By Mary Beth Odom
A picture, by its very definition is “a visual representation of something.” Its design is to reflect, to point us to something that can be more fully seen, experienced, understood, to something greater. Ephesians 5 reveals God’s beautiful and yet specific design for husbands and wives in the union of marriage, to be a picture, a visual representation of the profoundly mysterious union of Christ and the church, pointing us to the gospel, something infinitely greater.
It is vital to the health of our marriages that we humbly evaluate, constantly communicate, and diligently work towards better relating to each other. But it is also vital that our marriages are pointing us beyond ourselves. As we read of the distinct roles within marriage, let us stop and ponder them, but press on past the picture towards the glorious gospel they are to reflect. John Piper shared a picture of this reflection in Desiring God, “God did not create the union of Christ and the church after the pattern of human marriage, just the reverse! He created human marriage on the pattern of Christ’s relation to the church,” (p. 181). We must run to the gospel first to inform our understanding of the roles we have been given, and we must daily cling to the gospel to empower us to relate to one another in this beautiful way. Only when our marriages are informed and empowered by the gospel will they truly be what God designed them to be, a picture that reflects the gospel to a watching world.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).
Paul begins the distinction of roles in the marriage union by addressing wives to submit to their own husbands. With so many misunderstandings and negative connotations attached to this idea of submission, we must derive our definition and understanding of what this calling looks like from the church as it submits to Christ (vs. 24). The church’s submission is a fitting, honoring, and joyful submission to the loving, sacrificial headship of Christ. In this, we see how beautifully these distinct roles complement and serve each other. This is our pattern to follow.
It is important to also note that wives are called to submit themselves rather than husbands being called to submit their wives. Every passage that speaks of wives submitting to their husbands uses the same Greek verb “hupotasso” which is “submission in the sense of voluntary yielding in love.” The phrase, “as to the Lord,” calls for respectful submission in view of the role of headship of the husband being established by God (Genesis 2:21-24). George W. Knight III beautifully describes this call as, “an appeal to one who is equal by creation and redemption to submit to the authority God has ordained.”[i]
I recognize that the sweeping cultural air that opposes the concept of submission can affect my view of this divine calling. And at times, my flesh can even oppose it too. So I must look to the gospel for the obedience, the respect, the humility, and the joyful submission of the church towards Christ to inform and instruct me as I seek to follow this command of scripture with joy.
“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.”(Ephesians 5:23)
If we look anywhere other than the headship of Christ to define the role of the husband as head, we are in danger of missing the good and beneficial thing this is for the wife. The position of head (kephale) is a position of “authority” as we see Christ having authority over the church. Headship has also been referred to as the “source” of the body as we see Christ as the source of leadership, provision, protection, nourishment, love, and more. A husband’s loving headship leads, serves, builds, and brings good to his wife. When the husband leads in this way, and the wife follows, there is a beautiful reciprocation of love, respect, leading and following that forms and grows between them; and it brings delight to them and glory to God. This will be attractive and yet a mystery to the world, pointing them to the profound mystery of the gospel.
I tremble at the magnitude and rejoice at the gift of my calling as a wife, yet I feel so inadequate to fulfill it. I am so aware of my weakness and my sin. Just as I need the power of the gospel daily to live out the Christian life, I need the power of the gospel to help me be a joyful, respectful, submissive wife that reflects the church.
When we look at the charge to wives and husbands in Ephesians 5, it is so beneficial to consider the context of the entire letter of Ephesians. Notice that Paul saturates the beginning of the letter (chapters 1-4) with the indicative, the glories of the gospel, the incomparable riches we have in Christ and so much more. Chapters 5-6 then follow with the imperative, the commands, which we are to live out in light of and empowered by these glorious truths. My heart is strengthened, my resolve is deepened, and my hope is set in Christ as I encounter these truths before I read of my call to obedience.
As I consider how God has purposefully designed marriage as a means (I want to be clear that it is not the only means) to point others to the gospel, I am so grateful. I am also so grateful that it points me to the gospel. In my marriage, I have found that the more our eyes are fixed on the gospel, the more delight we find in each other and our distinct roles. I love John Piper’s exhortation in this, “Those of us who are married need to ponder again and again how mysterious and wonderful it is that God grants us in marriage the privilege to image forth stupendous divine realities, infinitely bigger and greater than ourselves” (p.181). In considering all of this, let us be freshly aware of the gift and magnitude of marriage, and may our eyes be fixed on the gospel of Jesus Christ, in whom and through whom all things hold together.
Mary Beth Odom has been married to her husband, Dave, for almost 12 years. She is the mother of four children, one girl and three boys. She has been a pastor’s wife for 8 years, and has now embraced the new role of a church planter’s wife. They are in the process of planting Redeeming Grace Church in Franklin, Tennessee this fall. She enjoys writing about what God is teaching her through marriage, parenting, and serving the church.
[i] George W. Knight III. “Husbands and Wives as Analogues of Christ and the Church,” Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper and Wayne Grudem p. 168.
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