To build men, there is perhaps no better tool than a godly marriage. It helps us grow as leaders, learn selflessness and sacrifice, recognize and conquer our weaknesses, and forge character, and all the while we can genuinely, deeply enjoy the wonderful blessings that come with this process.
To receive all the benefits from it that God intends, however, a man must do it the way God designed it. He should learn all he can from the Architect of this divine institution and diligently strive to apply that instruction in his own marriage.
It is the failure to do this that creates the problems that plague so many marriages and that fracture so many families. When men discard God’s marriage laws, disregard the spiritual guidance God gives, and operate in ignorance of the spiritual vision that marriage is meant to embody—when men pursue marriage their own way and do what seems right in their own eyes—they suffer terrible curses. And marriage in general gets a bad reputation because of men’s failures.
You, however, can have something altogether special, rewarding and spectacular: a marriage that will help you become the man God intends you to be.
Marriage Makes the Man
Soon after God made the first man, He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18).
These are God’s words: It is not good for a man to be alone. All men must realize that we need women!
In fact, we need women in order to wholly fulfill our role as men! It is when you are with a woman that you are able to fully exercise the responsibilities and functions God designed into your role as a man. You cannot really practice and perform the jobs of protector, provider and leader when you are by yourself—certainly not the way you can when you are with a woman.
In a real sense, your masculinity is defined and expressed in how you treat a woman. This is a profound point worth meditating on.
A man in a godly marriage learns more deeply over time just how much he needs his wife. If both a man and his wife truly have God at the center of their union, then that man’s understanding of his wife’s unique strengths and contributions, her distinct perspective and wisdom, will grow with time and experience. Through his interactions with her, he will also come to understand better and better how to truly fulfill his role as a man. He will learn how to provide, protect and lead in a godly way.
“Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11). You see this wonderful dynamic within a godly marriage as nowhere else.
Marriage makes a man.
A godly marriage helps fashion a godly man. A man benefits immeasurably from the support of a godly woman.
At the same time, every man should realize that for a woman to achieve her potential as a godly woman and helpmeet, she needs a godly man! There is a level of maturity in life that each spouse can only achieve by having the other to fill his or her role.
A husband and wife each need to strive to become the person who can best help the other. As each does so, each receives additional benefits of having a more effective and godly spouse.
There is a symbiosis, a synergy, a completeness, a wholeness, a perfection, that God masterfully designed within the marriage relationship that can only be unlocked and achieved by patterning the marriage precisely according to God’s laws, His counsel, His blueprint, His pattern, and by having His presence and help in the relationship.
Leave, Cleave, Become One
After God gave the first man a wife, He commanded, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
Entering and fashioning a godly marriage begins with this understanding.
God’s earliest definition of marriage is leaving, cleaving and becoming one. Marriage is the point where a man and his bride leave the authority structure of their parents and form a new structure that did not exist before. Marriage establishes a new family, a new life with new responsibilities and new roles.
At this point, a man becomes the head of a family, responsible to Jesus Christ for its success.
Appropriately, this moment is celebrated. A wedding is a moving occasion, rich with meaning.
In the Philadelphia Church of God, the ceremony we use was composed by the late Herbert W. Armstrong, and it beautifully expresses God’s purpose for marriage and His laws guaranteeing its success.
This wedding ceremony has two basic parts. First, it explains how God ordained marriage and made it binding: He gave Adam a helper (Genesis 2:18), symbolizing the Church being wed to Jesus Christ at His Second Coming; He brought man and woman together to reproduce (Genesis 1:28), picturing the expansion of the God Family; and He made marriage permanent (Mark 10:9, 11-12), illustrating that the Church’s marriage to the Son of God will never end.
Second, the ceremony covers God’s scriptural instruction regarding the roles and responsibilities of husband and wife. This portion of the ceremony is built around Ephesians 5.
Ephesians 5 is the most important chapter in the Bible explaining marriage. It is a gold mine of marriage instruction. Though this passage addresses the roles of husbands and wives, it actually primarily addresses the marriage between Christ and the Church. The reason the laws in this chapter apply to you and your wife is that your marriage is a type of Christ’s marriage. Both are governed by the same laws.
