21. The Meaning of Christian Marriage (Ephesians 5:21-32)
21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband.
This week I saw a portion of a television program having to do with a certain species of primates. The gist of what I saw (which was not the program in its entirety) was that some primates, such as the chimpanzee, have a very aggressive and somewhat violent demeanor, while another species manifests a disposition which personifies (dare I use this term?) the hippie slogan of the ’60s: “Make love, not war.”
Noted authorities gave their analysis of the contrasting behavior of these two species. The peaceable primates seemed to substitute sexual activities for more hostile behavior. The peaceful primates were also noted to have sex with either the male or the female of the species, without discrimination.
I was beginning to see where this program was headed, and I was right. These primates are our closest ancestors. Thus, if we wish to understand human behavior, we should study these primates. The inference was now becoming clear: we should learn from the peaceful primates, and model our conduct after them. Promiscuity and perversion are now somehow “good” because they promote peace, or at least they minimize aggressive conduct and violence.
I “violently” (pardon the pun) disagree with both the premise and the conclusion. I do not think that our conduct should be modeled after monkeys (or chimpanzees, and any other primates), and neither do I believe that sexual promiscuity is the solution for violence. But there is one thing I will accept: we must go back to our beginnings as a basis for our behavior. Those who hold to the evolutionary theory of origins would be consistent with their beliefs to look to the primates for keys to understanding human conduct. Those who hold to divine creation, and to the authority of the Scriptures look to the early chapters of Genesis to understand why men behave as they do, and to understand how we should behave so as to please God.
The subject of Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5:21-33 is that of submission in the context of marriage. Paul’s instructions here create a head-on collision with the beliefs and practices of our culture. Paul’s instructions are written off as the ranting of an ancient male chauvinist. It is one thing for the unbelieving world to reject Paul’s instructions; it is quite another for Christians to do so. And yet many Christians refuse to take Paul’s words seriously. Even some of those who profess to take the Scriptures on face value try to tip toe past passages such as the one we are studying, trying to avoid the stigma of professing and practicing its teaching.
I would like to believe that there are some who have not taken Paul’s words seriously out of ignorance. Unknowingly, they believe Paul’s teaching to be a mere reflection of his culture, and not a timeless teaching, independent of the culture of that day, and of our own. I believe most Christians fail to understand the responsibilities of Christian husbands and wives in the light of the biblical basis which underlies and necessitates them.
Let me attempt to illustrate what I mean. The Lord’s Supper is one of the two ordinances our Lord has given to His church in this age. We are to regularly remember the Lord’s death at communion because He instituted it, He commands it, and the New Testament church devoted itself to a regular observance of it.
Suppose that someone were to suggest that this was merely an ancient celebration, applicable and meaningful only to the saints of days gone by. Instead of perpetuating this ancient ceremony, they tell us, let us do something more meaningful, more enjoyable, more relevant to our culture. Why not have an ice cream and pie supper? Wouldn’t our unsaved friends be more likely to attend? Wouldn’t people find it more beneficial?
Hopefully, we would have enough sense to reject such a foolish proposal. We must first argue that we dare not set aside that which our Lord has instituted, and which His church has continued to practice, from New Testament days onward. We should also point out that the bread and the wine of communion are symbols, symbols of our Lord’s sacrificial death for sinners. If we were to change these symbols radically, we could not do so without modifying the symbolism. Chocolate syrup might taste delicious on vanilla ice cream, but it would hardly replace the wine (or grape juice) as the symbol for Christ’s shed blood.
Like communion, marriage is a divine institution. Christian marriage has certain commitments, obligations and duties which are symbolic. The roles which God has given to a Christian husband and his wife and not culturally derived, nor are they arbitrarily based. They are intended to symbolize and represent a greater, more fundamental reality. While marriage is temporal, the reality which is symbolizes is eternal. And thus we cannot understand the importance of the duties of the husband or the wife without grasping the reality which Christian marriage is to symbolically communicate. This fundamental reality which underlies and explains the attitudes and conduct of a man and his wife in marriage is the relationship of Jesus Christ to His church. This relationship was not understood clearly in Old Testament times. In Paul’s words, it was a mystery. Now, through the teaching of the Apostle Paul and other New Testament writers, this mystery is clear, and our conduct in marriage is to be a reflection of this mystery.
