In past weeks we have talked a great deal about practical and interpersonal Christianity. There is no more interpersonal area of our life than our relationships with our mate, our children and on our job. This is where Paul now turns in his letter to the Colossians. Paul’s thought is clear – if we don’t bring Christ into the relationships most important to us . . . we show that Christ is not very important to us at all.
It is not news to say that the institution of marriage is in trouble. Everywhere we turn we see friends who have been married for many years walking away from their marriages.
A seven year old had just seen Cinderella and was testing the neighbor ladies knowledge of the story. The neighbor, wanting to impress the little girl, said, “I know what happens at the end.” “What?” said the girl. Cinderella and the Prince live happily ever after.” To which the little girl answered, Oh no they didn’t, they got married!” [COLOSSIANS, Kent Hughes]
The reason we laugh at this story is because we all know that marriage is indeed a struggle at times. A great marriage is the most invigorating thing in the world . . . but it doesn’t come easily. And a difficult marriage can be one of the most draining experiences of life. That’s why careful attention to these teachings are important.
So, this morning I want to briefly give you some introductory principles about this whole issue and then next week we will get into the specific responsibilities for husbands and wives. I realize that we have a number of single people in our congregation but I also know that somewhere in your life this will touch your life. These instructions on marriage will help you in your dating and in your counsel to others, even if you are not married.
GOD’S APPROACH TO MARRIAGE IS THE BEST APPROACH TO MARRIAGE
God’s approach to marriage is largely dismissed in our culture.
- People tell us that sexual purity before marriage is “impractical”.
- More and more couples are choosing to simply “live together” without any commitment before they get married.
- Any suggestion that marriage is restricted to one man and one woman is met with cries that we are being “judgmental”. (Though of course, it’s not we who are judgmental . . .these are not our standards but God’s.)
You can watch most talk shows as they parade all kinds of experts who encourage people to do “what’s right for them.” However, these experts offer wind instead of substance; theories rather than wisdom. The world is running faster and faster away from the things of God . . . but they are running in circles, getting nowhere.
Dr. Nancy Moore Clatworthy, a sociologist, has been doing research on “living together” for 10 years. When she began her research, the idea of living together before committing yourself to marriage made good sense to her. Now, after scientifically analyzing the results of hundreds of surveys filled out by couples who had lived together, she opposes living together in any form. Her answers make a powerfully Christian point: only a fully committed marriage relationship is really suited to working out the best possible relationship. [Tim Stafford]
Josh McDowell who talks with high school and college students all over the world said this at a Moody’s Founder’s Week address in 1986 said,
One of the reasons for where our young people are today is the lack of intimacy. We have not been through a sexual revolution. We have not. What we have been through in the last fifteen years has been a revolution in the search for intimacy. Most of our young people do not want the physical aspect of sex, they want someone who cares. They want to be able to care. They want intimacy. We have allowed our culture to dictate to us that the only way you find intimacy is through the physical — and that’s an absolute lie!
One woman called me at a university. She said, “Mr. McDowell, in the last five nights I’ve gone to bed with five different men. I got out of bed tonight and looked back and said to myself, ‘Is that all there is to it?'” and she started crying. She said, “Please sir, tell me there’s something more!”
I said, “Yes, it’s called intimacy. It’s what the Bible calls ‘the two shall become one.'”
If you had a problem with your computer who would you rather talk to: a friend who also has a computer or the manufacturer of your computer? If you had a problem with a particular machine at work who would you rather talk to, someone who has “thought a lot about machines” or a person who has talked to lots of people about how these machines run or the person who designed and built this machine?” If you were going to talk to someone about hitting homeruns who would you rather talk to, a TV commentator or Mark McGwire?
All these answers seem obvious. Let’s turn the question to marriage. If you have a question about how to have a good marriage do you want to talk to a social scientist who has studied marriage, a friend who has “been married”, a counselor who has read books about marriage, or would you want to talk to the one who invented and designed marriage? Again the answer should be obvious.
All this points to a serious fact: many of the marriage problems we encounter stem from one cause: disobedience. God has clearly told us the approach to take. When we ignore His counsel we are rebel against God. Perhaps, if we were more attentive to the instructions of the designer we would find that marriage works much better. The best marriage is the marriage that is built on the foundation of God’s Word.
PAUL’S PRINCIPLES ARE NOT CULTURAL BUT FOUNDATIONAL
Whenever people start looking at the Biblical instruction about marriage someone is bound to say, “these instructions were really just the cultural preference of the day. This is not even close to being true.
Under Jewish law a woman was a thing; she was the possession of her husband, just as much as his house or his flocks or his material goods were. She had no legal right whatever. For instance, under Jewish law, a husband could divorce his wife for any cause, while a wife had no rights whatever in the initiation of divorce. [Why? Because she was a thing, an object or possession.] In Greek society a respectable woman lived a life of entire seclusion. She never appeared on the streets alone, not even to go marketing. She lived in the women’s apartments and did not join her menfolk even for meals. From her there was demanded a complete servitude and chastity; but her husband could go out as much as he chose, and could enter into as many relationships outside marriage as he liked and incur no stigma. Both under Jewish and under Greek laws and custom, all the privileges belonged to the husband, and all the duties to the wife. [William Barclay p. 192, 193]
In the Roman world things were just as chaotic. The Jewish Historian Jerome writes of a woman who had married her 22nd husband and she was his 21st wife! In that culture there was a strong women’s liberation. movement. They didn’t want children because it spoiled their appearance. They wanted to do everything that men did. There were women wrestlers, women sword throwers and more. Women jumped in and out of relationships. It is said that many women “wore out their bridal veil”.
