How Does A Woman Really Respect Her Husband?

Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 7, 1 Peter 3

I would like to suggest four ways that a wife can really respect her husband.

A wife respects her husband when she submits to his leadership in the home.

Listen to the Word of the Lord, as found in Eph. 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 in everything.” Now I’m going to spend a lot of my time this morning on this point, because it is the single most fundamental statement the Bible makes to women about their relationship with their husbands. Furthermore, it is one of the most misunderstood commands in the Bible–misunderstood by both husbands and wives.

It’s unfortunate that in many Bibles, like the one I am using, there’s a major divisional break between Eph. 5:21 and 22. There really should be none at all because verse 22 has no verb of its own in the original Greek, but borrows its verb from verse 21. Here’s how it should read: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives, to your husbands.” Later on he will speak of submission of children to their parents and of workers to their bosses. But it’s important for us to note that before the Apostle discusses any of these specific areas of submission, he states that there is a mutual responsibility for believers to submit to one another.

The mutuality of submission. This is addressed to every Christian, regardless of race, gender, or station in life. This means clearly that there must a mutual submission of wives to husbands and husbands to wives. What does it mean, practically, to be in submission to one another? Well, negatively, I think it means we must not be: thoughtless, selfish, self-centered, opinionated, dictatorial, impatient, or resentful of constructive criticism. Instead we must be willing to forego our rights, willing to let others speak and to express themselves, loving, humble, understanding, and sensitive.

The one who practices these latter characteristics is fulfilling the universal command to “submit to one to another.” The motivation that is offered is this: “out of reverence for Christ.” We are to submit because submission was taught and modeled by Christ, because we desire to please Him, and because we fear grieving Him.

That’s the general principle. But there is, in addition, a specific application of the principle of submission to wives. What does it mean?

The explanation of submission. In a nutshell it means that the wife must acknowledge her husband’s leadership in the home, for as verse 23 states, “the husband is the head of the wife.” We hear a great deal today about changing roles for women in our society, in government, and in business. That’s all fine, but for the home God Himself has laid down a divine blueprint. The husband is the head, and the wife is to acknowledge his leadership through submission to his God-given authority.

Does that give the husband a divine mandate to be a tyrant, or even a benevolent dictator? No! Nor does it mean that the husband has to make all the decisions, or carry out all the discipline of the children, or do all the bread winning. Nor does it mean that the wife should be passive and refrain from offering her opinions. But it does mean that the wife has no business declaring her independence from her husband. He’s the head. When a body operates independently of the head we call the result convulsions or spasms. There are a lot of families going through convulsions today because there is a knock-down drag-out going on about who should be the head of the home.

Now the marriage relationship is ideally a partnership, a cooperative effort in which both partners have the freedom to exercise their gifts, talents, and abilities to the fullest. If the wife is a financial genius and the husband can’t even balance his checkbook, then there’s no reason why he should think he’s got to make financial decisions for the family just because he’s the head of the home. And if the husband is a gourmet cook and the wife burns water when she boils it, there’s no reason in the world why she needs to do the cooking just because she’s supposed to be submissive to her husband. In the truly Christian home each partner is allowed to use his or her gifts for the fullest benefit of the family. Furthermore, all major decisions are discussed and jointly agreed to, and if they’re not agreed to, they’re postponed.

But, and here’s the kicker, what if agreement can’t be reached and a decision must be made? The buck has to stop somewhere, and God says it stops with the husband. If God hadn’t made that decision for us, every home would be a battlefield until one of the partners established his position over the other. God decided to spare the bloodshed and named the husband as the head. The husband can abrogate this responsibility or his wife can usurp it, but only to their own detriment.

Let me appeal to an analogy I have often used in premarital counseling. Every major corporation has a Chairman of the Board. No corporation has more than one Chairman. Of course, there is usually at least one president under the Chairman and a number of vice-presidents. Now the Chairman doesn’t make all the decisions himself; in fact, he makes hardly any by himself. Rather he delegates responsibility for various aspects of the business to people who have expertise in those areas. But if in a cabinet meeting agreement cannot be reached as to what course of action the company should pursue, everyone recognizes the right and the responsibility of the Chairman to make the necessary decision.

The Chairman doesn’t have to be a tyrant or a dictator. He doesn’t even have to act like a man with authority to waste. But if he refuses to exercise his responsibility, or if one of the other company officers usurps that authority, there is grave danger ahead for that corporation. It is a house divided. So, too, with the family where the wife does not recognize her husband as head of the home.

The motivation for submission of the wife to her husband (22b). Wives, submit “as to the Lord.” This phrase is easily misunderstood. I do not believe it means, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands in the same way you submit yourselves to the Lord.” That is going too far, for the woman’s relationship to the Lord is one of complete, entire, absolute submission. Rather, “as to the Lord” means “because it is your duty to the Lord” or “out of obedience to the Lord.”

Wives should not submit to their husbands because of some sociological theory, or because of the traditions of the church, or because their husbands demand it, or because their husbands deserve it (many don’t), or for any other human reason. Wives should do it because the Lord commands it. But why does the Lord command it?

The rationale for submission of wives to their husbands. Actually two rationales are given. First, the creative order demands it. Verse 23 states, “for the husband is the head of the wife.” He doesn’t say he should be, but rather he is. I have to assume that since God created us and knows us better than we know ourselves, He knows that the husband is better suited for this role than is the wife.

Of course, husbands are sinners, and some husbands are great sinners, and their ability to function as head of a home has been seriously damaged, but the answer is not for the wife to become the head but for the husband to get right with God and begin to take his responsibility seriously.

Second, the pattern of Christ and the Church models it. Eph. 5:23 reads, “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body.” What is the example Christ has set as head of the Church? He is not a tyrant. He is not a dictator. In fact, He allows the Church an enormous amount of freedom. He leads her rather than drives her; He sets an example for her; He encourages and loves her. The Church, on the other hand, looks to Christ and His Word before making decisions; she views Him as the final authority; she honors and respects Him above everyone else.

