God’s First Institution

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It’s one of the hardest relationships I have had to counsel as a pastor. Some pastors are well prepared and have great experience counseling marriages, but that’s not me. I have never been married, so I am an observer of marriage.

But when couples come to me I tell them up front I rely on what the Bible says about marriage as I counsel them. Of course, the Bible is open to interpretation on marriage and I hear every interpretation under the sun from couples.

I will start my discussion on holiness in marriage by stating what the Bible says. Many have helped me along the way to give couples the very best counsel of the Bible. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

My greatest observation when a couple comes to me is that there are two sides to the story and neither partner is perfect, each one needing to improve themselves. Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about marriage and how husband and wife can be holy toward one another.

In the Beginning

Right after God created everything he placed Adam in the garden and then created Eve from his side and rib (Genesis 2:15; 21-22). God included both the man and the woman as part of His image (Genesis 1:26-30).

Let’s flush this out because it’s important to see how this applies to marriage. I will highlight the parts where husband and wife are included together.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”” (Genesis 1:26, ESV)

When God makes man (understand humanity for this word) in His image He declares, “Let them have dominion…” Husband and wife share the image of God and have dominion to gather over all the animals on the earth.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, ESV)

Once again, understand the word “man” to refer to humans instead of the male gender. God’s image is not complete until it includes both male and female. He created both of them in his image. And some scholars suggest that God’s image requires male and female to symbolize the three Person relationship in the Trinity.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” (Genesis 1:28–29, ESV)

God’s blessing came to both the man and the woman. He commanded both of them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. This is not the job of just the man or just a woman. They do it as a joint venture together.

Why is it so important to point this out? Most theologians believe the Garden of Eden was God’s desired best for His creation. This is the way God wanted things to work from the beginning. But sin entered the world and destroyed God’s perfect and ideal creation.

Moses under the direction of the Holy Spirit notes that husband and wife were naked but not ashamed before they sinned (Genesis 2:25). But after the Fall they knew they were naked and covered themselves up (Genesis 3:7).

Sin further affects the marriage relationship when the woman’s desire is for her husband but he will rule over her as part of the curse, God’s description of the reaction to sin (Genesis 3:16). The hierarchy in marriage relationships was destroyed at the Fall from God’s original ideal.

In the New Testament, Jesus sets the record straight on matters from divorce to lust to adultery. And throughout the New Testament letters we are given a clearer picture of God’s original ideal being restored in Christian marriages.

Christ and the Church

Paul presented a beautiful image of marriage when he talked about it in the context of Jesus and His Church. In Ephesians 5:22-32 Paul shows how the husband represents Christ and the wife represents the Church.

Jesus is the head of His Church and the husband is the head of the wife. The Church submits to Christ and the wife submits to the husband. Women have many issues with the word submit. But men should understand their role is just as important.

When I cover this passage either in marital counseling or premarital counseling the woman usually takes issue with this point. I do my best to explain that both husband and wife will take issue with parts of this passage.

For instance, the husband is commanded to sacrificially love his wife as he loves himself. Sacrificial means he does the same thing Jesus did for the Church. The husband is willing to die for his wife, even the most gruesome way as Christ did for His Church.

However you want to understand Christ’s role and the husband’s role you must see that Christ used his leadership to be sacrificial and unconditionally love the Church. Jesus used His leadership to present the Church to Himself in splendor without spot or blemishes. Husbands love their wives to the point of nourishing them so they flourish in their calling.

Peter also addresses the marital relationship between Christian husbands and wives (1 Peter 3:1-7). He explains submission as a witness of their relationship with the Lord, and it can even win their non-Christian husbands over to the Lord without a word.

Husbands must live understandingly with their wives, not abusing them. The wise husband seeks his wife’s counsel in every decision. Why would a husband not want to know what his wife thinks about everything they face in life together?

Paul and Peter flipped the current Greco-Roman culture between husbands and wives on its head. Roman husbands could treat their wives anyway they wished. But the restrictions of loving wives sacrificially as Christ loved the Church changes everything. Husbands are not harsh with their wives or able to take advantage of them.

Who’s in Charge?

The question of who’s in charge in any social situation, marriage included, is always in the forefront of our minds. I believe asking the question itself shows how far we have fallen from God’s original ideal.

Because of the sin in our world we want to know who’s got all the power. Feminists fought to get the power back from men. Men twist Scriptures dealing with cultural situations in churches in the New Testament letters to subjugate women. We are all to blame because we’re thinking like fallen creatures instead of new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Addressing the Scriptures that deal with women in ministry is outside of the purview of this post. Needless to say, I can point to several reasons why we’re asking the wrong question. We take our cue from the beginning of Genesis where God clearly included both men and women, husband and wife, as part of His image, His blessing, and His command to rule the animals and earth together.

