Responsibilities Between Husbands and Wives

When we think about the responsibilities between a husband and wife our thoughts may first turn to the words in Eph. 5 such as: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands..." and "Husbands, love your wives." We should all be in agreement on points like these, but do we miss what is really intended for us to understand in practical terms? Do we really think of these words in direct relationship to our daily interaction with our spouse? What we need to do is identify and then implement the scriptural principles related to the responsibilities between a husband and wife.

Christ and His Bride

Paul gives us a very important analogy as a guideline in the fifth chapter of Ephesians. He likens the ecclesia to a wife and Christ to a husband. By this comparison he gives us insight into the work and character of Christ, as well as a wealth of understanding about the interaction that should take place in the natural marriages of believers. It is important to realize that you do not have to take part in a natural marriage to have most of this analogy apply to you. We are told that as part of the ecclesia, we are part of the espoused bride of Christ and a part of his body. This is true for each individual that has been baptized into the saving name of Christ. Therefore, all brothers and sisters are to see and understand the spiritual side of the marriage bond.

Paul draws from the first marriage to demonstrate how we are to view ourselves in relation to Christ: "For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh."(Eph. 5:30-31) Eve literally came from the bone and flesh of Adam. The wife of Christ can only be made alive eternally through becoming a part of the body of Christ. We also see from these words that God was not only joining two individuals but creating an institution for mankind. This marriage institution was intended to apply to others besides Adam and Eve who had no mother "to leave." The words "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother..." would not make sense if they only applied to Adam and Eve.

One Flesh

A further principle emerging here is that a man and a woman are to leave their respective households and come together to form a new unit, "...they are no more two, but one flesh..." (Matt. 19:6). The lesson for us to learn is that God has created a covenant relationship, marriage, for humans to enter into that was intended to bring two individuals together as one to fulfill the purpose of God. God initially stated "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth."(Gen 1:28) God's desire was for the man and the woman He created to work together as one to bring glory and honor to His name. The new couple was to unite in purpose and mutual commitment to each other. The commands to "Honor thy father and thy mother..."(Ex 20:12) do not cease with leaving the parent's home, but the marriage does represent a new primary responsibility for the couple. Neither spouse is his or her own person any more. They are 'one flesh' and must consider the other in all their decisions. God views those married as one: 'bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,' and 'no more two, but one flesh.'

'Godly Seed'

The result of a natural union in marriage is a physical product demonstrating the one flesh principle in real life terms, a child. The children of a marriage bring us to another principle in the responsibilities between a husband and wife. One major theme in the Scriptures is the concept of raising 'godly seed.' Adam and Eve were told "...Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth."(Gen 1:28) We see that this did not change after the flood, "And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth."(Gen 9:1) Why was there an emphasis on being fruitful? Was it to have lots of people on the earth? No, it was not simply to procreate but to raise up godly seed unto the Lord. It was said of Abraham "Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations; according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be."(Rom 4:18) What was God's perspective on children from the beginning? "...the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring." (Mal. 2:14-15 NIV) The emphasis in the law was for the children to be a primary focus in the family and marriage bond, "And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up."(Deut. 6:7) Not all marriages have children but this does not change the goal. A childless couple or an unmarried believer could assist the children of the ecclesia to become 'godly seed' unto the Lord.

Submission

Another responsibility that we are told of several times in the New Testament is that wives are to be submissive to their husbands. This term often makes women and some men bristle. The word has been used by some as a divinely given mandate for women to cower down and listen to their husband no matter what the idea or principle involved. We must deal with the word submit and the intention of scripture to understand a wife's responsibility to her husband. To submit is a specific command to wives, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." (Eph.5: 22) Vine's definition of submission states the idea of 'put under' and 'submit self to.' We can see from this definition and the context of the previous reference that the wife has to choose to submit. It is obvious that a wife may not submit to her husband, but this would not be in accordance with the Divine will. The concept of submission does not mean that a woman is incapable of taking care of herself or unable to think on her own. We can easily see that it takes more self-control to submit to someone else's will and direction than our own. There is a high calling of control that women are to exhibit. (Remember, we are all the bride of Christ.) The importance of being 'one mind' with the person you marry is an easier concept to understand from this perspective. Submission can show the beauty of wives through their strength of self-control in being willing to reverence their husbands, "as unto the Lord." A wife who does not respond properly to the direction of her husband manifests spiritual dysfunction. A wife who responds willingly and lovingly to her husband honors God, her husband, her family, her ecclesia and herself. These submissive actions of a wife are a testimony of her faith to the world that "...they also may without the word be won by the conversation (behavior) of the wives."(1 Pet. 3:1)

Another aspect of submission that is less frequently cited is that of husbands to their wives. Paul begins the section in Ephesians with these words, "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God,"(5:21) these words show us that submission is applied universally, to both husbands and wives. What is the reason given for the submission? "The fear of God." It is the individual's faith in God that should be the primary reason for the life of submission to the spouse.

