Marriage in the Lord (Colossians Sermon 16 of 21)
January 13, 2008 | Andrew Davis
Holiness, Man as Male and Female, Marriage and Parenting
So we come in Colossians to Colossians 3:18-19, Paul's discussion, brief here in Colossians, on marriage, more extended in Ephesians. But I was meditating all week on marriage. I had actually been meditating on marriage a lot since May 14th, 1988, and I continue to meditate on marriage, continue to try to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling,” and to continue to grow as a husband. But I've been thinking much about marriage this week, in preparation for this sermon, and thinking what a magnificent thing must marriage be, and that, in some ways, it is both the Alpha and the Omega of human history. It was the first human institution established in the garden, before any parent-child relationship, before a friend to friend, before a brother to sister, brother to brother, sister to sister, before citizen to government, before even church member to church. There was a marriage at the very, very beginning, a man and a woman together as husband and wife. And what a magnificent thing must marriage be, in that it is said to be, in some mysterious sense, the consummation of all human history as well. When Christ, at last, will be perfectly, mysteriously united to His bride, the Church, described in Revelation 21-22, the perfect union of God and man, a picture of Christ and His bride united, and into a marriage that will last for all eternity. The true nature of which we can only speculate about, we can only wonder about, but we know that oneness will be at the center of it. And so, what a magnificent thing is marriage, and therefore, what a target it must be for Satan, and has been from the beginning.
In between that Alpha and the Omega are all kinds of other letters in the alphabet of human history, and many of them have been letters of woe, and distress, and difficulty. And just because we think, as modern people, we are going through things that no one has gone through before, we should realize that when it comes to marriage, every generation has struggled. Every single one has fought and struggled to understand marriage, and to do it, especially in our sinful context, to do it to the glory of God. But I would say this, that no generation in history has had such confusion about what marriage really is as our present generation. I will not defile this pulpit by describing the varying and ever expanding definitions of marriage that are floating through our culture today. It's really quite shocking. I, myself, shocked by it.
And so, I thought, as we Christians try to face our post-modern culture, and try to explain what marriage is, we cannot do it apart from the Bible. I defy you to try to do it in any way that it will last, apart from the Scripture. We must say, from the Bible, what marriage is, what it's meant to be, and from no other place. But that's too “out there”, that's too “apologetics”, and too “defense-oriented”. Right here in our midst, we need to go back to the Bible ourselves, don't we? And find out what marriage is all about, not just so we can defend it in an ever confused surrounding pagan culture, not just for that reason, but so that we can glorify God in our own marriages, so that our children can glorify God in their marriages, for generations to come, so that God may be honored.
And so, I think we have to go back to the Scriptures, and as I was thinking about that, I was brought to a passage in which Jesus is dealing with the question of divorce, and divorces plagued marriage all along, since sin entered the world. But Jesus crossed into the region of Herod, and His enemies, the Pharisees, came trying to get Him in trouble, as I read between the lines. They figured it worked for John the Baptist, getting him killed. He was beheaded because of this, because Herod had taken his brother's wife. "Maybe we can trap Jesus on this question of divorce and remarriage." And so, they came to Him, and said, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" Jesus wasn't afraid to tell the truth. He wasn't afraid He was going to be beheaded by Herod. He knew very well how He was going to die and He was never afraid to tell the truth.
Haven’t You Read That At the Beginning… ?
And so, He answers this query. He says, "Haven't you read, that at the beginning, the Creator made them male and female?" And said, "For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother, and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh, so they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate." Now, there's a lot of things fascinating in Jesus' answer, but for me, just as a preacher this morning and as a man involved in a marriage, Jesus' methodology is the key for me. He says, "Haven't you read, that at the beginning," in effect, if I were to go to Jesus today and I would say, "Lord, please teach me what it means to be a godly husband. Please show me what marriage really is, what it's meant to be. What am I to be? What am I to do?" And if any one of you, sisters in Christ, were to go to Him, and ask Him, "How can I be a godly wife? What is marriage? What am I to be? What am I to do?" He's going to say the same thing to you, that He said to His enemies, "Haven't you read, that at the beginning,". He's going to bring you back to Genesis, to where it was all established.
