Many years ago I became convinced that couples desiring marriage should be required to complete intensive premarital counseling. Strong marriages lead to strong families, churches, and communities.
But what should marriage preparation include?
Counselors have consistently recognized four primary areas of marital conflict:
- In-law relationships
While these areas continue to deserve attention, a fifth source of conflict has more recently surfaced: roles of husbands and wives in marriage. Confusion in this area has been fueled by the influence of feminism and the practical impact of two-income families. When husbands and wives both hold full time employment outside of the home, sharing household duties and parental responsibilities can be a great challenge.
Are there distinctively male or female responsibilities in the home? It’s wise to think about this before getting married. Usually expectations regarding roles are shaped by experiences within our families of origin.
Can we follow the Bible?
Does the bible present a divine norm for roles in marriage? How should Christians apply biblical teaching on roles in marriage? Are they outdated?
Many resent the way scripture portrays the ideal woman as a keeper of the home who submits to her husband. When the nation’s largest Protestant denomination amended its documents to include a statement on the need for a wife to “submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband,” it resulted in a media backlash. Many even in the church were outraged.
So what should we conclude about a New Testament passage that says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-40)?
When performing weddings, if I use the “s” word in the bride’s declaration of intent, (asking her, “Will you take John to be your lawful wedded husband, to live with him according to God’s ordinance? Will you submit to him as to the Lord?”), I always hear whispers of dissent from the audience. But I never hear dissent when I ask the groom if he will love his bride “as Christ loved the church”.
Misguided notions about submission in marriage abound. Some consider it a return to the Ozzie and Harriet homes of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Others picture a wife who allows her husband to order her around and force her to do whatever he demands. These ideas do not reflect the biblical understanding of wives submitting to their husbands.
In Scripture, marriage is viewed as a one-flesh relationship based on mutual self-giving love. It’s a covenant of companionship between two spiritually equal human beings. Yet this doesn’t mean that the relationship is without roles — nor do roles in marriage diminish equality and the call for mutual respect.
According to scripture, the husband bears primary responsibility to lead the home in a God-glorifying manner. His leadership clearly involves authority and should be honored by his wife and family. This authority, however, should be based on love (see: I Corinthians 13:4-8a) and thoughtful consideration (see: Philippians 2:3-5).
Scripture issues strong warnings against husbands who treat their wives with insensitivity (see I Peter 3:7). Husbands must never forget that they are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Cultural limitations should not be placed on this command any more than on the command for wives to submit to their husbands. Biblical requirements for male leadership in the home were not conditioned on cultural factors.
In a similar way, scripture reserves the office of elder (spiritual overseer) in the church to men (see: I Timothy 2:11-14). This requirement was based on the order of creation not on cultural attitudes about women during earlier times. Those who try to limit this instruction to cultural issues during New Testament times are intentionally twisting the voice of Scripture on the subject. But this is not to say that women have not and do not play significant roles of influence in both the home and the Church. It is simply requiring men to hold the office of eldership in the Church. It’s equally important to recognize what is not meant by submission of wives to husbands.
Distinctions about submission:
- Submission does not mean putting a husband in the place of Christ.
- Submission does not mean giving up independent thought.
- Submission does not mean a wife should give up efforts to influence and guide her husband.
- Submission does not mean a wife should give in to every demand of her husband.
- Submission is not based on lesser intelligence or competence.
- Submission does not mean being fearful or timid.
- Submission is not inconsistent with equality in Christ
(7 points from: “Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism” ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem)
Submission is most evidenced in a wife respecting her husband through her actions and speech. Wives must resist attitudes, verbal tones and facial expressions that convey disrespect. Playful rivalry is not bad between husbands and wives but divisive rivalry is a sign of deeper issues. Husbands must act and speak in ways that encourage respectful responses from their wives. If their husbands are not being respectful, I encourage wives to find a respectful way to tell them that you are finding it difficult to respect them.