OK, so you have determined to the best of your ability that the guy with whom you share some mutual interest is a true believer (or, if not, reread part 1). Now what?
Ephesians 5 talks about God’s plan for the marriage relationship.
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
Along with everything else He created, God created marriage. He not only has a specific plan for the way marriage should work, He has a specific purpose for the marriage relationship: marriage is a reflection of the relationship that God has with His people, the ones who through faith have entered into a covenantal love relationship with Him. This is not something we talk about very often, but it is stated in Ephesians 5:32 ("This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church.")
The implications of this fact are mind-boggling. Husbands are to mirror the love of Christ for His church in the way they love their wives. And wives are to honor and respect their husbands the way the people of God honor and respect God. In Ephesians 5:22-28, the Bible tells us about this using the term “submit” to describe the wife’s responsibility and the term “love” to describe the husband’s responsibility.
Historically, somehow the responsibility of the wife to submit has received a lot more press than the responsibility of the husband to love. The result is that submission has developed a bad reputation among those-who-are-not-inclined-to-like-the-Bible. In fact, this lopsided emphasis is probably largely responsible for the feminism we see rising up all around us all the time, demonizing men and making them out to be the bad guys. However, if you think through the plan the way God designed it, it is a totally beautiful system. It is easy to submit to someone who loves you more than life itself (which Jesus clearly does, since He died for us—this is the kind of love husbands are to have for their wives). It is easy to submit to someone who treasures you and will go to any lengths to ensure your well-being. It is easy to submit to someone who cares for you in tangible ways, taking full responsibility to provide for all your physical, emotional and spiritual needs. These are all things that husbands are called to do in this passage. Clearly, God did not plan marriage as an institution where women would be humiliated and abused.
There is an entire book written about this, based on Ephesians 5:33. It is called Love and Respect, by Dr. Emerson Eggerich, and you should probably read it someday.
In a nutshell, you will find your best situation if you marry a man whom you can respect and to whom you can submit gladly, and who loves you more than life itself. Easy, no? Well, maybe not. Let’s take these two sides of the coin one at a time.
Respect and Submission
You can’t marry a man you don’t respect. Well, I suppose you could, but it would be bad. Don’t marry a man you don’t respect. Just don’t. You can submit to someone you don’t respect, but it is an awkward, unpleasant and probably bitter submission in that case. It is submission in the sense that you will do as you are told, but it is not true submission from your heart because you are unhappy and balky about it. In your mind you will be saying, “I’ll do it because you made me, but not because I want to, and I’m not happy about it! And I think you and your requests are stupid!” This is a forced submission which is not a true submission of the heart. True submission can only be given by choice to someone you respect. Here are some guidelines for Respect:
1. Respect goes hand in hand with trust. You need to have a basic trust in the love your husband has for you. When you trust in his love, you can submit when things don’t always seem to make perfect sense to you. Of course, even the very best husband is imperfect and sometimes selfish, and your husband is sure to make mistakes sometimes. You can’t hold this against him, because you know you make mistakes, too. Everyone needs to give and receive forgiveness. I once heard it said, “You have to be willing to cut others at least as much slack as you expect them to cut for you.” Truly, the only One who is totally faithful to live up to the trust placed in Him is God. God is always 100% trustworthy. So at the end of the day, you have to bank on God’s faithfulness and sometimes submit to an imperfect husband, trusting that because doing so is an obedience to God, it will ultimately result in the best outcome, regardless of the mistakes your husband may make (always remembering that you are not perfect, either). But, that said, before you have taken your marriage vows and while you are still free to try to find the best possible situation that God has for you, look for someone you can trust. This means look for someone who is honest, straightforward, kind and unselfish. Stay far away from guys who try to mind-game you.
2. You should marry someone you would never be embarrassed to have by your side. It is unchristian to be proud, but there is a sense in which I think it is not wrong to be proud. You should be proud of your husband. You should esteem him highly. If you are embarrassed or ashamed of his appearance, his profession, his manner of speaking, or something else… then do not marry him. It may be your own problem in your own heart if you are haughty towards the man God has for you. If this is the case, then spend much time in prayer, asking God to form your heart the way He wants it to be. But it is also true that sometimes there just isn’t “chemistry” between two people, and if after much prayer and soul searching chemistry never happens, it may be that this just isn’t the right match. Your husband will not be happy if he senses that you are embarrassed of him, so don’t put him through that. Don’t marry a man if you cannot be proud of him.
3. You should marry a man who can support you in a manner that will make you content. This is not a blank check to marry for money. It has more to do with your own heart than with the limits of some guy’s earning potential. But you do need to be realistic about your financial expectations. If you have expectations that a man cannot meet, then do not marry him. For instance, if it is your heart’s desire to stay home with your children when you have them, then don’t marry a man whose career (or the lack thereof) will force you to work outside the home in order to make ends meet. You should also marry a man who can support you himself, without your parents’ help. You will not respect a man who is depending on your daddy to pay for his groceries and mortgage. I feel that it is also important that your husband make more money than you make. If he is the head of the home and the maker of financial decisions, then it is best if he brings home the bulk of the money. If you are the big earner, you will find it hard to turn over the financial decisions to him, or even just to let him have the tie-breaking vote, which is what the Bible tells you to do when it says, “submit.” It will be very hard for you to respect him in terms of finances if you make more than he does. I’m just saying.
4. You should marry someone who can give you good, Biblical advice when you need counsel. Your husband is tasked with caring for you. In fact, to fail to do so will actually hinder his relationship with God (see 1 Peter 3:7). He should be able to listen to your concerns and provide wise, godly guidance for you. Going back to #1 above, you need to be able to trust his wisdom and guidance. You will be best able to trust him if you know he has a solid understanding of and love for scripture. He does not need to be a pastor, but he should know how to find scriptural guidance and how to appropriately apply scripture to everyday life.
