Christian Marriage Service
What is Christian marriage?
Most of us who are married once believed that ours would be the first marriage in the history of the world to be characterized exclusively by tenderness, respect, and love. But it usually does not take us too many weeks or years to discover that our seemingly perfect spouse, amazingly, has not escaped the stain of sin - just as we have not either! And we begin to wonder what we're in for. So the first thing we should learn about marriage is that it's a decision to love someone - not a thing you enter to see what you can get out of it - and then backout when it doesn't work out the way you wanted it to. No one is compatible since we all lead selfish self-serving lives before marriage! You must make yourself compatible! This is what love is - giving - not taking.
marriage article cont...
Before we begin our discussion of Christian marriage, it is important to emphasize that we are preaching the ideal. And every marriage represented here this morning falls short of that ideal. But the promise of God is that in Christ we are new creations, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, we can be filled with the Spirit; Christ is in us, thereby providing us with the hope of glory. Whatever your failures, whatever your mistakes in marriage, you can begin today to live out the ideal Christian marriage by - and only by - depending on the power of the Holy Spirit within you.
And when you fail, when you step out in your own power and make a mess, you need to seek forgiveness from God and your spouse, and begin again. Paul has already told us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling, to walk as children of light. Children don't learn to walk over night. They learn by falling -- and picking themselves up and trying again. And we too must pick ourselves up after our failures, and thereby learn to walk in the area of marriage, learning to depend on the Holy Spirit in this most intimate, most difficult, and most rewarding area of our lives.
Recall God's command to Joshua: I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
As we gain a deeper understanding of God's ideal for marriage, many of us will see the stark contrast with our own marriages. Satan will try to use that contrast to make you think, "This is hopeless. I am a failure as a husband or wife. My marriage can never reflect this ideal." God commands us, "Do not be discouraged.
Do not be afraid. I am with you. I will uphold you. Depend on me, and the years the locusts have devoured I will redeem, and use for my glory in your life." So let us focus on the ideal, and then by God's power strive to attain it.
Last week, we began our investigation of Christian marriage by examining Ephesians 5:22-33. We focused particularly on the relationship between Christ and the church, having noted that these themes were present throughout the book of Ephesians. Recall that we highlighted four aspects of this relationship;
- The unity of Christ and the church
- The sacrificial love of Christ for the church
- The headship of Christ over the church, and the submission of the church to Him
- The perfecting of the church by Christ
Today we ask the questions: How does the image of the relationship between Christ and the church shed light on the relationship between husband and wife? If Christ and the church provide a pattern for the ideal Christian marriage, what are the lessons for marriage today?
Unity in Christian Marriage
Let us begin by considering unity. Husband and wife are one. From the beginning, God said: for this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
What does this mean?
First, husband and wife are one because they are both parts of the body of Christ. This is why Christians are to marry Christians. How can I be one with Christ, and also one with someone who is not in Christ? In the ideal Christian marriage, Christ is the head, the husband, of each partner in the marriage individually; both man and woman, as part of the church, are the bride of Christ. So Jesus Christ is at the middle of the relationship. The unity of husband and wife in its essence begins with the unity of the two in Christ.
So the statements we studied some months ago when dealing with spiritual gifts apply to husbands and wives also:
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." (1 Corinthians 12:21)
Each part of the body needs to do its part to build up every other part of the body. So the husband needs his wife, and the wife needs her husband; they build up each other when both are one in Christ.
But the unity between husband and wife is more profound than the unity that exists among all Christians. When Genesis says, "The two shall become one flesh," it is speaking about more than our oneness in the body of Christ. Surely physical union is part of this; physically we become one flesh when we share physical intimacy. But recall that the unity between Christ and the church is not something that happens regularly or occasionally; the two are essentially one, at all times. Paul emphasizes this truth for marriage in verses 28 and 33:
husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself, for no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it . . . 33 let each of you love his own wife even as himself.
So Beth and I are one, in the same sense that I am one with my body. When Beth is built up, and honored, and growing, I am built up, and honored, and growing; if she hurts, I hurt.
