Complementarian or egalitarian? These theological terms for the relationship between men and women in marriage and church are loaded with emotion, but do they have to be? Is that what Scripture intended? Over our years being married, Josh and I have discussed these theological points at length. As my ministry has grown we have further discussed what our marriage should look like in light of my public leadership.
In this episode, Josh and I discuss Ephesians 5 and what it looks like in our marriage. At the end, Josh answers a question about spiritual leadership and what it’s like being married to a Bible teacher.
Phylicia: Well, hello everyone, Josh and Phy, back again to talk about marriage and what it looks like to follow the Lord in a Christian marriage. Just one example, us. [laughs] We’re not a perfect example by any means. But we’re sharing our story in this marriage series of the podcast, and opening up about our own journey, and how we apply what Scripture says about marriage to our own relationship.
Today, we’re starting out with the very controversial topic of gender roles, because we love to apparently pick a fight, [chuckles] hopefully not. If you want to know the theology behind this, we’re actually not going to get a whole lot into that today. You can go back to the Women’s Issues series of the podcast. I think it was two seasons ago, and you can listen to the episodes on marriage and the church, and those break down the theology behind complementarianism and egalitarianism, the two main views of gender roles in marriage and in the church.
Josh and I are pretty openly complementarian, in the sense that we believe God has gifted men and women with very different skill sets and obviously biology, but we also believe that Scripture gives men and women a whole lot of freedom to use their complimentary gifts in the home and in the church and in the world.
We’re going to share from Ephesians 5. We’re going to read a little of that today and then we’re going to talk about how this looks in our own marriage. Does that sound right?
Phylicia: Okay. I’ll read the passage, and then we’ll talk about it. This is Ephesians 22-33. It says,
“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 in his himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 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. Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I’m saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
This is in context of the whole of Ephesians 5. I get more into that in Women’s issues series of theology behind this the context, but we’re just going to look at it face value and talk about how we have lived this out a little bit. Josh, any initial thoughts for you on this passage about husband loving your wife, and what that’s looked like for you since we’ve been married?
Josh: Well, I think that what really stood out this reading was that he loves his wife as himself. It’s just such an interesting concept of how we all love ourselves so much. We never let ourselves go hungry, or if we can help it, be naked on the street.
Josh: When you feel a need, you want to fill it, and it’s our body’s innate way of taking care of ourselves. So, he wants us to take care of our wife the same way we take care of ourself, and doing that in love. You want to meet her needs, not just the physical needs of hunger and thirst, but the emotional and spiritual needs of love, and just being led and taken care of and cultivated like you would care for a flower or something like that.
Phylicia: [chuckles] No, I like that analogy, that tenderness towards your wife. I love that. You talked about how that the husband is thinking about her needs first. When we were rehearsing for this episode, Josh mentioned how Jesus was the perfect example of a servant. He was a servant King, who washed the feet of his disciples, and that’s the example that Paul uses here.
From my section, the one that came first, which is about half the length of the direction to the men, talks about the favorite S word, submission. [laughs] Everyone’s favorite S word. When we see the word submit, I think in today’s culture, we immediately have those really nasty connotations of how it’s been abused in very conservative circles, and I grew up reading some of those books and even believing some of what they said. That really damaged our first couple years of marriage because I think I expected you to be way more domineering. I thought in order to submit, I have to be bossed around like a true Christian husband is going to be a leader, by always telling me what to do and directing me, and doing devotions with me. These are the things.
Josh: One of the one time in our relationship that I did that, at least in the early days, was when we were dating, and we had made plans to go shopping, like go to Target, and Phy was doing dishes or–
Phylicia: Was distracted– [crosstalk]
Josh: And getting distracted around the apartment and cleaning stuff up. I’m like, “Phy, we’re going to Target now.”
Phylicia: Yes, you were very firm.
Josh: I could tell that there’s a little bit of glimmer in your eye when I did that.
Phylicia: Yes. I think at that point in my life, the only framework I had for respect was commands, responding to commands. And I was only what, 22, at that point? I had plenty of maturing to do, but I understood leadership only in terms of directives and commands. I didn’t understand leadership as servanthood or that different personalities can lead in different ways. I’m using the word ‘lead’ here, it’s not in the text of Ephesians 5. There is no passage in the Bible that uses the word ‘spiritual leader’ for the husband, and we might talk about that a little bit later on. But you, as we’re married, show that you lead in a different way, and that your personality actually isn’t the, “Let’s go to Target,” personality, but that you still deserved respect and deference, which is what submission is. It’s deferring to the other’s needs, which is exactly what you just said, when you describe loving your wife.
