Married by Gods Design by Doug Comin
All the passages below are taken from the book, “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert” by Dr. Rosaria Butterfield. It was published in 2012.
One component of Christian weddings in the Reformed Presbyterian church is something called the “biblical charge.” In it, the pastor charges (i.e., commands or exhorts) the groom and bride to remember God’s authority in creating the institution of marriage. I quote here in full, with the author’s permission, the biblical charge written and delivered to us by Pastor Doug Comin at our wedding [May 19, 2001]:
Dearly beloved, we are notgathered here today in order to observe a social convention devised by human wisdom for the mutual comfort and happiness of men and women.
Nor do we assembler here to participate in a mere tradition which has come down to us from ages past and which we have deemed to be worth preserving among ourselves.
We are gathered in this place in order to acknowledge, celebrate, and solemnize the divine institution of marriage, which is ordained by the Creator and Savior of the world, sealed and governed by His authority, and entered into by His people with humble obedience and heartfelt rejoicing for the wondrous provision of the Lord for their mutual happiness and completion.
It is the popular misconception of marriage as a mere social convention or quaint tradition invented by the brain of man which has led to the denigrating of this holy relation, the multiplication of unspeakable immorality, the common unrest between husbands and wives, and the gradual disintegration of society and civilization.
For if marriage exists merely by human authority then men and women may do with it or conduct themselves in it as they please. They may redefine it, or they may abandon it altogether. But if marriage is a divine institution, then it is governed by a higher authority. It becomes, then, a matter of obedience, and the conduct of husbands and wives within marriage is a conduct for which they must give their account to God.
The original institution of marriage is therefore basic to our understanding of marriage, our estimation of marriage, and our right behavior in marriage.
The fact that marriage is a divine institution is emphasized in the very beginning of God’s written revelation. The creation of the human race was not complete until the institution of marriage was sealed by God Himself.
And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man he made into a woman, and he brought her to the man. And Adam said, “This in now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:18-24)
There are many important truths contained in these verses, and time does not permit us to address them all on this occasion. Several foundational facts, however, may be noted:
- It was “not good” for the man to be alone. He was incomplete, and what was necessary to make him complete was his wife. Men and women are not independent individuals who happen to share the same dwelling. They are mutually dependent upon one another and each is incomplete without the other.
The Apostle Paul applies this truth of the mutual dependence of men and women when he writes:
But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. . . .For man is not from woman but woman from man. Nor was man created for woman but woman for the man. . . Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God (1 Cor. 11:3-12)
- God made Adam experience the fact that he was incomplete. It was necessary for the man to be made aware of his incompleteness before God brought his wife to him. Had this not been so, he would tend to regard her as a nice, but really unnecessary addition to himself. He would view her as something that he could take or leave. But God prepared him to receive her— and treat her— as one who was necessary for his own completion.
- Adam was utterly passive in the institution of marriage. God made him fall into a deep sleep, and while he slept, God created the woman who would make him complete. Since marriage is by God’s design, and not by man’s, it is plain that marriage must conform to God’s will.
- The woman was created by God with special “hands on” care, which signified her special nature as a creature made in the image of God. Someone has written, “The woman has had a long history of being trampled on. This has especially been the case in heathen civilizations. She has differed little from the cattle that a man owned. Even in the church the notion has prevailed with some that the wife is a lowly creature, fit to bear whatever abuse the man might pour on her. Men have disdained their wives as if this were true piety, because the man is head of his wife. Every such notion and practice is cut off by the account of the woman’s creation in a position of high honor.”
- The woman was created, not from the dust of the earth, but out of the very substance of the man. Adam recognized her as “bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh.” Jesus emphasized this truth and its implications:
And he answered and said to them, “Have you not read that he who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matt. 19:4-5)
The mysterious and intimate union which God designed between a husband and wife is the reason that the dissolution of marriage, whether by divorce or by death, is such a painful and devastating experience. The separation of a husband and wife is like the severing of a part of the body. This truth also has important implications for how husbands and wives are to treat one another, as we will see.
