On Christian Intimacy and Marriage…

September 6, 2010

“He who loves his wife loves himself.” 

"Song of Solomon" by Susan Sanders

“How beautiful you are and how pleasing, O love, with your delights! Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, ‘I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.’ May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.”   –‘The Lover,’ Song of Songs 7:8-9a.

“’For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ (Genesis 2:24). This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” –The Apostle Paul, Ephesians 5:31-33.

It has been preached for ages that in a marriage the man is the head and that a woman should submit to her man, and there is ample Biblical scripture to support this; however, I believe that over the years men have often abused this authority given to them by God, and those who do are in danger of breaking the covenant made before God to love and cherish their wives “till death do you part.” I believe a closer reading of scripture reveals God’s call for a man to treat his wife as an equal; in fact, the authority that God gives men over women in marriage has little, or nothing, to do with their superiority, but rather is simply symbolic of Christ’s authority over the church. It is closer to the truth, in my opinion, that man’s authority over a woman does not equal superiority, but it reveals that man has a greater responsibility in the marriage to lay down his life for his wife as Christ does for the church. A man’s headship and authority is only as strong as his willingness to serve his wife in love and sacrifice. Therefore, there is a high call from God for men to protect their women.*

One of the hardest verses for women in the Bible is 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Paul tells his protégé: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” This implies that women bear the brunt of the curse because Eve was first deceived by Satan, but the scripture says that Adam “was with her” during that conversation (Genesis 3:6); why was he so willing to bite the fruit she offered him? We must trust that God’s judgment in scripture is just; however, men share just as much of the blame for mankind’s fall as women. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul discusses the complexity of the role of men and women in the church. He begins the passage with, “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of every woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (verse 3). He then goes onto talk about how men and women should worship and minister in the church: men with their head’s “uncovered” and women with their head’s “covered.” This, I believe, is meant to be symbolic of the authority of Christ over his church body, because in verses 11-12, Paul states, “In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” Likewise, in Galatians 3:28, Paul states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The authority that God has given men over women has nothing to do with merit. God is a God of order and he has designed marriage to symbolize the unity and intimacy he desires to have with those who choose to follow him, the church. Any man who attempts to use scripture to dominate his woman does not understand his call and role in the marriage and does not have the love of God in him.

This is the order that Paul lays out for us in Ephesians 6:22-30: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy…In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies…, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body.”  However, in verse 21, in reference to the whole body of Christ, Paul exhorts us to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Does this call for all believers to “submit to one another” become null and void when a (spiritual) brother and sister get married? I don’t think Paul is stating that. Most translators attach verse 21 to the section before verses 22-33, and separate it from the Paul’s instructions on marriage; however, I think the call for mutual submission is the introduction of the marriage passage. What Paul is making clear in his instructions is that in a marriage the man’s call to lay down his life for his wife is symbolic of Christ’s sacrifice for the church. In that sense the man represents the image of God as the person of Christ.

The notion of equality in marriage can be seen as far back as the Garden of Eden. When God created the Earth and everything in it, including Adam, he declared, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18. That helper was Eve. The Hebrew word for “helper” is “Ezer,” and the only other time it is used in the Bible is in reference to God himself being mankind’s “helper.”** In that sense, the woman represents the image of God in what I believe is the person of the Holy Spirit. In The Gospel of John, Chapters 14-16, Jesus later tells his disciples that he will send the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, to guide them into truth and to comfort them when needed. Anyone who has been around a healthy marriage knows that the woman has the dual role of being the voice of reason when her man wants to go and do something impulsive and stupid, and at the same time she gives him comfort when the trouble of the world is overwhelming him.