Josh: Yeah. Just taking care of them. Even says that they need to love them, I guess it doesn’t say first, but nourishes and cherishes it. So, how could you put yourself first treating her as your own flesh?
Phylicia: Yeah. That’s the exact analogy that is used here. Even with this imagery for the wife of, the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. In passages, Paul goes back to the Genesis structure of the husband being created and the wife being created out of His side. I will say this, because people will wonder, why are we ultimately complementarian versus egalitarian? Why do we believe that there are functional differences between husband and wife in the home versus no functional differences?
Josh: I think that there really shouldn’t be two terms, but just the one term of complementarian where you complement each other. I’m all nerdy about math, like a complement angle and a supplement angle, they make up the whole angle of 180 degrees. So, you just help one another, complete each other, and use your skills and your giftings, and what you’re good at to both serve as your position in the relationship.
Phylicia: Right. It’s not a power struggle.
Josh: No, you’re not equal, but you are at the same time. One person is better in one area and the other person’s better in another area, there’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to both be just as good in the same area on everything.
Josh: Your own manhood shouldn’t be determined by the intelligence level of your wife.
Phylicia: Ooh, that’s a word right there. But, yeah, I think you’re pointing out a secure man who knows that his call is to serve and love his wife, isn’t going to be threatened by the strength or theological knowledge or intelligence or motivation of this wife. He chose to be with her. The Lord blessed him with her. The same I would say for the wife is, deferring to your husband’s thoughts, needs, interests isn’t archaic. It’s following Jesus. Is it more difficult for certain personalities than others? Yes, absolutely, just like loving your wife is probably more difficult for certain personalities.
Josh: I’m not sure exactly where, but the Bible says that when we are weak, He makes us strong or He is made strong. I feel it works the same way in your marriage where the husband can strengthen the wife where she is weak, and the wife can strengthen husband where he is weak, and you can grow together through that.
Phylicia: Yeah. How would you say if you had to, like, maybe name how we’ve done that? What’s an area that maybe you’re strong, I’m weak, you’re weak, I’m strong?
Josh: In one area is, she is the sail and I’m the rudder for some things.
Josh: Where she’s like, “Let’s do this,” I’m like, “I don’t know if that’s realistic.”
Phylicia: Let’s steer away from that.
Josh: Yeah. Let’s navigate some rocks. In other areas, what is it? I guess she gets all nerdy about the Bible and the Old Testament stuff, where she has the book knowledge, but sometimes I have some insight into it, where it’s the street knowledge. [laughs]
Phylicia: Street smarts of the Bible.
Josh: [laughs] Yeah.
Phylicia: Sometimes, I will miss the forest for the trees, when it comes to something, I’m like, “Yeah, this was happening in history. This is how this concept played out. Here’s all of the church history and the biblical part of this.” You might distill it down to one concept and make a comment about it, and I’m like, “Oh, my goodness, I never thought about it that way,” because you bring a different view of the text that I maybe missed because I was so close to it, or because I’d spent so much time studying it. There’s catching the spirit of the word, not just the facts of the word. I think personality wise too, I tend to be the more emotional of us two. Not all women are that way. There’s some men who are way more emotional than their wives. But I tend to maybe have the higher highs and the lower lows, maybe both in one day than you do, and so your strength can be really leveling to that.
Josh: Yeah, but with that levelness, sometimes I can be lethargic, and she brings some drive and get up and go. She’s always been really great at planning outings and stuff. Just thinking of, “Oh, this would be so wonderful to do in the fall.” I’m like, “That sounds great.”
Josh: “Let’s do that.”
Phylicia: “I’ll be there once you set it up.” [chuckles] You’re good at setting up dates and things like that too. I think we’re just trying to describe that we have very different personalities, as we described in Episode 1. We’re actually opposites on almost every personality tests. On Myers–Briggs, I am an E-N-T-J, and he is an I-S-F-P. Myers-Briggs is a big thing before the enneagram, and I think that it maybe sums us up a little bit better the introvert-extrovert.
Josh: Enneagram, I’m the nine, she’s the three.
Phylicia: It feels on paper very, very opposite. Even in real life, I think sometimes it feels like that. But like you said, I don’t understand your math analogies, but they sound really cool.
Phylicia: The complete angle can only occur when they’re complementing each other. This whole, “Oh, complementarian, but there’s a power struggle and the wife is always trying to overpower the husband,” which is what how some people read Genesis 3, where it says, “Your desire will be for your husband,” some people interpret that to mean, “Well, she’ll always want to take control.” I think that certainly there are certain personalities of women that maybe want to do that. I think I definitely have that tendency, but not all women do. There are women who struggle with passivity, and not stepping up and speaking into their husband’s life when he needs it.
