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The Story and Struggle of Marriage

In first century Greek, Roman, and Jewish society, a man was the master of his house. Wives lived under the rule of their husbands and were expected to submit to them. So when the Apostle Paul, in his New Testament letters, encouraged wives to submit to their husbands, those words would not have been unusual.

Two thousand years later, Paul’s counsel sounds out of step with a world that no longer advocates the submission of wives.

So what’s happened? Have cultural changes trumped the social order of the Bible? Or is there more to the answer? I’ve been slowly seeing this issue differently than I used to, and I think my perspective is more closely lining up with the unfolding story of the Bible.

The Creation- Genesis says God made Eve to be a “helper” for Adam (Gen. 2:18, 20). The King James Version used the term “help-meet.” Based on this language, many over the centuries have seen a wife as being like a secretary or live-in assistant to the husband.

Until recently I did not realize that the Hebrew word used to describe the woman is used only 16 other times in the Old Testament. In those other instances the word for “helper” always refers to God as the One who saves, upholds, and sustains His people (Ps. 46:1). The word that the King James Version translates “help-meet”, therefore, does not have within it the idea that a wife was made to be inferior, subordinate, or dominated by her husband. If subordination of wives is a biblical principle, it does not come from the word “help-meet.” So where then do we get the idea that God made husbands to rule over their wives?

The Curse– In the aftermath of our first parent’s sin, thorns, thistles, multiplied pain in childbirth, and death signaled that something terrible had happened to the world.

There is another part of that same curse, however, that is sometimes misunderstood. The same list of consequences indicates that fallen men would begin to dominate their wives. After pronouncing a curse on the “serpent-devil” who deceived Eve, God said to her, “Your desire shall be for your husband, but he will rule over you” (Gen 3:16).

Consistency seems to say that what God said to Eve about her husband ruling over her was like a condition of “weeds” in the garden. In this setting, “husband-rule” was not a God-given prescription for marriage, but rather an anticipation of how God’s design for men and women would be misused.

The rest of the Old Testament illustrates the fulfillment of this prediction. In a fallen world the strength of a man is too often misused in government, war, business, and the home.

Yet with the coming of Jesus, strength of body or position gets a new look.

Christ’s View of Power and Position– Matthew quotes Jesus as saying to his disciples, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves… I am among you as the One who serves” (Luke 22:25-27).

As the rightful King of kings, and Lord of lords, Jesus used his three years of public life to illustrate the principle. He showed us what happens when power and strength are submitted to the spirit and purposes of the Father in heaven.

Paul’s Teaching on Marital Headship– Because of what Jesus said about the use and misuse of power, we need to listen carefully to what the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 5 when he writes that a husband is the head of his wife even as Christ is the head of the church.

Because of what Jesus taught about the use of strength and power, one thing we know for sure is that Paul is not giving husbands the right to “Lord it over” their wives. Instead, Paul says that a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25).

For husbands who might not understand the spiritual imagery, Paul adds for clarification, “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself, for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church” (5:28).

But that still leaves another question. Why then does Paul tell wives to submit to their husbands?

Paul’s Teaching on Submission- Even though Paul spends most of his words in Ephesians 5 urging husbands to love their wives, he does encourage wives to submit to their husbands.

In context his words make sense even in Western culture. In a mature relationship, husbands and wives complement and work together just as our own head and body work together for our mutual happiness and survival.

Such submission is voluntary. Husbands have no authority to force their wives to submit. Just as Christ does not control or force his church to submit to him, husbands are to follow his example of leading by the example of loving words, reason, and a servant attitude.

If we have any question as to whether God intends shared love and respect rather than one-sided authority, Paul gives us an enlightened view of marital intimacy. In his first letter to the Corinthians he writes, “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. (1Cor 7:4-5).

Creation, Curse, Culture, and Christ– These factors combine to tell a story that convinces me that those of us who are husbands should be working not only against the curse of weeds, but against the misuse of our God-given strength– not to give in to our times but to reflect the creation design, kingdom love, and timeless wisdom of Christ.

