The Christian Wife
by Phyllis D. Mercer
In the fifth part of this continuing series, Mrs. Mercer describes how the Christian wife is to honour the Lord in every part and at every time of her life.
When the Christian Wife is to Honour the LordThe Ten Commandments teach children to honour their father and mother. This prepares the way for adulthood. If a person has never known what it is to show honour then it is a hard lesson to learn. The faithful Christian will aim to honour the Lord whether or not they have been brought up in the ways of God. At whatever age a woman comes to Christ, she is to honour the Lord. Three categories are spelt out for us in Scripture. Let us examine them.
When She is YoungOur Bible gives us details of the important things which the older Christian women are to teach the younger wives. These are recorded for us in Titus 2:4-5. A study of the list is quite revealing. For instance, the young women are to be taught how to love their husbands and their children! This indicates that we need to be taught to love. When we first marry, our love for our husbands is usually such that we are somewhat starry-eyed, and nothing could convince us that we need to be taught to love our husbands. When my husband and I were first married, my husband kept telling all his young single friends that, in his opinion, man was only half a man until he was married. The 'two shall be one flesh' concept was very real to him, not only in the physical union but also in every area of his life. Prior to marriage he had been pioneering an isolated mission station in Arnhem Land Northern Territory. He had been the only white person amongst a tribe of aborigines. Now his wife had joined him there. The companionship and comforts of marriage were very real to him. However he commented on a change which took place in our relationship. The starry-eyed approach faded and we both became much more the persons we really were in our relationship with each other. He had been the eldest of eight children from a Scottish background. I was the younger of two children, my only brother being 10 years older than myself. My mother had been 39 years old when I was born, his mother had been 19 years old when he was born. We began to discover that we had different ways of looking at many situations, and this meant that we had to work at our marriage. It didn't function smoothly without any effort just because we had 'fallen in love'.
In fact we discovered that the love we had for each other was not adequate for every situation we faced. Sometimes I would burst into tears after we went to bed at night and then tell my husband what was bothering me. It surprised me that he didn't like me doing this. I was 21 and he was 26. The fact was that I had to grow up and become a mature woman now that I was married, and not attempt to manipulate by crying in order to get what I wanted, but discuss matters calmly. I needed to learn how to love my husband and not be looking for my own way in the situations we faced in life. If I was to serve God in my marriage I was to become 'a helper suitable for him.' (Gen. 2:18)
Another factor was that I was pregnant with our first child and my body was undergoing various changes. Our love was now to be shared with a third person. I needed to learn how the Lord wanted me to love my husband and also my child.
Titus 2 gives the advice that the young wives are to be self-controlled and pure. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit; purity springs from love for the Lord as our previous passage in Philippians 1 makes clear.
The young wife is told to be busy at home; this reflects the portrait of the Ideal Woman in Proverbs 31:10-31. She doesn't eat the bread of idleness and she works with strong arms. Next she is told to be kind, another fruit of the Spirit. Kindness makes a home a place to be enjoyed, and a lack of kindness is a real weakness. It's strange but true that couples are often unkind to each other. The Christian wife cannot allow such a situation to exist in her home, as she is clearly told to be kind.
The last instruction listed in this Titus 2 passage is one we are familiar with - 'To be subject to her husband, so that no one will malign the Word of God.' In other words, as we have already noted, the relationship of a wife to her husband brings either a commendation to the Word of God or a maligning of the Word of God, so the young wife needs to take this seriously and apply God's instructions day by day. Be watchful lest you be neglectful and fall.
When She is OlderThe Ideal Woman in Proverbs 31:10-31 is an older woman. Study this passage in detail as often as possible. All her accomplishments may be summed up in verses 11 and 12. 'Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value, She brings him good not harm, all the days of her life.' (verse 12). As we progress through our marriage these characteristics are to mark our progress. Confidence in you as a wife is the best you can offer your husband. Your total loyalty is involved. It involves doing him good and not harm all the days of your life! Her children also call her blessed. She has given herself sacrificially to attend to them and now they are old enough to appreciate her ministry to them. When the children are old enough to leave home, it may be a difficult time of adjustment. Our Titus passage gives wise advice. The older women are to be reverent in the way they live. This requires a reverence of the Lord, their husbands and indeed all they have contact with. The older women are warned against becoming slanderers. Slander is false oral defamation. Criticism may lead to slander and needs to be watched. It's better to pray for those we think have needs than to criticise them and risk slandering them. The older women are also warned not to be given to much wine. The empty places in her life as the family move away are to be filled in a way pleasing to God. She is now qualified to teach the younger women.