God’s Original Purpose for Marriage: His Glory
I would like to actually ask you to turn to Genesis 1, to get the context for Paul's brief statements on marriage here in Colossians 3, and here, we are going to learn some basic things about marriage. These are the kinds of things you would go through, if you went to a marriage seminar, but I am thinking, "We can do it right here in the local church, why not?" Let's go back to the beginning and find out what marriage was meant to be. And in Genesis 1:27-28, to begin, to find out God's original purpose for the marriage. What was His purpose? And it says, "God created man in His own image. In the image of God, male and female, He created them. God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the Earth and subdue it, rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, and over every living creature that moves on the ground.' " Therefore, what was God's purpose in establishing marriage at the very beginning? I say it was for the propagation of His own image. I would say it's for the spread and display of His own glory. God does all things for His own glory, and He had made a beautiful world filled richly with all of His creative glory, displaying His powers in visible attributes throughout the created realm.
But then He creates a special creation, man in His image, male and female, created in His image, and they were to fill the globe with His image. Therefore, God created marriage for the display of His own glory. But more than that, God's intention was to fill the world, not only with His own glory, but with the knowledge of His glory. In Habakkuk 2:14, the verse that's over that beautiful map right out here, Habakkuk 2:14 says, "For the Earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." So God didn't only just weave His glory throughout the physical creation, He wanted human beings there to know about it, that we would see His glory and think about Him, the Creator. And that we would give Him the honor, and the praise, and the glory that's due Him for all that He's made. "When I consider the Heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have made." We are going to consider the physical creation and give God the glory. That is why He made marriage. The human race, created in His image, we are to populate the planet, fill the Earth, and subdue it. From marriage, would come the children, who would grow up and do that weighty task of feeling the weight of the glory of God, and creation, and give Him the praise, and the glory, and honor. God ordained it from marriage.
Secondly, we had Adam alone. God established order in marriage. In Genesis 2, we get more detail about the male-female relationship, how they would fill the Earth, how they would subdue it and rule over it. They're not contradictory. It's just more detail, just like you get a big map of a state, let's say, and then a blow-up of a city like Raleigh, or Durham, or Charlotte, a blow-up. You get more detail here in Genesis 2, not contradictory. And so Genesis 2 gives us the detail, that there was a time that Adam was alone, that “God created Adam out of the dust of the Earth, and He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and Adam became a living being.” And he was alone, he's the only human being there was. We know that, because later in the chapter, it says, "It is not good for the man to be alone." There was a time that Adam was alone, so God set up an order, and from this, comes the headship that Paul talks about in Ephesians 5, the leadership of Adam over the whole human race, that he talks about in Romans 5, it's that Adam came first, he was alone. He took a primacy in the order of the human race and within the marriage, as well, both.
He is our representative at the garden. He is also the head in the marriage and that's established by the fact that he was created first, there was a time that he was alone. But it's also clear that that could not continue, that God, in His wisdom, was not going to keep creating people out of the dust of the Earth, though He could do it. It was not His plan to do that, to just keep popping up sons of Abraham out of the stones. He could do it, but instead, He had ordained marriage. And so, He said, "It is not good for the man to be alone." But before He creates a wife, He establishes Adam's purpose. Now, one of the most important verses in the whole Bible, I tell you this, I think about this verse, literally, everyday. Any of you who have gone through premarital counseling with me, you've learned about this verse, and it's in chapter 2 verse 15. Now, you may say, "There's nothing in that verse about marriage," and directly, in some sense, there is not. But coupled with the understanding, and the insights that Ephesians 5 have given me, about what I'm supposed to be as a husband and a father, I learn more about Genesis 2:15. Now, what does Genesis 2:15 say? Well, in the NIV, it says, "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden, to work it and take care of it." Now, you may say, "That has nothing to do with marriage." And I say to you, "You're right, in one sense, directly." But the simple understanding of the verse, is that the Garden of Eden needed Adam's ministrations, needed something from Adam, that the garden was created, in some sense, needy, dependent on Adam and his work.
But the Hebrew verbs are what are compelling for me here. It says in the NIV, "To work it and take care of it." The first Hebrew word, 'work,' is usually translated 'serve.' It's used, again and again, in Genesis, either in its noun or its verb form, for 'serve like a servant,' even a slave. In effect, it means to put your own service, your own labor, at the disposal of another, not that they would rule, but that they would receive benefit. Now, don't misunderstand. It is possible to be a king while serving those that you rule over. Jesus proved that when He washed His disciples’ feet. He said, "You call me teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am, but I have served you, I have washed your feet." And so there's nothing strange about the fact that Adam's called to serve the ground, that he's called to minister to it. Now, in what sense does he serve the ground? Well, we learned from the first few verses of Chapter 2:4-5, that God created a certain species of plants, that had not yet grown up on the ground, because there was no man to work it. In other words, He created certain seeds that needed human cultivation. He had to have a farmer. For example, corn is never found in the wild, you will never find it in the wild, it's a cultivated crop, and there are many other such cultivated crops.
