make a sacred promise to one another – a “covenant” in fact. It often goes something like this:

“I, ____, take you, ____, to be my (husband/wife). I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life. I, ____, take you, ____, for my lawful (husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

What do you notice there? Not all vows are the same but what nearly all share in common is that they involve a long list of circumstances in which both parties promise to be faithful to one another despite whatever might come their way in the years ahead.  Therefore, the purpose of the wedding ceremony is not for the groom and the bride to publicly proclaim their love for one another – but rather to publicly promise their love to one another – no matter what troubles may lie ahead. 

Some dear friends of mine, named Mike and Leslie, found their own vows tested a few years ago like they had never before imagined. Mike was struggling with a severe nerve pain that began in his esophagus and subsequently spread all over his body – a pain so great that it debilitated him physically, mentally and emotionally. He was forced to go on indefinite medical leave from his job as a partner at a law firm, and his condition only worsened over time. Perhaps the greatest challenge in all of this was that despite having seen numerous doctors, psychiatrists, and pastors, no one was able to diagnose and treat the problem let alone find a cure. There he found himself spiraling into a vortex of hopelessness and depression.

This is one of the strongest Christian couples I know, but they will be the first to tell you that Mike’s condition had pushed the very limits of what they thought their marriage could endure. On their anniversary, Leslie confessed her struggle in a very public and powerful way on a blog post she wrote entitled 8 Years Ago Today”. In it she recalled her wedding day and portions of her vow to him and reflected upon them in the midst of their darkest trial. I can’t say it better than her so I have reprinted it below with their permission:

“I, Leslie, take you, Mike, to be my wedded husband. To have and to hold, from this day forward…”

Today is our anniversary. I remember so many things about that day. It was truly meaningful and a ton of fun for me. I remember saying my vows and having my voice go two octaves higher as I lost control and sobbed through them. I felt so blessed to have found such a good guy; he was my diamond in the rough….our new life together was filled with adventure and the promise of good things to come.

 ”…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer…”

And good things came. Mike had a super job lined up. We moved to the great city of Chicago. We became part of a diverse, mission-minded church that has become family to us. We had two adorable boys who light up our lives every single day. We have become a part of a neighborhood and school community full of wonderful people and friends. Life could not get any better.

 “…in sickness and in health…”

You know where we are now. Mike continues to have pain, no specific causal diagnosis, no signs of improvement. The longer this goes on, the more he feels cursed. The longer this goes on, the deeper he slips into darkness. I think I can handle his physical ailments. I think I can handle the uncertain future and whatever changes may have to come however drastic. I think I can even handle some anxiety and sadness. But dealing with the growing darkness that has consumed him so that he has almost become a different person altogether makes me miss the man I married 8 years ago. It is hard. And I am failing in so many ways when it comes to loving him as I should. But like him, I am trying. We are both trying so hard even if it seems impossible for him to hope and see beyond himself and impossible for me to be encouraging and patient.

“…to love and to cherish, ’till death do us part. I pledge you my faithfulness.”

In times of testing, words are not just words. They go beyond formality, way beyond lip service. I think of these vows spoken 8 years ago in a different time and a different place. Whether on the mountain top or in the deep valley, I still mean them. Now I know that I really do because I can say them here in the barren wilderness. I still live and swear by them. Michael, YOU CANNOT GET RID OF ME. We are in this war together and I will fight with you till the end, love of my still very blessed life.

What a powerful model and testimony of the very purpose of the marriage covenant! As they were faithful to their vows God proved faithful to them and I’m happy to say that they are doing well and their marriage has never been stronger.  In moments like these, we come to realize why the covenant is so important – they serve as the very glue in holding the marriage union together.  It is here that you realize that you are not holding the promise you made on that day, but rather the promise is holding you. And contrary to what Hollywood would have you believe, LOVE is not the bond that holds the relationship together - rather the COVENANT is. Mike Mason articulates the power of these vows so well in his book, The Mystery of Marriage”:

The impact of love may be felt as an exclamation mark, but vows ask a question. “How bright is the sun!” exclaims love, while the vow asks, “How dark a night are you prepared to pass through?” Marriages which are dependent on good feelings fall apart, or at best are in for a stormy time of it. But marriages which consistently look back into their vows, to those wild promises made before God, and which trust Him to make sense out of them, find a continual source of strength and renewal.” (Mason 117)

But while vows look back for strength to endure difficult seasons in a marriage, when they are first made and consecrated on the wedding day they are looking forward as they are promises for an unknown future. And so vows are predicated on FAITH because they place trust in a promise yet to be fulfilled in the future. I believe this is why when a husband or wife violates their vows it is described as being “unfaithful” or “infidelity”. Even the world recognizes that faith is at the very center of this sacred promise.

