My intention for some time has been to write a short series of articles for this rubric in The Standard Beareron the role of the members of the covenant Christian family: husbands, wives, and children. This subject has been addressed on several occasions before in The Standard Bearer in the last several years, but it is one that is of such great importance that we need to be reminded of it. We as pastors need to be studying subjects like these often and giving instruction and encouragement to the members of the church for the good of their marriages and their covenant families. Recently I have again read a couple of books that have stirred up fresh ideas. One of the excellent books to which I am indebted for many of the thoughts in this article is the book by B.M. Palmer, The Family.1
The primary calling of the husband is to love his God-given wife. The wife’s calling is to be subject to her husband. This requires sacrifice on her part, and godly humility for both husband and wife. God has made man in marriage to be the head of his wife. This order is not merely a matter of culture or the tradition of the times. It is the good and wise order that God has ordained for marriage for all time, even for our modern age, in which we witness dramatic changes of philosophy concerning marriage. Many of these changes are very evil and destructive to the blessed order God created for the institution of marriage.
The calling of the wife is not an easy one. She must be inspired and encouraged to perform this calling through the love of God and the love of her husband. A godly wife is a gift of God. “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a goodthing, and obtaineth favor with God” (Prov. 18:22). The godly husband must cherish this precious gift of God and treat his God-given wife with deepest respect and love as heir together with him of the grace of life.
The headship of the husband implies that he must rule over her. There are not two heads in marriage but only one. In this respect there is not a relationship of equality in marriage. As her head the husband is responsible for caring for his wife, leading her with discretion, providing for her, and protecting her. The role of the husband as given by God is one of great responsibility. In marriage he is entrusted with the spiritual welfare of his wife. He must care for her, provide for her, and protect her. He must live with his wife in happiness and peace and unity.
It is noteworthy that nowhere in Scripture do we find an actual command of God to the husband that he rule over his wife. The oft repeated command to husbands is rather: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). Love is the primary calling of the husband. His rule over his wife must be in love. Though this may sound contradictory, by love the husband serves his wife, for her good. In love the husband must serve the welfare of his marriage and family. He does not serve merely himself. The position that God gave to the husband gives him no reason for boasting pride over his wife. When the husband rules his wife as a dictator or tyrant he violates his calling to rule over her. The husband may not be harsh and cruel, or even unsympathetic and uncaring, in his behavior when he rules over his wife. He must rule his wife in tenderness and affection, with compassion and with humility, treating her as a fellow image-bearer of God, in honor and appreciation for the role God has given to her in marriage.
It is by love that the young man chooses a particular young woman to be his wife. By love he seeks to attract her to become his wife and show himself worthy of beingher husband. He has no right to compel her or entice her out of any other motive. She must give herself voluntarily to being his wife. For the wife to leave her father and mother and be joined to her husband, she must be confident of the love of her future husband.
This love from the beginning must be much deeper than mere physical attraction or the husband’s selfish interest. He may not be motivated by pride or ambition to exalt himself over another human being or somehow to conquer her person. Even after marriage she maintains her personal identity. His purpose in gaining a wife may not be merely the satisfaction of sexual passion. From the beginning, the love of a young man for his future wife must be with the conscious and determined purpose to do her only good and not evil all the days of their married life. There are risks and sacrifices involved for the young woman that she can make only by the faith and trust she places in the man who has asked her to marry him. This trust must not be betrayed later in marriage.
The marriage bond is an intimate union in which two become one flesh. Marriage is at heart a complete union and communion of life of a man and wife. The husband in marriage is called to nourish and cherish his God-given wife in the years of married life.
Where love rules, marriage brings great joy and happiness and satisfaction to those who live in this state. Love must flourish over the days and months and years that husband and wife live together. Because of the awful reality of sin, every relationship among men is in grave danger of being destroyed by sinful enmity, self-seeking, and strife. Exactly because marriage is the most intimate of human relationships among men, there is the greatest danger of hurt and damage in marriage because of sin. The husband must, in love, seek to prevent this damage from happening. A marriage where love has died is a wretched marriage. It is a marriage where the heart of that marriage has died. It is a marriage where the joy and blessedness that God intended for marriage is tragically absent and where coldness and bitterness and strife will be the rule. When a husband in marriage no longer truly loves his God-given wife, he fails to give to her the most fundamental blessing of marriage that God commands him to give to her.
True love is the ongoing happiness of Christian marriage, the real joy and peace and fulfillment and security of married life. We live in a world of enmity, confusion, war, and unrest. Christian marriage must by the grace of God be the haven for Christians and for the covenant family. We live in a sinful world, a world of many corruptions and temptations, where evil passions destroy many things. These all pose very grave dangers to the true happiness and peace of our marriages. The calling of the husband includes taking the lead in overcoming the conflicts that arise because of his sinful nature and the sinful nature of his wife, which are an ever present reality and threat to the spiritual well-being and peace of the marriage bond. Love in marriage requires constant forgiveness and bearing with one another’s weaknesses. We will make only small progress in overcoming these weaknesses in the years of our married life.
The husband must be faithful to his wife, never forsaking her or neglecting her or leaving her for another. Love must constrain him to be faithful over the years of married life. Unfaithfulness in marriage often is the result of patterns of sinful behavior that develop over time, and of prolonged conflicts that are never properly resolved. The husband may not just give up on his wife and seek someone else with whom he imagines life will be so much easier and more pleasant. Faithfulness involves constant confession of our faults to one another, forgiveness and restoration and reconciliation. Difficult times and experiences in life that drive husband and wife apart must be overcome. Trials and hardships in life must be borne together by husband and wife, and they strengthen their relationship in marriage.
Marriage is intended by God to be a relationship of intimate communion, fellowship, and friendship between a man and a woman. The atmosphere in which this relationship thrives is that of love. The husband must continually assure his wife of the love that he has for her—even as God repeatedly tells His people of His love for them and demonstrates that love daily in His care for and protection of His people. In this, God shows us the tenderness of His compassion and the greatness of His love. The husband must surround his wife with deeds and acts of kindness and goodness and assurances of his love for her. In this atmosphere in marriage, by the grace of God, mutual appreciation between husband and wife will continue to grow deeper and richer over the years.
… to be continued.
1 The Family, by B.M. Palmer, Sprinkle Publications, Harrisonburg, Virginia. 1981