Ephesians 5:21 – The Muck-up

“Why do so many people concentrate on Ephesians 5:22-23 and skip over Ephesians 5:21?” – asks Christian marriage blogger Sheila Wray Gregoire, in response to this Pinterest post.

~~~

Interesting question.  First, it’s not really a question, it’s a statement of assumption veiled as a question.

Second, I don’t think it’s a matter of, “so many people […] skipping over ….”   I think it’s a matter of Bible exegesis.  Some people (like Darrell and I) interpret the marriage paradigm as a complementarian, believing that verse 21 is a concluding sentence for Ephesians 5:1-20.  They’re not ‘skipping over it’ from ignorance or even fear, they simply believe it’s not part of the instruction to wives and husbands.  Others, that interpret marriage from the egalitarian paradigm, believe that verse 21 is a topic sentence for Ephesians 5:21-33.

Complementarian or Egalitarian?

It’s an important question that’ll make a big difference in your marriage:  Are you a complementarian or an egalitarian?

In simple terms, complementarians favour specific gender roles for husbands and wives, each with their own power and purpose.  Sometimes it’s referred to as Biblical hierarchy, bridal paradigm, or Christ’s bride/body.  While, egalitarians favour interchangeability of power and gender roles because they don’t define a leader; but also favouring a designated role split. It’s referred to as equality, mutual submission, or 50/50.

To be fair, the Bible doesn’t refer to either classification – we call them these names to differentiate between the two schools of thought.  Complementarians interpret verse 21 to be the conclusion of corporate instruction.  Egalitarians interpret verse 21 to be the preface for the marriage instructions.

The quick response to Sheila’s statement is:  Verse 21 has nothing to do with marriage and everything to do with the corporate body.  By hinging these two sections of Scripture on one verse, you not only blurr marriage into other relationships – lowering its significance, but, you also complicate submission into a dysfunctional mess.

A slower, researched response, is more involved …

GRAMMATICALLY

It’s repetitive and confusing to say:  “everyone submit to everyone wives submit to your own husbands,” see, it makes no sense.  In all of the thought for thought translations (modern versions), you’ll see verse 21 driven into to the next paragraph so it joins the marriage part.  To make it happen they’ve replaced the colon, semicolon, or comma with a period so that the section will complete with verse 20.  Yet in the word for word translations, (KJV, NASB) you’ll find the punctuation left intact making verse 21 the concluding sentence for the previous section.

VOCABULARY

In verse 21, Paul is concluding his general address that targets everyone in the assembly.  We know it’s a corporate address to a body (a group) of believers because he doesn’t name a subject by a noun, instead he uses pronouns in the plural form:

  • (v2) us – “… has loved us and given Himself for us …”
  • (v3) you – “…let it not even be named among you …”
  • (v5) you – “…For this you know…”
  • (v6) no one, you – “let no one deceive you with empty…”
  • (v8) you – “… For you were …”
  • (v14) you – “… Awake you who … will give you light…”
  • (v15) you – “… that you walk circumspectly …”
  • (v19) one another, your – “… to one another… in your heart…”
  • (v20) our – “…in the name of our Lord …”
  • (v21) one another – “…submitting to one another …”

Paul includes verse 21 with all the preceding plural pronouns

But in verse 22, he changes up his target audience. Notice how he signifies his change?  He’s not speaking corporately any more.  He’s not using plural pronouns anymore.  He could’ve said something like, “Now, all you who are married … “  Or, “Those of you who are married…”  Or even, “Any of you who are spouses …”  But he didn’t.

Instead, he distinguishes those who are married by calling them out separately from everyone as well as individually … he speaks directly to wives then directly to husbands:

  • (vs 22-24) Wives, submit to your own husbands …
  • (vs 25-32) Husbands, love your wives, …

Then in verse 33 he wraps up his instruction to all those who are married using a concluding sentence.  He signifies switching back to plural, but not everyone only corporately to those married.  He’s capturing the attention of, every husband and every wife, Each one of you in particular:

  • Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Paul makes special delineation for marriage, above the instructions for everyone else.  I think he wants us to know that the relationship rules that apply to everybody, similarly apply to marriage; however, there’s extra weight when you get married.  The aspects of love and submission he’s been talking about up to verse 21, that apply to everyone …  are now going to change.  Love and submission look different in marriage.

SOUL-ution

Prove it to yourself.  Let your own marriage be the litmus test, not what I say or what others say.  Yes, take in information – but see if it brings unity.  Find what brings the peace of Christ, the peace that you cannot comprehend or understand … even though you’re experiencing it.  Ultimately, that’s the light you want the world to see.

The Marriage Triangle: The One-Flesh Triangle

In Part 1, I explained how our marriage experienced trouble when we tried to fit into the template called, ‘the marriage triangle’.  That instead of simplifying marriage concepts, it had made it more confusing.

What we discovered was that the triangle paradigm is more realistically suited to all other relationships within the body of Christ, except the marriage.  So it’s better named, A Family Triangle:

Within every one of our relationships with other Christians, there are three separate interchanges going on:  1-Darrell has his own relationship with God.  2-I have my own relationship with God.  3-And then there’s Darrell and I, as brother and sister in Christ.

