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Peter Beck Christian Blog and Commentary

Peter Beck

Assistant Professor of Religion, Charleston Southern University

Some topics are sure to spark interest. Some flame up into heated donnybrooks. Others flash into full conflagration, burning all who participate.

 

The topic that causes such strong responses varies from church to church. In some congregations the hottest topic is the eschaton. How and when will Christ return? For others rock music and Calvinism are sure to set off theological alarms. Most such topics, however, excite impassioned exchanges among limited groups, folks that are interested in the subject. Others look on with disinterest waiting for the conversation to cool and turn to matters relevant to their needs or interests.

 

The issue of gender roles is one such issue. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a vested interest as everyone is either a male or a female. I once had an eight-year-old girl ask me about the biblical teaching concerning gender roles and the ministry. It's a topic that touches everyone's life.

 

The question of gender roles within the institution of marriage is also sure to pique interest. Strong feelings exist one way or the other concerning the husband/wife relationship within the home. You're sure to get someone's undivided attention just by stating your position. When you do, you better be ready.

 

The Apostle Paul understood the sensitivity of the subject. Before he revealed God's will concerning gender roles in marriage, he prepared his readers in Ephesus for the debate that was sure to come. Christians are to imitate God, to be godly, and to walk in love, living their lives as an ongoing act of sacrificial worship, he told them (Ephesians 5:1-2). Having said that, Paul proceeded to warn his audience to "be careful how you walk," to be wise and not foolish concerning the will of God (Eph 5:15-17). Paul knew that he was about to create a controversy and he was ready.

 

The controversy that Paul knew was coming? The nature of the relationship between wife and husband within the confines of their marriage. What was true 2000 years ago is no less true today. Paul's teaching on this matter is controversial. It is also biblical. Therefore, Christians must wade in carefully with the intention of discerning and obeying God's will.

 

Wives, said Paul, are to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:25). Immediately bells and whistles sound throughout the church. Does he mean that the wife is to act as a well-trained lap dog? Does her opinion matter? Is she a slave or his lover? Remember, Paul warned us.

 

Paul argued that the Christian marriage should not reflect a culture where husbands can be abusive and wives may long to rule. Instead, he says, they are to reflect God's intent in the Garden of Eden where Adam was created first and Eve was created to be his "suitable helper." Lest the female reader balk, Paul reminds us that his is a matter of spiritual importance and reflects our relationship with Christ as Christ Himself submitted to the Father willingly (Eph 5:23-24).

 

In light of so many flawed relationships it is understandable that such teaching seems radical to the modern mind. Too many women have been treated as doormats. Too many wives have been abused in the name of marriage. Some have used this text as a defense for such behavior. To do so, however, ignores the flow of Paul's argument. The concern in this text is not merely sexual but spiritual.

 

Turning from wives, Paul turned his attention to the role of the husband in a Christian marriage. His role is of one of great consequence and challenge, his responsibility great. The biblical husband loves his wife. He dedicates himself to her spiritual gain. He is to love her sacrificially. He is to love her selfishly, acting as if her life is his and that his is hers. He is to love her selflessly, dying on her behalf, if need be (Eph 5:25-29).

 

The basis of Paul's argument? Again, we are taken back to the model in Genesis 2. The two, husband and wife, are to be one (Eph 5:31). When they are, says Paul, the wife can safely and lovingly submit to her husband's leadership because his desires are hers. Her goals are his. They can and will be going in the same direction because they are one.

 

In my own marriage of twenty-five years, I see these principles at work regularly. My wife and I are both believers. We are both seeking God's glory. We desire to see our children come to saving faith in Christ. Over the years, we have grown up together as adults. We have grown closer as mates. We are growing old together as friends.

 

In the context of this union, I am the leader. My wife trusts my lead. She follows my lead. She does so not just because she has to but because she wants to. She trusts me implicitly. Because of our common bond, as I lead, she does not merely follow. She walks alongside because we share one God and one life.

 

Does this biblical paradigm always work out perfectly in our world? Of course not. Even Christians struggle with sin. Our selfishness all too often outweighs our selflessness. However, the present reality of sin does not negate or undermine the biblical injunctions concerning gender roles in the home. Instead, we are to submit joyfully to God's will, pursue God's ideal, and obey God's commands. The issue is spiritual not just practical. Husbands are to lead lovingly. Wives are to submit respectfully (Eph 5:33). Because Christians are to obey willingly (John 14:15).

Like so many kids, I never liked math as a subject. I didn't get it. I couldn't understand it. I failed to see the value in it. Math and I weren't friends.

 

In spite of my stubborn reluctance to imbibe in the beauty of raw numbers, I learned enough to know that one plus one equals two. Yet, when we look at the math of biblical marriage, we are reminded over and over again that one plus equals one. One man. One woman. One life. (see Genesis 2:24-25; Matthew 19:4-6; Ephesians 5:31)

 

The oneness of the marital union is based upon the two individuals brought together by covenant. They are unique. They bring various gifts, strengths, and weaknesses to their marriage. That is just as God intended.

 

As Genesis 1:27 tells us, God created humanity in His image. That image is displayed mysteriously and marvelously in the two genders: male and female. Seeing that God created both genders and both possess His image, we must acknowledge two powerful facts. First, the genders and their associated distinctions are part of God's glorious plan for humanity and our sexuality. Two, both genders are of equal value as both reflect God's glory in His image.

 

Likewise, Genesis 2:18 illustrates the fact that both genders have unique roles. God created Eve as the "suitable helper," the perfect helpmeet, the right complement for Adam. As everyone knows from anecdotal evidence, men and women are different. The sexes display differing natures, emotions, and abilities. Yet, together the two make one whole.

