During the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, homeowners in the city’s Marina District watched helplessly as their houses sank into the ground or collapsed. Weeks later, they discovered that their beautiful neighbourhood with its aesthetically pleasing yards and landscaped parks had been built on a landfill.

Couples experience a similar situation in marriage when they build their relationships on a "landfill" of earnest but inadequate ideas. Sadly, unexpected and jolting circumstances of life often tear them apart.

A strong marriage consists of more than great communication styles or an enriching love life; Christ provides the solid ground on which a relationship can stand firm. When a couple understands and lives out Christ’s design for marriage, their relationship will not be easily shaken.

Love and respect

God gave specific roles to husbands and wives that are in some ways similar and in other ways distinct. In Ephesians, Paul instructs husbands and wives to pursue a much higher and more noble calling than just cleaning the car or fixing a bountiful dinner: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. . . . Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband" (5:25, 33).

My wife and I wrote our own vows for our wedding. We pledged to each other that "in all things, I will love you by serving you and putting you first, choosing daily to lay my life down for yours."

These were not original ideas but simply the echoing of Jesus’ words: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). Christ’s relentless pursuit of the church provides a poignant example of a husband’s pursuit of his wife and the reciprocal relationship that follows.

Head and helper

The Bible states the head of the church is Christ and the head of a wife is her husband (Ephesians 5:23). Unfortunately, this verse, like many others, continues to be misconstrued by men desiring to dominate their wives instead of serving them as Christ demonstrated. Being the head carries the primary responsibility for leadership, provision and protection.

Practically, this leadership includes studying God’s Word, defining the meaning and mission of the family and shaping the framework for pursuing Christ as a family. In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter encourages husbands to treat their wives with understanding, giving wives respect as partners and equal partakers of God’s grace. Peter shows husbands that they are to be aware of their wives’ needs and desires and to respond to them lovingly.

To understand the role of a woman, we first need to look at creation. When God created man and woman, He called the wife to be a helper for her husband (Genesis 2:18). God understood man’s need before man ever realized it and provided an equally capable mate to encourage, support and respect him.

Daily decision

During our dating days, I wrote a journal entry that I gave to my wife when we married. It said, "I desire to know you – your hurts, pains, fears, aspirations, desires. May I protect your heart, mind, emotions and love."

This is a daily choice, a decision to live not for myself but for the good of my wife. This idea is rooted in Christ’s teaching that if you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for Christ’s sake, you will save it (Matthew 10:39).

Every day, spouses experience the painful outcomes of selfishness when the appeal of living for oneself shakes the underpinnings of their marriage. If we give in to the temptation to rule, overpower, control, manipulate and demean one another, we will erode the firm ground on which a relationship stands.

Christ provides the model for understanding the roles of husband and wife. It is only when we abandon ourselves to Christ and place our spouse’s needs before our own that marital roles make a coherent picture of what Christ intends marriage to be.

© 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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