Unity

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.

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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

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.

 

 

Beware of the Marriage Cannibals

What do you call it when someone turns against the team?  Sometimes we say they’re a traitor, deserter, or even hypocrite.  In medicine, it’s called autoimmunity:  an immune response caused by systemic inflammation that leads your body to attack itself.

What about in marriage, when one spouse turns on the other and begins attacking the team?

In Galatians, Paul uses some graphic imagery to make an emphatic point:  Tearing at each other by biting and devouring has the same effect, relationally, as cannibalism:  Consuming one of your own.

If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? (5:15)

When a spouse does this, they’re cannibalizing their own marriage.

What does it look like to bite and devour — have I been cannibalizing my own marriage?

It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. (Galatians 5:19-21, emphasis added)

Wow, wow, wow – if we can get a visual of just how dangerous it is to live out of our flesh instead of our spirit, we’ll be able to see how much real damage we can do to our husbands, to ourselves, and to The Kingdom –it can change our hearts.

Marriage Cannibal:  it’s a choice 

No one is a cannibal on their wedding day. In fact, we’re the opposite of a marriage cannibal on that day!  This change happens after the wedding and is triggered by who we listen to.

Marriage cannibals want you to expose all your husband’s mistakes, misdemeanors, and missteps.  They tell you how right you are and how you deserve better.  How unfair your circumstances are.  All the while inching you closer to your flesh instead of The Spirit.

Is it intentional?  Sometimes it is – sometimes women are so hurt over their own failed marriage(s) they can’t get beyond their own bitterness. They end up destroying any other marriage they come in contact with –misery loves company.  And then there are some unwittingly used by Satan:

For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses,  always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim 3:6)

… and they end up being out for themselves.  They feel justified as they feed on the misery that you’re serving up from your marriage.  They do this under the guise of helping and encouraging your situation, all the while sharpening your focus on the faults of your man.  Their motive isn’t really solution-oriented, it just feels like it is because they’re giving you center stage of attention.

It doesn’t matter if the split for the responsibility of the conflict is 95% your fault and 5% your husband’s.  A marriage cannibal will talk you away from any responsibility you have while simultaneously narrowing your focus on that 5% of his.  Blame’s the name of the game.

The first marriage cannibal was Satan

He uses the same technique today that he used in the garden:  Creating doubt through a perceived sense of lack.  He wasn’t after Eve, he merely used a weakness of hers to reach his real target, Adam – divide then conquer.

Any advice or counsel that focuses on the faults of your man instead of the power of Christ’s grace, is underpinned by Satan’s methods.  You’ll know them because they’ll appeal to your flesh – just like they did with Eve.

DIVIDED:  Satan used a lie to shift Eve’s focus away from God’s truth so she’d doubt Adam, You won’t die!  Then, as a liar does, he spins it bigger, God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.

AND:  Eve doubts, The woman was convinced.  So she took some of the fruit and ate it.  Then she gave some to her husband.

CONQUERED:  Adam yields, and he ate it, too.  At that moment their eyes were opened.

Satan achieved a “twofer” here:

  • Division between husband and wife (Genesis 3:16)
  • Division from God (Genesis 3:24)

Cannibalism of marriage: the movement

A true saying is that, it takes two to tango.  It takes two to make the marriage work and two to break it down – but it only takes one to initiate divorce1.  In the past, when it was just our husbands that had the freedom to initiate divorce, the divorce rates2  were low.  However, when us wives got that same freedom, divorce rates skyrocketed3.

Unfortunately, it’s women that are leading the destruction of families – not men. (2 Tim 3:6-7)

When you listen to a marriage cannibal, you’ll end up distrusting God’s:

  1. Son (Hebrews 1:2)
  2. Message in His Word (2 Timothy 3:16)
  3. Power (Romans 4:17)
  4. Timing, and (2 Peter 3:8-9)
  5. Ability (Luke 1:37)

And you’ll believe that:

  1. The grace you’ve received from God through Christ is sufficient for your sin, but not for your husband’s. (Romans 3:21-26)
  2. The circumstances in your marriage are the exception and make your marriage harder than anyone else has ever experienced. So, therefore, you get a special dispensation of grace. (1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Peter 4:12)
  3. Your husband’s problems are not fixable, even by the Creator of the universe. (Ephesians 3:20)
  4. Your sins are smaller than his, and God doesn’t have as much work to do in you as He does in your husband – he’s holding you back from a good life and you want to be happy now. (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11)
  5. Your life will be better without your husband. You have to depend on your own ability to make that happen instead of waiting for God to make it happen. (Isaiah 43:19)

SOUL-utions

  • We all need to talk to people about problems in our marriage from time to time. Choose wisely – choose one person.  Choose as a last resort.  Don’t choose a person as a replacement of the Holy Spirit, and if the advice doesn’t lead you to give the grace of Jesus Christ, choose someone else.
  • God tells us to test fruit and He encourages us to test Him. Check the source – what does her own marriage look like?  Examine the fruit in her marriage, she must be able to back it up with real experience.  If she doesn’t have fruit yet or the fruit is suspect, choose someone else.
  • After you’re done talking to her, do you hate your husband more? Or, love him more (or at the very least, hate him a little less)?  Have they thrown gas on the sparks so your anger and self-pity are escalating to a consuming fire that needs to be fed?  Or, have they helped you diminish the sparks by sprinkling the water of grace on them?  If not, choose someone else.

 

 

 


NOTES

  1. initiate divorce:  “… 70-75% of divorces were initiated by women […] and is a rising trend.” –Michelle Langley (Incidentally, her research is part of why and when I started following trends and information about marriage)  Her book is called, Women’s Infidelity, and was published in 2005.
  2. divorce rates:  according to the National Center for Health, 50% of marriages in the United States now end in divorce with 80 percent of the initiation filed by women.
  3. divorce rates skyrocketed:  “#25. Wives are the ones who most often file for divorce at 66% on average.” That figure has soared to nearly 75 percent in some years.

 

 

 

Nagging

upwithmarriage_nagging

… the contentions of a wife are a continual dripping.

… better to dwell in a corner of the housetop [on the flat oriental roof, exposed to all kinds of weather] than in a house shared with a nagging, quarrelsome, and faultfinding woman.

… better to dwell in a desert land than with a contentious woman and with vexation.

… better to dwell in the corner of the housetop than to share a house with a disagreeing, quarrelsome, and scolding woman.

True, it’s hard to hear, but God told us for a reason.  I’m guessing it does more damage than we realize.  Nagging is hurtful to your husband’s ears and toxic to your marriage.  And probably doesn’t make God too happy either.

~   Let’s not be like that   ~

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