(We recently hosted a couple’s fellowship/retreat in Beatty. The following comes from a talk I gave on the last day of the retreat.)

Practially speaking, all marriages are based on one or more models. Much of what we think marriage is supposed to be like came from observing the relationship between our parents when we were children. If we are very loving towards our spouses, there’s a good chance that we saw that same kind of love in mom and dad. If we fight all the time, chances are it’s because mom and dad did too. It can be a sobering thought to realize that we’re also setting the prime example of marriage for our children.

But parents are not the only role model. For the most part, the secular media promotes some very poor ideas for marriage. A large portion of what makes a healthy marriage according to the world’s standard is physical beauty, with a strong emphasis on physical intimacy.

Friends also serve as models. My wife and I have some friends we look up to because they have strong, healthy, loving marriages. And we have heard that our marriage is inspiring to other people.

We also see some excellent biblical examples of what a good marriage can be. My wife Wanda and I want to be like Priscilla and Aquila, who not only had a close relationship with each other, but together served Christ. They showed hospitality to Paul when he first arrived in Corinth by providing him a place to live (Acts 18:1-3). Sometimes they endangered their lives to help him spread the gospel (Romans 16:3-4). They also led Apollos to full faith in Christ (Acts 18:24-26).

But there’s one biblical model that serves as the primary example of what marriage is all about. It is given in Ephesians 5:25:

Husbands, love {agapao} your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, …

– Ephesians 5:25 (ESV)

Most of us see this verse as directed only at husbands. It is certainly the model that I try to follow in my relationship with Wanda. But I believe the model works both ways: wives should also love their husbands as Christ loved the church. Here’s my reasoning.

Marriage is meant to be a picture of the ideal relationship between man and God. The Bible often uses marital imagery to describe this relationship (Song of Solomon, Hosea, Revelation 19:7, 21:19, etc.). This relationship with God is more important than our relationship with our spouse because God must always be first. (Wanda is my second-best friend, and I am her second best friend!) Also, while the relationship with a spouse ends when one or both dies, the relationship with God continues on for eternity. Therefore, it is not that the relationship between Christ and the church is like a marriage, but that marriage is like Christ and the church.

We know that Jesus Christ gave His life for us. But aren’t we also to lay down our lives as living sacrifices for Him (Matthew 16:24, Romans 12:1)? Jesus loved us, but aren’t we also to love Him above all (Matthew 10:37-39)? If this is true of our relationship with Christ, than it should also be true of the marriage relationship that it symbolizes. This is why I believe wives should also love their husbands as Christ loved the church. The model works both ways.

Think on the implications of loving our spouses as Christ loved the church. How did Christ love the church? Sure, He died to save her, but also showed love in other ways. How did He show love to His disciples? How does He continue to show love to us? Look it up in your Bible, think about it, and apply it to your relationship with your spouse. Model Christ to your spouse. Let the fruit of the Spirit abound in your relationship with your husband or wife. Here’s one example:

A few verses back in Ephesians we see Paul’s instruction to wives:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord

– Ephesians 5:22 (ESV)

Usually when we hear someone preach a sermon on this section of Ephesians, the focus of the message is on wives submitting and husbands loving. And these are true: wives should submit to their husbands, and husbands should love their wives.

However, if you read the verse immediately before verse 22, you will find that submission is not just for wives…

…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

– Ephesians 5:22 (ESV)

In other words, not only is the wife to submit to the husband, but the husband is to submit to the wife… out of fear of the Lord!

Don’t get me wrong: the husband is still the leader in the marriage. As Paul said,

…the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church

– Ephesians 5:23 (ESV)

But there are times when it is good for us husbands to swallow our pride and submit to our wives. For example, Wanda tells me “You need to go to the clinic for your annual physical”. And I go, because she has that right over me:

…the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does…

– 1 Corinthians 7:4 (ESV)

While this was written about intimate physical relations, it really has a much wider application. My body is not my own; it is Wanda’s. And her body is not her own but mine. Marriage is a union, not a master-slave relationship. We are to seek each other’s best interests. This is the relationship between Christ and the church.