I realize that this is a long post today. Thanks for reading this far. It reflects some thoughts I’ve mentioned before and I’ve been thinking about for quite a while now. If you think I’m spinning the words of the Bible or misrepresenting the intent of Scripture, I wish you’d let me know.

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24 Responses to “The Story and Struggle of Marriage”

  1. desert rose says:

    It will be interesting to see the comments on this blog. I agree with what you wrote, that the husband is the head of the home. I don’t have a problem with it. My husband worked for me for five years and we never once had a problem. We both had a mutual respect for each other.

    I am glad to have him over the home. It reminds me of a great umbrella, God is the umbrella, and then my husband holds the umbrella and the whole family has room under the umbrella to stand and remain dry.

    My husband doesn’t lead by control, but by gentleness.

  2. dep7547 says:

    This is an excellently accurate interpretation of scripture, Mart! I get so tired of hearing about men who feel they have the right to shamefully abuse their wives and churches who shamefully condemn women for wanting to get out of abusive relationships. I have known many women who have gone through such trials and generally they will spend years exhausting every last hope before looking to end their relationships.

    You have picked an exceptional day in which to evaluate this topic as it again goes along with the Mother’s Day devotion in “Our Daily Bread!” Obviously women are esteemed highly by our heavenly father seeing as there are more references to the blessed virgin who bore our savior than there are to his earthly father who overcame his doubts and married her. Scripture tells us that Joseph was seeking a way to end their relationship without embarassing Mary in the process.

    If we further analyze their family relationship, we can be certain that Mary was regarded highly by Joseph: When they returned to Jerusalem and found him in the temple courts, Mary is the one who speaks to Jesus and tells him, “Your father and I have been anxiosly searching for you.” Surely, God wants us to see them both as good parents. Am I wrong to think that Mary was an equal partner in her marriage?

    To synthesize this thought, I believe she is the epitome of a good wife because in what must have been an emotional response to finding Jesus, she put her husband before herself. I believe her example shows how a wife is submissive and retains her equality. Now I need to reflect on how great my wife of nineteen years has been good to me and for me the entire time! Happy Mother’s Day everyone!

  3. poohpity says:

    In Genesis 1:27, God created them both male and female in their image. To me this helps one understand that the man and women together are the image of the God Head. Together we are complete and can accomplish great things for God. We can understand the love of God for His church.

    Go figure these thoughts from a single person. People tell me I live in fantasy land. I truly believe that we can complete each other but I also know that we can cause the greatest hurt. It is only when both look to the Lord and His perfect love are they able to understand the imperfection in each other and not desire that from one another(perfection).

  4. agapelife says:

    Wow, you never cease to give that wow factor, in your “ I been thinking” this just show me you been praying as well as been thinking .

    I myself never married, wanted to but God so far has said no. I am 54.

    I came from broken homes, notice the plural, and it was because Christ was not the center of the home, and it was no just the husband that lorded over the wife, but sometimes the wife lorded over the husband.

    It was not till my military years, and being in some Christian leadership homes of some Navigator Couples or Cadence International. Did I see the true way a marriage should be.

    I must say what I saw, was that when it ran the way you describe not only was that union blessed and the Spirit of God present, but us who relied on their leadership and discipleship, were also blessed and we grew greatly in understanding, in the knowledge and agape of our Lord.

    If what you said was practices more by Christian couples a wow effect and longing by non believers and struggling believers a like would seek Him more. An we would see more full churches and a healing of a nation.

    If I may go on little longer, sometime ago, I don’t know who told me or where I heard it, but I love this quote, and have used it many times.

    “ God did not make women from the feet of man that he should trod on her, nor from his head that she should rule over him, but from his side, that they should be one.”

    Agape ,


  5. Thomas Brown says:

    These truths should be common knowledge to any Christian through the Holy Spirit. This can not be learned or taught. Paul was simply stating more evidence of a right relationship with God. Without this right relationship these truths will not manifest.

  6. Gale L. Jarvis says:

    Good evening everyone, Mart, I do not have much to add to what has already been said, except, i believe the husband and wife needs to look at their marriage similar to looking at life as if this could be our last day with one another, we never know when that last minute will be.
    2 years ago, i was ready to bring my wife home from the hospital, and i lost her in my arms, no good by’s, no i love you, nothing, life ends in a second, we need to cherish the moments we have together.
    Agape love is not i will love you if you love me, agape loves no matter what.
    Love desires to be doing for others, especially our spouse.

