The submissive wife: part 2
My last post attempted to set the stage for how God views marriage, starting with Adam and Eve. Now, we move on to Christ’s words in the New Testament.
Since the Old Testament points towards Jesus’s coming and the New Testament establishes who he was and explains the result of his time on earth, we know that Christ is at the centre of the Bible. Thus, what he says about marriage is of utmost importance. We need to be very careful, then, if we can’t reconcile our interpretations of other Scripture passages with what Jesus says about it.
To begin, Jesus expands the definition of adultery to include lust (Matthew 5:27-28). This establishes that humans, (and in Jesus’s words, women specifically), are not to be viewed as objects to be used for selfish pleasure. They are creations made in God’s image and should be treated as such.
The only place to gain sexual satisfaction with someone is within marriage because in that context sex is not about taking something but about demonstrating love for your partner. Sex is never supposed to be self-seeking. It is about honouring and valuing the whole person you are married to.
Jesus also said that, unless there is sexual immorality, marriage is a commitment for life on earth (Matthew 5:31-32). This gives both husband and wife confidence and freedom to invest fully in figuring out life with each other because they are equally committed to the same value.
This level of commitment to another person is a powerful way to learn discipline, patience, humility and unconditional love—all of which are greatly beneficial in understanding God’s love for us and learning how to serve him well.
Today, we’ve wrapped marriage up in a lot of baggage. I’ve heard many Christians turn marriage into a fluffy ideal—heralding it as the ultimate goal. But I don’t see Jesus doing the same thing. In fact, his words on marriage actually sparked some of his followers to say that it would be better not to be married! (Matthew 19:10-11).
He also puts marriage in the perspective of eternity, saying that when the dead rise, there will be no marrying, but that we will be like the angels in heaven (Luke 20:34-36). It is as though those who are married become single again—one with Christ alone.
This means that although I should treat my marriage as a high priority, ultimately I will come before the Lord alone, responsible for my own actions. Marriage should not be my life’s goal, and it certainly isn’t the end goal, because my life commitment is to Christ. That commitment is what defines my eternal existence.
But since God did create marriage as one path for our time on earth, I believe he intends it to be a vital and powerful tool for doing his work—both within the two people involved and in those touched by them.
Jesus refers back to pre-fall creation to explain the union between a husband and wife (Mark 10:2-9). In fact, this is quite a common theme in Scripture. I’ve noticed that nearly all New Testament references to marriage quote the Genesis account of a husband and wife becoming “one flesh,” which I briefly defined in my last post.
The more I think about this, the more I think that passages about marriage should be interpreted in terms of how they relate back to this fundamental description of what marriage means.
If an interpretation doesn’t fit within the deep equality and unity represented within the term one flesh then we need to look again, because not only did God initially design marriage this way, but Jesus consistently affirms and refers back to this concept.
One flesh defines marriage as a deep commitment to love another person unconditionally—both physically and emotionally. This unites two people on a body and soul level in a way that is distinctly different from any other relationship.
Sex is a crucial factor here since it is part of what contributes to the one flesh union (Genesis 2:24). It is so important, in fact, that Jesus says sexual unfaithfulness is the only acceptable reason for divorce.
Tragically, in an attempt to guard something God clearly deems as really important, (and also beautiful and good, since he created sex and included it as a vital part of marriage) the Church has often demeaned sex to be a dirty, shameful thing. This is devastating because Satan has deeply twisted sexuality—to the point where there is likely no human alive who hasn’t been deeply hurt by misused sex—whether through their own actions or the actions of another.
When we reject God’s views about sex, we usually accept one of two major lies:
Christianity’s view of sex is oppressive and harsh. I should have the freedom to choose what I want.
Sex is scary and dirty, but if I close my eyes and hang on until marriage everything will be fine.
I wanted to bring this up because I don’t want to ever give the impression that doing things “right” will guarantee a happy marriage, or that there is such a thing as screwing up beyond all hope.
In his article, How should Christians have sex…biblically? Louis Phillips says:
“Biblical purity has much less to do with our ability to pursue an altruistic moral discipline and everything to do with Christ’s ability to atone for all our mistakes, shame, and pasts. Only until we view purity this way will we freely live in a manner that honors God with our sexuality, because that is the goal both in singleness and marriage.”
Having made my own mistakes and collected my own unhealthy baggage when it comes to sex, I know how true this is. God alone can save, change our attitudes, heal our shame and give us freedom from our sin. But the point is, he absolutely can do it! No story is too difficult for him to restore beyond our imagination. I believe this because I’ve seen it in my own life and the lives of others.
I know this barely scratches the surface of all that could be said on Jesus’s teachings on marriage, but I hope it at least gives us an overview. In part three, I’ll tackle the verses that bring us to the crux of the debate on the different roles of women and men within marriage.
If you want to dig deeper, here are a few other voices who’ve weighed in on this topic.