In this third part of our series, I Do, we finally start getting practical. In the first part we defined marriage, and last week we talked about its purpose. That’s all good and important to know, but how do we actually get it right? Let’s talk about it starting with a special focus on what husbands need to do if our marriages are going to be what they can be.
Getting Things Right
We’ve talked about this a few times before and will talk about it again in the future, but one of the challenges of being a follower of Jesus committed to the idea that the Scriptures are right and true in everything they affirm is that there are some places that are downright hard to handle. The reasons for the difficulty are sometimes theological, but they are also scientific and cultural and social and relational and even just applicational. For example, the Law of Moses calls for the stoning of incorrigibly rebellious children and at the same time Jesus said that He came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. Unless we can successfully understand Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law to mean that we can disregard commands such as that one, other than a strong temptation on rough days—like, say, day four or five of being stranded inside with three increasingly wild boys…not that Lisa and I know anything about that—we need to get used to the idea of living in constant and open rebellion to the Law given by God to His people.
There are some verses, though, that don’t seem like such a big deal upon first read, but when you stop and really think about what the author is saying, you discover that this is probably a verse you just shouldn’t read anymore. In fact, it may not be a terrible idea to just cut it out of your Bible altogether because as long as it’s in there you might accidentally stumble across it and then you’ll have to actually deal with it and why risk something like that? You definitely shouldn’t do any Bible studies on these few verses. And attending a service where one of them might be the subject of the entire sermon is entirely out of the question. So then, let’s talk about what we’re doing this morning…oh that’s right: We’re going to jump right straight in the middle of one of the most dangerous of these passages and see what kind of sense we can make out of it. What could go wrong?
This morning we are in the third part of our series, I Do. The whole idea for this series is that way too many folks in our culture say, “I do,” at some point in their lives without really knowing what to do. One of the ways we can address this problem is by making sure people understand what exactly this thing called marriage is and what it’s for, what its purpose is. In the first couple of parts of this series that is just what we did. We discovered that marriage is a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman established by God in creation. Then last week we added to this by unpacking the most central purpose of marriage. There are several things that marriage is for, broadly speaking, including personal fulfillment and creating the best environment possible for the raising and rearing of children who will be a benefit to the world around them. But the most central purpose of marriage is to point people to Jesus. When we get marriage right, we are offering the world around us a clear picture of the relationship Jesus has with the church which will serve to naturally draw them to Him.
Still, though, while we’ve explored a bit of the practical implications of these ideas, our work so far as been pretty theory heavy. I’m going to try and change that this morning. Starting this morning and for the last three parts of the series, we’re going to get really practical and talk about some of the nuts and bolts of how to do marriage well. We’re going to do this by digging into a couple of ideas that are presented as pretty important in the Scriptures, but which are pretty hard to wrap our minds around when it comes to putting the rubber of marriage theory to the road of married life.
Let’s get into it this morning like this: When marriage challenges come, rarely are things the fault of just one partner. Most often both he and she are doing something or acting in a way that has caused a tension and neither wants to be the first to address it. Well, in all of the places in the Scriptures that offer wisdom on doing marriage well, there is one that has always stood out to me as particularly notable. This is not because the wisdom it offers is so much easier to grasp or apply than the rest, but rather because it is the most uncomfortable of the bunch. And I’m not talking about the stuff on submission—we’ll talk a lot more about that in a couple of weeks and specifically about why it’s not nearly as terrible an idea as it sounds through culturally-conditioned ears. I’m talking about a single verse that comes almost as an afterthought to some other marriage advice.
I don’t like it. This is one of those verses I’d just as soon not have in the Bible. It’s uncomfortable. I’d rather not deal with it at all. I’d certainly prefer not to be preaching a sermon about it. But…it’s there. And what’s more, there’s not an equivalent “other side” anywhere in Scriptures that I’ve found. And since for at least half the room this may be some of the hardest-to-swallow advice on doing marriage well that we’re going to look at in this series, I thought we’d go ahead and start with the vegetables first. Do I have you ready to hear what it is yet?
So where is this terrible…er…wonderful…er…a little of both passage? You can find it right smack dab in the middle of the apostle Peter’s first letter to the churches of Asia Minor—modern-day Turkey. If you will grab a nearby copy of the Scriptures, you can take a look at this with me. Let’s get a bit of a running start by picking up from 1 Peter 3:1.