The symbolism of marriage can only be understood in the light of the substance on which a Christian marriage is based: the mystery of Christ’s relationship to His church. For this reason, we will undertake our study of Ephesians 5:21-33 in three segments. The first lesson will focus on the basis for Christian conduct: the relationship of Christ and His church. The second lesson will be a consideration of the responsibilities of the Christian wife. The third will deal with the duties of the Christian husband. If we understand and apply Paul’s teaching, we will discover that one’s attitudes and conduct in a Christian marriage, like every other dimension of the Christian’s life, are dramatically different from those of the world.
The Headship of Christ
22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
The headship of Christ over His church is the first characteristic mentioned by Paul in our text, which is to be symbolized in a Christian marriage. One expression is employed by Paul here to explain how our Lord is the Head of His church—He is the “Savior of the body” (verse 23). In other words, the headship of Christ is evident in the salvation which He accomplished at Calvary.
In the early chapters of Ephesians, Paul has spoken much more fully concerning our salvation in Christ. He has spoken of Christ’s headship no less than three times previously. Consider these texts once again, as Paul surely meant for them to lay the foundation for what he now says concerning the headship of Christ.
In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up128 of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth (Ephesians 1:8b-10, emphasis mine).
22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:22-23, emphasis mine).
14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Ephesians 4:14-16, emphasis mine).
In his other epistles, Paul adds even more detail to this definition of headship. Consider the following texts:
13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God (1 Corinthians 11:13-16).
16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything (Colossians 1:16-18).
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9 For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; … 18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God (Colossians 2:8-10, 18-19).
From all of these texts, we can identify the following fundamental elements of headship, all of which relate to the submission of the wife to her husband:
(1) Christ is the head of His church as its Creator. Headship has to do with origins. Adam was the head of his wife because she came forth from him (1 Corinthians 11:8). Christ is the Head of the church because He has brought it into existence; the church originates in Christ (Colossians 1:16-18).
(2) Christ is the head of His church as its Sustainer. Headship involves sustenance, and Christ is the Sustainer of the church (Colossians 1:17; 2:19; see also Ephesians 4:15-16).
(3) Christ is the head of His church as its Consummation. All of history is being divinely directed toward the goal of “summing up all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).
(4) Christ is the Head of His church by possessing complete authority over it. Headship involves authority. To be the “head” of a company is to be in charge of it. To be the head of the church is to be in authority over it (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:16-18).
(5) Christ is the Head of His church because He has priority over it. Adam is the head of Eve because she was created for his benefit (1 Corinthians 11:9),129 and Christ is the head of the church because the church was created for His benefit. This is a neglected truth, and one which needs to be emphasized in our own times, when men look of God as though His task were to serve us, rather than recognizing that we have been created to serve God.
(6) Christ is the Head of His church because He is the One who is to be preeminent and to receive the glory. Christ is to be the object of our worship, adoration, and praise. He is to be lifted up and exalted. He is to have the preeminence (Colossians 1:18).130
Four of the elements of Christ’s headship are drawn together by Paul in Romans, where he writes, “For from Him [origin] and through Him [sustaining] and to Him [consummation] are all things. To Him be the glory [preeminence, praise], forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).
The Submission of Christ For His Church
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.
It is not easy to think of our Lord as an example of submission. It is one thing to speak of the submission of our Lord to His Father’s will (see John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:28; Philippians 2:8). But how can one who is the supreme leader of the church (its head) also be submissive to it? Some may seek to solve this problem by simply denying that our Lord did submit Himself to the church.
To deny our Lord’s submission to the church (as well as to the Father’s will) in order to “protect” His headship is something like denying our Lord’s suffering in order to protect His glory. The Old Testament prophets did not know how to harmonize these two streams of prophecy, but they did know better than to reject one in order to preserve the other (see 1 Peter 1:10-12).
