Most people who have seen the movie The Princess Bride simply cannot forget the scene where the impressive clergyman begins the rushed wedding between Buttercup and Prince Humperdink. If you have never experienced such delights you can grab the scene here. Marriage itself however, is not just a goofy matter in life. It is perhaps the source of humanities deepest delights and most profound relational struggles. It truly is a realm of both joy and pain, sunshine and rain.1

In this essay we will have some overly ambitious goals. First, we will endeavor to define marriage biblically. Second, we will look at the teaching about the roles and responses of men and women in marriage as seen in Ephesians 5. Finally, we discuss our struggle as men and women to follow God in his designs for marriage before making a hopeful conclusion. We have but a small space here for our discourse, so we must get right to work.

What is Marriage?

Marriage finds its beginnings with the first man and woman in the book of beginnings in the sacred Scriptures. After the creation of the human beings, male and female in his image and likeness, God gives a second detailed accounting of how he joins the first two people together. God brings the animals to Adam (which is simply Hebrew for “man”) and he is giving them all names. As much as dogs are a man’s best friend there was not a helper suitable for him. The man realized that none of these creatures were like him and certainly did not complete him. The Scriptures then teach that out of the man God fashions or forms a woman as a helper suitable to him. This creature is presented to Adam naked and he did not ask her to put on flannel pajamas. The man and woman were indeed made for one another in every way so at this point in the story we read the following description of marriage:

 24Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24 (ESV)

Marriage is described as a man leaving, then cleaving to his wife and then weaving their bodies together in intimacy. The symbolism is clear. A man must grow up and step away from Mommy and Daddy. He forms a new family with his wife and the union is consummated by the self-giving of one another’s bodies in the act of marriage. The formation of a new family through the union man and woman is also foundational in the bringing of new human beings in the world. It is also the best context to teach and raise them.

Interestingly Genesis 2:24 is repeated by Jesus in the gospels and stresses the permanence of this relationship on the earth (Matthew 19:4-6). Finally, it is cited once again by Paul the apostle in Ephesians 5:31.

Marriage is a Covenant

In our world there are many opinions about what marriage is and how it should function in society. The most prominent views in western culture is that marriage is either about a couple’s romance, their social contract for societies good or an institution that is all together outdated. Scripture however presents marriage as a covenant, something much deeper than mere love or social utility. Let’s look quickly at these differing views.

Marriage as Coupling

Many today have a fun, warm fuzzy view of marriage. It is about amore, true love taking place on a balcony covered with roses. Anyone who has been married more than a few months knows something else must enter the equation for marriage to have more meaning and staying power than mere “love.” What happens many times to couples marrying for emotions or youthful lust is that divorce quickly follows when we “fall out of love.” There are even new inventive marriage vows that reflect this sort of thing where couples promise on their wedding day to be married “as long as love lasts” or “as long as our marriage serves the greater good” Let’s just say that romantic love is a gift from God; it is a good thing. Yet it is not the only thing and it certainly is not the tie that binds us together. It is a wonderful product of a good relationship but not the sum total of marriage.

Marriage as Contract

Another view today is that marriage is simply a legal agreement between two people that affords certain mutual benefits upon couples. Health care rights, rights of survivor-ship, financial dealings, the ownership of goods and the custody and raising of children are defined by this thing called marriage. These things have been associated with marriage but they are certainly not what marriage is. Couples who have long lost that loving feeling may remain arranged in marriage for contractual reasons. It is better for the kids or it is better for the bottom line.

In a culture which tends to disparage marriage, people can look at this social arrangement as nothing more than a piece of paper. Movies such as “He’s Just Not That Into You” proclaim this view boldly. The romantic coupler says “our love is more than a piece of paper” and the “contractual negotiator” seeks to have sharing agreements without going through with marriage. Selfish men particularly like these sorts of arrangements because they get all they want from women without having any sort of real commitment. Women for some reason, maybe because they like men more than cats, play along with this “we have more than a piece of paper” shtick.