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ME?
Well, if, as Paul says, the marriage union between a husband and wife was designed by God to profoundly picture to the world the gospel (Eph 5:32) which is the relationship between Christ and the Church (i.e.”me”), then what can we learn about the gospel in regards to these covenant vows and how should it affect my marriage?

If you read through the Bible you will quickly realize that God loves making promises to His people and God loves keeping His promises to His people.  But despite all his covenants to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and others, I think the greatest covenant He made was to us (the Church).  It is the new covenant which was prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-34) that not only fulfills but supercedes the old covenant. In fact in Romans Paul describes the unbreakable love found in this new covenant that Jesus has vowed to those who come to him by faith:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ….for I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  –Romans 8:35,38-39

Do you notice anything here? In many ways these verses read just like a traditional wedding vow however it goes above and beyond any wedding vow I’ve ever seen, because it promises a faithful love that goes beyond the physical (“neither height nor depth”), beyond the metaphysical (“neither angels nor rulers”), beyond even the dimension of time (“nor things present nor things to come”). Where marriage vows promise "til death do us part" Jesus' vow goes beyond even death itself (“neither death nor life”) – these are all promises no earthly marriage would dare fathom. God is communicating one truth here: nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of Jesus – this is His covenant promise of love to us and it need only be received by faith. 


So in much the same way that a man pursues the woman that he loves for marriage, Jesus, as the bridegroom, initiates his love relationship with us. He professes his unconditional love for us and proposes an eternal union with us – his bride – which is the Church. And in the same way that a husband and wife make vows to one another on their wedding day, he has made a solemn covenantal promise to love us without conditions and without end.

 "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." -Hebrews 13:5b

…and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -Matthew 28:20b

Therefore as a married couple, you will never project a more powerful picture of the covenant love found in the gospel than when you hold on to your vows even in the midst of great marital hardship and even when your spouse doesn't deserve it. 

Why? Because you are modeling to a watching world the faithful and enduring covenant love God has for you when you didn't deserve it. Ray Ortlund writes, “It is the heavenly marriage that warrants and dignifies an earthly marriage. In Paul’s reasoning, therefore, human marriage is not the reality for which Christ and the church provide a sermonic illustration, but the reverse. Human marriage is the earthly type, pointing towards the spiritual reality.”

Let me tie this back to the video that opened this post. The reason we are so moved by Carl and Ellie in the movie "Up" is because we are bearing witness to a love that is faithful to a covenant. A love that has endured good times and bad. A love that holds true to a promise made many years ago. In fact, the entire movie is essentially about Carl trying to fulfill his promise to Ellie of taking their house to Paradise Falls - against near impossible odds - just as he promised Ellie as a child. 

What a profound picture of Jesus' covenant love towards us! His is a love not dependent upon our performance but upon His promise. His is a love that found victory against impossible odds. His is a love that endures until the end. This supernatural love and sacred covenant should serve as both the model and the motive for our own marriages. 

May our earthly marriages be a faithful picture of our divine union with Him.

H: THE HEADSHIP OF MARRIAGE 
With three young children I don’t have a lot of time to watch movies so I often use the Oscars as a litmus test to deem what might be worthy of my time and money.  When a film wins Best Picture and Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor/Actress I feel confident it’s worth watching not only because I know it tells a great story but those chosen to tell the story tell it well.  That said, one of my all-time favorite movies is Glory. Not only is the historical narrative of a black Civil War regiment so powerful but Matthew Broderick and supporting actors Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington give incredible performances and complement each other so well. I’ve realized in every good film each actor has a distinct role whether it is the lead, supporting or other, and the story is best told when each actor/actress embraces their unique role with excellence to propel the story which is the biggest star. In short, the glory is the story.

