Deuteronomy 24.5 1 Corinthians 7

I read the following verse yesterday for my Every Old Testament Women project:

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). [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 such as finances, 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 the 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, a 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.


Footnotes

[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).

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Recommended Reading 

Hard versus Bad. Which Marriage is Yours? here.

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