The extent of submission. Verse 24 says, “in everything.” Now that’s pretty broad, isn’t it? But frankly, “everything” doesn’t always mean “absolutely everything” in Scripture. It sometimes means “everything for which an exception has not already been specified.” Obviously a wife should not submit to her husband to the extent of violating a clear precept of Scripture. The Scriptural dictum that “we ought to obey God rather than man” applies even to the home. Furthermore, no wife should feel compelled to submit to her husband to the point of violating her own conscience. Rom. 14 indicates that it is always wrong to violate one’s conscience.

However, while there are a few limitations to the need to “submit in everything,” we must not undermine the fact that submission is very broad in its application. The wife must be willing at times to accept decisions that she knows in her heart are bad decisions (and not say “I told you so” later.). She must be willing to show her husband respect as the head of the home, even if he sometimes acts like a jerk. And he will. You don’t have to respect the behavior, but you do have to respect his person and his position.

Ladies, this is God’s Word. You can reject it and suffer for it, or you can resent it and chafe under it, or you can accept it and prosper.

Now I have already spent more time than I intended to on this topic, but there are some questions that are frequently raised about the biblical doctrine of submission. Since it would take the rest of my time to deal with them, and I have other issues that I would like to answer. I want to address, I decided to write out these questions and suggest answers for you to consider. The ushers will make them available to you as you leave this morning. I have raised six questions:

1. Wasn’t the Apostle Paul a chauvinist, and, if so, so we need to accept his opinions as inspired?

2. Doesn’t submission automatically entail the concept of inferiority?

3. Some husbands aren’t Christians, so how can they exercise spiritual headship?

4. Even some Christian husbands won’t accept their leadership position in the home, so what is the wife supposed to do?

5. Some wives are naturally better leaders and are more capable than their husbands. Why shouldn’t they be head of their homes?

6. What about a single mother?

Now the second major way in which a wife really respects her husband is this:

A wife respects her husband when she seeks to meet his need for sexual fulfillment. (1 Cor. 7:3ff)

Listen to 1 Cor. 7:3ff: “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

Now this text is obviously addressed to both women and men, but I mention it this week rather than last because my impression is that this is a greater area of struggle for women. The essence of the instruction is that sexual abstinence in marriage should be practiced only when both agree and then only for a limited period of time, and only for spiritual purposes–i.e. so you may devote yourselves to prayer. In other words, it’s a kind of fast. The reason the time should be short is so that Satan’s temptation will not get the best of you.

Adultery is an inexcusable sin–always. But it is not always without explanation. Some men are very vulnerable to sexual temptation because they do not receive sufficient physical intimacy from their wives, just as some wives are because they don’t receive enough loving attention from their husbands. Many men who don’t yield to temptation still get resentful and hard to live with. Now if you were here last Sunday you will remember that I gave the other side of this issue very clearly. I told the men, and I quote, “If physical intimacy is not what we men want it to be in our marriage, it is almost always because we have failed in demonstrating agape love.” While that is true, it does not excuse the wife from withholding affection. Even if the husband is not fulfilling his responsibility to love his wife, I Cor. 7:3 is still in the Bible. But, Pastor, should a wife have to give herself to a husband who treats her like dirt?

Friends, here is the source of untold problems in Christian marriages. We each excuse ourselves for not fulfilling our responsibility based on the fact that our spouse is not fulfilling his or hers. If we keep operating on that basis we find ourselves in a vicious downward spiral to which there is no end. Someone has to stop the headlong dive and say, “This is destructive behavior, and I am going to unilaterally call a truce. Furthermore, I choose to be obedient to God whether you choose to or not. Even though I don’t like your behavior, I am going to respect you as the head of this house, or I am going to love you as my wife. I am going to fulfill my obligations to you out of an attitude of love, and I will trust God to meet my needs in the process.” Wives, I’m calling on you to consider stopping the spiral, as I called on the husbands to do last week.

So you can respect your husband by seeking to meet his need for sexual fulfillment. It can pay great dividends in your life, too. By the way, sexual compatibility is a very difficult area in many marriages, but help is available. There are some great books on the subject, and there are counselors who can help revolutionize your lives. Don’t be afraid to seek help.

A wife respects her husband when she makes herself beautiful. (I Peter 3)

Some of you will recall that this is one of Willard Harley’s themes that he shared in the marriage seminar we had here at the church a year ago. Some of you reacted quite negatively to Harley’s statement that the third most important need a man has is for a good-looking wife. In that chapter he stated, “It may sound immature or superficial, but most men do not appreciate a woman for her inner qualities alone. A man’s need for physical attractiveness in a woman is profound.” He even went so far as to suggest to one of his single female counselees who was tired of being single, “First, let me tell you I think you’re a striking woman with a nice figure who has been robbed of attractiveness by those premature wrinkles and gray hair. . . . A plastic surgeon can get rid of the wrinkles, and a good hair-dresser can color and style your hair in a way that will really bring you to the attention of the men you see every day. Then you need to go out and buy a wardrobe that shows off your figure.”

Now if you are troubled by these statements, I’m glad, because I am troubled by them too. I think Willard Harley has seriously missed the boat in this chapter of his book, His Needs, Her Needs. His biggest mistake is that he has totally ignored the one passage in the Bible that tells a woman to make herself beautiful, and I think he ignored it because it directly contradicts what he has to say. Turn with me to I Peter 3:

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. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

There is a lot in this passage that we do not have time to examine this morning, but one thing is absolutely clear. God puts a greater emphasis on inner beauty than he does on outer beauty. God places a higher priority on purity and reverence, on a gentle and quiet spirit, and on submission than on fancy hairdos or jewelry or clothes.

Frankly, most Christian men I know put a higher priority on those things as well. I have been doing marriage counseling for well over 20 years and I have yet to have a man tell me, “the problem in our marriage is my wife is ugly.” I’ve certainly never had a man complain to me about his wife’s wrinkles. Most men think their wives are physically beautiful. It’s their attitudes that I hear about it–it’s their complaining or their coldness or their independent spirits or their negativism. In other words, it really is the inner beauty (or lack thereof) that affects a marriage most.

Now that doesn’t mean the outer is unimportant. If the barn needs paint, well, paint it. Every man wants to be proud of his wife when he takes her out, and every man is stimulated by the visual. But the outer without the inner is worthless, even dangerous. Wives, respect your husband by making yourself beautiful for him.

