Ch.8 Marriage: A Matrix for Christian Hedonism

Desiring God by John Piper

The reason there is so much misery in marriage is not that husbands and wives seek their own pleasure, but that they do not seek it in the pleasure of their spouses. The biblical mandate to husbands and wives is to seek your own joy in the joy of your spouse. Make marriage a matrix for Christian Hedonism.


There is scarcely a more hedonistic passage in the Bible than the one on marriage in Ephesians 5:25–30:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself
up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing
of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

Husbands are told to love their wives the way Christ loved the church. How
did He love the church? “He gave himself up for her.” But why? “That he might sanctify and cleanse her.” But why did He want to do that? “That he might present the church to himself in splendor”!

Ah! There it is! “For the joy that was set before him [He] endured the cross”
(Hebrews 12:2). What joy? The joy of marriage to His bride, the church. Jesus does not want a dirty and unholy wife. Therefore, He was willing to die to “sanctify and cleanse” His betrothed so He could present to Himself a wife “in splendor.”


And what is the church’s ultimate joy? Is it not to be cleansed and sanctified,
and then presented as a bride to the sovereign, all-glorious Christ? So Christ
sought His own joy, yes—but He sought it in the joy of the church! That is
what love is: the pursuit of our own joy in the joy of the beloved.

In Ephesians 5:29–30, Paul pushes the hedonism of Christ even further:
“No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Why does Christ nourish and cherish the church? Because we are members of His own body, and no man ever hates his own body. In other words, the union between Christ and His bride is so close (“one flesh”) that any good done to her is a good done to Himself. The blatant assertion of this text is that this fact motivates the Lord to nourish, cherish, sanctify, and cleanse His bride.

By some definitions, this cannot be love. Love, they say, must be free of self-interest — especially Christlike love, especially Calvary love. I have never seen such a view of love made to square with this passage of Scripture. Yet what Christ does for His bride, this text plainly calls love: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church….” Why not let the text define love for us, instead of bringing our definition from ethics or philosophy?

According to this text, love is the pursuit of our joy in the holy joy of the
beloved. There is no way to exclude self-interest from love, for self-interest is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness seeks its own private happiness at the expense
of others. Love seeks its happiness in the happiness of the beloved. It will even suffer and die for the beloved in order that its joy might be full in the life and purity of the beloved.


When Paul says, “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it,” and then uses Christ Himself as an example, is he contradicting John 12:25, where Jesus says, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life”? No! There is no contradiction. On the contrary, the agreement is remarkable.

The key phrase is “in this world”: He who hates his life in this world will
keep it for eternal life. This is not an ultimate hating, because by doing it, you keep your life forever. So there is a kind of hating of life that is good and necessary, and this is not what Paul denies when he says no one hates his life. This kind of hating is a means to saving and is therefore a kind of love. That’s why Jesus has to limit the hating He commends with the words in this world. If you take the future world into view, it can’t be called hating anymore. Hating life in this world is what Jesus did when He “gave himself for the church.” But He did it for the joy set before Him. He did it that He might present His bride to Himself in splendor. Hating His own life was the deepest love for His own life—and for the church!

Nor is Paul’s word here a contradiction of Revelation 12:11: “And they have
conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” They were willing to be killed for Jesus, but by hating their lives in this way, they “conquered” Satan and gained the glory of heaven: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). This “not loving life unto death” was indeed a loving of life beyond death.


No man in this world ever hates his own flesh in the ultimate sense of choosing what he is sure will produce the greater misery. This has been the conclusion of many great knowers of the human heart. Blaise Pascal put it like this:

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.1

Jonathan Edwards tied it to the Word of Christ:

Jesus knew that all mankind were in the pursuit of happiness. He has directed them in the true way to it, and He tells them what they must become in order to be blessed and happy.2

Edward Carnell generalizes the point:

The Christian ethic, let us remember, is premised on the self ’s love for the self. Nothing motivates us unless it appeals to our interests.3

Karl Barth, in his typically effusive manner, writes for pages on this truth.
Here is an excerpt:

The will for life is the will for joy, delight, happiness.… In every real man the will for life is also the will for joy. In everything he wills, he wills and intends also that this, too, exist for him in some form. He strives for different things with the spoken or unspoken, but very definite, if unconscious, intention of securing for himself this joy.… It is hypocrisy to hide this from oneself. And the hypocrisy would be at the expense of the ethical truth that he should will to enjoy himself, just as he should will to eat, drink, sleep, be healthy, work, stand for what is
1. Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensees, trans. W. F. Trotter (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958), 113, thought #425.
2. Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 905. The quote is found in a sermon on Matthew 5:8 entitled “Blessed Are the Pure in Heart.”
3. E. J. Carnell, Christian Commitment (New York: Macmillan, 1957), 96.

right and live in fellowship with God and his neighbor. A person who
tries to debar himself from this joy is certainly not an obedient person.4

For a husband to be an obedient person, he must love his wife the way
Christ loved the church. That is, he must pursue his own joy in the holy joy of his wife.

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:28)

This is clearly Paul’s paraphrase of Jesus’ command, which he took from
Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). The popular misconception is that this command teaches us to learn to esteem ourselves so we can love others. This is not what the command means.5 Jesus does not command us to love ourselves. He assumes that we do. That is, He assumes, as Edwards said, that we all pursue our own happiness; then He makes the measure of our innate self-love the measure of our duty to love others. “As you love yourself, so love others.”

Paul now applies this to marriage. He sees it illustrated in Christ’s relationship to the church. And he sees it illustrated in the fact that husbands and wives become “one flesh” (v. 31). “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself ” (v. 28). In other words, husbands should devote the same energy and time and creativity to making their wives happy that they devote naturally to making themselves happy. The result will be that in doing this, they will make themselves happy. For he who loves his wife loves himself. Since the wife is one flesh with her husband, the same applies to her love for him.

Paul does not build a dam against the river of hedonism; he builds a channel
for it. He says, “Husbands and wives, recognize that in marriage you have
4. Karl Barth, The Doctrine of Creation, Church Dogmatics, vol. 3, 4, trans. A. T. Makay, et. al. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1961), 375.
5. See my article “What Does It Mean to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself?” in Christianity Today (12 August 1977): 6–9, also available online at

become one flesh. If you live for your private pleasure at the expense of your spouse, you are living against yourself and destroying your joy. But if you devote yourself with all your heart to the holy joy of your spouse, you will also be living for your joy and making a marriage after the image of Christ and His church.”


Now what does this love between husband and wife look like? Does Paul teach a pattern for married love in this text?

Ephesians 5:31 is a quotation of Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Paul adds in verse 32: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Why does he call Genesis 2:24 a “profound mystery”?

Before we answer, let’s go back to the Old Testament context and see more
clearly what Genesis 2:24 meant.


According to Genesis 2, God created Adam first and put him in the garden
alone. Then the Lord said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will
make him a helper fit for him” (18). This is not necessarily an indictment of
Adam’s fellowship with God or proof that care for the garden was too hard for one person. Rather, the point is that God made man to be a sharer. God created us not to be cul-de-sacs of His bounty, but conduits. No man is complete unless he is conducting grace (like electricity) between God and another person. (No person who is single should conclude that this can happen only in marriage!6)

It must be another person, not an animal. So in Genesis 2:19–20, God
paraded the animals before Adam to show him that animals would never do as a “helper fit for him.” Animals help plenty, but only a person can be a fellow heir of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). Only a person can receive and appreciate and
6. See John Piper, For Single Men and Women (and the Rest of Us) (Louisville, Ky.: Council of Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, 1992); adapted from the foreword to Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1991).

enjoy grace. What a man needs is another person with whom he can share the love of God. Animals will never do! There is an infinite difference between sharing the northern lights with your beloved and sharing them with your dog.

Therefore, according to verse 21–22, “The LORD God caused a deep sleep
to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its
place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he
made into a woman and brought her to the man.” Having shown the man that no animal would do for his helper, God made another human from man’s own flesh and bone to be like him—and yet very unlike him. He did not create another male. He created a female. And Adam recognized in her the perfect counterpart to himself—utterly different from the animals: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23).

