Women and the Marriage Covenant
Deborah L. Rowen
The objective of this article is to study the marriage covenant from the woman's perspective. We will examine how a woman should approach this covenant, a woman's responsibility to this covenant, and what a woman should look for in a mate for this covenant.
In order to study how a woman should approach the marriage covenant, we should first examine how God views it. From Malachi 2:10-16, we can see that God views marriage as a "holy institution which he loves" (NKJV). Also God calls marriage a covenant in verse 14; "Yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant." In the beginning, we see that marriage was part of the first covenant God made since He created them male and female on the sixth day (Gen. 1:26-31): "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, `Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth'."
Both male and female are created in the image of God. Both male and female are given the charge to multiply, subdue the earth and have dominion over it. There is no evidence that the female was created as an afterthought when God saw that man was lonely. Rather, Genesis 2:18-25 gives a more extensive picture of God's creative act and reasoning behind the dual image of God into male and female. Also here is the marriage covenant stated: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). In Malachi 2:15 we are given more information on the one flesh: "But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit?" Male and female are made one in the marriage covenant by the Spirit for the purpose of holy children (see also 1 Cor. 7:14). Jesus said that God has joined them together (Matt. 19:6). We need not understand all the nuances of the one flesh to have a reverent respect for this covenant God created. We do know that God saw it was very good (Gen. 1:31) and it is woven into the unalterable fabric of the universe (Gen. 2:1).
God holds this covenant to be binding until death (Rom. 7:23) with only one exception: "He said to them, `Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.'" (Matt. 19:8-9). The exception God gave is in verse 9: "except for sexual immorality."
If we break down verse 9 logically we see that:
The inverse of verse 9 is:
If the first statement is true (and we know it is since God gave it) then logically the second statement must also be true. Therefore the marriage rule is:
Women must approach this covenant with the utmost care, knowing the seriousness of its binding force by its divine origin. When we enter marriage, we make a vow to the man and to God to fulfill the covenant. Vows are not to be made lightly. God expects us to honor our vows: "Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God" (Psalm 56:12). Also in Psalm 50:14, God said "And pay your vows to the Most High." Regardless of what we vow verbally before God and the assembly, there are inherit vows in the marriage covenant, such as fidelity and submission, by which we are bound. God expects us to work our best to fulfill the vow of the marriage covenant whether verbally expressed or not. Then how must women approach the marriage covenant? With full knowledge of its holy origin and binding nature, with a sober attitude of solid commitment, and with a worshipful and thankful countenance to God for its blessings.
We saw in Genesis 2:28 that God charged both male and female to have dominion over the earth. This implies a certain amount of equal responsibility. We will never know the exact nature of the first marriage because everything changed when they sinned. Without reading too much into the passage, we can say that the relationship between Adam and Eve was different before their fall from innocence.
In Genesis 3:16 God said to the woman: "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." The wife is now under rule to her husband, while he must toil to provide a living for them both. God gives his reason for this arrangement in 1 Timothy 2:13-14: "For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression." There is no point in crying against God's law, or trying to climb over the fence of 1 Timothy 2:12: "And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." It is absolute law until all things are restored in eternity (Acts 3:21). There is plenty of work charged to us. It has changed from the first week of time, however our work is fitting for us. We may be assured that God has provided the best role we can have in an imperfect sinful world.
Looking forward to the time when all work will be finished (John 9:4), we can joyfully go about our business here. All of a woman's work is not within the context of the marriage covenant since a woman has duties as a Christian, whether married or not. For the purpose of this lesson, we will look at a woman's responsibilities to the marriage covenant:
The phrase "helper comparable to man" is also translated a "help meet," or a "help fit." Remember this was done before the fall and the resulting rule of husband over wife. It means that woman is suited to the role of a life partner for man. It also means that her role is not inferior. She is like him yet complements him. Managing the house and caring for the children is certainly a way that woman is a helper to man.
Managing the house may mean different things to different people. The virtuous wife of Proverbs 31 was watching over her household in ways we would call businesslike. She made profits and merchandise, however all of her business was to provide for her household. Most of us can manage our house on our husband's income but some may come to a different arrangement through necessity. Either way, we are responsible for our children and house. The household of Proverbs 31 not suffer from the wife's work and neither should ours.