“In the same way, wives…” Stop there just a minute. That phrase “in the same way,” kind of like the word “therefore,” is one of those transition phrases in Scripture that should be a gleaming signal for us to go back a bit and see what the author is explaining. It should make us stop and ask the question: “In the same way as what?” In this case, Peter’s entire letter is intended to give encouragement and advice to believers who were living in a culture that was pretty hostile to the Christian faith in order to help them stay on the path of life in spite of the persecution they were facing for it—sometimes even from friends and family. His advice, though, while consistent with the message of Christ, runs pretty counter to how most folks would think you should handle such a situation.
In this particular case, back in 2:13 he encouraged Jesus followers to practice a life of humble submission to those who are in authority over them. He started with a general statement in 2:13-17 before getting more specific in 2:18 by encouraging servants and slaves to “submit to your masters with all reverence not only to the good and gentle ones but also to the cruel.” The point is that just as Jesus humbly submitted Himself to the Jewish and Roman authorities who ultimately had Him tortured and violently, painfully put to death, we should follow suit by submitting ourselves to all those who are in authority over us regardless of whether or not we consider them especially worthy of our submission. As long as this is a reflection of our larger submission to Christ we’ll be in good hands and won’t lose ourselves along the way. Now, if we’re in a particularly terrible situation or one in which our lives are at risk this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and get out of it. But where that’s not an option, this is the route we should take.
When Peter says, “In the same way, wives,” this is what he has in mind. Now, the implication here is that a husband has authority over his wife which is a huge idea that we’ll come back to in just a minute. But for now, let’s keep reading: “In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live when they observe your pure, reverent lives. Don’t let your beauty consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and wearing gold jewelry, but rather what is inside the heart—the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For in the past, the holy women who put their hope in God also adorned themselves in this way, submitting to their own husbands, just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You have become her children when you do what is good and do not fear any intimidation.”
Now, there’s a ton of stuff here worthy of some time and attention…but we’re not going to get into nearly all of it this morning. That’ll have to be a bigger conversation for another time. Let’s do hit a couple of highlights. This passage is mostly addressed to women whose husbands aren’t Jesus followers or perhaps aren’t living out the Christian faith in any meaningful way. If you’re trying to get your husband to come around—and there’s no guarantee on that—a gentle approach is nearly always better than a harsh one (that same thing applies to wives whose husbands are Christians, by the way).
The section right there in the middle of the passage doesn’t mean women shouldn’t ever wear jewelry or fancy clothing—that would disqualify from faithfulness pretty much every woman in the room this morning—but rather that they should make sure their character is the most beautiful thing about them. The inside has a tendency to shine through on the outside regardless of what the outside happens to look like. There is a very great temptation for women today to focus solely on outward beauty at the expense of character and integrity. Social media has made this fixation worse. It’s as if being pretty makes up for being a jerk. In the long run it doesn’t. This is, by the way, a temptation that we guys make exponentially worse when we speak or act or even think in ways that objectify women (and Christian guys are unfortunately no exception to this). Finally, while Peter probably cites Sarah calling Abraham “lord” from an ancient book called the Testament of Abraham and not any specific place in Genesis, his point is to call women to consider her example of humble submission to her husband, as a function of her larger submission to God—even when he was making some truly boneheaded decisions—which resulted in an incredible legacy of faith that is still having an impact some 4,500 years later.
That all gets us through v. 6 and without too much of a problem. Then comes v. 7. Verse 7 starts out okay too. “Husbands, in the same way…” Let’s ask the question again: In the same way as what? Peter is placing this advice in the larger context of proper behavior toward those around us in light of our larger submission to Christ. So then, how are husbands supposed to behave toward their wives in light of our submission to Christ? “Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker partner, showing them honor as coheirs of the grace of life…”
So far so good, right? Maybe not. Let’s unpack this for a minute. We should live with our wives in an understanding way. Another way to put that is that we should treat them with consideration. Think for a minute about how many marriage problems could be avoided entirely if we just practiced that. Guys, think how much better our lives and marriages would be if we consistently went out of our way to get our minds wrapped around the nature of the pressures and expectations our wives face on a daily basis and took all of those into account in our words and actions toward them. Imagine if she knew not simply that you had her back, but that you had her heart in mind with every decision you made. You think that might affect how she responds to you? And don’t settle here for the cop-out “well woman are just a mystery” cliché either. Of course they are. But so are you to them, and the whole point is to dig in and make solving the mystery your aim because you can bet she’s trying to figure you out too.