  7. daisymarygoldr says:

    That was cool, to use the 4 Cs to capture the story and struggle of Marriage! In Eph 5: 32 Paul calls it a ‘great mystery’ while referring to marriage being a reflection of Christ’s relationship to His church. This temporal institution of marriage symbolizes a far greater eternal reality. In Eden, a portion of the first Adam’s body was used by God and presented as a bride to him. In the same manner, a portion of the body of Christ, which is the church, will be presented by God as a bride to his Son the last Adam (I Cor. 15:45-47). The union of marriage involves TWO distinctly different entities- man and woman, to become ONE flesh. The Book of Revelation describes the consummation of a marriage that involves the corruptible and incorruptible; mortality and immortality; humanity and divinity; natural and spiritual as God becomes ONE with His creation. As we consider God’s submission of love in becoming ‘flesh’ and Christ’s submission to the father on the cross it will take a lifetime for husbands and wives to learn that the true meaning of submission is ‘self sacrifice’ that does not demand/command but requires a voluntary submission of love!
    BTW, ‘help meet’ is to be suitable, fitting, adapted to and completing/complementing such that the half becomes a whole again…

  8. lysager says:

    My thanks to everyone’s very thoughtful comments. They reflect God’s Spirit of love, grace, and mercy. Thank you all, and especially Mr. Jarvis. His comment makes one consider our every thought, comment, action and their ramifications.

    When reading these remarks I thought of our Lord and the Samaritan woman. Here was Jesus, a Jewish man and a despised, by most Jews, Samaritan woman. He knew all about her life situation. He could have humiliated her in a number of ways. However, he used such gentleness, and love in how he related to her. I asked myself how I would have treated this woman. Christ showed more love and grace to this Samaritan lady than I have often showed my own wife, I am ashamed to say. Jesus is our example, so as husbands we look to the One who said we should become servants, and he who would be first should be last. We have a wonderful opportunity each day to apply what He taught in our marriages and families. We do not always do the best job, but let’s not get tired of trying to do well. The Spirit gives us much help to, as Michael Card says in song, take up the basin and the towel. Let grace and a servant’s heart be our guide in all aspects of the life He has given. God’s blessings to all.

  9. Ika says:

    This is the hot issue when I and the fellowship doing a discussion. They who are wifes try to explain and defend themselves while the husband find the verses to defend themselves, but i like the discussion.

    Although I have not become a wife, i learn from them. The truth of submitting to the husband is not easy, especially for me. I am a headstrong woman. When i have a will, i will try to do it.

    But the Bible teach me differently. A wife must be wise. They must honour the husband so do the husband. We can not do it ourselves with our strength, but God has given us the grace to do it.

    Now, our heart is the matter. Will we let Him grows in our heart and process us? Will we keep obeying His words or doing our will? The answer is on us.

  10. sjd says:

    You make great points, and I agree with what you are saying. In our fellowship there are several families that feel very strongly about the headship of the husband, to the point where their wives are silent in our services and the men speak on behalf of their family. In their situation I see love as being exhibited as they lead in their homes. There is true self sacrifice, not a lording it over their wives. They are gripped with caring for their families and discipling them, seeing that they are being nurtured.

    As you make good arguments on what true headship is not and what it is, I feel as if something is missing. Obviously one blog article can not cover it all. What more does headship deal with? Isn’t there more of a responsibility on the husband for the spiritual welfare of the family, apart from loving them as Christ loved the Church(which if done consistently would solve most of the problems in our marriages, and maybe even my question)? Although the passages in I Corinthians 11, 14 and I Timothy 2 are dealing with the gatherings of believers, do they give some further insight on the role of the man. Especially in I Timothy 2:13, Paul appears to be appealing to an order or headship that goes back to the creation order and not to the curse, and not simply to cultural issues.

    I really appreciate your thoughts and the way it challenges my thinking. I will continue to think about these matters as well.