So what does all this have to do with marriage? Well, just as in every great film or story a director or author chooses different characters to play a unique role I believe the same is true of God and marriage. It may have little to do with who is better fitted or who deserves a certain role and more to do with honoring the role the Producer/Director (God Himself) has given. At the end of the day, it’s not about the actors – it’s about the story and no one loves telling stories more than God (author of best-selling book of all time) and just as He has chosen certain men and women in the Bible to display his glory by telling His story I believe He has also given every husband and wife that same privilege through His creation of marriage. So what are our God-given roles and what is the God-given story? Ephesians 5 tells us:  

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do 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… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. -Ephesians 5:22-25

These verses usually trigger a visceral reaction from people and are often criticized as old-fashioned at best and misogynistic at worst but embracing these roles has nothing to do with preserving a tradition and everything to do with proclaiming a truth. When the husband assumes his role of Christ in the marriage serving his wife through humble leadership and sacrifice and when the wife assumes her role of the Church volitionally supporting her husband’s leadership the world witnesses the wisdom and beauty of God’s design.  These verses are far more than Paul dispensing practical marriage advice.  He is describing God-given roles for a God-given purpose to tell a God-given story -- the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  As difficult as it may be there are practical implications when marriage is done God’s way. I am convinced that the added benefit is that when each embraces their respective role marriages are generally happier and healthier. Husbands feel honored and respected and wives feel loved and cherished. God has done this both for His glory and for our good.

Unfortunately, we now live in a world that mocks our differences and unique roles and sadly much of this criticism is well-deserved. With more fatherless homes than ever, men have often failed miserably (myself included) to love and lead their wives and families as Christ loves the Church and so what we now have as cultural symbols for husbands are bumbling idiots like Al Bundy, Peter Griffin, Homer Simpson, etc.  Sadly, sometimes “Christian” husbands are the worst. Kent Hughes says it well:

“God’s Word in the hands of a religious fool can do immense harm. I have seen “couch potatoes” who order their wives and children around like the grand sultan of Morocco – adulterous misogynists with the domestic ethics of “Jabba the Hut” who cow their wives around with Bible verses about submission – insecure men whose wives do not dare go to the grocery without permission, who even tell their wives how to dress. But the fact that evil, disordered men have perverted God’s Word is no reason to throw it out.” –Kent Hughes in Ephesians

Let’s face it – men have a sinful bent for being selfish and proud and have generally failed to love and lead. Look no further than the Garden of Eden and notice Adam’s conspicuous absence in Eve’s encounter with the serpent.  Perhaps in response to this failure, women are now encouraged to live a life completely independent of a man with little desire to respect or yield to anyone else as a leader of the household. Couple this with a wives sinful bent to rule over her husband (which also originated at the Garden of Eden (Gen  3:16b) and it’s no wonder why it’s so difficult to find a gospel picture in marriages the way God intended.

However, imagine a gentle husband who loves his wife so much that he constantly puts her needs before his own – even his very life; a man who leads her, not by invoking his sacred authority for his own selfish gain or to stroke his fragile ego, but by serving and protecting her with humility, strength and courage. Now imagine a beautiful bride who willingly sets aside her own selfish desires to control or manipulate and volitionally yields herself to this loving husband by choosing to respect and honor him and by yielding to his humble servant leadership. While the controversial topic tends to generate more heat than light in the Church, I am convinced that this type of union and dynamic between a husband and the wife is one of the most profound real-life pictures of the gospel.  

What is Biblical Submission?
These are hard words. So how are we to understand submission in the context of Scripture and within the context of my life? The apostle Paul tells us:
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. -1 Corinthians 11:3
The first thing one should notice from this verse is that no one escapes the calling to submit. Not women (who are to submit to their husbands). Not men (who are to submit to Christ). Not even Christ himself (who submits to God the Father).  And so the moment a Christian (man or woman) claims they are above “submission” they imply they are above Christ Himself who joyfully submitted to the will and authority of the Father.  The beauty of all this is that in Christ we see perfect examples for both the husband and wife to follow.  

The word “submission” admittedly has become an ugly term in today’s vernacular but as defined and demonstrated by God it is a beautiful thing. Because our culture has so distorted its biblical definition in some ways it’s easier to define by describing what it is not: submission is not a blind obedience to power. It does not forfeit your God-given personality or marginalize a voice or an opinion. It does not excuse or tolerate abuse of power nor is it a sign of inferiority or weakness. Rather, it is quite the opposite because it takes great strength to submit –supernatural strength at times.  

NOT...biblical submission.
Biblical submission is not about one member forcing their will upon the other like a wrestler executing a crippling hold. The beauty and power of biblical submission is that the one who submits does it completely on their own volition and by their own will.  Jesus modeled this in His own prayers when he taught the disciples to pray “thy [the Fathers’s] will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And perhaps the greatest test of this prayer and it's most seminal moment came in the crush of Gethsemane (Mt 26:39) where with blood, sweat and tears Jesus prayed, “…not my will, but your will.” His arm was not twisted by the Father. His was a unilateral yielding of his own volition by faith. We are all called to this type of biblical submission; just as Christ submitted to the Father - husbands are called to submit to Christ and wives to their husbands as they submit to Christ. In obeying this command by faith we are being like Christ….for Christ. We are modeling Jesus’ beautiful submission to the Father to our spouse, our children, and to a watching world for the glory of Jesus.  