A wife respects her husband when she affirms him and builds him up. (Eph. 4:29-32)

Turn back to Ephesians again with me, this time to the fourth chapter, the 29th verse. This is not a marriage passage per se, but it certainly is a relationship passage, and I think it serves well to make an important point about the wife’s respect for her husband. Listen: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Men often put up a tough facade, but underneath, their egos are very fragile, especially as related to their work, their careers. I spoke several weeks ago about the fact that men tend to find their greatest significance in their work. Granted, that’s not always healthy, but it is a fact and it must be reckoned with. A wife who ignores her husband’s work, or worse yet, criticizes his lack of success or his inability to advance does so to her own great detriment.

This applies whether the husband’s career is going poorly or he’s a screaming success. If work is tough and the hours are long, if job security is non-existent, if he gets no affirmation but rather is constantly beaten down in his job, and then he comes home to face further negative comments (why don’t you spend any time with me, why don’t you play more with the kids, why don’t you get a better job?), that is almost more than he can handle. On the other hand, if he is very successful in his job and gets lots of affirmation and adulation at work but gets none at home, he becomes very vulnerable at work and very resentful at home.

The passage I just read, though it is admittedly a general principle about human communication, certainly applies in this situation. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths (that would include nagging, criticism, put-downs, etc.), but only what is helpful for building your husband up according to his needs.” Men have great need for their wife to affirm their work.

I know this from personal experience. Some years ago my wife and I went through a difficult time in our marriage. I couldn’t even tell you what started the spiral, but I do know that I was not loving her and she was not respecting me. The single thing that hurt me most–more than the arguments, more than physical coldness, more than lack of peace in the home–was the fact that for a long time she never said anything about my preaching. I would come home from church, where most Sundays I heard from a number of people that they appreciated the sermon or that it had helped them significantly, but we would sit down to dinner and she wouldn’t say a thing about the message. Week after week this went on, so I decided to take a mature approach to this. I decided to quit saying anything good about her cooking. This went on for some time.

What was going on here was the old downward spiral. I wasn’t loving her as I should, so as far as she was concerned no matter how good a sermon I was preaching, I was a hypocrite. How can you affirm a hypocrite? But when I received no affirmation from her, I refused to give her any in return. When she didn’t hear any thanks for the meals I began to get lots of spaghetti and hot dogs. When I got lots of spaghetti and hot dogs I got even grumpier. I don’t even remember how we got out of that particular situation, but I’m sure one of us, more than likely Jan, decided we were getting nowhere fast and broke the cycle, enabling me to save face and get back on track.

We don’t play those silly games anymore, and one of the things that has helped tremendously is that my wife gives me a great deal of affirmation about my work. She tells me I’m the best preacher in St. Louis (by the way, it’s OK to lie a little when you’re affirming your husband! We need all the help we can get!). Believe me, one affirming comment from her is more important than a standing ovation from you’all.

Another passage that teaches this same truth is from the last chapter of 1 Thessalonians. Beginning in verse 11 we read, “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” Now this is addressed particularly to the Lord’s servants in the church, but the principle of respecting those who work hard and holding them in the highest regard in love because of their work applies to the home as well.

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How Does A Man Really Love His Wife?

I find a lot of men putting themselves down, going on regular guilt trips, and getting beat up by the women’s movement.Today I want to encourage you men to love yourselves. You have a lot going for you; you have great potential for the future; you can change the world. As a matter of fact, husbands are among the greatest people around. So love yourself. That’s my theme for today. OK? (I thought for sure I’d hear a few “amens” on that. I’ll bet most of you are afraid you’d get jabbed in the ribs).

Now before the wives start walking out, there is one important fact about my exhortation to the husbands which I haven’t mentioned yet–and that is the matter of how we are to go about loving ourselves. What is the most important thing a man can do to show himself love? The answer is found in Eph. 5:28: “He who loves his own wife loves himself.” Guys, if you want to do the nicest thing in the world for yourself–love your wife! The rewards are enormous.

But I’m a bit ahead of myself already. If you’ll open your Bible to the passage of the morning, I’d like to read it and then point out the structure of Paul’s reasoning in Eph. 5:25-33:

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 his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, 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.

Bible Scholar Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has stated in respect to the parallel passage in Colossians), “The failure to understand and implement the truth of these verses is the cause of most of the problems in the world today.” That may sound like an overstatement, but if it is, it is not by much. A member of our congregation told me she was listening to a talk show and the guest had written a book entitled, Husbands from Hell. There are a lot of women, unfortunately, who feel they could contribute a chapter to that book. But there are also a number who would be glad to contribute to one entitled, Husbands from Heaven. Hopefully before we are through with this series there will be more.

I want to take a moment to review last week’s message. We laid some extremely important groundwork by pointing out that every one of us has two basic needs in our lives–the need for security and the need for significance. Unless those two needs are met, it is almost impossible for us to function effectively as a loving partner in marriage. The problem is that many of us are looking to our spouse for our security and significance, while the Bible teaches us that we must look to God. Because He loves us unconditionally (and, in fact, is the only one who loves us unconditionally) He is the only sure source of security. And because He created us, gifted us, and called us to serve Him, our basic significance and self-worth must also be found in Him. Once we believe, understand, and appropriate these truths, then we are able to reach out in love to others. We can be reinforcers rather than contradictors of the ministry of security and significance that God has in the life of our spouse and our children.

I was talking to a man in the church this week, a man who deeply loves his wife and has a good marriage, and he responded, “When my wife hurts me, I don’t automatically think about my security and significance being in God. I get angry and fight back. That’s what’s automatic.” Yes, that is our natural response, but I am convinced that the deeper our experience with God and the more we learn of His unconditional love, the more hurts we will be able to overlook, forgive, and even respond to in love instead of in anger.

This is a process, friends, not an event. If we are insecure or lack genuine self-worth, we didn’t get that way overnight; and we won’t resolve those feelings overnight. But neither will we resolve them by going to assertiveness classes and reading secular books on empowerment. We need to go to the right source, which is God Himself. As we allow Him to meet our needs, then we are able to begin meeting our wife’s needs.

Now Paul’s main point is obvious–it’s found in the command, “Husbands, love your wives,” and those words are repeated three times for emphasis–in vs. 25, 28, and 33. Two primary arguments are offered as to how a husband should love his wife. In vs. 25-27 the Apostle develops the notion that husbands should love their wife as Christ loved them. Then in 28-33 we are told that husbands should love their wife as they love themselves. Then thirdly, in a parallel passage from I Peter, we learn that husbands should love their wife as her needs dictate.

