Ever notice how all Scripture readings at weddings seem to sound the same–like the Bible has a very small marriage playbook?
In January I want to talk about how to put the “Christ” back in “Christian marriage advice”, and how to focus on Jesus again. And it reminded me of the difficulty that we had trying to choose Scripture readings for Rebecca and Connor’s wedding.
We googled “Bible readings for weddings”. And all the typical ones showed up: 1 Corinthians 13:1-8; 1 John 4:16-19 (about how God is love, even though the passage has nothing to do with marriage); Ecclesiastes 4:12 (a cord of three strands is not easily broken).
It seems that only certain passages are deemed worthy of a wedding. But in reading many of them I didn’t even think they fit a wedding all that well. So we chose different ones instead:
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
We thought those were beautiful for a wedding–and for a marriage! In fact, I’ve been praying that passage from Romans over my own marriage ever since, because I think it’s so wonderful.
But it occurs to me that we do something similar when it comes to marriage advice.
If a marriage problem pops up, we immediately pull out “the marriage passages” of Scripture, and often leave it at that.
The Bible’s Marriage Passages
Ephesians 5:22-33: wives submit to your husbands and respect them; husbands love your wives.
Proverbs 31: Be a virtuous woman!
1 Corinthians 7: Don’t divorce and be generous sexually with your spouse.
1 Peter 3:1-7: Wives, obey your husbands and “win them without words”.
And maybe we’ll throw in 1 Corinthians 13 (about what love is) or Genesis 2 and 3 (about the creation story and the fall, too).
It’s as if God wrote this massive book sharing His heart with His people, and yet we’re only supposed to search out those few verses when it comes to marriage.
Don’t get me wrong–these passages are wonderful and give lots of wisdom and direction for our relationships. Bu they are not the WHOLE picture. When we look at those passages in isolation, we often distort them and, I believe, interpret them wrong. Context matters, and you can only interpret Scripture by looking at the rest of Scripture.
God uses marriage as the analogy of how He feels about His people. And so don’t we think that the REST of the Bible may also have important things to say about marriage–important things about this very messy relationship which can’t always be summarized in pithy sayings or stitched on a pillow? We need to get away from “pat answers” about marriage.
And what’s a pat answer?
A pat answer is a suggested solution to a problem which DOES work–in some situations. But it’s presented as if it’s the answer to every situation, even though quite often it doesn’t fit at all.
Pat answers in the Christian life make two kinds of errors:
Either they make a big problem seem small (by minimizing the severity of the problem and suggesting a solution that won’t solve it at all), or they make a small problem much bigger by giving advice that sends a woman in a completely wrong direction.
An example of the making a big problem small: “just have sex more and then he won’t watch porn!”
An example of making a small problem big: “God is close to the broken-hearted, so if you’re sad, just pray more!”
The first won’t work because it misunderstands the problem.
The second won’t work because it misunderstands God and what God wants from us.
And we aren’t going to grow in our marriages until we start thinking differently–getting rid of these pat answers, many of which we’ve heard our whole lives in church and in Christian culture–and getting back to what God wants for us.
And that’s quite simple: He wants us all chasing after Jesus and looking more like Him everyday.
Jesus didn’t live by simple formula. He lived His life always seeking out to do God’s will, and as He did that, He found great joy and brought joy to those around Him. His aim was always the same–to bring people closer to God–but His actions varied with circumstances. And that’s how we should live, too.
You may also enjoy:
- On Debi Pearl and Created To Be His Helpmeet (how her view of submission has the wrong aim)
A few years ago a reader, Kim M., left a comment on this blog about how we need to consider all of Scripture, even for marriage, and allow the rest of Scripture to help us inform our interpretation of verses. She used as an example 1 Peter 3:7, where Peter told the wife of an unbelieving husband to “win him without words.” Here’s what she said:
Some religious groups use “win without words (1 Pe 3:1)” to silence wives married to unbelieving and/or disobedient husbands in ways that the Bible never intended.
ALL Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). Last time I checked, ALL wasn’t limited or confined to just the verses that Paul and Peter wrote about women and wives.
The Bible tells us that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: (Ec 3:1) a time to be silent AND a time to speak (v. 7B).”
Being silent (without words) and speaking up are both Biblical and purposeful. It’s important that the wife of an unbelieving and/or rebellious, disobedient husband understand the purpose and benefits of both methods: silence (without words) and speaking up.
What the Bible says about being silent:
A wife who knows when and how to restrain her words has knowledge. “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge.” Pr 17:27A
A wife who controls her mouth can protect her own life, but the wife who has a big mouth could ruin everything. “Whoever controls his mouth protects his own life. Whoever has a big mouth comes to ruin.” Pr 13:3
Watching her tongue and keeping her mouth shut could help a wife stay out of trouble. “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.” Pr 21:23
What the Bible says about speaking up:
A wife can protect herself by speaking wise words. “What a fool says brings a rod to his back, but the words of the wise protect them.” Pr 14:3
A wise wife can bring healing by speaking up. “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Pr 12:18 “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Pr 16:24
A wife can deflect anger by giving her husband a gentle answer. “A gentle answer deflects anger…” Pr 15:1
When a wife gives her husband an honest answer, metaphorically, it’s like kissing her husband on the lips. “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” Pr 24:26
Pr 31:10 tells us that a wife of noble character “opens her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” Therefore, one of the primary functions of a wise wife is speaking (opening her mouth) with wisdom.