By creating a person like Adam, yet very unlike Adam, God provided the
possibility of a profound unity that otherwise would have been impossible. A different kind of unity is enjoyed by the joining of diverse counterparts than is enjoyed by joining two things just alike. When we all sing the same melody line, it is called unison, which means “one sound.” But when we unite diverse lines of soprano and alto and tenor and bass, we call it harmony; and everyone who has an ear to hear knows that something deeper in us is touched by great harmony than by mere unison. So God made a woman, and not another man. He created heterosexuality, not homosexuality.

Notice the connection between verses 23 and 24, signaled by the word
therefore in verse 24:

Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my
flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to
his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

In verse 23 the focus is on two things: objectively, the fact that woman is part of man’s flesh and bone; and subjectively, the joy Adam has in being presented
with the woman. “At last, this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”! From these two things the writer draws an inference about marriage in verse 24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

In other words, in the beginning God took woman out of man as bone of
his bone and flesh of his flesh, and then God presented her back to the man to discover in living fellowship what it means to be one flesh. Verse 24 draws out the lesson that marriage is just that: a man leaving father and mother because God has given him another; a man holding fast to this woman alone and no other; and a man discovering the experience of being one flesh with this woman.


Paul looks as this and calls it a “profound mystery.” Why?

He had learned from Jesus that the church is Christ’s body (Ephesians
1:23). By faith a person is joined to Jesus Christ. Thus, a person becomes one with all believers so that we “are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Believers in Christ are the body of Christ. We are the organism through which He manifests His life and in which His Spirit dwells.

Knowing this about the relationship between Christ and the church, Paul
sees a parallel with marriage. He sees that husband and wife become one flesh and that Christ and the church become one body. So in 2 Corinthians 11:2, for example, he says to the church, “I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” He pictures Christ as the husband, the church as the bride, and conversion as an act of betrothal that Paul had helped bring about. The bride’s presentation to her husband probably will happen at the Lord’s second coming, referred to in Ephesians 5:27 (“that he might present the church to himself in splendor”).

It looks as though Paul uses the relationship of human marriage, learned from Genesis 2, to describe and explain the relationship between Christ and the church. But if that were the case, marriage would not be a mystery, as Paul calls it in Ephesians 5:32; it would be the clear and obvious thing that explains the mystery of Christ and the church. So there is more to marriage than meets the eye. What is it?

The mystery is this: God did not create the union of Christ and the church
after the pattern of human marriage—just the reverse! He created human marriage on the pattern of Christ’s relation to the church.

The mystery of Genesis 2:24 is that the marriage it describes is a parable or
symbol of Christ’s relation to His people. There was more going on in the creation of woman than meets the eye. God doesn’t do things willy-nilly. Everything has a purpose and meaning. When God engaged to create man and woman and to ordain the union of marriage, He didn’t roll the dice or draw straws or flip a coin as to how they might be related to each other. He patterned marriage very purposefully after the relationship between His Son and the church, which He had planned from all eternity.7

Therefore, marriage is a mystery—it contains and conceals a meaning far
greater than what we see on the outside. God created man male and female and ordained marriage so that the eternal covenant relationship between Christ and His church would be imaged forth in the marriage union. As Geoffrey Bromiley has written, “As God made man in his own image, so he made marriage in the image of his own eternal marriage with his people.”8

The inference Paul draws from this mystery is that the roles of husband and
wife in marriage are not arbitrarily assigned, but are rooted in the distinctive roles of Christ and His church. Those of us who are married need to ponder again and again how mysterious and wonderful it is that God grants us in marriage the privilege to image forth stupendous divine realities infinitely bigger and greater than ourselves.

This is the foundation of the pattern of love that Paul describes for marriage.
It is not enough to say that each spouse should pursue his or her own joy
in the joy of the other. It is also important to say that husbands and wives
should consciously copy the relationship God intended for Christ and the
7. The covenant that binds Christ to the church is called in Hebrews 13:20 an “eternal covenant”: “May the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant….” Therefore the relationship between Christ and the church has eternally been in God’s mind, and in the order of His thought, it precedes and governs the creation of marriage.
8. Geoffrey Bromiley, God and Marriage (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1980), 43.


Accordingly, wives are to take their cues from the purpose of the church in its relation to Christ: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:22–24).