I would infer from this that if we’ll study how Christ loved us, and if we’ll study how men love themselves, and if we’ll study the needs of our wife, we should gain significant insight into how to love our wife effectively. Love is something we have to work at. It is an art to be learned and a discipline to be maintained.

So, let’s consider the Apostle’s first argument.

Husbands, love your wife as Christ loved you. (25-27)

I want to mention four things about Christ’s love for the Church which I believe we need to imitate in our relationship with our wife.

Love her with an active love. It should be obvious that this command has nothing directly to do with emotions. Paul is not saying, “I command you husbands to tingle up and down your spines when you see your wife.” That would be ridiculous (I don’t mean it’s ridiculous that we should tingle up and down our spines, but that anyone should command us to do so). Emotions are simply not something that are subject to commands. The kind of love Eph. 5 is addressing is agape love. The Apostle Paul had other words available to him which describe emotional love, sensual love, and deep friendship, but he ignored those words and chose agape. This kind of love is best defined as “love that acts for the best good and promotes the well-being of the other person, demanding nothing in return.”

Agape love is a love of the will, not the emotions. It is a love that one chooses, not just happens to fall into. It is a love that walks the walk, not just talks the talk. Clearly this is the kind of love Christ has for us. He acted in love toward us by dying for us, redeeming us, forgiving us, interceding for us; He didn’t just talk about His love, He acted upon it.

However, while agape love is concerned with the will, not the emotions, there’s an interesting phenomenon which I have noticed countless times in the marriage relationship. When a husband fulfills the command to love his wife with agape love, he will almost invariably find emotional love between him and his wife rekindled. I have seen cases where a husband and wife could hardly stand one another–they actually turned each other’s stomachs. But when one of them began to act toward the other with agape love, even when they didn’t want to, the flames of emotional love began to flicker, and eventually real passion broke out once again. But we have to start with God’s kind of love–agape love, an active love.

Love her with an unselfish love. Agape love is totally unselfish. It does kind things expecting nothing in return. You say, “that’s not human.” I agree. This is divine love. But God wants to share it; He wants us to learn it. And the best way to grasp it is to look at the kind of love Christ exercised for the Church. He never sought His own benefit; He never loved the Church for what He could get out of her; He always sought her best good.

Think with me, men, about some of the ways we exhibit selfishness in our marriages: taking the many contributions of your wife to the home for granted; making decisions without consulting her or worse yet, against her expressed desires; refusing to open up and share what is going on in our jobs or in our minds; paying more attention to the news or sports or the dog than we do to her; expecting physical affection without first connecting with her emotionally.

Let me comment about this latter issue briefly because I hear a lot about it in marriage counseling. Wives crave affection from their husbands–not affection that leads to something else, just affection. A hug, a light kiss, cuddling, holding hands–these show her she’s important and cherished in her own right. But to offer this frequently without demanding anything further requires unselfish love on the part of the husband.

Love her with a sacrificial love. (25) It says in verse 25 that Christ “gave himself up for the Church.” The entire Incarnation was a sacrifice, but without a doubt the greatest way in which Christ demonstrated His love for the Church was through His sacrifice on the Cross. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Christ’s sacrifice for the Church serves as an example for husbands. Not that we can make the same quality of sacrifice He made, but we need to be willing to give up that which is important to us if it is for the good of our wife.

For example, when a man marries, he must sacrifice the ties he had to his parents (remember? “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife.”) I’ve never seen a healthy marriage where this didn’t take place. It doesn’t mean he abandons his parents; it doesn’t mean he refuses their counsel; but it does mean that he puts his wife first. If the time ever comes when his parents force him to choose between them and her, he chooses her. I witnessed a situation where this happened in the past year, and though the husband has endured a lot of pain from members of his family, he showed his wife the sacrificial love talked about here in this text.

When a man marries he must also sacrifice his independence–his right to spend his money any way he pleases, the right to control over his time, the right to make career decisions on his own. That’s a real sacrifice for some men, especially those who were on their own for a length of time before marriage. One gets used to doing it his own way, but marriage requires a sacrifice of that spirit of independence.

Love her with a purifying love. Our text goes on to tell us why Jesus gave himself up for the Church: “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.” The point is that Christ’s love for the Church is a purifying love, a love that cleanses, edifies, and refines. While Christ accepts us just as we are and loves us unconditionally, this does not allow Him to be content to leave us as we are. He has given us His Word as a cleansing agent for sin and moral impurity. The objective is to bring us to a place of maturity and holiness that brings us fulfillment and makes us fit for the presence of a King. God is constantly working in our lives to produce growth and holiness.

Likewise, a godly husband longs for growth and improvement in his wife’s life. He desires that she become all that she can be. He doesn’t try to hold her down but rather encourages her to use her talents and abilities and to be successful in all she pursues. At the same time, he cannot bear for her to be unnecessarily exposed to evil or harm. He will make sure that if she works outside the home, it is not in a degrading atmosphere.

Before leaving this theme of purifying love, allow me to mention a false concept that is very widespread today. It is the notion of “live and let live,” “accept one another’s faults and don’t try to change one another.” That, friends, is not how Christ treats us and it is not a healthy approach to marriage, in my opinion. Acceptance, certainly, is a trait we must always have; i.e. we must be willing to love despite our partner’s faults. But we must never cease wishing for and even working toward the removal of those faults. C. S. Lewis has expressed this truth in an incredibly perceptive fashion:

The Church is the Lord’s bride whom He so loves that in her no spot or wrinkle is endurable. For the truth which this analogy serves to emphasize is that Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere “kindness” which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love. When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care? Does any woman regard it as a sign of love in a man that he neither knows nor cares how she is looking? Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost; but now because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them; but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved . . . . The loving husband forgives most, but he condones least; he is pleased with (only a) little, but demands all.