When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. FOR IF YOU REMAIN SILENT AT THIS TIME, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Es 4:12-14
Those who have read the book of Esther know that she didn’t remain silent (without words). She spoke to her husband about what was going on. As a result, Esther helped save the Jews from annihilation.
Some religious groups quote 1 Pe 3:1 (without words) disproportionately. Being silent (without words) is Biblical, and it can beneficial. However, the win without words response is NOT the only Biblical or beneficial response. The Bible also has a lot to say and illustrate about the value of speaking up in a timely, wise and gentle manner.
Another woman left this comment about how “pat answers” about marriage have affected her, when well-meaning Christians assume that they can just pull out those marriage verses and they’ll apply on their own to whatever she’s going through:
There is wise and relevant advice for mostly normal and relatively healthy married couples. Then there is wise and relevant advice for neglectful, abusive, destructive, or addiction bound marriages.
THE ADVICE IS NOT THE SAME.
Women who have married good men who listen to them, show them affection, and work hard to support their families think they can look at other women (in marriages absolutely nothing like that) and say things like, “Encourage encourage encourage, just pray more! Step back so he can lead.”
Women whose husbands are faithful and not addicted to porn tell women whose husbands ARE addicted to porn, “Be more free with your body. Let your husband see you naked a lot. Have sex regularly so he doesn’t look to porn even more.”
People need to stop further damaging these wives who come for some empathy, help, and support by telling them that they should just wish, hope, pray, and submit more and their husband will stop sinning. The wife goes home, martyrs her sanity some more, goes on meds just so she can get out of bed and take care of the kids, and has sex in the dark while crying her eyes out and trying to pretend she’s on a beach somewhere because she listens to these people who DON’T UNDERSTAND they shouldn’t give blanket marriage advice.
My husband has been addicted to porn for 5 awful years and after being at the point of self-harm and meds, I finally realized the people “speaking into my life” were wrong. I didn’t need to “forgive my dad” and then the porn wouldn’t bother me so much. I didn’t need to “be naked more and have more sex” so he wouldn’t look to porn. I didn’t need to “cover his sin in love” and live an isolated lonely life just to protect his reputation.
I needed people to confront his sin. I needed people to look at me and say, “It’s normal you feel this way because your husband’s sin has caused great harm to you.”
I needed people who would stand up for God’s best for both my husband and myself with the goal of reconciliation–NOT a goal of me being more submissive and forgiving and sexual in an effort to break his cycle of sin.
I love her point–that we’re to “stand up for God’s best for both my husband and myself”.
I sometimes think that many would define “God’s best” as women always submitting to what their husbands want.
No, God’s best is that we be transformed to look more like Jesus.
Submitting ourselves to our husband’s welfare–to what is best for him and to what God is doing in his life–is how we can start to accomplish that. But submitting to a sinful husband’s will is submitting to sin. And we are never asked to do that (and Sapphira, in Acts 5, is struck dead for submitting in that manner). And the only will we are supposed to submit to is Jesus. “Seek first His kingdom…”
We submit to each other in the way that Jesus did in Philippians 2:1-11–by serving one another, through humility, through caring for one another. But ultimately we’re in submission to God so that we can be a part of building Jesus’ upside down kingdom, where it’s about love and serving rather than power.
When we only look at 5 marriage passages, and forget the rest of the Bible, we get a distorted view of marriage.
In every facet of life the point is looking like Jesus and furthering his kingdom, including marriage. The point of marriage is not furthering your husband’s kingdom; it is furthering Jesus’ kingdom. Any marriage advice that we take has to be about the MAIN THING. If it’s not, we’re going to go off track.
The verses we chose for Connor and Rebecca’s wedding were exactly the right ones.
May we all live with Christ first, demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit in our relationships with each other, and keeping Christ always as the focus.
You may also enjoy:
- My submission series (a 5-part series, starting here on what it means to “obey like Sarah”)
- My podcast on what headship really means
- The Slippery Slope of Hierarchy Theology— Plus the podcast where we elaborated on hierarchical teaching
What do you think? Do we distort marriage advice when we ignore the rest of Scripture? Let’s talk in the comments!
Putting Christ Back in Christian Marriage Series
- Putting Christ Back in Christian Marriage Introductory Podcast
- 6 Ways Christian Marriage Advice Leaves Christ Out
- Why There's More to Christian Marriage Than Just 5 Passages
- Does a "Christian" Marriage Need to Suffer to Grow?
- Do We Need to Jump out of the Boiling Water? How Advice for Christian Men Got So Off Track (from Keith)
- On Deconstructing our Faith--and Reconstructing by Holding on to what Jesus has said (from Keith)
- Is it So Wrong to Want to Submit to My Husband?
- How Hierarchy in Marriage Can Hurt Husbands Too
Plus please see my submission series!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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