By Richard W. Terry
Someone once wrote, “All weddings are happy; it’s living together afterwards that causes all the trouble.” While said in jest, there is far too much truth in such a statement. While we are told that the national average for divorces has dropped over the past few years, we are still alarmed by the number of divorces that we hear of each year. Even more alarming are the number of reports of elders and preachers whose marriages are ending in divorce. The sad reality of it all is that while these men may know what God’s word says regarding the sanctity of marriage and God’s distaste of divorce, such knowledge is not always sufficient to prevent the break up of their marriages.
Our papers team with articles on the subject of divorce, warning of the consequences and dealing with the scriptural provisions for divorce. All this is good and well, but should we not devote more time in writing about the sanctity of marriage? Should we not be devoting our time to encouraging couples to seek out solutions to their marital problems? Should we not emphasize that divorce is not a solution, but a cop-out?
Perhaps, one of our problems with divorce is that many of the present generation do not find in their fathers and mothers an adequate role model.
Surprisingly, Christ provides mankind with a perfect role model for both the husband and the wife.
Christ The Role Model For The Husband
Paul, in writing to the Christians in Ephesus, stated, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He himself being the Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23, NASB). Paul’s statement was calculated to arouse in our minds a vivid comparison between Christ as the head of the church and the husband’s responsibilities in the home as “head.” As we survey God’s Word, we quickly realize that “headship” means many things. Christ as “head” of the church was responsible to His father for providing the church with direction, leadership, stability, sacrificial love, compassion, understanding and, last but not least, accountability for His actions to His heavenly Father.
If we carry the comparison to its logical conclusion, we quickly realize that the husband sustains those selfsame responsibilities toward his wife and family.
As Jesus walked among men, he was quick to let them know that he was not here to do “my own will, but the will of Him that sent me” (Jn. 6:38). So too must the husband be lost in doing the will of the Father. All self centeredness, all personal desires must be relinquished in favor of the Father and accomplishing God’s will for him as a husband. When a husband learns to submit himself to God, he is setting the best example possible for his wife in submitting herself to the will of her husband.
As “head,” the husband sustains two salient responsibilities. First, he stands as God’s representative in the family unit. In the church, the elders sustain a similar responsibility. In the family, God has placed the husband over the house as His representative. The husband is not a “lawgiver,” but rather, as head, he provides leadership and direction as he follows God’s divine plan for marital happiness. Second, the husband is to distinguish himself as a sacrificial lover. 1 John 3:16 tells us, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” If we keep in mind our original thesis that man is the “head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church,” then it quickly becomes apparent what God expects of the husband in the marriage relationship. Our present text suggests a total commitment that exemplifies itself in its sacrificial qualities.
Another quality that a husband must possess is that of profound understanding. One day while Jesus was teaching in the temple, a woman was brought to him caught in the “very act” of adultery. In this encounter, Jesus exhibited a profound understanding. What this woman needed was not condemnation or criticism, she had been caught in the “very act”; there was no denying her sin. Jesus looked beyond her sinfulness and saw a woman who needed understanding and compassion. As a husband exercises his headship, he must do so with the same compassion and understanding. Peter wrote, “You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way. . .” (1 Pet. 3:7, NASB). The thrust of this text is that of understanding your wife’s physical needs, becoming a student of your wife. The husband should learn what makes his wife tick and what ticks her off and know the difference. One of the major flaws that plague so many of our present marriages is that the husband and wife act as if they’re competitors rather than teammates.
If a marriage is to survive husbands and wives must stop keeping score. I remember one man saying that when his wife got mad she became “historical.” Someone said, “Don’t you mean hysterical?” He answered, “No, I mean historical; whenever she gets mad she keeps bringing up the past.” Marriages cannot survive long if such attitudes as this continue to exist.