Of course, it makes a great deal of difference how one seeks to remove the infirmities in one’s spouse. Badgering and harassing is rarely effective. Ridicule never works. Stonewalling seldom accomplishes the goal. But loving encouragement can produce positive change in anyone. I like the way one writer put it: “The husband is to love his wife, not just because of the beauty he finds in her, but to make her more beautiful.” Or as another wrote, “Husbands should love their wives for what they are and should also love them sufficiently to help them to become what they should be.” I have seen women with terrible self-concepts blossom, literally come alive, under the careful nurture and encouragement of a loving husband.

Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves you! In other words, love her with an active love, an unselfish love, a sacrificial love, a purifying love.

Husbands, love your wife as you love yourself. (28-33)

Before developing Paul’s argument here, I think we need to understand one very important point, namely that there is nothing wrong with loving oneself in the sense Paul is talking about here. There is something wrong with doting on oneself, with pride, with selfishness. But there is nothing wrong with a proper and healthy self-worth. Jesus Himself said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If it weren’t proper to love yourself, then it wouldn’t be proper to love your neighbor either. As a matter of fact, people who don’t love themselves generally have a very difficult time loving other people. So when Jesus exhorts husbands to love their wives as they love themselves, He is not only acknowledging a fact, namely that men do love themselves, but He is also approving that fact.

Now as we evaluate these verses we find that the Apostle has given us an argument known as a syllogism. A syllogism is an argument form which has a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. It is a logical argument if the truth of the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. And certainly they do in this case:

Major premise: Every man loves his own body. (29)

Minor premise: The husband and his wife are one flesh. (31, quoting Gen. 2:24).

Conclusion: The husband must love his wife.

Now let’s look a bit more closely at the elements of this argument. First,

Major premise: Every man loves his own body. (28-30) This fact is stated both negatively and positively. “No one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it.” Paul is not alleging here that every man has a high self-concept, but he is saying that every man, even if he dislikes himself, still gives extraordinary care and concern to his body. Is that true, men?

Well, when you get hungry, do you say, “My stomach is growling, but let it growl. It’s always wanting something. If it were earning the money, like my hands or brains are doing, then it might have reason to complain. So I’m just going to ignore it.” No, of course not. When we’re hungry, we eat.

When you get tired, what do you do? Do you say, “This body is tired again. I can’t believe it. There’s so much work that needs to be done. I can’t see that it has done anything significant all day. All it ever does is watch TV and sleep.” No, you hit the sack. When you need a haircut, do you begrudge the fact that you just got one last month? No, you go and get one. When you want clothes, do you complain that there are clothes in the closet that have hardly ever been worn? No, you go and buy them.

I trust the point is established that every man loves his own body. That is the major premise. The minor premise is a theological one.

Minor premise: The husband and the wife are one flesh. (31,32) This point is proved by a quotation from the OT, Gen. 2:24. Since Pastor Paul spoke so clearly on that passage just a few weeks ago, we will not elaborate on it this morning, except to reiterate that marriage brings about a mystical and physical union between a husband and his wife which simply disallows each to think of himself or herself independently of the other. Now it’s time for the conclusion of the syllogism:

Conclusion: The husband must love his wife. (33) Verse 33: “Each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself.” The logic is pretty clear. If you really love your own body, and if you and your wife are one flesh, then you really must love your wife. And so we’ve returned to where we started. Men, love yourselves. Seek the best for yourselves. Treat yourselves as kings! But don’t forget that the best way to accomplish this is to love your wife.

If you want to know how to live this out practically, think through the loving things you do for yourself and then do the same kinds of things for her. You get your need met for social interaction and significant conversation with adults at work; meet her need for the same when you get home, especially if she stays at home all day with three kids and a dog. You meet your need for encouragement and praise as your boss thanks you for a job well done (or at least gives you a paycheck); meet her need for the same by thanking her for the little things she does to make your house into a home. You meet your need to get away from it all by traveling on business or taking a weekend off to hunt or fish; meet her need to get away by offering to take care of the kids while she goes to the Women’s Retreat, or get a baby sitter and take her away for a weekend yourself. Love your wife as you love yourself.

Now this leads right into our third and last exhortation, which comes from another passage, I Peter 3:7.

Husbands, love your wife as her needs dictate.

I Peter 3:7: “Husbands, be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” The first command here is for us to love our wife with considerate understanding.

Love her with considerate understanding. Over and over in marriage counseling I hear wives complain that their husbands do not understand them, are not sensitive to their feelings, and do not communicate with them.

Men, I know we don’t try to be this way, but the fact is we must try not to be this way. The command to be considerate means that we must be students of our wives, and at times this subject can be harder than calculus. Let me warn you, we will never graduate from this school. We can pass a course or two; a few may even get on the dean’s list; but we can never quit studying or learning. I have learned more about my wife’s needs in the past two years than I did in the first 30 years of our marriage put together, and I would still probably only merit a B-. (Don’t ask her).

Dr. Robert Seizer, in his book Mortal Lessons: Notes in the Art of Surgery, tells a remarkable story of performing surgery to remove a tumor in which it was necessary to sever a facial nerve, leaving a young woman’s mouth permanently twisted in palsy. In Dr. Seizer’s own words:

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamp light, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” She asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says. “It is kind of cute.” All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I , so close, can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.

Considerate understanding. How a wife yearns for it! How she deserves it!

Love her with tender courtesy. I Peter 3:7 goes on, “Treat them with respect as the weaker partner.” The Apostle has no intention of belittling wives when he refers to them as weaker. He certainly isn’t speaking of intellectual abilities or talents or gifts. But women are generally weaker physically and more sensitive emotionally. That’s partly what makes them excellent partners for men, who tend to be stronger physically and decidedly less sensitive emotionally.

It seems odd that the Apostle would even have to command men to treat their wives with respect or courtesy, but the fact is courtesy toward women in the ancient world was well-nigh unknown. It was, and still is, not an uncommon sight in the East to see a man riding on a donkey while his wife trudges by his side carrying a heavy load on her head. It was Christianity which introduced chivalry into the relationship between men and women. But Christian men are sometimes more like their ancient counterparts.

We must not forget the simple courtesies that characterized our behavior during courtship. Despite what the women’s movement seems to have communicated, most women still appreciate it when her husband, opens a door for her or helps her put on her coat or holds her hand as they walk through a mall.

