I think we’d all agree that the most important relationship in our lives, apart from our relationship with God, is our relationship with our spouses. (If you’re single, read on anyway because you might not stay single). Shortly after God created the first man and first woman, Adam and Eve, He laid out the blueprint for marriage. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two of them shall become one flesh.” Defining the marriage relationship was one of the first ordinances established by God. And as Mathew Henry pointed out in his commentary, the marriage between Adam and Eve was almost literally a marriage made in Heaven, as God Himself directly orchestrated it. It was a perfect union, created in perfect innocence, like no marriage since.
But over time, people’s perceptions of the marriage relationship changed. New marriage customs and traditions emerged, many of which God never intended (such as polygamy). And the way women were viewed changed as well. In Old Testament times, wives had no real rights to speak of. If a man was unhappy with his wife for any reason, say for instance she prepared a meal that was not to his satisfaction, or if he just didn’t find her attractive anymore, the husband could send her packing and there was nothing the wife could do or say about it. If they didn’t have a family to go back to, many women would be left destitute and often had to turn to prostitution just to survive. By the time Jesus came into the world, women had come to be regarded as little more than cattle and quite often, even less.
According to Jewish historical accounts, Hebrew men began their day with this prayer: “Thank you God, that I’m not a sinner….or a woman.” Not all husbands in Old Testament times mistreated their wives. Ruth’s husband Boaz was an honorable man. Samson’s father Manoah was a God fearing man and from all accounts in the book of Judges, he was kind to his wife. Even so, women who were married to righteous God fearing husbands considered themselves to be fortunate. Being in a loving marriage to a good and righteous husband was almost the exception rather the rule. For the most part, women were looked down on and viewed as inferior, a view that’s still held in many middle eastern cultures today.
But Jesus made it clear that was all going to change. When asked if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife In Matthew 19, Jesus repeated the words from Genesis, thus reaffirming the blueprint for marriage as established in the beginning by God. Jesus answered, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? And as He so often did, Jesus set an even higher standard when He concluded, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate.” The marriage institution was ordained by God, intended as an expression of love and commitment between a man and a woman. Jesus not only reaffirmed the original ordinance, He declared it to be a sacred institution.
In God’s original blueprint, wives were to be our helpers. God never meant for wives to be oppressed by their husbands. But unfortunately, that’s how it was in Old Testament times. However, Christianity would set new standards for Christian husbands and wives, and in letters to three different churches, we’re given instructions that specifically address how Christian husbands and wives are to treat one another. The matter was so important that both Paul and Peter wrote to the church about it.
In the book of Ephesians in the fifth chapter, after Paul instructed wives to submit to their husbands, he had a little something to say to the husbands. Paul wrote: 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.
In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul was a little more direct. To that church he wrote: Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Peter echoed these instructions in his letter to the church. After giving instructions to wives, Peter, like Paul, had a message for husbands: Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
“Husbands, love your wives. Do not be harsh with them. Be considerate of them. Treat them with respect.” Jesus declared the institution of marriage to be sacred and as such, the harsh treatment of wives that had been so common in the ancient world would not be acceptable behavior for Christian husbands. And even though Paul and Peter instructed wives to submit to their husbands, in no way were they suggesting that it was because wives are to be treated as though they’re inferior to their husbands, nor were they opening the door for husbands to abuse their position. Husbands and wives have distinctly different roles in the home and in the church according to the Bible, but as Peter pointed out, our wives are heirs with us of the gracious gift of life. Christianity set higher standards for the way wives are to be treated, which is contrary to the world view that says Christianity oppresses women. Quite the opposite is true. Jesus Christ elevated the status of women by making it known that the sort of oppressive behavior that made wives feel inadequate or inferior would not be acceptable in the Christian church.
And that brings me to my point. Most men today would probably say, “I would never treat my wife the way men treated their wives back then.” But you know what? It does happen, even in our time. I’m not pointing an accusing finger at anyone, just so we’re clear. I’m just pointing out the fact that Christian households are not immune to the world’s problems. There are things men do today that can make their wives feel every bit as degraded and inferior as a wife in Old Testament times. For instance, and I know this may sound unbelievable to some, domestic violence does touch some Christian homes. Wives of men who get involved in pornography or who get involved with another woman often talk about how degraded and inadequate it made them feel when they found out what their husbands were doing. Unfortunately, thanks to the internet, pornography is more easily accessible than ever and attitudes toward the act of adultery are becoming as casual as attitudes toward polygamy were in ancient times.
Guys, I think it’s safe to say that most of us were initially attracted to our wives because we liked what we saw. But when a husband gets into pornography or has an affair, it sends the message to his wife that he’s found someone else he’d rather admire, or someone else he’d rather be with. We all change as we grow older and I’ve heard men who say that their wives don’t look as good as they did back in high school or college, and that’s why they say they view porn sites on the web or that was why they had the affair. Here’s a news flash men, we don’t look like we did back then either!
Proverbs 5:18 tells us: Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. In that chapter of Proverbs, Solomon admonished men not to stray. And in that verse he urges us to take joy in the wives God gave us. Speaking through the prophet Malachi centuries later, God took to task all the men of Judah who had abandoned their wives late in life. In the second chapter of Malachi we read, “And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.
I said earlier a Hebrew man could divorce his wife for nothing more than preparing a meal that was not to his liking, but he really didn’t much of a reason at all. Hebrew men in ancient times needed very little reason to divorce their wives. They could find something seemingly trite and petty and send them on their way. (Of course today we have no fault divorce, so I guess we really haven’t changed that much). So again, if you want to bring your wife down and make her feel unimportant or inferior, just find something really insignificant or petty about your wife and start nitpicking her to death over it. You can also bring her down by never giving her a kind work or telling her how much she’s appreciated. Things like that will wear anyone down.
I want to pause here and clarify that this is no t in any way meant to be a condemnation of any of you who have been divorced and remarried. Things happen. Sometimes a mate leaves even when the other partner does everything right. Like I said earlier, I’m just pointing out the fact that, even though we’re Christians, we are still susceptible to certain temptations and we can fall into certain patterns of behavior if we’re not careful. Christians can and do stumble.
While most of what’s written here is geared toward husbands, we can very easily reverse the roles and apply all of this to wives. Wives are susceptible to many of the same temptations as husbands. God created the institution of marriage and holds it sacred, and Satan would like nothing better than to destroy everything God created, including your marriage. It really doesn’t matter to him if he destroys your marriage through you or your wives. Paul wrote in the third chapter of Colossians, “Think about the things of Heaven, not on things of the earth”. It’s those earthly things that tend to distract us and get us into trouble, and that Satan uses to tempt us. Don’t let the enemy in, and don’t let the enemy win.
None of us are perfect. We all have good days and days that are not so good, and so do our wives. There will be occasional arguments and we all have days when we’re not at our best. Good marriages take work and we have to work through those times. My wife and have been married for 39 years. We’ve had our ups and downs and still do. But I know this for certain; God went to great lengths to bring us together. We were born three states apart yet God directed both our paths and brought us together. And God did the same for all of you. God set all the wheels into motion that eventually brought you together with your spouses. So take care to love them and treat them with respect as God’s word instructs us, and be careful not to do anything that would make the wife God gave you feel like she’s inferior, second rate, or just not good enough for you.