Marriage is God's idea, not man's. It is not merely a human custom; it is the first ordinance of God, and it is good. The complete story of creation in chapter one of Genesis concludes: "And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good (suitable, pleasant) and He approved it completely. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day" (Genesis 1:31, Amplified). We have already seen that woman was formed from a part of man rather than separately from the dust of the earth, as Adam was. Adam recognized her as part of himself (Genesis 2:23) and called her "Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Genesis 2:24 tells us God's purpose: "that they shall become one flesh." In Ephesians 5:32 we see that this union has deeper meaning: "This mystery is very great, but I speak concerning (the relation of) Christ and the church." **
Marriage is the most intimate, profound, and foundational of all human relationships. Romans 7:1-3 tells us that God's law binds a marriage until it is broken by death, and that if one remarries while one's original spouse is living, it is adultery. In Luke 16:18, Jesus says, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery." Again, in Mark 10:11-12, "So He said to them, 'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.'" These are simple, clear statements of our Lord, which must be considered by every believer in honesty and purity of motive before Him alone. We must see the great significance God gives to marriage, for He chose it to illustrate His relationship with us.
The Old Testament frequently pictures the relationship between God and Israel in the terms of a marriage in which He was continually grieved by her tendencies to unfaithfulness. In the last Old Testament book, Malachi (2:13-16), God tells them that one of the reasons He does not respond to their tears and offerings is that they have dealt treacherously with their wives, and "the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one's garment with violence." In the New Testament, the church is portrayed as "the bride of Christ" (Ephesians 5:22-33, II Corinthians 11:2, etc.), beautifully and carefully prepared by Him for culmination in the glorious "marriage supper of the Lamb" in Revelation 19:7-9 and the rest of eternity as the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2, 9-11, etc.).
When men disregard the fact that marriage was created by God, they distort and misuse it for their own purposes, and we see how far it has been brought down in our world today from what God intended. But when we return to the Lord and seek His will and His way in our lives, we can begin to experience precious realities of expression within marriage that beautifully illustrate His relationship with His bride, the church. All of eternity may be needed to demonstrate this profound correlation, but our earthly marriage, with Christ at the center, should be a foretaste of what is ahead for those who are His own.
A good marriage is based upon giving, which is how godly love is expressed, "God so loved...that He gave..." Husbands are told to love their wives, "just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it," and loving cannot be separated from giving. Lust, in contrast, is based on "getting something for me." If a marriage is begun on that basis it is destined for destruction. Unless there is a true care for one another that goes far deeper than physical attraction and gratification, there is no foundation on which to build when testing and trials come, or dissatisfaction and boredom begin. When a relationship is based upon true love and giving, inevitably there will also be receiving, whereas lust will in the end cause all that was desired to be defiled and lost.
Total giving is a requirement for the true oneness that God intended in marriage. At the beginning, each must desire to give all to the other, but what depth and riches come with time and shared experience! In this respect, marriage is again a picture of our relationship with Jesus. There must be a beginning in our union with Him, but as we move on, a precious process of further unveiling and responding continues, until He takes us into the eternal reality and fullness of being face to face with Him. If at any point we begin to "ho1d back" in either relationship, it hinders and spoils the joy of union until the hindrance is cleared away. Jesus gave all to receive us; we must give all to receive Him. Only with time can we begin to comprehend and experience what is meant by "all."
This total commitment brings great joy to both, as well as great privilege and great responsibility. Paul points out, "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" (I Corinthians 7:4). There is no place for self-gratification or the attitude of "What's in it for me?" It is a relationship of absolute giving up of oneself and one's "rights" to the other, which with time becomes an ever fuller experience of oneness and deep fellowship. This is what God had in mind from the beginning.
"To the woman He said: '...Your desire shall be for (toward) your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Genesis 3:16).
Wives are told to "submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord." Then follows "Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything" (Ephesians 5:22, 24). The church's love for Christ is revealed as it does His will, for love is intrinsically related to obedience (read John and I John, where we are told that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments). Likewise, a woman's love is revealed as she does her husband's will.
Love comes from the inner nature of the one who loves; it is not an emotion that comes and goes. Truly doing the will of another requires a deep work within the heart; it is not a surface matter! Only the Holy Spirit can explore the deepest inner motives that are involved in this process. Being able to do the will of another comes by confidence in who the other person is. We are secure in doing Christ's will because we know who He is and what He has done for us. A wife is secure in doing her husband's will partly because of who he is, but more because she is obeying the will of God, and doing it "as unto the Lord." Many times we think we are submissive and obedient, for we mentally agree, but as we look deeply within we may realize (and our actions will reveal) whether we have truly taken on our husband's will as our own. As we do so, we will experience the fruits of that oneness.
In Proverbs 31:11 we are told of the virtuous wife, "The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain." Doing the will of another with our whole heart, with no reservations, brings about a trust within the relationship which brings great privilege (as we will see in reading more of this much-praised woman). On the other hand, mistrust and suspicion will lurk wherever a wife seeks to do her own will rather than that of her husband. This is true in other relationships as well, where there is resistance to authority within the heart. Beware of bringing your own judgment or interpretation into matters: "obeying...my way."
