Privileges And Responsibilities of the Christian Couple
“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church. . . ” (Ephesians 5:23)
Half of all marriages end in divorce in the United States today. Divorce has become so common and condoned that the marriage that does survive, let alone the happy marriage, is the one that is the oddity. Society even goes so far as to insult those that have chosen to commit their lives to loving one partner. It’s no wonder that the divorce rate is so high when our world is moving farther and farther away from living according to God’s principles. When God is no longer the focal point in a God-ordained arrangement, achieving a successful—truly intimate—marriage becomes a matter of chance. For the Christian though, achieving a successful marriage is definitely not a matter of chance, but a matter of understanding what the Scriptures say on the subject and understanding what both our responsibilities and privileges are as a husband or as a wife.
The Scriptures specifically tell us that men and women are placed differently in the divine order. The Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 11:3, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” This verse applies not only to the marital relationship, but also to the much broader picture of God’s entire creation. Paul aptly uses the human body to illustrate this picture. The head of the body is concerned with the well-being of its members, taking into account the body’s every interest and directing it, and in turn, the body is always willing to please and serve the head.
By modern standards, this concept of a Divine Order is viewed as primitive, old-fashioned, and unfair to the woman. There is no question that over the centuries the man has abused his natural position as the head of the woman and that she has suffered injustice. Because Eve participated in original sin, part of the curse placed upon the human race included woman’s suppression, and God foresaw that man would abuse his natural position when he cursed Adam and Eve in the garden. Genesis 3:16 tells us, “. . . I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be subject to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Today, many women omit the phrase “to honor and obey” from the traditional wedding vow, finding it offensive. And we have all witnessed the Civil Rights movement regarding equality for women in the work place, not to mention a general breakdown of the family unit due, in part, to many women choosing to pursue careers. It is this part of the curse and a general misunderstanding of the subject that are responsible for the lack of respect for God’s order of things.
No where in the Scriptures is headship synonymous with tyrannical authority, but on the contrary headship is a synonym for love and provision. The relationship of a husband to his wife is, ideally, a loving one just as the relationship of Christ to his Church is that of love. Christ, as our head, is our example of perfect love. “. . . I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Jesus says in Gethsemane, “And I have declared to them your name, and will declare it, that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17: 26). Jesus loves his church, his body, and “so ought men to love their wives as their own bodies” (Eph. 5:28).
Out of love and wisdom, God provided this care-taking system in which he, God, is the Supreme Being and the head of Christ. Christ, in turn, is our head. The Scriptures continually depict this picture. Jesus says in John 12:49, “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.” And in John 14:28, “. . . for my Father is greater than I.” And, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9). As highly exalted as Christ is, God “set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1: 20). God will— rightfully so—forever remain the supreme being and the head of Christ just as Christ will forever remain the head of the Church.
Understanding that the relationship of a husband to a wife is not one of tyranny and rulership, but is one of love picturing Christ and the Church is fundamental to achieving a successful marriage. Spiritually, we know that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male or female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). “For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Nevertheless, we remain in our fleshly bodies and must interact on the human level. God has graciously provided the gift of marriage as a means of expression—an intimate bond designed for both pleasure and function.
Marriage is Honorable
For the new creature, choosing to marry is an honorable decision even though we are encouraged to first consider remaining unmarried. In 1 Corinthians chapter 7, Paul speaks his opinion saying, “For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, . . . I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” But “marriage is honorable in all”, and even Jesus shows his approval of marriage when he attends a wedding and there performs his first miracle —the turning of water into wine (John 2:1-11). In a later encounter, Jesus says in response to the Pharisees, “Have ye not read, .. . For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?” (Matt. 19:5, 6).
Choosing a Mate
Before a Christian even enters into a marriage relationship, he or she is seriously responsible for wisely choosing a mate. The bond of marriage is a lifetime commitment and not one to be lightly considered. It makes sense, then, that our responsibility for a successful marriage begins before we say, “I do.” So many people today enter into marriage knowing that they have “strikes” against them but believing that love will conquer any incompatibilities. No matter how naturally compatible two people are, as any married person will affirm, a content and happy marriage requires work on the part of both participants. Why not enter this commitment with every advantage?
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6, “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” While this scripture is generally and appropriately applied to any relationship in our lives in which we are in close communion with another, it is especially appropriately applied to the marriage relationship. If, as Christians, we are commanded to separate ourselves from the unclean thing (verse 17) and be yoked together with believers, how much more so this verse should apply to the one person we choose to spend our lifetime loving.
