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Understanding Your Role

A Key to a Happy Marriage

by F. Jaco Viljoen

Unlike what the world understands, men and women were created differently for a wonderful purpose.

Men and women are obviously different. They have unique voices, complexions and body types. Most striking is that one sex can bear children while the other cannot!

Yet the variations go even deeper. Scientists have discovered that, genetically speaking, the difference between men and women is 15 times greater than between two men or two women.

Inside the nucleus, or core, of every human cell there are 23 pairs of chromosomes. These contain the blueprint for physical characteristics and multiple functions performed in your body. Only 22 of these pairs are identical in men and women.

In ladies, the 23rd pair consists of two matching X chromosomes. In men, there is one large X and a smaller Y chromosome. Though seemingly insignificant, this last pair is responsible for someone becoming male or female.

Even more, new scientific evidence shows that the 23rd chromosomal pair affects many of the organs of the body throughout a person’s lifetime. A research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered that it impacts bodily functions such as the immune system differently in males and females. This contradicts the long-held thought that the pair only affects a person’s gender. There is much more yet to be discovered about the relatively unknown role of the 23rd pair.

Just as there are physical differences between men and women, there are also differences in their moods, attitudes and the way each gender thinks.

Society paints the difference between the sexes as adversarial and that they seemingly are from separate worlds. The popular book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus illustrates this all too well.

The war between men and women is probably most pronounced in marriages. Movies, talk shows, sitcoms, books and magazines frequently portray bickering husbands and wives never agreeing on anything.

A prevailing thought is that husbands can never truly understand wives and vice versa. Yet Psalm 139:14 states that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” So there has to be a purpose for these differences.

There is! Rather than being at odds with one another, the Creator carefully and deliberately designed the two sexes to have complementary roles. Understanding and fulfilling your unique role is key to ensuring you have the happy marriage God intended.

From the Beginning

Upon creation, God desired that Adam live a happy, fulfilled life. To reach this goal, the divine marriage institution was established to provide a companion, Eve, for the first man.

Notice: “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him” (Gen. 2:18). Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible renders “meet” as “counterpart.”

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines counterpart as “a thing that fits another perfectly” and “something that completes.” There is nothing adversarial about this!

After Eve was created, God married the couple, taught them about sex, and detailed their marital roles—namely that the man is the head of the family. The Creator had also previously instructed Adam not to eat from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

Yet Satan immediately began working to corrupt these God-ordained roles. The devil manifested himself as a serpent and craftily approached Eve in the Garden of Eden. Note that he avoided the designated leader of the relationship.

The serpent said, “Has God said, You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (3:1).

Perhaps, these words caught her off guard. Eve ultimately ate from the forbidden tree and Adam sheepishly followed his wife’s lead (vs. 6).

Because of his actions, Adam became a forerunner for men who would negate their roles as heads of the house. Conversely, it could be said that Eve became the mother of headstrong wives who would take on the leadership responsibilities of marriage.

Yet the knowledge of who was in charge of the marriage was not lost on God. After the first couple sinned, He rightly “called unto Adam” as head of the household to account for what had taken place (3:9). The man placed the blame on his wife, who in turn deflected responsibility as well (3:12-13).

This event was the start of conflict between men and women!

Note that the first couple ate from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” From that point forward, Adam and Eve decided for themselves what actions and beliefs were right and wrong.

Over the next six millennia, marriage continued to devolve into what is seen today. Spouses still experiment and do what feels right to them.

“The simpler role of husbands in decades past has now been replaced by a much more complex and confusing role, especially in their relationship with their wives,” psychologist and author Willard F. Harley wrote in an article for a men’s magazine in reference to a trend he has encountered during his many years as a marriage counselor. “Some conclude that women are born to complain and men must ignore it to survive. Others feel that women have come to expect so much of men that they are impossible to please, so there’s no point in even trying. Very few men, these days, feel that they have learned to become the husbands that their wives have wanted, and the job seems to be getting more and more difficult.”

Reading between the lines of this statement, it means women are also unhappy in marriages—and struggle to cope with the numerous complexities of modern wedlock.

