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Previous article in this series: April 15, 2010, p. 331.

In considering the calling of each party in Christian marriage, we must always proceed from God’s work of creation. We do not proceed from humanistic teaching, certainly not from the modern-day worldly philosophy of marriage, which is all wrong. Genesis 1 andGenesis 2 gives us the literal history of God’s creation of marriage. Marriage is not a mere social institution arising from man’s social evolution and designed according to human wisdom to fit a certain time and circumstance. Marriage is God’s good creation at the beginning. The order of marriage was established by God for every age.

The institution of marriage required that both male and female be made in the image of God. God created man and woman equal in this respect. Woman is not some lesser form of creature. God created woman to be a personal, moral, rational creature, with a soul as well as a body. The husband may not treat his wife as though she is not a person in her own right. God created woman an intelligent creature like man. The godly man recognizes his wife to be an intelligent, moral, and spiritual creature of God. The husband who understands this respects the intelligence, opinion, and moral judgment of his wife and is ready to be corrected at times through the good counsel and admonition of his wife. In marriage, husband and wife make all the great decisions of life together. Together husband and wife seek to live according to the will and purpose of God. They were called to live morally and uprightly together before God. They mold and correct and support each other in this high calling before God.

God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make him an help meet for him” (Gen. 2:18). The inspired apostle reflects on this in I Corinthians 11:8-12:

For the man is not of the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things are of God.

Let no one argue with these words, because they are the Word of God. Adam was created in such a way that he needed an help meet. He was not complete in himself. He was created with a deep need for a help meet. God filled this need by making for him a creature according to his need. Man must never imagine that the wife that God has given to him is someone he can easily do without. God created woman in such a way that she could fill the deep need of man. God gave Adam and Eve love for one another in marriage. This love in no small part arises out of the need they have for one another and the great joy of filling that need in each other’s life. When husband and wife serve one another, they learn to cherish one another as God intended.

When Adam first laid eyes on Eve, whom God Himself brought to him, he said with great joy and excitement, “this is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.” The marriage relationship was intended by God to be the source of great joy and happiness, and intended to be a relationship of intimate communion and fellowship of man and wife.

God by His work of creation established the order of marriage for all times. He made man first and He created woman out of man. Man, because he was created first, was made the head of his wife. God created Eve out of man to be the help meet for Adam. Man and woman were not created the same in every respect. God arranged the personality of the man and personality of the woman so each could complement the other. The personality of each is beautifully distinct and different, so that the arrangement of marriage could not just as well be turned around. Man was created in such a way that he could be the head of his wife. His nature was so created that he could fill this role. The woman was created in such a way that she could serve her husband as his help meet. Her personality was arranged differently than that of the man for this purpose. The glory of woman is not attained by her striving to be like the man. Her calling is not to rival the position God has given to her husband, but rather, to live and serve in the noble position that God has given uniquely to her according to her nature.

Sin grievously marred the marriage state. There is virtually no relationship among men that has been more deeply affected and corrupted by man’s fall than the marriage relationship. Both man and woman became corrupt and evil in the fall. This is revealed in the wicked tyranny of man over his wife after the fall. Man’s role in marriage does not give him the right to treat his wife in pride and cruelty and harshness. As we noted in our previous article, God commanded man to nourish and cherish his wife and to lead her with discretion. He is to honor and protect her, and to remain faithful to her his whole life long. He is called by the grace of God to love her even as Christ loves His church. The fall involved the rebellion of woman from her God-ordained place in marriage. Eve’s first act of rebellion took place when, independently from her husband, she listened to the lie of the devil, and chose the word of the devil over the word of God. The inspired apostle Paul speaks of this in I Timothy 2:

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in transgression.