Further, as new creatures in Christ both men and women are saved by God’s grace through faith. In no instance in the Bible does God invoke gender when he talks about salvation, sanctification, or giving of gifts of the Spirit. And these are just a few examples.

The same Paul who talked about the specific cultural issues in some of the churches, restricting the roles of women in these churches is the same Paul who highlighted the leadership ministry of women like Priscilla (whose name often appears before her husband Aquila), Phoebe who was a deacon, and several others throughout his letters.

Although it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around it, before Paul talked about wives submitting to their husbands, he mentioned one verse above (Ephesians 5:21) that every person, both men and women, in the Church submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Jesus is in charge as the Head of His Church first and foremost. We all submit to him. And then in different circumstances we submit to one another. For further explanation, check out my post on mutual submission in the body of Christ.

So in marriage husbands and wives share in leadership in the home. They address every issue together and take on life together. They were meant to function as one, complementing one another’s weaknesses.

Husbands who love their wives cherish them and hold them in the highest regard. Wives respect their husbands and provide wise counsel. God created the marriage relationship for husband-and-wife to work together.

Seeing Eye to Eye

So far I have been talking about a Christian marriage where both husband and wife are Christians. But what do you do if you are in a mixed relationship, where one spouse is a Christian and one is not?

First Corinthians 7 goes into detail about how to deal with an unbelieving spouse. Some of Paul’s advice tells the believing spouse to stay in the relationship as long as the unbelieving spouse is willing to live with them (1 Corinthians 7:12-14).

He counsels that you should stay in the same situation that you were when you came to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:20). Peter has already said that a wife who lives for the Lord before her husband can win him over to the faith (1 Peter 3:1).

Paul counsels people to not be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). But many times one of the spouses comes to Christ after they are married. This changes the dynamic in the relationship. In these situations prayer is a mighty tool. Pray for your unbelieving spouse because God can do great things through prayer.

Try to live in a peaceable and understanding way with your spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15; Romans 12:18). Jesus calls all Christians to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). But if the unbelieving spouse cannot live with you because you are a Christian, you are free to separate from that spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15).

In any marriage relationship if the spouse commits adultery Jesus gives permission to divorce (Matthew 5:32). But God hates divorce. If it can be avoided, then by all means avoid it. Divorce has become too common a cultural phenomenon. Christians must refuse the urge to have divorce on the table.

When I do premarital counseling I counsel couples to not even allow divorce to be a thought. Don’t let it on the table as a way out if things don’t go your way. I can imagine the big things or even the little things that add up that will drive you nuts about your spouse. You don’t always know these things before you are in this intimate relationship.

But we must do all we can in every relationship, especially marriage, to maintain peace in the home and love between spouses. Break the cultural barrier and stay together through thick and thin. Work hard at your marriage and it will reward you over time.

A few of the most common reasons people have problems in their marriages are finances, communication, and selfishness. Many times I have sat at my desk as a pastor and wished the bickering would stop long enough for me to show both spouses how each of them were being selfish with the other.

We need to learn how to communicate in each other’s languages. There’s a reason books like, “The Five Love Languages,” and “Men are from Mars Women are from Venus” are written and very popular.

When you come to an impasse Christian counselors specializing in marriage counseling are available to you. There are great books written for marriage from a biblical point of view. Avail yourself of all of these resources.

Conquering Life Together

When we look at all of the biblical evidence concerning marriage we see there is mutual love and respect, and mutual submission between marriage partners. God designed marriage as an institution that prepares husband-and-wife to conquer life together.

Through consulting with one another and carrying the load of all the responsibilities that come with marriage, husband and wife complement one another. This is the way God designed marriage.

God didn’t see Adam being alone in the garden as a good thing. He created the woman as a helper to Adam. This doesn’t mean she was subservient to him. The word “helper” is used elsewhere in Scripture to refer to God Himself, and he is subservient to no human.

Instead of asking who’s in charge or seeking to control one another, husband and wife should work together. They should complement one another’s weaknesses with their strengths. Don’t allow the decay and sinful environment of this world to destroy your marriage.

Jesus must be the center of your marriage. When husband-and-wife submit to the Lord first they will find no trouble working together. God did not create marriage as a way to sabotage one another or ruin each other. He created it as a fortress for husband-and-wife to stand under as they face the storms of life and defeat them.


Marriage is not an easy institution. After the honeymoon wears off, up to two years, husband and wife may find themselves in squabble after squabble. But it doesn’t have to be this way and God didn’t make it that way in the beginning.

Each spouse must put the other before him or her. Husbands must love their wives sacrificially with Jesus as their example. Wives lovingly trust and respect their husbands as they live life together. They seek one another’s counsel and wisdom. What are some cultural issues that have tripped you up from seeing God’s vision for marriage?

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