There is no escape clause.
I repeat, the Bible doesn’t give us an escape clause. Scripture roots our marital relationships in something so rock solid and never changing that there isn’t even a millimeter of wiggle room: we are to relate to each other “out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21)
So later, when Paul says men should love their wives (v. 25), he’s saying this is an obligation, not a favor. Love doesn’t have to be earned. Our wives don’t have to “deserve” it. A Christian husband doesn’t love his wife only when she is lovable. He loves love her whenever Christ deserves to be reverenced which, of course, is always.
Women, Paul is just as bold with you: “the wife must respect her husband.” (v. 33) Did you catch that little word, “must”? Not even should, but must. Your response to your husband is to be based on Christ and the church (vv. 22-33), not your husband’s character.
Which is why early church father John Chrysostom cuts through all our objections when he writes, “Do your duty! A wife should respect her husband even when he shows her no love, and a husband should love his wife even when she shows him no respect.”
I find it most helpful simply to resolve that this is just the way it is. No argument. No rationalizing. No searching for a one-time exclusion or pardon.
If I call myself a Christian, I have certain marital obligations that no woman—not even my wife—can discharge me from. I am to love my wife not as she deserves, necessarily, but as Christ loves the church. (v.25) Women, you are to submit to your husbands not on the basis of their being pleasant and kind, but “as the church submits to Christ.” (v. 24)
We do our duty, therefore, because marriage isn’t primarily about us, but about Christ and the church. It’s a picture of the Gospel before it is a vehicle of happiness. It’s a prophetic call and duty before it is a playground of romanticism. It’s a serious business, not a sentimental act of whimsy.
This doesn’t squeeze the romance or enjoyment out of marriage; on the contrary, it preserves it.
It lifts us above our petty fallenness and sinful natures and places the success of our marriage on the perfection of Jesus rather than on our spouse’s performance. Marriages based on superficial commitments like a person’s behavior are doomed to rise or fall with a spouse’s mood and momentary decisions. Marriages based on the eternal relationship of Christ and the church will share the same delight and joy that the latter have for each other (which, by the way, is deliciously intense).
In this sense, ironically enough, the call to “do your duty” isn’t just a call to holiness, it’s a call to true happiness.
What are some of the ways that God is calling you to just “do your duty” in marriage?
[photo: Creative Commons, Lisa Ann Rogers]