Rocking the Roles, Part 1: Principles

by John Meador

Many today long for traditional marriage to return. And in many ways, I don't blame them. But I want to rock your idea of the roles of traditional marriage values. I want to transfer you to the biblical model. The traditional model involved some of the biblical elements but it did not have the heart of biblical marriage.

In Ephesians 5:22-27, Paul likens the roles of husbands and wives to the relationship between Christ and the church—way beyond the traditional marriage concept: "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the churchas the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her."

But without the power of God there is no way on earth that we can fulfill the real biblical, spiritual roles of husband and wife. Spiritual weakness, recall, is the number one reason why Christian marriages fail. That is why, in Verse 18, Paul issues an imperative command: "be filled with the Spirit of God."

Everything we read in the following verses will be impossible unless we are filled with the Holy Spirit! It requires the power of God in our lives for men to truly love their wives as Christ loves the church, or for wives to truly submit to their husbands as to the Lord. In the traditional model of marriage, people try to fulfill their roles without having the power.

What Biblical Marriage Is Not

In Luke 22:24, as His disciples disputed which of them was the greatest, Jesus said to them: "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called benefactors." I submit that the fleshly, sinful view of headship or leadership follows this picture. It is not leadership, it is lordship.

The idea that everybody exists in this family to serve me is what many husbands carried into marriage in the 60s and 70s, and even the 80s. Traditional marriage was characterized by absentee fathers, devalued women, and acceptance of a lower "Ozzie and Harriet" ideal of what the family really is.

If ladies cringe when a preacher quotes the Bible about being submitted to their husbands, it is probably because they have experienced the kind of lordship instead of leadership that Jesus condemned in Luke 22. I sympathize with you—but we can't reject God's ideals just because someone subverts it and twists it.

The twist came in part because America changed from a farming culture, in which the family was intact, to an industrial/technological culture. When that happened, the fathers went to work in the factories and the technology centers. They began to see their work as their whole life calling. They became simply providers for the family. They were not there spiritually or emotionally.

As a result of that shift, the biblical roles were rejected—replaced by the "50-50 family," with shared leadership. This failed miserably. There is no such thing as a successful leaderless marriage, any more than there can be successful leaderless organizations. God designed the family to have a leader.

One of the greatest men I ever met was Orler Ratliff. Orler was a member of the church I pastored in Oklahoma a number of years ago. He was an old farmer and he and his wife raised three sons. Those sons really loved the Lord and had all kinds of spiritual fruit. I asked him one day how he raised the boys. And he said, "When I went out every day to plow or whatever, I would take my two- or three-year-old boy out there with me. He would sit with me on the tractor. And all day long, I would tell him everything I knew about God and everything I knew about what a man was. I told him how to treat his Mama and how to treat other women and I taught him what the Bible said. And about the time he was eighteen, I ran out of things to teach him. He just knew it all and he went out and lived it." And I thought, I have just heard the key about how to teach a young boy how to love his mother and eventually how to love his wife.

Two Governing Principles

The first principle: men and women are created equal in their standing and value with God. Genesis 1:26 tells us "God created man[kind] in His own image"—that speaks of their standing and value with God. Verse 27 adds: "In the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." That tells us that every man and every woman has equal potential for everything that God calls us to.

Peter writes to the husband in 1 Peter 3:7: "Grant her honor as the fellow heir in the grace of life." In other words, treat her like an equal. Why? "That your prayers may not be hindered." God says, "If you do not treat her as a joint-heir of the grace of life, I won't hear your prayers." Pretty emphatic, isn't it?

The second principle says that men and women are created to have distinct and different roles before God. Genesis 1:27 makes this plain: "male and female He created them." They are male and female. They are different and God designed that from the very beginning.

Writing to the Corinthians, Paul said: "I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:3). Again, in Ephesians 5:22, he instructed: "Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord." God does not give men and women the same roles at home, nor in church leadership. They are to compliment each other.

The Husband's Role

The husband is to love by being a serving leader. "For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body" (Eph. 5:23). Christ was the Savior of the body through servanthood. He laid down His life for the church. Just so, the man is the leader, but he is a serving leader.

God designed man from the beginning to be that leader: "Then the Lord God said, It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him'" (Gen. 2:18). "Helper" was God's word to describe the woman. God created the woman as a perfect compliment. It was always God's design that the man be the leader and that the woman be the helper in every marriage role.

Notice that husbands are told to "love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her." Now if Christ is our model, men, what kind of leaders do we need to be? We must love as our Lord does. Did Jesus lord it over? Was Jesus repressive? Did He put down people? Absolutely not. He built them up. He laid His life down sacrificially. And in teaching His disciples He said, "Here is what a leader looks like." Leadership in God's book is about responsibility, not privilege. It is about sacrifice, not being catered to. It means being sensitive, not ignoring the wife you have.

The Wife's Role

In the same Scriptures we find that the wife's role is to support by being a loving helper. "Wives, be subject to your own husbands as to the Lord" (Eph. 5:22). What does it mean to be subject to your husband?

The Greek word hupotassomai ("be subject") is in the middle voice, meaning that you act upon yourself. It means you arrange yourself in rank underneath that one God has put over you. And the basis of it is in Verse 21 where all of us are to be subject to each other as to the Lord. That means that when God puts someone over you, you are to voluntarily arrange yourself under, because you see that is where God has placed you.

I think the most difficult role in marriage is the woman's role of submission to her husband. I learned firsthand, fresh out of seminary and under a senior pastor that I had difficulty respecting, that submission is a difficult role. But I also learned that when I am subject to someone who is fair, godly, and a loving, serving leader, it is a whole different picture. And that is why it requires both of us, man and woman, working together towards God's ideal for the marriage to happen as it should. And it can happen if we allow it to happen.

The Bible tells us that God calls a woman to a positive, challenging, and creative role in the family. She provides something that no one else can provide: the support, the nurture of a wife and mother. The family literally will fall apart without it.

It is so easy for a woman to rebel against the model that we have just talked about because of weaknesses on the part of her husband's leadership. But Proverbs 14:1 calls us back to that model: "A wise woman builds her house, but the foolish one tears it down with her own hands." It basically says, "Come into a trusting relationship with God. Ask God to change that spouse if he is not what he ought to be. But don't tear your marriage down with your own hands."

About seven or seven and a half years into our marriage, my wife, Kim, and I learned what unconditional love means. It means remaining committed to God's call in our life in marriage, without giving up on it no matter what happens. We worked through a period of time in which we realized that we could not find satisfaction in each other, but we learned that we could only find satisfaction in God. And from that moment on, He began to build our marriage. And during that period of time we began to learn something about the wife submitting and the husband leading. The more I demonstrated that I was to be a serving leader to her, the greater confidence she had to be a trusting wife in subjection to that.

Men, I am telling you, it requires both. If you are concerned that your wife is not submitting, why don't you take a look at how lovingly you lead. Take a good hard look at whether you are making decisions to help her and to meet her needs. This relationship is not about getting all you can. It is about giving all you can.

Robert Lewis says "A biblical marriage is a perfect blend of structure and equality, of balance and beauty. If we will only be the person we are called to be." That is our challenge today.  How can we possibly do that? Only through the spiritual influence of God—being filled with His Spirit—can we really be a serving leader or can we be a supportive helper. Let me ask you, are you bringing your role in line with God?

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