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Ephesians 5:22-33 is a fairly long passage where Paul discusses marriage and family relationships in the context of the broader principle of Kingdom leadership. Two weeks ago, God arranged for us (as the Council of Peace) to schedule a meeting for this past weekend (October 15-17). We did not know what God would reveal for us to discuss until the meeting actually took place.
So it was no coincidence that my last weblog on October 10 expounded upon Ephesians 5:21, which was about Kingdom Teamwork. The natural sequel to this is Kingdom Leadership. This is based on Genesis 2:23, 24 and 3:16, which sets the framework for all leadership positions and how to work as a team (or as a body).
These verses have been misunderstood since the beginning of time, causing a lot of bondage, hardship, and friction. This is because most people have been taught to think in Old Covenant terms, using soulish definitions of spiritual principles. These misunderstandings are resolved only with a clear comprehension of the difference between Old and New Covenant relationships.
It is because of this confusion that I find it necessary to expound in greater detail what Paul was saying in Ephesians 5. So I do not want to hurry through this section of Paul’s writing. It is important enough to spend some time on it and to define the words themselves through New Covenant eyes—as God intended.
Wives Submit, Husbands Love
Ephesians 5:22, 23, 24, 25 says,
22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.
Traditionally, the church has long interpreted this in a way that establishes Old Covenant marriages, with the wife being, essentially, a bondwoman on the order of Hagar. Although Christ came as the Mediator of the New Covenant, most believers throughout history have failed to understand the nature of the New Covenant.
This led to the idea of Papal supremacy that put the church into a position of the bondwoman. Politically speaking, kings too have thought of “the divine right of kings” as the right to rule as tyrants over the common people. Relatively few have understood the principle of Kingdom Leadership set forth in Scripture.
In recent decades, the Women’s Liberation Movement has arisen, where feminists have rejected the bondwoman position. Unfortunately, being unschooled in biblical principles of leadership, they concluded that the Bible actually teaches women to be bondwomen. God has used them to raise this issue and to force the church into rethinking its position.
Unfortunately, because feminism arose without being founded on Scripture, most believers simply rejected their views as a revolt against Scripture. If the church had understood the two covenants and the biblical allegory of Hagar and Sarah, perhaps women would not have felt the need for liberation from the beginning.
My Personal Journey
As for me, God led my wife and I on an independent (and unexpected) journey. For our first 21 years of marriage (1971-1992), neither of us knew that there were two types of marriage relationship set forth in Scripture. My wife was the perfect Hagar, having been raised that way from childhood in the church. I myself knew little about marriage and spent the first year learning how to make a woman happy. She was glad that being teachable came somewhat naturally to me, as this laid foundations for the revelations yet to come.
In 1982, it occurred to me that the purpose of marriage was to provide a double witness within the core family unit, so that we would always know the will of God for the family. The problem at the time was that I began to learn to hear God’s voice June 5-7, 1982, but it took my wife longer. In fact, it took her 10 years, until finally her breakthrough occurred on June 5-7, 1992.
In the interim, I had to look for others to provide the double witness for my own revelation, and this led to problems. Others were bearing witness to me when my revelations were faulty or even downright wrong. It’s not that others are barred from providing double witnesses, but that in my case God intended for my wife to fill that role.
Seeing marriage as God’s double witness program is a foundational revelation and calls to the forefront the nature of a proper witness. If the witness is a bondwoman, it is nearly impossible for her to provide an independent witness, because she is expected to agree with whatever her husband hears, whether or not it is truly from God.
In fact, her husband may consider her to be insubordinate if her revelation differs from his. Worse yet, the husband might “instruct” her until she comes to see his viewpoint as correct, rather than letting her hear from God independently.
Two Types of Marriage
Abraham had two wives, each illustrating a different covenant and marriage relationship (Galatians 4:22). His relationship with Hagar can be seen as a vertical straight line with God at the top, Abraham under God, and Hagar at the bottom. She was a servant and had no input into the decision-making process. She had to hear God through her husband and trust that he was hearing correctly.
This describes an Old Covenant relationship, as Paul tells us in Galatians 4:24, 25. It can only bring forth an Ishmael, a child of the flesh (Galatians 4:29), who invariably persecutes “the children of promise” (Galatians 4:28), who are born according to the pattern of Isaac.
In other words, the ideal relationship, promoted commonly in the church, is based on the pattern of Hagar, not Sarah. This is how Ephesians 5:22 is normally interpreted by those who have an Old Covenant perspective. Yet I can testify that it does not have to be this way. My own marriage changed dramatically in 1992, and this led us into a New Covenant relationship that we had not known previously—nor was it even possible until God revealed to her and to me that she was indeed hearing from God for herself.
Actually, she had been hearing from God for some time prior to 1992, but she did not know this, because she was hearing in a different manner from the way I heard Him. Lacking confidence, she deferred to me and my revelation, as a good Hagar was expected to do. But after 1992, we both knew conclusively that she was hearing from God as well. Whereas I was able to write down the things that God told me, she heard and knew more instinctively without being able to verbalize it or write down words and sentences.
We discovered that God was both male (Yahweh) and female (El Shaddai) and that He spoke with a different “voice” to each of us. Once we understood how this worked, I knew that I now had the double witness that I needed in order that my ministry and my calling itself could produce an Isaac.
My wife and I have now had 30 years of experience to test this revelation in practice, and we have found it to be fully valid. It is not that we have always been in agreement. But when we found ourselves with different revelations, we knew how to resolve the differences. We learned to appeal the case to God, who is the Source of all revelation. We prayed that God would reveal the truth, and eventually, He brought about circumstances that clarified all things.
