The Biblical Model For The Marriage Relationship

Practially speaking, all marriages are based on one or more models. Much of what we think marriage is supposed to be like came from observing the relationship between our parents when we were children. If we are very loving towards our spouses, there’s a good chance that we saw that same kind of love in mom and dad. If we fight all the time, chances are it’s because mom and dad did too. It can be a sobering thought to realize that we’re also setting the prime example of marriage for our children.
But parents are not the only role model. For the most part, the secular media promotes some very poor ideas for marriage. A large portion of what makes a healthy marriage according to the world’s standard is physical beauty, with a strong emphasis on physical intimacy.
Friends also serve as models. My wife and I have some friends we look up to because they have strong, healthy, loving marriages. And we have heard that our marriage is inspiring to other people.
We also see some excellent biblical examples of what a good marriage can be. My wife Wanda and I want to be like Priscilla and Aquila, who not only had a close relationship with each other, but together served Christ. They showed hospitality to Paul when he first arrived in Corinth by providing him a place to live (Acts 18:1-3). Sometimes they endangered their lives to help him spread the gospel (Romans 16:3-4). They also led Apollos to full faith in Christ (Acts 18:24-26).
But there’s one biblical model that serves as the primary example of what marriage is all about. It is given in Ephesians 5:25:
Husbands, love {agapao} your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, …
– Ephesians 5:25 (ESV)
Most of us see this verse as directed only at husbands. It is certainly the model that I try to follow in my relationship with Wanda. But I believe the model works both ways: wives should also love their husbands as Christ loved the church. Here’s my reasoning.
Marriage is meant to be a picture of the ideal relationship between man and God. The Bible often uses marital imagery to describe this relationship (Song of Solomon, Hosea, Revelation 19:7, 21:19, etc.). This relationship with God is more important than our relationship with our spouse because God must always be first. (Wanda is my second-best friend, and I am her second best friend!) Also, while the relationship with a spouse ends when one or both dies, the relationship with God continues on for eternity. Therefore, it is not that the relationship between Christ and the church is like a marriage, but that marriage is like Christ and the church.
We know that Jesus Christ gave His life for us. But aren’t we also to lay down our lives as living sacrifices for Him (Matthew 16:24, Romans 12:1)? Jesus loved us, but aren’t we also to love Him above all (Matthew 10:37-39)? If this is true of our relationship with Christ, than it should also be true of the marriage relationship that it symbolizes. This is why I believe wives should also love their husbands as Christ loved the church. The model works both ways.
Think on the implications of loving our spouses as Christ loved the church. How did Christ love the church? Sure, He died to save her, but also showed love in other ways. How did He show love to His disciples? How does He continue to show love to us? Look it up in your Bible, think about it, and apply it to your relationship with your spouse. Model Christ to your spouse. Let the fruit of the Spirit abound in your relationship with your husband or wife. Here’s one example:
A few verses back in Ephesians we see Paul’s instruction to wives:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord
– Ephesians 5:22 (ESV)
Usually when we hear someone preach a sermon on this section of Ephesians, the focus of the message is on wives submitting and husbands loving. And these are true: wives should submit to their husbands, and husbands should love their wives.
However, if you read the verse immediately before verse 22, you will find that submission is not just for wives…
…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
– Ephesians 5:22 (ESV)
In other words, not only is the wife to submit to the husband, but the husband is to submit to the wife… out of fear of the Lord!
Don’t get me wrong: the husband is still the leader in the marriage. As Paul said,
…the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church
– Ephesians 5:23 (ESV)
But there are times when it is good for us husbands to swallow our pride and submit to our wives. For example, Wanda tells me “You need to go to the clinic for your annual physical”. And I go, because she has that right over me:
…the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does…
– 1 Corinthians 7:4 (ESV)
While this was written about intimate physical relations, it really has a much wider application. My body is not my own; it is Wanda’s. And her body is not her own but mine. Marriage is a union, not a master-slave relationship. We are to seek each other’s best interests. This is the relationship between Christ and the church.
I’ve noticed that all of the biblical commands to submit to and love one another are always first-person commands. It is not “Husbands, make your wives submit to you”, nor “Wives, make your husbands love you”. Love must be freely and willingly given. And submission also needs to be willing, even cheerfully given.
Returning to our model of Christ and the church, we know Jesus is our Lord, our Master. Yet, He doesn’t force His lordship on us. Instead, He serves. Perhaps the most visible example of this is in John 13.
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. … Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him…
– John 13:1-5 (ESV)
Jesus is Lord, yet He didn’t lord His authority over His disciples. Instead, He served them. His disciples should have washed His feet, but instead He washed theirs. They should have humbled themselves before Him, but He out-humbled them all. He still retained all His rights over them, but He refrained from exercising those rights so He could lift them up.
Husbands are instructed to love their wives in the same way. Christ loved the church by humbling Himself and serving. Husbands and wives, look for ways to serve each other from the heart. After washing His disciple’s feet, Jesus said:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
– John 13:34 (ESV)
Love each other unconditionally, humbly, as Christ loves you. You will find that the more you love your spouse this way (as well as your relative, friends, and especially your enemies), the more you will understand and appreciate Christ’s love for you.
I found an example of this humble willingness to serve that I want to share with you. Most of us know who Joni Eareckson Tada is, but most don’t know anything about her husband, Ken. Years ago, when I heard that she was married, I didn’t know anything about him either… not even his name, but I already I admired him. Here was someone who must really love Joni, having married into a severe disability relationship, and he probably supported her in her ministry more than anyone, and yet was content to work outside of the limelight.
A few months ago, I found a video of Joni and Ken describing how their marriage works. You might wonder how a marriage involving a quadrapeligic can work, but Ken and Joni’s marriage is very healthy. In this video, you’ll see why.
An Enduring Love – The Story of Ken and Joni Tada

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