Who is the greatest one-armed violinist you have ever seen? The answer, of course is that there are no one-armed violinists (I think). Have you ever watched the eagles soaring around the dam near Keokuk, IA.? Here’s a question for you, when was the last time you saw a one-winged eagle soaring over the dam? You haven’t seen one the first time yet, have you? A one winged eagle can’t fly.
This morning we look at the Biblical commands to wives and husbands. I include them both in one message because they are like the two wings of an eagle or the two arms of a violinist. They go together. One without the other makes it impossible to have the kind of marriage God desires for us.
Last week we began looking at the characteristics of a Christian marriage. It’s important to remind you that these are characteristics of a Christian marriage. If you try to impose these standards in a non-Christian marriage you will find the going very difficult indeed! Last week I reminded you of three important foundational truths,
- God’s Way is the Best Way
- Paul’s Commands are Foundational, Not Cultural
- Marriage is more about giving than getting
Before we continue with our study I want to clarify something. I know that divorce happens sometimes. Sometimes one person is committed to giving everything they have and the other isn’t. Sometimes one person is committed to being faithful in marriage but the other isn’t. Sometimes one person is living responsibly but the other person is living recklessly and putting the family at risk. I understand that sometimes divorce happens.
I also know that divorce is painful. I don’t want to increase pain by making you feel condemned or like a failure. That is not my intention. I do not want you (or single people) to feel excluded this morning. I hope there are things in this morning’s message that will help you in the future, even if they aren’t immediately applicable. Our text this morning is not teaching about divorce or singleness. It’s teaching about marriage and so I ask your understanding and tolerance.
With these things firmly in mind we look at the specific instructions.
A WORD TO THE WIVES
There are perhaps no more inflammatory words in our day and age than these words spoken to wives.
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. (V. 18)
Unfortunately, all the frustration and anger indicate that a person hasn’t understood correctly. But, in order to get the full picture we have to look at the parallel passage in Ephesians 5:22-24
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands.
It’s important that you see several things.
- The context of the passage is that of mutual submission (Eph. 5:21) This is not about one person being the boss and the other person being the servant.
- The wife is to be submissive to her husband, not every husband, nor does it say to every man.
- This is a spiritual duty. It is something we do out of love for the Lord. Your husband may not deserve this kind of support. But we do this because it is God’s way.
- This submission is not absolute. If a husband asks a wife to do something that is contrary to God’s Word the wife has every right . . . . and perhaps obligation. . . to obey God rather than her husband.
But, what about this idea of a husband being the head of the wife? In this case, the husband is the head of his wife in a similar way that Christ is the head of the church. But over in 1 Corinthians 11:3 we read, “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”
So what? I’m glad you asked. This means that this “headship” has nothing to do with equality, intelligence or value. The Father and the Son are separate but equal. God the Son is as much God as God the Father is, and yet we read that the head of Christ is God. Men and women are equal in value and dignity.
So what does this idea of “headship” mean? Like everything else in the Bible we need to understand these words in their proper context. Paul tells us to submit to the governing authorities because someone needs to have authority to keep society from becoming chaotic. There must be someone designated to lead. God has designated the husband.
Now I know what the next question is going to be: “Why?” Why did God declare the husband to be the head rather than the wife? And I must admit that I don’t have a definitive answer to that question. This is one of those time I can only answer: “Because”. This is the way God designed things. It is not that husbands are more valuable, gifted or capable than wives, but someone has to be the leader.
I’m going to go out on a limb here. I wanted to understand this whole “headship” thing. And I suggest (very tentatively) that it may be like Physical Education class. When I am asked to substitute we often have to divide into teams. In order to do so, I sometimes have to pick “captains” or “heads”. As much as I hate this approach (which comes from years of being one of the last people picked for a team), you need some kind of leadership. I pick people to be captains for one of several reasons: 1) Because they were the first ones out of the dressing room, 2) Because they are the best athletes or 3) Because making them captains will make them more involved . . .since they are seldom picked to lead any other time. I wonder if one of the same reasons could be true for making the husband the “head” of the home.
