This Passage Is Widely Misinterpreted…

Paul’s images of marriage here are really quite beautiful and, at the same time, challenging to us. He sees Christian marriage in a new way. It has a new meaning beyond that of a simple cultural act, or legal agreement. It is a symbol of the love relationship between Christ and the church. This passage is often misinterpreted, or misrepresented by those who interpret it from the narrow prisms of current identity politics. In reality, it is a profound expression of theology and a profound understanding of our humanity made in the image and likeness of God.

Paul is not outlining new rules for marriage here. He is not promoting a doctrine of male dominance. If the passage is read correctly, it is clearly an expression of equality. Both wives and husbands are admonished to see that love does not demand a slavish subservience to the other. Rather, it is a willing, and conscious giving of the self to the other that is rooted in a deep and real desire for the good of the other in all things. We are challenged here to serve one another in the same manner that Christ served the church.

This has always been a powerful metaphor for me. Think of yourself as a pitcher filled with a liquid called love. How does one love? By pouring oneself out, by emptying oneself. Jesus’ model of this behavior was given to us in the famous passage for Paul’s letter to the Philippians, (Philippians 2:7). In a marriage, when we serve the other out of love, we are emptying ourselves, pouring ourselves out to the other. In this emptying of ourselves, we make it possible for the other to fill us up by the pouring out of their love toward us. If we are “too full of ourselves,” there will be no way we can receive the love of the other. This is what Christ did for the church, for us. He emptied himself on the cross, in order to give us life eternal. This is what we are to do for one another. We are to empty ourselves in order to bring new life to one another. There is no greater comparison to the love of Christ for the church than when we love one another enough to forgive one another. In loving each other in this way, we are imitating Christ’s love for us and the church.

In what other relationship than marriage can we love one another as Jesus loved us more powerfully? Indeed, our passage for today is very specific. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This implies that love is not about the self, but about the other. As husbands and wives, we are to love each other enough to undertake whatever sacrifices might be necessary in order to foster the immediate, or the ultimate good of the other. As human beings, we husbands and wives are challenged, first and foremost to empty ourselves of ego, of all that is selfish and demanding. Until we are empty of this, we will fall short in our abilities to love one another as Christ loved us and the church. In our love for one another, God gives us the inestimable gift of children. The family is the domestic church. The best way for us to love our children with the liberating and empowering love that they deserve from us, we husbands must love our wives, and wives must love their husbands, in the manner that Christ loved the church.

Lord, it is the deepest desire of our faith, to be able to love one another as you have loved us. Fill us with your Divine Love so that we will be able to love our wives and our husbands with humility and generosity in all things. We pray, as always, in Jesus’ name. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.