In writing to the saints at Ephesus, Paul clearly outlined the responsibilities of the husband and wife in the marriage relationship. First, he tells us that the husband is to love his wife with the same sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated toward His bride, the church. To further solidify in our minds the importance of “sacrificial love,” he then tells the husband that he is to love his wife as he does his own body, to nourish or build it up (as opposed to tearing it town), and to cherish it, that is to show tender loving care for it. When the husband nourishes and cherishes his wife as he does his own body, then he is going to treat her with the love and respect due as “heirs of the grace of life.” Interestingly enough, Peter singles out the importance of husbands treating their wives with equality by saying to do otherwise was to “hinder your prayers.” Perhaps we have never thought of it in quite that light, but when we as husbands neglect our wives or treat them with less than the respect they are due, then we impede our prayers (1 Pet. 3:7).
Christ The Role Model For The Helpmeet
Paul in giving his mandate on the responsibilities of a wife in the marriage relationship, stated, “Wives be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Through the years some interesting hypotheses have been advanced with regard to the role of the wife in the home. It seems that in many instances, before one can fully appreciate the wife’s role, we must “de-program” some inbred misconceptions. When a man takes a wife, he does not take a “slave”; a wife is not meant to be treated as a possession. Some husbands, laboring under a misconception as to what it means to be “the head,” have wrongly charged their wives with being nothing more than “slaves” created to wait on him hand and foot. Nor is a wife to be treated as if she were “inferior. ” When a woman marries, she should not be expected to put her “brains on a shelf” and never think for herself or be able to disagree with her husband. Speaking from personal experience, my wife is my best critic and, at the same time, she is my greatest fan.
The attitude of “submission or subjection” is not an invitation to be stepped on, but rather it is the voluntarily lifting of another (in this case the husband) above oneself to serve that individual. Being in subjection should not be interpreted as a status of inferiority. Jesus subjected Himself to the Father and yet Paul tells us that He “counted not being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped” (held on to, rwt). Submission does not mean inequality but rather voluntary subordination.
Again, Christ is the best example we have. In all that Jesus did, He showed Himself to be in complete and total submission to the Father. Notice the comparison, “But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their own husbands in everything” (NASB, Eph. 5:24). Only when a woman dies to her own desires and is lost in seeking the desires of her husband will she learn the true meaning of submission.
Solomon wrote of the “perfect” wife in Proverbs 31:12. “She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.” Even in the face of less than desirable treatment, the “virtuous woman” will be found doing good and not evil. In the context of our study Paul tells the wife, “Be in total submission to your husband without involving yourself in your husband’s sins.” When that is not possible, then you must “submit yourself unto the Lord.”
Communication In A Marriage
Paramount to a successful marriage is the implementation of proper communication. I once saw a little plaque on the desk of a vice-president of a bank which read, “May I never criticize my brother until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.” A truer adage could not have been written. Before we criticize our mate’s performance, put ourselves in her shoes. You might find the fit a little uncomfortable and learn a valuable lesson that might prevent a great deal of unhappiness.
We need to understand that love is more than physical contact. Someone once defined love as “Two consonants an L and a V, and two vowels an 0 and an E, and two fools You and Me.” At times, I must pause to consider the profundity of such a statement. I once heard Yater Tant say that love was not only “blind, but deaf and dumb as well. ” As I have had to counsel young couples experiencing marital problems, I think of the wisdom in that statement. A successful marriage is based upon verbalization of our needs, whether it be physical or emotional. There must be a mind set, not on the physical, but on the person; not on performance, but on mutual pleasure. Sometimes the demonstration of our affection in ways other than the physical are of significant value in the demonstration of mutual love. Paul tells us in I Corinthians 7:3-5 that marriage involves body ownership: “Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”
Marriage involves our readiness to please our mate to mutually fulfill each other’s needs physically, mentally and emotionally. In Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth he outlined the qualities of love; yet somehow, it seems that when we begin to talk about marriage we tend to think that these qualities do not apply to that relationship. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul tells us that love is patient, kind, not jealous, does not brag, is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly, does not seek its own, is not easily provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, bears all things, believes all things, endures all things and concludes that love never fails. I cannot think of any qualities that are more desirable in a marriage than those I have just stated. If those qualities are evident in a marriage, then God’s blessings will rest upon it and it cannot help but succeed.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 21, pp. 652-654
November 1, 1984