If you have been raised with a traditional view of marriage, you’ve probably heard the husband is in charge. “In a marriage, the man is God’s delegated authority. He leads.”
It sounds Biblical, but it isn’t. It has more in common with those sexist advertisements of yesteryear than anything said by the Apostle Paul.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them (Col. 3:19)
The word for love (agapao) is a verb associated with the unconditional love (agape) of God. In other words, men, if you want to know what real love is like, look to Jesus who laid down his life for you. Do the same for your wife.
Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord (Col. 3:18)
This should not be read as an invitation for the husband to dominate the wife like he’s lord of the manor. Instead, it’s an invitation for the wife to submit out of love, as is fitting in the Lord. In other words, if you want to know what submission is like, look to the One who has a gentle and humble heart.
We need to take a moment to reflect on what Paul is saying, because no one ever said anything like this before.
In ancient Israel you loved your wife for as long as she provided you with children and didn’t displease you. If she failed to perform, you could replace her for a better model.
“That’s not love,” Paul would have said. “Loving your wife has nothing to do with her appearance or ability to prepare tasty meals. Nor does it have anything to do with your feelings. True love is intentional. It is choosing to love an imperfect person with the perfect love God has shown you.”
It takes two to tango and it takes two loving people to make a good marriage. It’s not always easy, but when the husband and wife both respect and prefer one another, the result is a blessed and fruitful partnership.
Love in la-la land
If you have been raised in a culture where the men rule and women do what they’re told, a marriage of equals can seem like something out of la-la land.
How can a marriage work when there are two chiefs?
It works when each chief is totally committed to the success of the other. He plays the supportive husband, and she plays the supportive wife, because both want the best for each other.
Equality in role relationships does not mean both partners take turns doing every household chore. Equality means the husband and wife are equally willing to work hard and make adjustments in their marriage. Decisions are made jointly, and the division of tasks is based on preferences rather than gender stereotypes.
But what if the two chiefs can’t agree? What then? When push comes to shove, who gets the final call?
Speaking about her relartionship with her husband, the late Rachel Held Evans offered this answer:
We never really know how to respond to this question because, frankly we don’t do a lot of “pushing and shoving” in our relationship. We’ve never reached the great hypothetical impasse that folks seem so curious about. Even when we disagree, we find compromises based on multiple factors, not a gender-based trump card.
I couldn’t agree more. Camilla and I have been married for more than 20 years and in that time, I can only think of a few occasions when we didn’t see eye to eye. Major disagreements just don’t come up that often, and when they do, they are usually no match for our mutual love and respect.
I’m not saying we’re the Von Trapp family singing away our problems…
That would be cuckoo. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
But love conquers all.
Except when it doesn’t.
It’s a sad fact of life that some marriages break, and people get hurt. Those who promote traditional or patriarchal marriages believe marriages fail when partners are unwilling to accept the roles for which they are designed. “Problems arise when the men don’t lead and the women don’t submit.”
If that were true, hierarchical marriages would be the happiest and longest lasting. They are not. Research shows that the divorce rates of Christians are little different from atheists and agnostics.
Unhappy hierarchical marriages
Marriages fail because the people in them are unhappy, and the unhappiest marriages are the traditional ones.
A large study of 50,000 couples found that role relationships have a tremendous impact on marital satisfaction. Most couples in egalitarian marriages (81 percent) are happy, while most couples (82 percent) in traditional marriages are unhappy.
It’s no surprise to learn that marriages characterized by mutual respect and equality are happier. What is surprising is that many Christian marriages are intentionally unequal. They are more Athenian than Ephesian, and perhaps this is why our divorce rates are so high.
But who’s in charge?
We have been discussing love and submission, but we have skirted around the issue of who takes the lead in a marriage.
He leads and guides us and shows us how to love our partners through thick and thin, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. And Jesus teaches us how to forgive, which is key to success in any relationship.
In a traditional marriage, forgiveness, like submission, is coerced from the woman. “Forgive his failings because he’s your husband.”
But true forgiveness, like submission, is something we give in response to love. We don’t forgive because we’re supposed to or because we fear divine wrath. We forgive one other as Christ forgave us.
Your partner will make mistakes, disappoint you, and let you down. When that happens, be quick to forgive. Dispense the patience and compassion that you have received from Jesus.
Let his grace heal both your wounds.
Extracted and adapted from The Silent Queen.
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