- Association of Certified Biblical Counselors - https://biblicalcounseling.com -

Imaging God in my Marriage

Dale Johnson: Today on the podcast I have with me, Dr. Cheryl Bell. She’s an adjunct instructor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and their biblical counseling department. She’s a member at Birchman Baptist Church there in Fort Worth, and she’s an ACBC certified member. She’s also written several of our booklets. If you recall, we released a set of booklets to service our counselors and churches, and she contributed a couple of those booklets. I am so grateful for her. Fun fact about Cheryl. Cheryl and I went through the PhD program together at Southwestern Seminary, and we became very good friends through that process, I love Cheryl and I appreciate so much what she does and teaches. And we’re now the beneficiary of her being one of our certified members. This past year, she taught a breakout at our annual conference and I just wanted to grab her and talk to her about that particular topic, and obviously, we’re talking today about the image of God and marriage.

Cheryl, listen, I’m so grateful you’re here. So grateful for the work that you’ve done. Let me just mention some of that work. She wrote on Freud and the idea of the sexualized child, and that’s going to be a really healthy contribution in the future to help us to think biblically about sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, and that sort of thing. So, Cheryl, thank you for your work. I’m glad you’re here. Let’s talk about marriage. 

Cheryl Bell: Okay, it’s a pleasure to be here. 

Dale Johnson: Now, how does marriage look backwards and forwards at the same time? Sometimes we use that imagery, maybe we don’t know exactly what we mean. Marriage does look backward and it does look forward. Describe what you mean by that.

Cheryl Bell: These are the truths that I wish I’d known before I got married. So, I would have thought about marriage very differently if I had. Because I didn’t understand the theological foundation on which every marriage, particularly believing marriages are built. And so, if we look back to Genesis 2, we see where God established marriage. We understand that there are some ways in which our marriage has uniquely revealed him as a trinitarian God. You know, a lot of times when we look at Romans 1:20 and we see that his attributes are clearly seen and understood by the things that are made. We think purely about material creation, but the reality is it includes immaterial parts of his creation, so, that would include marriage. So, when we look at Genesis 2 and we look at verse 18, we see that it’s not good that man should be alone, and so, as a result of that, God makes Adam a helper comparable to him. And then if we look toward the end of that passage, we see that a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife and they become one flesh. Well, in these two verses, we see three ways in which marriage points back to the image of God in his trinitarian form.

So, the first part of verse 18 says that it’s not good for man to be alone, and there’s no place in the text that says that Adam was lonely. So, the fact that Adam himself didn’t recognize this need points to the fact that he was designed in God’s image. And so, God as the three-in-one is never alone, is always in relationship. So, Adam’s need for a helper, as a man made in God’s image reflected that truth about God.

The second part of that verse says, “I will make him a helper comparable to him.” And so, we see in the Hebrew, the word as ezer k’enegdo, for helper incomparable, helper designates role, comparable designates substance. So, I love the word “helper.” It’s really looked down in our culture, but the other way that it’s used to designate an individual is God. And as a woman, I have the unique ability as I help my husband in our marriage to reflect and image something of God’s character that my husband really doesn’t get the opportunity to do. So, it’s very much an elevated role. And then comparable means that substantively and in the eyes of God we’re equal. So, these are great truths that again point back to God because of their role distinctions. God, as the three-in-one is equally valuable, but their role distinctions. So, one of the best ways to understand that is to look at the work of God as Trinity in salvation. So, God the Father initiates, God the Son purchased, and the Holy Spirit is the one who draws. And so, each portion, each role is equally valuable and necessary, and that’s what we’re imaging in our marriages.

And then thirdly, when it talks about a man leaving his father and mother and being joined to his wife so that they become one flesh. We see what Wayne Mack calls, God’s math. In other words, one plus one in covenant with God himself makes one, and that points back to the Trinity as well because we have the three persons in the one God. So that’s how our marriages look back.

Also, we see in Ephesians that passage that talks about marriage that a new concept is added as marriage is redeemed after the fall. And once again, a husband can be a loving head and a wife can be a submissive helper. We see the restoration of God’s original plan through Christ’s redemptive work, but then really our marriage here even as they tell that story and proclaim the gospel in a very visible way are still not the end of the story because they’re just signposts pointing to an eternal reality. We’re just picturing the love relationship between Jesus Christ and his bride, the church. When I was a child, I didn’t understand why marriage didn’t exist in heaven, but the gospel no longer needs to be proclaimed there because everyone already knows Christ. So, that’s why the picture can pass because the reality come.

