After the excitement of the ceremony and the taste of the wedding cake is long gone, what’s next in the life of a married couple? Most married couples, including both newlyweds and not-so-newlyweds, have limited insight into this special relationship. Depending on the nature and background of one’s childhood family life or adult experiences, two people can enter into the marriage covenant with very different ideas about the meaning and purpose of marriage. To solve this problem, most people will turn to the internet, a bookstore, or a close friend or family member in order to discover some advice that will help them to have a good marriage. The one thing all of these sources have in common is that they are secondary and subjective. The opinions expressed, although perhaps good intentioned, are derived from limited experience without an objective analysis and assessment of the roles and responsibilities that entail a lifetime commitment to a spouse. As Christians, we need a timeless and objective assessment of marriage based on the depth and wisdom of the One who created marriage in the first place. Such an assessment is found in the Bible for it reveals the true nature and character of mankind and illuminates how to overcome the challenges that arise throughout a marriage. Wise Christian couples will ensure that the Bible remains the preeminent guide to instruct them throughout their marriage.
One of the foundational biblical texts on marriage is found in Ephesians 5:18-33. This passage contains insight into the roles and responsibilities of both the husband and the wife based upon the pre-eminent example of Jesus Christ. Illuminated is the special bond that must be established in a biblical marriage. Most importantly, the passage is bracketed by statements which emphasize the importance of God’s involvement in the marriage itself.
The passage begins appropriately focused on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Because the Holy Spirit must permeate the marriage, the admonition indicates that a successful, God-honoring marriage is only possible for Christians. The truth is solidified with other Scripture that indicates that only believers possess the indwelling Holy Spirit due to their faith in Christ (Romans 8:1, 9). The Holy Spirit is the sole source of power for the Christian, and without His filling the believer is bound to walk in the flesh and fulfill the dreadful desires brought about by sin despite an initial “saving faith” in Christ (Galatians 5:16). The empowerment of the Holy Spirit affects all endeavors of the Christian, including marriage. The Spirit of God can empower the believer to find the greatest satisfaction as they seek the Lord in fulfillment of his or her roles and responsibilities in marriage. In order for two imperfect people to love one another in reflection of God’s love, they must rely on the Holy Spirit to “shed abroad in our hearts” the love of God (Romans 5:4). When one recognizes and remembers their daily experiences with God’s love and forgiveness, marriage partners will be able to allow biblical love to “cover a multitude of sins” and remain “kind, tenderhearted” toward their spouse (I Peter 4:8; Ephesians 4:32).
The primary responsibility of the husband and the wife to be filled with the Spirit dovetails nicely with the admonition for discipleship in Ephesians 5:21. Of all the roles and responsibilities that the husband and the wife must perform, the most important of all begins with their mutual commitment to their role as a disciple of the Lord. Any conduct short of their joint submission to the Holy Spirit will erase any expectation to possess a biblical-based and Christ-centered marriage. Occasionally, there is confusion regarding the intention of the practice of Ephesians 5:21. The command to “submit yourselves one to another” is often mistaken as a directive for “mutual submission.” Such a command would be prohibitive given the commandment to the husband to be the “head” of the wife. Instead, this command for submission carries the caveat that submission is done in the “fear of God.” The Lord Jesus Christ is the head of all families (Ephesians 3:15; 5:32-33), and submission in the home is part of His plan to bring all things under His subjection for all time. All components of the family are to be in submission to Christ: wives are told to submit “as unto the Lord (Ephesians 5:22); husbands are told to love “as Christ also loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25); and even children are told to obey their parents “in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1).
Nevertheless, it must be noted that the husband and the wife will model a similar relationship between God the Father and God the Son. The three Persons of the Godhead are all ontologically united in divinity; that is, they are all recognized as God. However, the Persons of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit practice functional subordination to the will of the Father. Though all three are completely equal in their divinity, they each have a unique role to play. Similarly, the husband and wife are ontologically united as one flesh (Ephesians 5:31; Genesis 2:23-24). However, the wife is functionally subordinate as she must submit to her husband. To take the connection one step further, the husband also operates in submission to another authority, the Lord Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 11:3). Because the Lord is the pre-eminent example of servant leadership, the husband must exercise himself in the same loving manner as he leads his wife. Therefore, it can be stated that the husband’s male headship is his loving leadership of the wife as he follows the leadership of the Lord. Deductively, the principle of female submission requires the wife to submit and to be in support of her husband as she follows the Lord.
