The Power of Christ on Display in Marriage

Paul Dean

"When 32-year-old Paul and his 17-year-old fiancee Anna walked into the Norristown, Pa., courthouse to apply for a marriage license, the justice turned them down flat when he learned they had known each other for only one day. Yet after much pleading and persuasion, the judge reluctantly granted them their license, and Anna and Paul were married three days later. The wedding, held at Paul's brother's house, wasn't much -- only four people in attendance, no wedding gown, no flowers, no cake, not even a picture taken. He was poor, and she was poorer. As marriages go, this one didn't sound like it had too much of a future. Yet, exactly 50 years later, I [David Kupelian] was privileged to attend the golden wedding anniversary party of Paul and Anna Paulson, my grandparents. It was memorable. They were as loved by their many friends and relatives as George and Mary Bailey in the final scene of 'It's a Wonderful Life.' Although their marriage had been arranged by their Greek families according to old-country custom -- hence the absence of any courtship -- Grandmom and Grandpop had learned to love each other. Along the way they raised four children (including my mother, Louise), kept them safe and sound through the Great Depression, built a successful business, put all four kids through college, saw them all married and producing 13 grandchildren, and lived a long and exemplary life of Christian service to others."

So begins a compelling and insightful article written by David Kupelian. He asks the question, "How can America end its divorce epidemic?" With penetrating analysis he looks at the "divorce culture" of America with its no fault divorce laws and offers the solution: marriages must be built upon a spiritual paradigm and the courts must take divorce seriously. The article may be found on WorldNetDaily.

Another columnist wrote, "One of the most frequently offered arguments by proponents of same-sex marriage is that it is not gays wanting to marry a member of the same sex that threatens the institution of marriage, it is the high divorce rate among heterosexuals." The author powerfully argues for the fallacy of such a proposition. At the same time, in his argument he refers to "a couple married for 30 years who made a beautiful home for their three now-married children. The couple divorced last year because they had both concluded that they had drifted too far apart to continue living together in any meaningful way (one aspect of the drift was one partner's increasing devotion to religion and the other's decreasing interest in it). Who has the hubris to call their marriage a failure? Their children surely don't think their parents' marriage was a failure. It produced three wonderful married adults, and it provided them a beautiful and loving home in which to grow up. One can only wish all marriages so "failed." It is simplistic to maintain that the one criterion of success or failure in marriage is permanence. There are marriages that provided years of comfort to a couple and a fine home to their children that eventually end; and there are permanent marriages that have provided neither comfort to the couple nor a loving environment for their children."

From a biblical perspective, it is not simplistic to maintain that at least one criterion of success or failure in marriage is permanence. It is not the only criterion, but it is certainly one criterion in determining such a thing. For Christian couples, a marriage that is happy and productive to the end is nothing less than the power of Christ on display in their lives. In this "culture of divorce," Christians must be concerned not only with divorce, but with the fact that their marriages either display the power of Christ or make Him out to be a sham in the eyes of a watching world.

A contrast exists between the two described marriages above. One couple "lived a long and exemplary life of Christian service to others." The other couple "concluded that they had drifted too far apart to continue living together in any meaningful way." What made the difference? What makes the difference?

In Col. 1:18-19, Paul is concerned with how the Colossians reflect the character of God in their lives and how they relate to one another. He wants the Colossians to reflect the reality of Christ for the sake of loving and maturing relationships in the body. Of course, as the body of Christ reflects the character of Christ, those who don't know Christ will see Him in the church and be moved to desire Him. He moves to discuss specific relationships in the context of family. His concern is how specific individuals may display their submission to Christ that His power and grace might be demonstrated in their lives before a lost and dying world. No doubt he also wants Christians to get along for the sake of joy. Thus, Paul begins with wives and says, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord." This submission is how they can demonstrate the living reality of Christ in their lives.


When Paul tells the wives to submit to their own husbands, three concepts are in view. First, the wives are to submit. The word "submit" is derived from the military world and means to line up under. Just as a soldier lines up under his commanding officer, so too a wife is to line up under her husband. This concept does not mean that she is not his spiritual equal (Gal. 3:28) nor does it mean she is her husband's doormat. God has given husbands and wives different roles and her role is to be a suitable helper to her husband. He has the headship and she follows him. Certainly she gives advice and rebuke when necessary, with respect. Husbands and wives make decisions together. But, in the end, the role of leader falls to the husband.


Second, wives are to submit to their own husbands. They are under no obligation to submit to men in general. This verse is not a proof text for male domination of women in a general sense. In fact, the thrust of the verse demands that a wife be very careful that she be in submission to her own husband and not some other man.


Two points of application may be pointed out here. The first point relates to pastoral authority. While a woman is under the authority of her pastor or elders, her primary obligation is to her husband. Elders do not exercise the authority over a woman that her husband does. Elders have a measure of authority by virtue of their office and function, but a woman's primary earthly authority is her husband. It goes without saying that her ultimate authority is Christ.


The second point relates to other authority including that of an employer. Certainly a woman may have a job outside of the home under certain circumstances. However, the authority of her employer does not take priority over the authority of her husband. If a woman finds herself at the request of her employer having to stay late at work, she must make sure that her husband is not neglected. Her husband is her first priority. If he wants her home for example, she must come home. If her children are neglected, she must take necessary steps to rectify that situation. A woman must be very careful she does not compromise herself in any way by virtue of her employment. She may find that she has placed herself under the authority of another man without realizing that she has done so. A wife is to submit to her own husband.


Third, Paul says that this submission is fitting in the Lord. Paul means at least two things with this little statement. He means first, that God is the one who has declared the male/female roles in marriage. Part of God's means of displaying His holiness is demanding order in Christian relationships. Further, part of His means of putting down rebellion in our hearts is the sanctification he works in us through the dynamics of submission and authority. All Christians are under authority, not just wives. A wife's obligation to submit to her husband is part of the means by which God sanctifies her and conforms her to the image of Christ. He submitted perfectly to the will of the Father in His incarnation and work of atonement. We are to reflect Him by humble submission.


Paul means second, that when a wife submits to her husband, she in effect submits to the Lord. Her willingness to submit is ultimately an act of obedience to God and at the same time an act of worship toward God. For a wife to submit to her husband is to find joy and satisfaction in the Lord. Her submission is not contingent upon her husband's attitude. Of course, she would not sin at her husband's request as her ultimate authority is Christ. But, she does indeed submit to a husband who is harsh. She does so because her ultimate joy is not in her circumstances or an earthly husband, but in Christ. Wives can display God's power to a lost and dying world by submitting to their husbands. The real issue is not comfort, but the glory of Christ on display. Christians are to react to circumstances in a different way than the world. Christ is then made attractive to others through us. As He is, our witness has weight behind it when we proclaim Him to those around us.


In part two of this article, the responsibility of the husbands to love their wives will be developed. The ultimate issue in marriage will be highlighted as well. That issue is whether not Christ makes a difference and whether or not that dynamic is important. Can a marriage that ends in divorce be deemed a success as the author above contends? The answer to that question depends on whether or not Christ is real in the life of the Christian.


[Part Two Tomorrow]