One of the most remarkable examples of tender courtesy I have come across came from a recent Ann Landers column:

Dear Ann Landers:

I’m going to tell you about a love story that I witness every time I go to the nursing home to see my husband, who has Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, I know firsthand how this terrible illness affects family members, but I would like the world to know what love really is.

I see a man who, I understand, has spent the last eight years caring for his wife, who has Alzheimer’s. They have been married over 50 years. He cooks and feeds her every bite of food she eats. He has bathed her and dressed her every day all these years. They have no other family. She lost a baby at birth, and they never had any more children.

I cannot describe the tenderness and love that man shows for his wife. She is unable to recognize anyone, including him. The only things she shows any interest in are two baby dolls. They are never out of her hands.

I observed him when I parked my car beside his the other day. He sat in his old pickup truck for a few minutes, then he patted down what little hair he had, straightened the threadbare collar of his shirt and looked in the mirror for a final check before going in to see his wife. It was as if he were courting her. They have been partners all these years and have seen each other under all kinds of circumstances, yet he carefully groomed himself before he called on his wife, who wouldn’t even know him.

This is an example of true love and commitment the world needs today.

Love her as your spiritual partner. “Treat them . . . as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life.” This, too, was unknown in the world to which Paul wrote. Women did not worship with men in Greece or Rome. Even in the Jewish synagogue they had no share in the service. When they were admitted at all they were segregated from the men and hidden behind a screen. Only in Christianity did the revolutionary principle emerge that women have equal spiritual rights. But what we have practiced at church has often been neglected at home.

I conducted an extensive scientific survey of wives this past week. I was sitting with two of them at the hospital and asked, “What would you say are the four most important things a wife wants from her husband.” For both of them #1 was, “I want him to put God first in His life so he can be my spiritual partner.” I think that’s close to what this passage is saying. A woman told me two weeks ago (and this is a woman who deeply loves her husband) that her heart aches to have her husband pray with her, but though he is a fine Christian man, he seems incapable of doing it. At a recent men’s breakfast here at the church my guess is that over 90% of the men raised their hands to indicate failure to regularly pray with their wives other than at the supper table.

Men, why is this such a common problem for us–we are eager to pray with our PK buddies but find it so hard to initiate prayer with our wives? I think the greatest factor must be vulnerability. We have such fragile egos, and we know that our wives know us better than anyone else. We can’t fake it with them like we can at church or at a men’s breakfast. But what we find out when we try it is that our wives will honor us for at least trying to be spiritual leaders.

But please understand that there is more to loving one’s wife as a spiritual partner than just praying with her. It involves discussing spiritual issues with her, encouraging her in her ministry, including her in yours, reading and discussing a Christian book together, and setting spiritual goals for the children together.

Men, let us not fail to notice the sanction that is placed upon the man who fails in his obligation to love his wife as her needs dictate, especially to love her as a spiritual partner? It’s found there at the end of I Peter 3:7: do it “so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” As one commentator puts it, “The sighs of the injured wife come between the husband’s prayers and God’s hearing.” (Barclay, p. 224). Here is a great truth: our relationship with God can never be right if our relationship with our spouse is wrong. It is when we are at one with each other that we are one with Him. But it is also true that only when we are rightly related to Him that we are rightly related to one another.

It may seem a bit strange to you that I have preached a long sermon on “How to Really Love Your Wife,” and I haven’t even mentioned sexual love. There’s a reason for that, and it is not that sexual love is unimportant in a marriage. It is critical. But the reason I haven’t mentioned it is because sex is rarely a root problem in marriage. If physical intimacy is not what we men want it to be in our marriage, it is almost always because we have failed in demonstrating agape love. The secret is learning to give love rather than straining and striving to attract it.

Men, I think we should close this morning with a time of confession and recommitment. Wives, we know we have failed you, we want to do better, we have a little more knowledge this morning about what to do, but some of us are just at the starting gate. We need you to pray for us, be patient with us, and try to help us. But men, it’s not going to happen unless we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to change, and appropriate God’s power to do it. Whatever it takes, it’s worth it.

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Secure and Significant

Ephesians 5:21-33

The command of God for Christian husbands to love their wives and for Christian wives to respect their husbands is clearly stated in Ephesians 5. You are all familiar with that text. It is my intention to examine those commands carefully and to seek practical ways to help us understand them and live them out. But I have come to the conclusion that there are some basic issues about human nature that need to be understood before a person can apply Ephesians 5. If we don’t deal first with the foundation issues, we run the risk of producing more frustration than positive change when we exhort Christian spouses to love and respect one another. So, I would like to begin today with this proposition:

The two most basic human needs, without which it is impossible to function effectively as a loving spouse, are for SECURITY and SIGNIFICANCE.

Larry Crabb started his excellent book, The Marriage Builder, this way:

“Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new?’ It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” (Eccl.. 1:10)

Another book on marriage. Could there possibly be anything new in this one? Isn’t it time we stop writing books that dress up old truth in modern fashion and just get on with doing what we already know to do?

More than once I have pictured the wise but weary king of Israel slowly wandering through a modern Christian bookstore, searching for real help in repairing his many marital fractures. In my imagination, after several hours of thumbing through scores of books with eye-catching dust jackets that promise to “revolutionize your marriage,” old Solomon ambles toward the door with slumped shoulders and sighs, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Eccl. 12:12).

Daydreams like this compel me to explain why I have written one more book under the threat of Solomon’s sigh.

In my counseling, I am often troubled to see husbands and wives locked into patterns of relating that destroy any hope of developing a deeply satisfying closeness in their marriages. Whenever I stand before a Sunday morning congregation to preach, I look out upon many well-dressed couples sharing hymnals and singing praise to the Lord for His gift of abundant and eternal life, and I suspect that very few are experiencing substantial intimacy. But a large majority of these people are professing Christians who would report that they are sincerely trying to develop their marriage according to biblical principles.

Why, then, are marriages so often filled with tension, bitterness, distance, shallow satisfactions, routineness, and short-lived moments of romance? Why do I sometimes face a problem within my own marriage and, after earnest prayer and brutal self-examination, remain unsure how to respond to my wife in a way that will deepen our oneness?

Are there real solutions that will develop true intimacy? Or must we resign ourselves to publicly reciting appropriate phrases about how God designed marriage while privately wondering why these sacred principles don’t really work? Many of us have read dozens of books on family relationships. We’ve listened to the “best” evangelical speakers on the Christian home. And we have been richly blessed and helped, at least temporarily. But somehow a cloud remains. Something still isn’t quite together. Why?