Next, Peter says we should show honor to them “as with a weaker partner.” Now, that could certainly be understood as a kind of dig at women, but Peter is probably referring to women as being less physically strong than men which is simply a fact of biology. There’s no offense there. The bigger point, though, lies in the call for us to honor them. We should consider our wives to be a rare and fragile treasure of immense value.
What would you do if you were carrying something like that with you wherever you went? Let’s say you were tasked with carrying around the Hope Diamond, the second largest diamond in the world, for a week. How would you respond? You would make every decision with this priceless treasure in mind (okay, well, given that it is valued at $350 million, calling it priceless isn’t exactly accurate, but you get the point). You would go out of your way to highlight and celebrate it. You would use extra caution and concern to protect it. You would also, though, show it off to everyone you knew. You would boast about how amazing it is. You would talk about it all the time.
Come on, guys: What if we treated our wives this way? And I don’t at all mean patronizingly handling them with kid-gloves. They don’t need that. They are strong and resilient in ways that should leave us marveling. I mean really and truly treating them like a treasure we are proud of calling ours. What would that look like? What would it do for our relationships? What kind of a legacy would we be leaving for our kids to follow? Our sons would better understand how to treat women, which will make their future fathers-in-law happy, and our daughters would better understand the kinds of expectations they can and should have for how a future husband should treat them which will ultimately make us really happy. Now, it seems like this should be really obvious stuff, but you know as well as I do the pressing temptation to start assuming on them and all the things they do for us; to get used to them being there and doing those things and forget what a treasure they truly are. And don’t forget: Peter was married. He knew personally how important this reminder was for us to hear.
In the next phrase, then, he gives us a reason for this behavior toward our wives. They are our “coheirs of the grace of life.” One of the ideas I always spend some time on when counseling couples before their weddings is the issue of equality in marriage. Equality is a big word that can mean different things in different circumstances. Specifically, when it comes to marriage, we can talk about equality of role and equality of value. One of those is driven into our heads by the culture around us; the other is the biblical ideal and the focus of Peter’s comment here. Our culture teaches us that husbands and wives have an equality of role in the marriage relationship. They are equal partners, we are told, as if they are interchangeable. One is just as good as the other—by which they mean they are the same.
And yet, what does that really mean? That they share equally in all the decisions? That they have the same amount of power? That they can do all the same things? That one is just as good as the other in every situation? Certainly those are ideas that our culture teaches, but are they true? I know this isn’t very comfortable to think about, but, no, they’re not. Do husbands and wives really share totally equally in all the decision making? Perhaps when they agree. But what about then they don’t and there’s no middle ground to choose? Who makes the final decision then? That’s the person who’s leading in the relationship. That’s the person with more authority and power. And…the Scriptures seem to pretty consistently suggest that person should be the husband.
Now, before I have heads exploding all over the room and a crowd ready to head for the door or post on social media what an anti-woman jerk the pastor at First Baptist Oakboro is, let me unpack that for just a minute. Because of our tendency toward sin and a host of really bad examples, we tend to associate really negative things with the concepts of authority and power in relationships, especially for those who have less of them. People with power abuse it. People with authority use it to get their own way at the expense of those over whom they have that authority. That’s the worldly model. And…we’re right to resist that; to bristle at the thought of that. But, just because something guys like Peter and Paul suggest should operate in a certain way often gets abused with terrible consequences doesn’t mean they’re wrong and we need to find a new model. It means we are wrong, and we need to get the model right.
Jesus touched on the issue of authority one day when His disciples were trying to play the angles so they could be the ones with the most authority in Jesus’ kingdom. He wasn’t talking about marriage, but His words there apply to that relationship just as much as any other. He said this in Matthew 20:25: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them.” In other words, He’s describing the terrible kinds of situations some of you just had in your minds when I said that the husbands have the most authority in the marriage relationship. What comes next, though, should put the lie to that notion of thinking for all time as far as followers of Jesus go: “It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Have you ever had a boss who practiced this kind of authority? I did once. I loved him. I was fiercely loyal to him and would have done just about anything for him. To the wives in the room, consider this: I know the issue of authority in marriage can be a scary one. But, how would you feel about your husband if he used his God-given authority entirely for your benefit? How would you respond if he had you on his mind every time he made a decision and it showed; if he consulted with you constantly as one of his wisest sources of counsel; if he was constantly giving up his own preferences and even needs in order to meet yours; if he put you first in all things; if he treated you as…are you ready for it?…his moral equal and his spiritual equal in all things?
