I’m borrowing heavily from Doug Wilson’s Reforming Marriage. A great book. You can buy it or read it online.
It will be helpful to start with a brief grammar lesson. There is a difference between indicative and imperative statements. An indicative is a statement of fact; there is no ought in it. The chair is brown; the ship is tilting, etc. An imperative is a command; it tells what we must do. Close the door; turn off the tv, and so on. We cannot fall into the trap of trying to turn biblical indicatives into imperatives. When the bible says “the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church (Eph 5:23),” it does not say that the husband ought to be the head. It says he is. Paul isn’t teaching in this verse about the way marriage should be, he’s saying this is what it is. As he goes on, he fleshes out the picture with instruction (imperatives) for husbands to love their wives and for wives to submit to their husbands.
As the head of the marriage, the husband is responsible for everything that happens. He is the one who is held accountable before God. Just like a ship captain is responsible if his craft runs aground when a sailor is at the helm, the husband is responsible when his marriage runs aground. The sailor may be guilty, but the captain is responsible.
There is absolutely no indication in scripture that this is in any way merely cultural or limited to a certain period in history (2 Tim 3:16-17). What is revealed belongs to us and to our children forever. This is the way God arranged things and he did so very much on purpose.
God created the man of dust from the ground (Gen 2). He brought to the man all the animals he had made to see what the man would name them. In considering and exercising dominion over the animals, man saw that there was no helper suitable for himself. God put the man – his son (Lk 3) – to death, took a portion of his side, and built the woman from that which he had taken from the man. The man was not taken from woman, but the woman from man (1 Cr 11:8). This was man’s suitable helper. This was his bride. The two become one flesh. This is Christ and the church.
It is a great mystery, but the marriage of a man and woman, the coming together of the two to become one flesh, is an exquisite picture of Christ and his bride (Eph 5:32). The Father, in the counsel of his will, was pleased to crush his son (Isa 53), to put him to death, and from his side to bring forth his bride. Not just any bride, but a Bride suitable for the Man. A Bride suitable for the King (Song 6:4,5,10,13).
God is a God of covenant. His covenant is a binding, personal relationship between himself and the people he has called out to be his own. His covenant is generational; it is extended down through generations, growing and expanding. It begins with the promise of the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15) and grows to include the world (Mat 28:18-20, Acts 2:33-36). God is a faithful husband to Israel, though they run after other gods (Jer 3:20). He is still a faithful husband to us, the church, and promises to be with us always, and to never leave us or forsake us (Mat 28:20, Heb 13:5). Throughout scripture, God says I will be your God and you will be my people. This relationship between God and his people is most intimately expressed in the Song of Songs as “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”
When we see what an awesome picture God has set up with man as his image bearer in the world, showing forth the beauty and intimacy of God with his people, any corruption of this is a grave misrepresentation. Every marriage is a picture of Christ and his bride, the church. The scripture makes no distinction between good and bad marriages, heathen couples or believers. All marriages proclaim to the world how Christ relates to his church. Because of sin and rebellion, many of these pictures are slanderous lies concerning Christ. But a husband can never stop talking about Christ and the church. If he is obedient to God, he is preaching the truth; if he does not love his wife, he is speaking apostasy and lies – but he is always talking.
When a couple separates or divorces each other, they are proclaiming a false image of God. They are telling the world that this is how Christ treats his church. He abandons her. He leaves her unprotected, without covering. He no longer cares for his church. This is why divorce, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and all other sexual immorality are utterly condemned in scripture. It paints a false image of God to the world. This is why idol worship is described as whoring after other gods. It ought not be so.
Christ loves his church. He gives his life for her. He sets her apart and washes her with the water of his word, making her a glorious, radiant bride, a bride fit for the King of kings and the Lord of lords. This is a wonderful thing. In the same way husbands should love their wives.