Many ungodly and foolish women have brought great trouble, sorrow, and grief to their own marriages and families. Striving for a place of honor, they are in great dishonor before God and the object of His displeasure and judgment.God has, in His great mercy and through the power of His grace and Spirit, redeemed us by Christ Jesus. Only through this redemption is Christian marriage at all possible. In Christian marriage, both husband and wife must live by the grace of Christ and according to the Word of God, and only then can they expect the favor and blessing of Christ on their marriage. After the fall, there cannot be a perfect marriage on earth. It is unrealistic to imagine that our marriages will be perfect. Even the best marriage on earth will be marred by sins of both husband and wife. Both husband and wife often fail miserably. Yet Scripture sets before us the ideal for marriage, and we must, with the help of the grace and Spirit of Christ, strive to live according to this ideal. Each partner in marriage must be ready to bear with the weaknesses of the other, knowing himself and herself to be a sinner and being always ready to forgive their partners. Each must go with the other to the cross of Christ for daily forgiveness and reconciliation.

The God-given calling of the Christian wife in marriage is that of submission to her husband. This is a noble calling, contrary to what any proud self-seeking woman of the world might imagine. Repeatedly the Word of God gives the woman this instruction:

Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and He is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything,

Eph. 5:22-24.

This is strong and clear language. Similar teaching is given in other passages of Scripture: I Corinthians 11:1-12I Corinthians 14:34, 35Colossians 3:18I Peter 3:1-6I Timothy 2:11-15. Always the teaching is the same. Let the wife be subject to her husband. This is not a culturally-conditioned instruction; it is the instruction from the Lord for Christian marriage in every age and culture.

The subjection of the wife to her husband must be a godly submission of the heart. It must not be one that is rendered grudgingly with bitterness in the heart. It is not a submission of a slave that is rendered in hopeless and miserable aggravation of spirit. The subjection of the wife must be with grace in her heart, willingly and cheerfully. The submission of a wife to her husband is different also from the obedience of a child to its parents. The godly wife is called to submit to the man to whom she is equal as an image-bearer of God. She is not the slave of her husband and ought not be regarded by him as such. She is called the willing and loving help meet of her husband. Her submission is also distinguished from the obedience of children to their parents. Her submission is with intelligence equal to her husband and with mature knowledge.

The submission of the wife to her husband is honorable in the sight of God. It is despised by the modern-day world, but it is honorable before God. Paul speaks of the submission of a wife to her husband as being “as unto the Lord,” and as being “fit in the Lord.” Many women have suffered because of the abuse of wicked husbands. God does not honor such husbands. When there is physical abuse on the part of the husband there must at times even be court-ordered separation for the protection of the wife. Because of the fall into sin the woman will have to be ready at times to suffer for the Lord’s sake, sometimes because of the sin of her own husband. The Lord is grieved by a husband who is the occasion of the suffering of his wife in marriage, even by verbal abuse.

The instruction of I Peter 3:1-6 is striking. The situation described in this passage is a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. Probably this situation arose because both husband and wife were unbelievers when they first married, but later the wife by the grace of God came to know Christ. She was converted to God. The husband was not converted. The two in this marriage are now spiritually opposite. The husband does not know and love the truth. The wife in such a marriage will have to be ready to suffer for Christ’s sake. Peter does not counsel such a wife to rebel against her unbelieving husband and to leave him. Rather, she is to try to win him by her godly behavior. This godly behavior is the behavior of submission to her husband, which requires on her part continually a meek and quiet spirit. This is remarkable. According to Peter, such behavior of the Christian wife is in the sight of God of great price.

According to the Bible, a life of service is an honorable calling. The husband is called to love his wife as Christ loved His church and gave Himself for her. This is honorable for the Christian husband. The wife also follows the example of Christ. She follows the example of the Lord of glory, who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. The wife’s life of service to her husband and family is one of self-sacrifice and humility, and this is noble in the sight of God.

The husband is called to honor his godly wife in her service to him and to the children that God gives to them. The virtuous woman described in Proverbs 31 is devoted to her husband and children. When she lives in such devotion she is like a rare jewel to her husband. There are few like her. She brings great blessing on her marriage and family, and she serves the church of God well for the benefit of the generations of the covenant. Her husband safely trusts in her and has no need of spoil. She has many beautiful virtues. Among them is the fact that she “openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” She excels all those who pride themselves in the vanity of mere outward beauty and bodily attraction by which many receive the adulation of the ungodly world. The godly wife and mother is honored when her children rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also, and he praises her. He ought to do this, for he must recognize that he has received a great treasure from the Lord Himself, for which he must be continually thankful.