Now, the genetic order for these things, the seeds, have been made back in Genesis 1:11-12, "Then God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation, seed-bearing plants and trees in the land, that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.' And it was so." So here are these seeds, let's say, the seed of corn, to the genetic pattern, have been made by the only who could make it, God. God created it that way, but it needed a man to serve it, to enable that seed to reach its full potential. A full harvest to the glory of God.
Now, what in the world does that have to do with marriage? Well, I think it has everything to do with marriage. A husband is, in the same way, to serve his wife, and enable her to reach her full potential in Christ. This is the kind of language used in Ephesians 5, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself up for her, to make her holy. Cleansing her by the washing, with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church without stain, or wrinkle, or any other such blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies." Paul says in Corinthians, about his preaching ministry, 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, he says, speaking of that Corinthian church and his ministry to them in the Word, he said, "I promised you to another husband, to present you as a holy virgin to Him." In effect, every husband, every Christian husband, ought to see his role as getting his wife ready for her true wedding day, the day in which she will be perfectly united with Christ. And that's going to take prayer, it's going to take the ministry of the Word, it's going to take all kinds of servant ministries, like Christ does to the church. To serve, therefore.
What about the second verb in Genesis 2:15? It says, "To take care of the garden." Again, I think a better translation could come from knowing how this word is used in the rest of the Bible. It usually means to guard or protect from danger or harm, to protect. For example, in Psalm 121: 4, and 7-8, it says, "The Lord will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord will keep you," same Hebrew word, "The Lord will keep you from all harm. He will watch over your life. The Lord will watch over your coming and going, both now and forever." You get the sense of a guardian standing on the wall, protecting a sleeping city from an encroaching army that could come. He's watching. He's keeping watch over that city, protecting it from an army. Adam was to have been that for the Garden of Eden. He was to stand guard and protect it from encroaching evil. Now, you might say, "What evil? What evil could come? God said everything was good." Well, I think by now, Satan has fallen, his demons have fallen into rebellion. They have been cast to the Earth, and very soon, they're coming. He's coming. Satan is coming, the very next chapter.
And what then was Adam's role? It was to protect the Garden of Eden from the encroaching damage that would come. And how much damage has come? Well, let's just speak about nature, "Nature has been subjected into futility. It's in a cycle of decay and wretchedness, until at last, brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." Romans 8, "The garden was destroyed, because of Adam's sin." But again, you might say, "What does this have to do with marriage?" Well, could it be that God really cares more about the garden, than He cares about Adam's wife? Impossible. And so, he was to have protected his wife, as well. And therefore, I tell you, that I believe the first sin was not Eve eating from the fruit, oh, no. The first sin was not a sin of commission, something that was done. I believe the first sin was something that was not done. He did not do this. He did not protect the garden. He did not protect his wife. Adam stood by, while the serpent messed with his wife, and said nothing. He failed to protect.
Today, you have husbands fitting into two different patterns, simple patterns, generally: The tyrant, dictator type, the abuser type, beat up on his wife physically, emotionally, verbally. We can get that, but more frequent, especially in the churches, "The passive male syndrome," some have called it. The man just stands back, and fails to do all that God wants him to do, or specifically, in the area of Genesis 2:15, he fails to serve her, and he fails to protect her. And the same thing with his children, he fails to serve them, and protect them. He's just passive. He's just like a cork bobbing along on the river and he doesn't do much. He's just passive. That is sin, brothers and sisters. It is sin and I believe it's the first sin, "She gave some of the fruit to her husband, who was with her." Why did Moses tell us that? Why did God say, "He was with her?" 'Cause he wasn't doing anything. He was just there saying nothing. He should have. And so, from Genesis 2:15, I get an idea of what I'm supposed to be, as a husband, a father. I never forget it. From the first day that God showed me that, in doing this Word study, from then on, I say, "My job, every day, as a husband and a father, is to serve and protect my wife and my children, every day."
Adam Alone: The Headship of Adam
But what's the wife to be? Well, that's also in Genesis 2. In Genesis 2:18, I already alluded to it, God said, "It's not good for the man to be alone. I'll make a helper suitable for him." Now, realize Adam's aloneness is more alone than any bachelor has ever been since then, okay? He was alone. He was alone, just like Noah's family was alone when they stepped off the Ark. They were alone. I mean, he was alone. There was no other human being on the face of the Earth. Therefore, it's fine to be single. Some people are called to be single. We are not alone like Adam was alone. I'm not saying it's wrong to quote this at weddings. It's good to quote it, I think. We need to go back to the beginning. But Jesus never had an earthly wife, and many others, godly men and women, will never find an earthly spouse. It's given them to be single and to serve the Lord.