I would like to make an attempt to answer the question “why” this morning, and then to offer a starting point for tackling the problem. I am indebted to Larry Crabb for some of the insights I am sharing with you.

I might say at the outset that if you’re not married I believe there is still value in this topic for you, for someday you may be married, and even if not, the principles we are dealing with this morning are applicable to every area of interpersonal relations, not just the marriage relationship. Now let me state my thesis again:

The two most basic human needs, without which it is impossible to function effectively as a loving spouse, are for SECURITY and SIGNIFICANCE.

While I cannot point you to one particular verse of Scripture that makes that claim, I believe it can be substantiated by the numerous references in the Bible to God’s unconditional love for us and our unique place in His created order. We will look at a few of those key passages in a moment, but first let’s define our terms. Security might be defined as “an awareness of being unconditionally and totally loved without needing to change in order to win love, being loved by a love that cannot be earned and therefore cannot be lost.” Significance, on the other hand, is “the realization that I am valuable and that what I am doing is worthwhile, that my accomplishments will not evaporate with time but will last through eternity.”

Security and significance are so important for people to experience that if a person lacks either of these, he or she is unable to function effectively in a marriage relationship, or in any other kind of relationship. In fact, to tell a wife who has no sense of security that she must minister to her husband’s deepest needs is to mock her. And to tell a husband who has no sense of self-worth that he must love his wife as Christ loved the Church is to mock him. It is like telling a person with a tickle in his throat to quit coughing.

Security is generally of greater importance to women and significance of greater importance to men, but actually both are essential for everyone of us. Women have traditionally looked for security in their husbands and for significance in their children or, increasingly today, in their careers. Men generally find their significance in their careers and their security in financial stability.

Now think with me for a moment about an inevitable result of the scenario I have just painted. If wives need security and generally look to their husbands to provide it, then any woman whose husband fails to provide it is going to be extremely vulnerable. Likewise, if a husband needs significance, but he gets no strokes at work, doesn’t know whether he’ll even have a job next month, or worse yet, endures a lengthy period of unemployment, and his wife doesn’t take an interest in his work, but only complains that he works too many hours and doesn’t bring home enough money, that man is going to be emotionally vulnerable and very difficult to live with. In both cases the foundational needs of those people are not being met, and their marriages are likely to be in big trouble.

Now our typical solution (and the one I was headed toward originally) is to get on the husbands’ cases and exhort them to love their wives unconditionally, and to get on the wives’ cases and exhort them to respect their husbands and build them up, and, of course, this approach would be right and biblical. But not yet! There’s something that must happen before we exhort the husbands to love their wives and the wives to respect their husbands. And that is to exhort both to quit looking to the other for their basic security and significance. Let me put it this way for our second major proposition:

The most basic problem in marriage is that we look to the wrong source for our security and significance.

I would like to suggest to you that God never intended for wives to find their security in their husbands, nor for husbands to have their significance tied to their wives’ attitude toward their careers. And as long as we look to another person, whether that be a husband, a wife, a parent, or a boss, for those basic needs to be met, we are going to be vulnerable to human failure, unless, of course, we happen to be one of the few who is married to a spouse who always shows love and respect.

Well, if we aren’t to find our foundational security and significance in our partner, where are we to find it? You know the answer, don’t you? And some of you are saying to yourself, “That’s trite! To tell us to have our basic needs me by God is just another pastoral exhortation with very little relation to reality. I didn’t marry God. I married my husband, and God says I have to stay with him for the next 45 years or until he dies, and already I’m considering murder.”

Friend, if you’re tempted to answer in that fashion, you’re mistaken. What I have said is not trite, but extremely important, and it’s important not just for married couples, but for children, singles, and the widowed as well. Why do you think the Bible says so much about God’s unconditional love for his people, if it’s not to build into us a sense of security? The Bible tells us that we are loved by a love that is freely given, that cannot be earned, and therefore cannot be lost. If we look to God to meet our basic need for security, then we will not be vulnerable, because God is completely faithful and He never fails.

Why also do you think the Bible says so much about the fact that God is our Creator, that He is active in our lives from the very moment of conception, that He has gifted us, that He has plans for us, and that He desires to use us in various ministries, if it is not to give us a basic sense of significance? All of that is made perfectly clear in the Bible before it ever tells the wife to respect her husband or for the husband to love his wife or for children to obey their parents or forefathers to nurture their children.

Let me turn your attention, if I may, to several passages of Scripture which speak of God as the principal source of security and significance for all of His children–married and unmarried alike. First, let’s look at some passages that tell us that our security is in the Lord because He loves us unconditionally.

(Deu 33:27 NIV) “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

(Psa 73:2526, 28 b,c) “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. {26} My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. . . . I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”

(Psa 103:117 NIV) “Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. {2} Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits {3} who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, {4} who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, {5} who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. {6} The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. {7} He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: {8} The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. {9} He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; {10} he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. {11} For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; {12} as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. {13} As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; {14} for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. {15} As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; {16} the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. {17} But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.”

(John 10:2730 NIV) “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. {28} I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. {29} My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all ; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. {30} I and the Father are one.”

(Rom 5:68 NIV) “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. {7} Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. {8} But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

(Rom 8:1 NIV) “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (3139 NIV) What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? {32} He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? {33} Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. {34} Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died more than that, who was raised to life is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. {35} Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? {36} As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ {37} No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. {38} For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, {39} neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Can you imagine anything God could possibly say beyond what these passages say that would better communicate His unconditional love and, therefore, our security? He loves you right now as much as He possibly could. He would not love you one whit more if you were absolutely perfect. He would not love you one whit less if you were to turn your back on Him and deny Him as Peter did.

Do you find that hard to believe? No doubt many of you do, because you have been brought up to believe that God is a kind of celestial cop hiding in the shadows of a side street, waiting anxiously to turn on his siren and flashing lights and zap you with a ticket when you run a red light. But that is not the view the Bible presents of God. Oh, it does teach us that behavior and attitudes do have consequences. If you reject God’s commandments and insist on following your own, there are natural consequences you will have to deal with. It is still true that “a man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” But one of the consequences of sowing to the sinful nature is not that God will love you any less. In fact, the argument is made in Hebrews 12 that if there were no consequences built into the universe, that would not be a sign of God’s love; it would be a sign that He lacked love, for “the Lord disciplines those he loves, and . . . if you are not disciplined, then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.”

