For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.”
1 Cor. 7:22
In my Bible study this morning I ran across a reference to the marriage relationship: Esther 1:17-18, 20 talked about how the king’s wife, Queen Vashti, refused to obey him and so he punished her so other women wouldn’t get uppity and follow her example. After all, “every man should be the master in his own house…” (Esther 1:22). This made me wonder: is this what God wants for a marriage? I didn’t think so; the subject warranted further study. So I went to Ephesians 5:22-33 and 1 Corinthians 7 and wrote down what Paul said about marriage.
1. The wife should be subject to her husband
2. The husband is the head of the household like Christ is head of the church
3. The husband is to love their wives even to giving his life for her
4. The husband should love his wife as he loves his own body
5. Men and women, when married, become one flesh
6. The wife must respect her husband
From 1 Corinthians
1. Man and woman are to be married if they can’t control their lusts
2. Each partner is to do his or her duty
3. The husband’s body is the wife’s and the wife’s body is the husband’s
4. Don’t withhold sex as a method of controlling; only stop as a means to devote yourself more fully to God
5. Don’t get divorced, even from an unbeliever
It appears that the marriages talked about in Esther—not even between Jews—weren’t the Biblical standard God has for us. The verses in Esther talk about men subjugating women against their consent; about men manipulating women and almost fearing an uprising (“the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s conduct will speak in the same way to all the king’s princes, and there will be plenty of contempt and anger.” Esther 1:18 One gets the feeling that the contempt will be on the women’s part, while the anger will be on the men’s part.) No; it seems that God designed marriage so that a wife should be willing to obey her husband, but a husband should only ask the wife to do reasonable things. He shouldn’t be a tyrant. As Ian said when we talked about this, “it’s not actions, it’s attitude.”
I’ve always been a strong-willed person, and haven’t ever been very clear on what it means for a wife to “obey” her husband: after all, if a wife did, who’s to say her husband wouldn’t ask her to do stupid or dangerous or embarrassing things? Men are human too, for all they’ve been called to be like Christ in marriage. The church is subject to God’s will because we know that God has a loving plan for us; He’s God and “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) That, then, would be the epitome of how a husband ought to relate to his wife. He should always be looking out for her best interest, and, knowing that, what woman wouldn’t be willing to do what her husband asked? If you knew sure as the sun rises that whatever your husband asked of you is for your own good, wouldn’t you be willing to obey even some outlandish requests?
Ian brought up “Taming of the Shrew,” my least-favorite Shakespeare play. He said that, really, it’s all about the last scene in which two couples are married unhappily because their wives acted good to catch a husband but really had their own agendas; but Kate and Petruchio are happy because Kate’s learned to obey her husband. She says that she’ll do whatever her husband wants, and instead of taking advantage of her, Petruchio takes her hand and raises her up—making her equal with him and showing that he won’t take advantage of the willingness his wife just expressed. Ian said that’s what the Bible is talking about when they tell wives to submit to their husbands. Submitting to somebody you know won’t take advantage of you—who loves you, as Eph. 5 says, as much as he loves his own body—that’s not being a weak woman. It takes more strength to trust somebody else and be able to say, “OK, even though I may not always see your reasons, I believe that you mean the best for me.” That’s what we do with God as a church, and hard though it may be, I think that’s how wives are to relate to their husbands.
– KF –