This was written as a lecture for the young women in the youth group that I co-lead, but I don’t think that the guys will be harmed in reading it!
I was invited to a baby shower the other day, and I am not sure if you have been to one of those before, but people often play fun little games to get acquainted with one another. One of our games involved the hostess asking personal questions to individuals in the gaming group. Gamers were “out” if they answered in a particular way, and then they would have to sit down; otherwise, gamers stood until the right question removed them. One of the questions began, “If you were younger than ____ when you met your husband, stay standing.” The hostess decreased the age in series, and people sat down accordingly. I stayed standing for a good, long time, because I actually met my husband when I was 14 years old.
This information shocked some of my newly found acquaintances, who met my information with the oooohs and ahhhhhhs of admiration, as if I’d done something rather incredible. I received comments like, “That’s so sweet,” and “Oh my goodness, how beautiful.” Well, unless I misunderstand what sweet and beautiful are, then let me assure you, my relationship with my (future) husband was anything but lovely at that time. He was 17, out of school, and worked; I was in 10th grade and my only job was to be educated. Our relationship during those formative years was tenuous at best. He and I fought like two squirrels caged up with the last acorn on Earth. Ten years later, when we finally did marry, we really weren’t much better, but the fights were surely more glorious. I’m talking about birthday cakes being stomped into the snow, or baked chickens flying through the air, like misguided footballs, only to be smashed to bits against the wall. Safe to say that we (well…mainly I) had some anger management issues.
The lovely Christian ladies at the baby shower had erroneously different thoughts. They likely envisioned me as a sweet teen who grew to love a young man who would care for her and protect her all her days. Honestly, my husband has grown to become that man, but he wasn’t back then. And so, I’d love to share with you what I wish that I would have known then.
In Ephesians, Paul quotes Genesis when he is speaking of marriage and tells us that, “…a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you husbands, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband” (Eph. 5:31-33). Paul embraces mystery. Not only does he comprehend spiritual truths that have been hidden from others, but he longs to share his wisdom with us. Paul uses a Greek word, mystērion, in his writings. It’s translated as mystery, but I think that perplexes us as modern readers. What he really means with the word (in our current usage) is a secret that has been revealed—one that is ready for mature believers to comprehend. In the case of Ephesians, he is telling us that human marriage is an analogy of Christ and His Church. So, let me sum up what that means quite literally for you, those of you who will most likely be future brides: young women need to strive for a godly marriage because that relationship will help illuminate how much God loves you. God does love you, and He uses our human relationships—our community—in order to teach us about love. When your husband loves you and cares for you, he becomes a living picture of Christ, and you will want to listen to him because you know that he would give everything to save your life. That’s Christ. That’s God. And if that’s your marriage, you are doing more than paying bills and making babies.
Paul’s words don’t always come across the way that he intended. There are many feminist critics who say that Paul’s view of marriage is restrictive and abusive, or that subordination is destructive. Yet, these critics appear disinterested in what Paul was truly trying to say. Where exactly does Paul say that marriage should be oppressive? In Ephesians he commands husbands to love their wives for spiritual reasons: “…husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies.…For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church” (5:28-29). The marriage of two people, then, is not merely a domestic arrangement or a man’s misguided attempt to subjugate a woman, but it is like Christ’s relationship with every believer.
But I hear you…“Miss Den, Paul says that we have to be submissive! We have to obey our husbands! What kind of talk is that for today’s enlightened women?” Good question, but you’ll have to let your guard down for a minute in order to hear the answer. Submit (hypotasso) does not convey some innate inferiority. It’s more a cooperative demeanor that puts others first and allows us to serve in one of the greatest relationships that God gave us. Christ himself served, so how could you think it a demeaning activity? Listen to Paul: “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:22-25).” Paul is not giving some one-sided advice; he is addressing both parties in the marriage. Your husband will be under the commands of God, just as you are.
There are loveless marriages, and I will tell you straight out—they are not godly marriages. In a Christian marriage, the wife and the husband know they are dearly loved by God, and this is the essence of Paul’s writings about marriage. Romantic love, you know…luvvy-doveyness…although desirable, was an unessential virtue for marriages in Roman society. A good Christian marriage, however, exposes a mystery: that Christ dwells within the church because of his great love for the body of believers, and in return, every Christian submits to Christ’s tender care. Anything less than that sacrificial love in your marriage is selling your marriage short.