But Adam was alone, alone, completely alone. And therefore, he could not, by himself, fill the Earth, and subdue it, and rule over it. Impossible, he had to have a wife. And so, God says, "I will make a helper suitable for him." The KJV says, famously, "A 'help-meet' for him." Many of us don't know what the 'meet' means there, but it just means suitable or a portion for him, proportional to him. That's what the word means: A helper, someone who's come alongside to help. This is in no way demeaning the help given, because the Lord is said to be the helper of Israel. There's nothing wrong with helping, helping is a good thing, any more than there's something wrong with serving. But she was brought in to help him fulfill his functions on the Earth, "And therefore, God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and made from his rib a woman, his wife, his partner, his helper suitable for him." And thus, a wife finds a role in helping her husband fulfill God's call in his life. First Corinthians 11:8-9, says, "For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man." There was a purpose to her, and her purpose was to be, for him, a helper, suitable. In other words, the headship of the husband and the submission of the wife find their roots in the way it was from the beginning. That's why God's given us this account, so we can go back to the beginning, as Jesus would have us do, and read there how we are to be.
Finally, we get the summary statement, the beautiful summary statement of what a marriage is, in Genesis 2:24, "For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother, and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This statement is given four times in the Bible: Once, before sin entered the world, here in Genesis 2, and then three times in the New Testament, after sin entered the world. This is, therefore, a lasting blueprint for marriage, the idea of the two becoming one flesh. Obviously, they become one flesh in the marital union, the sexual union that produces children, that will enable Adam to fulfill his role, to fill the Earth and subdue it, definitely. But I think we sense that the oneness is deeper than that, ultimately, deeper than that. And as Paul says in Ephesians 5, "A profound mystery," talking about Christ and the church, The unity between Christ and the church.
That's a general survey of Genesis 1 and 2. Go back there in your Bibles, if you would, Colossians 3. We come in context. Verses 18-19 are given at the end of 17 verses of instruction about daily Christian living. There's a context here. And frankly, I think we ought to see it in context, "If a husband will set his heart on things above, not on earthly things, if he will put sin to death by the power of the Spirit every day, mortify the deeds of the flesh, if he will clothe himself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, and if he will let the peace of Christ rule in his heart, if he will let the Word of Christ dwell richly in his heart, if he will sing psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, and if he will be filled with gratitude to Christ, and if whatever he does, whether in word or deed, he does it all to the glory of God in the name of Christ, then he will be able to love his wife," as Paul commands and as Christ intends here.
"And the wife, if she will set her heart on things above, and if she will put sin to death by the power of the Spirit, and if she will clothe herself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, and if she will let the peace of Christ rule in her heart, and if she will let the Word of Christ dwell richly in her heart, and if she will be filled with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, and if she will be filled with gratitude, and if whatever she does every day, she does it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father, through Him, then she will be able, gladly, to submit to her husband." If there's a flow, a context here in Colossians, not just Genesis, of what marriage generally was supposed to be, but specifically now, what marriage is supposed to be in the Lord, in the Lord. And the implication I get, is that Christians should have better marriages than non-Christians. They should have better marriages than non-Christians. Does not that stand to reason? That we are more able to overcome the ravages of sin, we are more able to overcome selfishness and conflicts, we are more able to be truly one, because we have the Spirit in our lives. And so, therefore, we are talking in the Lord. There's a new relationship here with God, and therefore, with each other. Vertically with God, horizontally with each other, marriage in the Lord.
It reminds me of the new command that Jesus gave us the night before He died, "A new command, I give you: Love one another." And you think, "Wait a minute, is that a new command? I thought that was the summary of the Old Testament. Remember, 'Love God and love your neighbors?' Is love a new command?" Well, listen to what He says though, "A new command, I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." Now, that is new. Jesus, the Son of God, entered the world, and He gave us a whole new pattern of love, right up to the cross, to His death on the cross. And He gave us a whole new power for love, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our newly made hearts. And He gave us a whole new purpose of love, to build His Kingdom, to the glory of God, for all eternity. Love has been made new by Jesus, so also has marriage been made new. There's a whole new pattern here.