But very few actually look to what God says!

Similar to the first couple in the Garden of Eden, mixing up marital roles begets frustration.

Keep It Simple

While the world’s ways are complex and confusing, God intended the roles of husbands and wives to be simple to understand.

First, look at biology. Women are more naturally nurturers. They are built physically and emotionally to mother. An example of this is breastfeeding. While the act physically nourishes a child, it also deepens the bond between mother and child—a relationship crucial for a boy’s or girl’s development.

Men, on the other hand, are designed to provide and protect. They are more muscular, but also more naturally equipped to emotionally fill these needs.

God thoroughly outlines the marital roles in His Word. A natural place to examine each is found in Ephesians 5.

Notice the short phrase in verse 23, “For the husband is the head of the wife…” As those in the Church understand, government is everything. Following it leads to peace, abundance and happiness.

After Satan confused Adam and Eve’s roles, God reestablished the intended perspective when He spoke to the woman and said, “…your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). By combining these verses, it is clear that the man is the natural leader of the house.

But men should not fly away with themselves or be drunk on power. This role comes with tremendous responsibility.

A warning in I Timothy 5 makes this clear: “But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (vs. 8).

Yet there is even more. Read the entirety of Ephesians 5:23: “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and He is the savior of the body.”

Verse 25 further expounds on this: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it.

Jesus gave Himself—was brutally beaten and crucified!—for the Church. What an incredibly high standard! While almost all husbands will not have to be tortured and die for their wives, Christ’s example should spur men to action. It reveals the level of energy and care they should put into their relationships.

A good mental exercise for husbands to go through is to ask: Do I love my wife so much that I am willing to lose my life for her?

While husbands are to emulate Christ in the relationship, wives also have an important responsibility: “Submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:22).

Women should submit to their husbands as they do to God! Make no mistake, however. Females are still equal before God as human beings. Verse 22 does not make men more important or better than women—but it does plainly place the man in charge of the marriage.

The biblical role for wives does not mean they are stuck being “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen,” however. We will see later in the article that the duty of a wife is much greater and more fulfilling than being a housemaid and personal chef for her husband.

The roles outlined in Ephesians 5 allow men and women to play to their physical and emotional strengths. Given this, what are some practical ways to fulfill your duties as a husband or wife?

For Husbands

Just as Christ encourages members in His body to grow and overcome, husbands should wisely help their spouses to achieve their fullest potential—all while working to become better men.

While males were physically created to perform more strenuous tasks, including chopping wood for the fireplace, opening a tight bottle lid, moving large pieces of furniture, or shoveling snow—caring for a wife means reaching beyond the physical realm.

A husband must learn to pay attention to his wife’s physical and emotional cues and encourage her to confide her hopes and dreams in him. He should inspire and take an interest in her hobbies and activities that are necessary for her happiness.

This includes helping her have the time to fulfill those dreams. For example, if she is learning to play an instrument, he should do what it takes to ensure she can fit in practice time. If that means doing a few more household chores or taking care of a meal once in a while, he should be willing to assist her. This becomes especially important if both the husband and wife have jobs outside the home, as many do in this complicated age.

In addition, men should evaluate if their mutual relationship is growing in understanding, sympathy and depth by asking themselves: “How can I further better her life, broaden her horizons, and increase her general happiness and well-being?”

Paralleling the role of protector, God built into men the strong desire to provide for a family. Employment gives men a sense of purpose. Some overdo this, however, becoming workaholics and thinking that earning money is the only responsibility they have. Husbands should strive to balance time at work with time spent with their wives and families. Remember that a man’s physical presence gives his wife a sense of security.

Since developing a stronger relationship with the Creator—who gave both of you to each other—should be your number one goal, make time to study the Bible and pray with your wife regularly. Help her understand passages with which she may struggle or those she may not understand. Allow the ultimate goal of entering into the Family of God to drive all you do.