These are the people Paul wrote to. To all these cultures Paul’s words were not the norm but were a radical departure from the norm. Paul was not parroting the contemporary view of marriage . . . he was confronting it with a Biblical alternative. He tells the Roman women that they need to respect and encourage men in the area God has placed them. He tells the Jews and the Greeks that women were not objects but individuals that are to be cherished, nurtured and enjoyed. Paul was not trying to denigrate women but elevate them! This was a revolutionary concept then . . . and is now, as well.
If you want to start a revolution, tell someone that you are going to try things the Biblical way. That will start the tongues wagging. There is nothing revolutionary about refusing to submit or to love in a sacrificial way. In our self-absorbed day, this is the prevailing public opinion. But if you take a stand for Christ you will be bucking the trend to be sure. Many people dismiss God’s teaching regarding marriage as irrelevant simply because they don’t think they like the teaching. However, I contend that those who say they do not like what Paul teaches haven’t understood what Paul is saying.
MARRIAGE IS MORE ABOUT GIVING THAN GETTING
Whenever men and women look at these passages husbands and wives tend to focus on the wrong things. The husband hears Paul’s word to wives and says, “I like this idea . . . Me Tarzan, She, Jane.” But the big ape never reads beyond to the commands Paul gives to him! The wives hear the teaching to them and say, “You don’t know my husband. Why should I submit to him. I am equal to him in every way (and as we’ll see next week, the Bible does not debate the issue of equality). The wife points to the teaching for men and says, “If I had a husband like that, I’d follow him anywhere. However, this kind of man doesn’t exist. . . .in fact my husband can’t even imagine such a species as Paul describes!
But rather than come into this passage with our boxing gear on, we need to come seeking to understand what God is driving at. And once you do that you see that marriage is not about women serving men. It is about men and women SERVING EACH OTHER! If we focus on what the other is supposed to do for us we have missed Paul’s point. The emphasis is on what we GIVE to each other.
Let’s take a look at Ephesians 5:21 and following. Notice that Paul begins his instruction with these words, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The context of these commands is one of MUTUAL submission. The focus is on giving . . . not getting. Contrary to public opinion, the Biblical view of marriage is not one-sided. It is not about women becoming servants of men . . . . it is about two people working hard to give of themselves to enrich and encourage another.
In 1 Peter 3:1 we see similar commands: “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands”. Notice verse 7 “husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives.” What should be our key question? The “same way” as what?
In 1 Peter 2 Paul tells us to submit to authorities (13), and show respect for everyone (17). Paul tells slaves to submit to their masters with all respect. And then he tells us that our example of this attitude is Christ,
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (23-25)
After describing the sacrificial way Christ lives he says, “Wives, in the same way” and “Husbands, in the same way . . . ” Jesus did not live for what He could GET from others. He gave His life so we might know life.
The Biblical teaching about marriage urges us to put the other first. Our concern should be what we can GIVE to the relationship. This is the same for men and for women. This is what made it unique and revolutionary. The same holds true today. We live at a time when the primary focus is on what we are getting from the relationship. Christianity seeks to change the focus.
Have you dismissed what the Bible says about marriage because you don’t think it squares with your own view? If so, think carefully about what you are doing. Do you have any right to veto God’s desires? Does it make any sense at all to ignore the counsel of the one who designed marriage? If you have a problem, don’t go buy a book that talks about the psychology of marriage . . . read the Bible!
Have you dismissed the teaching about marriage as mere cultural accommodation? Do you see now that this is a faulty interpretation of the passage? Don’t wave it off . . . listen to Paul’s words!
Are you self-absorbed in your relationship with your spouse or girl-friend or boy friend? Be careful here. I would contend that most of us are self-centered in our marriage. We all notice what we have been denied.
- He should have helped me clean up
- She should have been more receptive to my advances
- He does not meet my needs for intimacy all he is concerned for is the physical
- She never has my clothes clean when I need them . . .
These are the kinds of gripes we voice. Truth is, we tend to think that the other person exists to make our life complete. It’s not just men! It’s women too.
What would happen if we began to turn things around? What if our complaints were things like this:
- I’m having trouble finding more ways to demonstrate my love
- I’m struggling looking for a way to be more encouraging to my mate. They have such talent and it would be a shame for them not to use it.
- I’m frustrated that I don’t do more for my spouse
- I wish I could love them more completely
You know what would happen — our spouse would seem like a different person. “All of sudden” they would be more responsive, attentive, appreciative and loving. They would walk around with a smile on their face. They would always be telling others how wonderful we were.
You know, God may just have something here!