The Bible’s instructions on marriage have less to do with “roles” and more to do with attitudes of the heart.
In my last post, I explained why I consider myself a megamysterian (as opposed to a complementarian or an egalitarian). The megaysterian idea comes from Ephesians 5:32, where Paul explains that his instructions on marriage come down to this mega-mystery: marriage should look like the relationship Christ has with His church. This is the beautiful and mysterious Bridal Paradigm that informs most of my understanding of how God wants us to do marriage.
The Problem with Roles
My problem with looking at what the Bible says on marriage through the lens of “roles” is that it reduces the discussion to functions. But if you carefully read Ephesians 5 (and other scriptural instructions on marriage), you will find that these scriptures describe attitudes of the heart, not some kind of organizational chart or list of tasks for him and her.
Here’s how Paul sets the tone for the whole marriage discussion in the first few verses of Ephesians 5.
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (MSG)
Love. Like. That. Like what? Extravagant, selfless, sacrificial, completely surrendered. This is the heart behind Paul’s instructions on marriage.
So if it’s really about the attitude of the heart and not functional “roles,” what are these attitudes?
Heart Attitudes for Husbands
I’ve posted these before, but it’s well-worth repeating. For a husband, Christlikeness toward his wife should look like:
- He loves his wife unselfishly, not using his power and position to control her or to push her into conformance, but to bless her.
- He may never be required to literally lay down his life for her, but he must be willing to sacrifice himself (physically, emotionally, financially, etc) for what is in her best interest.
- He will pursue her relentlessly and fiercely with his love, understanding what pursuit means to her.
- He cherishes her by surrounding her with care and concern for her well-being – clearly demonstrating that he is for her.
- He is consistent in speaking the truth of the Word over her in a way that encourages and edifies her and reminds her who God says she is.
- He provides for her faithfully – which means applying himself diligently, but not to the extent that he neglects her need for his time and attention.
- He will do all in his power to establish and maintain a deep connection with her and protect the intimacy of the relationship. Staying connected is more important than being right or asserting his rights.
- He beautifies his bride, as Jesus does, seeing her the way God sees her, perfect and beautiful, through the eyes of grace.
- Above all, he partners with Christ, encouraging her to walk in the fullness of her true identity, toward the goal of fulfilling the destiny God has for her life.
Heart Attitudes for Wives
A wife, then, should have the following attitudes, which reflect her relationship with Christ.
- She believes in and trusts her husband.
- She offers her full surrender, to hold nothing back from him, bringing the fullness of her genuine self to the marriage.
- She best honors and enables his leadership by willingly remaining under his covering and protection.
- She honors and respects him by listening to him and knowing his heart, giving importance to things that are important to him.
- She knows that his desire is for her and believes that his intentions toward her are always good.
- She can come to him with anything and trusts that he will respond with love and grace.
- She puts him first, above all other relationships.
- She comes to him, fully unashamed, taking him as her only intimate lover.
By describing marriage as a reflection of the heart attitudes between Christ and the church, I am in no way saying the men are “gods.” It seems obvious, of course, but I just want to be clear.
Second, it is clear that aspects of both lists apply to both husbands and wives.
Let’s Focus on What Matters
When we focus the discussion on “roles,” the important heart attitudes get lost, and we end up arguing about secondary matters.
If both husband and wife get their heart attitudes right, the “roles” will pretty much take care of themselves, no matter what you end up calling them.
For further reading on attitudes of the heart, I suggest these two posts: