Looking for a marriage that’s not just fulfilling but also overrun with joy and blessing? And what of relationships in general?
God promises this experience when we do his instructions.
“All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God” Deuteronomy 28:2 (NASB unless noted)
“If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love… I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.” John 15:10-11 (NET)
Obeying someone motivated by selfish needs is tantamount to being their slave—you serve their needs. However, choosing to obey God, who has no needs, and has demonstrated a devotion to our wellbeing, is freedom. If you believe that obeying God's directives is demeaning or sexist you don't really know Him.
God has demonstrated, via Jesus’ sacrifice, an unwavering devotion to our well-being—our best in every way. Those who are wise and aware of this find obeying His instruction very rewarding.1
As our Creator, He understands and incorporates the limitations and impediments of our fallen nature in forming His directives. By this I mean His directives make us aware of the encumbrances of our fallen nature in the hope that we will seek His help to overcome them. Denying the existence of that fallen nature ensures we never escape its clutches nor will we ever experience the joy of life free of it—our lack of joy, happiness, success will always be seen as the fault of others—blame.
A scorpion approaches a frog, “Will you give me a ride across the river?”
“No,” said the frog, “you will sting me.”
“Why would I do that to you when you’re helping me across?” argues the scorpion.
After considering, the frog answers, “In that case, okay. I’ll ferry you across.”
They set out, but before they reach the other side the frog feels a sharp sting in its back.
“Why did you sting me?" screamed the frog in pain.
“I’m sorry, I can’t help it. I guess it’s just in my nature,” pled the scorpion.
God’s standards for harmonious and fulfilling relationships lead us to face our fallen nature. Although well aware of our short comings, God will never impose Himself on us, rather, He eagerly waits for us to ask for His help. It is beyond our means to overcome that nature, but when we become aware of it we need only to acknowledge and yield the issue to Him asking for His help in progressively removing its influence from our lives. This cleansing is called sanctification.
If we acknowledge our fallen nature He is faithful and just... to cleanse us of it. (my rendition of 1 John 1:9)
The Twelve Step program of Alcoholic or Gamblers Anonymous almost perfectly mirrors the approach we ought to take to find freedom from our fallen nature faults. View your particular fault, be it workaholic or control, in place of alcohol or gambling.
Marriage is, I believe, God’s primary workbench for revealing, confronting, addressing, and correcting issues of our fallen nature and to self-motivate our desire for sanctification—the process of being free of its dictates.
As to His directives for a fulfilling marriage, God has few very basic, yet crucial, instructions. Determined obedience, in His strength, will bring results:
- love your wife as much as you love yourself
- treat her as you would treat a prized, delicate, and precious artifact
- keep placing yourself under your husband’s authority
- fear—revere and respect—him since God has appointed him as overseer (see Spiritual Authority)
These directives are not a request made by your spouse. These are requests made of you by your Creator who gave his all for you. If that doesn't motivate you to do these, as if God were you spouse, then you need to question your commitment. If you love Him you will keep His commandments.
A favourite mantra parroted by feminists is, 'I'll never be any man's door mat!' or for men it's the fear of being labeled as 'henpecked.' If we loved God our mantra would be, 'If God wants me to be a door mat for my my husband', or 'If God wants me to serve my wife,' then I want to be that—God helping me.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God... made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant Philippians 2:5-7 (NIV)
Perhaps 'sanctification' could be best defined as, 'Learning to serve.'
These directives, being gender specific, begin to make sense when viewed in the light of the events of the fall in the Eden garden of Genesis 3. If you feel they are restrictive or show gender bias you don't really know God.
In the Garden of Eden, the serpent approached the woman (later named Eve) in the garden. We are not told if Adam had been approached earlier, but if so, it was not successful. Against Eve it was. Had Adam failed to protect Eve, being consumed with another interest? Perhaps. Most Bible translations read that Adam was 'with her,' however, those words are not in the original text. To suggest that Adam was beside her during this conversation should imply they were both deceived and bring into question the truth of Paul's statement:
“And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” 1 Timothy 2:14, 2 Corinthians 11:3
What made Eve vulnerable to the serpent's offerings that she was first deceived? We know that pride was Satan's downfall, perhaps rebellion against the notion that he was merely a "ministering spirit" serving mankind. Did he play on that same notion that, rather than this status of only a helper for Adam, she could be like God? The same desire that lead to Satan's downfall—rebellion against the potter.
Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? Romans 9:21
What aspect of the serpent’s persuasion enticed her, was it that the fruit was pleasing to the eye or that, by eating it, she would improve her status?
We can deduce the latter—improving her status—when we 'reverse engineer' the outcome. The 'outcome,' was God's judgement and His revelation:
Eve received two consequences of her act. Was the first was a judgement or a move toward healing for her physically (explained below), i.e., she would now experience pain in childbirth. The second was a revelation of the future effect her action would have on her relationship with her man.
1) Pain in Child brith
What was the purpose of putting a painful childbirth on Eve, and on all women thereafter? Was it punishment or was there a purpose? Punishment on the billions of women that followed Eve and for Eve's transgression seems to me to be vindictive and not in the nature of Father.
There may well have been a higher purpose.
Eve's transgression harmed the nature of women that when Adam followed impacted all of man thereafter. We call it the sin nature, the flesh, the old man, etc. It's that part in us that wants to be gods, to rule over others around us, to do what is right in our own eyes.
We see in Sarah, Abraham's wife, this sin nature at work. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many children. As his wife, and while still barren, Sarah took it upon herself to 'give' Hagar to Abraham so he could have children. This act, resulted in a race that continues to be an affliction to all Abraham’s children.
This nature/desire to dominate people and situations robs women of the harmony and joy in relationships that God designed.
In 1 Timothy 2:14-15, Paul writes:
And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman who was deceived and fell into transgression. Women, however, will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control. (BSB)
As a pastoral counsellor, I learned that the only way to achieve a healing change of character was through the experience of a "significant emotional event" (Massey). Where Paul writes of women being 'saved' through childbirth, we have the Greek word sōzō, which can also mean "heal, preserve, save (self), do well, be (make) whole."
I would posit that God had/has a good purpose in the pain of childbirth. The experience could be that "significant emotional event." The trauma of the pain followed by a lifelong change from self-sufficiency to self-sacrifice, nurturing, and loving service to a very needy baby would be the catalyst to initiate a change back into the role that the potter intended for this vessel (Romans 9:21). I suggest it's an initiating factor because Paul adds, "if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control."
What then of those who are barren?
It would seem that it is upon them to even more diligently "continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.”
2) Relating to Her Husband
Some versions read, “Yet your desire will be for your husband.” Having a desire for your husband seems lacking as a divine revelation since there was no one else with whom Eve could relate. The key hinges on the unique Aramaic word translated here as, 'desire.'2 It occurs only three times in scripture (here, Genesis 4:7, and Song of Solomon 7:10).
In the Genesis 4:7 reference, God warns Cain that sin is driving his feelings against Abel, we find the same Aramaic word for 'desire' used:
"And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:7
The implication here is that it was sin's desire that Cain was to master. It follows that sin’s desire was working to control Cain’s actions toward Abel. The New English Translation (NET) and New Living Translation (NLT), “ Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” is congruent with God’s directive that Cain "But you must subdue it and be its master", i.e. do not let it control you. This understanding—that desire refers to desire to control her 'ruler'—is in line with the frequent New Testament injunction that wives submit to their husband.
Applying that deduction to God's judgement against Eve's, some versions use the conjunction ‘but’ to infer a conflict between her ‘desire’ and God’s directive that “he will rule.” Other translations have interpreted this verse as:
“Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (ESV)
“You will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” (NLT, NET)
This now has the effect Jesus described as the intent of our enemy to "steal, kill, and destroy"3 relationships.
Imagine you were adopted and unaware you had neonatal abstinence syndrome. This is a condition whereby your birth mother was a heroin addict when you were born. Consequently you too were an addict. It’s in your nature.
If you were given a narcotic you would immediately rekindle your innate bondage to that addiction as though you were the original, willing, addict.
Would it be wrong for your adopted parents to withhold this information from you? Of course it would. Would a desire not hurt your feels be a justification for not telling you? You could, unknowingly, find yourself back into a serious addictive pattern. Whereas, if you were aware of it and the seriousness of it you could avoid the trap. Would the knowledge rob you of a freedom or free you to avoid a potential bondage. Actually, both, but with a greater enjoyment of life by losing that freedom.
Similarly, this verse reveals to Eve—and to wives in general—that their new fallen nature now has an innate desire to control her husband, conflicting with the fact that generally he is physically stronger and he carries God's directive to rule. This unquenchable desire to control the husband is a root issue for failed marriages—driven by the misguided belief that until she finally controls him, she can’t be happy. The world media propagates the lie that the freedom smoke cigarettes (torches of freedom of the early 1900s), to pursue a career (1950s), and the liberation movements (1960s) will finally bring joy. God’s word says otherwise.