In the magnificent novel Anna Karenina, Tolstoy uses a dual story line to examine marriage. He compares and contrasts Anna's marriage with that of Levin and Kitty. Anna and her husband make mistake after mistake, eventually leading to the destruction of their marriage, while Levin and Kitty exemplify a good marriage. Theirs is not perfect; but they understand their essential unity. Tolstoy clearly had thought long and hard about Ephesians 5 prior to writing this book. Permit me to read a rather lengthy section to you; this occurs shortly after Levin and Kitty marry:
Levin had thought there could never be any relations between himself and Kitty other than those based on tenderness, self-respect, and love: But the first month of their marriage showed otherwise.
Their first quarrel arose because Levin had ridden over to inspect a new farm. He returned half and hour late because he had attempted a short cut and got lost. He rode home thinking only of her, of her love, of his own happiness, and the nearer he came to the house the warmer grew his tenderness for her. He rushed into the room with a feeling that was even stronger than the one with which he had gone to propose to her, yet was all of a sudden met with a grim expression he had never seen on her face before. He tried to kiss her, but she pushed him away.
"What's the matter?"
"You're having a nice time . . ." she began, trying to appear calm and venomous.
But the moment she opened her mouth, she burst into a flood of reproaches, senseless jealousy, and everything else that had been tormenting her during the half hour she had spent sitting motionless at the window. It was then that he clearly understood for the first time what he had failed to understand when he led her out of the church after the wedding. He understood that she was not only close to him, but that he could not now tell where she ended and he began. He realized it from the agonizing feeling of division into two parts which he experienced at the moment. He felt hurt, but he immediately realized that he could not be offended with her because she was himself. For a moment he felt like a man who, receiving a sudden blow from behind, turns round angrily with the desire to return the blow only to find that he had accidentally struck himself and that there was no one to be angry with and he had to endure and do his best to assuage the pain.
It took him a long time to recover his senses. His first impulse was quite naturally to justify himself and explain that she was in the wrong; but to show her that she was in the wrong meant to exasperate her still more and to widen the breach which was the cause of all this trouble. One impulse quite naturally drew him to shift the blame from himself and lay it upon her; another much more powerful feeling drew him to smooth over the breach and prevent it from widening. To remain under so unjust an accusation was painful, but to hurt her by justifying himself would be still worse. Like a man half awake and suffering from pain, he wanted to tear off the aching part and cast it away, but on coming to his senses he realized that the aching part was himself. All he had to do was to try to help the aching part to bear it, and this he did.
Isn't that a wonderful illustration of this truth? Levin "could not now tell where she ended and he began." "He could not be offended with her because she was himself." You see, when we build each other up, we ourselves benefit, because we are one. If we lash out at each other, and justify ourselves individually, if we break the sacred bonds that unite us, we are only in the end hurting ourselves. Just as we try to assuage the pain when our bodies hurt, so we need to comfort and forgive each other when we (inevitably) hurt each other.
So just as Christ and the church are one, man and wife are essentially one flesh, they form an essential unity. Any assertion of self, of my rights, is a denial of this fundamental truth. God has truly joined man and wife together, making them one. Let us not separate one from another.
Love in Christian Marriage
In addition to emphasizing that Christ and the church are essentially one, last week we highlighted Christ's love for the church. Recall also that Paul in these verses is expanding not only on the idea of our being filled with the Spirit, but in particular on the idea expressed in verse 21: we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. In this context, Paul commands the husband to love his wife -- this is his method of submission.
What does Paul mean by love? Let us clarify the idea by examining what Paul does not mean:
(1) Paul is not saying, "Love your wife if she submits to you." That would be a conditional love.
(2) Second, he is not saying that husbands are to act like Casper Milquetoast, always following her lead, responding to her statements with, "Whatever you say, dear." That would be to give up the husband's headship, which, as we will see later, is a key element in Christian marriage.
(3) Third, Paul is not here talking about erotic love. The word "erotic" comes from the Greek eros, a love that responds to the beauty of the other. When Paul tells husbands to love their wives, he does not use this term; indeed, the Greek word eros is never used in the New Testament.
Now, the Bible clearly teaches that intimate physical relations is one of God's gifts, and that the joy of physical relations between husband and wife is an expression of their essential one-flesh unity. The Song of Solomon, for example, is a celebration of erotic love in its proper context. In beautiful images, the author expresses the longing for intimate physical fulfillment prior to marriage and the consummation of that longing after marriage.
