In the earliest chapters of Genesis, we see God’s intention for marriage. Genesis 2 ends with God’s work of creation complete, Adam and Eve in a right relationship with God, and with each other. And in the chapter’s final verses, marriage is defined as two becoming one flesh and evidence of absolute trust and innocence: They “were both naked and felt no shame” (Genesis 2:24–25, ESV). But, by the end of Genesis 3, Adam and Eve had exchanged trust and innocence for fear. They had betrayed God and each other. They were “messed up” individually and together their marriage was a mess.
Then God showed up, despite their rebellion and failure, and sought them. God handed out just punishment. Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden, life became hard, and the promise of death fulfilled. Yet, despite their disobedience, God promised salvation. God, whose righteousness demands payment for sin, would Himself satisfy the payment so that Adam and Eve, and those of us who follow, could be redeemed. Death would be conquered by those who would accept the provision of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, making atonement for our sin.
Paul’s marriage instruction to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 5:22–33) may seem antiquated to twenty-first century Americans, even to those who are regular churchgoers. But, while the truths of scripture may go out of vogue, we know that God’s truth stands. Paul wrote to a congregation immersed in a culture where immorality was the norm. Words like “submission” and “love” were as radical and counter-cultural then as they are now.
While Ephesians 5 gives us a picture of what a marriage should look like, it is in the earlier chapters of Ephesians that we find encouragement. Ephesians 1 teaches us that God blessed us and chose us before creation, that we are adopted, forgiven, and that our inheritance is guaranteed. Chapter two shows us that, though we were dead in our sins, we were made alive because of God’s love. Then, Paul ends chapter three stating God’s ability to do “immeasurably more” than “we can ask or imagine.” It is God that gives marriage hope.
Because of Christ’s work for us and the Holy Spirit’s work in us, we can be humble, gentle, patient, and united (Ephesians 4:1–3)—not only in our church but in our home. We can put off the old and don the new self with a new attitude characterized by righteousness and holiness (4:20–24). We can use words to build up the other and not tear down (4:29–5:2). We can avoid even the suggestion of immorality (5:3–7).
How often has an unkind word led to silence or to more words that you later regret? How often has sarcasm been used to harm your wife or husband when you have felt hurt yourself? Does your anger bring with it a lethal tongue? We are called to bring kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. Submission can be freely given because a wife knows of a love that is trustworthy, never resorting to controlling power, always sacrificing. Love is freely given because a husband knows a Savior who, though he was the Creator, submitted to the will of his Father to redeem a rebellious creation He loves. Ultimately, we are called upon to imitate God by loving as Christ loved us (5:1–2) all the way to Golgotha and Resurrection Sunday!
Our hope for this life and the reason Easter makes a difference in marriage is not because of who we are, but because of who God is, because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, and because of what the Holy Spirit is doing in us.