The original account of creation, then, lays the groundwork for marriage as divine institution for the mutual good of men and women in order that they may be complete. But even more important than the happiness of men and women found in this union is the fact that marriage was instituted in order to fully manifest the image of God. Thus we read in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
The union of men and women in marriage is therefore put forth in the scripture as a mirror, or image, or the relationship between God and His people. In the Old Testament God speaks of Israel as a bride which he betrothed to Himself, and the New Testament portrays the Church as the Bride of Christ. This truth forms the basis of Paul’s commands to Christian husbands and wives concerning their mutual duties toward one another:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and he is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. (Eph 5:22-24)
Paul’s instruction begins with the duty of the wife toward her husband, which is to “submit to him, as unto the Lord.” Elsewhere, wives are told to be obedient to their husbands. The reason of this submission and obedience, according to the scriptures, is that the wife is to be a living illustration of the Church in its submission to Christ. When a wife refuses to live in submission to her husband, this picture of the Church’s relationship to Christ is distorted before the world.
Submission refers to the inner attitude of the heart. It is therefore invisible and secret. Obedience is the outward expression of submission seen in the behavior of the wife. A wife may outwardly obey her husband and yet inwardly despise him. She is, therefore, not in submission to him in spite of her outward behavior. If this the case, then the picture presented is no different from those who go through the motions of religious activities and yet have no regard toward Christ in their heart.
True religion, which is pleasing to God, is obedience which flows from the humble submission of the heart. Anything less than this in religion is hypocrisy. Likewise, that which pleases the Lord, and illustrates the beautiful relationship between Christ and his Church, is a humble submission of the heart of the wife to her husband, which results in outward obedience to his will.
This does not mean that she must do everything that he says, for Paul makes it clear that her submission is to be “in the Lord.” She is not bound to obey her husband, therefore, if he requires her to sin against God. Yet in all things that so not violate the word of God, the wife is not to overrule, oppose, or contradict her husband. By God’s design, she stand in relation to her husband as the Church stands in relation to Christ. The Church is not the ruling head over Christ, but the obeying body, and the wife is to imitate this relationship toward her husband.
“But what if my husband is unreasonable?” This cannot be said of Christ, but it may certainly be said in regard to many husbands.
“Am I bound to submit and obey even if my husband is clueless?”
Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the Word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. (1 Pet 3:1-2)
God’s word is clear. Even if your husband is an unbeliever, your purpose is not to make him submit to you, but rather to win him to submission to the Lord through the example of your own humble conduct so that he is won “without a word.”
The “fear” of which Peter speaks is not fear of the husband, but fear of the Lord. This is why Solomon’s description of the virtuous woman says, “Chasm is deceitful and beauty is vain; but a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised.”
To a God-fearing wife, it is important that God’s word not be blasphemed, especially on account of her. Paul wrote to Titus that the younger women in the Church were to be taught “to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.
He understood that the conduct of a wife in marriage presents a picture of the Church’s relationship to Christ. For a wife to be indiscreet, unfaithful, independent, unhelpful, and disobedient to her husband would therefore reflect upon the glory of Christ.
Let all of your conduct as a wife, therefore, be governed by this understanding—you represent before God, before your husband, and before the world the humble character of the Church in relation to Jesus Christ.
Now to the husband, Paul writes:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that he might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the Word, that he might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. (Eph 5:25-29)
Again, the instruction is based upon the reflection in marriage of the glorious relationship between Christ and His Church. Here, however, we find that the husband stands not in the place of the Church, but in the place of Christ as relates to his wife.
Immediately, the sinful pride of man begins to assert itself! This is wonderful! That means that I am the head! I am the boss! I give the orders and she must do what I say! But wait! The word does not say, “Husbands, rule your wives as Christ rules the Church.” It says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for her.” The first thing that we must understand is that “love” is not put forth here as a feeling or emotion. The world defines love in this way, but the Bible speaks of love not in terms of feeling but of action. Love “does this” and love “does not do that” for the promotion of the good of its object.
When God says, “Husbands love your wives,” he is not commanding you to feel a certain way toward them—he is commanding you to act in a certain way toward them, regardless of how you feel!