What is Biblical Love?
This one is much easier to define and yet much harder to execute. Biblical love is not a touchy-feely, uncommitted whimsical selfish love. It is a self-sacrificing (1 Jn 3:16), life-long, covenant-bound love. It is a love as pictured by the life and death of Jesus and as defined by His Word. As 1 Corinthians 13 states it is a love that is “patient and kind – not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude”. Husbands are called to lead with this kind of love, and in the same way his leadership should not “insist on his on his own way” or be “irritable or resentful” if or when the wife disagrees with him. This is the love and leadership Jesus himself modeled.  

I saw a recent video of Bubba Watson after he won this year's Masters. Two minutes into the interview Bubba begins to talk about life, his faith and the Christ-like role model he tries to play for his family which I found so refreshing and which I believe captures the spirit of the role God calls fathers and husbands to assume.


With that said, I have intentionally refrained from providing specific examples of what these marriage roles might look like in more narrow terms because I believe it may look different for every marriage as every man and woman is unique (although I will attempt to flesh out what this dynamic might look like in future posts). Ultimately these roles are not about determining who plays the family breadwinner, or who wins unilateral decision-making authority. It’s so much bigger than this. It’s about believing by faith that God has a design for marriage because His desire is to project a picture in and through it - the picture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His love for the Church (His bride).   

So what happens when a couple follows God’s order and design? One of my wife’s favorite shows is “Dancing with the Stars” and although there are many other ways I’d prefer to spend an hour, I must admit seeing each aspiring couple rise to the challenge of performing their routine in front of a live audience is exciting. But the truth is it only works when three things happen:  when the man knows how to lead, when the woman follows his lead and when both dance in rhythm to the music. When these three things come together even an old curmudgeon like myself can find something inherently beautiful in it. In the same way, when the wife supports her husband’s leadership, when the husband leads as a servant as Jesus modeled, and when both are in rhythm with God’s word and in sync with the Spirit – the world is witnessing a powerful picture of Christ and the Church and God receives glory.

Many of us vastly underestimate the power we possess in our marriage relationship to model this Gospel picture and communicate this Gospel story. I mean how much of a difference can two people make in a world that is so broken? Looking back at my own spiritual journey I realized that although I had grown up in a loving Christian home it wasn’t until I was in high school and met my youth pastor and his wife that I saw this dynamic in play. I saw the way he treated his wife and kids – humble, gentle and sacrificial in the way he led. And I saw the way she treated him – respectful and honoring in the way she trusted his leadership of the home and I was inexplicably drawn to that. I was only a young teenager and at the time I didn’t really understand what I was seeing but I knew I wanted it in my own life and in my own marriage someday [though admittedly still a work in progress]. Only now do I realize that I was actually witnessing the Gospel of Jesus Christ embodied in the union between a husband and wife – the way God intended it to be. I am convinced that this, more than anything else, is ultimately what drew me into a relationship with Christ and a saving faith.

I understand that this post can be a frustrating read for some married couples. What if my husband cannot or will not lead our home? What if my wife won’t support my leadership or is a more capable leader? What if feeling loved or respected matters little to my wife or husband?  What is this really supposed to look like in the 21st century?

These are good questions and I won’t pretend to have all the answers. It will require great faith in God’s word – and faith that at the end of every difficult command is a promised blessing. The truth is neither role is easy. Who wants to support a leader that doesn’t lead well? Who among us are qualified to love and lead like Christ loves the Church? But by faith we obey these commands we are being “like Christ…for Christ”. He is our model and our motive – not our spouse. That said, God has given each spouse great power. Even when only one party plays his/her role, by faith, I believe it has the power to transform the heart of the other by “sanctifying them “ (Eph 5:25-26) or even “winning them over” (1Pet 3:1) to Christ.

Only with a gospel model in marriage, can we fully understand and appreciate that the biblical headship model was not just an arbitrary decision or a practical “tie-breaker” but was created to project a physical picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and this is most profoundly pictured when both husband and wife play their parts. When this happens God, the master story-teller, uses the marriage to re-enact the drama of the Gospel.  What a privilege to participate in the most compelling drama and redemptive story ever told. May we tell His story and may we tell it well. 

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