Once you are married, you are married. The vow has been made, the relationship is sealed, consummated on the honeymoon. You have become one flesh in the sight of God. This is a very serious and sobering thing. Once you have walked down the aisle and pledged your faith to a man, it is from that time forward God’s will that you should be married to him, no matter what comes next.
This time, now, when you are old enough to have discernment but before you are married in the sight of God, this is the only time in your life when you have the right to read and ask for what the Bible says husbands should be like. After the wedding, verses like 1 Peter 3: 7 and Ephesians 5:25-28 are not written to you. In effect, they are no longer any of your business; they are written to your husband, and they are part of his story, not yours any longer (as Aslan told certain characters in The Horse and His Boy when they were concerned about how others would be held accountable). After your wedding day, it is your job to obey the commands of the Lord yourself, the ones He wrote to you, and to trust Him, God, to work things out. It is not your job to be the Holy Spirit to your husband’s heart. The Holy Spirit does that job Himself. (Also, He—the Holy Spirit—does it a lot better than you ever could, and it will only mess things up if you get your fingers in it, so cultivate your trust relationship with Him now!)
It is very important to choose your husband wisely. It is of utmost importance to choose a husband who loves you, who is crazy about you. If you settle for less, it will be hard for you to respect him, and then you will find yourselves in a vicious cycle of disrespect, hatred and unhappiness. Look for love! Here are some ideas for how to do that…
1. If he loves you, it will make him happy to make you happy. Look for a man who is delighted by your happiness. He does not need to think about you all the time; indeed, he could hardly be a good provider if he spent all his time daydreaming about you. But he should think about you frequently and make regular attempts to bring you joy. If you seem to be “out of sight, out of mind” it may be a bad sign. Now, he may not speak the same love language that you speak (read The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman). Women are instinctively more natural and easy communicators, so cut him slack if he doesn’t exactly speak your love language right away. But if he is not speaking any love language at all, beware! It should be his delight to delight you, and attempts to bring you joy are mandatory, even if they are clumsy sometimes.
2. You absolutely do not want to marry a man who thinks he is doing you a favor by marrying you, and who thinks that you are the lucky one. No! You want to hear him say, “I’m so lucky I found you!” Or, if he is devout (which we are hoping), he will probably say, “God has blessed me so much by bringing you into my life!” This is no small thing. The minute he starts to think that you are the one who is being blessed by his interest in you is the minute the whole deal starts to break down. Trust me on this. It is far more important that he is crazy head-over-heels about you than that you are nuts about him. You need to respect him and be proud of him and esteem him, yes. And if you do, and if he is wild about you, you will eventually become wild about him. It will all be good.
3. He should be protective of you. He should even worry just a little bit about you. He should feel that he is the only one who quite understands everything about you, and that you need him because he loves you most and will take the best care of you. He should open car doors for you, walk you up to your door at night, and forbid you from going anywhere iffy or dangerous. He should call you often if you are working late and coming home in the dark, or if you have to drive to an unknown place, or if you have a scary doctor’s appointment. He should always be there with a shoulder for you to cry on, a hand for you to hold, and an arm for you to lean on. And he should love every minute of it. If you are dating someone and this is not the way he treats you, look for someone else.
4. He should demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice for you. If he never offers to give anything up to make things nicer for you, there is something wrong. You cannot demand this as a condition for your submission after you are married (actually, it’s never the least bit satisfying if you have to ask for this type of thing, anyway), but you sure can look for it in someone before you are married. You don’t always have to accept his sacrifices for you. As you grow to really love him, you probably won’t want to. You can give things up too, and you certainly should sometimes. But if he is never willing to give anything up to accommodate you, he will not be a properly loving husband. In the best marriages, both spouses routinely offer to do more for the other than the other will accept. Just a little secret here, that I think you need to know… men very, very rarely get nicer after you are married. Men are usually at their peak of best behavior during courting, so don’t expect things to improve with time. Things might improve, because our God is a God of miracles and, as the Bible says, with God all things are possible. But the likelihood is that things will cool down a bit after the conquest has been won, so look for excellence early on. At any rate, it is more likely to be maintained than to be developed out of a vacuum. Be very wary of a man who always expects you to sacrifice for him instead of the other way around. It isn’t a healthy pattern and it will lead to marital frustration in the future, making it very difficult for you to respect him. It seems to me that this is not a characteristic that you can really discuss or ask for. By asking or demanding, you ruin the gift—at that point if you “get your way” it is bitter and unsatisfying. You can’t figure that over time you will teach a man to sacrifice for you. If a man does not have a heart inclined to sacrifice for you now, he is not likely to develop one later.
The last thing I want to say is this: God never promised us that we could have perfect marriages. We should be prayerful, wise and discerning as we choose a spouse, but in the end, God never promised that if we do certain things right, then our marriages will be utopian gardens of pleasure. Sometimes God calls us to hard things… I am thinking about the prophet Hosea. God told him to marry “a wife of adultery”. Why would God do that? Apparently because He knew that is what it would take to get Hosea to write the book of Hosea which has since taught many generations of Christians about the steadfast love of the Lord, even towards people who are unfaithful to Him. God may call you to difficulties in your lives, possibly even through your marriage. If it doesn’t turn out all sunshine and roses, you need to throw yourself on the mercy of God and trust that He is working out His perfect plan. Even though there are no ironclad guarantees, you should strive to seek God’s will and use as much wisdom and prudence as possible in seeking a mate. If you do, it is much more likely that things will go well for you, and even if they don’t, you will have much more peace, knowing that you have sought the Father’s will and that He is in control.