Getting back to the Garden, Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This implies, or even states, that male and female together (working in harmony, of course) is the closest that mankind can get to representing “God’s image.” Apart from each other, males and females are only half the picture of God. We are incomplete; we are two pieces of a puzzle that fit together to form the full image of God.*** If we were the same, there would be no point in joining together. But if men on their own represent a piece of the Trinity in Jesus, and women are symbolic of the Holy Spirit, where does that leave the image of the Father? It is the very act of joining together in intimacy and procreating that gives a husband and wife the image of the Father. God’s first blessing and command to Adam and Eve is to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). God doesn’t just reveal himself to mankind as our Creator, but as our Father—as our parent. Though he reveals himself in the masculine, there are many passages in scripture in which God gives himself what are traditionally feminine qualities, especially, when he takes on the role as a parent. (i.e. “O Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34). This is the mystery that Paul speaks of when he states that a husband and wife in unity represent the role of Jesus and the Church. It is through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ that the Church is able to have the power to complete the great commission and to go into all the world and make, or produce, disciples of all nations. The more obedient the Church is to Christ, the more people will be drawn into the kingdom of God and be “born again of the Spirit” (John 3:1-21). This is why Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom (the Lover), and the Church the Bride (the Beloved). I can think of no better argument for equality in a marriage than this: that it is through the joining together of a man and a woman that the image of God is revealed in mankind. But though we are equal in value and necessity, we are not the same.

Scripture supports that men and women are wired differently in the way that Paul instructs a husband and wife to treat each other. He commands the woman to respect her husband, but he commands the man to love his wife. Paul’s not just talking about roses here; the Bible has a very hard definition of love (see 1 Corinthians 13 for a summary). It is good through and through, but it is work. A man truly loving his wife requires that he respect her also, but Paul emphasizes different actions from the man and the woman because both have different needs. However, each person’s needs in the relationship are just as valuable as the other’s. As stated in Ephesians 6:21, we are called to be mutually submissive to one another. It is when each spouse is looking out for the other’s needs and good before his/her own that they are truly expressing love and respect towards each other, and that is when their relationship will be most at harmony. It is when one or the other, or both, inevitably becomes selfish in their sin-nature that the unity and harmony breaks up, but Jesus says, “What God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6, Mark 10:9). When two mature believers in Christ join together in marriage before God and the church, it is for life. There are no escape clauses in God’s contract. A tearing apart of this contract is literally a tearing apart of souls. In this very teaching Jesus reminds us that the scripture says “the two will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

True love requires intimacy, and true intimacy requires genuine communication. Both parties in the relationship need to be open and vulnerable, and both need to be willing to share and to listen. This is one of the reasons our society has such a high divorce rate now. Americans equate intimacy with sex and think that is enough to make a relationship work and make each spouse feel secure. In an appropriate and life long committed  relationship between a man and woman, intimacy will lead to sex, which ultimately ties the two souls together, but even in a marriage, sex without true intimacy is just an orgasm; the feeling doesn’t last. Too many spouses live their lives together, but they don’t really know each other. They never allow themselves to know and to be known; therefore, there really isn’t any relationship at all. This is how a successful marriage works: Both parties have full access to each other’s hearts—their hopes and fears. They truly know what makes the other one happy, and if each spouse desires to please the other more than themselves, then each will make the other happy and each will be happy. Unfortunately, sin has made each of us selfish, and it is not as easy as it sounds.

It works the same way with Christ, the Bridegroom, and his beloved Bride, the Church.  We spend time listening to Christ by reading the Word (the Bible) and being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and we communicate our heart to him through prayer, but it is through worship that we are able to be intimate with God. It is in the act of worship that our spirits are joined together in a deeper fashion with the Holy Spirit of God. God is with believers in his fullness literally all the time, but while we are in a sinful state, we lack full access to him because of our flesh, our doubt, or our just plain busyness. To use the husband and wife metaphor again, they both can be laying in bed together, but they must each choose to engage in intimacy if they want to become “one flesh.” Jesus, as the Bridegroom, will always be a gentleman as he pursues his Bride, so the bride must choose to allow him in. We can have this intimacy with our God anytime, but purposeful and focused worship gives us the opportunity to shut out the rest of the world and focus solely on the Lord as we give him honor, praise and adoration. When we approach our God in worship it leads to greater intimacy with him—our spirits touch the Holy Spirit more deeply, and we come away from the experience with greater healing and energy, and with more peace and spiritual strength. Just as a husband and wife need dates and intimacy to continue to grow together, we need special focused time with our Creator to grow in the fullness of maturity. This special time does not and should not be the same every time and for every one, but every Christian should spend quality time in God’s presence. Sometimes we need to cut loose and dance like a fool before him; sometimes sitting in silence and meditation will do. I think it just boils down to a true and personal expression of love.

