In applying the law of God, we must begin with the first commandment. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3) We might miss this requirement in our desire to reach for the seventh, but the first, especially in the present situation of dating lends itself to questions of the First Commandment. The romantic notion inherent in dating tends to tempt couples to seek in one another that which they are only to find in Jesus. This may lead to two opposing results. Some, finding their desires fulfilled may dote on their spouse, replacing Jesus in their affections with their spouse. Others, disappointed in marriage will continue in their misery desperately seeking to find their satisfaction in their spouse. Whether in fulfillment or in want, we face the temptation to replace Jesus with any human.
For the Seventh Commandment, not much must be said beyond the obvious. "Thou shalt not commit adultery." (Exodus 20:14) God requires faithfulness in our covenant relationships. Nevertheless, the high incidence of adultery and emotional estrangement reminds us that we need this reminder.
For a foundation of relational morality, we begin with Ephesians 5:22-33. We must remember that this passage appears in Paul's second half of the letter, the predominantly practical portion of the letter. Having provided the indicative of the new life provided in Jesus, Paul calls us to a different kind of life, a different kind of marriage because we have all we need in Jesus. With that principle, marriage becomes about what each spouse is to give rather than what each spouse expects to receive.
Here, we must first observe that Paul puts the person and work of Christ at the center of the marital relationship, as with all of life. Again, we see how necessary it is to see the blessing of marriage as a reflection of the blessings we have in Christ rather than a blessing in addition to, or in replacement of Christ. While there may be happiness in a marriage contracted outside of Christ, true joy comes from a marriage subordinated to one's relationship with Christ.
Paul begins with instructions to Christian wives. "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing."(Ephesians 5:22-24) Subordinating the marital relationship to Christ points to the reality of submission within the marital relationship.
Many have called marriage a partnership. This idea may be misleading if one has not dealt with the reality of legal partnerships. As children, we thought of partnerships as 50-50 arrangements. No intelligent partnership ever has this setup. This would inevitably lead to gridlock. One member of the partnership must break ties. This reality applies in marriage as well. As we submit to Christ, one member of this partnership must submit to the other. Someone has to break ties. In God's economy, He has chosen the wife to submit, and we may not dispute His decision.
Paul uses the model of Christ and the church as the basis for this imperative. This model forms the justification for all of the directives regarding the marital relationship.
Notice the extent of the submission. ("in every thing" 5:24) No exception is left for a lack of submission in any matter. This does not give rise to the notion that the husband can command sin. After all, this violates the First Commandment and the very foundational principle of the marital relationship being subordinate to Christ. Our duty to God must take preeminence. Nevertheless, the wide extent of submission requires wives to presume a husband's lawful decisions absent clear evidence to the contrary.
While this submission has been misused and abused, it still holds firm as God's design. The command is not attached to a prerequisite that the husband do his duty outlined by Paul here. Nor is the reverse true. This demands that the wife find her moral ability in Christ rather than in her husband's obedience.
Even so, the picture improves as we see the way in which obedient spouses function together. As the wife yields to the husband, the husband sacrifices himself for the good of his wife.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.(Ephesians 5:25-33)Notice the brevity of the instruction to the wife compared with the extended instruction to the husband. I venture to say that the husband has either the harder duty or need more instruction in that duty. Perhaps the hard headed male needs more particular instruction. Perhaps it is the hard-hearted male that needs the constant reminder.
Notice that Paul uses the example of Christ and His church in two ways to direct husbands on what loving their wives looks like. First, we note that he speaks of the sacrificing work of Christ for us. This presents the most commonly discussed aspect of how the husband ought to act toward his wife. In this principle, Paul indicates that the husband sacrifices his own self for the benefit of his wife. One may almost suggest that only when the wife is fully satisfied in her station, may the husband consider his own desires. This rule may not be pressed as an absolute, for the exigencies of life do not allow for such abstract and hypothetical practice. Nevertheless, the direction of this theory does reflect the attitude necessary in Paul's instruction. Christ died for the church, to make it holy, to do for it what it could not do for itself, to provide for it what it needed. So also, should the husband for the wife.
Certainly, this simile has its limits. When Paul talks about the sanctifying work of Christ for the church, there are hints of this in other of His writings (I Cor. 7:14), but the point here involves provision with a view to sanctification. The husband cannot make the wife more like Christ. He can only provide the resources needed for that goal.
