Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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I read the following verse yesterday.

If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.  Deuteronomy 24:5

It would seem that the happiness of wives is important to God. So much so, he made a law about it. This law effectively meant that the husband’s priority was his wife’s happiness during their first twelve months together.[1]

From one verse in the New Testament we learn that the apostle Paul simply assumes that a married man will be concerned with pleasing his wife, and vice versa (1 Cor. 7:33-34). [I have more about Paul’s teachings on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 here.]

Not everyone, though, seems to think that God wants women to be happy in marriage. Too often I have heard comments from women who seem to think that God’s will is that they suffer in marriage.[2] And sadly, I know too many women who do suffer, even when their husbands are professing Christians.

Marriages can take a pounding from the stresses and strains of various influences related to money, health (including mental illnesses and addictions), work, and other relationships, etc. Sometimes life will take us and our marriages into difficult and painful places. But, in the centre of trials and storms, there can be peace, comfort, support, and even happiness. Marriage should be a safe haven and sanctuary.

If both husband and wife are preferring the other, honouring the other, and generally trying to follow Jesus’ example of selflessness, grace and love, then both can be happy, and periods of suffering will be rare (Phil. 2:3-5). I know this from personal experience: my husband and I are happy together.

Unhappiness and suffering occur when there is selfishness, immaturity, mental illness, or a lack of real love from one or both partners, especially if these problems are prolonged and habitual, rather than an occasional lapse.

Love should be the defining trait of our character and of our relationships. Love is the command of Jesus (John 13:34-35). Paul also emphasised love and gave us a handy checklist in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to see if we are truly living and acting in love: “Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs …”

Galatians 5:22-23 is another useful list. We can use this list to see how we are going in our journey towards Christ-likeness as we continue to be led by the Holy Spirit. Love is at the top of this list, closely followed by joy! And then there is peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Our character and our marriages should demonstrate these fruit of the Spirit.

My prayer is that more Christian marriages will be marked by real love, mutual honour, and kind consideration. And that marriage will be a source of comfort and happiness even in terrible times. Suffering, because of spousal unkindness and selfishness, should not be the norm in Christian marriage.


[1] The context for the Deuteronomy 24:5 regulation is a society where men might have responsibilities outside the home, but women typically didn’t. The regulation meant that a man’s outside responsibilities would not interfere with his responsibility towards his wife. His first priority was his wife in the first year of their marriage.

[2] I recently read this comment from a woman who believes that suffering is a normal part of marriage for wives. I have come across this sentiment several times. Jesus was sacrificially selfless, but he was not a victim. His sacrifice was part of God’s plan for redemption, a plan that Jesus willingly chose to be a part of. Wives should not suffer unnecessarily because they think it is God’s will. Some may see suffering in marriage as an act of piety. I see it as a wasted life. This begs the question, What do you do if you have a selfish, foolish, demanding or insensitive husband or wife? Putting up with immature or bad behaviour does not do your spouse any favours. But dealing with it requires wisdom, grace and prayer, and possibly support from your church family. Putting up with abuse is rarely the right thing to do. If we love our husband or wife we will want them to become more Christ-like, and allowing any form of abuse to go unchecked will hamper their spiritual growth (cf. 1 Peter 3:7).

© Margaret Mowczko 2012
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14 thoughts on “God wants women to be happy in marriage

  1. This post has generated some conversation on different facebook pages, etc. So I’m adding extra thoughts here:

    In response to a comment about “God’s will”:
    God’s will is that all followers of Jesus become ‘Christ-like’. God’s will is not that one of his followers hurts another and causes suffering.

    By quietly putting up with bad or abusive behaviour from a Christian spouse we are hindering their spiritual growth. That doesn’t mean that we should react impatiently, ungraciously or foolishly to bad behaviour.

    In regards to a comment about Deuteronomy 24:5:
    I think the reason this verse doesn’t mention wives making their husbands happy is because, at that time, in that culture, most young new brides didn’t have other concerns other than her husband (and her husband’s family), whereas as a new husband could have conflicting interests.

