Has God Established Roles for Men and Women in Marriage?

Title: Has God Established Roles for Men and Women in Marriage?

[Audio http://ab86qw.bay.livefilestore.com/y1pCw8ogj7ptKXsMDedQo4yYXlWx6ruYx0DM17GV-HJRBJmcpQBwofazcS3n7uL0zeigcQ5yywF7juANRO5Gamrjg/9-21-08aretheremarriagesrolesformenandwomen.mp3%5D

Text: Ephesians 5:21-33

Time: September 21, 2008

I’ve been teaching on marriage, divorce and remarriage for the last few months. I almost left these topics to begin another verse-by-verse study of another book of the Bible, as I usually do when teaching God’s Word. But I wanted to finish this series with a final topic that may cause more controversy than any of the other teachings I’ve given concerning marriage, divorce or remarriage. It’s not my intent to cause controversy, but neither is it my design to avoid controversy. It is my goal to teach God’s Word, the Bible, The Word of God, in all areas, whether it is received with popularity or rejection. It’s not a healthy thing for the pastor or church leaders to avoid teaching people from the Word of God solely because there is the chance it might offend or cause controversy in the church. It is a healthy thing for God’s Word to be taught in any case and to challenge all of us to conform ourselves to it, rather than avoid it or try to conform God’s Word to our personal or cultural preferences. And there can be no doubt that as far as cultural preferences go, the topic I’ll be addressing this morning is clear. Contemporary culture definitely has a clear preference – it opposes God’s Word in this case. Most people’s personal preference also clearly opposes God’s Word on this topic. What is the topic? Marriage roles for men and women. Or to put it as a question, “Has God established specific roles for men and women within marriage?” Our contemporary popular culture definitely argues against any specific and absolute marriage roles for men and women. Rather, our age subscribes to the philosophy that men and women are free to make up their own roles within marriage – if they choose marriage, or if they choose not to marry but just live together. The popular view today, a clear majority view today, is that there are no fixed roles for the man or the woman in marriage. Certainly, this view holds, men and women are free to follow traditional marriage roles if they choose to, or they may reject the traditional roles, or come up with some creative alternative arrangement incorporating some parts traditional and some parts modern. But what almost everyone rejects today is that God has fixed certain absolute roles for men and women within marriage, or that all men and women are obligated to recognize certain separate and fixed roles within marriage. And it’s not just unbelieving non-Christians who reject fixed roles within marriage; more and more today many Christians are rejecting the notion of absolute, separate roles for men and women in marriage. So in teaching on this subject, I’m aware that most people, many or even most Christians included, will have a difficult time accepting what God’s Word has to say about marriage roles. But nevertheless, I am reminded of the Great Commission given by the Lord Jesus Christ which says, “Make disciples of all the nations, . . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” Matthew 28:19-20. So we must learn to obey everything that God teaches us not just those parts we are inclined to agree with anyway, or those parts that already conform to our personal preferences. We must learn to obey “everything” God teaches us, including everything God teaches us about marriage and marriage roles for men and women. And so with that bit of introduction, let us literally “dive into” this topic by raising some typical questions about marriage roles – and then answering them from God’s Word.

First, has God established fixed roles for men and women in marriage? Ephesians 5:21-33, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husband as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 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. . . . In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. . . . ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. However each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” From the above biblical passage in the New Testament we see that indeed God has established different, fixed and absolute roles for men and women within marriage – contrary to the popular contemporary opinion. The passage also teaches that in respect to his wife, the man is to assume a leadership position. He is to be the “head” of the marriage; he is to assume the position of ultimate responsibility and leadership in the marriage. This corresponds perfectly to what we see in Genesis with respect to Adam and Eve after the Fall into sin. And since our verse links us to Genesis 1, 2, 3 let’s go there. Genesis 3:8-9, “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’” Notice God calls to Adam, the man. Why does God call to the man? Why not to both Adam and Eve? Or why not to Eve – since she was the one who first gave into sin, and influenced her husband to sin also? But no, God deals directly to the man Adam. Why? Because Adam, as the man, as the husband, is responsible for the marriage, is the “head” of the house, is the “head” of his wife. He must give direct, ultimate and primary account to God, not Eve. Now it’s interesting that this understanding of marriage and the “headship” responsibility of the man in respect to the woman has been the historical understanding for thousands of years, starting back with the Jews in the Old Testament and continuing through the New Testament and church history for nearly 2000 years. But today, for many people, it is disputed. Why? Because of the teachings and influence of the modern feminist movement of the late 60s and 70s. And because most adults today are products of the 60s and 70s, most people today have been influenced more by the feminist movement than by the biblical teaching on the roles of men and women in marriage. There is definitely more to say on this question, but let’s move on to the next question, which may throw some more light on our first question.

