Marriage is the permanent union of two sinful people, a man and a woman, in love. Consequently, despite the love, problems are going to arise within that marriage. The couple will have to work out how to live together in love, peace and harmony and that can be difficult. How can we achieve that?
One of the ways suggested by the world is by maintaining the balance of power within marriage. Men and women are equal and should have equal decision making power, especially if both are bringing in the money. The problem is that there is no one who has the ultimate say if there is a difference of opinion as there is no majority. The couple obviously will have to work towards an agreeable compromise. However, what happens when that can't be reached? Who is to decide? There is no ready answer. Often the two go their own way and that is a problem for it sends the clear message: I am going my separate way and that is more important to me than the unity of the marriage. It is a step on the road of marriage breakdown.
God, however, gives us different way forward, which is not based on the balance of power, but on love. It recognises that God has given men and women complimentary roles in marriage. Husband and wife, as human beings, are equal before God, but their roles are different for the woman was created from man and for man, to be a help fit for him so that he might fulfil his God given task. She is to help him in that (Gen 1:27, 28; 2:18; 1 Tin 2:15).
The man has been created to be the head of the couple (1 Cor 11:3; Eph 5:23). He should love his wife (Eph 5:25,28) His wife should submit to him (Eph 5:22), respect him (1 Pet 3:6) and actively support him. How that is put into practice differs for every couple. We are dealing with human beings who all have their own strengths, weaknesses and shortcomings. The balance in a marriage will depend on how those strengths, weaknesses and shortcomings dovetail and how mature the couple is in dealing with their differences. Nevertheless the roles they play in the marriage do not change.
Many women do not like being submissive at all. It goes against the general sinful human desire to be self determining of both male and female. Moreover, they fear this will allow the husband to become an autocratic despot as has certainly happened many times in the history of marriage. Since that is a real possibility let us look at the checks and balances which God has put in place.
Firstly, the husband is responsible before God to listen to God before he listens to his wife (Gen 3:17). That means he has to maintain the God given pattern for marriage, but also obey all of God's laws in love for God, which include love for his wife.
Secondly he is responsible to Christ for how he governs his household, for Christ is appointed as the head over every man (1 Cor 11:3a). That means that the man must be submissive to Christ. He has to govern in Christ's name. He is answerable to Christ for every decision he makes as head of his wife. That does not exclude the wife from his decision making process, but it does mean that he has to answer for the decision made.
The Lord Jesus Christ is also the model for the execution of the husband's office. Since Christ gave Himself to death to save his church, so the husband has to serve his wife and family in Christ's name (Eph 5:25). He is the head of the wife for her good and the good of the family. He is to be a loving husband and father who governs his family by leading them in the Lord's ways gently, kindly, and self sacrificially. This makes the rule of the husband light and fostering instead of harsh and oppressive. In that way he builds his own house. The husband, however, can become self serving since he is sinful. He has to acknowledge that he often fails in his task and, therefore, needs to carry out his task in humility and willingness to confess his shortcomings.
The believing wife also has a model to follow, which is the church (Eph 5:22-24). She has to be submissive to her husband as to the Lord. Her submission to her husband is part of her submission to her Lord. If she is a believer she knows that this is what the Lord Jesus Christ wants of her. She knows that the church can't command her Lord to do her will. She is to do His will. Likewise the wife has to accept her husband's decisions as he carries the responsibility for them before the Lord. Humility is, therefore, required of the wife and readiness to accept her husbands authority, acknowledging that both he and she often fall short in their respective roles. It is the willingness to go forward together in submission to the Lord that guarantees the success of a marriage. That preserves the marriage in its God given shape.
However, to go forward together, the husband must realise that his wife is a help fit for him, whom he has received from the Lord. He must realise that the believing wife has also received gifts from the Holy Spirit and, therefore, must be listened to and her contribution must be taken into account. There are numerous examples of foolish men and godly and wise women in Scripture and in life. Men do not have the monopoly on wisdom (cf 1 Sam 25:3,25,32,33). The wise and God fearing woman will build her house (Prv 14:1) and that can often be by correcting her husband. She can foster the relationship (Prv 31:11,12,23) and if she does this she will receive her praise (Prv 31:30,31). The God fearing wife is a treasure and will be loved and honoured by her husband and not downtrodden (Prov 12:4; 19:14; 1 Cor 11:7), but this respect and love comes through listening to God first and foremost so that her words and deeds are guided by true wisdom and not by a power clash. Then she is truly a help fit for her husband.
That can be a hard call when you are tired or angry with each other, but nevertheless, that is your responsibility. You are equals in humanity, but differ in the roles you have been given. You are meant to dovetail. The solution is not to each go his or her own way for that leads to separation and divorce which God hates. The way forward is that the husband use his authority in love and with grace and the wife is to accept her husband's authority with love and grace and both together are to submit to the Lord and follow the models they have been given. Then marriage will be a pleasure and not a burden.
The Lord Jesus Christ shows that His rule is not harsh and the submissive church rejoices in His rule, so submission to the one who rules in His name should not be difficult either if it is done in love. However, since the husband and wife are not sinless and neither he nor she have the wisdom of Christ in the measure that Christ has it, they should be humble and able to admit their errors and accept correction. Together they can go forward in obedience to the Lord. The two should be one, not only in flesh, but also in love and in spirit.
Rev John Kroeze