I do not see how we can deny the fact that Jesus did, in some fashion, submit Himself to men. Philippians 2:3-8 certainly seems to include this dimension of our Lord’s submission.
3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:3-8).
If we are not convinced by Paul’s words in Philippians chapter 2, then let us consider what Peter says in 1 Peter 2 and 3. The context of 1 Peter 2:13–3:7 is surely that of submission. Christians are instructed to submit to every human institution for the Lord’s sake (2:13-17). Servants are then told to submit to their masters, especially the unreasonable ones (2:18-20). Christ is then pointed out as our example, in whose steps we should follow:
20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:20-25).
Jesus submitted Himself to wicked and sinful men, so that by so doing He could become the “Shepherd and Guardian” of our souls (2:25). And He submitted Himself silently, without returning evil for evil, even though He suffered unjustly. Immediately following Peter’s reference to our Lord’s submission, he turns to women, urging them to submit (in silence) to their husbands, linking their submission to that of Christ: “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1, emphasis mine).
If wives are to submit to their husbands “in the same way” that Christ submitted Himself to wicked men, then surely we cannot deny that our Lord did submit Himself to men. He submitted Himself to the Father’s will, and to wicked men, to become our Savior.
There is yet one more way that our Lord can be said to “submit” to men. I believe that He submits Himself to the church by seeking its blessing at His expense. I believe that self-sacrifice is a form of submission. This is the submission which I see emphasized in Ephesians 5:25-27, it is the submission of love.
I think the reason why Christians find it difficult to accept the submission of our Lord to His church (Ephesians 5:25-27) and even to wicked men (1 Peter 2:21-25) is that we have come to think of submission only in terms of one’s station or authority, rather than in terms of one’s humility and service. Our Lord’s status and authority was all the reason He would have needed to avoid the cross, but His service to the church as its Savior required His suffering on that cross. Our Lord humbled Himself, not regarding His own personal interests above ours, and thus submitting to the agony of the cross.
The headship of our Lord is not contrary to the cross; it is the consequence of it. Suffering and glory are not opposing truths, but complimentary truths. Our Lord has become the Head of the church by submitting Himself to the Father, to the church, and even to sinful men.
The Unity of Christ and His Church
28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
The relationship between Christ and His church is a mystery, Paul tells us, a great mystery. Paul has already spoken of this mystery in chapter 2, and especially in chapter 3. Now, he applies this mystery to marriage. A fundamental element of the mystery is the union between Christ and His church.
Think about this. In the Old Testament time, men had to keep their distance from God. They could not approach Mount Sinai when God was giving the Law (Exodus 19:12-13, 21, 24). The people could only approach God through the shedding of the blood, and both in the Tabernacle and the Temple there were barriers established between God and men. Even the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies but once a year.
Little did men dream of the intimacy which God had in mind for His people. Jesus would come to the earth to “tabernacle” among men (John 1:14). He would take on human flesh, adding perfect humanity to His undiminished deity (Philippians 2:5-8). In Christ, men not only saw God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16), they touched Him, and felt His healing touch (1 John 1:1). And when Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, the veil which formerly separated men from God was torn asunder, from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). The Lord Jesus became the means of an intimacy with God the Old Testament saints could hardly imagine:
19 Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:19-22).
This intimacy was even more than that of being with Him, it was that of being one with Him, of being in Christ (see Ephesians 1 and 2). While men did not grasp this truth, it was nevertheless indicated in the Old Testament in a variety of ways. In this sense, being one with Christ was anticipated in the Old Testament Scriptures, but not comprehended, and thus, a mystery, a great mystery.
In verse 31 Paul turns to a very early indication of this mystery of Christ’s union with His “body,” the church. Here, he cites Genesis 2:24, and immediately informs us that this text refers to Christ and His church. How can this be? Because marriage, from its beginnings, was designed by God to symbolize the relationship of Christ to the church.
In Genesis chapter 2, God created Adam. Adam was given the task of naming all of the animals God had made. As they passed by two by two it became apparent that every male animal had its female counterpart. Adam was conspicuous as the only creature without a corresponding mate. I believe that by this means God created a yearning in Adam for a mate of his own.
