Submission or Celebration?

I hate most sermons on marriage. If there’s to be only one text for the sermon, it’s almost always Ephesians 5:22–you know, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as unto the Lord.” In fact, some teachers claim that the entire success of the marriage hinges on the woman’s level of submissiveness. In other words, if your husband is being an abusive jerk, it means you’re not being submissive enough. (Excuse me while I hurl.)

Sermons like these make marriage sound more like a duty than the joyous, nurturing experience it should be. Even though my husband is not a believer, I’m excited about our marriage–because although he may not be “godly,” our union is. And for us, it’s not so much about my submission, but about our mutual celebration. Let me explain.

1. The Gift of the Body

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife (1 Corinthians 7:4).

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body (Ephesians 5:28-29).

My beloved is mine and I am his (Song of Solomon 2:16).

When my husband and I married, we gave up the notion of having separate bodies. It’s no longer ‘my flesh’ and ‘his flesh’ but ‘our flesh.’ My body is a gift to him, and his body is a gift to me. And what a precious gift! It’s hard to not feel excited about it. It’s better than any diamond ring. His arms are strong, his skin is warm, his hands are hardworking. When I embrace him, I embrace my own body. When I nourish him with good food, I nourish his gift to me. It works the other way around, too. He calls my body his and treats it accordingly–with tenderness and respect. How sad is it that some people treat gifts of jewelry and electronics with more esteem than the gift of their spouse’s body!

2. A Succor

The Bible says God created woman to be a help meet to man. Many people take that to mean “servant.” I’ll admit, marriage embodies many aspects of servanthood. But that’s not the meaning of the term “help meet.” The Strong’s Concordance provides the proper translation: a succor. It means one who gives comfort and aid during tough times. In other words, being a good and godly wife isn’t about caving to your husband’s every whim; it’s about protecting and nurturing his spirit when the difficulties of life threaten to overwhelm him.

I purposed a while back to make our home a safe haven for my husband. It’s where he can escape the demands of work and find relief from stress. He comes home to hugs, kisses and encouragement, not shame, insults or nagging. My husband knows that no matter what happens in the world, he can experience unconditional love, forgiveness, and appreciation in his own house. In other words, our home is where our relationship is daily celebrated and cherished. It has made a world of difference in our marriage.

3. A Commitment to Celebration

The Bible has several verses that both command and describe the celebration of the marriage relationship. The whole Song of Solomon is, in fact, just that!

You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume more than any spice (Song of Solomon 4:9-10)!

Proverbs 31, a passage of scripture often used to shoehorn Christian women into an impossible ideal, is actually a chapter written in praise of an intelligent, hardworking wife. Jewish men sing this scripture to their wives on the Sabbath to honor their household contributions, whatever those may be.

The Bible also gives these commands to husbands:

May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love (Proverbs 5:18-19).

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27).

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them (Colossians 3:19).

In fact, every time the command is given for wives to submit to their husbands, it is immediately followed by the command for husbands to love their wives. Not some Hollywood ‘oh-I-feel-butterflies’ version of love, but love as described in 1 Corinthians 13–a passage I’ve quoted on this blog many times. My husband may not be a believer, but he understands this principle and lives it. Which is more than I can say for some Christian men I’ve encountered, unfortunately.

The Bible also says that a loving spouse is a gift from God. Would we criticize or speak ill of God’s good gifts, or abuse them to our own advantage? Or would we honor their existence and thank God every day for them?

And that whole submission thing? Well, it kind of takes care of itself when I’m busy celebrating. It’s easy to trust my husband when I know he loves and cares for me just as much as, if not moreso than, himself. And his appreciation of the the things I do makes doing those things a joy, rather than a drudgery to be borne patiently. Life has enough drudgery on its own, don’t you think?

What are you doing to celebrate your marriage?

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7 responses to “Submission or Celebration?

  1. This should be given as part of a prenuptual package or, if they missed out here, to all those who have been married within the last few years. In fact, it could be helpful to those who have been married for decades!

  2. The use of the word helpmeet is in some ways rather unfortunate, and it’s worth noting that in both the Hebrew and the Septuagint’s Greek (which is dear to me as an Orthodox Christian) this is not one word or element and is in fact the joining of two ideas: a helper who is suitable to the man. That’s what meet means: it’s sufficiently archaic that one does not often come across the word in modern English, but in this case meet means suitable or comparable. Discussing God’s intention in creating woman and only mentioning being a helper but not talking about suitability and comparability is a large part of the problem.

    The passage in Ephesians is an appropriate one to be read at a wedding, but it must be understood as comparing the relationship of husband and wife to that of Christ and the Church. Many should ask themselves, does Christ dominate his Church with a punitive or abusive hand? You make the point well that every passage telling women to submit to their husbands also tells their husbands to behave in a certain way to their wives: the ideal of the Church’s love for Christ and Christ’s for the Church is the standard.

    • Yes, that is true; we really have, as a culture, lost the true understanding of the term “help meet”…and it is unfortunate. That is one of the things I’m learning to appreciate about the Orthodox perspective–a deeper understanding of scripture and of Christ’s spiritual nature. Feel free to enlighten me anytime. 🙂