In order to specifically discuss the roles and responsibilities of each spouse, the text moves along to address each partner beginning with the wife. In accordance with Ephesians 5:22, the wife is to submit herself to her husband. Such a command indicates a voluntary placement under the authority of another, in this case the husband. Submission to the husband carries several implications. First, it implies that the wife is to follow the direction of the husband (Ephesians 5:24). As the husband sets the course for their family life, the wife should support the selected course of action. It is important that any counsel she provides (and she should provide it) will be done privately in order to maintain unity, especially if there are children in the family. Secondly, submission implies that she must support the decisions of the husband (Ephesians 5:26). There is the caveat that these decisions must be biblical and not sinful. This is not to say that the husband won’t make bad decisions, but the wife does not have to follow unscriptural commands. Lastly, submission implies that the wife will live in devotion to her husband (Ephesians 5:27). She should do her utmost to maintain purity in her relationship with her husband and with others. She should desire to live a holy life. Combined, these implications define the role of the wife to be a submissive companion to her husband.
In addition to the wife’s role as a submissive companion, she must also fulfill her responsibilities as the suitable helper (Genesis 2:20). As a helper suited to her husband, the wife must possess a desire for holiness (Ephesians 5:26; I Peter 3:4; Proverbs 31:25, 30), demonstrate trust in God (I Peter 3:4; Proverbs 31:30), practice a modest lifestyle (I Peter 3:2), reverence the husband (Ephesians 5:33), accompany the husband (Genesis 1:28; 2:18, 23), counsel and encourage the husband (Proverbs 31:26), be fruitful with the husband (Genesis 1:28), make short- and long-term plans and goals in support of the home, (Proverbs 31:15-16), and willingly work to strengthen and to manage the household (Prov. 31:13-14, 17-19, 22, 24, 27-28, 31; Genesis 1:28).
A woman who embodies such qualities is characterized as “virtuous” in the Bible. A “virtuous woman” is a woman who is strong in her character and spiritual maturity. She exhibits the virtues of trustworthiness, industriousness, and reliability. She is a tenderhearted and compassionate woman adorned in modesty and humility. She may appear meek, but is by no means weak. By the strength of her character she meets the needs of her family and reaches out to those in need. She is characterized by prudence, charity, and wisdom. She is valued above the price of any earthly wealth, and she is the premiere example of virtuous Christian living. Moreover, her virtue is attractive and appealing to her daughters, and she leaves an enduring legacy for them. Such a woman is worthy of praise. Without doubt, a virtuous woman will be an amazing blessing to her husband.
The insightful passage of Ephesians continues in its description of the husband’s roles and responsibilities. The husband must seek to lovingly lead his wife as he follows the leadership of the Lord. He is described as the head, that is, the authority of the home although he is not to enforce his will as an authoritarian (Ephesians 5:23-24). He may be the head, but he must remain responsive to the heart of the home, the wife (Ephesians 5:25). In his role as the head of the wife, the husband must continually recognize his dependence upon the Lord (I Corinthians 11:3). Submitting to the leadership of the Lord will enable him to be the servant of his family and make the wife’s submission to himself a sweet experience. Additionally, the husband is called upon to sacrificially love the wife just as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25, 33). The husband must be the embodiment of a love that knows no limits. He is to be the portrayal of love that willingly gives all of one’s being to secure the special relationship between him and his wife. The husband must also spiritually lead the wife (Ephesians 5:26). This must lead by example (I Timothy 4:12), but his leadership must also involve verbal biblical direction. It is important to have a time of worship and prayer with the wife.
Moreover, he must also discern those precious moments when the application of spiritual truth is necessary at any given moment throughout the day. As he follows the example of Christ, the husband must portray a relationship in which the husband uses the Bible to “sanctify” and “cleanse” the wife. He will not use the Bible as a tool of domination in order to gain capitulation to his will. Instead, he will employ the Word of God in order to aid the wife in the practice of her special calling – to be his wife and the mother to their children. Furthermore, the husband is responsible to provide security through the protection of his wife. The bride of Christ is said to be “without blemish,” an indication that the Lord does His utmost to ensure her safety from harm. Likewise, the husband must ensure that his wife is not damaged by the afflictions of the world. Certainly, he should not inflict emotional, physical, or other type of abuse upon his spouse. Conversely, the wife should be “nourished” and “cherished” (Ephesians 5:28-29; Genesis 1:28). A loving husband will be always “ravished” with the love of his wife (Proverbs 5:19). As such, this loving and doting attitude will help the husband to fulfill the biblical responsibility to be fruitful with his wife (Genesis 1:28). A man who fulfills such responsibilities in his role as a husband can rightly be characterized by the phrase “man of God” (I Timothy 6:11). What a blessing it would be for husbands to truly be regarded as the pillars of their home as they embody the spirit of biblical “men of God” who dedicated themselves to the Lord and, in this case, to their wives as well.
As the couple seeks the Lord, they will solidify their bond just as Christ solidified his relationship with the church. Through reliance upon the Holy Spirit, each member of the family can bring glory to God and promote the greatest good throughout the home. By recognizing one’s roles and by acting upon one’s responsibilities, the wife will fulfill her calling to be a suitable and submissive companion and helper to her husband as he lovingly leads and serves his wife. Though these roles and responsibilities are immense, the family can fulfill their calling through the power of the Holy Spirit.