BECAUSE HE CREATED THEM FIRST. There are times in the Bible where it seems that men are to lead simply because they were “born” first. You know, “They got here first!”
But it could also be that God EQUIPPED HUSBANDS TO BE LEADERS. Like it or not, there are differences between men and women. I wonder if the toughness that God gave to men makes them more equipped to lead. I wonder if there is some genetic factor in men that makes them feel complete only when they are leading. There is a sense in which most men feel like failures unless they feel they are providing for their families. It is a very hard thing for a man to be out of work. There is something that is offensive to his sense of manhood. Man seems to be made up to be the Protector and the Defender. If this is the case the Lord is telling women that men have been specially equipped . . . they have been given the drive to lead. The only way a husband is going to feel complete and whole is if the wife encourages him to lead.
Or, God may have made men the “head” BECAUSE HE KNEW OUR TENDENCY TO WITHDRAW FROM FAMILY. God may have made men leaders in the home because he knew how we tend to let our wives do all the family stuff while we go out and “do our thing.” How many men have you heard that said they don’t do diapers, or they are never home at night, or that mom is the one who takes care of all the discipline at their home. Since we have a tendency to shirk our responsibility here, the Lord gave us primary responsibility! This is God’s way of reminding men that they have a responsibility to be involved in the home life of their family. This is God’s way of saying, “Don’t desert your family so you can do your job . . . . building your family IS your job!”
I honestly don’t know what this idea of “head” means but what we do know is that for some reason God wants us to function in the family with a certain order. The husband is supposed to take a leadership role in the household . . . especially in the spiritual areas of life. Now, does this mean that the man makes all the decisions? Not if he is smart. A good leader knows when to defer to others. There are lots of areas where I defer to my wife’s judgment. She is more competent in many areas than I am. I would be a fool to ignore these facts. Whatever it means, God tells women to encourage this leadership role in men.
So with this understanding we ask, “what does it mean to submit”. It doesn’t mean to take on a “I Dream of Jeannie” approach to life, you know, “what would you like me to get for you, Master?” Submission is about encouraging someone to lead and then following their leadership. It means to support, respect, and work with your husband. What does this mean practically?
- Treating you husband with respect. It means not correcting your husband publically. We have fragile egos. Talk about his good points to others. Be his cheerleader, not his critic.
- It means sharing your feelings without attacking (this makes men defensive . . and may cause us to withdraw). Turning to us for help is better than attacking us. We want to rescue and defend . . . we fight when attacked. Don’t tell us we are insensitive for not taking out the garbage . . . ask us if we would help by taking out the garbage.
- Don’t replay failures. Men don’t want to hear about the mistakes they’ve made. They have a drive to be successful. So, underscore what he does well rather than pointing out what he does poorly.
- Reinforce positive behavior. Say thank you when a man holds a door for you. Thank him when he stands to give you his seat on a bus. (Nowadays, a woman will more likely say, “Look, if I wanted your seat, I’d take it!) Encourage courtesy and kindness by applauding it when you see it. Let us know when we are doing something right.
Submission then is not an issue of worth or value. It is an issue of order. But what if the wife is married to a husband who is a real “bear”? Well, first, let me say that I don’t think God ever wants a woman to endure physical or sexual abuse. In those situations the best thing that you can do for your husband is put a stop to that behavior even if it means leaving him. But what about the guy who is not real supportive and isn’t too interested in the God’s plan for life?
Listen to these words from Peter,
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (3:1-2)
You will make a difference in your husband, not by lecturing him . . . but by showing Him Christ in your life.
NOW TO THE HUSBANDS. . .
Paul’s words to the husbands are to the point: “love your wives and do not be harsh with them”. Paul makes sure that his words about submission are not misinterpreted. This submission is not one-sided. Husbands are not Kings receiving from servants . . . they are co-workers in a relationship.
Once again, Ephesians amplifies on these words,
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church . . . each of you must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Eph. 5:25-33)
As I read these words it seems to me that it should be the men who are complaining and not the women. Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Unless I’m greatly mistaken (and I’m not), Christ gave His life for the church! In like fashion a husband is to be so devoted to his wife that he would give his life to protect, save and develop her. Let me ask you: who do you think has the more difficult task?
