But! We’ve moved into the New Testament where marriage becomes a bit more closely aligned with what the average evangelical will affirm: One Man, one woman.
As I wrote yesterday, I find the New Testament couple, Priscilla & Aquila, quite fascinating. Paul lauded them as leaders in the early house churches in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome. He celebrated them in three of his letters: 1 Corinthians 16:19, Romans 16:3, and 2 Timothy 4:19. And of course, we get the primary biographical info about Priscilla & Aquila in Acts 18.
I suggested yesterday that perhaps Paul had the marriage of Priscilla & Aquila in mind when he wrote Ephesians 5:17-33. I want to expand that thought a bit after further reflection.
Priscilla & Aquila no doubt figured prominently in assisting Paul’s mission. They took Paul in when he came to Corinth even as they were exiles from Rome. They carried on their tent-making business alongside Paul in Corinth. Priscilla & Aquila enabled Paul to preach and teach in the Corinthian synagogues, and when Paul shoved off for Ephesus, P & A accompanied him. In the wake of gifted teacher, Apollos’s bursting on the scene in Ephesus, Priscilla & Aquila skillfully and sensitively corrected Apollos’s teaching so that the message he proclaimed might be made complete and most effective. In short, Priscilla & Aquila were indispensable partners of Paul’s.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul gives sort of a scathing appraisal of marriage. He calls marriage an accommodation for the fact that most people were not as he was, that is, capable of remaining chaste without burning with passion. He believed marriage was a distraction from serving the Lord. He also very well may have believed Christ’s return was imminent, and therefore there should not be much energy given to changing one’s marital status, but instead for ratcheting up Gospel preaching intensity.
What I find unique about Priscilla & Aquila is that they were a married couple in the mold of Genesis 2:18, and Paul couldn’t deny their effectiveness in Kingdom work. It’s clear that P & A were effectively cultivating the ground in the figurative sense just as God saw Adam’s ability to do so literally hampered by his singleness, and thus He made Eve.
There’s a seeming disagreement here between Paul and God about marriage. Yet, there is total agreement between the two regarding the primacy of tending to God’s creation. 1 Corinthians 7 has a couple places within it where Paul states he’s giving his opinion and that the observations he’s making aren’t commands from the Lord. How interesting! But the bottom line is Paul found out very quickly that he could count on P & A to work the ground for the Kingdom and to do so more effectively than pretty much anyone else he met, including his unmarried colleagues.
Now, in Ephesians 5, Paul sketches a higher view of marriage, and it’s theological. It’s all about how Jesus is the groom, and the church is his radiant bride. The way we as married couples are to relate to one another is the same way Christ relates to his church in his headship, love which led to his giving of himself, and in the process of sanctification.
When I wrote that I think Paul had Priscilla & Aquila in mind when he wrote Ephesians 5, I may have overstated it a bit as he clearly has Christ’s saving act of incarnation in mind symbolized by marriage, but in terms of an earthly marriage which did not appear to be hindered by marriage I think P & A fit the bill, and lived up to the high standards of Ephesians 5 while avoiding the pitfalls of 1 Corinthians 7.
One more clarification: I said something to the effect that instead of love, P & A’s marriage revolved around Kingdom work. It did, but that sounded really bad as though Priscilla & Aquila only tolerated one another and shared no love between them. This is unlikely, nor is it necessary to believe God only wants the utilitarian results of marriage. I believe God is glorified in loving marriages; I just think we’ve misdefined love in so many ways. For Jesus, it was a giving of himself and a service for his bride so that both partners could be presented as spotless. This is love in its purest form, and our marriages should not be lacking in this sort of love. Because when we are filled with this sort of self-giving love, we aren’t distracted by our marriages away from the things of God. Rather, we are able to move toward them together just like Priscilla & Aquila.