If you get married in Scotland, there is a tradition that’s designed to make sure that the husband and the wife will endure just about anything. The prospective bride and groom are pelted with food trash including rotten eggs and fish. If you can endure that, you can endure just about anything – at least according to the tradition. While I was in Rwanda recently, I learned about dowries. The prospective groom is supposed to negotiate with his future father in law by providing cows as payment for his wife. The purpose of this dowry is to prove that a man is able to provide for his bride. When children are born and they visit the father of the bride, a cow is returned for each child.
Marriage customs from other parts of the world can be interesting because people have developed different ways to show that they’re ready for marriage. Customs that seem outlandish, such as pelting someone with food garbage, have a deeper meaning than might be seen by an outsider. It seems, though, that marriages can often be controversial. In the Corinthian Church, some were apparently saying that men and women shouldn’t even have sexual relations if they were married, in part because the coming of Christ was expected so soon. As Paul dealt with that heresy, he shared a statement on equality that would have shook the Roman world. “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:4)
In ancient Rome, men were in charge. Marriages were arranged, usually to help families grow in power. A bride would pass from the power of the father to the power of the husband. While Rome recognized monogamy, there were higher expectations from women regarding faithfulness than from men. A woman could be divorced for adultery, but it was not recognized among men. It was definitely a man’s world in Rome. While women had some rights, and were not treated completely as property in Rome, as some cultures saw women, they still didn’t have equal rights with men. And so Paul’s comment dealing with sexual relationships in marriage was revolutionary, and he saw this equality, based on his other teachings, as extending to all areas of marriage. Let’s face it, how we deal with marriage situations is how we see the world in a microcosm.
How can men say, for example, that women have an equal place in society if they are not seen as equals in marriage? How can we say that women should be treated with respect in our world if husbands fail to respect their wives and we allow that to happen? We see a lot of dysfunctional marriages today inside the church. In most cases, it’s because of a lack of respect from one partner towards the other that leads to a breakdown in that respect both ways. That lack of respect may turn physical and we have seen a rise in cases of women, especially, who have been physically assaulted by their husbands. In other cases, the abuse is emotional and women are made to feel like they’re unimportant. As we continue to look at Christian marriage in a society that is changing a lot of views about marriage, we must strive for a world where husbands and wives respect each other, and love each other enough to submit to each other mutually. We must show mutual respect in marriage and that attitude must spill out of our marriages and into all of our relationships. Our witness to the world begins with our marriages, because that’s how most people see how we deal with others best, and continues as we love and respect others, seeing others as people created by a God who loves them.
O Lord, strengthen my marriage in You. Let me treat my wife with respect, and learn to respect others.