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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