By: Jenni Walker
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” (Ephesians 5:22, 25)
“The dynamics [of marriage] must be maintained as the Architect intended.” (Elisabeth Elliot)
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Summer is full of wedding anniversaries in my family. My husband and I celebrated ours just last week. As we sat on the couch together watching our wedding ceremony DVD, drinking ginger ale, and sharing our traditional bowl of Cape Cod potato chips, it struck me how much has changed in the six years we have been married. The passing on of loved ones, the birth of nieces and nephews, proximity to friends, career transitions, finances, living situations, health, hobbies, politics, international events, tastes in food, spiritual growth, and newfound passions. Life clearly does not stay the same – it is dynamic! And for those of us who are married, this means that our marriages are dynamic, too.
Something can be described as dynamic when it involves a process “that is characterized by continuous change, activity, or progress” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dynamic). In the midst of the many changes we have encountered together while married, there is something that has remained true the entire time: I am a wife, and Bryan is a husband. Both males and females are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Yet, God made us different intentionally, and we have specific roles in the context of marriage. Colossians 3:18-19 expounds on these roles for us, saying “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them.” I think that when many Christian women today think of the role of a wife in a marriage, they still imagine years on end of aprons, washboards, quiet demeanors, and a weak will. Is this a correct picture of the role that God created us to fulfill as married women? (Even if you are not married yet, this is a great question to consider now!)
Elisabeth Elliot accurately reminds us, “It was God who made us different, and He did it on purpose…God created male and female, the male to call forth, to lead, initiate…and the female to respond, follow, adapt, submit.” (Let Me Be a Woman, p. 50) This sort of description, though Biblical, can easily produce a rather dreary expectation for our roles as wives: Do we need to just accommodate our husbands, hold our tongues, and let him make all of the decisions? Are we supposed to give up our hobbies, adapt to his preferences, and start wearing high heels around the house? For each of us when we read verses such as Colossians 3:18-19, depending on our prior experiences and observations of marriage, an inaccurate picture can quickly formulate in our minds about what the role of a wife looks like. At certain times, the answer may be “yes” to any or all of these questions. We as wives do need to know when to hold our tongues, how to respond to our husbands lovingly, and to be willing to sacrifice our personal preferences, But this does not mean we just become passive, shrug our shoulders, and say routinely, “Well, honey, I guess you are supposed to lead, so I’ll just defer to whatever you decide.”
I firmly believe that it is God-honoring for husbands and wives to communicate about decisions, issues, and feelings together! We can do this while still walking out our Biblically-defined roles as husband and wife: “The husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:23-24). To lead is an essential part of being a husband, and to be willing to follow is critical in our roles as wives. But neither is marriage a one-sided relationship. In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter reminds husbands to dwell with their wives “with understanding” because they are “heirs together of the grace of life.” An active role in communication and decision-making by both the husband and wife together can be God-honoring and can also create great depth and security for both spouses. We get to do life together with God’s help!
Ladies, I also know this idea of submission can initially feel like a tough pill to swallow. But there is an order and also a reciprocity in the marriage relationship by God’s design. Marriages are living models of our submission to Christ and His love for us as His church. And when it comes down to it, the closer our walk with the Lord, the more we delight to do His will. Similarly, the closer a husband and wife are to both the Lord and to one another, the more delightful it becomes to fulfill our God-given roles as husband and wife. We will look at some practical examples of how to live out the dynamic roles we are called to in marriage as wholehearted women of God. But before we move on, let’s consider the experience of an older sister in Christ, who was both widowed and remarried, who wrote: “In marriage, if two mature people love each other, this whole matter of authority is almost entirely a tacit understanding. I could probably count on one hand, maybe one finger, the times in my own marriages when it became a conscious issue. When it did, of course, I had to remember that lines had been drawn – not by my husband but by God. I was the one originally created to be a help, not an antagonist…The dynamics [of marriage] must be maintained as the Architect intended” (Let Me Be a Woman, p. 94, 123).
Of course, throughout the dynamics of life, there are times when one spouse needs to acquiesce to the other. And in those times when the issue has been communicated about and still a consensus has not been reached, it is the role of the wife to submit to her husband “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). Yet, 1 Peter also tells us as Christians to submit “one to another.” When both husband and wife have an attitude of self-giving, of serving one another, of lifting one another up, the roles of husband and wife are enhanced and also lose some of their perceived rigidity. The roles still remain clear but also become wonderfully dynamic.
Serve and Support
In my own marriage, I have seen how powerful this can be. For the first several years of our marriage, my husband experienced a job transition that required him to work a few different jobs that he did not enjoy at all. During this taxing time for him, I sought to build him up as the husband and leader of our home, affirming him, encouraging him, and believing in him. We remained unified in the focus of our marriage and in our finances, and I even initiated some of those conversations on occasion while still showing him respect and honor as the God-designed leader of our home.
He in turn respected my insights and also adapted himself to the needs of our circumstances in creative and servant-hearted ways. At the time, I was working full time as a teacher while he was working evenings. I can tell you honestly that I barely had to touch the dishwasher during those first few years of our marriage. Every time I came home, the sink was empty, the dishwasher was loaded, and the cupboards were full of clean dishes. This act of service made me feel so supported, and it lightened my load immensely at the end of each rewarding yet intense day of teaching.
