When you study history, the process of marriage was quite complex. Marriages were usually arranged for political purposes. King David had a number of wives, but Solomon had him beat with over 700 wives and 300 concubines. The Bible notes that all those wives and concubines led Solomon astray in his old age. In short, they turned him away from God. As you look at the history of Europe, the same type of things happened. Kings would pick princesses from countries they needed to be allied with. A king might marry off one of his daughters to a noble that would cement alliances inside the kingdom and provide more income for the throne. Marriages were made for political convenience and as a result, fidelity was not always practiced by either party in the marriage.
Marriages in the time of Rome weren’t much different. Rome was a land of political intrigue and families fought to gain or maintain power in different ways. One way was to join families together through marriage, and marriages were often arranged at early ages with no regard for the feelings of the people involved. The power of the father, the oldest male in the family, was so great that he could order marriages and divorces based on how he saw the needs of the families. While this happened mainly among the privileged and powerful of Rome, these attitudes about marriage permeated society. Infidelity was common, although it was usually the men who had their mistresses, from the lower classes, by custom until the latter days of the empire. Throughout that time, if a man caught his wife in adultery, he could kill the man involved and divorce his wife. It’s with that background that Paul spoke these amazing words about marriage. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21 NIV)
We read these words, ok, usually we skip over them to get to the next part so that men can tell their wives that they have to submit to them and women can complain about what a sexist Paul was, but if we did read those words from the perspective of a Roman in the first century we’d be flabbergasted. Everyone knew that marriage didn’t work that way. Yet Paul’s command was that they should submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. In other words, he was saying that no matter what the circumstance may have been in a marriage, from that point on, things should change so that both partners in a marriage could honor Christ. Paul used our relationship to Christ to describe our duties in marriage. Men, skip this next statement, this is for the ladies. Wives were to show their part in mutual submission to their husbands by submitting to their husbands just like they submitted to the Lord. Ok, men, you can read again, ladies, skip to the next paragraph. Men, love your wives just like Christ loved the church. And Christ showed that love by going to the cross to bring forgiveness and show His grace.
God described His relationship with Israel as a marriage. In the Christian world, we talk about the wedding feast of the Lamb, of Jesus and we talk about the church being the bride of Christ. In that light, one of the best examples of Christian love and grace is found in a marriage where couples submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. Marriage isn’t a zero-sum game where husbands and wives either win or lose. Marriage is meant to be an enriching experience where both partners grow and learn by submitting to each other. There are times when we do things my wife’s way. There are times that we do things my way. We recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses and work together to make our marriage strong, and a witness to God’s love. Our world needs strong marriages and strong families. If we follow Paul’s admonitions in this verse and the rest of the chapter, we’ll have them.
Lord, thank You for my amazing wife. Continue to make our marriage an example of Your love for all people.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.