Marriage as Covenant

Though marriage certainly involves love, even romantic love, it is more than this. Though marriage certainly involves certain social and legal arrangements, it is more than this. Marriage at its essence is a covenant, a promise of two people to one another before God. New Testament scholar Andreas Köstenberger defines the covenantal view of marriage as follows:

Marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman instituted by and publically entered into before God (whether or not this is acknowledge by the married couple), normally consummated by sexual intercourse. 2

Scripture presents a challenging yet beautiful view of marriage. Men and women are each equal in value and standing before God. No one sex is superior or inferior but equally made in the image of God. Further, men and women are not the same in how God made us. We are designed as compliments to one another, have different roles in marriage designed with potential harmony in mind and not a battle of the sexes. Marriage also is designed to shape and mold our lives, bring us to confess and repent of sin and become more like Jesus together.

Furthermore, marriage is actually more about God and his purposes than it is about us. God in his kindness has chosen to bless human beings with marriage for their good and as a reflection of his faithful covenant love for his people. This is seen most clearly in the New Testament letter to the Ephesians. In this teaching we find both a blueprint for living our marriage covenants and God’s ultimate mysterious purpose for creating human beings to bond in this way.

Ephesians 5:22-33

Instruction for Wives

Paul’s instruction to wives is that they submit to and order their lives under the leadership of their husbands. The verb submit in Ephesians five is actually in the middle voice, indicating the wife’s voluntary choice to be on her husband’s team. She is called to this by God, not commanded to do so by her husband. Submission should never be the demand of a man but rather a response of a wife to the design and plan of God for marriage. Furthermore, Scripture does not teach that all women submit to men. This is only for her husbands so let me encourage the young women like I am already teaching my own daughters. If a man is not the type of person you want to follow, don’t marry the fool. What sort of man then should the Christian woman seek—one that is committed to Jesus and walking in his way. Which leads to the exhortation for husbands.

Instruction for Husbands

Husbands are called to love their wives. Yet not just any sort of definition of “love.” Rather, husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loves the church. This means that a husband should lead his wife not as a lord of the manor but as a sacrificial servant. Leadership in marriage should be in the way of Jesus not in the way of the world. Jesus described this sort of leadership to his followers in this way:

25But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,27and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,28even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28 (ESV)

His own example was to put a towel around his waist and wash the feet of his disciples (see John 13). Husbands should follow his lead with their wives. Just for the guys, I wrote a little bit on how I seek to love my own wife here on the blog. Take it for what it is worth.

Our Struggles

The teaching of Scripture is clear but this does not mean that our hearts willfully submit to God and his designs for our marriages. In fact, our sinful nature struggles deeply to follow this teaching. Men and women both wrestle with submission and service. Both our struggles flow from our desire to be self-focused, self-guided, individuals rather than one flesh in covenant with God. The following charts illustrate for both wives and husbands the uniqueness of being a husband or a wife and the struggles with sin we face as we seek to be faithful to God’s designs and purposes for our marriages.


Calling by God

Out of reverence for Christ follow him by respecting your husbands (Ephesians 5:21, 33)

Role we live

Helper (Genesis 2:18)

Response to our Spouse 

Submission (Ephesians 5:22-24)

Temptation and Sin

  • Belittling your husband, disrespecting him, nagging, being overly critical and beating him down
  • Being passive and not being helpful by using your gifts, passions and leadership in the family


Calling by God

Out of reverence for Christ follow him by loving your wives (Ephesians 5:21, 25-30)

Role we live

Servant Leader (Ephesians 5:23, 25)

Response to our Spouse 

Praise (Proverbs 31, particularly verse 28)

Temptation and Sin

  • Being a tyrant with your wife. Being heavy handed and an authoritarian who abuses his leadership role
  • Being passive and absent from your leadership role. Abdicating your responsibility.
  • Frustrating your wife with your lack of action, planning, prayer and leadership

God’s vision for marriage is designed to deeply bless us. If we trust him with our lives and follow his Word, marriage can be a resounding joy to our lives. Living life apart from his Word can make marriage a massive mess. Furthermore, God is mysteriously displaying his gracious love as is shown in Ephesians 5:31-33.

31Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

As we live in marriage, we may experience the love of a husband or the respect of a wife and by doing so LIFE will illustrate DOCTRINE. Faithful covenant love is seen in and through a relationship on the earth. It is a great and gracious vision for our lives.


  1. Cheesy use of the lyrics of Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, “Joy and Pain”, It Takes Two, Profile Records, 1988.
  2. Andreas J. Köstenberger and David W. Jones, God, Marriage and Family—Rebuilding the Biblical Foundations (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004) 85.