Now, we're going to talk, in a moment, about the submission of the wife to the husband, but I say that both of these commands are done in the context of submission, the greater submission of the believer to Christ. Both husband and wife must submit to the lordship of King Jesus, in order to fulfill these commands. We need to not look at the Apostle Paul and say, "He was a chauvinist," or, "He was a Jew bound by a time when... " Look beyond Paul and say, "Jesus is telling me to do something here. Jesus is commanding me." A wife would say, "Jesus is commanding me to submit to my husband." "Jesus is commanding me to love my wife and not be harsh with her." To look beyond, and therefore, the key issue is submission to Christ and to His Word.
Marriage “In the Lord”
“In the Lord”: A New Realm for Order and Blessing
Let's look, specifically, at Verse 18, his command to the wife, "Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord." The basic command here is, "Submit." The Greek word is 'hupotasso.' I usually don't pronounce Greek words here, but it's important, because the word has undergone some interesting interpretations in work, recently. I think the best commentary on Colossians 3:18 has got to be Ephesians 5. I'm always asked, "What's a good commentary on Colossians?" I think Ephesians Five is a very good commentary on this. So we just go over to Ephesians 5. You don't have to turn there, but just listen, they're familiar verses, "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." An analogy is set up: As the husband is to the wife, so Christ is to the church, or really vice versa, as Christ is to the church, so the husband is to the wife. That gives us some understanding of what the word 'submit' may mean. We'll get back to it in a moment.
But the reason given here is so beautiful, because it's fitting in the Lord, "Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord." In other words, "It's appropriate." It's appropriate for a woman who professes to be a follower of Christ, to submit to her own husband. Titus 2 says, "It's in accord with sound doctrine." This is consistent with sound doctrine. Titus 2:1, "The elder must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine." And then in 2:5, he says, "The older women should teach the younger women to submit to their own husbands, so that no one will malign the Word of God," so it's consistent with right doctrine.
Recently, I was reading a book on manners, that my wife had bought. I'm not sure why she bought it. She didn't say, "Here, you need to read this." It wasn't like that. It was just sitting on a shelf, and I was just interested in finding about different manners, like if you meet the Queen of England, or if you get invited to a presidential banquet, or anything like that. I don't know that any of that's going to happen, but I think I could always use to improve my manners. I started thinking about this whole idea of something that is fitting. It means it's consistent with good manners, it fits the occasion, it fits what is right or appropriate. Now, America, more than any culture I've ever seen, is a very informal culture, very informal. I lived in Japan for two years, that's a very formal culture. Americans actually pride themselves on informality, but we still have formal moments. A wedding, for example, is a formal moment. I have presided over lots of weddings in this church and it's been a delight to see it, but I started thinking about what was fitting and what was not. Imagine, if you had the groomsmen coming down, wrestling, and fighting, and racing for who gets the best spot here.
Instead of standing on the pieces of tape that were lined up for them at the rehearsal dinner the night before, instead they are fighting, and the biggest guy gets up here. Now, probably, his tux is torn at this point, but he has got the best spot. And then, imagine, even worse, the bridesmaids doing the same thing. How unseemly would that be? It is just not fitting. It is not appropriate. I don't know if I mentioned this before, but imagine, if at a key moment in the ceremony, some Christian man or woman just wants to bless the couple, and stands up, and says, "Can I say something? Just a minute, would it be alright?" "No," but nobody wants to say that. "I would like to just pray a blessing on this couple. Can I do that?" "No! Sit down." "There will be time for that, but it's not now. It's not fitting. It's not in accord with decorum here. There is an order to things and that order's beautiful. Why would you disrupt it?" Or suppose at the wedding banquet later on, you stirred your coffee with your finger, Or you reached across the table and grabbed some stranger's dessert, because it looked better than the one that was assigned to you. That would not be fitting. It would be out of order. Now, these things are light-hearted, but it is out of order for a woman not to submit to her husband. There's a beautiful order that God has set up. It's an order that is attractive, and sweet, and produces good fruit.
Universal Submission… of Christians to the Lord
Now, a concept has come along recently, 'mutual submission.' I've read about this, interesting. Some people say, "It's right in the Bible. It's in Ephesians 5:21, 'Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.' Well, there it is." Well, the problem is, people don't read it in context and they don't understand what the word means. People who teach that there are no gender-based roles in marriage, or in the church, or whatever, point to this verse as a key verse, and they say it teaches what they call 'mutual submission.' But they have to redefine the word 'hupotasso,' that Greek word, redefine it to mean act in love toward one another. Now, should Christians act in love toward one another? Absolutely. Should Christians serve one another? Absolutely. Should all Christians submit to one another? No, it doesn't make any sense. It's not what the word means.
