[From ws15/01 p. 18 for March 16-22]
“Unless Jehovah builds the house, it is in vain
that its builders work hard on it” – 1 Cor. 11:24
There is a good Bible counsel in this week’s study. The pre-Christian Scriptures do not give a lot of direct counsel for marriage mates. There is more instruction on maintaining a successful marriage in the Christian Scriptures, but even there, it is sparse. The fact is, the Bible was not given to us as a marriage manual. Still, the principles needed for marital success are all there, and by applying them, we can achieve it.
One of the most misunderstood features of marriage is the Christian principle of headship. Humans—male and female—were created in God’s image, yet they differ. It was not good for a man to remain alone.
“Then Jehovah God said: “It is not good for the man to continue to be alone. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him.”” (Ge 2:18 NWT)
This is one of those occasions where I prefer the rendering of the New World Translation. “Complement” can mean “completeness”, or “fullness”, or “a thing which, when added, completes or makes up a whole; either of two mutually completing parts.” This properly describes humankind. The man was designed by God to mate. Likewise, the woman. Only by becoming one can each achieve the completeness or fullness intended by Jehovah.
This was to be so in the blessed state in which they were intended to exist, without the corrupting influence of sin. Sin destroys our internal balance. It causes some attributes to become too strong, while others weaken. Recognizing what sin would do to the complementary nature of the marital union, Jehovah told the woman the following, recorded at Genesis 3:16:
“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” – NIV
“…your longing will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.” – NWT
Some translations render this differently.
“And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” – NLT
“You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” – NET Bible
Whichever rendering is the correct one, both show that the relationship between husband and wife was thrown out of balance. We’ve seen the extremes to which headship has been perverted, turning women into slaves in many countries of the world, while other societies undermine the headship principle completely.
Paragraphs 7 thru 10 of this study discuss the issue of headship briefly, but there is so much cultural bias affecting our understanding of this topic that it is exceedingly easy to think we’ve got the Bible’s view when in fact we are merely tempering the traditions and customs of our local culture.
What Is Headship?
For most societies, being the head means being the one in charge. The head is, after all, the body part the contains the brain, and we all know the brain rules the body. If you ask the average Joe to give you a synonym for “head”, he’d likely come up with “boss”. Now there’s a word that doesn’t fill most of us with a warm, fuzzy glow.
Let us try for a moment to clear out the indoctrinated prejudices and bias we all possess by virtue of our respective upbringings and take a fresh look at the meaning of headship from the Bible’s point of view. Consider how the truths and principles in the following Scriptures interact so as to modify our understanding.
“But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” – 1Co 11:3 NET Bible
“…Most truly I say to you, the Son cannot do a single thing of his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever things that One does, these things the Son does also in like manner….I cannot do a single thing of my own initiative; just as I hear, I judge; and the judgment that I render is righteous, because I seek, not my own will, but the will of him that sent me.” (Joh 5:19, 30)
“…a husband is head of his wife just as the Christ is head of the congregation…” (Eph 5:23)
First Corinthians 11:3 gives us a clear chain of command: Jehovah to Jesus; Jesus to the man; the man to the woman. However, there is something unusual about this particular command structure. According to John 5:19, 30, Jesus does nothing of his own initiative, but only what he beholds the father doing. He is not your archetypal boss—autocratic and self-important. Jesus doesn’t take his position as head for an excuse to have his own way nor does he lord it over others. Instead, he surrenders his own will to that of the Father. No righteous man could have a problem with God as his head, and since Jesus does only what he sees his Father doing and wills only what God wills, we can have no problem with Jesus as our head.
Following this line of reasoning as does Ephesians 5:23, does it not follow that the man must be like Jesus? If he is to be the head that 1 Corinthians 11:3 calls for, he must do nothing of his own initiative, but only what he beholds Christ doing. Christ’s will is the man’s will, just as God’s will is Christ’s will. So the headship of the man is not a divine license authorizing him to dominate and subjugate the woman. Men do that, yes, but only as a consequence of the imbalance to our collective psyche brought on by our sinful state.
When a man dominates a woman, he is being disloyal to his own head. In essence, he is breaking the chain of command and setting himself up as a head in opposition to Jehovah and Jesus.
