Rita and I will celebrate our 46th anniversary in about a week and a half. It means we have been married almost all of our adult life. I can’t even begin to conceive what being single was, or would be, like. When I tell people how long we’ve been married they respond as though it is something akin to miraculous. It is a rare thing these days, but the sad part is that it shouldn’t be. It was once considered the norm, especially among those who consider themselves Christians. What changed?
We have watched with heartache (and even anger at what Satan is doing) as divorce has ravaged our families, our society, and worst of all, our Christian friends. When did we stop believing marriage was a life-long covenant and start treating it as a casual social arrangement to be dissolved once we tire of it, or when it becomes inconvenient? Our ‘brave new world’ would have you believe traditional marriage and family are no longer necessary, that we should be free to choose whatever arrangement we wish and call it marriage and family. We have jettisoned traditional marriage to our peril as a society.
From this point onward, I am speaking primarily to Christians, those who are a part of the body of Christ. Anyone else is welcome to read along but understand what I will say doesn’t work without first having a firm commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior. It can’t without that structure in place; we don’t have it within ourselves to live up to this standard. If you haven’t made that commitment, I urge you to please think long and hard about doing so.
We enter into marriage with many different ideas about it. Most commonly it’s something along the lines of, “We love each other, we love God, and we’ll be happy together for the rest of our lives”. As anyone who has been married for any length of time, or who have experienced divorce, will tell you, things don’t work that way. Our view of marriage, even a Christian one, is far too shallow and limited. As a result, our expectations of each other are distorted by our own selfish desires, our needs, and our brokenness. Our failure to understand all of this has a great potential to sabotage and destroy our marriage.
In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul lays the groundwork for how marriage is designed to work. Before we get to that, it’s necessary to first understand some important concepts. In the account of creation in Genesis 1, it speaks of God speaking most of creation into existence. But when He comes to the last step, He says, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” God took a very personal, hands on approach when creating man and woman. Regarding the woman, it says, “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” God then took one of his ribs and created Eve. She was also made in the image and likeness of God, and out of one flesh came two, who were then joined by marriage back into one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
Two important things to consider and understand here. First, we each carry the image of God within us, but men and women are imbued with different aspects of that likeness. Men are the image of God’s strength, not just represented by physical strength but the strength which helps us to be protectors and providers. Women, on the other hand, reflect God’s beauty and graciousness, his desire to be sought and pursued. Because of the curse of sin, we struggle with living up to that image and need affirmation of our worth and value. Men need someone to believe in them, believe and affirm they are strong and capable. Women need to know they are beautiful and desirable. Each is specifically designed to meet the other’s needs by the giving of the ‘gift’ contained within their characteristic of God’s image to the other.
The other important thing we need to do is examine the word “helper” (or in some translations, “helpmeet”). In the Hebrew the term is ezer kenegdo (let me say here that I know almost nothing about Hebrew or Greek and must depend on others to provide the meanings). The term is most commonly used when speaking of God as helper, life giver, or warrior. Apparently, it is a very difficult term to translate. For our purposes, the important thing to understand is that woman is not just a “helper”, some sort of secondary assistant, but is an equal to the man in ability and support, if not in authority and physical strength. They literally have each other’s backs in that they were designed (we were designed) to work together as one unit, complementary to each other in every way. It was the perfect design, until Satan and sin entered the garden and divided them by appealing to their prides and egos. When we become convinced we can be God rather than a glorious reflection of His image. “I” becomes more important than “we”. Instead of being a reflection of God’s design, marriage becomes something to make us happy and satisfy our own desires, and when it no longer does that it is simply thrown away and we move on to something, or someone, else.
In the New Testament, marriage is shown to symbolize an even deeper, more important relationship. Coming back to Paul and Ephesians 5, he explains this “mystery” and shows how we are to relate to each other properly as husband and wife. The passage reads as follows:
“[S]ubmitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their 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 Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.Ephesians 5:21-33
If you get nothing else from this discussion, Christian husbands and wives, you need to get this: Your marriage is a portrait of Christ’s relationship to His church, that we present before the world. You who are the living, breathing image of God now represent something even bigger. It is part and parcel of our gospel message to a lost and dark world. That’s why Paul takes great pains to explain how each part of it should look and work.
Something else crucial to understand. I would strongly suggest the way we choose to relate and respond to our spouse is a direct reflection on how we see our relationship with Christ himself. I can’t emphasize that strongly enough. Wives, if you don’t respect your husband and show a willingness to submit to the authority placed upon him by God himself, that’s how you choose to relate to Christ, and you need to repent. Husbands, if you fail to love your wife sacrificially in the way Christ demonstrated His love for the church (remember, He was willing to die for her benefit), then you need to repent. She is not your possession, she is not your maid or nanny, she is your equal, your ezer kenegdo. If you treat her as anything other than this you are throwing away the most important gift, the most important resource, the most important ally that God provides for you. She is not inferior to you because you are given authority over her (actually, you should be terrified at the responsibility that’s been laid on you and the horrible consequences for failing to carry it out).
Actually, this passage should never be read without starting at verse 21. We are to be in submission to each other. It is only when we park our ego, or rather surrender it to Christ, that we can begin to relate to each other properly. The word humility comes up frequently throughout the New Testament, not only in this context but in referring to the church as a whole. Love can only be given properly when we consider others and their needs as more important than us and ours. Again, it reflects our relation to Christ. If our will is surrendered to Him, we will also be able to unselfishly consider the needs of those we love and serve.
Church, Christian brothers and sisters who are husbands and wives, the time for ‘playing at church’ is over. The hour is late, and we are at war with an enemy who is out to destroy us. We need to be deadly serious about this. If we choose or settle to be anything less than what we are meant to be we will not survive. We are the embodiment of Christ on earth, and if it’s not too much of a hyperbole, humanity’s only hope of knowing God and Christ and avoiding an eternity in hell and torment. We need to consider carefully who and what we are called to be and devote ourselves with prayers for strength and wisdom to becoming just that. It will be worth it.