See part I here...

Wives [being subject] to their own husbands as to the Lord because a man of a woman as head is so in the same way that Christ is head of the church, Himself the Saviour of the body. But as the church is [completely] subject to Christ, so also wives are to be subject to their husbands in all ways.
     And husbands are to love their own wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up on its behalf surrendering Himself in order that He might make it holy, cleansing her by the washing of water and the word in order that He might present her [the church] to Himself in glorious array before Him that she not have any blemish or imperfection of any kind – so that she be perfect and unspoiled.
     So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. Actually, he that cherishes his wife is loving himself. For no man ever hates his flesh of his own [kind] but nourishes it and takes care of it, even as the Lord nourishes and takes care of the church. For members we are of His body. And it is in this context that a man leaves his father and his mother to cleave to his wife and the two shall be of one kind.
      A great mystery this is and I have related it to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, it is also the case that each one of you [husbands] should love his wife as he loves himself and that wives should ascribe due reverence to their husbands.- Ephesians 5:21-33/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne 

Married couple hollding hands

PICTURE: Ryan Franco/Unsplash

 

"This letter is about the full restoration of human creativity in God’s family, and that also means the restoration of the human institution of marriage as integral to God’s purposes."

Paul’s exposition of marriage as the primary example of this willing subjection in the Lord derives from his teaching of the chock-a-block redemptive light that Christ Jesus, by His Spirit, has brought into our lives. He is calling upon his readers to live lives that show heartfelt appreciation for this. “Wives” and “husbands” are part of a God-given structure of intense human mutuality that finds its indispensable contribution as a generation-to-generation institution of human creativity - marriage itself is an exhibit of the redemption which His Son has wrought for us in His creation. 

As such, it is so very important for how the Good News of Jesus continues to shine in our lives. The Lord God has acted in His Son to redemptively restore creation and our creativity within it! Paul’s discussion of marriage and its peculiar creativity, focuses upon office-bearers and their responsibilities in that structure of mutual submission; our lives together in their totality presuppose the marriage duet in which wives (alto-soprano) occupy pride of place alongside their husbands (bass-tenor) to expound the submission of the church to Christ following His redemptive work in submission to His Father’s will.

But despite all my creative efforts, I still find it hard to hear this duet above the heavy-metal accusation, perhaps coming from those analysing the “Christian chorus”, or maybe it comes from the accommodating liturgies of churches that wish to avoid marriage as a male and female, chaste and monogamous institution, or it may simply come from within my own head, an embarrassing memory of “romantic debris” I cannot deny, or the residual voice of my own liberal-humanistic education and schooling, that suggests that any subsequent insight I may have is due to my own emergent genius. But this is an accusatory voice, nay even a chorus (boring though it may be) that would not only drown out Paul’s “psalm”, but the “marriage duet” itself:

See, see, there he goes again 
Paul seeking to put women in their place.
There he goes again imposing upon women
That they be mere wives, 
And he is bent,
Bent on explaining why they should be willingly subservient,
Barefoot and pregnant,  forgetting, after all, all the unmarried women,
Just so he can pretend
Confirm them as “potential wives”,
Asserting his “apostolic” credentials
Ignoring those who choose a single life for themselves
Enslaving women, denying autonomy.

Such a “voice” might have all the legitimacy of a present day neo-liberal woman seeking her own autonomy in a political context dominated by her self-evident world-view, but clearly this sentiment is a “voice” choosing not to attend to what has preceded this statement. We also hear the “voice” of a Christian-feminist hermeneutic that would also want to turn-back the cumulative and repeated attempts to harness the child-bearing capacity of women in order to enshrine a social order of some entrenched over-reaching power. The reigning powers might have proclaimed themselves as God’s agents on earth, claiming to bring to expression this dimension of God’s Kingdom and their own special place within that. But that is not what Paul sets forth here. And the radical individualising of marriage as proposed simply misses the beat of Paul’s redemptive psalm: 
"Wake up, O sleeping one and stand on your feet and Christ shall give you light!"

This letter is about the full restoration of human creativity in God’s family, and that also means the restoration of the human institution of marriage as integral to God’s purposes. 

Paul, in a forthright and unambiguous manner, commends marriage as a public and publicised human responsibility that cannot but be public and publicised. Marriage is integral to the way of life of God’s image-bearers. It has been an indispensable structured requirement from creation, and then from the promise to Abram that in his seed all peoples would be blessed. How else can a generation to generation stewardship unfold? How else can the Messianic Offspring bringing redemption, promised by the Merciful Lord, come forth? Here we are confronted with a creaturely institution that is called forth to creatively demonstrate our generation-to-generation response to the love of God for His world that He has made our world. 

It is our generation-to-generation creatureliness that retains its purpose and meaning but only through the indispensable work of Christ Jesus on our behalf. This institution is still called to be an outstanding corollary of God sending of His Son, to be born of Mary, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (John 3:17). The submission to one another that Paul writes about as a holy duty for all who believe in Christ, has a primary and definitive “exposition” in the marriage bond itself. The kind of “headship” to which a wife subscribes, in submission to her husband, is the headship ascribed to Christ’s rule of the church, His body, His bride, which has been affirmed by the raising of Jesus from the grave and His ascension to His Father’s right hand. Clearly, this is no enslavement.

Nor is this an attempt to set forth a social perspective that excludes the unmarried, rendering them as “second-class Christ-followers”. Indeed marriage is the God-given structure to be formed by His image-bearers in trothful union, in order that the most precious of all gifts, a new born child, be given, not merely to the marriage partners, and not to them as if a child is their possession to own, but to add another person, another one of God’s image-bearers to the entire human community and all solely for the glory of God!

Here then, in the affirmation of a wife’s relationship to her husband, is Paul’s explanation of the God-given redemption of human creativity and all that that means. Paul has elsewhere commented on this part of the “mystery” of Christ’s redeeming work for us (I Timothy 2:15). And we should also note the phrase “that she be whole without imperfection” as part of the majestic hymn with which the letter began: "[S]ince He has chosen us in Him even before the cosmos was founded, so that we would be whole and without imperfection before Him" (1:4).

We live in the expectation that Christ’s betrothal to His bride already includes the redemption of marriage as a creative community within God’s purposes for His creation. And part of that wholeness and perfection is surely that we are invited to participate as parents, fathers and mothers, grand-fathers and grand-mothers, sons and daughters, grandsons and grand-daughters!