Part 29 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians
You can listen to this sermon here.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church... (Eph. 5:25).
In the Beginning
We live in a time when our culture is negatively influencing the church to a greater degree than the church is positively transforming our culture. Marriage, in many ways, is under attack, and it’s vital that Christians have a proper understand of what marriage is supposed to be. In the first three chapters of Genesis we discover God’s plan for marriage, and we also see how sin has negatively affected marriage since the fall.
1. The man and the woman were created as equals.
Gender equality is seen in Genesis 1:26-28: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Both the man and the woman were equally made in the image of God, equally blessed, and equally given dominion over the earth.
2. The man and the woman were given different roles.
Men and woman are equal but different. What are the unique roles that God has given to husbands and wives? First, a husband is to be a servant leader. Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). “Clearly the biblical picture of a husband laying down his life for the wife is directly opposed to any kind of male tyranny or oppression. The husband is bound by love to ensure that his wife finds their marriage a source of rich fulfillment and joyful service to the Lord” (ESV Study Bible, p. 2272).
Second, a wife is to be a strong helper. After the creation of Adam, there was a period of time when he lived alone. “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit [suitable, NIV] for him’” (Gen. 2:18; cf. v. 20).
The English word “helper” is not the best translation for the Hebrew word ’ezer. “Helper” connotes merely assisting someone who could do the task almost as well without help. But ’ezer is almost always used in the Bible to describe God himself. Other times it is used to describe military help, such as reinforcements, without which a battle would be lost. To “help” someone, then, is to make up what is lacking in him with your strength. Woman was made to be a “strong helper.”Genesis 2:21-23 describes the creation of Eve: “So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’” Verse 25 adds, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (cf. Eph. 5:31).
The word “suitable” is just as unhelpful a translation. This translates a compound phrase that is literally “like opposite him.” The entire narrative of Genesis 2, in which a piece of the man is removed to create the woman, strongly implies that each is incomplete without the other.
Male and female are “like opposite” to one another. They are like two pieces of a puzzle that fit together because they are not exactly alike nor randomly different, but they are differentiated such that together they can create a complete whole (Timothy Keller, Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, pp. 174-75).
The unique roles given to husbands and wives were not a part of sin's curse. In Genesis 1 and 2 there are several indications of differences in role between the man and the woman prior to the fall: (1) Adam was created first (Gen. 2:7, 18-23); Eve was created as a helper for Adam (Gen. 2:18); Adam named Eve (Gen. 2:23); (4) God named the human race “man,” not “woman” (Gen. 5:2); (5) the serpent came to Eve first to distort God’s order (Gen. 3:9); (6) God spoke to Adam first after the fall (Gen. 3:9); (7) Adam, not Eve, represented the human race (1 Cor. 15:22); and (8) the curse brought a distortion of previous roles, not the introduction of new roles. When Paul writes, “Wives, submit to your own husbands,” he is saying, “Wives, allow your husbands to take the lead.” But he also says, “Husbands, make sure you really love your wives” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 461-64).
3. The fall of humanity led to a struggle for control within marriages.
After Adam and Eve sinned, God said to Eve, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16).
These words from the Lord indicate that there will be an ongoing struggle between the woman and the man for leadership in the marriage relationship. The leadership role of the husband and the complementary relationship between husband and wife that were ordained by God before the fall have now been deeply damaged and distorted by sin. This especially takes the form of inordinate desire (on the part of the wife) and domineering rule (on the part of the husband). The Hebrew term here translated “desire” (teshuqah) is rarely found in the OT. But it appears again in 4:7, in a statement that closely parallels 3:16—that is, where the Lord says to Cain, just before Cain’s murder of his brother, that sin’s “desire is for you” (i.e., to master Cain), and that Cain must “rule over it” (which he immediately fails to do, by murdering his brother, as seen in 4:8). Similarly, the ongoing result of Adam and Eve’s original sin of rebellion against God will have disastrous consequences for their relationship: (1) Eve will have the sinful “desire” to oppose Adam and to assert leadership over him, reversing God’s plan for Adam’s leadership in marriage. But (2) Adam will also abandon his God-given, pre-fall role of leading, guarding, and caring for his wife, replacing this with his own sinful, distorted desire to “rule” over Eve. Thus one of the most tragic results of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God is an ongoing, damaging conflict between husband and wife in marriage, driven by the sinful behavior of both in rebellion against their respective God-given roles and responsibilities in marriage (ESV Study Bible, p. 56).Andres Kostenberger writes, “…while the fall changed the marital relationship forever, God’s ideal for marriage as articulated in Genesis 1 and 2 nonetheless continued to set the standard for the responsibilities and roles of husbands and wives toward each other in the subsequent history of humanity” (God, Marriage, and Family, p. 27).
Jesus Is Our Model
Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Jesus was submissive to the Father (a model for wives) and a servant to humanity (a model for husbands).
Kathy Keller writes,
In this passage we see taught both the essential equality of the First and Second Persons of the Godhead, and yet the voluntary submission of the Son to the Father to secure our salvation. Let me emphasize that Jesus’s willing acceptance of this role was wholly voluntary, a gift to his Father. I discovered here that my submission in marriage was a gift I offered, not a duty coerced from me.A husband and a wife both fulfill their marriage roles by acting like Jesus.
As I personally struggled with understanding gender equality within gender roles, it was this passage that entirely took the sting out of the subordinate role assigned to the female sex (The Meaning of Marriage, p. 175).
In his book, Families Where Grace Is in Place, Jeff VanVonderen suggests that Ephesians 5:22-33 should not be seen as separate from verse 18, which says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” VanVonderen writes, “The ramifications of being filled with the Spirit literally reverse the effects that the curse has on the relationship” (Families Where Grace Is in Place, p. 91). In other words, only when husbands and wives are filled with God’s Spirit can they fully experience the joy of marriage.