One reason some people do not accept Paul’s teachings is that they object to his teachings on marriage. In today’s world, there are many who disparage the institution of marriage altogether, “Who needs a piece of paper?”
According to studies by the U.S. Census Bureau, “co-habitation is up; marriage is down” among American young adults. Living together as couples without marriage is now considered “normative,” and is broadly accepted.
This is not to say that that living together without the commitment of marriage is happier or more fulfilling. The Institute for Family Studies at the University of Virginia reports that married couples in America are 12% more likely to report satisfaction in their relationship than those who live together without marriage. The same goes for levels of commitment (15%) and stability in the relationship (26%).
Co-habiting couples report lower levels of commitment, higher rates of infidelity and conflict, and they are more likely to end the relationship than married couples according to studies done by IfStudies.org
People are not behaving in their own self-interest. Rejecting marriage is not a formula for greater happiness. People behave this way because they disregard the ancient wisdom of the Word of God. I risk stating the obvious as I say that the trend to disregard marriage reveals a nation moving away from the moral standards of the Bible.
Paul spoke and wrote in Jesus’ name and by his delegated authority when he laid out guidelines for successful marriages. Paul knew he was bucking the culture of his day. Marriage was threatened in the first century, as it is in the twenty-first. Paul’s teaching was as counter-cultural then as it is today.
The Greeks and the Romans encouraged sexual promiscuity. Wives were expected to be child-bearers and housekeepers, while their men were permitted to consort with prostitutes and concubines. Many of the great cities of the Roman empire were moral sewers. Even Jewish law, as interpreted by some, allowed husbands to divorce their wives for frivolous reasons while wives had no right to divorce at all. It was against this backdrop that Paul wrote about Christian marriage.
Paul’s teaching on the role of husbands, guides Christian men away from selfishness to service, away from coarse and sometimes abusive dictatorship in the home to servant-leadership, away from the example of culture to the example of Christ.
Many men have misunderstood and misapplied Paul’s teaching on headship in authoritarian and abusive ways. There is nothing in Paul’s writings on marriage to justify this distortion. Rather, he writes to husbands, “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
Paul’s teaching on the role of wives is given in the context of Christian submission to God. All believers are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” and to “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18, 21). In this attitude, a Christian wife may find fulfillment in voluntary adaptation to her husband’s servant-leadership.
To be sure, there are those who accuse Paul of misogyny. They dismiss his teaching as endorsing the patriarchy so prevalent in Roman culture. But Paul is not teaching the slavish abasement of wives. Rather, a wife’s appropriate submission is an act of service to the Lord. It is voluntary cooperation with the husband’s God-given role as a leader in the home.
The mystery of marriage
In Paul’s classic treatise on Christian marriage (Ephesians 5:18-33), he begins by mentioning the Holy Spirit (v.18). This is because he knows that we are sinful and selfish. He knows that apart from the Spirit-given power to obey, we humans would not be able to live up to these high standards. But God provides the ability through his Spirit.
Another reason is that his teaching on marriage presents a picture to the world. It pictures a profound spiritual reality: the relationship Jesus Christ has with his bride, the church, which he purchased by his blood (Ephesians 1:7, 5:25-32).
Every Christian marriage is called to illustrate to a watching world an example of mutual submission and reciprocal love. Just as Jesus loves the church, the husband is to sacrificially love his wife. Just as the church is submissive to Jesus, the wife is to submit to her husband’s position as a leader in the home.
Paul’s teaching is universally binding because he spoke and wrote with the authority of Christ himself. Christians should accept his teaching and obey it, no matter how far our culture has drifted from these standards. To disobey the teaching of Paul is to disobey the revealed will of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12). This is not only true of his gospel message but also true of his ethical instructions (1 Thessalonians 4:8).
This formula for marriage is validated further because it is consistent with Old Testament beliefs and practices, consistent with the express teaching of Christ, and consistent with the experience of those millions who have enjoyed the great benefit by following Paul’s instructions on marriage.
Those who reject Paul’s teachings are not acting in their own self-interest.