Husbands should let their wives know that they appreciate them and strive to always demonstrate their affection. This includes not allowing yourself to take your wife for granted. Often little things such as giving her occasional flowers or writing a short note fit into this category. These can make her feel special and loved by you, which then gives her a greater sense of security that you will always be there for her.

The more a man “cherishes” his wife as he would his own body (Eph. 5:29), the more her respect for him will grow. This cycle starts with the man, but ends with the wife responding accordingly.

Since women are more vulnerable and delicate, you should also strive to connect to her emotionally. For example, men often search for solutions to problems, while women want someone to listen so they can sort out their thoughts. Understand your wife’s need to talk. Sincerely strive to listen and consider her feelings.

Rather than feeling you have to listen to your wife talk through problems, plans and scenarios, realize the blessing of doing this. She is giving you all the details, helping you see what could possibly go wrong, and giving you the information you need to be a better husband.

If your wife stays home with the children, consider: When you arrive home from work, you basically have two choices. You can either bring your frustrations home and demand “What is for dinner?” or be sensitive to the fact that she also may have had a long, exhausting day.

Ask her about the children or what she may have accomplished that day. This gives her “adult time” while also providing you with the opportunity to learn more about the challenges she faces. On top of this, you can learn possible areas where you can pitch in.

Above all, strive to make her feel as though she is the only one for you. Proverbs 31:28 shows that men should praise their wives, and the next verse in this chapter shows how: “Many a woman does nobly, but you far outdo them all!” (Moffatt translation).

As a general point, work with your wife to solve problems and make decisions. Yes, you should have the final say, but you should never throw around your authority as head of the household with a “because I said so” attitude.

Also, notice Proverbs 31:11: “The heart of her husband does safely trust in her…”

Listen to the concerns your wife has about your decisions. Also, give your wife room to work things out. Entrust her with responsibilities and then believe that she will follow through. Doing so will give her a chance to grow and free you up to more effectively guide your family.

Also, there can be a tendency for husbands’ love for their wives to wane. Yet God intended the marriage relationship to grow deeper and become more vibrant as time goes on. As each mate comes to know the other person better, they should develop even more respect for each other.

Strive to make this happen!

For Wives

Keeping in mind that a woman’s role is to be a counterpart to a man—someone who completes him—there are two basic areas women should focus on. First is the area of support or service, and second is the development and growth of their character.

By supporting a husband, a wife strengthens his ability to fulfill his role of protecting and providing for the family. This backing can come in numerous ways and can be spiritual, mental or physical in nature.

Women, remember you are to submit to your husband’s authority as you do God’s. Strive to follow his lead and go along with decisions he makes. Realize that your spouse will not be perfect in fulfilling his leadership role. When he makes a decision with which you do not quite agree, you have two options: go along with it or gently and carefully describe what you would do differently.

If it is a smaller matter where the consequences are not great, the best course of action may be to simply submit. If, however, his decision could cause problems, such as financial impacts or physical harm, then you may want to express your concerns. Ultimately, however, unless your husband asks you to break God’s Law, decisions are his to make.

One of the crucial ways you can propel your husband to greater heights is by being dependable.

Read Proverbs 31:11 again: “The heart of her husband does safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.” Other translations render “he shall have no need of spoil” as “she will greatly enrich his life” and “he will not lack anything good.”

Wives, be trustworthy and reliable. Take care of details your husband may miss. Also, whatever household routine you and your spouse have worked out, dependably accomplish it. Always strive to enrich and enhance the quality of your home life together. If you have ever seen a bachelor’s living arrangements, they tend to be sparse and empty, and meals are usually rather simplistic. You can help him better appreciate quality and beauty—and fine cuisine!

Effective Communication with Your Spouse

An Irish playwright noted a common mistake people make about communication: “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” In other words, a person may sincerely believe a message was successfully transferred, but in reality, this is not the case.

Think of the times you thought you made yourself clear to your spouse only later to hear, “You never said that,” or “I thought you asked me to do this not that.” Proper communication is the foundation for any relationship—let alone one as important as a marriage. It is the prerequisite for a man and wife to properly fulfill their roles.

