Today, I would like to share with you what I think is the second key to building a great marriage …
Nicole and I are not only friends, we see ourselves as 'partners' in life and ministry.
Understanding the role of the husband and the wife is very important. Genesis 1-2 tells us the story of how things were in the beginning – according to God’s original design. Unfortunately, a lot of people read into the text their own opinions or traditions. As a result, there are a lot of misunderstandings about what the Bible teaches about this subject.
Some people even see women as being inferior or at least subordinate to men. Here are some of the arguments:
- “The woman was created second. Man was made first, so is therefore superior." In actual fact, this argument is flawed as man was created after the animals. Are they superior? If you take this logic, then the woman was the crowning of God’s creation! In reality, both man and woman were created in God’s image and the man was incomplete without the woman, who also bears the image of God.
- “The women were created as a helper for Adam.” In Genesis 2:18, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” So what’s a ‘helper’? Someone to do the cooking, ironing and cleaning? Are women created to be some kind of a support system for men, who are the superior gender? The context indicates that the word “helper” refers to an equal counterpart. A better translation that more accurately captures the sense of the original Hebrew is picked up by the New English Bible, which says, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will provide a partner for him.” Adam needed a partner or a ‘helper’. This term, used 21 times in the Old Testament, is not a servant term describing someone ‘helping around the house’. It is a term of strength that in no way implies inferiority or subordination. It is used 2 times about women and 15 times about God.
- “The woman’s existence comes from the man.” Does the fact that woman was taken from man’s side indicate inferiority? No. Although woman was created from the man, she too was the creation of God. Adam’s exclamation at the sight of Eve shows his recognition that she was an equal partner compatible with him (Genesis 2:23). Adam said to Eve, “You are bone of my bones (internal) and flesh of my flesh (external)”. Adam’s first impression of Eve was oneness. "We’re built the same!" Again, however the argument is futile. Adam was created from the earth so does that make man inferior to the soil? Of course not!
In order to understand what God intended, we need to understand the purpose for which God placed Adam and Eve on the earth. Genesis 1:26-28 says, “… male and female he created them and he said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
God gave both Adam and Eve a reproduction mandate (“be fruitful”) and a dominion mandate (“take dominion … subdue or rule over”). God’s original intention was for the man and the woman to fulfil both of these purposes through a partnership together. He didn’t give the woman the reproduction mandate (‘have kids and stay home’) and the man the dominion mandate (‘go to work and be the leader’). He gave them these mandates in partnership. Both were to be involved in both mandates. He desired that men and women work together in harmony in a partnership of interdependency, taking their rightful place as joint heirs and rulers of creation.
We see this idea of partnership modeled perfectly in the Godhead. The Godhead consists of three distinct personalities who operate in total union and complete partnership. There is unity in diversity, yet equality. The crowning glory of creation was to reflect this ‘unity in diversity’ image of the Godhead. Creation demonstrates partnership and complementary gifts. God created two genders. He did this in order to demonstrate the partnership of the Godhead, which is unity in diversity. God created difference on purpose. He wants us to live in interdependent partnership. Why were male and female created separately? God did this in order to show the vital importance of partnership, team and unity in diversity. Man alone cannot reflect the image of God.
Unfortunately, sin brought division and dominance; a broken, fractured relationship that left partnership behind and established hierarchy. Before sin, man and woman ruled together. After the fall, man would rule over the woman. However, male dominated societies are not part of God’s original society; they are part of the curse. The image of God is “male and female” (Gen.1:27), not male over female.
After sin, Genesis 3:16 tells us that the man would seek to ‘rule’ over the woman and visa versa. The word ‘rule’ means to have or exercise dominion, to reign. Sin brought judgment. Man would be ruled by the earth from where he came and the woman would be ruled by the man from where she came. Tendencies of domination emerged. In Christ, however, God wants to bring us back to his original intention – partnership in life and ministry (Galatians 3:28).
Headship and Submission
"Hold on", I can hear you saying. "Isn't the husband the ‘head’ of the wife and isn’t the wife meant to ‘submit’ to her husband?" Good questions.
Unfortunately, “headship” and “submission” are two of the most abused words in the English language. Confusion surrounds them like a thick cloud. Yes, the apostle Paul refers to the husband as the ‘head’ of his wife (Ephesians 5:22-33) but this headship is a loving servant leadership just like Jesus provides to the church, his bride. It is not an authoritarian dictatorial style of dominance that demands obedience. Christ’s leadership is always loving, selfless, and it even led him to lay his life down for his bride. It is strength displayed in serving with the other person’s best interests in mind.
Yes, wives are to submit to their husbands, but ALL followers of Christ are to 'submit' to one another in love (Ephesians 5:21). Submission means seeing ourselves as 'under' others, lifting them up, and serving them in Christ. It means to defer or yield to the wishes of another. There's no thought in it of one person being superior, better or smarter than another. Submission is simply learning to walk in the steps of Jesus. It's letting God the Father make us like His Son as we submit to Him and to one another with the heart of a servant.
What about decision-making? There is wisdom in multiple inputs and counsel. Any person who makes all the final decisions just because they see themselves as 'in charge' is foolish. It's the same in marriage.
In all major decisions, Nicole and I discuss things through until we are agreed on the final decision. This is wisdom and the decision made is usually the best one because we’ve gleaned from our different perspectives. In marriage, unity on major decisions is essential. This is participatory decision-making and is a wise practice for anyone, especially leaders.
On smaller matters, we have the person who is most experienced decide. If we’re talking about house décor, then Nicole is the one to decide, not me! If we’re talking about which TV or computer to buy, that's an area where I have the most expertise.
Is your marriage a partnership? If not, why not? If so, how is your partnership going?
P.S. For some extra thoughts on the role of women, as well as some recommended reading, check out my blog post on Women in Ministry.