Josh: I think there’s a lot of men that are pretty comfortable sitting on the couch all day as well.
Josh: On the weekend.
Josh: Like a man who works 8 to 5 or full-time job, he gets home and it’s like, “Okay, I’m done. Your turn.”
Phylicia: Right. Even though she’s been working all day in a different capacity, or in that same–
Josh: Yeah, if that’s the case.
Phylicia: Yeah. This understanding that what’s being expressed here in Ephesians 5, isn’t meant to be a power struggle, it’s meant to be a partnership. That isn’t downplaying what Paul says about the husband being the head of the wife. People might ask, “Well, if this is how you view complementarianism, aren’t you guys egalitarian?” We would say, “A healthy complementarian marriage looks egalitarian.” Because you are working together, and there isn’t this power struggle. Now, I think what would probably tip the scales for us, is that if we absolutely can’t decide on something, then you usually have the final word. But that’s happened how many times?
Josh: Two, maybe three?
Phylicia: Two? Three? I know some people would be like, “No, I don’t agree with that.”
Josh: It’s more like a presidential veto.
Phylicia: [laughs] Yes. Which can be overturned by the House and the Senate, I don’t know. That’s embarrassing. Do I count as the House and the Senate? I don’t know. But we try to talk through it and work through it first. And then if we absolutely can’t decide–
Josh: And pray about it.
Phylicia: Yeah, pray about it together. Honestly, the issues that he did end up fully deciding, it was something I needed a final decisive word on. I was too anxious, overwhelmed, still too indecisive about it. So, him saying, “You know what, I think this is the best choice. I prayed about it. This is what I think.” It was an act of trust in my husband in that instance, for me to say, “Okay, we’re going to accept your decision.” But I also think that that can only happen when you do have this view of marriage as a respectful partnership.
Josh: It’s not a power struggle.
Phylicia: Right. What would you say about– so he says, “Respect your husband.” Josh, and I don’t want to beat up on the book love and respect. But for us in our marriage, it wasn’t the most helpful marriage, but we know it’s helped a lot of other people. But for our personalities, it wasn’t super helpful. So, I don’t want to hammer this, “Oh, wives only want love. Husbands only want respect” thing. But he does say this at the end of the passage, how do you think it looks for me? How do you feel respected in our marriage?
Josh: Well, a lot of people view a woman respecting the husband as unconditional submission. It’s like, “Well, she’s respecting me, respecting my wishes. She’s doing what I want her to do.” But I think that really you show your husband respect by honoring him and showing him love. I think those two words are very interchangeable, the love and respect, because they’re used because they cater to calm the innate, primal need that each of them need to have. A disrespected man, that’s such a huge injury. A wife that is not loved is just– I think the Bible talks about that. She’s just kind of–
Phylicia: She’s heard.
Josh: So, they’re both used to convey the same message of just honoring one another, and making one another feel honored through loving them and respecting them, and in all the ways that we talked about, just serving one another.
Phylicia: Well, what’s interesting too is in our early marriage, I thought to respect you, I’d been reading all these templates for respect in these books on marriage that I was finding. And I thought, “Okay, Josh needs to be respected for his work, respected for his initiative.” I had all these really stereotyped views of what respect for Josh would look like.
Josh: And you’d be like, “You’re such a hard worker. You need to stand up for yourself.”
Phylicia: Talking really well of you in front of people, but I don’t remember at what point you told me like, “That’s not what makes me feel the most respected.” I was actually respecting you the way I wanted to be loved. I wanted you to applaud my work and say I was good at what I did and celebrate me in front of other people, because that’s how I receive love, is through respect. You, I remember, and correct me if I’m wrong, were telling me I actually feel more respected through affection and through your tone.
Phylicia: Yeah, affirmation, your tone, things that people would probably say are loving. Which is why the book, Love & Respect, didn’t work super well for us, because it tended to kind of stereotype those two things.
Josh: The gender roles.
Phylicia: Right, of love and respect as these really, almost separate kind of things. But what you’re saying is they’re basically the same thing, in essence, towards each other. For some people that might be a little bit maybe of a new framework. I actually had a woman once messaged me enraged that I would talk about loving your husband, instead of respecting him, because she said, “The Bible says that you were to respect your husband.” I said, “But love and respect, they aren’t opposites.” If respect is filling you, it doesn’t mean like you don’t have room to also love. [laughs]
Josh: They are two different words that cater to two different personalities, to put it simply.
Phylicia: But when you respect me, you’re also loving me. When I love you, I’m also respecting you.