    If that rule was made today, it might be addressed to both husband and wife, telling them both to reduce their outside commitments so that they can concentrate on making each other happy for the first year of marriage.

    In reponse to a comment about divorce and what to do with about a terrible spouse:
    If my Christian husband was habitually behaving in an immature, selfish or hurtful manner I would not put up with it as “God’s will”. I would prayerfully and tactfully tell my husband that his behaviour is ugly, unpleasant and/or hurtful. (Not in those words necessarily.) And if prayer, patient conversation, and gracious behaviour on my part doesn’t work, I would get help and support from a Christian counsellor or pastor.

    If a wife or her children are being harmed, she should ask her husband to move out and she should ask for police help if needed. (I realise that there are different levels and different forms of harm.)

    Divorce would be the very last resort. Personally, I think the Church has got the Bible’s teachings on divorce wrong. I’m fairly sure that Moses divorced his first wife. Abraham effectively divorced Hagar (with God’s full approval and instigation.) Even God said that he divorced Israel because of her infidelity.

    Jesus prohibited Jewish men from divorcing their wives, the exception being if their wives were unfaithful. This teaching of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel was directed at Jewish husbands who were divorcing their wives too freely and abandoning them (Mat 5:31-32; 19:9).

    Jesus also prohibited Jewish men and women from divorcing if they wanted to marry someone else (Mark 10:11-12 cf Luke 16:18).

    Israeli customs in Bible times allowed women who were mistreated, neglected or abandoned by their husbands to “divorce” their husbands (i.e. separation). Women were not expected to put up with abuse. Jesus did not address or alter this custom about women divorcing bad husbands.

    The apostle Paul allowed for Gentile converts to Christianity to be divorced from their unbelieving spouses, if this is what the unbelieving spouse wanted. In such a situation, both parties were free to remarry (1 Cor 7:12-15). However, Paul instructed Christian couples who got divorced to stay single (1 Cor 7:10-11).

    In Old Testament times, men, except for priests, could marry divorced women without either being guilty of adultery. What does this mean to us today?

    Divorce is mentioned many times in the Bible. And not necessarily in a bad way. (See here.)

    More on divorce, and remarriage after divorce here.

  2. There are difficult times in any relationship, but to believe that unnecessary, ongoing suffering is a part of a normal, “godly” marriage for wives?

    When I follow this thought through the complementarian beliefs, it goes something like this: In a marriage, the husband represents Christ in authority and the wife represents the church. Wives should expect on-going suffering in their marriage, in fact it’s God’s will. Since the marriage is a representation of Christ, the relationship between wives and husbands represents the relationship between Christ and the church, so the church should expect on-going suffering from Christ also. On a more personal level, every Christian should expect on-going suffering given to them from Christ.

    I find the implications of this belief kind of scary.

  3. Sarah, it’s interesting that you bring Jesus and the Church into this discussion. Jesus would never hurt the church. However, I’m afraid that the Church frequently embarasses and “hurts” Jesus and his mission.

    Also, God does allow suffering and uses it for our spiritual growth, but I sincerely hope that I am never the cause of any suffering or hurt. I’m sure I will fail in this from time to time; but this is my aim.

    While we all make mistakes, no Christian spouse should be causing suffering or pain in any sustained or habitual way, unless there is something really wrong, such as mental illness, etc.

    I maintain that God wants wives – and husbands – to be happy in marriage.

  4. I completely agree Marg! I think you have expressed this very well. It’s a delicate subject because there are a lot of church traditions to sweep certain kinds of suffering under the rug and sigh, and accept it as a part of life. But I agree with you, sin is supposed to be confronted. Otherwise it is being condoned.

  5. It is a delicate subject, and my short article is far from comprehensive on this subject of happiness and suffering in Christian marriage.