I love the passage in Revelation that talks about the marriage supper of the Lamb. It’s in Revelation 19 starts with verse 6, “Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude, and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to him because the marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride has prepared herself was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. And he said, to me, “Write: blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” And so, that’s how our marriages point forward and picture what is coming. 

Dale Johnson: That’s helpful. You talked about oneness and the beauty of oneness that Paul mentioned, certainly, in Ephesians chapter 5 that’s talked about in Genesis chapter 2. We certainly long for that in the culmination of what marriage pictures in Revelation 19. But there are times in day-to-day life. Yes, these are still truths that are said about marriage, that we are the two becoming one flesh. But there are times in marriage where we portray a different gospel, even us, as Christians in the ways that we talk to one another. Sometimes we don’t speak very kindly. Sometimes we use speech that’s tearing down instead of edifying, as Paul talks about in Ephesians 4:29, and oneness is broken in that moment to some degree.

So, when there’s no oneness in marriage, not because a mate is disobedient to some degree and this comes in a lot of different fashions. How does 1 Peter 3:1-6 inform us of a wife’s response when a mate is disobedient? 

Cheryl Bell: This is a difficult text. For many, I think it’s particularly hard for men to teach because it’s really addressing women who are in very difficult situations. So, maybe it’s a little easier for a woman to address. I’d like to just read the text and then we’ll talk back through it. “In the same way, you wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won over without a word by the behavior of their wives as they observe your pure and respectful behavior. And your adornment must not be merely that external braiding of the hair, wearing gold jewelry, putting on apparel, but it should be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way, the holy women of former times who hoped in God also used to adorn themselves being subject to their own husbands just as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, you’ve proved to be her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.”

So, in the context of this passage, we’re looking at a woman who’s in a difficult relationship with her husband. He’s disobedient to the word according to this passage. A lot of theologians believe this is a woman married to an unbelieving man, and it certainly can be. But if you look at the example, that’s given of Abraham and Sarah, I think we can easily expand it to a husband that’s a professing believer and going through a season of rebellion. And so, I think it’s interesting that you know, our role as wives in this context is to be quiet and gentle in our spirits, to be respectful in dealing with their husbands. It’s a beautiful picture of agape love, which is love that’s not based on the worthiness of the object. I love my husband, the way God has said, as an expression of my love to God, and will see a little bit further on in the text and understanding helps explain that as well. But this is amazing, and one of the things that I see is that it is through these very trials that the quiet and gentle spirit is produced. It’s not that a wife going into this situation necessarily is quiet and gentle to begin with. It just means that as she stays under this trial, then the character of Christ is produced in her as she responds obediently to the direction that God’s given in this text that we see that quiet and gentle spirit developed within her. And as a result of that, the husband sees her quiet and gentle spirit. It’s extraordinary in light of her circumstances and God can use it as a tool and his hands to woo her husband back to him. And so, we see that her ability to do this is something exemplified by the holy women of former times.

The text I read says they hoped in God, in some other translations that will say they trusted in God, and there’s the key the reason that any of us relate rightly to anyone is not because they deserve it. It’s because we trust God. It’s always an act of faith and belief to relate rightly to others. Because if we do it on the basis of whether they deserve it or not, we will not have any relationships, we don’t deserve them ourselves. And so, finally, we look at the example of Sarah and Abraham, while we would not affirm the fact that she lied in response to her husband’s directive. We do see her example of respect for him. I think it’s interesting that she was in a very difficult situation and he sin against her in the same way twice. She ended up in a Harem twice, she was not safe. It’s exactly the reverse of what we’re directed to do in Ephesians, where the husband is supposed to love his wife and gave himself for her. But instead, he loved himself and sacrifice Sarah so he could live. It’s the exact reverse of what he was supposed to do.

Dale Johnson: And what’s interesting to me about this passage is what precedes 1 Peter chapter 3, when it says, “likewise” is a demonstration of Christ that when he was reviled, he did not revile in return, when he suffered, he did not threaten. But continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly and that is a magnanimous passage. And now the Lord is telling ladies to do likewise. So I mean, I think you explained that well and one of the most critical points is you’re not responding to your husband because he’s worthy or deserving. You’re responding to God because God is always worthy. What a significant point. Now, surely, when we hear this, we’re not talking about, you know, blanket submission in every single case. As a matter of fact, anytime God delegates authority to a human entity or institution, there are always limitations to that, which are delegated authority as unto the Lord. So, for example, when the government tells us to do things that are sinful, we are called to do civil disobedience based on the Scripture. The same is true, relative to a husband and a wife. As a husband, the husband’s doing something that is asking his wife to participate in sin and so forth, she is to submit to the Lord. That’s a critical piece. So, I want you to talk a little bit about what are some of the limitations of submission in cases like this. 

