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The Marriage Triangle: Love and Respect

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A vital aspect of a mutually happy marriage is when a couple treats each other as God intended. God created men and women with different talents, desires and relationship needs. Husbands and wives need to honor each other by assuming the marital roles as God designed them.

Women crave love from their husbands.

Men need to feel respected by their wives.

Add “no matter what” to both of those statements!

A key element in this is the dreaded word, “submission.” I’m sure all Christian married couples have read Paul’s lessons on this, and let’s just say that many of us cringe when the Ephesians passage about this comes up in a sermon. It never fails to cause many husbands to elbow their wives when the words “submission” and “respect” surface.

So let’s review what Paul has to say on this subject in Ephesians 5:21-33, below (all emphasis is mine). This is where we learn about submission as it relates to marriage. Ladies, bear with me as I uncover several parts of this important topic. It isn’t only about us needing to submit to our husbands!

 

21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

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This love and respect aspect of the marriage relationship is a huge part of biblical submission in marriage, and not just for the wives. Husbands and wives are to love and respect each other as partners in the covenant union they share with Jesus Christ.

That is what the Marriage Triangle is all about, and this is clearly shown in verse 21. Husbands and wives are to be subject to (submit to) each other.

Note that the command of verse 21 (submit to one another) actually applies to every member of the body of Christ. Paul is saying there is a mutual submission in the body of Christ that carries over into the family relationships. The husband shows his submission to the wife by his sacrificial love for her. His role is like that of Christ in John 13, where He girded Himself and washed the disciples’ feet, accepting the lowest task it was possible for Him to perform on their behalf.1

Though not submitting to his wife as a leader, a believing husband must submit to the loving duty of being sensitive to the needs, fears, and feelings of his wife. In other words, a Christian husband needs to subordinate his needs to hers, whether she is a Christian or not.2

Now we move on to how wives are to be subject to (submit to) their husbands. Don’t stop reading yet, Ladies!

 

22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.

24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

Did you get that?

We wives are to be subject to our husbands as the head of our marriage, just as we are to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Head of the Church (His bride). If we are believers in the saving grace of Jesus Christ, we are a part of that Church. As such, we are all to submit to Jesus out of reverence and respect for Him and His position as head of the Church.

The wife shows her submission to her husband by following his leadership, “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church” (v. 23).

The marital relationship is more intimate, personal, and inward than that of a master and slave. That is indicated in Ephesians 5:22 by the phrase “your own husbands.” The husband-wife relationship is built on an intimate possessiveness.3

I love this next part:

The verse seems to imply that it is assumed the wife would willingly respond in submission to one whom she possesses.3

Wives, you possess your husband as much as he possesses you! Have you ever thought of it that way before? Not as in a material possession. It is more in the manner of belonging completely to each other.

By the same token, husbands are instructed to love their wives.

I know; you’re probably wondering why Paul needed to tell husbands what they already know and feel: that they love their wives. But read on to see exactly how husbands are supposed to love their wives.

 

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,

26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,

27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.

28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself;

29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,

30 because we are members of His body.

31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.

The husband is to love his wife “just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (verse 25). Yes, a husband loves his wife, but this is a different facet of that love, deeper and more a part of that covenant marriage relationship we share with Jesus.

A husband is to love his wife with the same selfless love that Jesus had for His bride when He willingly died for our sins. This kind of love means the husband is to cherish his wife, treating her with tenderness, treasuring her and desiring to nurture her.

First, the loving husband gives of himself. In his leadership role as head, he seeks to lead by giving of himself to his wife in ways analogous to how Christ gave Himself to His bride. Christ’s giving of Himself was personal and sacrificial. This great principle of self-giving sets the tone and points toward the many ways in which this love can be manifested and realized.

Second, Christ’s giving of Himself was for the benefit of His bride—He gave Himself up “for her.” Just so, the husband’s self-giving should be for his wife’s benefit. In short, we may speak of this love as a giving of oneself for the benefit of the other.4

And the wife is to “see to it that she respects her husband” (verse 33).

All of us who are believers in and followers of Jesus Christ should respect Jesus’ role as the Head of His bride, the Church. But in this verse, Paul is particularly speaking to the wives and encouraging us to respect our husbands and esteem them as the head of our marriage—just as we respect and esteem Jesus Christ as the Head of His Church.

33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

The respect asked of a wife recognizes the God-given character of the headship of her husband and thus treats him with dutiful regard and deference. Just as husbands have been asked to display their headship through likeness to Christ’s headship over His church, that is, through a love that cherishes and nourishes (verse 25, 28, 29), so now wives are asked to render their submission in a way that is most like that of the submission of the church to Christ, that is, a truly respectful submission because it is rendered voluntarily from the heart.

A wife’s respecting her husband and his headship therefore implies that her submission involves not only what she does but also her attitude in doing it. As with the husband, so with the wife, it is the heart’s attitude of grateful acceptance of the role God assigns to each and the determination to fulfill the particular role with all the graciousness God gives that Paul is urging on both wives and husbands in this last verse of his instruction.4

This is admittedly a hard lesson to learn when all around us society is eroding the concept of Biblical marriage as created by God.

Rick and I were talking about this recently, about how the media (especially TV) loves to portray the husband as a doofus who has no control over his household, and the wife, as the one who is in charge of the family because she always knows what is best. These are dangerous role models for men and women to follow because they are the exact opposite of what God has ordained for husbands and wives.

LoveEachOtherCoupleEmbracingStrive to stay strong in your marriage. Love each other with the kind of love Jesus has for His bride, the Church.

Husbands, love your wife as Jesus loves His Church. Wives, respect your husband just like you respect Jesus as the Head of the Church. Here’s verse 33 once again, but I’ve emphasized certain parts to make a point:

33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

The point? Husbands and wives each have God-mandated responsibilities in marriage so that they will get along better and resolve disagreements in a God-honoring way.

Sure, there will be times when it will not be easy to remember how we are to Biblically treat or respond to our spouse. Those are the times to take our focus off of ourselves and the difficulty we’re going through, and instead, place that focus on Jesus Christ, the head of our marriage.


1Grace to You, “The Role of Women”

2Grace to You, “What Does it Mean to Dwell With Your Wife With Understanding?”

3GraceToYou.org, “Answering the Key Questions About the Family”

4Bible.org, “Husbands and Wives as Analogues of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:21 and Colossians 3:18-19)”

Anna lives in northern Arizona with her husband Rick, where they are members of Full Throttle Biker Church and Celtic Cross Ministry. She is a contributing author to several anthologies and devotional publications, and is a columnist for TRC. Anna’s devotional blog, “This Thing Called Life,” is at www.annapopescu.com. If you wish to thank her for her writing work, you can send an e-gift certificate to faithlhj777@gmail.com, or you can send a monetary donation to her at paypal.me/AnnaPopescu. Writes for various sections.