It starts with verse 21: “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” God Family life is a way of mutual submission in the fear of God. In this passage, the Apostle Paul gets more specific about what submission looks like within each role. He spells out the responsibilities of women and men in a way that reveals much about God’s thinking, His love, His government and His purpose for marriage.
The two marriage roles interlock in an extraordinary way. Each of them is about service. Each demands 100 percent commitment to the way of give—the way of love! It takes real faith for each spouse to go all the way. It takes faith in God—His law and government—to completely sacrifice yourself in this way. The vast majority of people are too selfish to do it. We walk by sight. We want to hold on to our own ideas of the way a relationship should function. But if we are willing to simply obey—to walk by faith and do as God commands—wonders and miracles result.
When a husband and wife each devote themselves to following this formula, they set a God-level dynamic in motion. It creates a profound level of trust, intimacy and interdependence.
God designed these roles and responsibilities to draw us into the world of the God Family! They teach us exquisite, God-level governance and love.
The marriage ceremony then concludes with the most important part: the vows. These are the solemn promises made by the man and the woman—not to each other, but to God. When they say “I do,” they enter not into a contract but a covenant.
Here are the groom’s wedding vows as read in God’s Church:
Do you, then, [husband’s first name], faithfully promise and covenant with God, in the presence of these witnesses, to take [wife’s full maiden name] to be your lawful wedded wife, and to cleave to her unto death—to love her, cherish her, honor her, and provide for her?
These five specific promises—cleave, love, cherish, honor, provide—come straight out of God’s mind. When a husband understands and keeps them, his marriage takes on an awesome spiritual dimension. It flows more and more with God’s love, His Spirit and His blessings.
When you really think on these promises, you realize that this is a perfect standard! To truly fulfill them, you must be a perfect person! None of us is, and thus we cannot fulfill them perfectly—but we must strive to do so, with God’s help. God commands us to become perfect as He is (Matthew 5:48).
The first of these five promises echoes God’s original definition of the first marriage in Genesis 2:24. Jesus Christ quoted this verse when He said, “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh” (Mark 10:6-8).
What does God mean by cleave? The Hebrew word means to cling or adhere, or to catch by pursuit. Elsewhere in the Bible, it is translated abide fast, follow close, be joined, pursue hard and stick.
Amids life’s hubbub, actively cleaving to your spouse in love doesn’t happen accidentally. God, children, work, Church, friends, chores, errands, bills, diversions, distractions—so many concerns compete for your attention. How often, at the end of the day, do you crash the moment your head hits the pillow, and neglect spending time cleaving to your spouse—not just physically, but spiritually, mentally and emotionally?
It doesn’t take much neglect to go from cleaving to merely coexisting.
“One flesh” is what God wants in marriage. Oneness in sharing your thoughts, attitudes, emotions, bodies and the physical things in life.
After the workday, you and your wife can continue to be pulled away from each other by outside responsibilities and interests if you are not careful. Television or other entertainment typically shuts down communication and can end up being a crutch that gives an illusion of togetherness but actually cleaves your marriage—the wrong way.
Husbands: Is your heart at home with your wife? Is that where your primary interest lies? The answer to this question can help you determine how well you are cleaving to her. Remaining truly faithful to your wife requires deep mental, emotional and psychological attachment.
Spend time cleaving. Share your life! Study the Bible together, read together, listen to music together, take walks together, talk together, do things together. Rekindle the flames of romance that drew you together. Court her! Get a babysitter for your kids and go out for a date, and not too infrequently. Strive to take short trips together, just the two of you—two to three days long, two to three times a year.
How is your communication? You should have more to talk about together the longer your marriage lasts. If you are making a vigorous effort to cleave, then your common interests and your ability to relate will grow with time. You will feel close emotionally, and your shared understanding and affection will make your marriage a joy.
For some marriages, a mountain of mutual effort is required to restore the relationship to where it should be. If the idea of cleaving in this way seems overwhelming, that is a good indication you and your mate would benefit from counseling with a minister.
The second promise of the marriage covenant is to love. This word is commonly used and rarely understood. Love does not mean to enjoy the way she makes you feel. Love does not mean to experience a stimulating emotion.