This is how the word is used in the New Testament; these are all the categories of uses: Jesus was subject to the authority of His parents. Demons were subject to the authority of the disciples. Citizens were subject to the authority of the government. The universe was subject to the authority of Christ. Unseen spiritual powers also subject to the authority of Christ. Christ is subject to the authority of His Heavenly Father. Church members are to be subject to the authority of church leaders. Wives are to be subject to their husbands. The church is to be subject to Christ, servants subject to their masters, children subject to their parents, Christians subject to God. Now, the key thing is those relationships are never reversed, never. There's not a single example of disciples subjected to the authority of demons, not a single example of governments subject to the authority of citizens. They are never reversed. That's because that's not what the word means. It means to accept an order that God set up, God-ordained order.
To the Wife: Submit to Your Husband (vs. 18)
The Basic Command: Submit
Now, people who struggle with this, I think struggle, because they don't understand how it's to be lived out, and it's been lived out poorly. Let's talk about what submission does not mean and what it does mean. First of all, it does not, in any way, mean that women are inferior to men. The proof of that, to me, and the strongest, is in Luke 2:51. There it says that, "Jesus was subject to His own parents when He was a boy." Why was He subject to His parents? Because that's the will of God. It's got to do with the Ten Commandments. Children are to honor their parents, their father and mother, and Jesus did that. Therefore, when it comes to marriage, it does not mean, in any way, shape, or form, that husbands are wiser, or better leaders, or more articulate, or better in a crisis, or any other reason that you can give. It's just because that's the order that God set up. Secondly, it does not mean, in any way, that God loves men more than women, any more then it means that He loved Joseph and Mary more than He loved Jesus. That does not follow. And it does not mean that a husband's authority is greater than the Lord's, because it says, "Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord," implying that there are some things that would not be fitting in the Lord.
For example, a non-Christian husband might command his Christian wife to not go to church, or to follow Jesus, and she can't follow that, because all authority derives from the throne above, from Christ's throne. And therefore, His authority is over all. It certainly does not mean that men can dominate their wives in tyrannical ways. Absolutely not. And it does not mean that a wife does not have a significant role to play in her husband's decisions, and in the running of the home. A godly husband will actually seek advice from his godly wife first, above any other human source. It says in Proverbs 31:11, "The heart of her husband trusts in her and he will have no lack of gain." He trusts in her. He wants good advice. She knows him better than anyone else. She's got a pure motive, namely, to see him succeed in his life calling. He's going to go to her, again and again.
What Submission is Not and What It Is
What is it? What does submission mean? Well, Wayne Mack, in his book, "Strengthening Your Marriage," gives some good insights and guidelines here, I think. Scripture indicates that it is the wife's responsibility to make herself submissive to her husband. It is not the husband's job, however he could do this, I don't know, to compel her to be submissive to him. It's her job to obey this. Scripture also indicates that the wife's submission is to be continuous, a pattern of lifestyle, not an occasional foray into submission. It's, "Wives are to submit in everything," Ephesians 5:24. Wifely submission is mandatory, not optional. As I said, it just has to do with the relationship between you and Christ. You have to believe, is Christ commanding me to do this? Is this a command from Christ? Therefore, her submission is really not based, at any given moment, on the way her husband is treating her. Some will say, "Well, if the husband loves her, as Christ loves the church, then she will have an easier time of submitting." Absolutely true, but she's no less required to do it, if he's not. It's really between her and Christ. She's submitting to the position that's set up.
And it is not conditioned by her husband's abilities, talents, wisdom, education, or spiritual state, even. It's got to do with the role that they took on as husband and wife. "Wifely submission is a spiritual state. It's to be done in the Lord, performed only by the power of the Holy Spirit," just like the husband's love for his wife can only be done, really, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Submission is positive and not a negative concept. Imagine that Satan wants to sell you a bill of goods on this one. But the fact of the matter is, it is positive. Bill Gothard gives this definition, "Submission is the freedom to be creative under divinely appointed authority." "The freedom to be creative under divinely appointed authority." Therefore, the wife puts all of her considerable talents, wisdom, abilities, gifts, and resources, and energy at the husband's disposal. She then, as a team with her husband, are working together, but, he, the leader of the team, as the Lord leads him, she follows his leadership, and that's how it works.