Miscommunication, the fuel behind the “illusion,” can manifest itself in three common ways in a marriage.

First is too little communication. This can be a result of upbringing or a difference in personality types and communication styles of a couple. It may also be because of work schedules or other related circumstances.

Some people grow up with uncommunicative parents and may not know what proper communication in the home looks like. In the case of personalities or styles, one mate may be a more naturally talkative, outgoing person while his or her spouse tends to be quiet and more reserved. With schedules, two spouses’ jobs may cause them to work different shifts or mean they are out of the home for extended periods of time.

Couples must make an effort to overcome each challenge or obstacle to better communicate with each other. If you did not grow up in an environment of free-flowing information, strive to break the cycle and create such an environment for your household and your children.

If personalities or styles are different, couples should be more accommodating of the other party. For example, if you tend to be more talkative, encourage your mate in conversation by discussing topics that interest him or her.

If schedules are a problem, block out a specific time that you can communicate with one another and stick to it. Spending this time together is an investment well worth the sacrifice.

The other extreme is too much communication—often in the form of quarreling. While many words are exchanged, nearly all of them are bad. This leaves couples unwilling to communicate because, whenever they do, it ends in disagreements. These types of conversations leave everyone feeling exhausted, frustrated and irritated.

This is an area where our adversary, the devil, concentrates much of his efforts. Notice what the book of James says about it: “From where come wars and fightings among you? Come they not here, even of your lusts that war in your members?” (4:1).

Fights usually break out due to selfish desires. As a couple, you should avoid quarrels at all costs! Nothing good ever results from them. When disagreements come, and they will, be ready to defuse them. A way to do it effectively is found in Proverbs 15:1, which states “A soft [tender] answer turns away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”

When it comes to miscommunication, there can be “misunderstandings.” For instance, you may offer to help clean an area that was missed while your spouse cleaned the house. You may have intended it to be a way to lend a helping hand, yet your spouse perceives your offer as you saying that he or she is not doing a good enough job.

This is what can be so unique about communication. It is given and received based on timing, feelings and emotions. All three should be accounted for when couples are conversing. While it will be difficult, it is a skill you must strive to master.

King Solomon in his wisdom learned: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose…” (Ecc. 3:1). Learn to know when to speak. There are times to discuss serious matters, and a time to be playful and humorous. Do your best to discern the difference.

For example, it might be wise to wait a while after your husband arrives home before you talk about the broken dryer or the leaking faucet. Similarly, if your wife is running behind, do not remind her of all the ways she could have avoided the situation.

Proper timing of such discussions will guarantee a favorable outcome.

A simple way to help develop proper communication in your marriage is to spend ample and quality time together. Get to know each other better.

Try not to only communicate about the burden of day-to-day cares or the logistics of ensuring that household tasks are accomplished. Even though this type of communication is important, at times it may be helpful to table these issues and instead focus on sharing your hopes, dreams and desires with your spouse.

Tell each other how much you appreciate one another and how you have noticed spiritual growth in certain areas. Discuss your different roles, including how you see your specific role now. Ask your spouse to identify areas where you can grow. This applies to men and women.

Also, go on regular dates and create special moments. Take late afternoon strolls. During colder months, curl up together under a blanket next to the fireplace. A relaxed atmosphere helps the thinking process as well as leads to a feeling of closeness that may result in more in-depth discussions.

Strive to edify each other with your words and effectively communicate as God intended!

Your sphere of influence should not stop with details and housework.

Reading Proverbs 31 will expand your thinking on the crucial part wives and mothers play in families. The woman described in this chapter is a busy lady. She is productive, intelligent, business-minded and deftly handles family needs and personal interests, in addition to reaching out to those in need.

The following verses shatter the typical perception of the helpless housewife:

  • “She girds her loins with strength, and strengthens her arms” (vs. 17).
  • “She makes fine linen, and sells it; and delivers girdles unto the merchant” (vs. 24). This means she makes quality products that she is able to sell.
  • “She considers a field, and buys it: with the fruit of her hands [from her earnings] she plants a vineyard” (vs. 16). Obviously, she would have done this while working with her spouse, but this passage shows a wife can have vision to conceive and accomplish larger projects.
  • “She stretches out her hand to the poor; yes, she reaches forth her hands to the needy” (vs. 20).
  • “She opens her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness” (vs. 26).
  • “She looks well to the ways of her household, and eats not the bread of idleness” (vs. 27).

