Nathan and Elli

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We live in egalitarian times, which means that there is a culture-wide antipathy toward any kind of authority. We are more deferential than we ought to be when it comes to raw power, or to grotesque manipulation, but we chafe at the very idea of authority. We don’t mind being played, but we do mind having to obey.

Some of this is understandable because of how authority has been abused in centuries past, but the difficulty remains—God has created the world in such a way as to make authority inescapable, and if we read the Scriptures carefully, we discover that He has placed authority everywhere. The Bible is not an egalitarian book, much to the dismay of those who want to continue to respect the Scriptures in name while at the same time going along with the spirit of the age. But the Bible presents us with a hierarchical world—parents over children, rulers over citizens, elders over congregants, and husbands over wives. These relationships, which certainly entail authority, are not the result of the fall, but are woven into the very fabric of the creation.

But the fall must still be reckoned with. Because of the entrance of sin into the world, Scripture gives us many warnings about the possible abuses of authority. And because we are so clearly taught the doctrines of headship and submission with regard to marriage, we have to take special care to heed the warnings in this regard that Scripture gives to us.

For example, Peter tells elders in the church not to “lord it over” the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4). And Jesus tells His disciples that the Gentile princes “exercise dominion” and wield great power over their subjects, but it is not to be that way with the apostles (Matt. 20:25-27). They are to wield authority through service. And husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5), which is to say, self-sacrificially to the point of death. Authority in marriage is nothing other than a license to die. And in a certain place Paul comments on the authority that he was given as an apostle—but it was authority to build up, not to tear down (2 Cor. 10:8).

And so there it is. Biblical authority, rightly received and rightly exercised, is an authority that is constructive. It builds up, and does not destroy. It does not tear down. It is exercised on behalf of others, and provides them with the space in which to flourish and grow. So what a husband’s true authority does is provide the kind of structure and environment in which a wife can step up into her full potential as a woman of God. Submission on her part should be understood as her understanding this truth, and obediently taking full advantage of it.

A husband’s authority is to be hard, but there is a difference between being hard for others and being hard on others. There is a difference between a hard wall that shelters you from the wind and a hard wall that collapses and falls over on you.

All of this is to say that God’s design works. Being God’s design in a rebellious world means that it is going to be called many names, and will be misrepresented, but still, at the end of the day, it works. Contentment is a deep satisfaction in the will of God, and this does not just include His providential will. It includes His revealed will, meaning the ways in which He instructed us to live. Men and women are so completely different that absolutely must have written instructions. And not only must we have them, but we must also read them, and then follow them. Living in God’s way means that you will be living under God’s blessing. This explains why liberated men and women are so miserable, and those who accept the revealed will of God for marriage are so deeply satisfied.

Nathan, I want to deliver this charge to you. The charge is to “be good,” but because we live in a world that is not flat, you must prioritize and structure the ways in which you are to be good. As you begin your life together with Elli, you must first be a good Christian. Worship God. Read your Bible. Pray consistently. After that, you may turn in order to focus on being a good husband. Give yourself away. Lay your life down. Work like it all depends upon you, and pray like it all depends upon God. Incidentally, praying that way is the only way you can work that way. And last, be a good friend to Elli. I place this last for a reason. Too many modern couples try to make friendship with one another the foundation, and it is nothing of the kind. Our union in Christ is the poured foundation, our assigned duties in marriage are the walls and roof, and friendship is a throw cushion in the living room.  

Elli, follow Nathan’s lead. You are both in this together, and the full participation of both of you is essential. At the same time, this dance was choreographed by God Himself, and the dance won’t work at all unless Nathan leads and you follow. This is every bit as challenging as the role he has, and never accept the lie that it is a bit part. Remember the old adage about how Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in heels. So this marriage you are entering today is a ballroom dance, and not a two-person line dance. Always look to your husband. Follow his lead, as he follows Christ.    

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.