Recall also the command that God gives the Israelites in Deuteronomy 24:5:
When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife.
"He shall give happiness to his wife." I believe God here is talking about more than just taking out the garbage and playing Scrabble.
Proverbs 5 also highlights our Creator's positive view of physical intimacy:
Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. May her breasts satisfy you at all times; may you be intoxicated always by her love (Proverbs 5:18-19)
Husbands are commanded to delight physically in their wives, to be drunk, or carried away with her love. The intimate phyisical relationship between husband and wife is one of abandonment to the other.
This idea carries over to the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says:
The wife's body does not belong to her alone, but also to her husband; the husband's body does not belong to him alone, but also to his wife (1 Corinthians 7:4)
Our bodies belong to each other, and are to be used within the marriage relationship to bind us together, and to give great pleasure to the other.
So erotic love is not only sanctioned by the Bible, but also commanded within the confines of marriage. Yet the love Paul commands in Ephesians 5 is more than erotic love.
(4) Furthermore, love in marriage is more than friendship love. The Greek word for this type of love is "philia," which is sometimes translated "brotherly love." (Thus "Philadelphia" is the city of brotherly love.) Now, the love between spouses should include friendship love. Indeed, in Titus 2:4, Paul commands the older women to sober the minds of the younger women so that they might "phileo" their husbands, so that they might love their husbands as friends. Sharing interests, having deep discussions, simply enjoying being in each other's company -- all these are vital parts of a good marriage. Certainly the command in Deuteronomy for the man to give happiness to his wife includes being her friend and growing in their enjoyment of each other, as well as sharing physical intimacy.
So love in marriage is not conditional, nor is it obsequious; love in marriage is not solely erotic, nor solely friendship. What is the positive teaching about love?
When Paul writes, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church" he uses the word "agape." Agape love is a love that gives, a love that has the other's interest at heart. This is exemplified by its use in the most famous verse in the Bible:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son (John 3:16)
This is the same word for love: agape. Agape love gives, agape love has the interest of the other at heart, agape love yields its own rights in order to show love to the other. Think of Jesus yielding his rights, as detailed for us in Philippians 2:
2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love (agape), united in spirit, intent on one purpose. . . . 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (NASB)
Jesus loved and gave, not because of anything inherently good in us, not because we were attractive or shared some interest with him, but simply because he loved us. So he humbled himself, he gave up all his glory to serve us. Just so, we husbands are to love our wives: Giving ourselves, dying to self, serving our wives.
Question: We know that husbands are to love their wives; should wives show agape love to their husbands? Surely this is so. So why doesn't Paul command wives to love their husbands rather than emphasizing their submission and respect? I believe Paul here is commanding each marriage partner to do what is hardest for him or her. Husbands are most tempted to dominate their wives, and thus are commanded to love sacrificially; wives are most tempted to look down on their husbands, so are commanded to submit and respect.
So in marriage there is a place for erotic love, and a place for friendship love. But the greatest of all loves is agape love, a love that gives, a love that does not demand or hold onto rights, but has the good of the other at heart.
Submission and Headship in Christian Marriage
Now that we have discussed unity and love, we can begin our discussion of the most controversial topic: headship and submission.
Look again at Ephesians 5:23-24:
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. (NIV)
The statement cannot be clearer. Christ is the head of the church; the husband is the head of the wife. The church submits to Christ; just so, the wife submits to her husband.
Yet these statements continue to generate a tremendous amount of controversy. Paul has been called all sorts of names because of what he says here. We can clear up some of that controversy by beginning in the same way we began with love: considering what Paul does not mean.
First, Paul is not talking here of submitting to an external authority. In Christian marriage, submission is based on the unity and love we have already discussed. The husband and wife are essentially one body, one unit, just as Christ and the church are essentially one. So the head is not someone coming from the outside, telling the wife what to do; the head is her own self, lovingly directing their joint life.
Second, submission does not imply blind obedience. Remember, this passage follows all of Paul's injunctions to walk as children of light, to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. Should our head direct us in ways that violate God's clear commands, we are not to follow.
Third, submission does not imply inferiority. In this passage, all of us are told to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. The husband's submission implies his loving his wife sacrificially, the wife's following her husband's lead. Galatians 3:28 and other passages show clearly that men and women come before God equally.
