Roles and Relationships: Marriage

There is a direct correlation between roles, responsibilities and relationships, affecting unity and harmony both in the assembly and in the family. When we have a right appreciation of the significance of the roles that others have, only then will we have a right relationship with them.

The institution of marriage was divinely ordained by God and constitutes a most sacred union between husband and wife (Gen 2:18-24; Mat 19:5; Eph 5:31). If this union is to be preserved, and husband and wife are to enjoy a loving and harmonious relationship together, there must be a true perspective of the roles and responsibilities of each associated with marriage and family life.

When the Lord God formed Adam from the dust of the ground, He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen 2:18).[1] It is interesting to notice that everything that was made up to that point in time was “good.” The Lord said, “I will make him an help meet for him.” The word “meet” is not “mate,” although there is a real sense in which that is true. The expression means ideally suited for him. In providing Adam with a “help meet,” God ensured that Adam would know Eve’s companionship, as well as her contribution, in their service together for Him in His garden.

The principles concerning the relationship between husband and wife established in the book of Genesis are taught throughout the NT. The primary responsibility that a husband has toward his wife is that he loves her. In Ephesians 5, we are given the measure of love. In verse 25, it is the display of love: “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” In verse 28, it is the degree of love: “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.” In verse 33, it is the depth of love: “so love his wife even as himself.”

In Colossians 3:19, we are given the manner of love. The injunction, “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them,” would express the demeanour of love. 

There are at least three different words used to describe the responsibility of the wife to her husband. Individually and collectively, they bring before us the idea of the meekness of love. In Ephesians 5:22, it is the devotion of love: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” 

In Colossians 3:18, it is the duty of love: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord,” or what is required by the Word of God.  In 1 Peter 3:1, it is the design of love: “Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they … may … be won by the conversation of the wives.” In Ephesians 5:33, a very strong word is used to bring before us the dignity of love: “The wife see that she reverence her husband.” The word “reverence” is to fear – not so much to be afraid of, in that sense, but to have a godly respect for.

These responsibilities are the commandments of the Lord. The husband is not asked to love his wife in the measure that she is subject to him. The direct commandment from the Lord is “Husbands, love your wives.” Similarly, the wife is not asked to be in subjection to her husband in the measure that he demonstrates his love to her. However, a right appreciation for God’s order in the home will produce both love and subjection.

In Ephesians 5:23, the husband is said to be “the head of the wife.” This should be distinguished from the statement in 1 Corinthians 11:3 where we read that “the head of the woman is the man.” The passage in 1 Corinthians has to do primarily with God’s order in creation which ought to be reflected in the Church.

In 1 Corinthians 11, while the creatorial order is in view, we may see here too the submission of the wife to her husband. As “the head of the woman,” he provides spiritual leadership and direction, as does Christ for the Church. God holds the husband accountable for his family in spiritual matters. In Ephesians 5:23, as “the head of the wife,” he provides deliverance. His role is to lead, guide, preserve, protect, and care for her out of love for her.

The role of the wife in the family unit is equally important. Paul wrote to Titus of the need for sound doctrine both in the assembly and in the home. One of the roles suggested there for older women is to teach younger married women. In verses 4-5 of chapter 2 we are given details as to the teaching that was to be communicated. Specifically, we learn that the married woman is to be discreet as far as others are concerned and devoted as far as her husband and children are concerned.

The expression “keepers at home” is really the idea of being “workers at home.” There is here also the idea of hospitality. The testimony in the home was to be such that there would be no occasion or opportunity whereby the Word of God could be blasphemed. In 1 Timothy 5:14, the role of the wife is to “guide the house.” This expression entails the managing and directing of household affairs and, together with the expression “workers at home,” brings out the thought of diligence in the home.

If husbands and wives are to have a harmonious relationship between themselves and a healthy environment in the home, there must be a ready recognition and appreciation for each other and the roles that God has graciously given each.

The Lord asked the question through the prophet Amos, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (3:3). This question can fittingly be asked in this most sacred of relationships. Peter speaks of husband and wife being “heirs together of the grace of life” (1Pe 3:7). This refers to two believers who share equally in the divine life bestowed through the grace of God. We must ever remember that while roles for each may be different the one from the other, husbands and wives are equal in their standing and spiritual position before God.

Praying together is of vital importance in the marriage relationship. A wrong perspective of each other’s value before the Lord, either in the spiritual standing of each or in the role assigned to each by God, can be a hindrance to prayer and disrupt the harmony in the home. A wrong perspective of roles and responsibilities not only affects the relationship between husband and wife but also affects the relationship and fellowship of each with God.

[1] Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.