Life doesn’t come with a manual, and neither does marriage. Whether we’re making difficult decisions, entering new seasons, or dealing with unexpected changes, most of us married folks are just figuring it out as we go.
Doing life with your spouse can be tricky, especially in a culture that places unnecessary and unbiblical burdens on women. Thankfully, we can look to Scripture for tips on what a healthy, equal partnership Christian marriage looks like. Here are three reminders for egalitarian couples that have been extremely helpful to me on my own marriage journey.
1. Submit to Christ
Many Christians quote Ephesians 5:22-23 out of context, focusing only on the command for wives to submit to their husbands. First of all, this passage is already radical because it speaks directly to women, something ancient authors did not often do. Second, it’s crucially important to note that, before Paul even addresses women, he says “submit to each other out of respect for Christ” (emphasis mine).
During this time and for much of history, women did not have many legal rights. No one, not even their husbands, submitted to women. This makes Paul’s opening guideline even more subversive. Imagine what it would’ve been like for a first century couple to hear Paul’s instruction to mutually submit to each other!
Paul begins what are commonly called the “household codes” with a broad instruction to the entire church, grounded on the need for unity in the body of Christ. Every command that follows rests on that Ephesians 5:21 foundation—mutual submission out of respect for Christ. This opening verse does not address just husband/wife relationships, but rather speaks to every relationship. All persons—whether single or married—submit to Christ first and one another second. Imagine if all relationships, including marriage, were built on the bedrock of Ephesians 5:21!
Do both you and your spouse seek to mutually emulate Christ’s humility, gentleness, and respect? Do you submit to Christ first and then to each other?
2. Lead from Individual Strengths
The Spirit’s gifts are not gender-specific. Rather, the Holy Spirit has gifted members of the church with what they need to meet the ministry and missional needs of the body, and for the purpose of building one another up.
Paul includes both men and women when speaking of the Spirit’s gifts in Romans 12. He claims that some people will serve; some will teach; some will encourage; some will give; others will lead; and even others will show mercy. These gifts are distributed according to God’s will and by the Spirit—to both men and women.
In the gifts we are given, we also find our strengths and often, our passions. My husband and I have different strengths when it comes to relating to people and navigating problems. When we need to make decisions, we discern together what the best course of action should be. In some instances, it’s apparent that my husband’s gifts, strengths and leadership will be most helpful, and in others, mine are better suited.
Do both you and your spouse make space for one another’s Spirit-given strengths? Do you allow each other to lead where you’re called? Do you encourage and build each other up in your individual gifts?
3. Trust Your Spouse
This may seem obvious at first. But I’m not just talking about trusting your spouse to be faithful. In the famous “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, we read that not only is love patient and kind, but it doesn’t insist on its own way.
As previously mentioned, the Holy Spirit empowers different people with different gifts. When it comes to your husband or wife, more than just trusting their gifts, do you trust that the Holy Spirit is also working in them? Sometimes, this looks like “not insisting on our own way,” but trusting that “their way” in a particular situation may be God’s way.
My husband and I own a business together. Recently, someone approached us to propose a business partnership. My husband immediately thought: “This is great!” I, on the other hand, felt uneasy about it.
After praying together and discussing the situation, my husband admitted that, while he was excited at first, he trusted my prayerful discernment and caution. Together, we decided to follow my lead—believing it to be where God was also leading.
As married egalitarians, both husbands and wives stand on equal footing. God not only strengthens and gifts us equally, but he also speaks to us equally.
When we aren’t sure how to deal with an issue or a problem in our marriage, we can start by asking three questions:
1. Are we submitting in all things to Christ and then to each other?
2. Are we using our individual gifts well while also allowing our spouse to lead?
3. Are we trusting that God is leading through the instincts and insights of our spouse?