The attitude the man must have to avoid coming in to conflict with God is found in the opening words of Paul’s discussion of marriage.
“Be in subjection to one another in fear of Christ.” (Eph. 5:21)
We must subject ourselves to all others, just as Christ did. He lived a life of self-sacrifice, putting the interests of others above his own. Headship isn’t about having things your own way, it’s about serving others and watching out for them. Therefore, our headship must be governed by love. In Jesus’ case, he so loved the congregation that he “gave himself up for it, in order that he might sanctify it, cleansing it with the bath of water by means of the word…” (Eph. 5:25, 26) The world is filled with heads of state, rulers, presidents, prime ministers, kings… but how many have ever exhibited the qualities of self-abnegation and humble service that Jesus exemplified?
A Word About Deep Respect
At first, Ephesians 5:33 might seem uneven, even male-biased.
“Nevertheless, each one of you must love his wife as he does himself; on the other hand, the wife should have deep respect for her husband.” (Eph 5:33 NWT)
Why is no counsel given to the husband to have deep respect for his wife? Surely men should respect their wives. And why are women not told to love their husbands as they do themselves?
It is only when we consider the different psychological makeup of the male vs. the female that the divine wisdom in this verse comes to light.
Men and women both perceive and express love differently. They interpret different actions as loving or unloving. (I’m speaking generalities here and of course there are going to be isolated exceptions.) How often will you hear a man complain that his wife doesn’t tell him that she loves him anymore. Not usually an issue, is it? Yet women value frequent verbal expressions and demonstrative tokens of love. An unsolicited “I love you”, or a surprise bouquet of flowers, or an unexpected caress, are just some of the ways that a husband can reassure his wife of his continuing love. He must also realize that women need to talk things out, to share their thoughts and feelings. After a first date, most teenaged girls will go home and telephone their closest friend to discuss everything that went on during the date. The boy will likely go home, get a drink, and watch sports. We’re different and men entering marriage for the first time must learn how a woman’s needs differ from his own.
Men are problem solvers and when women want to talk through a problem they’re having they often just want a listening ear, not a fix-it man. They express love through communication. In contrast, when many men have a problem, they retire to the man cave to try to fix it themselves. Women often view this as unloving, because they feel shut out. This is something we males must understand.
Men are different in this regard. We don’t appreciate unsolicited advice, even from a close friend. If a man tells a friend how to do something or solve some problem, he is implying that his friend is less than capable of fixing it himself. It might be taken as a putdown. However, if a man asks a friend for his advice, this is a sign of respect and trust. It will be seen as a compliment.
When a woman shows respect for a man by trusting him, by not doubting him, by not second guessing him, she is saying in male-speak “I love you”. A man who is treated with respect by another does not want to lose it. He will strive harder to keep it and build on it. A man who feels his wife respects him will just want to please her all the more to keep and grow that respect.
What God is telling the man and the women in Ephesians 5:33 is to love one another. They are both getting the same counsel, but tailored to their individual needs.
A Word About Forgiveness
In paragraphs 11 thru 13, the article speaks about the need to forgive one another freely. However, it overlooks the other side of the coin. While quoting Mt 18:21, 22 to make its case, if overlooks the fuller principle found at Luke:
Pay attention to yourselves. If your brother commits a sin give him a rebuke, and if he repents forgive him. 4 Even if he sins seven times a day against you and he comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3,4)
It is true that love can cover a multitude of sins. We can forgive even when the offending party has made no apology. We may do this believing that by so doing our mate will eventually come to the realization that he (or she) has hurt us and apologize. In such cases, the forgiveness precedes the repentance Jesus calls for. However, you will notice that his requirement to forgive—even seven times a day (“seven” indicating fullness)—is tied to a repentant attitude. If we always forgive while never requiring the other to repent or apologize, are we not enabling bad behavior? How would that be loving? While forgiveness is an important quality for maintaining marital unity and harmony, a readiness to acknowledge one’s own wrongdoing or fault is, at the very least, equally important.
The discussion on marriage will continue next week with the topic, “Let Jehovah Fortify and Safeguard Your Marriage”.