 

My wife and I are living proof of this principle. She's tender-hearted and quick to share her emotions. I'm more stoic and reluctant to share my feelings. I'm decisive. She's contemplative. She's mellow. I'm wired. These contrasting traits don't cause friction. They bring harmony as they bring balance to our familial universe.

 

Now, every man doesn't possess the same traits nor does every woman. We've all been fearfully and wonderfully made according to God's plan for our lives. Yet, in spite of the prevalence of and the imperfections caused by sin, certain characteristics mark the two genders in remarkable ways that still reflect God's intent all those years ago.

 

We must admit, though, theologically-speaking things are not as they were intended to be. We can see shadows and hints of God's original prototypes. But, the world we live in is far from perfect. This applies to people and to relationships. Some things just aren't supposed to be this way.

 

In the Garden, when Adam and Eve sinned and fell, we see the broken paradigm of sinful humanity and the impact of their decision on all later male/female relationships. Whereas God created man first and then woman and both were to exercise dominion over the creation, in Genesis 3 we see all ontological and gender roles reversed.

 

The created order, the serpent, is telling Eve what to do. Eve is telling Adam what do. Neither human balks at this reversal. Neither screamed, "Time out! This isn't what God wanted." Instead, everything was backwards and no one seemed to care. Adam and Eve fall because things weren't as they were supposed to be. In the process, they fell and they dragged us down with them.

 

The punishments issued to the three involved parties in the Garden echo this inverted order. The serpent is cursed first. Then Eve is told that her failure would now cause her greater pain in childbirth and increased difficulties in her relationship with man. Adam is told that his dominion over the creation would now be all the more difficult.

 

Into that world and those skewed relationships we have been born. We now bear the brunt of those curses. The world is a dangerous place. Women die in childbirth. Husbands exert forceful authority over their spouses and fruitless dominion over the creation. Clearly things aren't the way they're supposed to be.

 

This, too, is resolved in Christ's sacrificial death. In His death, God was reconciling all things to Himself (Colossians 1:19) Among the many things implied, we can see in the Bible that the atonement provides for those who believe a restoration in relationships. Sinners will be restored to God. Marriages should be restored to their intended pattern.

 

Christian marriages should not look like the world. God's salvific plan and the resultant new heart given to believers impact every area of our lives. In salvation, everything the curse is reversed. Our marriages should look like the first family before the Fall. Following the biblical pattern for marriage and gender roles established in Genesis. Husband and wife should be one, one in purpose and one in passion - both spiritual and physical - for the two shall become one just as God had intended (Ephesians 5:31).

We all crave acceptance. We long for love. While we enjoy moments of solitude, we seek the company of others who will accept us for who we are. As humans we have an innate need for relationship.

 

As I've argued previously, this desire for relationship, this emptiness that we feel when alone, can be explained by resorting to the doctrine of the imago Dei (Genesis 1:26-28). Just as God in the Trinity is love and expresses love, humans created in His image must love and be loved.

 

Taken at face value the image of God in man explains why we surround ourselves with those we like and those who like us. It explains the urge to shower our affections on our pets. It's part of who we are. It also explains, however, why my German Shepherd Luther can never replace the relationship I enjoy with my wife. The image of God in me draws me to the image of God in her.

 

To better understand this phenomenon, we can turn again to the book of Genesis to see how this relates to the biblical construct for marriage.

 

After the creation of the apex creature, humanity, we find Adam at work in the Garden of Eden. He busily exercises dominion over the creation by sovereignly choosing the names of all the animals. As he surveys his domain, however, Adam longs for something more. He is not satisfied with the relationship he has with the animals. He is alone. God says that's not good (Genesis 2:18).

 

To rectify the situation, God determines to make a "helper suitable for him." God could have created a German Shepherd but He didn't. He could have created a golfing buddy but He didn't. No, the helper that Adam needed was a complementary being, one that fit the hole in his heart, one that provided what he lacked. God gave Adam Eve.

 

Here, too, we see God's plan for human relationships. Here we see God giving Adam a help-mate, a partner suitable to Adam's role in life. He gave him a woman. He gave him the real missing link, not a heretofore undiscovered biological primate, but the perfect human being to enable Adam to find fulfillment in relationship and to fulfill his place in the created order - be fruitful and multiply. Without Eve Adam was incomplete and incompetent. That, says God, was not good.

 

The account of the creation of Eve in Genesis 2 becomes paradigmatic, then, for our understanding of God's plan for our sexual beings. God provided the suitable helper, a woman, not women and not man. While men need male companionship in various seasons of their lives, while women long for an intimate friend to share their experience, only the male/female relationship satisfies our deepest longings. That's why God gave Adam the perfect mate, his perfect match - Eve.

 

Genesis 2 goes one step further. In Moses' account of the gift of the perfect mate, lasting union necessarily follows the initial encounter. The relationship between Adam and Eve does not stall at the level of simple co-workers. They didn't engage in casual sex to scratch some carnal itch. They united in primeval marriage. As it was intended to be Adam became joined to his Eve and the two became one - one flesh, one mind, one purpose (Genesis 2:24-25). As the passage explains, this was how things "ought" to be.

 

Jesus interpreted this passage in the same way. In Matthew 19 he speaks of the male/female bond. He reminds his apostles of the union of one flesh. And, then, Jesus explained the profound implication of this oneness. The relationship is not only physical, it is spiritual. "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (Matthew 19:4-6).

 

Biblically-speaking, marriage is not a social construct. Marriage is not a constitutional right. Marriage is the first human institution ordained by God, designed by God, and fulfilled by God. We can choose to marry or remain single but we cannot choose to redefine marriage as we see fit. As God has revealed, marriage is: one man, one woman, one life.

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