And how did Christ show His love for the Church by His actions?
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15:13)
He was willing to sacrifice everything for the welfare of His Bride, not looking to His own welfare, comfort, happiness, or fulfillment, but surrendering all of this in order to bless her and make her complete.
Such a husband is not difficult to submit to! But a husband who takes the role of a tyrant toward his wife will only provoke her inclination to resist him. What is worse, when a Christian husband lords it over his wife in a harsh and unloving manner, he declares to the world that Christ rules over his church the same way.
There is no doubt that the scripture teaches the husband’s headship over the wife in marriage, for Paul clearly declares “the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” And again he says, “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church.”
Yet the role of the Christian husband, according to God’s design for marriage, is not to press his headship or to assert his rule, but rather to demonstrate it according to the pattern of Christ. He is to love his wife in the same way that Christ loved the Church—that is, by self-sacrifice. Test your love toward your wife by the scripture’s own definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:
Love suffers long and is kind; (v. 4)
When you are tempted to be impatient and harsh with your wife, remember the infinite patience that Christ has shown toward you, and continues to show on a daily basis.
Love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; (v. 4)
When you are tempted to be jealous for preeminence over your wife remember Christ who did not think it beneath Himself to wash the feet of His disciples.
Love does not behave rudely, does not seek its own; (v. 5)
When you tempted to insist upon your own way, and belittle your wife, remember the condescension of Christ, who left the glorious habitation of heaven, clothed Himself with flesh, and endured the shame and suffering of the cross all for the sake of your own helpless, hopeless soul.
Love is not provoke, (v. 5)
When you are tempted to raise your voice in frustration against your wife, remember Christ, who “when he was reviled, did not revile in return.”
Love thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; (v. 6)
When you are tempted to judge her motives, or to exalt in being proven right when she is in the wrong, remember Christ who had every right to think evil of you and to rejoice in your destruction, but instead took your shame upon Himself and covered you with His righteousness.
When you are tempted to belittle your wife, or to sit quietly while others tear her down, remember Christ, who came to the defense of His sheep and stands between them and the accuser.
Loves bears all things, believes all things, hope all things, endures all things. (v. 7)
When you are tempted to throw in the towel, and surrender hope that your marriage can continue—when conflicts mount and it seems that it would be easier to walk away than to persevere, remember Christ who bears your sin daily in order to cause your hope to persevere until the end, and who promises “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” The love of Christ for His people is not based upon any worthiness within them, nor should your love toward your wife be conditioned upon her actions and your judgment as to whether or not she has earned your love.
Love never fails. (v. 8)
Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate. In all these things, and in many more ways, the self-sacrificial, loving headship of the Christian husband mirrors the love of Christ for His Church. This is your calling as you enter into this sacred union. But there is more.
Paul speaks of the purpose for which headship has been committed to the husband in marriage. It is for the edification of his wife in all purity and holiness. Your role, then, as a Christian husband, is to nurture your wife in the faith, and to provide for her spiritual as well as her physical welfare. Christ ever lives to make intercession for the saints. You must, therefore, pray constantly for and with your wife. Christ nourishes His Church with the milk and meat of His word. You must therefore minister the word to your wife, and teach her to know the deep things of God.
Finally, Paul summarizes the whole matter with these words:
For we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph 5:30-33)
“In the world,” it has been said, “marriage is a battlefield on which a vicious, relentless struggle rages between the tyrant-husband and the rebel-wife. Now the one, now the other, is temporarily victorious. At present in our society, the rebellious woman has the upper hand. If the world lasts, the male will again assert himself, overthrow the woman’s dominance, and rule her more tyrannically than before.”
Over and against this stands God’s glorious design of Christian marriage, in which husband and wife are joined together as one flesh—not competing individuals vying for supremacy—each fulfilling an essential role and together manifesting the wondrous beauty of God’s love, care, and provision for His precious Bride to the glory of Jesus Christ.
May our Lord so bless this union, that it is a living and true portrait of the mystery of Christ and his Church.
Married by God’s Design, Pastor Doug Comin