Desiring God, 8: Marriage


For discussion of marriage and the Christian hedonist, Piper turns primarily to Ephesians 5:25-30.

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Piper again presents Christian Hedonism as the Christian truly seeking his or her best: “The reason there is so much misery in marriage is not  that husbands and wives seek their own pleasure, but that they do not seek it in the pleasure of their spouses.” (205) It is in our own best interest to love our spouse as we ought. One might argue that this seems selfish. Piper answers that self-interest is not the same thing as selfishness. Selfishness pursues its own pleasure at the expense of others; love pursues its own pleasure in the joy of the other. Quotes from various philosophers remind us that people cannot help but seek happiness.

 Jesus demonstrated this Christian-Hedonistic love. When Paul says, “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies,” he is probably actually paraphrasing Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Further, Christ pursued his own joy in his bride, the Church. For a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the Church means to seek his joy in his wife’s own joy.

Verse thirty-one refers us back to Genesis two. Adam was alone but  God had created him to share. After naming all the animals, Adam was lonely. Therefore God made a companion with whom Adam could share. Eve as different than all the other created beings. They were animals. She was human; she was taken from Adam’s own flesh. Adam received her with joy and promptly declared that a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. Thus, God’s introduction to marriage teaches that a man should leave father and mother and enjoy becoming one with his female companion.

 Forward in Ephesians we find that there is more packaged into this event than meets the eye. Paul calls it a “mystery.” The mystery of marriage is that it was created on the pattern of Christ and the Church. Bromily said, “As God made man in his own image, so he made marriage in the image of his own eternal marriage with his people.” (213). We should be careful to pattern our marriages after Christ and the Church because that is how God designed marriage.

This means that the wife should take her cues from the Church’s submission to Christ. Ephesians 5:22-24 tell us that the wife should submit to her husband’s headship like the Church submits to Christ’s headship. This leads to discussion of the meaning of kephale (head). Piper believes that headship indicates supremacy. He rejects the notion that head connotes “source” but quickly sketches how even the idea of source could be compatible with headship as supremacy.

The husband should take his cues from Christ’s submission to the church. Christ is a servant leader. Husbands need to serve their wives. But they also need to lead. The responsibility for spiritual leadership in the home rests more on the man than on the woman. The Fall left us with a twisted version of headship. Some men dominate while others are lazy. A man’s place is beside his children’s bed, leading them in prayer. His place is seeking God early in the morning for his family.

If the husband is to lead while the wife submits, then what does proper submission look like? It does not mean “dumb silence” (218). It does mean addressing him with a spirit of meekness. It does not require the wife to violate her conscience but she should support him as much as she can in good conscience. She will provide spiritual leadership where possible without being insubordinate. As with headship, so with submission: the Fall has gifted us a twisted version. Some women manipulate with others are (again this word) insubordinate.

To summarize: God created a pattern for marital love. The husband is to lead and the wife is to support the husband’s leadership. Headship and submission existed before the Fall. The Fall left us with a twisted version of this relationship. Redemptive relationships don’t remove headship and submission. Instead, they reclaim God’s pattern. Husbands ought to redemptively model Christ while their wives model the Church in their relationships.

My Reaction

I appreciate the stress on loving our spouse as we love ourselves and seeking our joy in the spouse’s joy. This precludes one partner selfishly spending time and money on himself/herself while the other partner suffers as a result. It also precludes abusing one’s spouse.

However, I have some questions.

1) Why, if the pattern of the Church’s submission to Christ is so clear, doesn’t Piper demonstrate it under the heading, “The Wife Takes Her Special Cues from the Church?” That section is instead spent discussing kephale, “head.” Here Piper contends that headship must mean supremacy. From this conclusion he draws some application as to how a wife is to submit. What I am missing here is any explanation that fulfills the section heading – any examples that directly correlate the wife’s behavior to the Church’s.

2) Does kephale mean “lord,” “source,” or something else? I remain open on this one. I have seen it argued both ways at length and would like to follow up and settle my opinion. I just haven’t done it yet. I wish Piper would survey some of the reasoning for taking it as source. He only states that even if you take kephale to mean source, you will see that the head is the source of nourishment (the mouth is in the head), guidance (the eyes are in the head), and alertness (the ears are in the head). I am not sure this is sufficient proof for his claim that even if you take head to mean source the most natural explanation of kephale remains that the husband is the leader and the wife is the follower.  

3) Which one is the mystery: marriage or the Church? I believe this is a definitive question for how you apply the passage. Piper’s understanding of God’s pattern for both marriage and the Church is built upon marriage being the mystery. However, it seems to me that verses 32 and 33 point to Christ and the Church containing the mystery, with marriage serving as an analogy.

4) Is it true that headship and submission existed before the Fall? This is also a defining question. Those who use a redemptive hermeneutic (per Webb) to arrive at egalitarianism seem to believe that Adam and Eve enjoyed an egalitarian relationship, with headship and submission coming only as a result of the Fall. Piper finds Adam and Eve enjoying a mutually beneficial relationship with God-given headship and submission before the Fall, and suffering with a twisted version after. How you understand the origin of headship and submission dictates how you understand a redemptive application of it today. Do you work to reverse the Fall by removing them, or do you work to reverse the Fall by recovering them as God intended?

5) What about abusive situations? Piper makes a few comments that indicate that he doesn’t feel that a wife should be a doormat. However, he does not spend much time on how submission should look in an abusive relationship.

6) What should I call my position? For that matter, what IS my position? I am uncomfortable with egalitarianism because I think it has to work too hard to get around some of the implications of the obvious gender differences that God created. However, I am similarly uncomfortable with hard-complementarianism that can be indifferent to the plight of women who too easily dismissed, patronized, and objectified under the pretense of God-given gender roles.  I come down somewhere to the soft-complementarianism side of center. I need to invent a cool name for it – something that will top Michael Kruse’s “non-hierarchical complementarianism” 🙂

I do believe we ought to work hard to redeem God-given relationships in marriage. I think the evidence for headship and submission before the Fall is thin. As far as I know, most people expect all humans to be level before God in heaven. However, I remain unconvinced that all of the submission passages in various epistles by various authors are entirely explained away by having been written to the Greco-Roman culture. When I read those verses I always get an impression that the man has some extra responsibility in the area of leadership and the wife has some extra responsibility in trusting God and supporting her husband. Therefore, I presently see a need for some structure in a marriage but believe that a redemptive marriage will operate as closely to egalitarian as possible. I think that is the natural conclusion of arc drawn from Eden to Heaven, with “no Greek, Jew, Slave, Free, Male, or Female” in between.

At present, I am equally uncomfortable with women pastors on one hand and the notion that all women in the church must submit to all men on the other. I cringe at marriages where either the husband or the wife is disrespectful of the other, or where one spouse pushes his or her way at the expense of the other.

Here is a link that discusses Complementarity without hierarchy: 

Here is a link to the Council for Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:

And here is egalitarianism:


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