I’ve noticed that all of the biblical commands to submit to and love one another are always first-person commands. It is not “Husbands, make your wives submit to you”, nor “Wives, make your husbands love you”. Love must be freely and willingly given. And submission also needs to be willing, even cheerfully given.

Returning to our model of Christ and the church, we know Jesus is our Lord, our Master. Yet, He doesn’t force His lordship on us. Instead, He serves. Perhaps the most visible example of this is in John 13.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. … Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him…

– John 13:1-5 (ESV)

Jesus is Lord, yet He didn’t lord His authority over His disciples. Instead, He served them. His disciples should have washed His feet, but instead He washed theirs. They should have humbled themselves before Him, but He out-humbled them all. He still retained all His rights over them, but He refrained from exercising those rights so He could lift them up.

Husbands are instructed to love their wives in the same way. Christ loved the church by humbling Himself and serving. Husbands and wives, look for ways to serve each other from the heart. After washing His disciple’s feet, Jesus said:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

– John 13:34 (ESV)

Love each other unconditionally, humbly, as Christ loves you. You will find that the more you love your spouse this way (as well as your relative, friends, and especially your enemies), the more you will understand and appreciate Christ’s love for you.

I found an example of this humble willingness to serve that I want to share with you. Most of us know who Joni Eareckson Tada is, but most don’t know anything about her husband, Ken. Years ago, when I heard that she was married, I didn’t know anything about him either… not even his name, but I already I admired him. Here was someone who must really love Joni, having married into a severe disability relationship, and he probably supported her in her ministry more than anyone, and yet was content to work outside of the limelight.

A few months ago, I found a video of Joni and Ken describing how their marriage works. You might wonder how a marriage involving a quadrapeligic can work, but Ken and Joni’s marriage is very healthy. In this video, you’ll see why.

An Enduring Love – The Story of Ken and Joni Tada


The Biblical Model For The Marriage Relationship — 12 Comments

  1. generally agree with you …. but “source” does not necessarily mean “leader”, there are some good commentaries out there that explore that. At least you brought up that the whole passage begins with “submit to one another” … it is so disheartening that so many evangelicals begin with verse 23 (and never mention v.22). Also when Paul summarizes his discussion in v.33 … which is also usually never preached (or mentioned, but here Paul explains what he means by “submit” as far as wives go – she must “respect her husband”. Actually, from my observations, this is the cause of very many problems in the marriage – yes she may ‘submit’ – but if she does not ‘respect’, then there will be trouble at some stage. This lack of respect has a terrible way of growing.

  2. If the husband is the total leader, isn’t it a master/slave relationship? Whil many of your views are based on equality and love, not submission and domination, aren’t you still implying that women are to be slaves in the relationship? A leader/follower relationship is still a sort of master/slave relationship. I think you are kind of emplying equality in marriage, but why do you think the husband is the ultimate leader/master in the relationship? In doing some research on the subject, I have heard people stating that wives should be absolute slaves, and other state that a relationship wshould have total equality. I believe the latter. The analogy of God and the church does not imply equality at all. Are we equal to God? I think you may be advocating “almost” equality, but the husband is still the leader/master/head, which doesn’t quite make sense to me. Your either an equal, or your a leader/follower. Why do you think the husband is given the right to lead/head his wife? do you think god loves women at all? Thanks.

    • This is not talking about a master / slave relationship. The husband is designated as the leader because at the judgement seat of Christ, he will be held accountable for his family. The wife is commanded to submit to her husband in that when she chooses to submit, her husband is honored but in the garden, God told Eve her desire would be for her husband. This is not a good thing, this means she wants his place in the household. The relationship between God and the church is that God is to lead the church, and when the church CHOOSES to submit, it is glorifying to God and in the best interest of everyone else as a result. And the husband is not called to lead with an iron fist but in line with his wife and in the face of confrontation, he is to be on the front line for his family, not the wife because he is designated as the protector of the family. I dont know if this helps at all.