Put together, these verses reveal a truly industrious woman! They describe someone who is strong, wise, develops skills, and enriches the lives of her husband, children and all who know her.

Yet notice that the central theme for the Proverbs 31 woman is the household. Everything she does comes from that home base. Without a household, the family unit and everyone in it cannot function properly. Be sure not to miss this point!

Children naturally tie mothers to the house more than they do fathers. Also, as seen before, women are designed to fulfill more of the caregiving role.

For this reason, Proverbs 31 references “household” four times. She “gives meat to her household…” (vs. 15), “She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet [quality warm clothes]” (vs. 21), and, “She looks well to the ways of her household…” (vs. 27).

To ensure a household runs smoothly requires hard work, care, vision and both physical as well as mental strength. Any wife who applies herself and seeks God’s help can reach this goal!

By developing your talents, personality and abilities, you become a richer person, and grow to be a wise counselor to your husband.

The character you develop is necessary to qualify as a member of God’s Family and it is inseparable from your role as steward of your “household.” The way a wife conducts herself in fulfilling her responsibilities reflects on her husband and family. Sometimes the efforts may seem to go unnoticed, but eventually if a wife is consistent, her actions will evoke the praise of her husband and gratitude of her children (vs. 28).

For those living with an unconverted mate, employing these principles is especially important. Your conduct has the potential to ultimately lead your husband to conversion. Notice: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified…” (I Cor. 7:14). This means he is set apart due to the faithfulness of the converted member. Verse 16 states: “For what know you, O wife, whether you shall save your husband?”

Do not underestimate the power of your example! (This also applies to husbands in the Church living with unconverted wives.)

Determine to put instructions given in God’s Word into action. Be creative and find additional ways to serve and support your mate and develop yourself into the kind of woman God desires for you to become.

Reach Further

The idea that two different people can, over the span of a lifetime, learn to love, support, edify and encourage one another is a wonderful thing. Each spouse helping the other reach his or her individual potential and have a fulfilling life could only have been designed by a Being with a great purpose in mind.

Marriage gives each spouse the opportunity to become a more effective human being. It demonstrates God’s government and the way of love and outgoing concern.

When you wholly understand and fulfill your marital role, you become happier. In such a stable environment where your physical needs are met, you can develop your talents, personality and ultimately grow in godly character.

In short, marriage reflects the “give” way of life. It glorifies God and brings honor and praise to Him. A proper marriage also helps you do the Work as people see that you are happy being married and that the way that God designed for two people to live yields tremendous benefits. It allows you to be a light to those around you in the community and at services, and often provides opportunities for you to serve others in ways that you may not have been able to do when you were single.

In addition, an established marriage adds tremendous value to the lives of those in the relationship. Notice what it says to men: “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price [value] is far above rubies” (Prov. 31:10).

To ladies, it states, “Her husband is known [respected] in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land” (vs. 23). Obviously these benefits extend to their children and reach much further.

Today, a unified Church proclaims the good news of God’s soon-coming kingdom to the world. This message must be backed up by the lives of those claiming to believe it.

God places a high standard on marriage by comparing it to Christ’s relationship with the Church. Your marriage should reflect the same outgoing concern Christ has toward others. When your marriage is fulfilling—filled to the full—the effects will spill over to others.

Regularly review the Church’s booklet You Can Build a Happy Marriage. This helpful publication covers additional aspects of marriage beyond proper marital roles. It is filled with practical ways to improve your relationship with your spouse and can help you both develop into the kind of husband or wife God knows you can become.

It takes effort and hard work, but if you and your mate strive toward this goal, your marriage will blossom. With care, diligence and creativity, you can fulfill your God-given role in marriage—and help others reap the benefits!