How Theology Impacts Marriage

married-couple-article-photo11/26/2016  Kevin J. Hughes

My whole ministry is based on the idea that theology should and does affect every aspect of life, therefore, in helping Christians to have a biblical theology and how to live it out biblically. With that in mind, how does our theology find expression in marriage? What are some of the problems with low theology when applied to marriage? What happens when solid, biblical theology is at the center of marriage? Let’s explore a brief biblical theology of marriage,  and how both a biblical and a low view of marriage impacts marriages.

First, in brief, what does the Bible teach about marriage? The best place in Scripture to answer this question is Ephesians 5:22-33:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

This paragraph by the Apostle Paul clearly teaches several things. First, we see that marriage is, at its heart, a presentation of the gospel. This is clear in verse 32: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.” The application is actually given in the following verse, “However [or therefore], let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” And the whole previous paragraph gives us a deeper application.

Basically, here’s what we see: Paul wants us to have a very high view of marriage because marriage is supposed to reveal the relationship between Christ and His Church. Therefore, the man is to lead the woman and love the woman in the same way that Christ leads and loves His Church. Conversely, the woman is to submit to the man in the same way that the Church submits to Christ. This is huge on both sides. As Kevin DeYoung says in his sermon on biblical headship, “You should not hear in this, ‘women, sit down.’ Rather, men, stand up!'” The biblical message of headship is not that women are subserviant, but that men hold a higher office, that of a greater equal. The head of a home, the head of his wife, and the representative of Jesus Christ. The responsibility of the husband is to treat and love his wife in the same way that Jesus treats and loves His Church, nourishing her and cherishing her. That means living and dying for this woman. It means having no selfish motives, but always doing all things with the goal in mind that you will “wash” and “cleanse” your wife in “the water of the Word” which means the daily, consistent, living out of the Bible.

The point is that both the husband and the wife have extremely important roles in marriage, and while both do those roles imperfectly, understanding these roles enables us to seek what Heath Lambert calls “The forgiving and transforming grace of God.” (See Finally Free by Heath Lambert. This concept is used throughout the book, but explained in detail in chapter 1.) Over time, we as Christians are promised that we will see God fulfill His perfect will in us and that we would be conformed to the image of Christ (it was for this that He predestined us in eternity past according to the golden chain of redemption in Romans 8:29). That means that wives will grow in their ability to truly submit to their husbands with biblical submission and reverence, and husbands will over time learn, through submitting to Christ themselves, to love and cherish and live like Jesus for their brides.

What happens when we don’t have the right theology of marriage? There are two main problems that arise. Men tend to be dominant or doormats as Kevin DeYoung says in his sermon on biblical gender roles. The first problem I think is the one that gets the most attention. Some men use the biblical mandate that women submit to their husbands as a vehicle for being dominant controllers. That’s completely unbiblical. If they believed and sought with diligence to bring their lives into conformity with the Bible, they would not do this. How can I claim to be in the place of my Master when I treat my wife like dirt? Did Christ selfishly use His Church? Does He cheat on His Church with other religions? Does He look up Hindu temples and Buddhist shrines while His wife is sleeping? No! Jesus Christ is faithful to His one and only bride, He loves her and has selflessly given Himself for her, even when His Church has not lived up to her part of the relationship. If you are not spending and being spent for your wife, then you either don’t have a high view of marriage, or you aren’t living out your theology. Period. Full stop!

The other problem is just as serious. Many men have no backbone in the home. Many men do not minister to their wives because they expect their wives to run the show at home. They are like a doormat that gets walked all over. Well, that doesn’t reflect the gospel either. Does the Church make demands of Christ? Does the Church nag, boss, or bully Christ? (Note: nagging is not reminding you to do that which you haven’t done!) Not the true Church. The true Church adores, serves, and lives for Christ. The true Church calls Christ her Lord and Master, and submits fully to His authority. Men, if you are not leading your family, and women, if you’re not submitted to your husband, then you are not obeying the Lord’s command concerning marriage.