If submission does not imply following an external authority, blind obedience, or inferiority, what does it mean? Let's consider what submission means positively by examining the motivation and the extent of submission.
The Motivation for Submission
A literal rendering of Ephesians 5:21-22 reads:
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives, to your husbands, as to the Lord.
Wives are not to be subject to their own husbands in the same way they are subject to the Lord; rather they are to submit to their husbands because they are subject to the Lord. In other words, the wife is saying, "Because of what Christ has done for me, because I know he has my good at heart, and because he commands it, I will submit to my husband." So the wife shows her submission to Christ by her submission to her husband in the areas of his authority.
Ray Stedman relates these words written by a woman who had struggled with these issues:
My submission to my husband is a kind of gauge or a measure of the degree to which I am submitted to Christ. . . I realize that my submission to my husband is not my gift to him, to be received gratefully on his part, and to be returned in kind. Nor is it to be a subtle form of blackmail. (See how submissive I was in this circumstance, Lord? Now what about seeing some results!) In fact if I were submitting to him as unto the Lord I wouldn't care what the results were -- that's his business
She is exactly right. This is the meaning of submitting to the husband as to the Lord.
Now, it is important to note that this type of submission is not natural, not logical. But that is true of many of the commands offered to us as Christians -- we walk by faith, not by sight. Consider these other, similar commands:
Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1) (Paul wrote this when Nero was emperor . . .)_
Do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:39)
If a Roman soldier forces you to carry his pack one mile, offer to carry it a second mile. (Matthew 5:41)
How can we possibly agree to do such things? Won't this type of behavior end in our being run over by the strong and arrogant?
Our motivation for submitting to our husbands and obeying these other commands must come from our certain faith in the power and goodness of God. Because I know that God is in control, because I read this clear command in the Bible, because I know that He has promised to work together all things for the good of those who love him, because Jesus said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments," -- for all these reasons, I can submit. Unless one believes that God is in control, submitting is not logical, it makes no sense from a worldly point of view -- but God is in control, and we walk by faith not by sight.
The Extent of Submission
Now let us consider the extent of the wife's submission to her husband. Look again at verse 24:
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands . . .
What comes next? Does Paul say that I as a wife should submit only:
in those cases when I'm wrong and my husband is right?
at those times when I feel like it?
on relatively unimportant issues?
as a reward when my husband shows love for me?
as a reward when he begins to act like so-and-so's husband?
No, "so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything." Now, we have already said that submission does not extend to following our husbands into sin. Remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira; they both died for their sin of lying to God. Had Sapphira not lied, she would not have died.
Nevertheless, in everything not forbidden to Christians, the wife is to submit to the husband as the church does to Christ. That means completely.
Later, we'll clarify the meaning of headship and submission by use of an analogy -- but first, let us consider the nature of headship.
The Nature of Headship
Let us begin once again with a negative. Headship is not harsh and domineering. Paul elsewhere writes:
Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. (Colossians 3:19)
The true head who loves and is one with his wife will never embitter her, or dominate her. That is completely contrary to the ideal relationship as exemplified between Christ and the church.
For the positive teaching about headship, let us consider another parallel.
Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:3)
So wife is to husband as the church is to Christ as Christ is to God. Let's explore the relationship between Christ and God in order to gain insights into the relationship between husband and wife.
We can summarize the relationship between Jesus and God the Father with four words:
Unity: Jesus says, "I and the father are one." (John 10:30)
Cooperation: 'But Jesus answered them, "My Father is still working, and I also am working."' (John 5:17)
Honor: "Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you." (John 17:1)
Submission: "For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me." (John 6:38)
We might summarize the relationship this way:
Identity as to nature,
Cooperation as to work,
Honor as to person, and
Submission as to final decisions.
These four categories hold for the headship relationship between husbands and wives. They are essentially one, they cooperate to achieve a common goal, they honor and respect each other, and the wife submits to the husband with regard to final decisions.
