As we have noted previously, sinful humanity hates God, and therefore since it cannot actually strike God, it strikes His image wherever it can be found. This is why there is such vehemence against men and women, and this is why the covenant of marriage has been a central target. The Christian response to all of these attacks should be to double down, recognizing the potency of being joyful men and women and honoring marriage in particular.
“This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Eph. 5:32-33).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
This is the summary of what Paul has just said in more detail: a husband is to love his wife like Christ loved the church, and a wife is to respect and submit to her own husband as the church submits to Christ in all things (Eph. 5:22-24). The particular picture given is that of a head and body (Eph. 5:23), and that image is applied in the command to husbands to love their wives as their own bodies (Eph. 5:28-29). This is because “we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (Eph. 5:30). And all of this is based on the biblical teaching that when a man and woman marry, they become one flesh (Eph. 5:31).
HEAD & BODY
One of the key concepts that couples have to continually lean into is covenant. We say this word a lot, but what we mean is the notion of responsibility. Individualists can only think of personal guilt, but it turns out that individualism is already a form of abdication (“am I my brother’s keeper?” Gen. 4:9). We are not mere BBs rolling around in this world; we are individuals united in various covenants (family, church, nation) and covenant-like relationships (schools, businesses, and other associations). In each of these covenants, there are leaders and members. And the thing to note here is that leaders are responsible for what takes place in the organization.
Authority flows to those who take responsibility, but it flees those who abdicate and blame. This is what it means to be the “head.” Responsibility doesn’t mean personal guilt in every instance, but responsibility does mean gladly owning the challenges and problems personally. If you’re the ship captain, not every action on board the ship is done by you, but you’re responsible for it all. Jesus took responsibility for His bride, and this is the model for all leaders, especially husbands. Jesus wasn’t personally guilty of any of our sin, but He gladly took covenantal responsibility for it.
One of the central signs of this covenantal thinking and living is driven by the pronoun “we.” As that great Christian calendar verse says, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). There is all kinds of room for discussion, different perspectives, and dialogue, but when the husband makes the final decision, the husband and wife must own the decision together, saying, “we decided…,” “our decision…,” “our position…” regardless of whose idea it was. This is the case even when a husband fails to make a decision. Abdication is a decision. This unity is particularly important when there were different preferences and when the decision doesn’t go well. If the husband takes his wife’s counsel and it goes badly, the husband must insist that it was his decision, and not waffle or let it fall on his wife at all. And if the wife submits to her husband’s poor decision, she must not go along with it with a bad attitude or half-heartedly, and if it does go badly, she must not say, “see, I told you so,” or worse, tell her friends, “yeah, that wasn’t mydecision.”
In Prince Caspian, Trumpkin the dwarf volunteers to go on a dangerous mission that he argued against, and Caspian asks, “But I thought you didn’t believe in the Horn, Trumpkin.” And he replies, “No more I do, your Majesty. But what’s that got to do with it? … You are my King. I know the difference between giving advice and taking orders. You’ve had my advice, and now it’s the time for orders.” This is covenant loyalty. Nothing corrodes loyalty and friendship like blaming one another for decisions or talking about your disagreements with others. A husband and wife must be on the same team and present a united front to their kids and the world because they have been made one flesh and because Christ is faithful to His Church. This doesn’t eliminate the need for occasional outside counsel or input, but that should be done as a team, unless it is a true crisis or emergency.
CONFESSION OF SIN & FORGIVENESS
The joy of the Lord is the oil of gladness, and that oil is what keeps all the moving parts in a marriage running smoothly. If there is regular friction, hurt feelings, passive-aggressive criticism, and arguments, you can bet that there is a backlog of sin, bitterness, and resentment. And that means you are not walking in the joy of the Lord. You’re not walking in the light, and you keep tripping over past sins, guilt, and failure. The only way back into the light and joy is through confession of sin, first before God and then to those you have wronged (1 Jn. 1:4-10).
It’s very important that you get right with God first and foremost because if you only confess to your spouse, you will functionally be trying to get from your spouse what only God can give. Fundamentally, when we confess and forgive one another on the horizontal plane, we are only echoing or “amen-ing” what God has already accomplished on the vertical plane. But if you’re not right with God, your apologies can be pure manipulation. We confess because we have confessed to God, and we forgive because God has forgiven. This is how you can have Christian joy regardless of how anyone around you is doing or responding. Both husband and wife must do this individually, but it is the particular responsibility of the husband to take responsibility for his marriage on his knees.
We love because He loved us first. We forgive because He forgave us first. We take responsibility because Christ took responsibility for us. He was perfectly innocent, and He became sin for us. He was a spotless lamb, and God laid on Him the iniquity of us all. All of this means that every marriage is a picture of the gospel, a revelation, a mystery of Christ and His Church. The only question is whether it is an accurate picture, a faithful picture, a good picture or not.
Every human marriage falls short of the glory of God, but it is the glory of God to heal and restore. Where sin has abounded, grace abounds still more. This is not only the grace of confession and forgiveness; it is also the grace of repentance, the grace of change, the grace of loyalty, the grace of humility and taking responsibility.