Last fall I stood in a row of purple dresses in a sunny field, about to watch a radiant couple take their wedding vows, when the officiating pastor dropped a bomb. Seriously? I thought, You’re really going to go there? We were in the middle of a beautiful autumn wedding, and he was going to stir everyone up by talking about submission.But as the pastor continued, I was amazed that his message was nevertheless one of grace. “A cord of three strands is not easily broken,” he read from Ecclesiastes 4:12. Transitioning into Ephesians 5, he charged the groom with the promise to lead his wife by lovingly sacrificing himself for her sake, just as Christ sacrificed Himself for His church. To the beautiful bride, he encouraged an attitude of respect and humility, as she submits to his loving lead as an expression of honoring Christ.
As the musician quietly sang “Jesus, be the Center of our lives…” the couple braided three cords together, a tangible testimony of the unity they hope to have in Christ. It was a beautiful moment. Then the pastor explained that these cords can do two things depending on our perspective: they can weave two souls into one and hold the relationship together, or they can act as a restrictive line, an unwelcome knot keeping us from what we want. If we choose to see marriage as bondage, we will struggle against the limitations God has graciously set to keep us from sin and harm. But if we choose to see marriage as the Creator designed it, it will bring us closer together, sustain everything in its place, and teach us about the love of Christ.
Cindy Easley, author of Dancing with the One You Love: Living Out Submission in the Real World, echoes this idea, “What an awesome responsibility! When Michael loves me as Christ loved the church and when I respond in submission to him, we are a divine picture for the entire world to see.”  Cindy explains that the way God has designed the marriage relationship to work is not only for the benefit of the marriage, but also acts as a witness to the world.
It’s a little intimidating to think of our lives, as Christians, on display. But this is what God calls us to, as we are told in Philippians, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Phil. 2:14-15).
In our generation, gender roles in marriage are certainly countercultural. They are seen as passé, replaced by equality between the sexes as the highest value. The concept of headship and submission is irrelevant and even offensive to many. But as Christians we have the opportunity to live out the unconditional love of Christ in our marriage, and show them otherwise. We have the choice to accept our design as a man or woman and, without complaining or resentment, love each other in the way that reflects God’s love.
Like the cord of three strands, much can be learned by our reaction to God’s design for marriage. Depending on our perspective, we can struggle to accept God’s caring limitations or we can allow ourselves to be hemmed in by His love. It is our choice. If my marriage is going to be on display for the world I want it to be an artistic union of tightly woven threads, not a tangled mess. I want people to look at us and ask the question, what is it that holds them together? How do they relate and work together so well? I pray that people will observe the difference in our relationship and wonder these things in a way that points to Christ, the third cord that upholds us.