In a sermon which some of you may remember, I developed a military analogy that helps to clarify the headship relationship between husband and wife:
Imagine a nation fighting a war. Two army corps are fighting in separate locations, under two generals of the same rank. The enemy is massing in one location, so the commander-in-chief instructs the two army corps to come together to engage the enemy. In such a situation, the commander-in-chief must name one of the two as commanding general of the engagement. The other must submit to the leadership of the commanding general. Now, the commanding general, if he is wise, will honor and respect the other general, and will seek his counsel. He will listen to his subordinate's advice, especially to that general's assessment of the qualities and capabilities of the units under his command. Indeed, any good subordinate general must offer advice. Ideally the two generals will agree on an overall plan for the engagement; it is possible for them to conduct the entire battle without the question of submission arising. But if they do not agree on a plan, in the end the commanding general must assume responsibility and decide on the course of action to be taken. The subordinate general must submit -- even if he is convinced that the chosen course is a mistake. Why should he submit? Not because the commanding general is smarter, wiser, or more senior than he, although he may be; not because the commanding general's plan is superior to his, although it may be; but he submits because the commander-in-chief, with the good of the country in mind, has placed him under the command of his fellow general. What happens if the subordinate general disobeys orders, and tries to carry out his own plan? The two corps will act in an uncoordinated fashion, and then the enemy is likely to defeat the two parts of the army one by one, leading to disaster for the country.
This is the true meaning of submission and headship. There is no implied difference in worth or ability -- just as the two generals may have been of the same rank and skill. Instead, submission implies that one person voluntarily agrees to follow the leadership of another for the good of everyone concerned. Just as Jesus and God the Father are equal, but Jesus submits to his Father, just as Jesus was superior to his parents but submitted to them, the wife submits to her husband. Thus, submission for the wife means that she willingly acknowledges the headship of her husband over her, and has confidence in God that He has set this authority over her for her own good. Headship for the husband means that he respects and listens to his wife, that he sacrifices his own good for her good, and that he takes responsibility for making decisions that will build up the family and glorify God.
The military analogy is useful in many ways, but fails to bring out the fundamental differences between men and women, and the reasons why God has chosen men to serve as heads. These differences arise in the next area of our concern, the perfection of the marriage partners.
The Perfection of Each Other in Christian Marriage
We have examined three areas in which the relationship of Christ and the church parallels the relationship of husband to wife: Unity, love, and headship/submission. The fourth and last area deals with the perfection of the husband and wife as a result of the marriage relationship. As Christ perfects the church, the husband perfects the wife and, I will suggest, the wife perfects the husband. This, indeed, is the purpose of the husband's headship.
We will examine this issue by considering what type of perfection we are discussing, and then how the husband perfects the wife, and vice versa.
Recall verses 25 and 26 of our passage:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her.
Christ loved the church for a purpose: to sanctify her, to put her to her proper use, to allow her to fulfill her potential.
What is the parallel with husbands and wives? How does the husband perfect the wife?
First, note that nowhere does the Bible say that the husband is the spiritual head of the wife. No, Christ is the spiritual head of the wife and Christ is the spiritual head of the husband. All of us are the bride of Christ; he is our husband spiritually, our head. Christ will perfect us spiritually through his love.
But the husband is the head of the wife as a human, as man and woman. We perfect each other in our maleness and femaleness through the marriage relationship. Through marriage, we become the men and women that God intends us to be.
In order to discuss this point, we need to consider briefly the purposes of men and women in creation (for more see my sermon referred to above). Why does God make man the head of the woman? In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says that the reason goes back to creation. If we consider Genesis 2 and 3, we find that man's purpose in creation is to bring order, to serve the creation. His purpose is directed at the world around him, at things. He is functional in orientation. Woman, on the other hand, was created from man, and was created to complete the man, to be his helpmeet or ally. Her focus, then, is relational. Together they balance each other, and perfect each other as they allow each to become what God intends.
So how does this perfection come about? One wife, when hearing this, said, "I've been trying to perfect my husband for years; whenever he does something wrong, I tell him, and then I tell him how to do it right."
Of course, that is not what God intends. Let us consider some of the wrong ways to perfect our spouses. We will not perfect our spouses by:
Having a critical attitude towards them.
Being silent about their faults.
Comparing them to others.
Nagging them (A woman once asked her husband to define nagging. He said, "When you tell me once, that's a suggestion; when you tell me a second time, that's a reminder; when you tell me a third time, that's nagging.")