    I agree: Sin that is not confronted, but is quietly being endured is in effect being condoned.

  6. Hello Marg,
    Do you know if there are any other verses which support the idea that God wants a woman to be happy in her marriage?

    Also, what are the circumstances in which divorce *is* permitted in the Bible? I know infidelity and abandonment are listed. Are there others? If the husband does not live up to God’s command to love his wife as Christ loves the church (i.e. he is selfish or self-centered or doesn’t try to make his wife happy), is divorce permissable?

    Best wishes,
    Sunshine Mary

  7. Hi Sunshine Mary,
    I can’t think of another verse where happiness is mentioned. I also don’t know of any verses where God says he wants Christians to be unhappy and suffer in Christian relationships. There are, however, several Bible verses that state we should strive for peace in our relationships.

    The Bible doesn’t give a definitive list of what sins or circumstances make divorce permissible. And some husbands and wives choose to stay together even though circumstances in their marriage, such as infidelity, are a valid reason for a divorce.

    Also, I think the husband who truly loves his wife as much as Jesus loves the Church is a rare person indeed (if such a man even exists). So a man who comes short of this standard is not automatically a candidate for divorce.

    Each marriage is unique and complex, and reasons for divorce may be unique and complex.

    While God hates divorce and abandonment, he also hates the abuse and cruel treatment of selfish and immature men and women. However, Malachi 2:16 in the original Hebrew may not mean that God hates divorce. See here.

    Sorry I couldn’t give you more definite answers. The Bible does not specifically address every single situation in our lives. In these cases, we must look at broader biblical principles, especially New Creation principles.

    Here are some Bible verses about how Christians should treat each other:

    In humility, consider others better than yourselves. Each should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3b-4.

    Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10

    Nobody should seek his own good but the good of others. 1 Corinthians 10:24.

    Be kind and tender-hearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ, God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32.

    As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12.

    Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 1 Peter 3:8.

    And this one:
    But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler [loidoros: “verbally abusive”], drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. Drive out the wicked person from among you. 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 NRSV. See also 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

    Note that divorce is not on any sin or vice list in the Bible. All my articles on divorce are here: https://margmowczko.com/tag/divorce/

  8. Thank you!

    1. I found this post after searching around for an answer to a long-held belief that women are to suffer in marriage.

      I picked up this belief as a child, saw it all throughout life, experienced it in my first marriage, and in the journey to new love, I find myself here.

      Thank you for writing this article and reaffirming and inspiring others, including myself. I find it easy to believe suffering and marriage go hand and hand due to the examples I’ve seen in life, as well as an unspoken belief in churches that wives are to be akin to dolls for their husbands.

      1. I’m sorry for your experience, Amber.
        And shame on the women who continue to teach other women that suffering in Christian marriage is normal and God’s will.

  9. I found this post fascinating and so helpful. Thank you! I’ve also come across the statement from those in the church who refuse egalitarian arguments for the full-involvement of women in leadership and ministry, that being in the church (as in marriage) is not just about women being happy either. This seems to be just another way of dismissing the honest voice of women describing their pain and frustration caused by church-sanctioned sexism. I have personally had to work through so much confusion because of the teachings of the traditional church that silence women’s questions as “complaining” and a lack of patience. It’s no wonder abuse runs rampant in so many believers’ marriages.

    1. Hi Adrienne, You make a great point. By dismissing the idea that marriage is meant to bring happiness, the heartaches and complaints are also dismissed and silenced.

  10. […] God wants women to be happy in marriage […]

  11. […] Abigail’s name is derived from two Hebrew words that mean “father” and “happiness.” She may have been the cause of happiness in her father’s house, but Abigail’s marriage cannot have been a happy one.[2] Nabal’s name is a Hebrew word that means “foolish” or “senseless.” As an adjective, nabal is sometimes used in the Bible to describe people who behave in unethical and godless ways. It’s an apt name for Abigail’s husband who typifies such behaviour. […]

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