The Roles of Men and Women in Marriage

This Sunday I will be finishing teaching a 10+ week series on the Song of Solomon. This is at least the fourth time I’ve taught through this book. I’ve been struck this time (as I am every time) by something different, the strength of Solomon’s beloved.


submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

-Eph 5:21

The “go to” passage about the roles of marriage are found in Ephesians chapter 5, and rightly so. Though this is a passage about the mystery of the Church’s relationship with Christ (cf. v.32), Paul does, none the less, give a rather formulaic description of (different) roles in marriage.

These are not roles of who will do what chores around the house, or whether or not the family will use daycare or not, they are much deeper than that. It’s why I don’t believe the terminology of either “camp” will do (though, in an attempt at full disclosure, if pressed, I best fit the mold of complementation). I’m perfectly fine with the term “complementation” however, it has come to mean so many different things to so many different groups (as is, sadly, the case with most theological terms) that it has been reduced to a practically unhelpful “-ism” to paint the “other side” as a disdainful “-ist”

The key to Ephesians 5, if indeed it is a core NT passage on gender specific roles in marriage, is to be found in the run-up to vv.22ff, as well as Paul’s summary verse in Eph 5:33 to emphasize both “love” and “respect” in this relationship.

One should pay close attention how they live (i.e. “walk” beginning in v.15), seek God’s will (not their own), be a part of a thankful community of artful, Spirit lead, back and forth mutual communication. And then the punchline that beautifully sets-up the rest:

submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

-Eph 5:21

See, the institution of marriage is a microcosm of the larger community of the church. Within the church there is mutual respect and participation, and so it is in marriage. Sometimes, however, in the enthusiasm of those who with to dispense with chauvinism, it is lost on Believers that there are differences in the sexes.

These differences, however, are primarily described as how each gender is to fulfill v.21, namely, mutual submission to “one another,” not because they deserve it or have earned it, but as a result of our respect for Jesus.

Men and women are different, not better or worse, not right or wrong, just different, which expresses itself in marriage.

The primary way that a husband is to submit to his wife is by loving her. Within marriage, he “plays the role” of the Christ figure. As Christ is the head of the church, the man is (undeservedly so) the head of the marriage. But he is to be such lovingly, not as a chauvinistic tyrant, but as a servant leader. Love means putting another first, it really does, without love, a leader’s word means nothing (cf. 1Cor 13). He is to be the one who ensures that his family is provided for with food, shelter, clothing etc. (i.e. 1Tim 5:8), though how he does this is not spoken, simply that he’s responsible for it. Prayer for his family is his job (cf. Job 1:5, John 17:9), and ensuring that the children (if any) are trained in the ways of God (Deut 6:7; Eph 6:4).

When speaking to the specific role of women, the responsibility to “submit” is reiterated, however it is “respect” that is the primary description of how she should accomplish this. As she respects Christ as the head of her church, so to she submits to her husband’s loving leadership (cf. Eph 5:22-24; 1Pet 3:1-7).

She should be sure that her husband and children are cared for, she oversees the home (Titus 2:4-5; Proverbs 31:11-12), but this is not a command for “career women” who want to “have it all” to quit, but it should be a warning sign to tread carefully (not only for women but for men as well). She is the one who guides the household (1Tim 5:14) but this is not to usurp the leadership of her husband.

It honestly is a picture of a partnership of leadership.

He is responsible to see that the home is following the Lord’s will and is developing in a God honoring way, but that is her charge as well. He is to lovingly submit to his wife to the point of death, and she is to respectfully submit to his leading as the Christ figure. We don’t do this because the other is successful at their task, but because of our view of Jesus as our ultimate leader.

This will look different for every family. Every person has different abilities and gifts, and so each person will pay a role in the family based on their strength as well as making up for the deficits of their spouse.

The Bible does not call for a 1950s style regression in the rights of women or the elevation of the man as the ultimate demigod to be revered and feared, it is a call to recognize that men and women are different. It is a call for men and women to work against their natural bent (for men) to be loving and (for women to) be respectful.

There is not a mold that we should squeeze every family. We are all different, not right and wrong, just different. We should all work together to see this work. It is in this struggle for balance that we honor our Lord and true head, Jesus Christ.

What do you think?

About John Harris

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
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