An Apostolic Theology for the Family - February 2020

By David K. Bernard     The family is based on marriage between one man and one woman who make a lifelong commitment. We see God’s plan for marriage in the creation account before the intrusion of sin. God created a man and then a woman as his helper, “an help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18). The word meet here is not a noun but an adjective meaning “suitable” (NIV) or “comparable” (NKJV). Unlike the animals, the woman is a partner comparable to and suitable for the man, and vice versa. 

Marriage involves a public “leaving” from one’s birth family, a public “cleaving” or commitment to join together, and a lifelong union of becoming “one flesh” physically, emotionally, and spiritually. (See Genesis 2:24.) The husband should love his wife sacrificially, lead his family spiritually, and support them materially; while the wife should respect his leadership and work alongside him (Ephesians 5:22–33). They submit to one another in forming a godly marriage and family (Ephesians 5:21). Each has authority to fulfill their respective responsibilities; each helps the other. Men and women have different identities and roles, but they have equal value, respect, and spiritual status (I Corinthians 11:11–16). Marriage is a coequal partnership before God; husband and wife are “heirs together of the grace of life” (I Peter 3:7). They are partners socially, economically, and physically as well as spiritually, forming one family unit for mutual benefit. (See Proverbs 31:10–31; I Corinthians 7:3–5.)

The introduction of sin distorted human relationships, so that struggle in this area is part of the curse of sin. After Adam and Eve sinned, God told Eve, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16). Sin puts pressure on personal and family relationships. God designed marriage as a union of equals, but the fall of the human race brought disharmony, rivalry, and inequality of power. In Christ, we seek to restore the wholesome relationship that God intended and to create a home in which we can raise and nurture godly children.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul provided practical instructions for Christian families in Ephesians 5:21–33, as we read in a modern idiomatic rendition from the New Living Translation:

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

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.

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body.

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

 

From this passage we glean several important principles. First, husband and wife are to submit to each other. They should love and respect one another and give themselves for one another. Second, their roles are of equal value and status but different. The husband should be the spiritual leader of the home and give himself sacrificially to protect and provide for his family. The wife should follow his spiritual leadership as he follows Christ and work together with him. Third, father and mother should work together in nurturing and training their children. (See Ephesians 6:1–4.). Fourth, there is no justification for verbal or physical abuse or other forms of mistreatment by anyone. (See also Colossians 3:18–21; Titus 2:1–6; I Peter 3:1–8.)

The foundation of a biblical marriage and family is the loving partnership of husband and wife in submission to God. When facing major, life-changing decisions, both husband and wife should seek God for direction. While the husband should take responsibility for these decisions, both should pray and seek agreement. Each should respect the other, value the other’s opinions and decisions, and be sensitive to the other. To give these actions a theological context, Paul grounded them in the relationship of Christ and the church.