  11. Mart De Haan says:

    sjd, I’ve thought a lot about those same passages. Most commentators seem to acknowledge a mix of timeless and cultural factors, yet without consensus.

    I’m convinced, however, that whatever is in those texts will net out practically not looking like power and control, and certainly not “lording it over.” Instead it has to mean using whatever physical, spiritual, economic, or social strength God has given us for the protection, provision and spiritual encouragement of a wife.

  12. yvetterjh says:

    This was a difficult lesson for me to learn, but thankfully God has taken me by the hand and gently guided me through. When I first married, seventeen years ago, submission was a bad word in my vocabulary. I’d come from a strong-headed family of women who are very independent, and I was very independent. I believed that whatever a man can do I could do better, until I began to learn of Christ. Through His love He taught me that submission and service was unto Him, and marriage is a physical example of our spiritual relationship with Him. This lesson helped me get passed the issue bailing out of my service when my husband was being unloving, that I was still called to submission.

    My problem now becomes, what do you do when my husband was attracted and married a strong independent woman, who now wants to submit to her his authority? We spend a lot of our time waiting for someone to make a decision, all the while my pride is telling me, that I know what to do, and my mind is saying wait, let him lead. I agree with the writer that said, just as much focus should be on the men learning to spiritually lead.

    I realize that I could be building an idol, in my mind, of how I think marriage should be, when it comes to submission. And blogs like this, help bring clarity to the situation, however I cannot help but agree that there is something missing in my understanding on this lesson on submission.

  13. Mart De Haan says:

    Gale, I’m touched by your loss, and by your encouragement to not take today for granted.

  14. Gale L. Jarvis says:

    Good Morning everyone, Mart, thank you, because the subject is still up, i thought i would share what i believe the Holy Spirit taught me several years ago, after 49 years of being married to Joy, we had many hard times, as i believe everyone has, but i believe the Lord helped me to know how to show my wife that i loved her by doing several things i knew she would enjoy me doing without her asking me too.
    I washed several dishes, when i knew she had been quilting all day, and would appreciate the break, helped make the bed many days, done the laundry, helped fold the clothes.
    I believe this is how Jesus loves the church, by always being out in front of what we are doing for Him, whereby our load is easy as He tells us if we are doing what ever we are doing for Him.
    What ever we are doing if it is for the Lord, it should never be a task, but enjoyable, always, thereby even if our spouse is not living as we desire, continue to do things you know they will appreciate you doing, as if you are doing it for Jesus, and even if they continue to not appreciate you doing it, you can know Jesus appreciates it.
    Treasure the moments together.

  15. charlie n says:

    Mart, as a new participant I want to thank you for your studied and thoughtful comments on this issue. I agree with your views. I would add a couple of thoughts.

    First, it’s good to remember that the Ephesians passage begins with “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Both husband and wife are called to a submission that looks like what Jesus did for us, laying down His live for us, doing what was best for us, even when were “his enemies.”

    Second, in addition the the passages where the Lord is our “helper” there are some other OT passages where one king calls another king to come be his “helper” in a battle that he can’t win alone. So, for many years I have been translating this Hebrew word to mean “strong ally,” certainly not a subservient assistant, but one who is called alongside to offer his/her strength in a time of need.

    Finally, our congregation had a helpful class for men several years ago, studying how Christ has loved the church and given Himself up for her, with His behavior being our model. As you have reminded us He is among us as “one who serves.” We can have no better model, mutual submission, mutual blessing of one another, mutual joy.

  16. daisymarygoldr says:

    Yvetterjh, you do have a valid point about husbands hesitating to exercise their leadership role in decision making. In our personal relationship with Christ the Head, we do enjoy the freedom of making decisions every step of the way. In fact we did use our God-given free will to forsake the world and follow Him and we are constantly making conscious decisions to choose the right way by obeying God’s word and the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
    By being submissive to our husbands does not mean we are not to play any role in the decisions of our home (please correct me, if I’m wrong). Men do have mental blocks when it comes to deciding about certain things. That’s the reason why it is good for a man to find a wife and he obtains favor from the Lord. We do not force our opinions and insights but offer them in love with respect for the leadership role that God has given to him. That is how we play a supportive role in being a help-meet!
    The proverbial woman of Biblical times is a perfect model representative of the 21st century Godly wife. Personally, I don’t think I will ever be able to accomplish even a tiny bit of what she did while the prominent husband was sitting all day with the elders at the gate- doing nothing (oops, sorry)…he must have been doing something very important that had to do with governing the city.
    Thomas Brown: You are right that these truths should be common knowledge and can not be learned or taught. I did have the privilege of seeing my grandmother, aunt and mother model themselves as Godly wives (and I try to be an example to my little daughter) but everyone is not necessarily raised the same way. Therefore, it is important for the older women in the Church to teach the younger women and the groundwork should be laid even as the child is being groomed and grounded in the word of God. The home is of course the best place to train a child in the way she should go and she will not depart from it when she gets older…irrespective of circumstances and outside influences of culture.

  17. charlie64 says:

    mart I totaly agree with your views on marriage and the wives submitting to their husbands.This would be an ideal situation and how I believe God wanted a marriage to work.Sadly in alot of cases it is a tug of war for control!! However if a husband loved his wife as his own body why would any wife want to argue with him.There wouldn’t be anything to argue about!

  18. sjd says:

    There is a real weakness in many Christian homes today. I am afraid that many of us men have forsaken our role of loving our wives as Christ loved the Church. His sacrifice is the purest form of submission there is, as is seen in
    Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV).
    5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
    6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
    7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
    8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!

    As men we must step up, or rather kneel down, and live out this role that has been given to us. I believe that as Christ provided Himself so that we might enjoy Life/Jesus, we men must allow Christ to provide for our wives and children through our humble service so that they can enjoy Him as well. This doesn’t mean sending everyone off to Church so the “professionals” can do the job, but rather being the “provider” at home in leading/serving daily. True submission is a privilege that I often have missed out on.

  19. lynntate says:

    My wife and I have recently found ourselves going over this very subject. The church we attend has been discussing the role of women. My wife and I have a wonderful relationship. And I have found that not once have I had to force her to submit to my will. From the start of our relationship we let the Lord be the final authority in our lives. I have found that by showing her I love and care for her, everything else fell into place. I feel that in all questions of our Christian conduct, Christ should be the ultimate authority. He earned that position. And the confidant nature that comes from a man who submits to the Lord is something most women, and others, find very appealing. At least that’s what my wife says.

  20. poohpity says:

    lynntate I wanted to let you know I also feel that seeing a man put the Lord first in his life is very very appealing. It is even more appealing for them to have a burning passion for Him. Very rare now a days but I am sure they are out there.

    I also believe that a lot of churches are having the discussion of a womans role in the church which is a shame because they have the same role as everyone else in the church. We are all one body with Christ as the head.

  21. georgina says:

    Hi Mark and everyone

    I just would like to make a comment and concern for marriages. In my experiences in life and marriages I am married a second time I have seen and experiences many forms of abuse. My concern is that althought abuse comes in many forms it appears that physical and sexual abuse stands out more not emotional or psychologicial which are also forms of abuse. I can show you bruses and broken bones or be tested for sexual abuse. How do I prove the other froms and be protected from them? Emotional and psychological abuse can start slow and take over your life in many ways so much so that you have difficulty funtioning and thinking for your self. When will we be protected from this? Prehaps this is why so many people have difficultly getting out of bad relationships. Is there help out there? I would like to here others peoples comments on this matter. I still strugle wtih it. I have turned to God for my answers and he has helped me but it still takes both parteners. Some times I don’t have the strength to do my part.


  22. aadema says:

    Could you tell me if there is such a thing as a narcissist Christian? My daughter is in the process of divorce from a man who was mean, abusive, and uncaring. The daughter was abused and he belittled her and my daughter. The son – he is trying to turn against his mother. He did claim to be a Christian. Can a narcisist become a Christian? I do believe God does miracles and would love to see one.

  23. aadema says:

    Thanks for your help. I’m just not sure if God will do a miracle or not. He is making very difficult for our daughter – especially with giving her money that he owes her. Any help you can give me will be so appreciated.

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