A note on submission. In our culture, the word submission is treated almost as a dirty word. The problem is not with submission itself but with our cultural definition of it. Due to millennia of abuses of submission in general and of oppression of women in specific, we have a very warped view of what it means to submit. A book could be written on this topic alone, however, one can merely look at Christ to answer the question: what does biblical submission mean? Today, submission implies inferiority and oppression—yet the greatest Man to ever walk the earth submitted to His Father. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and equal with the Father, submitted to Him. His submission was not a statement of inferiority but a statement of mutual respect and honor. Submission by the Son to the Father is an act of a Noble, in love and honor to another Noble. Christians should view biblical submission in marriage in the same way. Therefore biblical submission is not degrading for it is the symbol of an equal willingly taking a deferent office.

What can we say about the benefits of biblical theology with respect to marriage? Marriage is just one example of  the many ways in which the most important element for living the Christian life is biblical, systematic theology, firmly rooted in the gospel. In order for your marriage to honor God as it should you need to understand what God wants for your marriage. My personal favorite sermon on marriage is Paul Washer’s sermon, “The Two Great Purposes of Marriage. In this sermon, Washer diligently shows that the whole point of God’s design in marriage is that we will be conformed to the image of Christ. But here’s the takeaway I want you to get from this layout of biblical marriage theology: a biblical view of marriage, lived out, will make your marriage truly honor God in the way that He desires. For you, men, that means that truly living out a biblical theology for marriage is doing whatever it takes to provide for your family and to make it a priority to be there for your family. Men are to come home and diligently labor to teach the children in the ways of the Lord, get the children bathed and in bed, and all the other chores and duties that needs to be done. Then, you are the one who ministers to your wife’s needs as a leader and a servant. You listen to her struggles, you comfort her in pain, rejoice with her in joy, live for her in all seasons, and be her place of safety. For you, women, it’s about living for your husband, putting him first. Teach your children to obey the Lord and show them what obedience looks like practically. Find out how you can make his life easier through your service, and follow his lead wherever absolutely possible. When he’s wrong, tell him, but do so with humility, kindness, and respect, showing him that you value him, his opinions, and his leadership.

A note on obedience. In our culture, the word obedience is treated almost as a dirty word. Remember that biblical marriage is where two flesh become one. It is a living analogy of the relationship of Christ and the Church. “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” Ephesians 5:29. Recall that while the Scriptures gives men and women distinct roles, men and women are equal. Galatians 3:28 clearly states that “there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” God sees only two types of people: those in Adam and those in Christ. Therefore, just as Christ submits to the Father willingly, although the two are one, so He also obeys His Father (Philippians 2:8). This is not degrading action. You see, Christ and the Father are one. Christ knows that the Father would never tell Him to do something that was wrong. The two were agreed on all things. So the husband and wife are to become one flesh. What the Bible is stating is that when two Christians come together in marriage, they are to become one flesh. The husband fulfills his role with kindness and love and his wife fulfills hers with respect and love. They are in tune with one another and he will not ask her to do anything that would be wrong. He is submitted to Christ and shows that by his actions and she can place her full trust in him, so she feels completely safe under his leadership (think captain and executive officer). That seems like a tall order, especially since we are humans in sinful flesh, but that is the command of the Bible and in the process of sanctification it is the standard toward which to press. While the command to obey is addressed toward the woman (and she’s in disobedience to God if she doesn’t obey), the onus is on the man to lead his wife in a way that is in line with Scripture—in other words as Christ leads His church (and he’s in disobedience to God if he commands his wife or “leads” in a way that is not loving, gentle, or in any other way not in line with Scripture).

The point is simply, if you truly want to have a marriage that pleases God, biblical theology lived out practically is the way to get there. But that takes serious sacrifice and determination on both fronts. Marriage has to be a commitment and not just something we do. Marriage needs to be taken seriously, most especially because marriage can and must be a representation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria


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