Marriage: Rolles and Roles

When that sleek, beautiful Rolles Royce comes off the assembly line, it is not only a thing of beauty, but also a carefully designed and skillfully assembled product. It reflects the wisdom, planning, and skill of well-trained and devoted artisans.

When the masterpiece of human relationships rolled off God’s production line, it likewise reflected His love, care, skill, and wisdom. But just as the Rolles-Royce was at the mercy of the driver, so marriage has been committed to failing mortals to “work out” and implement. We do have one great advantage over the owner of the new Bentley (we really do!), we have an infallible guide book to teach us how best to enjoy this Divinely-planned masterpiece.

Yes, marriage does reflect the love and care of a wise creator for His creatures. Christian marriage has the added benefit that we have not only the guide book to instruct us, but a Divine-Indweller to enable us to know and obey its truth.

Throughout society and in all human relationships, God has instituted roles for the sake of order and leadership. These are not imposed whimsically or with a view to hindering an individual’s usefulness and growth. The opposite is His intention. We, as creatures of His hand and children in His family, find our highest usefulness and potential when we are moving in the sphere which Divine wisdom planned for us.

Since the Spirit of God begins with the role of the woman or wife in Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, and 1 Peter 3, it would be wise for our study to begin there as well.

The Significance of the Order

What can we learn from the fact that the Spirit of God does take up the role of the woman first? Perhaps one lesson is that whatever is enjoined upon her is not dependent on how her husband treats her. Her place is that of subjection, even in the face of a husband who does not hear or obey the Word of God (1 Peter 3).

But when Paul handles the issue of headship in 1 Corinthians 11, he begins by reminding the males that they have a head (Christ); then he tells the women that their head is the man. However, lest they think this is a place of inferiority, he then tells them that even Christ took a place of submission, “The Head of Christ is God.”

So the order in the three major sections of the New Testament which touch on submission by a woman would suggest that submission is not contingent on a husband who loves in the proper manner. It is always because God has assigned these roles in the marital relationship.

The Scope of the Obligation

The Meaning

But what is true submission? Does it mean assuming a role of a dutiful, silent follower? Is a wife never allowed to express an opinion or, when needed, to disagree with her husband? Is her place of support similar to that which is seen in partisan politics? Simply a rubber stamp approval?

Submission in the Scriptural sense is not silence, stoical resignation, or suppression of thought. Employing the head-body analogy gives us insight. Decision-making in any individual, is (hopefully) left for the mind or head. But that decision is influenced by input from every member of the body. There are rare occasions when the brain overrides the “advice” of the body and makes its decision based upon other factors. But the vast majority of the time, the input from the members of the body is crucial to the decision-making ability of the mind.

Likewise, in a marriage, it is a foolish husband who does not actively seek out and consider the valuable advice of his wife. God intended a wife as a “help meet.” She is to be a help in every aspect of his life. Once a decision is made, however, even if the wife feels it is not the best, she is to submit to his leadership.

The Measure

To what extent is a wife to be submissive to her husband? If a husband is responsible before the Lord for the decision, and she feels the decision is wrong, must she submit? There are many decisions which we make based on principles from the Word of God rather than direct commands. If a husband is moving contrary to a clear teaching of the Word of God, a wife may have to carefully and humbly refuse (i.e. falsifying an income tax report, being involved in something illegal), and accept consequences, looking to God to change her husband’s thinking.

These occasions should either be extremely rare or never occur in any Christian marriage. The standard of Scripture is, “as unto the Lord” (Eph 5:22), and again “as it is fit in the Lord” (Col 3:18), and finally, “in the sight of God” (1 Pet 3:4). Subjection is limited by these terms and also elevated by them. A wife’s submission is what honors the Lord, is toward Him ultimately, and appreciated by Him.

The Motive

A review of the different Scriptures dealing with the role of the wife enumerates a variety of motivating forces. She is moving in obedience to Scripture, with a desire to honor the Lord, and with an intelligent recognition of the divine wisdom which has ordained her role.

The Symbolic Object Lesson

Ephesian teaching makes clear that something far more is at stake than simply a happy marriage or a convenient way to relate as husband and wife. In the roles of marriage, we are being taught the eternal, supernal relationship of Christ and His church. God in wondrous grace designed a hands-on earthly relationship to convey truth which would have been incomprehensible in any other manner.

Even a cursory reading of Proverbs 31 shows that the great concern of the virtuous woman is that her husband receive the honor which he deserves (v 23). He, likewise, actively seeks her honor (vv 28, 31). This idyllic and beautiful picture of marriage is what God intends for every marriage; but above all it is what God intends for Christ and His Bride: the Bride seeking to bring honor to the One she loves; Christ bringing honor and blessing upon His Bride.

The Spiritual Objective

But the issue of the fruit of subjection is vital even for the present time. Each of the passages dealing with subjection appears to stress a different truth. In Ephesians 5 it is to Exhibit the Church and Christ in its relationship. In Colossians 3 it Expresses the Lordship of Christ. When Paul takes up the place of women in the assembly prayer meeting and their subjection, it is to Enhance the value of prayer before God. In Titus 2, amidst the disorder of Crete, her subjection Embellishes the doctrine of God. Finally, Peter reminds us that subjection may serve to Enlighten a disobedient spouse. In this manner, usefulness and fruitfulness result from a woman in her God-designed place.