She has ideas, she has opinions, she has requests, desires, and insights, and she lovingly makes them known. She's not an individual going her own separate way, making her own way in the world, but she's a team member with her husband, and he, the leader. Submission also involves the wife's attitudes, as well as her actions. She should be cheerful in her role, not grudging, just as Jesus was cheerfully submitting to His Father's commands. He said, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and finish His work." You need to drink in the concept that Jesus' commands are not burdensome, but rather a delight. Proverbs 31:13 says that, "She does her work with delight, as a delight in this." Ephesians 5:33, also speaking to the heart, says that, "She must see to it that she respects her husband." I think, at the end, there's a summary in Ephesians 5 that is so appropriate, "The wife must see to it that she respects her husband and the husband must love his wife."
Practical Advice for Wives
I think each of those commands are given appropriately. Women, generally, wives, generally, tend to be more sacrificial in giving, cheerfully giving to their husbands, than the husband is toward the wife, and that's the essence of love, isn't it? The husband needs to be commanded to love his wife. What a man tends to do, is once he has married a woman, he tends to cease courting her, to cease romancing her, and to cease loving her in some ways. But for the woman, the real struggle is to respect her husband. She sees his flaws, she sees him lead in ways that she would not follow. If she could do it, she would do it better, etcetera. It's a real struggle for her, therefore, to continue to honor and respect her husband. This is not to be done in fear. It is not to be done thinking, "The family will fall apart, if I don't hold on with white knuckles to this thing." It may need to fall apart for a little while, 'til the husband steps up and says, "That's my responsibility. I need to do this."
And it is not to be done in manipulation. My wife and I saw this movie, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," interesting, and I think the father was leading, perhaps, even maybe, in some ways, dominating. I don't know if it was a Christian home, maybe it was. I don't know, that wasn't the point of the movie, but she needed to ask her father's permission for something, I think, to marry this man, and she goes to her mother, and the mother says, "Yes, he's the head, but I am the neck." "And I can turn the head any way I choose." Well, does a woman have that talent? Oh, yes, and more and more, as time goes on. I bet you think I'm saying this, 'cause Christie's not here today. Actually, Daphne's sick., but she said she would get the tape and listen to it, so I need to be careful what I say.
Let's be praying for Daphne. She's got a fever, have had for four or five days now, but at any rate, yeah, that's manipulation. She knows what levers to flip, what ways to manipulate. She knows what strengths and weaknesses, how he is like after a good meal, and how he's like before the good meal, etcetera. She knows the timing. Look, all that knowledge is a gift of God. Use it as God would have you, not for manipulation. A wife then looks at this and says, "Lord, search me, and know me, and see if there's anything offensive in me. Have I come up short in any way?"
To the Husband: Love Your Wife (vs. 19)
The Basic Command: Love
What about the husband? Well, it says, "Husbands, love your wives and don't be harsh with them." Again, the statement, very brief. Much more extensive statement in Ephesians, but I'm not preaching through Ephesians right now, just let me give you a brief summary, "The husband is to love his wife, as Christ loves the church," that's what Ephesians 5 says. And the principle is one of self-sacrifice, He laid down His life for the church. The practicalities of this are more than I can count. It literally is, every day, you wake up and say, "What can I do to bless my wife? How can I serve her? How can I help her make progress in her pilgrimage toward Christ-like maturity? What can I do for her? How can I pray? How can I teach? How can I lead? How can I serve? How can I be like Jesus for my wife?" It's as simple as coming home when you're tired, and not pursuing your own agenda, but rather saying, "What can I do to serve my wife? What can I do here to be a blessing to her?"
Delight in Sacrifice
But love goes beyond merely sacrifice, it must be cheerful sacrifice. No wife wants to be served by a sacrificial husband, who's gritting his teeth while doing it, miserable. That's no love at all. There needs to be joy in the relationship, there needs to be cherishing in the relationship, there needs to be delight in it. The wife has a precious gift from the Lord. And this love, this special precious love, must be expressed in words and affection that are unique to the relationship. Song of Solomon gives you some insights into this. Listen to this, Song of Solomon 4:1, "How beautiful you are, my darling, oh, how beautiful. Your eyes behind your veil are doves, your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead," try that one, husbands.
Go ahead and try it. I think you may actually get in trouble. Say, "My intention was pure." "You are saying my hair looks like goat hair?" Then, "That's not what I'm saying, it's just... Never mind." But what's the point? The point is you're speaking words to a wife, that only a husband can speak. If any other man were to speak like that to your wife, it would be inappropriate, to say the least, but for you not to say them is inappropriate, it is sinful. Why then do husbands stop courting their wives? Why do they stop loving them? Why do they stop expressing how beautiful they are? Do you know the word 'beautiful' appears 14 times in the book, Song of Solomon? There's no other book in the Bible, in which that word appears so frequently, and every time, it's applied to the wife, every time, most of the time spoken by the husband.