Do you think you’d be comfortable under the authority of one such as that? In the biblically ideal marriage (which is, ironically, something never actually demonstrated for us in the Bible), while the husband may have authority over his wife—thus rendering incorrect and unbiblical the notion of equality of role in marriage—the last part of that question is the most important. It’s what Peter was talking about when he said that wives are coheirs with their husbands of the grace of life. The husband and wife are not the same; they are not interchangeable. One does things and in ways the other simply can’t because they weren’t designed for it. There is no equality of role. But, the husband and wife share an absolute equality of value in the marriage relationship. When it comes to their standing before God, they are on an absolutely equal plane. We are all equally children of our heavenly Father. And guys, if we don’t treat her like it, her Daddy’s going to come and have a talk with us to figure out why…and He won’t be cleaning His shotgun while He does it; He’s going to be cleaning His lighting bolt. Any questions?
Speaking of that, there’s just one more part of this verse we need to talk about it. And this is the part where things get really uncomfortable. This is that part I’ve been pushing off toward the end hoping the sermon will finish up before we have a chance to get there. But, I’ve still got a couple more pages up here and you can see a couple more paragraphs in your copy of the manuscript if you have one so I guess we’re going to have to push through it after all. Look at what Peter says at the end of the verse. He gives a warning here. We need to live with our wives in a considerate, understanding way and honor them as priceless treasures because they are our spiritual equals, yes, but here at the end Peter gives us the reason for it: “…so that your prayers will not be hindered.”
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold on here a minute. We’re supposed to be super husbands toward our wives so that our prayers aren’t hindered? What does that even mean?!? Well, if your prayers are hindered, that means they aren’t getting to God. If they aren’t getting to God, that means He’s not hearing them. If God’s not hearing your prayers, that means your relationship with Him has been disrupted. If your relationship with Him has been disrupted, that means you’re not right with Him. And if you’re not right with God, then there isn’t much that is right in your life at the moment. Or perhaps to put all of that much more simply: If you aren’t right with her, you aren’t right with Him.
Guys, this one verse from the apostle Peter isn’t about our being better husbands so we can live happier lives. This is no “happy wife; happy life” cliché. This is about being better husbands so we don’t put our relationship with God in jeopardy. Being fully the husband God has created and called you to be isn’t just about your personal happiness and fulfillment, let alone hers or the kids if you have them. It’s literally a matter of life and death. If you aren’t right with her, you aren’t right with Him. This means being right with your wife needs to be among your very highest priorities, right up there with being right with God.
So what do we do? Here are some really practical things you can do and then we’ll get out of here to put them in practice. First, learn her love language and start speaking it. Get her help and learn the ways she receives message of love from you the most clearly and start sending messages that way (ladies, this is worth your time to do this same thing for your husbands; parents, you can do this with your kids; in fact, this is worth everyone knowing if you can help it). If you want more help, check out the book The Five Love Languages or check out this website: https://www.5lovelanguages.com/quizzes/. It’ll be worth your time. Second, if you have wronged her in some way, apologize for it. Genuinely and humbly seek her forgiveness and commit to walking in this new path. Third, engage more with the kids. One of the things kids of all stripes want more of even if they won’t say it out loud is time with their parents. Unfortunately, that burden tends to fall more on moms than dads. Dads, lift some of that burden. It’ll benefit everybody. Fourth, involve them in the relationship. They don’t want the burden of doing everything, but neither do they want you to simply do it all for them. They want to be involved with you. You may have the authority, but because you stand equally before God together, you need to act like it and walk forward together, serving her all the way. Fifth, give her your heart and don’t hold anything back. She wants that prize more than anything else. She said, “I do,” in the first place because she fell in love with what she saw there. Don’t withhold the prize from her. Sixth and most importantly, give yourself wholly to God. Without His help, you can’t be right with her, and if you’re not right with her, you aren’t right with Him. And if that sounds like a bit of a circle…it is. It’s a circle that leads to life. If you aren’t right with her, you aren’t right with Him. Take the steps you need to take to be right with both. It may be hard. It may be uncomfortable. It may be the last thing you want to do where you’re at right now in life. But it will be worth it. It will be worth everything you can give to it.