This requires a broadening of the concept of what provision means. It includes more that mere physical necessities, although those are absolutely required. If Paul is speaking spiritually, then it also includes spiritual leadership in the marriage, the provision of the means of grace. The husband should provide the wife the ministry of the word, sacraments and prayer. Now, that doesn't mean that he must minister these things alone, any more that he is required to cook. (although he may) Rather, it means he is to enable the wife to attend corporate worship. He may also lead in the reading of the word and in prayer.
In addition, we may suggest that if the husband is to provide for the physical and spiritual good of the wife, might he also have a duty to provide for the intellectual and the emotional well-being of his wife? We must be careful here, for these issues become murky very quickly. At best, we can say that the husband should guard and cultivate the mind and heart of his wife.
Paul has something more to say about the example of Christ and His church that speaks to a motivational aspect.
So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. (Ephesians 5:28-33)Paul uses the concept of the church as the body of Christ. As such, Paul equates this with the two becoming one flesh in marriage, quoting from Genesis 2:24. "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh." (Ephesians 5:31) This provides a motivational and a practical guide. As a motive, the husband should see his wife as part of him. As he experiences a natural desire and urge to care for himself, he also should cultivate a habit of caring for his wife. Part of this desire naturally occurs, but Paul's instruction indicates that the husband's habit of caring for his wife needs development by practice. Husbands need the instruction that "He that loveth his wife loveth himself." Husbands need the instruction to "love his wife even as himself."
Again, we ought to remind ourselves that the instructions to the husband are not dependent upon the wives obedience to the instruction to submit. Husbands are to love regardless of a submissive wife. Wives are to submit regardless of a loving husband. The only way this works is if the husband or wife in this problematic situation finds his or her fulfillment, not in the marital relationship but in Christ. Nevertheless, how beautiful the picture of husband and wife both obedient to God's arrangement of marriage.
We find additional instructions in the same area in I Peter 3:1-7.
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.Here, the amount of instruction is reversed. We may speculate that Peter is dealing with a different issue in the church than Paul. Nevertheless, there is a tangent within this passage that does not directly deal with the topic of husbands and wives. (I Peter 3:3-5) In this central section, we see a synthesis of ideas found elsewhere. Notably I Cor. 7:12-16.
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?We may safely assume that Peter knew of Paul's writings. "And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." (II Peter 3:15-16)
This tangent is connected with the instruction of submission. The message is that the unbelieving spouse is more prone to believe the gospel by the wife's submissive and godly attitude, than with her superficial beauty, fine clothes, or jewelry. This command is directed primarily to wives of unbelieving husbands. "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives."(I Peter 3:1) This reminds us again that a disobedient spouse does not exempt us from our duty in marriage.
Finally, Peter speaks to husbands. "Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered." (I Peter 3:7) The duty to love is not dependent on the wife telling the husband what she needs. The husband has an obligation to find it out. If you are to live with your wife according to knowledge, it follows that you have a duty to learn your wife. This does not give place for the "delightful" game of "there's-something-wrong-and-you-have-to-figure-it-out." The wife should let the husband know if there is a problem. However, the husband should also make an effort to understand his wife.
There is one final matter that the Bible speaks clearly about. It is one that I hesitate to describe for lack of knowledge and an interest in discretion. The author of Hebrews reminds us, "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." (13:4)
Paul writes, "Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency." (I Cor. 7:3-5)
Some commentators argue that The Song of Solomon was originally a celebration of the physical joy in marriage created by God and, in the New Testament, sanctified in Christ. We proclaim to the rafters, to everyone who will hear, and even to those exhausted of hearing, that any sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman is sin, no matter what letter you assign it. We do poorer job reminding married people what the Bible says about the blessing of sexual activity within marriage.
With our society's preoccupation with all forms of sexual deviancy, we are tempted to become jaded about the beauty of marriage. If spouses are to live Christian in an unchristian world, let me suggests something to read together. Perhaps you think it Ephesians 5. No. Most of the time we read it thinking about where our spouse has gone wrong rather than where we have gone wrong. No, perhaps it's time to rekindle the romance. Perhaps it's time to pick up and read the Song of Solomon.