In these words Paul amplifies what he means by loving our wives,
- It means to love realistically. Jesus did not have any illusions as to who we were . . . He knew our faults and loved us in spite of them. He did not wait until we attained some standard . . .He loved us as we were and sought to move us forward. In the same way, men are to love their wives for who they are not for what they want them to be.
- It means to love sacrificially. Paul does not say that we give are to give our paychecks to our wives . . . we are to give ourselves to our wives. Sure, this has the image of giving your life for another, but there is a more everyday and practical application: Our wives are to get priority. How prone men are to take their wives for granted. We look to our wives when we are hungry, when we’re a little “frisky”, when we need a companion, and when we have nothing else to do! But that’s the wrong order. I want my wife and my children to know that if I get a phone call from them I am going to answer that call, no matter what I am doing, because they are valuable to me. They need to know that they are at the TOP of my list . . .not the bottom.
- It means to love purposefully. Christ works to present the church in its fullest glory. In a similar way a wife’s biggest cheerleader should be her husband. A husband’s job is to help his wife become all that God created her to be. He is to encourage her to develop her talents, and help her to be the best she can be. Most of us men are a little threatened by our wives success. We seem to figure that if she excels at something she will see that she doesn’t need us anymore and then drop us like a hot potato! So the result is that we sometimes discourage more than encourage growth. But that’s not the kind of love Jesus had for the church. He wants us to develop all the more. And . . . in most cases, the wife responds to the confidence her husband places in her ability.
- It means to love personally. We are to love our wives like we love our own bodies. Our wives are to be seen as such a part of us that caring for her is caring for ourselves. As we feed and care for our bodies so we should give attention to taking care of our wives.
- It means to love spiritually. In 1 Peter 3:7 we are told that we should care for our wives in this way “so that nothing will hinder our prayers.” Our relationship to our spouse affects our spiritual life. My wife has a real sense about this. She can hear people talk about their great faith all they want, but the first thing she wants to know is: how do they treat their spouse. She knows that their action is a better indication of their faith than their words. She’s right. I’m glad I married her.
Let’s get more concrete . . . what kinds of things can men do to love their wives
- Look for ways to demonstrate that you honor your wife. Generally this mean’s not drooling over other women; not talking about how good other women cook compared to your wife; not insulting her. Instead we should take her hand in a crowded place to show that we are proud to be with her. It means talking about her strengths rather than her weaknesses. It means talking about how great our life is because of our spouse rather than talking about “the old ball and chain.” Men, do you realize how we dishonor our wife when we go up to someone who is getting married and say, “You have my sympathy.”? Do you see how dishonoring it is to our own wife when we tell some young man, “enjoy your freedom because once you’re married . . . . ” Do you see how this makes our wives sound?
- Seek to show tenderness rather than give advice. This is tough for us. We want to solve problems. She wants us to listen. We want to fix things . . . she wants to be held.
- Notice and comment on the things she does to enrich your life. Thank her for a good meal. Notice how nice the house looks. (Usually we say something only when the house is a disaster . . . and that sounds like scolding. . . we don’t like it, and neither do they).
- Give your wife quality time (this is generally longer than commercials or half time of the football game). It means doing things she wants to do, and spending time with her. Find out what interests her and share some of those interests. Admit when you are wrong. Ouch!
- Ask her opinion and value what she says.
- Be thoughtful and gentle to her relatives (Stop calling them the “outlaws”).
- Pitch in and help around the house . . . and don’t expect a medal when you do.
- Let her teach you something.
- Pray with her and for her.
Men, we need to view marriage as a challenge rather than a chore. What if we viewed the challenge of loving our wives like Christ loved the church like we do the challenge of the next big game? What if we prepared diligently and gave it everything we had? What if we were creative and determined in our efforts and would not accept failure?
You know what would happen . . . our wives would be giddy with joy and would follow us anywhere. And we, would understand what God meant marriage to be.