Monday, February 21, 2011

What is Christian Marriage? The Road Less Traveled - Part 1, Ephesians 5: 22-24, 33

Do the words, “til death do us part” mean anything? Several years ago a popular song asked a similar question: Doesn’t anybody ever stay together anymore?” I went through our directory this week, though not everyone’s anniversary is listed, I discovered that Jack and Althea Rein have been married 42 years; Ken an Yvonne Wagner 44; Clint and Lucy Zolman 45; Rick and Nancy Fournier 47; Bill and June Dare 49; Art and Marilyn Wagner 50; Lou and Laverne 51; Bob and Laverne Maddux 52; Vernon and Evelyn Wilson 57. If I was wearing a hat I would tip it to you. That is fantastic! I do wonder though how common such marriages will be in the future. As we turn to God’s word, may we see yet again God’s best for marriage. Whether we are married or not, may we all honor God’s design for marriage. Hear now God’s word.

“ 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  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. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:22-24,33)

Today we head into what some may describe as shark-infested waters. Verses that some misapply, others choose to avoid, but as we go verse by verse through Ephesians, we come across verse 22, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” Some may laugh. Some may scream in anger. Some may with a sarcastic role of the eyes dismiss it all together. But this is what God says and not only here but in Colossians 3:18 and 1 Peter 3:1. If you treat this lightly, your walk with the Lord will be hindered and the growth in your marriage will be stunted. God has placed the husband in the position of leadership in the home, verse 23, lest anyone misunderstand, this leadership is to be modeled after Christ’s love for the church, which we will study next week. The wife is called to submit to the husband and to his leadership.  But what does that mean?

Submission certainly does not mean that a woman is inferior in any way. This is the clear implication of verse 31, which says that the two shall become one, one body, one flesh where there is no superior or inferior anymore than there is a superior or inferior in the Triune God. 1 Corinthians 15:28 speaks of Christ being subject or submissive to the Father—does this in any way make him inferior? Of course not. Still some might refer to Genesis 2:20 to demonstrate that the woman is a helpmate to the man—as if the woman was no more than one who carries the bags on a trip—but this same word is used to refer to God and his relation to us—he is our helper in Deuteronomy 33:29, Psalm 10:14; clearly the biblical concept of submission does not imply inferiority.

Nor does it mean accepting physical abuse or adultery. Sadly, there have been instances when this verse has been twisted to communicate that wives whose very lives were in danger because of abuse were to simply sit back and take it because, of course, they are to submit. Submit to your husband in everything, verse 24, is not universal. If your husband commands you to do something that clearly violates God’s law, you must refuse. If your life or the lives of your children are at risk, you must do everything you can to protect yourself and your children. You submit to your husband as unto Christ, and you submit according to the will of Christ. 

If submission does not mean abuse or inferiority, what does it mean? I believe it means, as one author has said, “Pouring out your life” on behalf of your husband. This is the natural implication of the union expressed in verse 31: the two shall become one. Yet the messages with which society and our sinful nature bombards us are clear: Always pursue self interest.  Always ask, “What is in it for me?” This principle will destroy any marriage for it works against the union expressed in verse 31. It must not be what is best for me, but what is best for my marriage. Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Those who seek to assert themselves, to control, dominate and manipulate another, will in the end lose their life.  But those who serve, who pour out their lives on behalf of another, who in this sense lose their life, will in fact find life. This principle then of submission, as we saw last week is applicable to all of us, married or not, we actually find life in service to others. In these verses, of course, this is specifically applied to the role of the woman in marriage. Too many wives seek to find life and find marriage, by attempting to control and manipulate their husbands—instead of finding the meaning and happiness they sought—they discover only greater misery and isolation.

Wives you must submit by pouring yourself into your husband, into your family, to give yourself unto him. In so doing your gifts are not suppressed or ignored, but are used to the full in accordance with God’s design. From a purely financial standpoint, going to seminary was an incredibly stupid move for me. Quitting my job at AT&T, moving my wife and my 1 ½ year old son to St. Louis where I would not only have no income, but actually be a drain on the family’s finances because of tuition was foolish. I want to take you back to some of the thinking that led to this foolish decision, 5 years prior in our premarital counseling, we were required  to work through this book.  We were asked to discuss our long range goals. Ginger wrote: “Doug works 5 years at AT&T, I (referring to herself) go to grad school; Doug goes to seminary, then takes a pastorate.” Yes, many of these were my dreams, but as we talked about them, Ginger made them her own and they became our dreams. While we were in Virginia she went to grad school so that she would be able to secure a good job here in St. Louis which put me, put us through seminary. In using her gifts and abilities, she worked odd hours and sacrificed time with our little boy Jim. She poured herself out on behalf of her family and on my behalf. We would not be where we are today were it not for her. As our circumstances have changed so has her activity. Too often when it comes to these verses people are in search of a list of rules, just tell me what to do, but it is not a list of rules that is in view here, but an attitude that says I am going to sacrifice my needs for the needs of others, my husband, my children, I am going to pour out my gifts on their behalf. In some cases this may mean working; in others it may mean staying at home. Here a woman is not suppressed in her gifts or her abilities ignored; here she can flourish into the person God would have her be and yes in such service she finds her life.  

