Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
I have been a Christian for more than a decade now and I still have a tendency to cringe at that “submit” up there. Growing up there was nothing I wanted more than to get married. The romance of it! Someone would want to be with me forever? Fueled on the magic of that kind of love, I was empowered to glaze over verses like this. Outwardly I agreed, yes, it is good for a wife to submit. But inwardly I was sure that the passionate, romantic marriage I would hopefully one day have wouldn’t require submission. We would have the same vision and on the rare occasion that we didn’t, he would flash me a smolder (cue every chick flick ever) and I wouldn’t be able to resist. Submission, I believed, would be rarely necessary and relatively easy when it was.
Then college happened. I went to school for writing and learned to examine everything I read with a critical eye. Verses like this sat ill with me. “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:4a) made me want to choke. I believed there was a God and that His Bible was true. But on those premises, what must be concluded except that God must be a chauvinist? God created men and women and loves men more for some reason? This bitterness blinded me to the heart of scripture (or even the second half of that verse: “In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.” 1 Corinthians 7:4b).
God has been kind to me. It is good to accept His Word as true; I believe it is true. It is also good to challenge truth, because truth can stand up to testing. This December will make four years of marriage for Mr. P and I and I feel like many of the things I have learned are impossible to put into words. But this last year has been full of new understanding for me and has changed the way I look at marriage.
What is the purpose of marriage? I mean why do it when most marriages end in divorce? Many Christians are excited about it because it is an outlet for sexual expression (don’t lie, y’all). But sex aside, how many can say they understand why we marry? I remember a friend asking me about the purpose of marriage during the engagement period for Mr. P and me. Apparently I responded with the one-word answer, “sanctification.” Totally true, though I laugh when I think of this, because then and so often now I expect marriage to meet my needs or simply be enjoyable and grow angry when it fails to do so. After all, it is that fullness of heart we get from our significant other that so often prompts marriage in the first place, is it not? Yes, you love him and yes you want the best for him, but if you’re being honest, isn’t it the way he makes you feel that has you dreaming of wedding bells?
This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Marriage is a profound mystery and I am not pretending to have solved the puzzle when I say this, but according to Ephesians, God created marriage to reflect Christ and the Church (among other things, procreation, for example). I used to find that to be such a buzz kill. But here is the secret: If you think that a marriage resembling Christ and the Church is less sexy than what you’ve seen in movies, you don’t understand the love of God.
Christ (as in Jesus Christ–God come to earth in the form of man) gave himself up for the Church (every person who believes and trusts in Him). He suffered unimaginably and died for her. He defeated death for her, set her free from the penalty of sin, and gave her access to himself. The Church, in love, submits to God. Based on the perfect example of servitude from Jesus, the Church serves Christ in all its ability. The reality of this in our marriages is that neither party is perfect, so we wives are not serving a perfect husband. But we cannot wait on our spouse to deserve our love. That’s not what love is in the first place. Love is unselfish (1 Corinthians 13). Ephesians 5:21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (yep, that submission command goes both ways). The idea is that both of you are serving the other.
‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.
I think the idea of submission is terrifying if you think of a husband and a wife as two separate parties. Someone is going to get left out in the cold. There’s too much vulnerability in the idea of submission like that. But the reality is that you are one flesh. It’s like walking. In order to move forward, one leg must submit to the other. It’s not a war. One of your legs doesn’t win a race before the other. You are one body.
CS Lewis stated (in a letter about lust and masturbation, actually) that “almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves.” God has used some of the most difficult times of my life to do just that, bring me out of myself. Marriage can be so satisfying and just delicious at times, but the greatest thing it can do is take your focus off of you.
I am baffled by the concept of dating and courting in light of this. If beauty fades and infatuation never lasts and marriages have to be built through hard work and submission and service, then what are we dating for? Would an arranged marriage not make more sense? Perhaps. But in this American culture, we do mostly “love marriages” and that’s not necessarily in conflict with the Christian concept of marriage. Attraction or infatuation functions like a seed. The seed is planted in order to grow into something entirely different. Once a plant has come forth, the seed that it began from is unrecognizable. It has been replaced by something different and infinitely better. That’s not to say that as marriage grows, attraction or playfulness is crushed (ahem, read Proverbs 5:18-19 and blush). Rather, those things are not the root of the plant. Upon maturation, the seeds are found in the fruit of the plant instead.
What I am saying, to be plain, is that the joy and laughter and sexiness I hoped to find in marriage is there. But instead of their prompting acts of service to my husband, it is the choosing to serve him that prompts the joy and the laughter and the sex (HA, sorry grandma).
My church is doing a sermon series called “Sex, Sin, and a Savior.” Between that and this incredible fourth year of marriage Mr. P and I have had, I have been filled with thoughts that I have wanted to share with you. I’m always open to questions and thoughts and challenges. I’d love to hear what you folks are learning too. I also highly recommend clicking through to listen to some of the sermons from my church. They’re likely to be interesting, controversial, challenging, and just plain good.