It would be wonderful if the women in this generation and every generation took this advice seriously and made it their calling from the Lord to teach the younger women to love their husbands and their children. The older women have been through what the younger women are going through. They are the best qualified to teach them and the Lord has given these instructions so that the churches know what is to be done so that the Church might remain the Pillar and Foundation of the Truth in each succeeding generation (1 Tim. 3:14-15). Each generation bears a measure of responsibility for the next generation. How seriously are we taking this as Christian wives? Could it be there has been a wide measure of neglect in this area?
Could it be the older women have not taught the younger women to love their husbands and children? If this is the case, we need to repent and do the good deeds God has planned for us to do.
Note that there is no qualification given in order to be loved. All husbands are to be loved by their wives! All children are to be loved by their mother! Can you trust and obey the Lord in this way?
All the Days of her LifePerseverance is needed in marriage if we are to please our Creator. The present trend in the world at large to allow difficulties to become the cause for separation and divorce is lamentable. Some time ago we had the news of Prince Charles and Princess Diana separating. Now the memories of the beautiful wedding and the delight of two sons being born are all tinged with sadness, for they are being eroded away by the rift which has developed. In Malachi 2:16 we find these words: 'I hate divorce'. If we are to honour the Lord in our marriage then these words need to be in our hearts. A very helpful passage on marriage is 1 Corinthians 7. A careful study of this passage will help us to be well-informed as to God's mind with regard to marriage. Verse 17 of that chapter sums it up for us:
'Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him.'
Titus 2 states that the older women are to train the younger women to love their husbands. Training is essentially a practical application of knowledge gained. But firstly, what does the Bible mean by this love? 1 Cor. 13:4-8 tells us:
'Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.'
This list still makes me feel exhausted, but I don't have to do it in my own strength. I cannot love like 1 Corinthians 13 requires me to love without help. If I substitute Jesus Christ for Love, it will work perfectly. From Galatians 5:22 we read: 'But the fruit of the Spirit is LOVE'. Wonderful news! As a believer I have the Holy Spirit dwelling in me and I am free to ask for the Holy Spirit to strengthen me to love as 1 Corinthians 13 directs. My sinful nature will still be trying to get its own way so it will require diligent waiting on the Lord for the victory over my sinful desires, which find the ways of this world attractive and shy away from the ways of the Lord. John's first epistle reinforces this:
'Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcomes the world? Only he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God.' (1 John 5:1-5). Christ is the strength of the believer's life, He has given us His Holy Spirit as our Counsellor. (See John 16: 5-15)
We had a young nursing sister turn up at one of our churches. She was friendly with a keen Christian couple who attended there. Her story was a sad one. She had been married to a theological student. He was a capable student and he obtained a bursary to do post-graduate study in Edinburgh. They went together. The wife obtained a job as a nursing sister in one of the hospitals in Edinburgh. She became pregnant but was unwilling to give up work because they were depending on her finances in order to meet their expenses. She continued working until within a few weeks of delivery. Difficulties developed soon after birth and within days the baby had died.
On returning to Australia severe marriage problems developed. The loss of the baby seemed to promote further troubles. The couple could no longer relate to each other with reverence. Their marriage ended with divorce.
Another couple we knew who went to Cambridge for study during sabbatical leave, returned and never settled down. The glamour of the overseas experience made life at home too humdrum. Excitement was sought in an affair.
The wife who is doing her husband good and not harm will have an antenna tuned in to his needs. She will not allow the exigencies of life to alarm her; she will not give way to fear or be the cause of a bitter root developing. Many marriages flounder following the death of a child, but the Christian has resources which will prevent this.
These days unemployment is a burden many have to face. Many countries are facing recession. Workers aged forty and over often face redundancy. A trauma of this nature is hard to take. Some marriages crumble under the strain. When is a wife to honour the Lord in her marriage? All the days of her life. This means she will not crumble when adversity comes. But be prepared.
'I lift up my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.' (Psalm 121:1-2)
Copyright © Family Matters 1996
Phyllis Mercer is the wife of Australian missionary John Mercer. In 1952 he was chosen to settle a nomadic tribe of Aborigines, the Nunggubuyu people, in their own tribal country, Numbulwar, at the mouth of the Rose River. They married in 1953 and over the years did much pioneering work, enduring the isolation as well as the primitive conditions which prevailed at first. Since retiring in 1990 they have produced two booklets of stories for children, and other writings for the Christian wife and mother from which this article is an extract. They have five children and seventeen grandchildren.