A Biblical Marriage
Background Scripture: Ephesians 5:21-6:4.
Devotional Reading: John 3;16-21.
Lately, in our local newspaper, there have been a number of articles on “Christian marriage.”
A recurring theme from some Christians is that we need to return to the biblical teachings regarding marriage and not simply adopt those of our prevailing culture.
I usually read these with interest because a decade ago, my wife, Valere, and I were asked to design, write and teach a weekend workshop at our church to prepare couples for marriage.
It was suggested that, in preparation for designing the workshop, we should make a careful survey of marriage as presented in the Bible. We were not totally surprised to find that there is no single marriage model in the Bible.
Five of the marriage models we found would be quite unacceptable today and probably illegal.
In early Old Testament times, polygamy was widespread, and some Hebrew patriarchs were married to more than one wife.
There were also concubines who served as wives, but without their rights. Levirate marriage permitted the brother of a deceased husband to marry the widow to preserve the family name and assets.
Matriarchal marriage was the pattern for Jacob, Moses and Samson. They lived in the homes of their wives. Other forms included marriage by capture, purchase or covenant.
Most of the marital forms were derived from prevailing cultures, not by divine decree. Essentially, marriage was an economic deal, and the woman was regarded as an economic property.
A Higher Calling?
Lastly, there was monogamy, which eventually outlasted most other forms. But in the early centuries of Christianity, there were some Christians who held celibacy as a higher estate, with monogamy for those who could not achieve celibacy.
So ideally, a “Christian marriage” is not so much a form of marriage as it is a marriage in which Christian teachings and values prevail.
As cultures changed, the institution of marriage usually was affected, too. And usually, the gospel was the cause of positive changes in the way people regarded marriage.
I have reviewed all of the above as a prelude to saying that, although the view of marriage in Ephesians 5:21-6:4 may seem jaded, it was definitely an advance over the views of marriage in the Roman, Greek and other pagan cultures, as well as Judaism itself.
You will note in Ephesians 6:5-9 that slavery is unquestioned. It was so much a part of life in those times that abolishing slavery was unthinkable. At one time in 17th- to 19th-century America, slavery was sanctioned by large segments of Christianity.
Today, Christians realize that, while slavery was accepted in some Christian writings, it was eventually incompatible with the gospel of Christ. So, the gospel was a major force in slavery’s demise.
“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Some versions say “submitting yourselves.”) But notice, this admonition is given to both husband and wife.
True, he does go on to say: “Wives, be subject to your husband, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is head of the church” (5:21).
The Western world has changed and husbands and wives are no longer regarded as “unequals.” There are still many parts of the world today where the teaching of Ephesians would be regarded as an abominable heresy.
A Wrong Expectation
There is one other consideration: In the early years of the church, many Christians anticipated the immanent return of Christ in glory. This is why in his letters Paul counsels Christians not be get involved in radical changes, lest Christ return and their efforts be for naught.
Paul eventually realized that this expectation was incorrect, and that realization had a distinct effect upon the development of Christian concepts of behavior (I Cor.7:25-40).
Marital expectations have changed remarkably in my lifetime. People expect a lot more of the relationship than my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did.
In our pre-marital workshop, Valere and I tried to help our participants realize that one of the richest benefits of marriage is friendship. Many of the best marriages I know are those in which the participants regard each other as best friends.
And this, I believe, is closer to what the writer of Ephesians is asking when he says: “Give way to one another in obedience to Christ” (Jerusalem Bible, 5:21) or “Honor Christ by submitting to each other” (Living Bible).
Christ, not culture, is the authority to whom we submit ourselves and our marriages.