New Testament writings confirm women’s struggle against the fallen nature and provides God's solution for achieving joy:
“The wives, be putting yourselves in subjection with implicit obedience to your own husbands as to the Lord” Ephesians 5:22, 24 (Wuest)
“Wives, be constantly subjecting yourselves with implicit obedience to your husbands as you ought to do in the Lord.” Colossians 3:18 (Wuest)
“women to… be… subject to their own husbands” Titus 2:5
Husbands are never instructed to subjugate their wife. This, we'll see, violates God's instructions to them. Conversely, it is on the wife to fight that desire to control her husband.
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. 1 Timothy 2:12 (NET)
It may be that placing a woman in either of these positions is as dangerous to her highest good as giving a drink to a reformed alcoholic. The woman too, like the reformed addict, ought to avoid those temptations with utmost determination—for her wellbeing.
Further to this, we read Jesus' words in Matthew 19:8:
Jesus said to them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts, but from the beginning it was not this way.
The Greek word used for 'hard hearts' here is the feminine form of sklērokardia which is defined in Strong's as meaning, unkind, intolerant, unsympathetic, heartless.
Is Jesus here saying that Moses (i.e. God's Law) permitted men to 'put away' the wife if she proves to be hard of heart?
In the Deuteronomy 24:1-4 passage cause for divorce is, "because he has found some indecency in her..." Can we assume the cause goes both ways, i.e., 'she finds indecency in him' or is that messing with God's words as we are warned not to do?
As He did with Cain, God makes it the woman’s responsibility to master, overrule, or deliberately act contrary to that fallen desire within her nature—and to do so successfully when she seeks His help. Nowhere are husbands given the responsibility to subjugate his wife, however, he is commanded to sacrificially love and serve her as we'll see now.
In Adam’s case, God’s judgement was not against him physically, but against the earth, against Adam’s labour, and efforts to produce food from it.
“Because you obeyed your wife... the ground is cursed... in painful toil... [and] the sweat of your brow you will eat food" Genesis 3:17-19 (NET)
As a result of Adam’s part in the fall, it has become the husband’s fallen nature to thrust himself with singular focus into tasks like work, golf, fishing, etc., leaving his wife feeling abandoned and not cherished (this feeding her efforts to control his activities). Is this why God commands the husband to love his wife to the same degree as he loves himself, or his interests?
Do men also have a propensity to obey the ‘voice’ of their wife, making necessary God's directive that he would/should rule? Or perhaps it's little boys who are trained to obey their mothers, training which they carry into marriage?
“For the husband is the head of the wife” Ephesian 5:23
“Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman” 1 Corinthians 11:3
While it could be argued that a husband who loves his wife in this way would be easy to submit to, don't be fooled into blaming the other for our failure to do God's word. It's in our nature. We would use an 'act' of submission to trick love or an 'act' of loving to trick submission. God is not fooled. Acting as though we have accomplished the real thing is a lie. In reality, professional actors are professional liars.
Those relationship defects, fruit of the fall, continue to plague husbands and wives today empowering strife, feminism, machoism, and all manner social conflicts which destroy relationships, marriages, and families.
Once these fruit of the fall are finally dealt the death blow will the inequalities in roles be necessary? Before the fall the woman was created to be Adam's helpmate. When that sin nature is dealt a death blow we will experience the peace and joy that relationships were designed to be. Then inequalities will be unimportant.
The joy that Father intended in the marriage relationship comes when, in obedience to God, husbands treat their wives as precious and as equals and wives fear and give themselves in submission to their husbands. Can we pick and choose which of God's directives we will adhere to? Can we be partly committed or must it be total? The nature of salvation is that of an exchange, Jesus gave His all for us, in exchange we give our all to him. Anything less is not worthy of him.4
And the person who keeps his commandments resides in God, and God in him. 1 John 3:24 (NET)
If you find God's directives to be repulsive or sexist, you don't know God and are not mastering the "desire" which actually enslaves and robs you of what you seek most—Joy.
The book of Judges, in the Old Testament, provides us with many examples of benefits of doing what God directs. When we do what we think is right, implying it contrary to what God directs, we find ourselves under oppression, ill at ease, and without joy. When we repent and follow God's directives we prosper and rest in joy and peace.
God's directives are not interdependent, which means if one spouse is remiss in doing their part the other is not exempt from doing theirs, but neither is your reward dependent of their obedience—only on yours.
We can master these fallen nature issues through Christ who is our strength.
Again, it’s only in doing God’s word that we experience His joy, peace and abundant life and as with all of God's promises He tells us, "test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy." Malachi 3:10-11
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