While this may not have fit the “traditional” expectation of husband and wife roles, neither of us acted outside of our God-created roles. In fact, no matter what was going on, I always made sure that my husband knew I was his biggest cheerleader and saw him as the leader of our home the way God had called him to be. I adapted to his needs, showed him honor, and prayed to be the kind of “helper” God had called me to be as his wife! And he in turn continued to grow in that role of leading, whether in initiating communication, in servant-heartedness, and in direction for our marriage.
Although our roles continue to be clearly defined as the Bible commands for husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:24-25, 33), our roles have not been static but dynamic! They have life and enthusiasm in them! I love the way my husband articulates the vision for our marriage more now. For him, he values getting to come home to a more-frequently tidied up house, and this now includes the dishes already being done – by me! (Housework is something we have communicated about throughout our six years of marriage, and who is responsible for what has varied from season to season and even from day to day. But in all of it, we endeavor to not only be practical but to stay consistent and to serve and bless the other.) We have grown deeper in our communication as he still to my thoughts, feelings, and insights with understanding and care, and I seek to do the same for him in ways that make him feel truly heard.
Yet the way that we communicate also embodies the Biblical dynamics of husband and wife as found in Ephesians 5, as I show honor and respect to him in word, deed, and attitude, and he cherishes, loves, and affirms me in those same ways. I also value the way he has sought the Lord in his career and in setting the tone of our home as a place where God is always put first. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to his Biblical vision for our home, and I love making him feel supported, esteemed, and valued.
Sanctification and Grace
We also endeavor to extend grace to each other when life gets hectic or responsibilities become overwhelming. I only work part time now and have more time to keep up with housework and to keep that sink full of dishes at bay! But even still, my husband will help with dishes on occasion when he knows I am tired or have a long to-do list. As for me, rather than getting frustrated if the trash has not been taken out (although this can still my knee-jerk reaction inwardly at times!), I have chosen to view it as a service to my husband to put out the trash as needed. He does it most of the time, but nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Husbands are the primary trash caretakers.” Do I still ask him gently to take out the trash sometimes? Yes! And do I appreciate when he takes out the trash consistently? Yes! And when he does, I express that appreciation with great and sincere enthusiasm! (Why not make our husbands feel like heroes even in the little things?) But if it has been a long day at work, or he just got back from a business trip, I want to help him feel supported, encouraged, and welcomed in his own home. If quietly dealing with trash duty will make him feel that way, then that is what I am going to do!
One more thought about these Biblically-defined yet also dynamic roles of husband and wife: In all things we are called as followers of Jesus to become more and more like Him! 1 Thessalonians 4:3a says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” Marriage is a part of the sanctification process as we grow in holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:7). Are you uncertain how to be the wife described in 1 Peter 3:1 who is submissive to her own husband? What did God truly intend for this to look like in your marriage? Prayerfully seek Him about it! He will help you to become the wife He designed for you to be. Do you wish that your husband would be more understanding of you as described in 1 Peter 3:7? Start by seeking to be understanding of him! And then pray for him, knowing that our prayers are never in vain in the Lord!
And in it all, remember that you are both “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). You both are sinners saved by grace and are experiencing the ongoing process of sanctification on this earth together. Be a part of this process in unity, and support one another in it. 1 Peter 3:8-9, after addressing husbands and wives, explains, “Finally, all of you [husbands and wives included!], be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, blessing, knowing to this you were called that you may inherit a blessing.”
Peter goes on in chapter 4 to say, “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’ Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (4:8-10) We are stewards of the manifold, multi-faceted, variegated grace of God! Shouldn’t it permeate every part of our lives, including our marriage relationships? And God has given us each the capacity to minister grace to one another in ways unique to how He made us. Elliot puts it well saying, “The personality of a marriage proceeds from the one flesh which is established from the union of two separate personalities” (Let Me Be a Woman, p. 51) We get to be the grace-giving hands and feet of Jesus not just to those around us but directly to our spouses. What a dynamic and holy calling!
Submission of Self
As we conclude, let’s remember that the marriage union will be more dynamic and much healthier when God is at the center and when we view our roles in it as a calling by God. But how can I be the wife God has called me to be? you may be asking yourself. Remember that it is God who is at work in us when we submit ourselves to doing things His way! Marriage is designed by God, and it is a wonderful blessing. Yet, there is no place for the “self” in a marriage! Our individual roles complement the other, but we are no longer two but one as “one flesh” (Mark 10:8-9; Ephesians 5:31). Our roles as husbands and wives begins with the submission of the self as we lay down our lives for one another day-in, day-out (Ephesians 5:33). What an incredibly daunting calling! Yet, we can always rely on Him for guidance, strength, and wisdom in our role as a wife. As 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 reminds us, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” He will do it!
Embrace your God-given role as a wife. Enjoy the dynamics of that role as you and your husband support, honor, and love one another throughout various seasons of marital life. And never forget that it is God who is at work in you, helping you to be the wife He has called you to be according to His design and with the help of His Holy Spirit (Titus 3:6), and establishing and strengthening you “in every good word and work” (2 Thessalonians 2:17) – including marriage!
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