And God provided her. But she was not like any other creature in that she was not made from the dust of the earth; she was created instead from Adam’s flesh and bones. God created the woman as Adam’s helpmeet, fashioning her to correspond to him in every way. God then brought the woman to Adam, and presented her to him as his wife. Adam joyfully responded, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23). As creation’s first husband and wife, Adam and Eve symbolized by the marriage the unity of Christ and His church which would be achieved at the cross of Calvary, centuries later.
I have performed many marriage ceremonies, and have often cited the words of Genesis 2:24, but until recently I did not really understand what was meant by those first three words: “For this cause …” Moses instructs us that when a man and a woman come together in marriage, the man is to leave his mother and father and to cleave to his wife, to become one flesh. While there may be practical benefits to a man leaving his parents and cleaving to his wife, Moses does not bother to mention them. His words indicate that there is one fundamental reason. This is indicated by the words, “For this reason …”
But what is the reason? The reason is given in the preceding verses. The reason is that the fundamental and primary union evident in the marriage of Adam and Eve is to be reflected in every subsequent marriage, to symbolize the union of Christ and His church, achieved centuries later through the work of Christ.
Adam and Eve had no parents. God created Adam from the dust of the ground and Eve from Adam’s flesh and bone. They began as one flesh through the creation of Eve. This union was also to become evident in their sexual union and in the bearing of children. But the first marriage on earth began with only one relationship, a man and his wife. This husband-wife relationship, Moses indicates to us, is the primary one, and the parent-child relationship (which will follow) is secondary. And so it was that every subsequent marriage was to reflect something of the first marriage and, so to speak, the last, the marriage of Christ to His church.
Our text is based upon a principle, which is vitally important and yet little understood in our times: God has established certain institutions in this world which are earthly symbols of heavenly realities. The nature of the heavenly reality determines the nature of the symbol. Stated briefly the substance dictates the symbol. This inter-relationship between substance and symbol is referred to by the writer to the Hebrews:
1 Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. 4 Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; 5 who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:1-5).
To pervert or the symbol is to distort the picture of the heavenly reality, which it represents. And for this reason, conduct which may not seem to be an abomination by society is regarded by God as that which requires the most severe discipline. This is evident in Paul’s teaching concerning the conduct of the Corinthians at the Lord’s Table. Evils they did not takes seriously were dealt with most severely:
17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you. 20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God, and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. 23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep (1 Corinthians 11:17-30).
When the Corinthians behaved as they did at the Lord’s Table, they not only violated divine instructions concerning communion, they distorted the symbolic commemoration of our Lord Himself and of His atoning sacrifice for our sins. To disregard God’s instructions concerning symbolic institutions is a sin of the most serious order. What was true of communion is also true of Christian marriage, and of the conduct of the man and the woman as husband and wife. Each has a symbolic role to play, and to ignore, reject, or distort their symbolic duties is a serious matter.
When Paul lays down these instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians chapter 5 he also informs us that these duties are symbolic in nature. Beyond this, he informs us just what it is that we are privileged to symbolize in our role as husband or as wife. The duties which Paul sets down are not a reflection of Paul’s narrowness and chauvinism, as some would say, but the teaching of our Lord Himself, pertaining to matters of great importance. We should expect that these teachings conflict with the values and attitudes of our society. The Christian’s conversion brings about a radical transformation of our thinking and behavior, and this will not be in harmony with a sinful, fallen world. Let us expect reaction to Paul’s teachings. But let us not adopt the thinking of the world in which we live toward these matters. Let us rather obey God’s commands and fulfill our duty to portray heavenly truths, not only to men, but to angels as well:
8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; 10 in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him (Ephesians 3:8-12).131132
Christians have become far too casual about the commands of our Lord pertaining to symbolic actions. If such actions do not set well with our desires (the flesh), and are in conflict with the values of our culture (the world), then we pronounce them to be the idiosyncrasies of Paul, or actions related only to that culture and time, or just plain foolishness. In the light of our text, we dare not think this way any longer. There may be a few areas of our Christian life where we have a measure of freedom to change a symbol, so as to make it more pointed to our culture,133 but we have no right at all to disobey, change, or distort God’s symbolic commands when they distort the picture they are to portray concerning the substance.
