A Meditation on Marriage

Jim and I are continuing to read John Stott’s Through the Bible, through the year and the passage for yesterday came from Ephesians 5:21-33. I don’t recall ever thinking about the verbs submit and love in exactly this way.

Stott’s entry entitled “A Meditation on Marriage”:

“The apostle Paul is widely regarded as having been an incorrigible misogynist. But those who think this cannot have considered the implications of Ephesians 5:21-33. For here, centuries before its time, is sublime Christian teaching that urgently needs to be better known. Consider these five aspects of it.

“Firstly, the requirement that the wife submits to her husband is a particular example of a general Christian duty. For the injunction ‘wives submit’ (v.22) immediately follows the requirement that we ‘submit to one another’ (v.21). If therefore it is the bride’s duty to submit to the bridegroom, it is also his duty as a member of God’s new society to submit to her. Submissiveness is not to be unilateral. It is a universal Christian obligation, exemplified by our Lord Jesus himself. Secondly, the wife’s submission is to be given to a lover, not to an ogre. The apostle’s instruction is not ‘Wives, submit; husbands, boss.’ It is ‘Wives, submit…Husbands, love.’ And there is all the difference in the world between a lover and a tyrant.

“Thirdly, husbands are to love like Christ (three times). Submission may sound hard, but love is harder. The highest pinnacle of demand is reached in verse 25, where husbands are to love their wives ‘as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.’ No nobler standard can be conceived than Calvary love. Fourthly, the husband’s love, like Christ’s, sacrifices in order to serve. That is, his love and self-sacrifice for the church were positive and purposive, namely to free her from all defects and so display her in her full glory. The husband’s headship similarly is not to suppress or oppress his wife, but rather to liberate her into the fullness of her femininity.

“Fifthly, submission is another aspect of love. Although submit and love are two different verbs, it is difficult to distinguish between them. For what is it to submit? It is to give oneself up to somebody. What is it to love? It is to give onself up to somebody. Thus selfless self-giving by both husband and wife is the foundation of an enduring and growing marriage.”

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