As we begin a series on biblical marriage basics, we begin with two primary characteristics that are often missing from marriages: gratitude and the fear of the Lord. These are characteristics that may seem opposed to one another, but if we understand the gospel rightly, they actually go quite well together.
Consider this series review for those of you who are married, and preparation for those of you preparing for marriage. You will not make much progress in Christian marriage unless you are deeply grateful to God and you fear Him.
“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:20-21).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
As Paul exhorts the Ephesians to love one another, He identifies the heart of that love as deep and constant gratitude to God for all things, in the name of Jesus (Eph. 5:20). We give thanks to God for all things in the name of Jesus because He is the Lord Christ, the Messiah King of all things. This is also why we submit to one another in the fear of God: we are all subjects of the King (Eph. 5:21).
SOVEREIGN GRACE & PEACE
This kind of gratitude only makes sense in a world that God rules exhaustively (Eph. 1:11). Those who do not want God to be sovereign over all things are ultimately saying that there are certain things you don’t have to give thanks to God for since He didn’t do them. And this is because the sinful heart of man is always looking for some angle to take credit for (Eph. 2:9). But if we are required to give thanks to God always and for everything, then God is ultimately responsible for all things.
Does this mean giving thanks for evil? We must not condone or praise evil at all, but if even evil is under God’s sovereign rule (and it is), then yes, we must give thanks for how God even bends and governs evil to conform to His plan. Scripture says that Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles and the people of Israel conspired against the Lord and His Christ “to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27-28). Do we thank God for the Cross – the site of the most wicked act in the history of the world? Then we can and we must respond like Job to horrific hardship: the Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). And if this is the case in general, then it most certainly is the case specifically when it comes to your family, your marriage, your spouse. Give thanks for all of it, always. Make lists of all the good things and meditate on those things (Phil. 4:8). Gratitude is the plow that breaks up the hard soil of hard hearts. Gratitude is what allows you to see the big picture clearly. This is how God’s peace rules and guards our hearts and minds (Phil. 4:7-9).
SUBMITTING IN THE FEAR OF GOD
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1). It was the fear of God that drove Abraham to obediently take his son up the mountain to sacrifice him (Gen. 22:12). When Jacob made covenant with Laban, he swore by God, whom he called the “Fear of Isaac,” his father (Gen. 31:53). The midwives feared God and did not obey the Pharaoh’s wicked decree to expose the Hebrew baby boys (Ex. 1:21). Joshua charged Israel to fear God and serve Him in sincerity and truth and put away their idols (Josh. 24:14).
You cannot have a biblically healthy marriage apart from the fear of the Lord. You cannot have wisdom without the fear of the Lord. You will not be able to be obedient, keep your covenant vows, stand up to evil, or put away your idols if you do not fear the Lord.
The fear of the Lord teaches you to honor others rightly (1 Pet. 2:17). Husbands and wives are first of all fellow image-bearers (Gen. 1:28) and secondly, they are co-heirs of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7). In Christ, husband and wife are brother and sister, and there must be a deep reverence for one another in the fear of the Lord (Eph. 5:21). When God calls two Christians together, He is calling them to follow Him together. When God calls two Christians together, He is saying that they will be most equipped to serve Him together. In the first instance, your assignment is to submit to Christ, fear the Lord, and therefore, in Christ, there certainly is a mutual submission as you follow Christ together.
There is a kind of egalitarianism that camps out on this verse about mutual submission wrongly, but there is also a kind of pigheaded patriarchalism that completely ignores it. We want to be Biblical Christians, and this means that we want to embrace this verse and obey it and all of the ones the follow it. We believe in mutual submission in the fear of God and in the headship of husbands and the submission of wives in the Lord. Deal with it.
This mutual deference and kindness flows directly out of the gospel of grace. Christ is Lord of all because He was crucified for our sins and rose from the dead. The resolution of Paul that He is persuaded that nothing can separate us from the love of God and that in all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us – that all things must work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose – that is only possible if Christ is Lord of all things, if all things serve Him (Rom. 8). But if all things serve Him, then we must give thanks for all things, all the time, and tremble before His majesty.
And some of that majesty is particularly revealed in your spouse, in your marriage. So give thanks there; tremble before the Lord there.