It’s relationship #3 that defines this as a Family Triangle instead of a Marriage Triangle, it could be with Darrell or any other brother or sister in Christ whether they are friends, neighbours, co-workers, cousins, etc.

When the triangle supports all other relationships, it can’t also express the one-flesh in marriage.  The one relationship that’s not interchangeable with any other:  The Covenant

The marriage covenant anchors

The Bible leaves no doubt that the Trinity is three in one,  Father, Son, and Spirit.  Within the Trinity, there’s a rich symbolism for marriage – a supernatural blending of multiples into a single:  God is three in One – marriage is two becoming one.

In marriage, people are not separated into 3 different relationships like in a Family Triangle – they’re joined.  God invites us to covenant with Him because He knows we’ll need His help to make it work.  We cannot become a thriving one-flesh relationship without His help because it’s a supernatural relationship.

The covenant holds us together as God begins the process of infusing two earthly people into a single unit:  One-Flesh, 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. (Ephesians 5:31)

If you’ve anchored your marriage to God by His covenant, it begins and ends with Him.  He created it in the beginning, it’s His idea, it belongs to Him.  He doesn’t join your marriage … you join His marriage.

I think we forget how real that covenant is because we can’t see it.  Unlike the visible rituals of buying the government license at city hall and signing the certificate of marriage at the church, the covenant we make with God – even though unseen – is the real deal. As such, it has far more gravity.

I agreed to covenant with God in marriage through my role as a wife.  I made an agreement with Darrell too, but it’s a contract with another human, a natural being.  God’s covenant is super-natural and supersedes an earthly marriage contract.

At a glance, The One-Flesh Triangle makes the invisible visible and, if we’ve let God anchor us, we’re reminded of that gravity.  At that instant, when we need it the most – in the heat of conflict, frustration, hurt, anger (and sometimes even hate) … it can reset our hearts and minds back to what matters most:  not me, not Darrell – But God. His covenant matters most.

There are ups and downs in every marriage; some have more ups than downs and some go down further than others, but we all need a strategy to remind us of the purposes of marriage.  In the good times in marriage, no one needs a prompt.  But in the hard times, when our wedding day feels like a lifetime in the past … when marriage gets painful and it reaches that breaking point – when we start to think, “This is too hard,” the questions we needed to ask are, will I lean on my own strength or wait for God’s?  Am I going to put the human contract above my covenant with Him?  What’s more important?

SOUL-utions

  • Understand that your marriage is a completely different breed of relationship than all others found on earth; it can’t be treated the same.
  • Accept that your marriage is under tremendous strain from Satan. His main goal, since the day you got married, is to unravel your marriage by coming between the two of you so you’re separated.  He’s the ultimate predator and wants you alone – out of your one-flesh strength.
  • Believe in the realness of your covenant with God.  Trust Him with His own idea of marriage; trust Him with the role He assigned you as a wife.  Let this visual be a trigger to jolt you out of any emotions of hurt, back to the facts.

 

 

The Marriage Triangle

The idea of the marriage triangle has been around for years and generally, it looks something like one of these drawings:

Although it seemed like a tidy principle, I found it to be misleading.  When I first saw this triangle… I wanted it to be true.  The assertion was so simple and clean of how marriage should work.  But whenever I tried to apply it, something seemed off… unworkable.  In peeling back some of its layers, I found an idea that was just that – an idealistic theory instead of practical applications for my real-life marriage.

If we’re equal, shouldn’t we equally grow?

Within the diagram, there’s an accepted assumption that we grow the same.  The problem was, that wasn’t the reality of our marriage.  And neither is it for most other marriages.

No two people in the world are alike, we all have different starting points and varied experiences as we grow from childhood through adolescence into adulthood.  Since maturity comes from our experiences, it’s doubtful that couples mature through the same experiences, at the same moment in time.

The sin nature doesn’t disappear because the couple becomes husband and wife (symbolized by the bottom portion of the triangle). Nor does the wedding day equalize each other’s sin to make it the same.

In this paradigm, the disconnect is that they appear parallel because they’re now one flesh.  The arrows that move us up the triangle, further support the disconnect:  each spouse is moving closer to God and each to each other, at the same rate of growth.

In theory, it appears that’s what should be happening, they should be getting closer to each other.  But what I’ve discovered is that one spouse always matures faster or one spouse has more emotional baggage and is more wounded: It’s never the same rate of climb.  Instead, the stronger personality emotionally forces the other to keep pace. The weaker/gentler or more tolerant personality goes along, or at least tries to for a while, to keep the peace.

These are the couples that one day, they’re just… divorced – and no one saw it coming.

The rhetoric of equality

As much as we’ve been told that men and women are equal – the same in every way…  we’re not.  God didn’t make females to match males but to contrast them.  He purposefully created us women to be unique and opposite of men: Chiral –  everything about us that’s female is reversed.  God doesn’t erase this biology because we get married.  In fact, it’s through the one flesh relationship that we get to experience the contrast of our opposites in the deepest ways!

