A Biblical Marriage: Neither Feministic nor Chauvinistic
In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul paints a picture of marriage that is an alternative to both the feminism and the chauvinism we see and have seen in society. Both feminism and chauvinism are distortions of the beautiful way God intended husbands and wives to relate to each other.
First, he says to wives, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”
So Paul has one word for the way wives should relate to their husbands, and that word is “submission.” I think that’s fairly obvious in the text. Some people may not like it and it may not be politically correct, but, nevertheless, there it is, staring us in the face.
Of course, submission doesn’t imply that the wife is lesser or inferior or any way—simply that she has a different role. Women bear the image of God to the same degree as men, and Christian women are children of God and heirs of salvation just as much as men are. They’re totally equal in their value and worth, but they’re different in the way God calls them to function.
However, in order for God’s design for marriage to be enjoyed as the beautiful thing it is, not only do wives need to practice submission, but there’s also a way in which husbands need to put aside their selfish desires.
That’s why we find these words in verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Wow. So that means just like Jesus loved the church and voluntarily laid down his life for the church, husbands are supposed to love their wives in that same sacrificial way? That’s pretty radical.
You see, Jesus laid down his life for us when we were in a downright wretched condition. We were entirely rebellious, unlovely, and undeserving. And yet, even when we were in that condition, Jesus looked upon us with mercy and compassion, and he saved us.
He became a human himself and entered our world so he could die on the cross to pay for our sins. He wasn’t under any obligation to do that, but he did it anyway because his love is so vast and immeasurable. You see, our sin had to be dealt with; justice had to be meted out. But Jesus put himself in our place and acted as our substitute. And just like Jesus demonstrated sacrificial love toward us, he calls husbands to demonstrate sacrificial love for their wives.
That’s a lot different than the chauvinistic way husbands have often treated their wives down through the centuries, isn’t it? That’s a lot different than husbands treating their wives like their own personal property—like their servants to be ordered around, intimidated, or casually dismissed. Just because supposedly “Christian” societies practiced it, that doesn’t mean it was ever biblical.
So the biblical instructions for marriage undermine both of the two major ways people have commonly approached gender roles. It’s not feminism, and it’s not chauvinism: it’s Bible. It’s a beautiful plan that God has created in his infinite wisdom, and it’s the way to maximize enjoyment and harmony in a marriage.
Listen to this description from DesiringGod.org of a man and woman figure skating together a few years ago at the 2014 Winter Olympics: “He leads her onto the ice and initiates each part of their routine. She receives that leadership and trusts in his strength. His raw physical strength is more on display than hers; he does all the lifting, twirling and catching. She complements his strength with her own; a more…attractive strength of beauty, grace, speed and balance. His focus as the head or leader is to magnifying her skills. Her focus is on following his lead and signaling her readiness to receive his next move. He takes responsibility for the two of them and she trusts his leadership and delights in it. If he makes a mistake, she pays the larger physical price; he pays the larger emotional price. She falls, but he fails! So he has to learn to initiate and risk. She has to help him understand her moves and to endure his learning curve. They do not fight for equality on the ice; they possess it as a given. They are not jostling about fairness. They are focused on doing their part well. No one yells, “Oppressor!” as he leads her around the arena, lifting her up and catapulting her into a triple spin. No one thinks she is belittled as she takes her lead from him, skating backwards to his forward….They complement each other…becoming one majestic whole. No one, least of all him, minds that the roses and teddy bears, thrown onto the ice when they have collapsed into each other’s arms at the end, are for her. It is his joy….When it’s done well, it’s a welcome sight in which both partners are fulfilled in themselves and delighted in the other.”