To understand the wife’s submission, we need to understand the husband’s
“headship” because her submission is based on his headship. (“Wives be subject… for the husband is the head.”) What is the meaning of head in Ephesians

The Greek word for head (kephal-e) is used in the Old Testament sometimes
to refer to a chief or leader (Judges 10:18; 11:8–9; 2 Samuel 22:44; Psalm
18:43; Isaiah 7:8). But it is not at first obvious why head should be used to refer to a leader. Perhaps its position at the top of the body gave the head its association with high rank and power.

For some ancients, the leading faculty of thought was in the heart, not in
the head, though according to Charles Singer in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, Aristotle’s opinion that intelligence is in the heart “was contrary to the views of some of his medical contemporaries, contrary to the popular view, and contrary to the doctrine of [Plato’s] Timaeus.”9 The most pertinent Greek witness for the meaning of head in Paul’s time would be his contemporary, Philo, who said:

Just as nature conferred the sovereignty of the body on the head when
she granted it also possession of the citadel as the most suitable for its
kingly rank, conducted it thither to take command and established it
on high with the whole framework from neck to foot set below it, like
the pedestal under the statue, so too she has given the lordship of the
senses to the eyes.10

9. N. G. L. Hammond and H. H. Scullard, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon, 1970), 59.
10. Philo, The Special Laws, III, 184, in Loeb Classical Library, 8:591.

This was the popular view in Paul’s day, according to Heinrich Schlier, as is
evident from Stoic sources besides Philo.11 Therefore, contemporary critics are wrong when they claim that “for Greek speaking people in New Testament times, who had little opportunity to read the Greek translation of the Old Testament, there were many possible meanings for ‘head’ but ‘supremacy over’ or ‘being responsible to’ were not among them.”12

“Supremacy” is precisely the quality given to the head by Philo and others.
But most important is that Paul’s own use of the word head in Ephesians 1:22
“unquestionably carries with it the idea of authority.”13

In Ephesians 1:20–22, Paul says:

[God] worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named.… And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.

Even if the word head could mean “source” as some claim,14 this would be a
foreign idea here where Christ is installed as supreme over all authorities. Nor is it at all likely that this idea was in Paul’s mind in Ephesians 5:23, where the wife’s “subordination” suggests most naturally that her husband is “head” in the sense of leader or authority.

But, let’s suppose that “source” were the sense of head in this passage. What
would that mean in this context? The husband is pictured as the head of the
11. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittle (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1965), 3:674.
12. Alvera and Berkeley Mickelsen, “Does Male Dominance Tarnish Our Translations?” Christianity Today 22, no. 23 (5 October 1979): 25.
13. Stephen Bedale, “The Meaning of kephal -e in the Pauline Epistles,” Journal of Theological Studies 5 (1954): 215.

14. Among others, Gilbert Bilezekian, Beyond Sex Roles, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1985), 157–62; Catherine Clark Kroeger, “Head,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993), 376–7. But Wayne Grudem has shown that this is an extremely unlikely meaning for the singular use of head in Paul’s day. See “The Meaning of Kephal -e (“Head”): A Response to Recent Studies” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 425–68, 534–41, as well as his more recent, “The Meaning of kephal -e (“Head”): An Evaluation of New Evidence, Real or Alleged,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44, no. 1 (March 2001): 25–65.

wife, as Christ is pictured as the head of the church, His body (Ephesians
5:29–30). You cannot say that head is the head of a river or something like that. Paul is very specific what kind of “head” he has in mind. It is the head connected to a neck on top of a “body.”

Now if the head means “source,” what is the husband the source of? What
does the body get from the head? It gets nourishment (that’s mentioned in verse 29: “No one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes it and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church”). And we can understand this, because the mouth is in the head, and nourishment comes through the mouth to the body. But that’s not all the body gets from the head. It gets guidance because the eyes are in the head. And it gets alertness and protection because the ears are in the head.

In other words, if the husband as head is one flesh with his wife, his body,
and if he is therefore her source of guidance and food and alertness, then the
natural conclusion is that the head, the husband, has a primary responsibility for leadership and provision and protection.

So even if you give head the meaning “source,” the most natural interpretation of these verses is that husbands are called by God to take primary responsibility for Christlike servant leadership and protection and provision in the home. And wives are called to honor and affirm their husbands’ leadership and help carry it through according to their gifts.