We might gain more understanding of how to be subject to our husbands if we consider some ways in which the church is--or should be--subject to Christ. We can also see some of the results when the wife, or the church, is not "subject...in everything." First, the church should receive its direction from Christ, not come up with its own ideas and plans for how to serve Him. When we are in union with Him, we will know His voice and learn to recognize His direction; He wants us to obey His commandments, so He will show us what they are. Much confusion and disappointment comes when the church comes up with its own ideas and brings them to Christ for His "blessing" on things He has never told them to do. Secondly, the church can expect His provision when it is obeying His direction. One reason so many find themselves "begging" is that they have made their own plans and thus are responsible to find their own support. Thirdly, the church will find complete satisfaction in sensing that it is pleasing to the Lord in response to His direction. There is no need for outward signs of "success" that we often see put forth to show that God is "blessing." It is enough to receive His approval.
Ideally, a wife should in a similar way receive direction from her husband, know his provision, and know the blessing of bringing him joy by her response within their union. Keep in mind that a wife is one with her husband, and his direction should be for the good of the whole, in the same way all that Christ directs the church to do is for the perfect good of the church in union with Himself. We can understand that Christ has supreme wisdom and knowledge of all things, so we readily see that He is capable of guiding His church. But sometimes in our finite thinking, we question the capability of every husband to lead his wife with pure motives for the good of both. Therefore, a wife might feel she must hold onto her right to think independently for her own protection, guarding against the failures and shortcomings of her husband. This thinking will destroy the prospect of two ever becoming one, for it puts a division at the core of their relationship. We can fall into the trap of thinking that our situation is unique and therefore God's order in the marriage does not apply. It is probably true that every situation is unique, but Jesus is personal and knows our situation. If we come to Him in faith, He is faithful to show us what to do so that we will be protected and Jesus will be glorified.
What happens when the wife insists upon "her way" either openly or in the very subtle ways that come to us so easily? She might gain what she thinks she wants, but she will lose what she truly desires for her marriage, total union with her husband. There cannot be two wills that only compromise for the sake of peace but hold onto their own right of independence. Jesus tells us to ask what we will, to ask anything in His name, and He will do it. How can this be? May we think of anything we desire and get it? No, there is a deeper principle revealed in Jesus' own life and relationship with His Father. He did only His Father's will, and nothing more, for His Father's will was His will. We, in turn, come into a relationship of such oneness with Him that our desire is His desire and all our "asking" is in harmony with His will. That we would wish something apart from Him and His will is inconceivable within the precious relationship we have entered into. As wives, our relationship can become this way with our husbands, and our relationship with him will be a reflection of our relationship with Christ.
God ordained a husband to be the leader in marriage and his wife to be the "responder" to his leadership. Each part is crucial for the whole to function in a way that is satisfying to both. If a husband tries to lead and his wife does not respond, either he might give up and be passive or uncaring, or he might proceed to dominate (or attempt to). Neither reaction will satisfy wife or husband, and the relationship will deteriorate if it continues. A wife should never underestimate the significance of her response to her husband in any area, from the intimacies of marriage to the everyday responsibilities of life. She must not be passive or oblivious to her husband's suggestions (spoken or unspoken), nor rebellious and uncooperative, for either response will hinder their unity. Again, this relationship has so many comparisons with our relationship with Jesus. He leads us so gently, with that "still small voice," and it can be so easy to ignore His promptings and just go our own way either purposely or unthinkingly, missing what He wants to do in our lives.
"Likewise you wives, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear, Do not let your beauty be that outward adorning of arranging the hair, of wearing gold, or of putting on fine apparel; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God, For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror" (I Peter 3:1-6).
Here is some very clear and searching direction for all wives, with a very specific application for the wife whose husband does not "obey the word." It is often assumed that this refers to an unbelieving husband, who is certainly included, but this description has a much broader application to any husband who is not fully walking in what God intends for him as a husband or elsewhere in his spiritual life.
What is the first natural inclination for a wife who sees any area in which her husband is not doing right? To tell him so? There are times and situations in which this is truly her responsibility, at the right time and in the right place, in a submissive manner, in love, and in private. The Holy Spirit can guide the godly wife in these situations, and He will guide her when she resists her first impulse and waits for His permission to speak (if it is given). But in all matters, especially spiritual, a wife must learn the full significance of this directive: "...they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives..." Verse 2 enlarges upon this, and the wording in the Amplified Bible is very enlightening:
"In like manner, you married women, be submissive to your own husbands [subordinate yourselves as being secondary to and dependent on them, and adapt yourselves to them], so that even if any do not obey the Word [of God], they may be won over not by discussion but by the [godly] lives of their wives,
"When they observe the pure and modest way in which you conduct yourselves, together with your reverence [for your husband; you are to feel for him all that reverence includes: to respect, defer to, revere him--to honor, esteem, appreciate, prize, and, in the human sense, to adore him, that is, to admire, praise, be devoted to, deeply love, and enjoy your husband]" (I Peter 3:1-2, Amplified Version).
