Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Command for Husbands: Looking at Ephesians 5

This year I've been tackling some different topics surrounding faith and relationships. I've had this topic on my mind for even longer and I'm finally getting around to publishing my thoughts on it.

We all know marriage is a common topic within the Church in America, and within in that conversation, the topic of submission. It's a hot-button subject that many churches don't shy away from, and it has the potential to become the focal point when studying Ephesians 5. In my experience, churches sometimes camp on the topic of submission, what it looks like, how to do it, etc. But it's not the only important topic to consider when looking at biblical marriage.

Also in my experience, I've found the lack of dialog on a husband's calling--in the same Ephesians passage--disheartening. I think it's beyond time for leaders in the Christian community to step forward, and truly challenge married men to model the Ephesians 5 husband. It's not enough to simply be "in charge," there is a larger, more encompassing command present. I've also seen young women get a poor concept of biblical marriage as they are left with the command to submit, and not much more.

Married members of the Christian community should be seeking to give an accurate representation of both the roles of wives and  husbands within marriage. The call is not for women to blindly submit and men to tyrannically rule, but for there to be a two-person relationship that paints a broader picture of Christ and the Church. How can we model that if we don't earnestly seek what we are called to?

In an effort to do just that, I'm looking into the instruction of Ephesians 5:22-33, specifically looking at what husbands are called to. Based on the comparison and the position in which husbands are placed, I believe they have the greatest responsibility within marriage, and that is to model Christ. I will, for the sake of study, not ignore instruction for wives.

The Breakdown

Right away, this passage starts off with submission (v.22), but it is not devoid of a reason. Submission is a natural response to the husband's role, which is to mirror Christ's headship of the church. (v. 23) Wives are called to submit to their own  husband (not all  husbands/men), as to the Lord, because of the husband's role and position in marriage. Husbands are called to be a living picture  of Christ's headship over the church and His role as Savior of the body  (i.e., the church at large). (v. 23)

Immediately there is a picture being painted--God has intended for the husband-wife relationship to mirror that of Christ and the church. Marriage in and of itself is a God-ordained symbolism. Within that picture, there are distinctly defined roles. Just as the church submits to Christ, so wives are called to embody that by submitting to their husbands. (v. 24) The next six verses go on to contain instruction strictly for husbands.

Husbands are called to love their wives (v. 25a), and before you think that is a simple, easy calling, the rest of the verse explains what that love is to resemble. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (v. 25b) In other words, to love their wives, husbands are instructed to lay down their lives. Christ died for us, the church, to make us holy, cleansed, so that we could be presented to Him in splendor, holy and blameless. (vs. 26-27) His sacrifice is life-giving and selfless, with a goal of reconciliation to bring us close to Him. This is the type of sacrifice husbands are called to, to love is to give of oneself as Christ gave of Himself. He is the very definition of love. (1 John 4:8)

Ephesians 5:28 goes on to detail another aspect of the Christ-like love husbands are to emulate, loving their wives as they love themselves. Just as a man would provide and care for himself, so he must provide and care for his wife. (v. 29a) Again, this is to be a picture of Christ's provision and care for the church, because we, as the church, are members of His body. (v. 29b-30) And if you look at Christ's example, He gave up His literal, physical body on the cross, so He took it a step further  and valued the church over His own life. (John 19:16-30)

The passage wraps up by discussing how the husband-wife relationship is set apart and unique. A husband is called to leave his parents and be united to his wife in a profound mystery, mirroring Christ and the church. (vs.31-32) In that we see that a husband's responsibility is to his wife, not his parents, or extended family, or others. His primary role is to love his wife, and she is called to respect him. (v. 33)

The Response

I think a lot of women get hung up on this passage right out of the gate. It begins with wives and submission, and if you stop there, it can seem frustrating and one-sided. But you have to read the entire passage to find what is paired with that calling. With the call for wives to submit is the call for husbands to live like Jesus, a huge and challenging command that husbands cannot take lightly.

Before I go any father, I want to affirm that, unfortunately, not all husbands model Christ in their marriages. A husband is not automatically Christ-like just by getting married or by being male. Nor is a husband godly in his words and behavior at all times. Because of sin, men and women are fallen, sinful, unable to do good on their own, which is why we need Jesus all the time.

To be able to live like Jesus, we must be in constant pursuit  of Jesus. It doesn't come naturally, it's not easy, and honestly, it's not always fun. But it is the best, most rewarding, most fulfilling  way any human being can live. (Please know: If your husband, or any man for that matter, is treating you poorly--physically or emotionally--you are not  called to be a doormat and accept abuse. Please tell someone whom you trust, who can help you, and give you godly advice and council.)

The challenge for husbands is to singularly be in pursuit of Christ-likeness. Only through seeking Jesus--to know Him and become like Him--can a husband honor his God-given mandate within marriage. That mandate is, as stated in Ephesians 5:25-32, to love his wife as Jesus loved the church. To get a full grasp of that, I encourage you, read through the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and study who Jesus was, how He lived, and what He did to bring people to Himself. Really the entire Bible will point you to Christ, but the Gospels are a great place to start.

The Results

If husbands truly seek Christ-likeness and strive to emulate Him within their marriages, I believe they will begin to see certain, specific results.
  • Denial of self. Jesus said in Mark 10:45, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many." Jesus' very mission was to give up Himself. To be like Christ is to deny your selfish desires, to put the needs of others before your own. Within marriage, this manifests itself when a husband looks to care for the needs of his wife over his wants, desires and needs. To be truly Christ-like in marriage, a man cannot be selfish.
  • Elevation of others. When you spend less time concerned with your own needs and more time serving others, you begin to elevate others. You see their value and worth and your actions help to underscore that value. In the marriage relationship, the husband elevates his wife to a place of honor and esteem. This is an equalizing position, one where a wife is highly valued, both for who she is and what she does. (See Proverbs 31:10-31 for an example of a man honoring his wife.)
  • Strengthening of the family and the church. A relationship that exemplifies that of Christ and the Church will have a profound impact on both the family and the church body. A husband and wife who are striving after Christ together will set an unmistakable example of a godly marriage for their family and their church. This example can help guide others in marriage and in ministry by demonstrating a singular focus on Christ and His calling.
I also believe that if a husband is truly striving after Christ-likeness, submission becomes not merely a requirement but a joy. It becomes a natural response to the love and sacrifice of a godly husband. (For more on the topic of submission itself, check out this blog post.) And what is better than mutually encouraging each other toward a life, a marriage, that honors the Lord above all?
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