Therefore, when Paul says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands…for the
husband is the head of the wife,” he means a wife should recognize and honor her husband’s greater responsibility to lead the home. She should be disposed to yield to her husband’s authority and should be inclined to follow his leadership.

The reason I say a disposition to yield and an inclination to follow is that no
submission of one human being to another is absolute. The husband does not replace Christ as the woman’s supreme authority. She must never follow her husband’s leadership into sin. But even when a Christian wife may have to stand with Christ against the sinful will of her husband, she can still have a spirit of submission. She can show by her attitude and behavior that she does not like resisting his will and that she longs for him to forsake sin and lead in righteousness so that her disposition to honor him as head can again produce harmony.

Another reason for stressing the disposition and inclination of submission,
rather than any particular acts, is that the specific behaviors growing out of this spirit of submission are so varied from marriage to marriage. They can even appear contradictory from culture to culture.


So in this mysterious parable of marriage, the wife is to take her special cue from God’s purpose for the church in its relation to Christ. And to the husbands Paul says, “Take your special cues from Christ”: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25). If the husband is the head of the wife, as verse 23 says, let it be very plain to every husband that this means primarily leading out in the kind of love that is willing to die to give her life.

As Jesus says in Luke 22:26, “Let…the leader [become] as one who serves.”
The husband who plops himself down in front of the TV and orders his wife
around like a slave has abandoned the way of Christ. Jesus bound Himself with a towel and washed the apostles’ feet. Woe to the husband who thinks his maleness requires of him a domineering, demanding attitude toward his wife. If you want to be a Christian husband, you become a servant, not a boss.

It is true that verse 21 puts this whole section under the sign of mutual submission: “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” But it is
utterly unwarranted to infer from this verse that the way Christ submits Himself to the church and the way the church submits herself to Christ are the same. The church submits to Christ by a disposition to follow His leadership. Christ submits to the church by a disposition to exercise His leadership in humble service to the church.

When Christ said, “Let the leader become as one who serves,” He did not
mean let the leader cease to be a leader. Even while He was on His knees washing their feet, no one doubted who the leader was. Nor should any Christian husband shirk his responsibility under God to provide moral vision and spiritual leadership as the humble servant of his wife and family.

I address the men directly for a moment: Do not let the rhetoric of unbiblical feminism cow you into thinking that Christlike leadership from husbands is
bad. It is what our homes need more than anything. For all your meekness and all your servanthood and all your submission to your wife’s deep desires and needs, you are still the head, the leader.

What I mean is this: You should feel the greater responsibility to take the
lead in the things of the Spirit; you should lead the family in a life of prayer, in the study of God’s Word, and in worship; you should lead in giving the family a vision of its meaning and mission; you should take the lead in shaping the moral fabric of the home and in governing its happy peace. I have never met a woman who chafes under such Christlike leadership. But I know of too many wives who are unhappy because their husbands have abdicated their God-ordained leadership and have no moral vision, no spiritual conception of what a family is for, and therefore no desire to lead anyone anywhere.

A famous cigarette billboard pictures a curly-headed, bronze-faced, muscular macho with a cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth. The sign says, “Where a man belongs.” That is a lie. Where a man belongs is at the bedside of his children, leading in devotion and prayer. Where a man belongs is leading his family to the house of God. Where a man belongs is up early and alone with God seeking vision and direction for his family.


To the wife it should be said that the form your submission takes will vary
according to the quality of your husband’s leadership. If the husband is a godly man who has a biblical vision for his family and leads out in the things of the Spirit, a godly woman will rejoice in this leadership and support him in it. You will no more be squelched by this leadership and support than the disciples were squelched by the leadership of Jesus.

If you think your husband’s vision is distorted or his direction is unbiblical,
you will not sit in dumb silence, but query him in a spirit of meekness, and you may often save his foot from stumbling. The husband’s headship does not mean infallibility or hostility to correction. Nor does a wife’s involvement in shaping the direction of the family involve insubordination.

There is no necessary correlation between leadership and intelligence or

between submission and the lack of intelligence. A wife will always be superior in some things and a husband in others. But it is a mistake to ignore that God-ordained pattern of husband leadership on the grounds that the woman is a more competent leader. Any man with zeal to obey the Word of God can be a leader, no matter how many superior competencies his wife has.