Phylicia: I think you have always done a good job of respecting me and my work in the home, respecting me in my job as a mom, as a teacher, as a Bible teacher.
Josh: Not taking you for granted.
Phylicia: No, you didn’t take me for granted. But I also think there has been a hole in the conversation in marriage around the need for wives to be respected for what they do, alongside loving, and that’s just a form of loving them. That’s all it is. But I think changing that verbiage and saying, “Hey, wives need respect too. And, hey, husbands need affection and being cherished too.”
Josh: Just the image of an MMA fighter doing submission hold on someone popped into my head. You can force submission, but you’re not going to get respect.
Phylicia: Yeah. That’s really true. Also, that forced submission isn’t what Paul is talking about here. He’s not saying, “Husbands, make sure your wives submit.” He said nothing about that. He said, “Husbands, love your wives and nourish and cherish them as Christ does the church. Look at Christ, that’s what you’re supposed to be doing.” And wives, look at Christ, because He gives the example of the church in Christ, but Christ also submitted to the Lord in order to accomplish what he did on the cross. And so that’s what wives are looking to that, that deferring. Not that their husbands or God or have replaced God, but hopefully, their husbands are also laying themselves down like Christ. So, it forms that complementarity, beautiful relationship that he’s after.
As we’re wrapping up this episode, I wanted to talk about one thing that’s semi-related to this. Whenever I talk about gender roles or these hot passages in the Bible, around husbands and wives, we often hear this phrase ‘spiritual leader,” which isn’t in any of these passages, it’s kind of a concept that’s gotten pulled out of them. And I think I would love to hear your thoughts on being married to a Bible teacher, because I went to school for religion, you went for engineering. Now, I’m a Bible teacher, and together we run this wonderful ministry, Every Woman A Theologian. But at the end of the day, I think I’ve gotten some questions before from people who have questioned whether a husband can be the “spiritual leader” in a home where the wife knows as much as I do, I’m phrasing it the way they phrase it. What would be your thoughts on that? What’s it like being married to a Bible teacher? [laughs] And what kind of leader are you, Josh? [laughs]
Josh: There are lots of commentaries strewn about the house.
Josh: And I could never catch up.
Josh: At times, it is a little daunting to think of that responsibility and just assumption being held over me. I don’t know if I could ever catch up to her at this point, because she got a four-year degree in it, and she has read so many commentaries and done so much research. She’s so good at what she does. It’s like going back to I said about the skills. It’s her skill, it’s her gifting, her talent that she’s able to research this all and formulate her own theses and just be able to teach so well, that I think it’s great that she’s able to do that. It would be a shame if I were to try to tear it down for my own ego.
I feel comfortable with it, because she is being led by God to reach all those that she is and I’m able to with my giftings of just being–
Josh: Yeah, administration, but also, I feel support staff as well, being level, I’m able to just come comfort her in turmoil, and sometimes being the voice of reason and just support her through it all. So, I think that is something that I was called to do, and I don’t think that’s necessarily for everyone. I know it takes a special man to be in a place where he is the supportive role. But if I’m able to help her accomplish these great things, then that’s also something I’m accomplishing.
Phylicia: Yeah. I’m so grateful because in our world, when you say supportive role, we think not leader, but it is leader, because you’re leading me closer to the Lord. And you’re leading me to the better attitudes and heart postures for our family, in our marriage, in our home, in our ministry, and you’re correcting me when I need correction, and you’re helping guide who I am back to Scripture, back to the Lord, that’s leadership.
Josh: And you do the same for me.
Phylicia: Right. In a way, we’re both leading each other closer to the Lord, and the spiritual leader in the home is –
Phylicia: Yeah, God. It’s God. [laughs] It’s Jesus Christ. You’re in not fighting for that power. But it truly, I think, this has happened better for us, as we’ve both matured in our walks with the Lord. And that’s not just knowledge, because I’ve always had a lot of knowledge. It’s the humility of understanding that I don’t– I can know all the commentaries in the world, but if I’m living in anger and disrespect towards my husband, I’m in sin. I’m not walking in the knowledge of God. I’m walking in opposition to God. It doesn’t matter how smart I am about Bible stuff, is my heart towards my husband submissive and what that means is, is it deferring to him and placing his needs above mine, or am I centering myself at all times?
Hopefully, you guys, this short discussion was thought provoking. Obviously, we’re just one marriage. We’re giving one example of how we walk out what Scripture says about gender roles, if you will, and we have not covered really anything. There’s so much more we could cover. But thanks for listening to us, and we’ll be back next week, as we continue this series on marriage.