I know that God has brought us through such experiences to prove to us the proper way to solve differences of revelation. That way, a wider audience can learn through our experiences and perhaps avoid problems of disunity that have plagued the church for centuries.
Basic Relationship Principles
When God gave Adam the dominion mandate in Genesis 1:26 and the fruitfulness mandate in Genesis 1:28, he gave no particular instructions on how to implement these mandates. He was simply instructed to “rule” and to “be fruitful.” But how?
During that time, Eve was yet within Adam, for God had not yet taken the woman out of the man to make two separate identities. Hence, these mandates were given to both the man and the woman within him. Perhaps we can say that the dominion mandate was given to the man and the fruitfulness mandate to the woman and that this carried over after the two were separated.
If so, it is clear that the man could not be fruitful apart from the woman, as he was given only his half of the overall birthright. Without each other, both were incomplete. When the two were separated, it would require both to be in unity and agreement in order to implement the full birthright properly and completely. This alone shows the importance of the role of the woman. A man cannot fulfill his calling without her.
Even Christ Himself cannot fulfill His calling apart from the Bride that is taken from His side. She is the key to the success of His plan to restore all things. But if His Bride were patterned after Hagar, the plan would fail. In fact, God’s first marriage at Mount Sinai was indeed patterned after Hagar, for it was an Old Covenant marriage. It ended in divorce (Jeremiah 3:8).
Christ’s second marriage is based on the pattern of Abraham and Sarah, the free woman. Those who enjoy a New Covenant marriage relationship with Christ are the only ones who can be fruitful in the way that God intended from the beginning. Those who have a Hagar relationship with Christ will have to upgrade their relationship with Christ at some point in the future. To do this will require an understanding of the New Covenant and its goal—the restoration of all things.
But how does one move from being part of the Hagar company to being part of the Sarah company? How does one go beyond obedience to agreement? Should Christ subject the woman to himself and force her to be fruitful in order to fulfill his own calling? That would make her a bondwoman, and the child of such a relationship would then be an Ishmael, not an Isaac.
No, the Bride of Christ must be in agreement in her heart, not by force. She must have the same revelation as He has, so that she rejoices in the divine plan and purpose for creation. If she is resistant in any way, then she is still learning obedience and must subject her will to His, as a good bondwoman is expected to do.
Division and Unity
The principle of relationship was established clearly in Genesis 2:22-24,
22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Because the nature of God includes the law of the double witness, God saw fit to divide Adam into two parts, male and female. This created a division of labor that was not a detriment as long as unity of purpose was maintained. So we see no establishment of authority of man over woman here (prior to sin).
Where there is unity, authority is irrelevant, for both could hear the voice of God perfectly, and both were equally obedient to God. One did not have to command the other to be obedient. If Adam had felt the need to command his wife to do something, it would mean that she would not have done it on her own. They would have been at cross purposes, and therefore one of them would have had to submit to the will of the other (which is obedience).
Yet clearly, this was not their condition at the time God divided the woman from the man. There was no need to command with the voice of authority. Both knew instinctively what to do. This is the condition set forth through the New Covenant, which is described in Jeremiah 31:34, quoted in Hebrews 8:11,
11 And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.
This blessed condition pictures the whole world at the end of time being in unity and agreement, each person hearing the voice of God and responding to it because his heart and nature has been transformed into the image of God. It is a return to Eden in that sense. Hence, when God speaks, the people bear witness to the truth of His word, not because they are forced (by law) to be obedient, but because His word resonates within everyone’s heart.
This is what it means to have the law written on our hearts, as the New Covenant also says (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10).
The law describes God’s nature, and at the present time He is writing His nature on our hearts so that we can be like Him. But in that day the law will not be needed to enforce obedience, and so authority as such will be obsolete. We must always keep in mind that God did not establish a man’s authority over the woman until after sin entered the picture. Not until Genesis 3:16 does God says to the woman, “he will rule over you.”
This is the basis of Paul’s statement in Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” We question neither God’s statement in Genesis 3:16 nor Paul’s statement in Ephesians 5:22. However, we must also understand that this relationship of subjection is not the biblical ideal in a marriage. There is more to it, which we can see by comparing marriage in Eden with marriage after sin entered the world.
This bigger picture is also seen in Jesus’ instructions regarding marital separation and divorce. In Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus appealed to the marriage principle established in the Garden. The Pharisees then asked Him why Moses permitted divorce. Matthew 19:8 says,
8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.”
We cannot treat this topic fully here, but it is clear that Jesus distinguished between marriage in Eden and post-Edenic marriage (in the days of Moses). Because of sin (“hardness of heart”), many Old Covenant marriages would fail and would need laws regulating divorce. Men often took advantage of the divorce laws to do injustice to their wives, but divorce laws were also necessary at times—for example, to protect the life of the woman from an abusive husband.
Studying the grounds for divorce are for another study. The point is that when sin entered the world, God knew that the original relationship in the Garden had been disrupted and that authority would be needed to maintain order in the earth. But, as Jesus said, “from the beginning it has not been this way.” Just as divorce itself was an accommodation because of sin, so also was authority itself an accommodation because of sin.
This is important, because the marriage relationship is the first example in Scripture of many relationships in the earth that require authority. The same principle of authority is seen between king and kingdom, president and nation, governor and state, mayor and townsfolk, etc. In most cases, these turn out to be Old Covenant relationships, because few have a New Covenant understanding of authority. Unfortunately, the church has often followed the example of the world.