I understand that there are enormous pressures placed upon women today. Many will judge those who serve, who pour their lives on behalf of others as complete failures: “Why, you have wasted your life!” Do not look at yourself according to the standards of the world, rather look at yourself from God’s perspective: are you pouring yourself on behalf of others? Your husband?

Submission involves respect, verse 33. At times it seems that when I listen to radio or television programs on marriage be they Christian or not, the man seems to be blamed for everything, as if men have the market cornered on total depravity, but women, wives struggle with sin too when they seek to manipulate their husbands and fail to give them the respect that is their due.

Women were talking about what they liked in men and one woman stood up and said, “It is good for a man to be strong. A strong man can do so many things.  But a man who is both strong and gentle is wonderful. He must be intelligent of course, but humble. He must be strong enough to live a disciplined life, but tender with the faults of others, honest above all, but kind, a man with courage to stay with the same task year in and year out—no matter how routine or boring it gets—the courage of faithfulness. I love all these things about a man.” She sat down and there was silence. The other women were clearly in awe of her a statement and perhaps dreaming of just such a man. If Bill Cosby was sitting there, I can imagine him saying, as he did on his sitcom so many years ago, “Are you finished?  That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.” Prince Charming doesn’t live here. In fact, Prince Charming doesn’t exist.

Most men, if they are not all consumed with their own ego, are well aware that they are not Prince Charming. Yet men battle with pressure from the expectation that they are to be Prince Charming: to be tall dark and handsome with no belly, to be a solid, successful worker who is advancing up the corporate ladder and providing for his family, to be a good husband and father, to try to balance all these things and still somehow find a few hours each day to sleep. In the midst of the business of life there is a nagging question: “Am I good enough? Do I really measure up?” Behind those questions there is the nagging fear that the answer to that question is, “No, I am a miserable failure.”  If you ask your husbands about this, you might be surprised to hear what they have to say. In this context there are wives, who through their words, will fuel this feeling of inadequacy. I am not talking about wives lovingly talking to their husbands about problems and issues, but wives who seek to control and manipulate through their words: “Why can’t you do things this way? Why can’t you get a better paying job? Why can’t you be more like him?” Each question, each comparison is a hammer that beats him down. If it was a cheer you would be saying, “Beat him down. Beat him down. Way down. Way down.” There are women who get together and talk about their husbands and in the process destroy them with their words, “Can you believe how stupid my husband is?  Let me tell you what he did last night.” demonstrating that they offer their husbands no respect at all. Do you think you will find your marriage or your life through such conversation and attitudes?

I was reading Dr. Bryan Chapell’s book on marriage and was so encouraged when I discovered that my experience was similar to his—there have been times when I was discouraged and beaten down yet there was my wife, as a minister of God’s grace to me, respecting me through it all. “Yes all of that is true, but you are my husband and I am proud of it. Let me tell you why.” Does your husband know that you respect him?

Thirdly, as has been observed by many scholars the word translated as respect in verse 33, carries the idea of reverence. Wives are to revere their husbands. What? Are you crazy, what are you talking about? What this means is realizing the awesome responsibility that God has placed on your husband. He is accountable before the Almighty God for the spiritual leadership of the home. You will not stand before God in this, he will. The realization that this is his awesome, solemn responsibility before God must lead you pray for him. Do you? Not, “Lord change that selfish ninny.” But “Lord, enable him to do what you have called him to and enable be to do all I can to support him in this.”  If he is not a Christian to pray that God would draw him to the faith. Do you regularly pray for your husband?

Pour out your life on behalf of your husband; respect him, revere him. You do this, you submit not because your husband deserves it, he most certainly does not, but rather out of reverence for Christ. Submit to your husbands as to the Lord, verse 22. You look to him who submitted himself to the will of the Father on your behalf and mine. In this you are called to be Christ-like, a minister of God’s grace to your husband. I read a story of a young man who had lost his job and spent his last dollar on diversions to forget and returned home, expecting his wife to add her scorn, to the weight of his self-defeat. Instead she told him that she loved him and proceeded to recount all the specific things she loved about him.  Knowing that he was undeserving of such love he said, “I don’t want you to love me so much.” She responded simply, “God does.” She was an instrument of grace used by the God of all grace. He and his word are the lamp unto your feet and the light unto your path—yes it is a path, a road less traveled, but it is the path of life. Lose your life and you will find it as your life is conformed to the image of Christ. Wives submit to your husbands. Let us pray.

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