(…continued from Aletheia, part four…)
Because we know who we are and Whose image we bear, what are the truths about how we now live? What are we called to do as Christian women? The demographic I am addressing today is a particular niche of Christian women: those who are wives and mothers. There are many other ways to walk out faithful Christian womanhood, and I don’t pretend that what I am about to say is anywhere near exhaustive. Just the tip of an iceberg. And since I was speaking to a small group of homeschooling Christian mamas when I first wrote this, that is the iceberg I chipped.
So while there is some philosophy here, and definitely distinct theology around it, this is simply basic encouragement for a narrow audience, encouraging specific work. This is nothing new or shiny, but age old common wisdom.
Having previously studied for truth in Scripture about Christian identity and woman, who are we then as Christian wives? How we do know the truth about this? How ought we live as godly wives so that the gospel shines here?
Nancy Wilson wrote that “Faithful Christian marriages are bright lights that defy the lies of a dark, dark world.” (Building Her House, Nancy Wilson, p43) We must not be blind to the barrage of lies about marriage which face us in this dark world, and ask God to open our eyes to His truth about Christian marriage.
First, the smallest, most basic truth we see right in the very beginning of Scripture is this: marriage is between one man and one woman. Marriage is a covenant made between the man and woman, and God—it is not just a legal contract, although in our culture it does include that. But a covenant is deeper, and has associated with it specific blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. I like to pull a bit of Paul in here by saying that it is a mystery: for marriage is meant to be a picture for us of the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church. Ephesians 5:32 reminds us, then, that we are to be singleminded in marriage: pursuing the good of our one spouse, husband loving and wife respecting and both mutually serving one another—because this is the plainest way to show the mystery of Christ. His love and sacrifice for us. His singlemindedness toward His chosen people. Of course, Ephesians 5 is where we can learn about headship, leadership, responsibility—and the complements: submission, obedience, and shelter.
But something that seems less often described is perhaps one of the best verses on marriage in the entire Bible. Proverbs 12:4 “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who causes shame is like rottenness in his bones.” A brief comment about rottenness in bones: this is where an ungodly wife literally tears down her home from the inside out. In the very marrow of her husband, the rotten fruit of an ungodly wife will fester and become putrid. But an excellent wife? An excellent wife is a crown, and she makes her husband kingly. Think about that: the godly wife is not described as a queen, but a crown. 1 Corinthians 11:7 puts it this way: “the woman is the glory of the man.” Crown! Glory! These are royally superior words, ladies. Here is what makes this such a fantastic verse, according to what one of my old pastors used to say: “God has so designed marriage that a husband can not outgive the wife. She is where his strengths are manifested, and come back to bless him.” The husband provides, the wife glorifies. Let me give you just a couple of examples:
The husband provides a house. The wife makes it home.
The husband assures it is livable. The wife assuredly makes it lovely.
The husband makes it secure. The wife makes it habitable.
The husband brings home the groceries. The wife makes a feast.
The husband gives the wife a seed. She gives him a baby.
Our husbands are responsible to love and provide, but we are responsible to respect and glorify. We take even the meager and make it into an abundance.
The first man and woman were given to one another after God said in the second chapter of Genesis, “it is not good that man should be alone.” He said that He would make a helper comparable to him. I know two of those words can tend toward stumbling blocks for some. “Helper” and “comparable.” Helper = someone who helps, aide, advisor, colleague, partner. Comparable = suited, fit, corresponding to. A wife is called to be a complement to her husband—his counterpart, a balance, one half of the pair. This is how God designed it from the very beginning, and this is what it means to be the helpmeet to your husband. Not that being a helper is lesser. Not that needing a helper is lesser. But that being his helpmeet means you are the counterpart, filling in your husband’s gaps, taking what he does and making it even grander.
1 Peter is one of my favorite epistles, and the exhortation to wives reads like poetry in many ways. We are told that “wives are to be submissive to your own husbands,” “not to let your adornment be merely outward, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” And what proof does Peter give us for these things? He says “in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.” So we are given a strong indication that we are to be submissive—to our own husband—and we are given the encouragement of being like Sarah in Scripture if we pursue goodness with courage. (1 Peter 3)
How does that word “submissive” make you feel? I think a lot of people in our modern age find it makes their skin crawl. It rather makes me feel safe, comforted, covered, provided for, lead. But ultimately, I don’t honestly care how it makes any of us “feel”—because here it is plainly in Scripture, and I am not allowed to construe the Word of God if it makes me uncomfortable. I am called to be conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29), and not to be conformed to this world—in fact, Romans 12:2 says that I am to be “transformed by the renewing of my mind, so that I may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Wow. I am to renew my mind and to be conformed to the image of Jesus. And it’s very plain in Scripture that it is good, acceptable, and God’s will that I would be submissive to my husband.
I did vow to be obedient to my husband when I married him, and I remain confident that this is biblical and right. In fact, in Titus 2:5, we specifically read that women are “to be obedient to their own husbands.” There is no question that as Christian wives, we are called to submit and to obey. We might as well embrace this reality with joy and gratitude. If you are married, thank God that you have a leader, someone to follow, somewhere to find comfort and shelter. And ask God to give your husband a wise and generous heart that longs to see his wife flourish, his family blessed, and God glorified. Now, if you do not have a godly husband, please seek counsel with older, wise, godly women, and with the elders of your local church. Ungodly and abusive husbands are all too common, and they ought not be the norm. We are all married to sinners—but godliness is shown by repentance and forgiveness and grace and kindness. The best way to be a godly wife to an ungodly man is by prayer and an excellent witness, according to Scripture. But you are not to be abused. Remember that you are an image-bearer of God AND a weaker vessel. Therefore, walk in wisdom and with circumspection. Do not be blind, but seek godliness with wisdom.
My dad has said that most often, when he has made a less-than-great decision in life it has been when he has not heeded the wisdom of his wife. I have also heard him lament that it is a fool who does not seek his wife’s counsel and respect her input. Mark Chanski, in his book titled Womanly Dominion, wrote, “I desperately need a wife who is well-educated, well-read, precise thinking, culturally aware, financially shrewd, and theologically mature. Such a wife is a potent force of inestimable value.” (Womanly Dominion, Mark Chanski, p149) He just flat-out admitted that he needed a wife. Not a mousey wife with no backbone, not a doormat to walk upon. A skilled helper.
And lest you think that it is demeaning to be considered even a skilled helper, consider this from G.K. Chesterton, for he said: “Feminism is mixed up with a muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they help their husbands.”
So the first truth is that you were given to your own husband as his complement: a glorifying helpmeet, to obey and submit to his leadership. You are in the charge and care of your own husband—not men or husbands in general, but YOUR own husband. And you are called to be his particular helper—not to obey and submit to men or husbands in general, but your own particular husband. Nancy Wilson says, “A wife is to be a helper to her husband, not a blind follower.” (Building Her House, Nancy Wilson, p45)
You are comparable to your husband: not just physically created in such a way as to physically fit together, although that is a particular glory of marriage—and could have been discussed previously in regard to our female qualities—but God also tends to delight in putting marriages together where we balance one another out in a variety of ways. Our differences and similarities challenge, encourage, match, or make allowances for one another. And this is good. This is part of being comparable to your husband. This is part of being his helper.
This is part of meeting your description as your husband’s wife.
(…continued in Aletheia, part six…)