It will take years of pondering and practicing to even begin to probe the depths of meaning expressed in this passage--and this is what marriage is all about! The wedding day is wonderful, but it is only the beginning of a lifelong relationship that should be growing deeper, fuller, richer, beyond what could even be imagined on that first day. In just the same way, our relationship with God has only begun the moment we are born of His Spirit, and all eternity will be given to plumb the depths of His unsearchable riches (Ephesians 3:14-21)!
What should the wife do who recognizes that her husband does not "obey the word" in some way? As noted above, this verse does not tell the wife that she should never speak the truth to her husband. At the appropriate times, in the right way, she should communicate to her husband on any area she senses God would have her share with him. But if he does not receive from her, she must be very careful to obey fully in order to "win" her husband to his own obedience to God. She should not nag, argue, or criticize (verbally or in her own mind). What happens if she does, in words or by her attitude? A normal husband will react either openly or subtly, by resisting her at every point. He will sense her disapproval, division will come into the relationship, and he will become defensive and possibly closed to her help, even though she might be completely right in the matter. When things go wrong, he will tend to blame her rather than face his own responsibility, essentially seeing her as the problem.
It is particularly important for a wife always to honor her husband and speak well of him before others. Sometimes a wife will tell others the faults and shortcomings of her husband, perhaps to demonstrate that she knows better or does better. She may sometimes need godly counsel, and to share candidly with another person for her own spiritual encouragement and help, but her motives must be pure in doing so. Before most people she must let love "cover a multitude of sins," give her husband the esteem he should have just because he is her husband, and thereby identify herself as one with him, whether he "deserves" it or not. Does not Jesus do this with us?
Why do we love Jesus? Because we are perfect and love flows from us naturally? No, it is because He loved us first--while we were unlovely, still sinners. His unconditional love toward us is what drew us to Him in repentance and gave us the desire to be filled with His Spirit. Then it is the continual unfolding of His love toward us that completes the deep work of changing us within until we become "conformed to His image." In a similar way, the wife who allows Jesus' love to flow into and through her toward her husband, whether he seems to deserve it or not, gives him the opportunity to respond to God, and to her, in an entirely different manner than if she looks at his shortcomings and responds to those.
If a wife, from her heart, will obey the injunction to first submit (a heart attitude), then conduct herself in a "pure and modest way," and reverence her husband simply because he is her husband, then she will not stand in the way. God will be able to deal directly with her husband, and she in turn will be able to trust God to protect and care for her, no matter what the outcome.
Sarah is given as our example for this type of situation. Many women have balked at obeying the commands in these verses because of the fear that they might have to do something sinful or wrong in their obedience. If that were the case, there might be a place to refuse to obey while keeping a submissive attitude, but consider Sarah's situation first. She certainly had a fine, godly husband, but he was not presented as a man without faults (the Bible doesn't hide faults!). He even did the same wrong thing twice! In Genesis 12:10-20 and in Genesis 20 (just before Sarah conceived Isaac), we see that Abraham did not seem to trust God fully to protect him (although he had experienced God's power before), so he resorted to a half-truth to protect himself from being killed by heathen leaders who might want Sarah for her great beauty. Sarah must have been a remarkable woman, for she was close to ninety years old and still appealed to other men!
What would we have done in Sarah's place? Had a big argument with Abraham and chastised him thoroughly for his lack of faith? Told someone else, so they could help us? Put on a stubborn pout and started a "cold war"? Told Pharoah or Abimalech about Abraham's subterfuge and pleaded mercy, or warned them that God would judge them if they touched her? It is remarkable that we don't read of Sarah's speaking one word to anyone; she simply obeyed, in both cases. Sarah may have lived in another era, but being taken into the harem of a heathen king is a serious thing in any age. Only one thing made the difference: "BUT GOD..." He personally and definitely intervened for Sarah in both cases and restored her to a humiliated Abraham, untouched and unharmed. Can we not trust the very same God to intervene for our protection when we step out in faith and obey His instructions to us as "daughters of Sarah," with no fear?
** I realize that some readers might be in the difficult place of a dysfunctional or broken marriage, whose hearts may be deeply grieved. Jesus, more than any other, knows your heartbreak and pain, your every tear. I pray that you will sense His presence lifting you to see the higher vision that is open to all who are part of His bride, with no exceptions. May His comforting Spirit empower you to "live above" in your daily walk with Him. Let me also clarify that the relevance of this section is not limited to those who are married. A single woman (or man) is not a "second-class citizen" in the kingdom of God, for neither Paul nor Jesus was married! Being unmarried does not disqualify one from the greater application Paul gives to marriage: "I speak concerning Christ and the church."