A small example: Suppose the husband has a hard time reading. When he
tries to read the Bible aloud, he gets it all twisted and pronounces the words
wrong. His wife, meanwhile, is a gifted leader. Leadership does not require that he do all the reading during family devotions. Leadership may consist in this one announcement: “Hey, kids, come on into the living room. It’s time for devotions. Let’s pick up where we left off last time. Mama will read for us.” Dad may even be an invalid and still be recognized as the leader. It has to do with the husband’s spirit of initiative and responsibility and with the wife’s open support for this spirit.

But what if a Christian woman is married to a man who provides no vision
and gives no moral direction, takes no lead in the things of the Lord? First Peter
3:1 makes plain that submission is still the will of God. (“Wives, be subject to
your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be
won without a word by the conduct of their wives.”) Yet the form of submission
in this case will be different.

Under the lordship of Christ, she will not join her husband in sin even if he
wants her to, since she is called to submit to Christ, who forbids sinning
(Ephesians 5:22). But she will go as far as her conscience allows in supporting her husband and doing with him what he likes to do.

Where she can, she will give a spiritual vision and moral direction to her
children, without communicating a cocky spirit of insubordination to her unbelieving husband. Even when, for Christ’s sake, she must do what her husband disapproves, she can try to explain in a tranquil and gentle spirit that it is not because she wants to go against him, but because she is bound to Christ. Yet it will do no good to preach at him. At the root of his being, there is guilt that he is not assuming the moral leadership of his house. She must give him room and win him in quietness by her powerful and sacrificial love (1 Peter 3:1–6).


I have argued that there is a pattern of love in marriage ordained by God. The roles of husband and wife are not the same. The husband is to take his special cues from Christ as the head of the church. The wife is to take her special cues from the church as submissive to Christ. In doing this, the sinful and damaging results of the Fall begin to be reversed. The Fall twisted man’s loving headship into hostile domination in some men and lazy indifference in others. The Fall twisted woman’s intelligent, willing submission into manipulative obsequiousness in some women and brazen insubordination in others.

The redemption we anticipate at the coming of Christ is not the dismantling
of the created order of loving headship and willing submission,15 but a
recovery of it. This is precisely what we find in Ephesians 5:21–33. Wives,
redeem your fallen submission by modeling it after God’s intention for the
church! Husbands, redeem your fallen headship by modeling it after God’s
intention for Christ!

The point of all of this has been to give direction to those who are persuaded
that married love is the pursuit of our own joy in the holy joy of our
spouses. I find in Ephesians 5:21–33 these two things: (1) the display of
Christian Hedonism in marriage and (2) the direction its impulses should take. Wives, seek your joy in the joy of your husband by affirming and honoring his God-ordained role as leader in your relationship. Husbands, seek your joy in the joy of your wife by accepting the responsibility to lead as Christ led the church and gave Himself for her.

Not that my personal testimony could add anything to the weight of the
Word of God, yet I would like to bear witness to God’s goodness in my life. I
discovered Christian Hedonism the same year I got married, in 1968. Since
then, Noël and I, in obedience to Jesus Christ, have pursued as passionately as we can the deepest, most lasting joys possible. All too imperfectly, all too
15. Headship and submission did not originate with the Fall, as so many people claim, but in their pure form were part of God’s intention from the beginning of creation before the Fall. See Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship: Genesis 1–3,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 95–112.

half-heartedly at times, we have stalked our own joy in the joy of each other. And we can testify together: For those who marry, this is the path to the heart’s desire. For us, marriage has been a matrix for Christian Hedonism. As each pursues joy in the joy of the other and fulfills a God-ordained role, the mystery of marriage as a parable of Christ and the church becomes manifest for His great glory and for our great joy.16
16. I have tried elsewhere, with others, to give explanation and justification for the vision of manhood and womanhood in this chapter. See Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I commend to you the work of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (, whose mission involves “helping the church deal biblically with gender issues.”

Most men are not satisfied with the permanent output of their lives.
Nothing can wholly satisfy the life of Christ within his followers except the
adoption of Christ’s purpose toward the world he came to redeem.
Fame, pleasure and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the
boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of
his eternal plans. The men who are putting everything into Christ’s
undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards.

Surely there can be no greater joy than that of saving souls.