Gender Roles In Marriage

       Our culture has a lot to say about gender roles. Independent, unmarried women are celebrated for being “on their own” and just fine. It is popular among the secular crowd for a man to be “metrosexual” as they call it – viz. “in touch with his feminine side.” There are entire translations of the Bible that take out the masculine terminology for God and the human race. It is politically incorrect to label trade positions as “mailman,” congressman,” “garbage-man,” “fireman,” or “policeman” because there are many mail-women, congress-women, garbage-women, fire-women, and police-women. We have gender-discrimination laws, sensitivity training, and sexual-harassment workshops. The culture is hardly silent concerning gender roles and differences.

       Let’s look at the family… Most obvious is a societal shift from one-man, one-woman, for one-lifetime marriage to same-sex marriages. And equally as damaging are the rapidly increasing divorce rates and percentages of those who “shack-up” without ever getting married. Our young boys are disciplined for being too aggressive and competitive, while our young girls are taught to be more athletic. We suppress the natural tendencies of gender and encourage that which is unnatural. Gender is no more than a “biological ‘X’ or ‘Y’ factor,” so they say. Environment has everything to do with perceived gender roles. Right?

       While it is inescapable that society and environment has much to do with gender roles and behavior, it is not necessary that society and environment determine that which is moral or ethical concerning the same. If society decides moral absolutes, then slavery would have been morally justified (by society’s standards) in colonial and early constitutional America. I don’t know many people who would say that since slavery was socially acceptable during that time period, it (slavery) was morally justified. Do you? Then what gives us the inclination to justify a reversal or blending of gender roles based on the current whims of society? No, there must be some absolute. Something more foundational on which we can base something as serious as gender roles and behavior. Since gender (male or female) has not changed with time (since creation), why should we deduce that its functionality or roles have? Surely there is something more stable than the roller coaster ups and downs of society on which to base a solid view of gender-specific roles…

       Lucky (blessed, really) for us, God has done just this. There is a solid, timeless truth on which we can and should base gender roles. A principle of sorts that transcends culture, era, and popular opinion. I would like to focus only on the biblical roles of Husband and Wife for now. Perhaps a blog at a later date may venture into the controversial realm of gender identification, tendencies, and behavior on a more general level.

Biblical gender roles in marriage…

       There is a plethora of biblical text that shapes this doctrine. But I will spare you, and only focus on one in this blog. Ephesians 5:22-28.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 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. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (NIV)

       We start with an ugly word… “submit.” Every time I have ever taught on, spoken about, or counseled from this passage, at least one woman in the room curls her nose at that six-letter curse word… “SUBMIT.” It gives some of you chills just reading it. I have heard pastors, teachers, and seminary professors tip-toe around this six-letter word like it was a vat of broken glass on a running track: “It doesn’t really mean ‘submit’ like you’re thinking of the word. It’s more like a mutual understanding of direction in a marriage.” I’ve taken the liberty of looking up the Greek word:


…and pasting its possible definitions for you below:

1) to arrange under, to subordinate
2) to subject, put in subjection
3) to subject one’s self, obey
4) to submit to one’s control
5) to yield to one’s admonition or advice
6) to obey, be subject

       I don’t see anything confusing here. Do you? It seems pretty clear that wives are to willfully submit themselves under the authority of the husband. “Yeah, but to what extent, Tony?” – “In Everything,” Ephesians 5:24 says. “What does that look like?” Just as the Church submits herself to Jesus, so the wife should submit herself to her husband. Can I just tell you how unpopular this teaching is? I bet I don’t have to tell you – I bet you’re on the edge of your seat right now, just waiting for me to come back with something creative to put your heart at ease. But I refuse. I will not water down the Word of God. Wives are to be submissive to their husbands in everything. And their model to follow is to be the picture of the New Testament Church’s submission to Jesus. Period.

       Well, if you’re still reading, you’re probably wondering how this goes over with my counselees when it is brought up. It’s a little tense, I have to admit. It is rather difficult to hear – especially if the wife has a strong D or DC personality type. But I haven’t had anyone walk out on me yet.

       Maybe this will give you some consolation. Let’s move to the husbands. Husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for her.” When we get to this part, the women (stereotypically a little ‘quicker’ than us men-folk) start to get a little more wide-eyed. They know something good is coming.
       First of all, let me debunk the myth that since this passage says that women are to be submissive and men are to love, that means that women don’t need to love, and men don’t need to submit. Hogwash. This is about primary goals and responsibilities. It would be ridiculous to say that women don’t need to love their husbands, or that men don’t need to submit to their wives (see Eph. 5:21 for cross-referencing).

       Now, let’s get to the hard part for us macho-husbands. The model that we are to follow when loving our wives is the same as above, but with reversed roles… namely, we are to love our wives as Christ loved the Church. How did Christ love the church? He gave His life for her.

       What Jesus Christ did for the church was the opposite of pride. It was humility. He demoted Himself from His throne in heaven, took on the likeness of His creation, died an ignominious death on a cross, and by this, saved his bride from an eternity of pain and disgrace separated from God (Phil. 2:6-11).

He gave up His status and reputation 
to be taunted, teased, spit on, publicly humiliated, and unjustly condemned
He suffered immense physical, emotional, and spiritual pain 
so that she might receive benefit
He offered His physical life – HE DIED – 
to give her what she needed the most

       Husbands, we are called to give everything that we are for our wives. To lay it all down for her benefit. To give up our very essence so that she might be rewarded. To break ourselves of our pride, thereby exalting her.

       Suddenly, being submissive doesn’t look all that bad. When I finish this teaching, I always end with this statement:

“Not many women will refuse to be submissive 
to a man who lays down his life for her.”
       Why is this important? Because God’s design is always best. You can choose to model your marriage after some other structure. God has given you that choice. But if you expect His blessing… if you expect His favor and His benefits… if you desire for the finished product to look like what He has designed and declared beautiful… then you must follow His plan. 
Grace and Peace,
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