Manipulating them, bribing them with affection or other favors.
If these methods don't work, how are we supposed to perfect our husbands and wives? Fundamentally, the wife perfects the husband by respecting him, and the husband perfects the wife by loving her (verse 33).
Let's consider the wife's respect for her husband first. We'll look at five aspects to her respect.
(1) A wife perfects her husband by making him know that she respects him.
A man is freed to love his wife when he knows that she respects him. Without that confidence, truly giving of oneself sacrificially is incredibly frightening, as one is open and laid bare before her. So it is easier to love Beth if I have confidence in her respect. Indeed, the best way to get your husband to love you is to ensure that he knows you respect him. That is why Peter writes:
In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives (1 Peter 3:1).
By the way, the reverse holds too; the best way to get your wife to respect you is to love her sacrificially.
(2) A wife perfects her husband by making HIM her head.
It is very tempting to set up some other man as your head: Your pastor, a Christian teacher, or an author from whom you have learned much. God chose your husband especially for you. You can learn from others, but always remember that your husband is your head, not any other man.
(3) A wife perfects her husband by communicating with him.
As the analogy with the generals shows, submission does not mean silence, it does not mean simply agreeing without discussing. Consider again the relationship between Christ and the church. The church is to submit completely to Christ. But God wants us to tell him everything!
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)
Pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Now, this communication needs to be respectful, and, as with the Lord, in final decisions we must yield our own will. But communication concerning your thoughts, your desires, your dreams is one way to perfect your husband.
(4) A wife perfects her husband by discerning his desires.
Some of us men find it hard to talk about our inner selves. Our wives serve us greatly when they are able to study us and learn about us, so that they understand our goals and our desires. Then we know that they are truly our allies, our helpers in accomplishing those goals.
(5) A wife perfects her husband by having complete confidence that the Lord is in control.
In setting up the man's headship, God is promising to the wife that he will work for her good through her husband. Even if the husband errs, making a bad decision, the wife's submission honors God, and He will redeem that bad decision. This is walking by faith and not by sight -- the very essence of the Christian life.
Now let's turn our attention to the husbands. Last time we noted the words used of Christ and the church: love her, cleanse her, nourish her, care for her. How do these translate into practical lessons?
(1) The husband perfects his wife by giving her time.
We husbands must take care not to let work, recreation, or ministry opportunities crowd out time with our wives. You cannot love your wife sacrificially without spending time with her.
(2) The husband perfects his wife by speaking to her.
Christ communicates to the church through his word, and we must communicate to our wives by using words! Husbands, how many times in the evenings do you answer your wife's questions with grunts? Noting this tendency in many men toward silence and grunts, Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, "Make yourself talk." This can include speaking about seemingly trivial matters as well as sharing with her your hopes and dreams. Talk!
(3) The husband perfects his wife by listening to her.
Listen when she speaks to you even about unimportant issues. Seek out your wife's opinion on important matters. Now, her submission and respect free you to do this. Many men do not seek out their wives' opinions because they want to avoid fights and disagreements. If, in the past, differences of opinion on important matters have led to fights, the man has every incentive to make those decisions on his own without discussion. When the man knows that his wife respects him, when he knows that even if she disagrees in the end she will accept his decision, he is much freer to seek her advice and listen to it. This is the beauty of God's plan for headship and submission.
(4) The husband perfects his wife by cleansing her, nourishing her, and caring for her.
We husbands can lovingly communicate with our wives about their desires to change themselves, and help them to do so. We can pray about her needs, and be creative in finding ways to please her and build her up. We can protect her, knowing her failings, her weaknesses, and taking care that she avoid situations that will cause her to stumble as a result of those weaknesses. We can avoid condemning her, or irritating her, or getting annoyed with her when she does stumble, but instead we can forgive her and seek to build her up. When we marry, we marry a whole person -- beauty and ugliness, successes and failures. Our wives need to know that we love them unconditionally, and that we are here not to berate and condemn, but to help them to become what God intends them to be.
This is a picture of the ideal Christian marriage: Unity, Love, Headship/Submission, and Perfection. Consider now three results of our living out a true Christian marriage.
First, the husband shows his inner character by what his wife becomes. Just as Christ's character is displayed in the glory of the church, so a husband's character is displayed through the person his wife becomes. Remember verse 27 of our passage? Jesus sanctifies and cleanses the church so that
He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.