Second, is the man supposed to be the head of the house? Ephesians 5:23, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” It’s really interesting to read what people are saying about this verse today, because it almost always is an attempt to explain away what the verse says in order to somehow show what it really means. The passage clearly says that the husband is to be the “head” of the wife, just as Christ is (and is supposed to be) the “head” of the church. Now what a lot of modern authors, speakers, leaders, etc. try to do is demonstrate that the word “head” doesn’t really mean or imply authority or rank or position, but rather it means “source.” Man is the “source” of life for the woman because Adam was created first and then Eve was made from Adam’s rib in the beginning. Man is supposed to be the source of life today for the woman, a source of strength, a source of security, etc. Now the man is certainly supposed to be the source of strength, protection, and other things for the woman, but that isn’t all he’s supposed to be. According to the verse, he’s also supposed to be the source of authority and leadership for his wife and family. My question to everyone who wishes to diminish the authority and leadership role of the man in the marriage and family by translating the Greek word KEPHALE as “source” instead of “head” is: if the word should be “source” instead of “head” then why isn’t it translated that way in any credible translation of the Bible? It’s one thing to argue that a word should be translated a certain way in a book or speech, but why haven’t the best New Testament Greek scholars who translate the Bible into modern English, why haven’t they done so using “source” instead of “head?” I can’t think of any Bible translation that uses “source” instead of “head” in this verse. Why not? Because for all the attempts to argue one thing over another, there are no credible scholars or groups of scholars who are willing to risk their credibility and put out a New Testament translation that prefers the word “source” over the word “head” in Ephesians 5:23. I think that speaks volumes. The verse itself helps explain what God expects of the man as head of wife and family. God is not advocating that the man be domineering and harsh, but rather that he be loving and responsible. One of the unfortunate side-effects of the modern feminist movement — in contrast to some of the positive results such as better job opportunities and better pay for women – is that it tends to pit men and women against each other in an adversarial relationship. If it’s all about power, then man being the head is a negative for women, but if it’s more about responsibility, then the man being the head can be seen as a positive for women. The man is given the authority by God to carry out his primary responsibilities in the marriage and family. It’s not about power, it’s about responsibility.

Third, is a woman supposed to submit to her husband in marriage? Ephesians 5:21-24, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” The verse starts out by talking about mutual submission: “Submit to one another.” Now there is some question about verse 21, whether it should go with the verses above it or below it. Or in other words, is it speaking to men and women in marriage in verses 22-33, or is it speaking to the whole church, all the Christians, in verses 1-20 in Ephesians 5. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that it’s speaking to men and women in marriage and verses 22-33 and not just to Christians in general. Bible translations are split, some linking it back, some linking it forward. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s speaking to married couples. “Submit to one another.” Now it is said that since the verse says to mutually submit to one another, then the next few verses can’t possibly mean that the wife must submit to her husband in any way different than he must submit to her. In fact, the popular evangelical pastor Rob Bell of Grand Rapids, Michigan says bluntly that nothing in the passage teaches any different kind of submission for the woman than for the man. Well, that is clearly false. Because the verse clearly does teach that while men and women are supposed to submit to one another generally (assuming the verse is speaking to men and women and not all Christians), it specifically teaches how women are to submit to their husbands. It doesn’t specifically teach how men are to submit to their wives. So Bell’s claim is false. What does it mean for husbands and wives to submit to one another? Probably submit to one another in matters of truth and love. When a man’s wife speaks the truth, God’s truth or a clear natural or human truth, the man is supposed to submit to it, and not live in denial. A man is also to submit to loving his wife. These things aren’t spelled out in detail, but these are things, for example, a man would be responsible for in submiting to his wife. But the wife is commanded to submit to her husband “in everything.” In contrast, the man is not commanded to submit to his wife “in everything,” because as head of his wife and children he carries the special position of authority and leadership that his wife does not carry. He carries the responsibility under God for this position that his wife does not carry. He will be judged under different standards by God for the operation and success of the marriage and family in a way his wife won’t. That responsibility carries with it the need for extra authority. That is why God instructs the woman specifically to submit to her husband, but instructs the man only generally to submit to his wife. The ways of submitting are different between the man and the woman, and between the woman and the man.

We are obviously not going to answer all the questions that people today ask about roles within marriage. In fact, the Bible doesn’t spell out a list of roles that men and women are supposed to fulfill in marriage. But it does give the most important roles and how they are different in the man and in the woman. They are not interchangeable as many people today assume. I’m amazed at how many people I meet, even Christians, who just assume that marriage and marriage roles are simply negotiable – whatever works for the couple. Or I run into some people who claim that there doesn’t need to be any structure or authority in the marriage; in fact, any kind of fixed order or organization based on hierarchy within the marriage is bad. They say everything must be left open to negotiation and mutual compromise. They feel that all decisions within the marriage can be talked about and a decision reached without any designated “head” to finally decide — if there is disagreement. They claim that leadership in the marriage can be shared 50/50, that there doesn’t have to be any authority or “head” in the marriage, that all issues, all questions, must be discussed and consensus achieved. But although this modern non-hierarchical view of marriage sounds doable, I question whether it can really stand the test of time, I question whether it is really standing the test of time. Since these kinds of new ideas for marriage have become popular the divorce rate has skyrocketed. I’m wondering why modern couples with their modern ideas of marriage can’t seem to make them work? I’m wondering if it’s always possible for couples to “negotiate” everything and move forward only after “consensus.” It seems to me that the there exists a lot of inner-marital power plays and pressure in the absence of some kind of fixed and hierarchical structure like the Bible outlines. It seems to me that there is wisdom in establishing that one person – as the Bible teaches, the man – ultimately has the responsibility to make a decision when the couple can’t decide together on some issue. I truly believe that marriages are being ripped apart today – and the divorce rate confirms this — by internal politics because each person is trying to assume control and take charge, if not in all things, in some things. What happens if both the man and the woman can’t reach agreement? What happens if there is no consensus? I don’t think advocates of the modern marriage philosophy have an answer to that question – and I don’t consider divorce an answer! But the Bible has an answer to this important question. In God’s will the man is placed as the head of the home (marriage and family), and in cases where there can be no agreement reached through consensus, the man makes the decision and the wife graciously submits and supports that decision. There is order, there is peace. Marriage is preserved. I know the wisdom of the world cannot accept this answer, but until it can demonstrate a superior wisdom, I’ll continue teaching God’s will found in God’s Word.


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