As I searched the Scriptures about marriage, I found one main theme—unity. Even in the passages that address distinctions between the husband and wife, the focus remains on oneness. The Bible first lays out God’s intention for marriage in the creation story, “they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). We continue to see this unity and oneness language used to talk about marriage:
The book of Song of Solomon captures the love and intimacy between a bride and her beloved.
The wife and husband have authority over each other’s bodies and they’re advised to make a decision together about depriving one another of sexual relations (1 Cor. 7:4–5).
In the context of teaching on oneness with Christ and unity within the body of Christ, Paul uses the metaphor of head and body to speak about marriage, and quotes Genesis 2:24, “…they shall become one flesh” (Eph. 5:22–23).
The head-body metaphor in Ephesians 5:22-33 provides a visual picture of oneness and unity. Husbands and wives are given the distinct commands to love and submit, but the principle underlying the commands is a willingness to lay down their own needs to elevate the other spouse.
The husband and wife are given different instructions that lead to the same result of sacrificing for one another.
Paul calls the husband to “give himself up” for his wife in the same way Christ gave himself up for the church and to love his wife as he loves himself because they are one flesh (v. 25, 28–29). In the same passage, he calls the wife to submit and respect her husband (v. 22, 24, 33). The husband and wife are given different instructions that lead to the same result of sacrificing for one another.
Although the wife’s specific command in this passage is to submit, submission is not only something wives are called to but something all Christians are called to. Immediately preceding this text is Ephesians 5:21 which says “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Husbands are not exempt from submission to other believers and even in their marriages. Wives, on the other hand, are not exempt from loving other believers or their husbands because all Christians are called to love one another (Eph. 4:1–3).
Yielding ourselves for the benefit of the other goes against our natural instincts, but the Spirit works in the Christian’s life to produce selflessness as we see in the person of Jesus (Gal. 5:16–26; Jn. 5:30). When wives and husbands give themselves to one another—as the Father, Son, and Spirit do for one another—they work toward the unity that God intends for marriage.
In our church teachings on marriage today, I think we focus too much attention on the particulars of how oneness in marriage should play out and what roles each spouse should embrace. Church leaders need to spend less time teaching on the specifics of how to be a godly wife or husband and more time helping married couples work toward unity.
Refocusing the church's conversation of marriage on unity moves us away from the ambiguous particulars to the concrete principles.
We ought to recognize that each spouse has a distinct personality, background, culture, values, and gifts that they bring to the marriage, so the dynamic of the marriage looks different from couple to couple. We need to entrust the biblical vision of marriage to maturing believers and give them room to discern the expression of these principles in their own home.
Refocusing the church's conversation of marriage on unity moves us away from the ambiguous particulars to the concrete principles. Marriages built on the principles of unity rather than the particulars of roles more fully reflect God's design for marriage and the intimacy of the Trinity.
See the previous article "Male and Female Partnership" in the DESIGN OF WOMEN series.