“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
(Ephesians 5:31-32 ESV)
My shirts are all ironed. And that’s a good thing.
I didn’t need many shirts over the holidays and I wasn’t teaching in January. But it was down to the point I was afraid to put anything in the laundry, since I wasn’t sure I would have anything to wear.
So over the weekend Katie ironed about 20 shirts, and several pairs of pants. Just to be clear, I don’t insist that Katie iron my shirts. I’d be perfectly willing to wear them wrinkled, like I did as a kid. Isn’t that why they made sweaters?
My mom certainly didn’t iron any shirts. Nor do most women I know. But it’s on Katie’s list of important things. And I honor her by accepting it and appreciating it. She was the seventh of ten kids, and this was her job. So she is good at it. And she likes the feeling it brings—a short, manageable task with satisfaction and closure at the end.
I’m a little uncomfortable with it, and have offered to take things to the laundry. But she also seems to take pleasure in doing it for me, as a token of her care.
For my part, I’m happy (and likely) to cook or wash dishes. Cooking is something my dad taught me to do, and I enjoy it. It doesn’t seem helpful to divide our tasks into a list of things men or women do or don’t do because of their gender. Except for changing diapers, of course.
Clearly marriages are strengthened by the different gifts and experiences each of us brings to the table. I just wish one of us was a mechanic. But that doesn’t mean our roles are the same. Many Christians today can get to the “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” aspect of Ephesians 5:21, since it is culturally acceptable. Everyone gives 100% and all that.
But Paul goes on for twelve verses to provide a powerful picture of how we are to relate to each other in marriage, and its implications are much less culturally comfortable. And just as important as our mutual care for each other, whatever our gifts might be.
The man is to love his wife as Christ loves the church—in sacrificial, sanctifying service. He is also to lead his family, as Christ does the church, into an understanding of the Father’s purpose and will, protecting and providing for them both spiritually and physically. A man who won’t do this for his wife won’t do it for his children either.
It’s not a perfect picture, given that we are fallen. But it’s an important picture, and worthy of reflection. Paul has not made the case in cultural terms, but in theological ones. Marriage is a reflection of Christ and the church.
This is not about whether or not a wife works outside the home. The Proverbs 31 woman clearly did. And it’s not about being the man being the boss, if by that we mean he is neither accountable nor responsible for his actions. Conservative Christians spend a lot of unnecessary time focused on these externals.
But it is about a man accepting the responsibility to lead, both by example and precept, as Christ did. Young men today are often confused about this, and ill prepared to do it. They lack the theological grounding to protect their families from error and the biblical knowledge to provide wise counsel or direction. Because of this, they lack the courage and the confidence to accept this calling.
Nor can they expect that their wife will follow them; our cultural biases are very strong. But if we taught young men how to do this, their wives could more easily do their part: resting in and responding to their husband’s spiritual leadership, as the church does to Christ. Biblically constituted authority is always for our protection and our good. And is, in this case, for hers.
This doesn’t make it her job to iron.
Or keep her from it.