This past year marked mine and my wife’s tenth anniversary. I am thankful for her. There have been plenty of challenges in the last ten years, but I’m thankful that my wife never gave up on me or allowed me to go on unchanged by the challenges. Reflecting on the years ahead I came across a little book, On Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller and so far, I’m enjoying it. Here are two points he makes that resonate with my experience and that I wished I had known years ago.
1. God gave you a spouse to aid you in battle.
Timothy and Kathy make the point that in Genesis 2:18, when God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” helper did not carry with it the sense that some attribute to it today. Helper did not mean “assistant.” The Bible uses the word “helper” regularly “to refer to military reinforcements” (54). A “helper,” Kathy and Timothy argue, is “someone who has supplementary strength that you don’t have. That is the word used for the woman, the wife in the first marriage relationship” (54).
This should change how men view their wives. Too often I have encountered an attitude that men are strong, and women are weak, that women need men to be their strength. This is not true. The Bible is constantly painting a different picture. The Bible gives us many images of strong women. Think of Deborah who was a judge of Israel, victorious in battle. Think of Rahab the prostitute who harbored the Israelite spies because of what she had heard about their God. Think of Hannah who offered her first-born son, Samuel to the Lord to serve him in the temple. Think of Esther who saved her people by exposing Hamman’s evil plot to exterminate her people. Think of Mary, the mother of God, who risked shame and punishment when telling her future husband that she would conceive the messiah through the power of the Holy Spirit. These are not images of weakness but strength and faith in God. Many women of faith in the Bible endured exploitation, rape, and all sorts of trials and yet maintained faith in God willing to suffer for his glory.
Women are strong. I have experienced it firsthand at the birth of my daughter and then again with my son. I have seen my wife sacrifice for people in need. I have seen her strength as she has cared for me in my many weaknesses. My wife, like the women of faith in the Bible, has taught me much about patience, trusting God, enduring trials, loving people, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, embracing the stranger, welcoming the outcast, and visiting the sick. She has been a source of strength to me these many years adding strength to my areas of weakness.
2. Men are helpers too.
I was once given some bad marriage advice. I was told that because I was the man, I needed to have the plan, make all the decisions, and my wife was supposed to self-sacrificially go along with it and help me to accomplish my goals. This is not the Biblical model. Instead, Scripture pictures husbands as self-sacrificial servants of their wives. Kathy and Timothy put it this way:
In Ephesians 5:25–27 it says that husbands should love their wives sacrificially as Christ loved us, and for the same purpose, to help our wives become radiant and beautiful, overcoming their faults and flaws. In a sense that’s Genesis 2 in reverse. Husbands are to use their gender-differentiated resources to help their wives become who God made them to be, just as wives are to help their husbands. (60)
This point is simple but profound. It places women and men on equal footing. Husbands are not simply to expect their wives to serve them, to submit to their will as if they were the emperor of the home. Instead, husbands are to help their wives become who God wants them to be just as wives are to help their husbands. In many respects, I don’t want my wife to submit to me. I want my wife to love me enough to oppose me, to challenge me, to point me toward what God would want. This is the Biblical picture.
My wife isn’t supposed to go along with all of my crazy plans. She is supposed to do God’s work and show me a greater picture. Her role is to challenge my ideas and remind me of what God’s will. And I’m supposed to do the same for her. This will make for a less comfortable but more rewarding marriage. I don’t like the moments where my wife challenges me to change and conform to Christ. But as I look back, I’m grateful. A wife who is just like me, who agrees with my every idea, who submits to my every desire isn’t free to love me. She isn't free to love me in the ways that matter most, helping me to be more like the savior who loves us both.
Marriage isn’t supposed to be easy and comfortable. Kathy and Tim explain what most Christians experience, “‘This is supposed to be blissful. Why are we always having these confrontations?’ The answer is—because you are getting help. And only on the far side of discomfort will you find the person God wants you to be” (61).