One of the categories of life in which Christians can pursue God’s design is marriage. You can go here for an audio teaching God’s design for marriage.
One thing we saw in that exploration of the topic is that American Christians have been guilty of ignoring and belittling God’s design for marriage, and have gone as far as to distort scripture with false teaching. Although much of this is done unknowingly, it happens because we are operating with a carnal approach to life, putting the things of man above the things of God.
In any case, misrepresenting biblical teaching hides the saving truth. We are not going to take that sort of thing lying down; we’re going to tackle it head on. We’re going to confront it by laying out God’s word as clearly as possible, calling out common thinking and behavior that is contrary to God’s design, and identifying the ways in which unrepentant men twist and negate scripture with their words. We call out the differences because otherwise the teaching of Christ cannot be made clear. We do this so that we might glorify God by our obedience and he may demonstrate his wisdom and goodness in our lives.
In taking stock of American society’s treatment of marriage, we must say that it has denied the basic nature of the relationship between husband and wife. Scripture explicitly tells us that marriage is an authority relationship. It tells us that one person is in authority and the other person is under that authority. This is distinct from a relationship between peers or equal partners, where neither has authority over the other.
I am aware that American society claims this is unjust to the person under authority. But I am frankly unpersuaded. When one man goes to work for another man, he submits himself to the authority of the other. It would be ludicrous to suggest that this is demeaning or denies basic human dignity. That’s just silly. Furthermore, every American is under the authority of the federal government. Again, it would be absurd to suggest that this state of affairs means that Sonia Sotomayor is more human than I am. What are we even talking about? To be under authority is not demeaning or dehumanizing.
Scripture teaches that there is a “chain of command” in marriage.
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
1 Corinthians 11:3
The word used to describe the person in authority is head. We use similar language at times today. We might say that Larry is the head of the sales department. That’s using the word head in the same sense.
We might illustrate the relationships described in this verse with something like this:
A few things are illustrated here, namely, authority and responsibility. God has authority over Christ. That is the red arrow. Similarly, Christ has authority over the husband, and the husband over the wife. I’ve used a downward pointing, red arrow to signify this in each case.
Also, each person under authority answers to the person above them. The wife answers to her husband. The husband answers to Christ. Christ answers to God. I’ve used a green arrow to indicate this.
Now, what does a person answer for? They answer for the things under their authority. They are responsible for those things. I’ve drawn a green circle around the husband and wife to indicate Christ’s responsibilities in this drawing.
God has given Christ authority over the husband and therefore over the wife. Intrinsic in this delegated authority is that Christ is responsible for the married couple. Christ answers to God for how he uses his authority.
The same pattern holds for the relationship between husband and wife. The husband has been given authority, from above, over the wife. The husband answers to Christ for how he uses (or fails to use) that authority. The husband is responsible for the proper treatment of his wife.
I freely admit that humans having authority over other humans would be a scary proposition without the human authorities being answerable to God. The scripture emphasizes that those in authority should remember that they are also under authority. Neglect of responsibilities or abuse of power is a serious thing.
It is impossible to hold to a view of marriage as an equal partnership and obey the instruction of scripture. A wife who does not submit to her husband is ignorant of, or simply ignoring, God’s word to her as a wife. Similarly a husband who does not take responsibility for his wife, is failing in his duty to Christ.
It is true that this brings up a lot of questions and how we answer those questions is very important. If we genuinely seek to obey God, he will lead us. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will be filled. If we harden our hearts, we will not hear his voice.
2 thoughts on “Scriptural authority in marriage”
I appreciate your statement about individuals having authority without being answerable to God would be a scary proposition. I can see where fear would arise to follow if the individual you are following has no one to answer to. To have such Authority is a great responsibility. Which is precisely why Christ operated in his authority with great care… to the point of giving himself for the church. So should a husband have such care for his wife. A man who takes a breath before exercising his authority & hold those thoughts captive to The Obedience of Christ because he knows who it will affect, is a man who uses authority wisely and lovingly.
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