Love is not an incoming feeling. It is an outgoing action. It is a thought and a deed focused on the benefit for the other person and not dependent on a certain reaction from the other person.
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). How did Christ love the Church? By giving Himself for it. Jesus Christ died for us while we were still sinners. This verse specifically commands you as a husband to give yourself for your wife the way Christ gave Himself for His!
This is God-level love—love that is hard to grasp!
This responsibility to sacrifice lies right at the heart of your role as a husband. Think: This role points to Jesus Christ, your Husband and Savior. At its very heart is His sacrificial spirit. “Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body,” verse 23 says. A godly husband demonstrates his love for his wife through sacrifice, the absolute opposite of self-love.
Christ is called “the Lamb” (Revelation 5:12; 7:14; 12:11; 17:14, etc). That refers to His being the Passover sacrifice who died for you. What is the ultimate Husband like? A humble, giving, self-sacrificing lamb! His Bride will be called “the Lamb’s wife” (Revelation 21:9). Consider how much He does to prepare His people for that marriage! He is our High Priest, Intercessor and Advocate (e.g. Hebrews 2:17; 7:25; 1 John 2:1).
A husband must follow Christ’s example of sacrifice to be his wife’s provider, protector, guide, leader and head—to prioritize her physical, emotional and spiritual needs above his own.
How have you given yourself to your wife today? Can any of your interactions with your wife this week be characterized as a true sacrifice?
A big part of a man’s obligation to love his wife comes in the form of providing her firm, loving leadership. You must give direction, stability, decision-making and guidance. You can read more about this in Section 5.2.
By saying “I do,” a man promises to follow Christ’s example of sacrificiallove.
The third promise in this covenant with God is to cherish your wife. “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church” (Ephesians 5:28-29).
Cherish means to keep warm or to treat with tender love. A Christ-like husband is not mean-spirited, resentful or bitter toward his wife. When Christ lives in a man, that man reflects Jesus’s kind, considerate, affectionate and generous nature.
The word nourish means to nurture or bring up to maturity; its root word means feeding. A husband covenants with God to cherish his wife and to lovingly feed her needs, physically, emotionally and spiritually, with self-sacrificing, focused, concerned attention.
If you fail to cherish your wife, not only will you and your bride suffer problems in your day-to-day home life, but you will be depriving her of the nourishing love she depends on.
“For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (verse 30). The picture here is deep and extraordinarily beautiful. It portrays the unity, the cooperation, the absolute oneness God expects within a marriage.
Consider this: Christ Himself wants to nourish and cherish your wife—who, if she is in God’s Church today, will be part of His future Bride—through you. If you are begotten by God’s Holy Spirit, He can actually accomplish that by coming into you and working through you by that Spirit! But you must be willing to sacrifice, and yield yourself to Him, in ministering to your wife. There is a real vision here of Christ taking care of His Bride now!
The fourth promise a man makes in this marriage covenant with God is to honor his wife. The final scripture in the ceremony again mentions this word: “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).
Our wives must be honored. That word in the Greek means value, esteem of the highest degree. It refers to the honor you should extend to someone by reason of the rank and state of office he or she holds; it means deference or reverence. This is the type of honor you are to give your wife. The husband holds the office of leader of the household. But your wife holds an office too! You and she are spiritual “heirs together of the grace of life.” She has a magnificent spiritual future that may equal or even exceed your own! That is worthy of deference and respect.
God the Father gave such honor to Christ. Hebrews 2:7 says the Father crowned Christ with glory and honor.
You ought to crown your wife with honor.
“Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). Are you close enough to God to understand what a valuable blessing it is to have a wife?
Think deeply about all she does for you. Let her know how much she means to you. Express to her that you adore her—that she is a treasure to you. Treat her as a prized possession, a precious gift from God!
Think about this: Jesus Christ qualified to replace Satan almost 2,000 years ago. Why didn’t He take over the throne of the Earth then? Here is why: because “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” He will not rule as King of kings until after the marriage of the Lamb takes place! Christ truly recognizes the blessing of receiving a helpmeet from God the Father!
We must get this right in our homes, because there is a serious warning within 1 Peter 3:7. If you are dwelling with your wife in ignorance, if you are not giving her honor, this will compromise your relationship with God.