You’ve always processed through a female lens and your husband through a male lens.  You’re not equal to anyone in your human experience.  Your fingerprints prove that you’re exclusive, you.  Your different human experience on earth is what gives you an entirely different history and relationship with God.

We never have conflict

Another presupposition presented in the diagram is that couples always see eye to eye on everything.  They’re both pretty agreeable so they’re both moving seamlessly up the triangle, together.  I could see this working if I believed that there were two people who:

  • Had perfect childhoods
  • Both always said and did what they should
  • Never had a difference of opinion
  • Didn’t bring any baggage from being raised by sinners
  • Hadn’t suffered any pain or hurt from life in general

Further, to say that a marriage doesn’t have any trials, tribulation or troubles, makes Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 7, of pressure, affliction, and anguish, an untrue statement:

[…] Yet those who marry will have physical and earthly troubles […]

 

Not a triangle for marriage

I don’t believe this paradigm can represent marriage on a practical level – it’s missing the connecting glue: The Covenant.  The main thing that separates a marriage apart from every other relationship:  The One Flesh.  It doesn’t matter how many Bible verses you include on that diagram … there’s still no representation of that mystery symbolizing the one flesh that only happens in marriage.

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. ~Ephesians 5:31

HOWEVER, it is an accurate depiction of relationship, just not for marriage – it’s a family triangle!

 

A triangle for Family!

The idea of superimposing Bible verses about relationships over a triangle, then naming it the “marriage triangle,” was confusing me. I kept ending up with the same question:

If there’s no distinction between the relationship with my brother (and sisters) in the family of Christ and the brother I’m married to – if all the verses apply the same to everyone, why even put verses about marriage in the Bible?

Marriage Triangle or Family Triangle … What’s the difference?

The obvious answer was, of course, sex – with one person.  But becoming one flesh is about more than sex. Being married to a brother in Christ means I’ve forsaken all others in the body of Christ – making this one brother a husband to me:  The two have become one flesh.

It’s a completely different and deeper dynamic than all other relationships within the body of Christ … a weightier one because it carries the glory of representation.

This mystery [of one flesh] is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. ~Ephesians 5:32

We’ve got to stop trying to make marriage the same as every other relationship in the body of Christ – it’s just not.  Marriage is the only relationship that’s been given the responsibility of becoming one flesh, and the only relationship in which God demands a covenant.

A triangle where there’s no one-flesh representation for marriage, cannot be a “Marriage Triangle.”  This paradigm represents the family relationships; it’s a “Family Triangle.”

SOUL-utions

  • Don’t try to force your husband to change or grow by following the principles, ideas, programs or books that you think are the best. Real growth with God and real intimacy with each other happen through unanimous agreement – not emotional coercion.  Sadly, a lot of wives think because they’re one flesh with their husbands they have the freedom to step in front of the Holy Spirit.
  • The renewal of your husband’s mind and heart will match his own weaknesses, history and understanding – not yours. God knows the best way to heal and grow him, and the optimum time to do it. It won’t be on your timetable.  You either hold his heart as the Holy Spirit does the work in it; or you’re the obstacle in the path of the Holy Spirit.
  • You married a man, not a sister, not a girlfriend or a BFF. He’ll become more like Jesus Christ through his role of the husband, not your role as a wife.

 Part 2:  The One-Flesh Triangle

Thoughts are the compass of your life

 For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. As one who reckons, he says to you, eat and drink, yet his heart is not with you [but is grudging the cost]. ~Proverbs 23:7

Just like the selfish person progressed in the direction of their thought pattern, we also will move in the direction of our own thoughts.  Happy thoughts progress towards better and miserable towards worse.

Fearless Wife

This poem is dedicated to all you brave women – you fearless wives.  You chose to put your husband and family first ahead of your career, thereby serving them instead of yourself.  You chose to truly have it all by ordering your life in the sequence of marriage and family first, then career in the latter part.

You know who are and the cost of your sacrifice.  Thank you for your inspiration.

Fearless Wife

A real fearless girl am I, listen to my ROAR,

Away from my husband I’ll never be tore.

The thought of that, I simply abhor.

A victim mind I’ll never be,

No matter what the critics say to me.

On this I know, we’ll never agree.

 

Truly fearless became my heart,

When I married my forever counter-part.

Home’s, truly powerful sweetheart.

The more wholly feminine I am,

A bigger bite out of the enemy’s plan.

To increase the breadth of, his career wingspan.

 

Excellent skill gives respite to refresh,

Grows iron thighs of masculine flesh.

To bear, the more on my Suresh.

Prosperity and strength success to symbolize,

Guarding till he returns with our prize.

His kept await in anticipation, his allies.

 

Fearless wife lacks victim’s gene,

And never divides the homeward team.

Nor forfeits her position of ruling queen.