Now I Understand Why My Marriage is Different
Christian marriage is a union of two people before God and man; it includes a promise to be faithful, and to love and cherish each other for the rest of your lives. Those are the facts that most of us can agree upon. Yet beyond that, there are many aspects of marriage that have the church divided in opinions.
Some people believe marriage is eternal, lasting beyond our earthly lives, while others believe there is no marriage in Heaven. There is also disagreement about divorce, and when it might be acceptable to God, if ever. And of course, there is the huge debate, with most Christians on one side of it, about whether same-sex marriages are accepted by God.
Understanding Biblical roles in marriage is a challenge for some, which can really affect most of our daily lives. What does God ask of us as a husband or wife?
There are two camps with different opinions on this: complementarians and egalitarians. Most people are probably familiar with the concept of the husband being the leader in a Biblical marriage. This is complementarian. Traditionally, churches teach this view, in which husbands and wives each hold different roles in a marriage. These roles are equally valuable and important, but they are not the same.
Complementarian roles are supported by Bible verses such as Ephesians 5:22-24, which says: “For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.”
In a complementarian marriage, the husband is seen as the leader while the wife is called to be submissive. Importantly, this type of marriage should not be oppressive to the wife, because in many other Bible verses, husbands are commanded to love their wives selflessly. Any misuse of this view which allows abuse or disrespect towards women is not Biblically supported. Love and respect are the key components.
But there is also another approach to Biblical marriage, called egalitarianism, which basically means equality. In an egalitarian marriage, roles are not defined based on gender, and the individuals in this type of marriage work more as a collaborative team. Decisions are made together, and disagreements are resolved by discussion rather than defaulting to the husband’s authority. Mutual submission and respect, based on love, are the key components here.
The egalitarian view is often criticized as being ignorant of scripture. Yet Biblical egalitarians, like myself, do not choose to believe this by ignoring scripture. I base my views in every area of life upon my best understanding of the Bible and God’s character.
Verses such as Galatians 3:28 support the idea that gender roles are no longer necessary when we are new creations in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
I do not disregard the verses which might point towards a complementarian model for marriage, though. I simply view them with the understanding that translation, context, and interpretation of the Bible can lead to very different understandings of issues like this. I find different lessons in these verses, which are just as valuable and applicable to my life.
And so, in the same spirit as I am a “rainbow fish,” I also believe in egalitarian marriage. Coincidentally, egalitarianism is the only view that makes sense in same-sex marriages. I see the big picture of God’s message as being one of love, freedom, and a call to willing selflessness for everyone, no matter what their gender may be.
Both complementarian and egalitarian marriages can be beautiful, loving, healthy, and strong. And I emphasize again that both can be supported convincingly by passages in the Bible. I would not criticize a healthy and happy Christian marriage as being “wrong” for following a complementarian approach. For some marriages, the man may be a natural leader and the woman may be naturally submissive, and as long as the marriage is strong in love and mutual respect, I see no issue with that.
But for other marriages, like mine, these roles are not what feels right or works best. I was always confused and uncomfortable with teachings about traditional gender roles in marriage, until I finally discovered that there are egalitarian Christians in the world. I used to worry that we were going against God’s best plans for us by working as a team, or even by my leading our decisions at times, rather than following a traditional “male leadership” model. Now I have peace knowing that my marriage is Godly, strong, and healthy just the way it is. As long as we are growing in love and maturity, and striving to serve each other rather than ourselves, I know that we will continue to thrive.
If marriage is a puzzle in which two individuals pieces come together make a whole, I believe that every puzzle looks a little bit different. Some marriages are made up of two differently shaped pieces, or even differently sized. Other marriages are made up of two very similarly shaped and sized pieces. Neither is necessarily right or wrong, so long as the pieces fit together. The most important thing is that the two are united into one. Marriage is all about unity in Christ. However your puzzle pieces fit together, you can have peace knowing that God designed you that way.
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