In Titus 2:4, we are told a woman should love her husband and children. This love is one of affection and kindness in contrast to the love commanded of a husband toward his wife which is a sacrificial love like God has toward man and Christ toward the church. The Greek word for love in Titus 2:4 is where we get our English word "philanthropy" which literally means "love for man." Women seem to be especially created for this emotional love even though the older women are to teach it to the younger. Perhaps what has to be taught it how to properly express this love by caring for the physical needs of a home and unselfish attention to the emotional well-being of a family.
On the subject of submission, much has been said from many pulpits and I believe we all have heard the truth regardless of how well we practice it. I would add that God also commands submission to one another outside the marriage relationship as well (Ephesians 5:21, 1 Peter 5:5, Philippians 2:3). A humble attitude is expected of all Christians. Certainly, life would be much smoother if we all bowed to this law. The husband is the head of the wife by law. No woman can take that position from him no matter how humble he is or how capable his wife. It is his position of leadership that carries a lot of responsibility to wife, children, and God. A wife can only make it an easier burden by cheerfully following the leader.
Among the other responsibilities of a woman to marriage are to be sober, discreet, chaste, and good. Of all of these only unchastity or adultery can break the marriage vow. Proper attention to the other four will make for a happy home. A sober and discreet woman will not be gossiping over the phone about other church members, or passing on titillating jokes. She will be serious about teaching the scripture to her children and in bible classes. This list could go on indefinitely, therefore, the best way to fulfill these obligations may be to measure our conduct against the standard of Godly women of the bible. If vou can hold your head high in the company of Sarah, Deborah, Abigail, and Mary, you are on the right path.
What should a woman look for in a mate for the marriage covenant?
First, you should seek a faithful Christian man. Ask anyone who has married faithful Christian and they will tell you that marriage with a non-believer would never be what it should. Two faithful believers have the security of like faith, enabling them to bolster the other and know that their spouse is as committed as themselves to the most important point of this life: worship of God in strict obedience to His law. A man committed to the law of God will treat you and your children properly.
Our society puts a lot of emphasis on falling in love: not a good way to choose a mate. You could fall into a pit instead. I truly believe that we can choose with whom we fall in love. Young women can make the determination early in life to make friendships among godly people only. Regardless of what the world would tell you, you do not have to associate with people who drink, curse, or behave profanely (that is if you carefully avoid politics). You may simply abstain from their company. Seek out faithful Christians to date, knowing that we marry whom we date. Put on blinders like the farmer puts on his mule so he can only look down the row and not be distracted by what is on either side. Look for someone who meets the proper criteria before you put your affections on him. When you find someone worthy, then you can fall in love. Resist the allure of worldly men by looking beyond physical attraction to their character. Likewise, do not market yourself by your appearance in dress or conduct which appeals to the lust of the flesh. If you behave properly, you will attract faithful men who can make a happy Christian home.
I have put much emphasis on marrying a faithful Christian. By this I mean someone who is faithful to the law of Christ: he must be committed to the authority of God's word. A faithful Christian will not be found at Billy Bob's honky-tonk, the Nashville Jubilee, the Tulsa Soul Winning Workshop, on the Joy Bus, or even at a "church of Christ" fellowship hall. He will be hard to find at Harding or Abilene Christian University. If he is not grounded in the law, he will not be the husband you need to lead your family through times perilous to the faith. Look for a man like Abraham who led his family to be God's chosen people, a man like Joshua who stood up with his house to serve the LORD, and a man like David whom God loved.
A Christian woman should seek a man who has prepared himself to fulfill a husband's duties. Can he provide adequately for your household? If he has no ambition to work, then you will have to work for him. That will not make you happy. A man does not need to earn a six-figure salary to provide for a family. It will be your job to live within his means and you should consider this before you marry him.
You should look for a man who is preparing himself to be a worker in the church. He must be a student of the word. While not everyone will be an elder or preacher, there are many roles that a man should be preparing to fill. What a blessing it is to be married to a man who serves God. If a man is faithful to Christ, then all else will follow. He will love you as himself (Eph. 5:28). He will teach your children about God (Eph. 6:4) and he will be a proper spiritual leader of your family (1 Tim. 3:12).
In conclusion, God views marriage as a covenant which is holy. He created it in the beginning of time. We must approach this covenant carefully knowing its rules and binding nature. Women carry some special responsibilities in marriage including managing the house, loving their husband and children, and submission to their own husband. Christian women should choose carefully who they marry: looking for a faithful Christian man upon whom to place their affections. Finally, a marriage between faithful Christians is one of the most blessed relationships of this life and will aid our goal of heaven.
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