I think this will not surprise you: husbands and wives are to love one another. In Colossians 3:19 Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” Ephesians 5:25, similarly says, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” A few verses later, we read in Ephesians 5:28, “Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who love his wife loves himself.” Love is the first quality in the Fruit of the Spirit, and it certainly applies to marital relationships.
Did you hear who these verses are directed to? Husbands! Does that mean husbands are to love their wives, and wives don’t have to love their husbands? Of course not. The reason why Paul repeats this to the husbands over and over is because that culture was very different from ours. In contemporary American culture, as in many places around the world, there is one major reason we get married. Love! Our ideal is that we will fall in love with someone and make a commitment to love that person for the rest of our lives.
That aspect of our culture is a very good thing. Love should be the foundation of a healthy marriage. But in the Greco-Roman culture of the first century, this was not assumed like it is for us. Instead, the culture was extremely patriarchal, to the point where men ruled over and in some cases owned their wives. The idea that a husband would love his wife, or be married to his wife because he loves her, was not at all an expectation. Wives, on the other hand, were absolutely to give themselves sacrificially to their husbands, almost like a slave to a master. They might not feel loving toward their husband, though, but there were certainly to act like it. Paul, then, in these passages was being very clear about how Christians are to approach marriage in that culture. Husbands should love their wives, and they should do so sacrificially. Obviously, then, wives should view their husbands the same way. What Paul taught was nothing short of radical for his day and age.
Paul also says something that is fascinating when considering the marital relationship. He says, “Submit to one another” in Ephesians 5:21. God’s heart is for a marriage relationship where the husband and wife equally submit to one another. Some might read that and respond, “But doesn’t there need to be one leader in the relationship?” My answer is that there does not need to be one leader when both spouses work together, communicate together, and decide together, sacrificially, selflessly, graciously, loving one another. When both apply the Fruit of the Spirit to their marriage, they can be totally equal partners. I know there are also numerous Scriptures about wives submitting to husbands, and I believe it is best to view those teachings as applicable to the patriarchal culture that Paul lived in. If he were writing to our culture, which is no longer patriarchal, I believe he would have written even more about equality in marriage than he already did. This is an area of major disagreement among bible scholars, so if you would like to talk further about that, I’d be glad to.
Husbands and wives should emphasize mutual love for one another. To have that kind of mutuality, it is vital that we walk in step with the Spirit, so that we can grow his love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness and self-control in our marriage. In the difficult conversations, in the stress of life, in the ups and downs of agonizing decisions, often facing conflict, marriage is not easy. All marriages will face challenges, and it is important that we face those challenges by together, both spouses walking in step with the Spirit, inviting the Spirit to grow his fruit in our lives. We will not be able to walk through challenges in our marriage in a consistently healthy way without the help of God, because we are human.
What about singles? Single people are equally important to God as married people. Singleness is no better or worse than being married. We need to celebrate singleness in the same way we celebrate marriage. We celebrate relationships all the time. Engagements, bridal showers, weddings, anniversaries. We even have special parties marking the end of singleness: bachelor and bachelorette parties. But when is the last time you celebrated singleness? We as a church should also celebrate singles that way! We should communicate that singles are just as vital family members as married couples. In fact, Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, prizes singleness. Here again the Fruit of the Spirit is crucial. Our posture toward single people should be filled with the Fruit of the Spirit.
And those who are single, likewise, walk with the Spirit, growing the Fruit of the Spirit in their lives, so they are flowing with the Spirit in their family relationships. My point in bringing up single people is to remind us all that they are family, that their station in life is equally dignified to all other stations in life.