My wife and I recently visited with a woman whose wedding ceremony I conducted some 20 years ago. As we talked, she said, “During our pre-marriage counseling, you said that marriage is hard work. I didn’t believe you then, but now I know it’s true.”
Marriage—Christian marriage, biblical marriage—is hard work. It’s the hard work of being a pair of scissors.
A scissors consists of a pair of metal blades pivoted so that the sharpened edges slide against each other when the handles opposite to the pivot are closed. The two blades differ, and that’s what gives them the ability to do what they are made to do—cut.
Separately the two blades do not have the power to cut, yet when connected with a screw the two blades become one and have the potential to cut through all kinds of material. But the two blades must cooperate and work together to accomplish the purpose for which they were created. If the two blades refuse to move, the scissors won’t work at all.
Cooperation is hard work
Marriage is like a scissors. Like the two blades, women and men are different. That’s how God created us. But when a wife and husband are joined with Jesus in the center, they become one and have the potential to cut through anything that comes in life. But that is only possible if the wife and husband cooperate and do their part in the hard work of marriage.
Cooperation—that’s the hard work of marriage and that’s what God’s Word talks about in Ephesians 5:22-25. The hard work of marriage begins with the work the wife is called to do.
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (v. 22). The hard work the wife is called to do is submit. It is true that the command to submit has been used by some husbands to keep their wives in subjection and has even led to physical and emotional abuse.
However, that is a total misuse, abuse and misunderstanding of the command to submit.
In this verse, a wife’s submission to her husband is not compared to the way slaves submit to their master or the way oppressed people submit to a despot. It is not a command to cower in fear but to walk in love. A wife’s submission to her husband is compared to the way she submits to Jesus her Savior and Lord. Submission to Jesus is not slavery or oppression but freedom and liberation.
Submission to Jesus is obedience to someone who loves and walks with us through all of life, whether good or bad, happy or sad. Submission to Jesus is surrender to someone who will never leave or forsake us. Submission means to walk with, work together with and cooperate with just like the two blades of the scissors cooperate with each other. The command to the wife to submit to her husband is a call to walk together with her husband, to work together with him though all of life with its joys and sorrows.
Loving as Christ
The command to husbands is also hard work. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (v. 25) Husbands are commanded to love their wives “as Christ loved the church.” Love is hard work, and we see this in how Christ loves us, his bride, the church.
Our relationship to Christ did not start out as a love relationship. At the beginning there was no relationship; we were separated from Jesus because of sin. We did not love him. But because he loves us, Jesus took the first step so we could be reconciled to him and become his bride.
When we were separated from him, Jesus did not angrily fold his arms across his chest, tap his foot and say, “When you’re ready to come crawling back to me, I might accept you if you change.” Instead, Jesus took the first step, and, with arms of love open wide, he went to us to draw us to himself. Jesus did not come to us as a conquering king but as a humble servant.
That’s the hard work the husband is called to do. When there is a broken relationship in marriage, when there is conflict, when couples “fight,” the husband is called to be like Jesus and take the first step to bring reconciliation and end the conflict.
The husband is not called to demand that his wife come crawling back to him in submission. Rather, he is commanded to go to her in love and take the first step, just like Jesus took the first step to reconcile us to him. The hard work a husband is called to do is to humble himself just like Jesus and take the first step to bring reconciliation.
Giving up yourself
Jesus also loved us so much he took a second step. He went to the cross and gave himself for us. Jesus was without sin, yet Jesus took the blame for the broken relationship. He took our sins on himself and died for us so that we might be reconciled to him. Husbands are called to do the same hard work as Jesus. When there is conflict in marriage Jesus calls husbands to take the second step and take the blame for the conflict.
In a conflict in marriage, neither the wife nor the husband is ever 100 percent right or wrong. Because marriage is made up of two less than perfect people, husbands and wives are both to blame for conflict. Although Jesus was 100 percent right and we were 100 percent wrong, Jesus took the blame so we could be reconciled.
Husbands are called to humble themselves and take the blame for the conflict. The husband is called to take the blame, humbly go to his wife and say, “I was wrong for what I did. Will you please forgive me?” The husband is called to love like Jesus and die to his pride and desires so he and his wife can be reconciled.
The husband is called to love his wife and give himself for her in all of life, not just when there is conflict. Then he, like Jesus, can walk beside her to love, serve and care for her through all of life—the good, the bad and the in-between.
Who holds the scissors
Marriage, Christian marriage, is like a scissors, with two different people—a woman and a man—working hard to cooperate so their marriage can become what God created it to be. But that’s not all. Someone has to hold the handles of the scissors, and that someone is Jesus.
Husbands and wives are called to give their lives and their marriage to Jesus to lead and guide them all through life. When husbands and wives submit themselves to Jesus, they can experience the abundant life and abundant love in marriage Jesus wants to give. With Jesus holding the handles of the scissors of their marriage, together they can cut though all that comes in life, the good and the bad, the joys and sorrows, the happiness and sadness.
My wife, Peggy, and I have been a scissors for almost 53 years. We have experienced the joy that comes from Jesus grasping the handles of our marriage and leading and guiding us during our 45 years of pastoral ministry. He has walked beside us to help and encourage us. It’s not been easy or perfect, but it has been worth it. Yes, marriage is hard work but with Jesus there is joy.
Gaylord Goertzen is a retired Mennonite Brethren minister living in Hillsboro, Kansas. He and his wife, Peggy, have served congregations in California, Oklahoma and Kansas.