Monday, February 28, 2011

Christian Marriage, the Man's Role. The Road Less Traveled, Part II: Ephesians 5:22-33

Today we continue our study of marriage. As we study these verses in Ephesians on marriage, some who are not married may ask, “How does this apply to me?” This is an excellent and very important question. Whether you are single or married it is important, critically important for us to understand God’s design for marriage. We live in the age of “Who wants to marry a multi-millionaire?” A show, a concept that makes a mockery of marriage, and yet it was a show that drew large ratings. I don’t know exactly what that says about us as a people, but whatever it is, is not good. We must have a high view of marriage.  Hear now God’s word.

Ephesians 5:22-33
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

The image of a husband as a gigantic dictator who rampages through his house enforcing his will on his puny servants is dispelled by verse 25. Husbands must love their wives as Christ loves the church. What does that mean? As has often been pointed out that means that husbands must be willing to die for their wives. This does mean though that husbands can say, “OK, OK if ever an assassins bullet comes her way, I will step in front of her; if we are on the Titanic and it is going down I will place her on the life boat and I will go down with the ship—fine—can I go back to watching my Rams Super Bowl video now?” You probably will never have to face a situation in which you will have to literally lay down your life for your wife. The question then is not so much whether you are willing to die for your wife, but whether you are willing to live for your wife in accordance with the will of Christ. Our love is modeled after the love of Christ who yes, did die for the church, but while he lived on earth he lived for his people; he loved them. He healed the sick, he raised the dead, he forgave people’s sins, and he washed their feet. He served them. Husbands are called to live Christ-like lives in their homes and to love their wives.

Husbands love by leading, verse 23. The husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church. The husband loves his wife as he functions in the role God has given him, as leader. Too often the problem is that husbands are inactive or passive in leadership, thus placing the decisions and resulting stress upon their wives who then grow in their frustration and resentment at the inactivity of their husbands. Husbands must actively lead. Our leadership must be expressed in protection and commitment.

Protection, verse 25.  Christ gave himself up for us. This one statement has many facets as we shall see but it definitely refers to Jesus’ protection of us for he died for our sins, our failures. Elsewhere we read that Jesus is our Passover Lamb, the one who shed his blood so that God’s judgment upon our sin would pass over us. Thus he is our shield and our protector. There is much that brings pressure to bear on any family; it is the husband’s responsibility to bear much of that load and to shield and to protect his wife and family. Sadly, rather than asserting, “Yes, the buck stops here,” we often seek to evade responsibility for it is far easier to criticize and point the finger of blame.

I hated long trips when I was growing up. Inevitably it would mean that my father rather than looking at the map ahead of time would as we were driving, seemingly at the last possible second would place the map in my mother’s lap and say, “Figure out where we need to go!” Pressure would be on her to get her bearings on the map, look at all the major roads and make the right split-second decision, and if she made the wrong decision, Dad would always blame her and yell and scream. I told myself I would never do that to my wife.  God has a way of bursting the bubble of my self-righteousness. Two years ago Ginger and I were in search of new health coverage. There were so many details and options it was quite nerve wracking. Instead of taking leadership, I allowed her to do the research and bear the stress. Rather than “protecting,” I found myself in the role of critic and one day said something incredibly stupid and demeaning to my wife and she took off down the hallway in tears. I realized I had failed to take leadership; I had failed to protect her. I was not loving her as Christ loves me. Please understand this does not mean that you refuse to discuss issues, listen to what your wife has to say and at times leave decisions to her because in particular circumstances she knows more than you, of course you do these things, you would be foolish not to; rather it is an attitude that says when you can see the pressure is great upon your wife, “I will take this burden, you do not have to bear it alone anymore.” Raising children can be a particularly stressful area, many times women feel all alone in bearing this responsibility.  I know a father who though he loves his children dearly has zero tolerance for his children talking back to their mother, his wife. “You will not talk to your mother that way and if I ever hear such things come out of your mouth you know the consequences.” Such a statement is necessary for the children to learn to treat their mother with respect, but it is also a powerful statement of protection to the wife: “I am in this with you and I am not going to tolerate them or anyone else for that matter talking to you, my wife, that way.” Men, are you loving your wives this way?

Leadership expresses itself in commitment, verse 23. The church is Christ’s body and He is our Savior. In verses 26 and 27 we read of his commitment to the body, to be with us through to the end as we become the people he would have us be. Christ does not leave us. He is never going to say, “Yes, I died to save you, but I have changed my mind—I am out of here!” No and likewise, the husband must communicate to his wife that he has sunk the anchor down deep and in the storms of life he is not going to abandon ship; he is going to stay put. The wife needs to know the security of her husband’s commitment, that no matter what comes, he is going to be there, til death do us part.