Second, let’s look at a couple of passages which tell us that our significance is also in the Lord, and that He is the only dependable source to meet that need. By the way, much of modern culture is bent on denying the uniqueness and significance of man. The whole religion of organic evolution claims that we are different from animals only in degree, not in kind. Within the past two weeks I read of a new study purporting to demonstrate that animals have ethics, another weapon against the uniqueness of man. The animal rights movement is screaming loudly that there is no unique significance to mankind. But listen to what God says:

(Gen 1:2627 NIV) “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ {27} So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. . . . God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”

(Psa 139:16 NIV) “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. {2} You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. {3} You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. {4} Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. {5} You hem me in behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. {6} Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. (1316) For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. {14} I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. {15} My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, {16} your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

(Rom 12:46) “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, {5} so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. {6} We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”

The truth that comes across to me through these passages is that we have been created, molded, gifted, and showered with God’s grace. We are, in effect, ambassadors for Christ. If President Clinton were to appoint you as an ambassador to a foreign country, you would be greatly honored–even if it were a small and insignificant country. The honor comes not so much from the country you would go to as from the country you would represent. But how much more honor is there to be appointed an ambassador for Christ?

So I am unconditionally loved by God, and I have worth and value because He created me, gifted me, and called me to serve Him. Now, having established that we must look to God, rather than to someone else for our security and significance, consider with me the impact such an understanding can have upon a Christian marriage. If I know I am secure and significant already, whether or not I happen to feel it at any given moment, if I know it, then I am free to minister to my spouse without building up walls of protection to avoid being hurt. Nothing my spouse can do or say can destroy my security or my sense of significance.

Oh, my spouse can hurt me and hurt me badly, but he or she cannot destroy me, because the foundation of my security and significance are not in my spouse. Furthermore, realizing that God is the ultimate source of my wife’s security and significance takes a lot of pressure off of me, because frankly I’m not up to the assignment of providing all the emotional support she needs, nor can she for me. However, while the pressure is lessened, the responsibility for me to love her and respect her and for her to love me and respect me is not removed, for Ephesians 5 is still there. Next Lord’s Day we will try to take a fresh look at those commands for husbands and wives.

Now there is a danger in this approach I have shared this morning. And the principal danger is that we will become self-sufficient and conclude that we don’t need our spouse or anyone else. We can say, “Since Christ is all I need, I can withdraw from you emotionally.” That is why it is so important to realize that although it is true that our basic needs for security and significance are met in God and in Jesus Christ, it is also true that the Lord normally uses husbands and wives as His principal instruments to develop within each other a conscious awareness of unconditional love and personal worth. While marriage partners cannot add to the fact of one another’s security and significance, they can certainly contribute to feelings of security and significance.

One way to put it is that God intends for us as spouses to be reinforcers of the security and significance that He provides. And that brings us to our third major point:

The most basic responsibility in Christian marriage is for spouses to become reinforcers rather than contradictors of the security and significance that comes from God.

Unfortunately, many Christians are not reinforcers but rather living contradictions, so much so that some wives are saying, “If Christ loved the Church like my husband loves me, I think the church is a lost cause.” And some husbands are saying, “If this is all the respect I get from my wife, then I’m no longer responsible to love her.” And some children are saying, “If my father is a picture of the Fatherhood of God, then I can’t put much faith in God.”

Ephesians 5, the principal passage on the subject, says that I am called to minister to my spouse by modeling God’s concern for my partner’s deepest needs, rather than manipulating my spouse to meet my own deepest needs. It is intimated in this passage that a husband’s greatest need is for respect and the wife’s greatest need is for love. Those are not the only needs we have, but the wife who is not reinforcing the value God places upon her husband and the husband who is not reinforcing God’s unconditional love for his wife are not fulfilling even the most basic responsibilities of marriage.

I firmly believe, though I don’t always act like it, that preoccupation with my wife’s needs will ultimately lead to a fuller meeting of my own needs, if for no other reason than that kindnesses persisted in are generally eventually reciprocated. But God makes no specific promises in that regard, and I repeat that even if my partner never did reciprocate, I am still under the requirement of God’s Word to reinforce God’s ministry of security and significance in the life of my spouse.

Perhaps you are thinking by this time, “I know what the Bible teaches, but when I never get any reinforcement at home, I just don’t feel unconditionally loved or valuable.” Well, what do you do if you wake up some morning and don’t feel saved? Do you conclude that you lost your salvation during the night? Most of us would go back to the Word of God where the matter of our salvation is made perfectly clear, and where we are told that our salvation doesn’t depend upon us, but rather upon God. And we accept that truth by faith, even if it doesn’t feel right.

The same must be done in regard to this matter of security and significance. If you don’t feel secure or significant, you go back to the Word of God which says in no uncertain terms that God loves you unconditionally and that He created you in His own image. Therefore, you are secure and significant whether you feel like it or not. And you move ahead on the basis of what you know to be true. And when Satan tells you nobody loves you and you’re worthless, you call him a Liar.

I have not tried to solve specific marriage difficulties today. Rather what I have tried to do is to lay a foundation for meaningful progress in godly living in the home. If Ephesians 5, our text for next Sunday, is going to become the rule rather than the exception in our homes, I believe it is essential that we start where the Scriptures start–by finding our needs met by our heavenly Father, and then from that firm foundation reach out in agape love to minister to the needs of our spouses, our children, and those around us.

Let me summarize my sermon with a sentence, albeit a long one: “Christ is all I need for security and significance; therefore I don’t need to depend on my spouse to meet my needs, and I can freely devote my life to sacrificial ministry to my partner, believing that the Lord will replenish my resources when they run dry.”

There is a concluding observation I would like to make. No one can find security and significance in God unless he becomes a part of God’s spiritual family. You’re a part of His physical family by reason of birth; you become a member of His spiritual family by the new birth. Jesus Himself said, “Except a man be born again, or born from above, He cannot see the Kingdom of God.” The new birth is by faith in Jesus Christ.

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