If you hear me talk about the Bible enough, you’ll come to find out that I think context is key to understanding Scripture; a verse alone can refer to a passage, but it takes understanding beyond that to make it worthwhile. Even with the proverbs, imminently quotable and succinct as they are, they require an understanding of the Jewish culture of the Old Testament to place them in the perspective of their original audience.

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

1 Peter 3:7

Marriage is one of modern Christianity’s favorite topics. We’ve assigned weddings to God, somehow, as one of the duties carried out by his ministers. Indeed, the Bible gives no particular directions on the cultural aspects of marriage and our modern wedding ceremony comes from years of cultural and commercial additions and modifications to complex for this article.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands also ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are parts of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, as for you individually, each husband is to love his own wife the same as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

Ephesians 5:25-33

What we do have direct instruction for is the manner in which a husband is to treat his wife. I find that men often go to the way in which a woman is to conduct herself toward her husband and, feeling satisfied with all the talk about submission and being subject and neglect their own directions.

Paul, in his letter to the mostly former Pagan church in Ephesus, gives a parable about Jesus and the church in the form of instructions for loving ones wife. A man must care for his wife as he does his own body. That’s not the same as “boss her around”, especially if the man’s own body is at rest while he’s doing the bossing! Paul says love your wives like Jesus loves the church. That’s not the same as saying “lord your authority over her and make sure she stays in line”, especially when Jesus is our ruler by being the chiefest of all servants (Luke 22:24-27).

We also know that in many ways the woman can be stronger than the man, in certain aspects or moments more than others. But Peter, instructing Christians in the Roman province of Asia (modern Turkey), says that men are to treat them as if they are weaker in order to maintain equality. Rather than become overly reliant on her, assume she always needs at least a little help and your Spiritual work together will never be weakened.

Men need good habits. Bad habits, even opposite ones like abuse of authority and codependence, come from the same root issue: selfishness. A marriage is a partnership that God expects to be fulfilled in a Spiritually sound way. If a man gets in the habit which disrupts that partnership, he falls short of the example of the Servant King Jesus and his Bride the Church.

The context for our marriages as Christians exists squarely in relation to our following God’s commands. We have the ultimate example in Jesus. How could we imitate anyone else?

Ethan Kirl