He presents to himself the church. A loving husband will be able to present to himself his wife in all her glory, set apart for him, perfect in her womanhood. After many years of marriage, she will be a woman at peace, a women who responds lovingly to him in every way. And it will be apparent to all that this man is a man of love.
Second, a Christian marriage testifies to the truth and power of the gospel.
Jesus says, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you . . ." what? If you have love one for another. This is true of all Christians, but it is especially true of marriage. The truth of the gospel is manifested when those outside the church:
- See the tenderness a husband and wife have for each other after decades of marriage
- See the mutual regard husband and wife have for each other
- See an example of godly headship and submission,
See the true, essential unity of Christian marriage.
Living out a Christian marriage is a tremendous witness, a tremendous testimony to the power of God, particularly in today's culture. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it this way: "There is no greater recommendation to the truth and power of the Christian faith than a Christian husband and wife, a Christian marriage, a Christian home."
Third, a Christian marriage grows over time.
For many marriages, the honeymoon is the apex. Everything is downhill after that. But a truly Christian marriage will grow and grow as each partner perfects the other. We need to ask ourselves continually:
How can I come closer to loving my wife as Christ loved church?
How can I show respect to and honor my husband, as the church does to Christ?
How can I build up my wife, or my husband?
Are you still looking for a Christmas present for your wife our husband? (I am!) Would you like to know the best Christmas present you could possibly give? The greatest Christmas present you could possibly give to your spouse would be to commit to living out your role as a Christian husband or a Christian wife by the power of the Spirit.
Let me emphasize those last five words, concluding where we began: "By the power of the Spirit." Because if you are like me, you husbands are thinking that you cannot possibly love your wife like Christ loved the church. And you women are thinking that you cannot possibly submit to your husbands in everything. I assure you, all of us struggle with this. Jesus tells us to be perfect as he is perfect. And not one of us is perfect.
But God has promised that his people will become perfect -- he will change us and mold us into Christlikeness. Count on that!
Satan will try to say one of two things:
"You're doing well enough in your marriage, at least better than most others; don't be fanatical about this -- you don't need to change anything." But I tell you this morning, don't be satisfied with a marriage that is less than perfect. Examine yourself. If you are failing to live up to these ideals, confess this to God, and ask him to change you.
Or Satan might say, "It's no use. If you could start over, maybe you could make this marriage work. But given your spouse, given all that has happened in your marriage, there is no hope."
This is a pack of lies. Now, by yourself you cannot change the habits of relating to each other you have created. "Apart from me you can do nothing." If you try to change depending on your own natural resources, you will fail. But, remember! We began this series with an overview of the truths in this great book of Ephesians:
You ARE raised with Christ, you are seated with him in the heavenlies!
You ARE LIGHT; You CAN walk as children of Light!
You can be FILLED WITH SPIRIT!
All this is true. By conscious, continual dependence on the Spirit within you, you can live out the ideal Christian marriage.
So let us learn to walk by the Spirit in our marriages, imitating the relationship between Christ and the church.
Husbands, love your wives.
Wives, respect and submit to your husbands.
Let us pray:
This Christmas season, Lord, as we think of your giving up your rights and privileges to come to be born the apparent illegitimate son of a poor woman; as we think of you submitting to being tortured, beaten, spit upon, and nailed to the cross to die for our sakes; Lord, as we think of the great gift you have given us of an indwelling Spirit; may we leave today, determined to seek forgiveness for our failure to live up to your ideals of Christian marriage, and so to depend on your Spirit within us that we might show your love to our spouses, that we as husbands might love our wives sacrificially, and that we as wives might respect and submit to our husbands. And may our marriages be to your glory. In Jesus' name, Amen.
This written message is based on sermon notes for messages delivered 12/10 and 12/17/97 at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA. Since the break between the two sermons was determined more by time constraints than content, the two are combined here.
I owe much of my understanding of Christian marriage to Steve and Erica Lawry of Parakaleo Ministries, Stanford, CA. Ray Stedman's teaching on this passage, found at the PBC web site, has also influenced me strongly. The teaching on the relationship between Jesus and God the Father is taken from Ray's sermon on this passage.
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