There is a unique love that a husband has for his wife. It's so clear, that an outside observer can tell right away. Remember when Isaac went to the land of the Philistines and said just what his father said, "She's my sister?" Well, in, all of a sudden, Genesis 26:8-9, "Abimelech the king looks down and sees Isaac caressing Rebekah," that's what it says, and he's like, "Okay, something's up here. She is most definitely your wife." Why? Because he was touching her in a way that was only appropriate for a husband with his wife.
And so, therefore, the love between the wife is precious, it's sacred, husband and wife, precious and sacred. It involves physical touch, it involves marital relations, what we call sex, sexual intercourse, it involves all of these things as holy, and beautiful, and good, within the context of marriage. And there is a delight in that relationship, that's what it means, "Husbands, love your wives." Now, negatively, it says, "Don't be harsh with them." The word means bitter; it's used of wormwood in the Book of Revelation, that comes, and poisons a third of the waters, and turns them bitter. And so, also, a marriage can be poisoned by bitterness, and I think there's two aspects to it: There's a heart attitude, and then there's a behavioral aspect. The heart attitude is one of unforgiveness. The wife has disrespected the husband, maybe withheld marital relations at some point, maybe said something that was unkind or cutting, maybe didn't support him in a decision he made, so he becomes bitter toward her. He doesn't forgive her, he doesn't love her the way he should.
Do Not Be Harsh
What ends up happening next then, is he begins to be harsh with her in behavior. He speaks harshly to her, he treats her harshly. It doesn't even have to be physical abuse, it's just mental and verbal psychological abuse. He is just unkind. Or it could be none of the above, but just the man is careless, careless. He said some things that are hurtful. He didn't mean to be hurtful, but he wasn't careful with how he was. Maybe he's very frustrated about some other thing, comes in, and she thinks that he's angry at her, but he's not, but he wasn't careful with her, and she's been damaged. Or in the context of a marital discussion, have you ever had any of those? Marital discussions, also known as conflicts or arguments. In that context, things can happen, and get said, and I guarantee that the husband forgets that stuff quicker than the wife does. It could be several weeks later, she's still dealing with some of the stuff that got communicated there. "Husbands, love your wives and don't be harsh with them." How then can we communicate love to our wives?
Practical Advice for Husbands
I love Gary Smalley's "Love Languages" and I'm not going to go through it in detail. Look on the internet, if you want to know more about this or get his book. He goes into great detail and makes it a whole system of relationship, that maybe, I'm not sure I'd buy everything there, but I think the details or the specifics are good. For example, words of affirmation. You can love your wife by speaking words of affirmation about the meal she cooks, about how she looks, about decisions she made, about the way she is with the children, about anything in her life. Be sure it's not flattery, but genuine praise and encouragement, words of affirmation. Quality time, and that's not while watching the NFL playoff game, "Come on in here and sit here, so I can get some quality time done while I watch the game. I'm going to multi-task." You cannot multitask quality time. You can actually even go out on a date, if you go to one of those places that has TVs all around, it's tough. Seriously, I literally will try to sit in a place where I can't see the TV, because my eye is drawn to the motion, and it's really hard for her to feel loved, if I'm watching the game while talking to her, even on a date. But quality time, where she knows that she is the most important thing to you. Giving gifts, finding something she likes. You're on a business trip, you're away for a day, just out for an afternoon of errands, you bring something back. Acts of service, doing something that will make her life easier. Rubbing her feet, her back, if it's sore, something, some act of service like Jesus would, washing His disciples feet. And physical touch, I don't just mean marital relations, but even just the holding of a hand, or a hug, something physical.
Now, what Smalley does, is he says, "You gotta find her love language and do that." I think, do all five of them, why not? Is there any law against it? Do one of each of them every day. And there's an inherent wisdom to a husband who will treat his wife this way. Now, I say that you can't do any of this, if you are not a Christian. The most important thing that could happen to you, is to come to faith in Christ. Perhaps, you came here today, and you are in a marriage, and neither one you are Christians, and you finally realized what the problem is. The problem is you haven't given your life to Christ. Jesus shed His blood on the cross, not just as a display to husbands how they should be toward their wives, but to forgive us of all of our sins. Come to Christ and trust in Him. And those of you who have already come to Christ, you have everything you need for a happy, healthy, fruitful marriage. Put it into practice. Close with me in prayer.