Headship

Eph.5: 23 show the responsibilities for the husbands, "For the husband is the head of the wife..." This is where a husband has to start. He must first take the responsibility for his wife and then take a leadership role. This is a role that can easily be minimized, particularly in our society where feminist agendas have chipped away at the role God has appointed for men. It is not fashionable currently for a man to take a strong leadership role in any setting, including the family. Leadership does not just happen. It takes effort through self-control, example, service and guidance. From this effort proper authority and reverence to husbands should naturally follow. The wife must view the new relationship the same way. She needs to look to the husband in submission as the head of her body. She is looking for direction but needs to remember that she has valuable input to the head of the body, just like in the physical body, to ensure that the natural body is healthy and not in harm's way.

The headship of the husband does not give license for a husband to be domineering or a dictator of sorts. This would not be possible if we understand the rest of the scriptural analogy. The lesson continues by showing that Christ has the same role in relation to the ecclesia, for "he is the savior of the body." This is a large obligation for husbands. The husband is to be the spiritual leader in their home and he is to be "the savior of the body." In addition to this, Paul demonstrates that an attitude of dominance would not fit with the likeness of Christ, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it."(Eph 5:25) Here we see there is no room for a self-seeking leader in the marriage bond but a husband that will give himself, literally, if need be, for his wife.

Men are not called on in this dispensation to be crucified for their wives. So, what does Paul mean by "gave himself for it" in relationship to a husband's responsibilities? The husband is to follow the daily self-sacrificing behavior of Christ for his wife. Without the daily life of obedience, Christ's sacrifice would not have been perfect. So also a husband is to give himself for his wife on a daily basis. This is through providing for the natural and spiritual needs of the wife and family: "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel."(1Tim.5: 8)

A faithful husband will take on this role and lovingly provide for his wife, as Christ has done so completely for the ecclesia. We may have a glimpse into one of the things that may have sustained Christ during his trials and suffering here on earth. It is possible that he focused on the needs of others, namely those who he would be espoused to, and placed their need for salvation as the primary focus in his life. This is not to say he did not need the same salvation but sometimes we will do things for another that we would not do for our own sake. Consider, "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich."(2 Cor. 8:9) Our human nature compels us to see that it is far easier to do something for someone who is nice or loving to you. When we think of Christ, it is apparent that he loved his 'wife' even though she was a sinner. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."(Rom.5: 8)

Another interesting part of Eph 5 is that there are no 'if, then' statements. The instructions given are not contingent on the spouse's action. The lesson for us is that even though a spouse may not be a model brother or sister of Christ, we are still supposed to act as Paul has commanded.

Love

Husbands are to love their wives as their own body. Eph 5:28 "...He that loveth his wife loveth himself." Entering into marriage is to enter into a new way of thinking and a new perspective on life. The husband's natural concerns should not be focused on the individual self but the new self, the completed body that he now has. Love in the way Paul uses the word in Eph 5 and 1 Cor 13 is not only an emotion, it is a choice by the individual. Love that is self-sacrificing and "capable of bearing all things" takes deep commitment by the individual. Animal-like lust will not even begin to approach this level of love. Love of this type is many times shown first by one individual to another for no inherent reason or value of the other person. Consider the supreme example of God's gift of love to each of us, His son. God did not base His love for us because of any inherent value we have. He chose to give His son. Christ followed his Father's example in giving himself for his bride. This is not to say that we do not love our natural spouse for many reasons, and rightly so. But the love of God and Christ is a self-sacrificing decision that is extended particularly when it is not deserved.

Love is a commandment for both husbands and wives. Paul ends his analogy by stating, "let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband." (Eph 5:33). We have seen that there are many principles that govern the responsibilities between a husband and wife. All of which have a direct application on our daily lives. "For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another." (Gal.5: 13) Let us strive to follow the command to "Submit (ting) yourselves one to another in the fear of God." (Eph 5:22) By so doing we will fulfill in our natural and spiritual marriages the "great mystery...concerning Christ and the ecclesia"(Eph 5:32). This is so that we may each have a part of the closing words in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, "Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen."(Eph 6:24)

David Love

South Hill, VA