Imagine the U.S.S. Enterprise under severe attack by the Klingons and the entire crew looks to Captain Kirk to save the day. Imagine the Captain saying, “Gee guys, this looks tough—I quit—I am going to take my escape pod to safety—good luck.” Of course not, he is committed to the last to save the ship and her crew. When things get difficult, a job is lost, finances are tight, a child rebels, an illness arises, tension builds, do you run away? Do you look for a place to hide? God calls us to love by our commitment—to be there—no matter what life may bring.

Second love must serve. Loves serves through nurturing, verses 26-27. It was the Jewish custom for the bride, just prior to her wedding to take a cleansing bath and then get dressed for her groom. Here, Christ washes us who were dirty in our sin; he cleanses and dresses us that we would be without wrinkle or any other blemish, that we would be radiant like a bride on her wedding day, that we would become all that God intends us to be. Because of his deep love for us, Christ nurtures us. So must we love our wives, that we would be instruments of grace, encouraging our wives to become all that God intends them to be. We do not seek to suppress the talents and gifts of our wives, but instead consider how we can provide an environment in which these are allowed to flourish, grow and prosper. As I alluded to last week there is much pressure on women to conform to society’s evaluation of what a woman ought to be and sometimes, just like men there is the nagging question, “Am I good enough? Do I measure up?” You look at TV, perhaps watch the Grammy’s and you see the images of women and you look at yourself in the mirror and maybe, just maybe, you feel like such a failure. It was not too long ago that we were sitting at the table and Ginger shared that at times she did not feel like she was contributing to the family, primarily because she was not working full-time. Knowing all that she does, so much of which revolves around the children, I knew that the very idea was preposterous, but I realized how easy it is for me to fail to nurture my wife with words of encouragement and appreciation.  In small ways and big ways that she would hear from my lips, “I am so glad I am married to you.” Men, don’t just think these things, say these things. Further, talk to your wife about what is going in your life, your struggles, problems, questions and doubts and listen to what she has to say; involving her in your life nurtures her and in the process you grow together and she increasingly becomes the women God would have her be.

Giving sacrificially, verse 25. Christ gave himself up for us. So we must give ourselves up for our wives. This is not easy. We are selfish, are we not? This past week the Sports illustrated swimsuit issue came out which fuels this selfishness. How can women meet my needs. How can women make me feel good or at least the fantasy of such women. When Christ went to the cross was he thinking first and foremost of himself? No, neither must we.  How can I give of myself to my wife? How can I serve her? How can I meet her needs? Dr. Bryan Chapell tells the story of an elderly couple who lived in a rural community where Wal-Mart was the social hub. Mary loved going to Wal-Mart, not just to shop but to socialize with her friends and meet new ones. She would go and do her thing and Joe would go off and fish. They would come back at the end of the day and share their stories. There came a time when Mary’s health was such that she was no longer able to drive to Wal-Mart. Though Joe did not understand her love for going there, he knew that she missed it. So he decided to give sacrificially, rather than going fishing, he would with increasing regularity drive his wife to Wal-Mart and knowing that it would not be a short visit, he actually brought a lawn chair into the store. When his wife would strike up a conversation, he would sit in his chair in the aisle until his wife was finished and silently delight in the joy of his wife. He sacrificed his pleasure for hers. What is in view is not a list of things to do, but rather an attitude of service: how can I give sacrificially to my wife and how can I nurture her?

How is all this possible? As we only scratch the surface of what it means to love our wives, it can be overwhelming. We are self-centered people and to love this way does not come naturally. As you strive to pursue these qualities of love by leading and serving you will see that this is true of you more than you ever knew, you will see the selfishness in your own heart, that you want things to go your way, and you will see your inability to love as Christ has loved us. That is why we must always, daily go back to Christ’s love for us. Though I have failed as a husband and I know I will fail again, Christ loves me; he will never give up on me, he leads me, he has served and is serving me and he will do this to the end. Though I am not the husband I ought to be, by God’s grace in Christ he will continue to change me, that I would learn to love my wife as he has loved me and thus be God’s instrument of grace to her and walk upon the road less traveled.

A movie entitled A Vow To Cherish depicts a successful business man whose wife is stricken with Alzheimer's disease. As the disease progresses she recognizes her family less and less. Caring for her is interfering with his business and is becoming increasingly difficult and frustrating. He feels alone and trapped. Part of him desperately wants out. There are those who would say, “Nobody would blame you  if you went on with your life and met somebody else.” Today perhaps that is the path most traveled, but as he reflected on his relationship to God and his love, the husband made a decision. He came home one evening, sat on the bed next to his wife though she did not recognize him, took her hand and said, “I take you to be wife, to love, honor and cherish from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health ‘til death do us part.” This is the road less traveled; let us walk upon it, following Him who loves us so. Let us pray.

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