For those who have chosen to set aside the teachings of Paul and Peter on the roles and responsibilities of husbands, and especially of wives, I have this question. If you have set aside certain biblical commands, duties, and actions, with what have you replaced them? What are you doing which boldly and dramatically reflects the headship of Christ over His church, and the submission of the church to Christ? What are you doing which contradicts the values and attitudes of the world in which we live, so that the dramatic contrast between Christianity and heathenism is underscored? What is it that you have replaced God’s symbols with, which brings about persecution for your identification with Christ and the proclamation of His glorious gospel? I am sad to say that those who have set aside divine duties have not replaced them with anything which challenges and contradicts the world, the flesh, or the devil.
Having spoken as directly and forcibly as I can concerning our duties and responsibilities to carry out our symbolic roles, let me also remind you that these roles are not a reflection on us as persons, but rather are a reflection of Christ and His church. In Christ, there are no distinctions; we are all equal in our standing before Christ:
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).
Some attempt to use this text in Galatians to undermine the New Testament teaching on submission, particularly the submission of the wife to her husband. Those who seek to do so fail to get the point that while we are all equal in our standing before Christ, our roles differ when we are required to symbolize the submission of the church to Christ. The heavenly reality is one of headship and submission. Our earthly roles as husband and wife are to reflect this headship and submission. But our relationship to Christ is one of equality with every other believer, because we are all saved by His grace and stand justified in Him.
Let me attempt to illustrate what I mean in this way. Suppose that we are all actors in a play. In this play there are many characters, but among them there is a hero and a villain. The actor who is given the role of the villain is not any less a person in his standing because of his role than the one who plays the hero is a better person for doing so. We must distinguish between what we are as a person in Christ and what role we are to portray about Christ and His church. We are all given a role to play, but a subordinate role does not imply an inferior relationship to Christ.
If someone were to protest that the role they have been given to play is beneath them, I would first remind you that we are not worthy of any role. We were, as sinners, worthy only of Christ’s eternal wrath. Any role is a privilege. And, further, let me remind you that in order to achieve our salvation at Calvary, Jesus took on a role which was beneath Him. Finally, I would say to you that the values assigned to our roles by our culture are opposite to those assigned by God. Do you think it demeaning to hold a position of service? Our Lord has taught us that to be the greatest is to serve, and not to be served (Matthew 20:20-28). Why, then, should we agonize about any role which God has graciously given to us?
I must ask one final question of you, my friend. Have you received the salvation which this text calls on Christians to symbolize by their relationship as husbands and wives? Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior? As a man seeks out the woman whom he loves and woes her to himself, so Jesus Christ seeks those who will become a part of His bride, the church. He came to the earth, lived a sinless life, manifested God to a sinful world, and then died on the cross of Calvary, bearing the punishment which we deserve for our sins. By trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection, we may become one with Christ, a part of His church. Just as a man proposes to the woman of his choice, so God has proposed to you through the gospel. As a woman must accept the proposal of her husband to be, so you must accept God’s offer of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. There is no value in seeking to demonstrate the symbolism of the gospel until you have first received of its substance—Christ Himself. I urge you to trust in Him for your salvation.
128 This expression, “summing up” is a rendering of the verb form of the same term which, in its noun form, means “head.” Thus, the Berkeley Version renders the verse this way: “In keeping with His kind intent as He personally planned for the arrangement by which the times should reach maturity, and everything in heaven and on earth should come to a head in Christ.”
133 Greeting one another with a holy kiss may be an example. In our culture, we may be able to convey love and care for one another by a handshake, or a hug, if a “kiss” has the appearance of evil in our culture. But the symbolic gesture we set aside should be replaced by another, one that does convey the reality which it is indented to symbolize. Such adaptations should be carefully and prayerfully done, and they will likely be few and far between.