    • To lead means to model the example she follows willingly as that is what submitting means it’s not hard to submit to a servant husband who leads his wife in love, and likewise when a wife follows his example as the head Christ above all there are shining example of him submitting to one another in love fear and ammunition of the Lord Respect is another term for fear Those who fear the Lord, respectfully submit / and that fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom The beginning of a lifelong enduring relationship.

  3. Submission and domination are not the same. I submit to those over me, whether they be federal or state government leaders or the boss where I work. I am not their slave, and I am certainly not of less importance than they are. I submit because this is the way things should be: it is what God desires (Romans 13:1-2). Otherwise there would be anarchy (everyone doing what they want). Submission has nothing to do with inequality. Jesus Christ submitted to the Father, even though He is 100% equal to God (Philippians 2:5-8). He did so because He loved the Father, and, being in unity with the Father, desired the will of His Father to be accomplished. His submission was willing; it was not forced on Him. The husband is nowhere told to force his wife into submission or consider her his slave. Submission is something the wife does in response to knowledge of God’s will, just as I submit to those over me.

  4. Do you think that women are the “bottom of the barrel”? After all, in bible God’s view-God is first, men are next, and last comes women. This implies that women are the lowest form of human life. Do you consider your wife-your employee? Do you think that you are your employers slave 8 hours a day-but you get 16 hours a day of freedom? Where your wife gets no hours of freedom-since you are her “head”/master at all times? I may not be equal to my employer from 9 to 5, but I am after hours. I do not as much freedom or decision making as my employer. Also, if I do not agree with my employer, I am free to look elsewhere for employment. I your wife is not happy with your employment, should she be free to find “employment” elsewhere? Do you think you are “over” your wife, as you stated? Do you think women are the lowest form of human life in bible god’s hierarchy? The bible says that the husband is Jesus, the wife is the church. do you think that the church is equal to Jesus? I think not. No trying to put down your lifestyle, just trying to get answers as to why the bible has such hatred of women, and wants women to be permanent slaves in marriage.

    • Lena, you are forcing this into a perspective of slavery or ownership when you should be seeing it in terms of gender roles. God created the family unit in such a way to reflect His relationship with Christ and the church. Until we see and acknowledge this, it will not make sense.
      Christ submitted as a humble servant to His own disciples. That was not to say they were greater than He; He chose the role of humility.
      God created the family unit to have a leader; that leader is the husband, under Christ and God’s spiritual authority. The wife was meant as a help-meet, to let her husband lead.
      There is still equality in marriage without stripping gender roles from God’s creation.

  5. I refer back to what I said before: submission has nothing to do with equality. Jesus was equal to His Father and yet submitted to Him 24 hours a day for His entire life. Submission is something we all must supposed to do. None of us are free of rule. The Bible has no hatred of women. That is reading things into it that it does not say. It would be good for you to read through the entire Bible for yourself to see what it actually says in context instead of taking verses out of context or repeating what others have said. God told both man and women to rule the earth (Genesis 1:28). Man is the one who dominated women, probably because of a false idea of what submission is.

  6. If your daughter decided to get married, and gain a master-if he ordered her to jump off a bridge, would you commend her for being a good submission posthumously? What if he.ordered.her to kill someone who worked.on Sunday (perfectly biblical)? God.may forgive.her, but.the law would not, and she.would go to jail. What kind of protection would your daughter be.given for obeying her master? What if he ordered her. Not to be nurturing to her daughter? This is your.grandchild. would you approve? I know men who endorse.this type of.slavery in marriage do not like women, but most men love their daughters. Would you want her to give.up app her free will, and freedom? Would you.want.her to be.an “employee in her own how, and life. Freedom is precious, why do you only endorse.it.for.men or single.women? And I repeat, if you are.submission e.in everythieng, you are.not.free.

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