God has created men and women different, and married couples must value and celebrate their differences or risk rejecting God's good design, Bob Lepine, co-host of a popular daily radio program, told couples at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary March 19.

Husbands and wives have differences that spring from their gender, as well as from their family backgrounds, their personalities and their life experiences, all of which God has pronounced to be good, said Lepine, co-host with Dennis Rainey of the FamilyLife Today radio program, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

God ordained marriage in a way that couples complement and complete each other with their varying personalities, strengths and weaknesses, he said. Lepine was the keynote speaker for the annual Gheens Banquet.

"God is the one who has made us different as male and female," Lepine said. "God is the one who brings us together with the idea that we will complete one another. God brings husband and wife for the completion, which means that in the plan of God, we all need help.

"God is the one who gave you different personalities and ordained your life experiences and your families of origin. He is the one who superintended you becoming who you are. And then He brings you together. So to try to deny gender differences or to try to deny that God brought you together is really a subtle rebellion against God and His plan."

Many times spouses have different -- and sometimes seemingly opposite -- personalities, Lepine said. For example, the husband within a given marriage may be more of an introvert and the wife an extrovert or the husband may be task-oriented, while his wife is relationship-driven; one may be optimistic and the other more realistic.

It is crucial, Lepine said, to realize that neither personality trait is more "correct" than the other, but that all personalities are a part of God's hard-wiring of the individual person. Problems occur when one's personality becomes influenced by indwelling sin to a point that its expression causes problems within the relationship, he said. Couples must walk in the Spirit of God and not merely blame their sinful proclivities on fixed personality traits, he said.

"When [Christians are walking by the Spirit], then the expression of our personality and our understanding of our mate's personality is going to be guided by God's gracious Spirit to help us appreciate and benefit from and grow in our understanding of one another," he said. "Blaming your personality can also be an expression of sin. Your personality is not determinative."

A second area of difference between spouses is family background, Lepine said. Some husbands and wives enter a marriage having grown up in a difficult or dysfunctional family, he pointed out, and God gives that person a helpmate to encourage them and help heal the scars.

"We are not held hostage to our past," he said. "The Apostle Paul had much he could look back on in regret and much he could commend. His response was what he said in Philippians 3 that he was forgetting what lay behind and looking forward to what lies ahead. A mature way of thinking is to say, 'I'm not going to let the past define my life.' God has given you a spouse to be a big part of that."

Each spouse also brings to the marriage different life experiences, Lepine said, with one life experiences being positive and others negative. For example, Lepine said, one spouse may have more education than the other, one may have traveled more broadly or one may even have a past checkered by hard experiences such as promiscuity and abuse.

Spouses that have areas of regret from their past must fully accept the forgiveness that is theirs in Christ, Lepine said. God gave husbands and wives to each other as a means of grace so they can work to overcome issues related to the past, he said.

"God gave you each other so that you can unpack some of these suitcases together," he said.

Finally, Lepine said, a man and woman who join in the covenant of marriage bring gender differences into the marriage. Lepine set forth three biblical truths that must govern gender differences:

-- God designed men and women to be different; therefore the differences are good.

-- Men and women are different by God's design, but equal in value.

-- God uses gender differences within marriage to help both spouses grow.

"One key to your marriage is to understand and value your differences," he said. "One person has said a great marriage is not when a perfect couple comes together, but when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences. Your goal is not to change your spouse. You need to seek first to understand your spouse and then to be understood. Don't do it the other way around. Appreciating [that] our mate's different may sometimes mean you have to adjust your point of view.

"This really is a spiritual issue, because the fundamental issue really is: Will we embrace God's design in creating us with these differences -- your gender, your background, your family, your personality? He created you and then brought you together in covenant. Will you thank Him and praise Him for that? Will you accept it as a good and kind gift from a good and kind God or will you kick against the goad? Will you try to deny or to change what He is done? When we reject our spouse, we are fundamentally rejecting God and His perfect plan for our life."

(c) 2007 Baptist Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.