Cheryl Bell: Based on my understanding, there are two exceptions. The first would be illegality. If her husband asks her to do something that is illegal, maybe participate in some drug use. Or, you know, I’ve not really run into this one as much, but she has to say, no, based on Romans 13. This is something she would need to report to the authorities as well. You know, that’s an area where I see we in the Church have gotten into trouble. We’ve tried to deal ministerially with issues that are illegal. So, we need to be very clear and instructing our people about the things that are illegal and when we’ve moved into the jurisdiction of Law and to deal with that accordingly, we often find that women are reluctant to go to law, but we can encourage them. We can go with them and we can stand with them.

The second would be sinful activity. Those two don’t necessarily dovetail. They’re not always the same. The one that I run into most commonly is husbands who want their wives to use pornography. This would be an area where they would have to say according to Acts 5:29 that we need to obey God, rather than men. And so, these are the two areas where submission to a husband ends and obedience to God takes over.

Dale Johnson: And that’s really critical because so many folks look at passages like this and they went on to one extreme or the other. They say, well, you know, it’s an always case your nuancing that to be helpful or they’ll say, well, this passage doesn’t count for these types of cases, and you’re trying to hold the tension of those two things together and explaining what biblically and the clarity of the passages of Scripture in the whole counsel of God, biblically the nuances that are really at play here and that are very important. So, I’m grateful you’re handling this with care.

Now, I think we have to look at even the broader picture because the church has failed in many ways in helping ladies through this process, equipping them in moments of difficulty and trial, just like you’ve talked about here. But then in caring for them well, or even helping to protect them in some way. So, what is the church’s responsibility in cases like this? 

Cheryl Bell: Well, honestly, part of my struggle in even knowing how to flesh this out is not having seen it practiced. That’s, that’s just honest. I know that in cases of physical or sexual abuse where we’ve moved into the realm of illegality, church leaders need to advise separation. The reality is that if the law is justly applied, a separation will occur, but we can’t be sure that’s going to happen. Well, once we counsel separation, what do we do? We have to be the hands and feet of Jesus to these wives, to these children. A lot of times that doesn’t happen. You know, do we have families in our church who will open their homes and take in a woman and her children? Do we have individuals with different spiritual gifts who can come alongside this woman and provide the counsel and wisdom and provision that she’s going to need? Do we have a means in place to counsel both the husband and the wife, you know? Ideally, we want to move toward reconciliation. Repentance, if both are believers and reconciliation.

We need to be willing to implement the process of church discipline for a husband who is a believer to establish by the means that God has given us, whether he truly is or not, and that we know how to deal with him. In our churches, do we have men who are willing following the process of church discipline to go after this man as an unbeliever and to evangelize him? So, these are just a few of the things that I would love to see our churches doing. But honestly, you know, as I said before, my lack of seeing this implemented, I think at some point limits my vision and I would love to know what other people are seeing and how they’re seeing this implemented. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah. I think a lot of us are in process of learning some of this together and our church culture right now certainly proclaims this. This is an area where we have to do better, we need to repent of ways in which we’ve neglected our responsibilities, repent in ways of which we’ve left ladies often unprotected, or unprovided for, in situations like this, and need to have men who are certainly willing to utilize the proper authority that God has given to the governing authorities or the ruling authorities. But then also not to neglect our responsibility and our spiritual role to go after him relative to church discipline as you mentioned. So, I think we’re all in process of this. We need to recognize very clearly ways that we need to repent and then be able to approach the Scriptures appropriately. Avoid responding in polemics. This is such a key thing, and I think that’s what we see happening in an unfortunate way. So many times we need to have the whole counsel of the Word and then be bold to be obedient to what God says.

Cheryl, I think you’re right. It is helpful to have a lady who helps to walk through this. And so, thank you for being faithful. Thank you for looking at the Word and assessing these situations. And in, even on a personal level, thank you for being willing to counsel those ladies who are broken. You have an opportunity to do that quite a bit. So, thank you for your service.