Any husband who acts like a tyrant, who doesn’t even try to love and honor his spouse, is living in total rebellion against God. If you treat your wife this way, you do not know God. He says He won’t even listen to your prayers. If your prayers are ineffectual, examine this area in your life.
We must work diligently to fulfill our promises to God—to love and sacrifice for our wives as Christ does for His—or our religion is worthless. We should fear not fulfilling this covenant to honor our wives!
The fifth and final promise of your covenant with God is to provide for your wife. The Bible makes an equally forceful statement about this responsibility: “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8).
As we saw in Section 3, God has unmistakably given the job of provider to the man. A man is to do whatever he must to provide the physical needs of his wife and children.
These are the five specific promises a man in the Church of God makes when he covenants with God to marry his wife. These promises come from the mind of God. To fulfill them requires God’s mind and His power. Using that power, you must strive always to keep these promises perfectly.
A Moment of Decision
In a practical sense, fulfilling these promises comes down to a simple choice—a decision you will endlessly encounter in your marriage. It is simple: Me or my wife?
Who will you think about? On whom will you expend your energy? Who will you put first?
This moment is a critical one. What you choose in that instant is more important, with further-reaching effects, than you probably realize. Making the selfish choice is the number one decision that holds you back from being a better husband.
The love of God is the way of give. According to the Bible, anything other than that way is sin—the result of loving yourself too much, choosing yourself over your wife.
Judge your attitude and your actions within your home by this defining question: Am I loving myself right now instead of my family? If you are honest, you may not like what you find.
However, here is the awesome and beautiful truth about this: The role of husband that God designed is the best tool for overcoming and growing in God’s love.
Again, at its core is the responsibility to sacrifice. Developing a mindset of sacrificial concern for others is the number one thing that will help you conquer selfishness and be a better husband.
Yes, you have priorities that demand your attention outside the home. You must provide; you must be a builder within the Church and the community. This absorbs your energy and time. But if you do these things out of godly sacrificial love, they actually enhance your standing as a husband and father.
Godly sacrifice is big-mindedness. It is not kowtowing to your wife’s every desire and whim. It is prioritizing the true needs, the spiritual well-being and long-term good of the family, above personal desires.
When you choose to put your own self-indulgent interests first—even if it involves serving someone else because you feel more comfortable doing that than fulfilling your role at home—you are putting yourself ahead of your wife. This deprives your family of the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits God wants to provide through your office. It also squanders your opportunity to forge godly character.
Don’t let selfishness hold you back from this awesome role. Make the sacrifices of a loving husband and a giving father!
What are some practical ways you can emulate the Husband of all husbands today? How can you give your one and only precious wife the marriage experience God wants her to have? How can you imitate the Father of all fathers today? How can you provide your children the family experience that will turn their hearts to their spiritual Father?
Make a list. Maybe it is doing family Bible studies. Calling her to say you’re thinking of her. Fixing what is broken. Expressing your appreciation. Picking up after yourself. Washing the dishes. Hanging that family portrait. Taking them out when she’s overwhelmed. Helping with homework. Teaching a skill. Being Big Fun Dad. Going for a walk together. Tackling a family project. Giving an unexpected gift. Snuggling. Planning a getaway. Wrestling your boy. Do something from that list every day.
Make another list of the things that swallow your time and draw you away from being a godly husband and father. Disappearing into your study. Not listening. Being distracted. Burying your nose in the paper. Spending too much time on the computer. Getting impatient. Fondling your phone. Bringing work home. Entering television purgatory. Getting lost in sports. Contributing nothing. Study that list. Ask yourself: Is anything on this list worth putting myself in front of my family?
And the next time you encounter that moment of decision—me or my wife?—make a different choice. Sacrifice. Just like your Husband and your Father do for you.
Study and re-study those beautiful wedding vows. Whether you are about to marry, have already married, or hope to do so in the future, measure yourself against the words of this covenant, made with God:
Do you, then, [your name], faithfully promise and covenant with God, in the presence of these witnesses, to take [your spouse] to be your lawful wedded wife, and to cleave to her unto death—to love her, cherish her, honor her, and provide for her?