Peter L Richardson

*Because of scriptures that talk about women being submissive to men, many modern readers of scripture look at the Christianity as sexist, but nothing can be farther from the truth. In the times the Bible was written, including the New Testament, most women were usually regarded as property. They were either owned by their fathers or their husbands. They had very little rights without the partnership of a man. Christianity was instrumental in teaching men to treat women with love, honor and respect, and while the Bible states that a women should not have authority over a man (I believe this is only in reference to spiritual authority in the church), there is evidence that both Jesus and Paul allowed women to take places of high importance in their ministries and in the church in general.

**see John and Stasi Eldrege’s book, Captivating.

***I want to emphasize that what I mean by incomplete is simply the picture or image of God in humanity. I do not want to imply that those who are called to be single are any less whole or valuable than those who are called to be married. Paul even tells us that those who are single have the freedom to focus on the Lord and on serving him in the kingdom, while a married couple must focus on their relationship and family needs. The puzzle analogy is a bit deceiving in that it takes a lot of work before and after the marriage vows before a couple can really fit together like puzzles pieces. It is a fallacy, I think, that a man or a woman can complete the other. Mature marriages start out with whole and healthy people who compliment each other, but are willing to make sacrifices in the areas where they don’t. Those who have already practiced “dying to self” for Jesus will find it easier to sacrifice their desires for their spouse when called upon to do so, but of course it all depends on help and guidance from the Holy Spirit.

Peter L Richardson

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4 Responses to “On Christian Intimacy and Marriage…”

  1. Brandolyn Says:

    Peter,

    Wow…this is awesome. I’m going to have my son read this. Thanks for sharing. Once when I was in college, I had a professor who made reference to a quote by either Increase or Cotton Mather, which was, “A wife’s freedom rests in her obedience to her husband.” I’ve never been able to find if that is an accurate quote, but it did spur a lot of discussion both in that classroom as well as with my friends. On its face in our culture, that statement is inflammatory. But, when you consider it in light of the Lord (and of this article), it makes a lot of sense, don’t you think? Women who are married are under the covering of their husbands. Stepping out from under that covering is unwise and leads to the confinement of the spirit. Submitting to him is an act of love not just to him and to the Lord, but to ourselves! On the same notion, I also believe that privilege is really responsibility, which I think you articulated very well. Personally, I used to cringe at the idea of “submitting” to my husband. I thought this even after I became a Christian! But in the last 7-8 years I have actually taken comfort from it! What a beautiful thing! To be in a marriage where I put aside my desires to see his come to pass and vice versa, is something I’m excited about. I once read a book on marriage where the husband was confessing his selfishness. His wife would always use the last of the ice and not refill the ice tray. It annoyed him to no end and he would always lecture her. Later, he came to his wife and confessed that he was wrong. That his love for her needed to be expressed in the times of frustration and annoyance, not only in times of romance and affection. He said that his love for her was greater than his annoyance for some empty ice trays. He also said his wife was to taken back by this confession that it touched her heart, and never again was there an empty ice tray! I love that story!! =)

    Your comparison of the woman to the Holy Spirit is something I never thought about before, and I really liked it. What an interesting concept! If only men would really understand this concept and love their wives as Christ loved the church. What an amazing world we would have. Anyway, I really enjoyed your piece. You always give me something to ponder! Thanks!!

  2. Steph Says:

    Awesome! I so appreciate your interpretations of the difficult-to-understand verses about women’s place in the marriage and in the church. I particularly like your reasoning for the woman representing the Holy Spirit in the marriage. I had never seen it like that before but find that this idea makes sense. Thanks Pete!


  3. […] On Christian Intimacy and Marriage… « Peterrock12. What I Believe … We must trust that God's judgment in scripture is just; however, men share just as much of the blame for mankind's fall as women In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul discusses the complexity of the role of men and women in the church […]

  4. peterrock12 Says:

    Thanks guys! I don’t think men and women will ever truly understand eachother in this age, but that adds to the mystery and joy of the relationship as much as the times of frustration. The good thing is, when we both choose to put Christ first and at the center of the relationship and our lives, then we have a endless pool of love we can draw from for each other to cover the times we don’t understand the other. I’m hoping for the opportunity do it the right way!


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