Paul uses the yoke as a fitting picture to illustrate how closely we walk with our mate and how important it is that we are well-matched. The yoke is a wooden frame fitted across the necks of two oxen or other animals which joins them together in pulling a plow. How crucial it is that both animals are of the same strength and size and that both understand the direction they are to follow. The picture implies a closeness and an intimacy that result from being properly yoked, and if the yoking is an improper one, it will eventually be severed.
Once a couple has located each other and determined that they are spiritually compatible, that is to say, that they have both consecrated their lives to the Lord and hold similar views as to how to carry out their consecrations, they are still responsible for considering issues that will affect their “yoking.” Before entering into a marriage contract, the Christian couple must examine and answer several questions that will greatly affect their walk together as husband and wife. For instance: Where will we live after marrying? Will we both work and if so, for how long do we desire this arrangement? Do we want to have children? How many do we want and how soon do we want them? Do we want the children to have a parent who stays home with them? What ecclesia will we attend? What role will our in-laws play in our marriage? How will we make financial decisions? Who will balance the checkbook and pay the bills? How do we feel about credit? What will each of our household responsibilities be? The answers to these questions will further determine the couple’s compatibility.
The Marriage Roles
Once the Christian couple has progressed through the courtship and engagement periods and becomes husband and wife, their walk, in essence, begins. The scriptures give us some guidelines for conduct as husband and wife. Concerning the wife’s role, the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 5:33, “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” And in I Peter 3, the Apostle says, “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; . . . Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. . . .”
We see from these verses that the Lord greatly values a wife who reverences her husband. Some may misinterpret these passages to mean that the woman is to obey the man as a slave obeys his master, but we know that the Church honors and respects her Lord out of love. The wife should always feel that she has a voice in the relationship, a thinking mind and is able to contribute to decision-making. The wife should never subject herself so far that her person, her identity is extinguished, but rather when in need of presenting thoughts and ideas, presents them in a respectful manner showing that she honors her husband as her head. “Therefore, as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (Eph. 5:24).The wife’s responsibility to reverence her husband is fundamental to all her actions toward him.
Another responsibility of the wife to the husband is to be his helpmate. “. . . [Man] is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man” (I Cor. 11: 7-9). The church was given to Jesus and created for Jesus to be his helpmate in bringing back the world of mankind to perfection, for he prays in John 17, “I have manifested thy name unto men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.” Just as the church is Jesus’ helpmate, the woman was created to be man’s helpmate. It is her responsibility to see that she helps her husband maintain headship by cooperating with his final judgments.
Concerning the husband, Paul says in Ephesians 5, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. . . . So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.” We have already discussed the husband’s role as being one of headship and not tyranny. The husband is to love his wife as an extension, a part of himself. As he cares for his own body, physically and mentally, he is to show the same amount of care and concern for his wife. He nourishes her by providing for her both temporally and spiritually just as Christ nourishes his bride, his body, by directing, counseling, protecting it.
“Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them [wives] according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered”(1 Peter 3:7). This verse encourages the husband to use his headship in a wise manner “according to knowledge,” and with this headship, honoring her, which implies that he is not to rule as a slave driver or an oppressor, but rather honor her opinions and ideas. Just as the woman is commanded to respect her husband, that same respect is due to her. “Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband” (1 Cor. 7:3). Peter implies another responsibility that the husband has to his wife. He is to remember that they are “heirs together of the grace of life,” and being the stronger vessel, cultivate her spiritual growth. As Jesus shapes the character of his church, the husband must be attentive to opportunities that will help his wife to grow spiritually.
When a man and a woman have been joined in marriage after wisely considering what the scriptures say, and have emerged still emotionally and physically attracted to one another, they are truly—what the scriptures term—one flesh. “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh” (Eph. 5:31). What a privilege to walk through life with a partner who shares the same goals and beliefs and understands the picture of Christ and his bride. Together, the two are stewards of all the Lord has provided. They are able to encourage one another, they are able to learn together, and they are able to pray together. Without the Lord guiding a marriage, it is very difficult for a couple to achieve true intimacy. They are left alone to try to grow together, but unfortunately, with all the outside influences affecting them, very often the two go their separate ways. What a privilege the Christian couple has of knowing the Lord and understanding his arrangement and intentions for marriage.