February 7, 2016

Getting Things Right

We’ve talked about this a few times before and have even gone through a couple of sermon series focused on this, but one of the challenges of being a Jesus follower 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 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 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 sermon is entirely out of the question.  So then, let’s talk about what we’re doing this morning…oh that’s right: jumping right straight in to the middle of one of the most dangerous of these passages and seeing what kind of sense we can make out of it.

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 is this thing called marriage and what it’s for…what its purpose is.  In the first couple of parts of this series that’s just what we did.  We discovered that marriage is a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman established by God in creation.  Adding to this last week we unpacked the most central purpose of marriage.  There are several things that marriage is for 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 has been pretty theory heavy.  I’m going to try and change that this morning.  Starting this morning and for the next couple of weeks 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 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’s the most uncomfortable of the bunch.  And I’m not talking about the stuff on submission—we’ll talk a lot more about that next week 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 as almost 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.  It’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 Scripture 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.

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.

“Likewise, wives…”  Stop there just a minute.  The word “likewise,” kind of like the word “therefore,” is one of those transition words 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: “Like 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 “be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.”  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, “Likewise, wives,” then, 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 it in just a minute.  But for now, let’s keep reading: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.  Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.  For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.  And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”

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.  Let’s just hit a couple of highlights.  This passage is mostly addressed to women whose husbands aren’t Christians 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, 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 looks like.  There is a very great temptation for women today to focus solely on outward beauty at the expense of character and integrity 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, Peter while 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 boneheaded decisions—which resulted in an incredible legacy of faith that is still having an impact 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.  “Likewise, husbands…”  Let’s ask the question again: Like 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?  “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life…”

So far so good right?  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 if we just practiced that.  Guys think how much better our lives and marriages would be if we 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 women are just a mystery” cliché.  Of course they are.  But so are you 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 too.

Next Peter says we should show honor to them “as the weaker vessel.”  Now, that could certainly be understood as a kind of dig at women, but Peter is probably referring to women 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?  You would make every decision with your treasure in mind.  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 great 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.  I mean really and truly treating them like a treasure we are proud of.  What would that look like?  What would it do for our relationships?  What kind of 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 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 heirs with you 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.  And yet, what does that really mean?  That they share equally in making 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 the decision making?  Perhaps when they agree.  But what about when 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, 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 the Scriptures suggest should operate in a certain way often gets abused with terrible consequences doesn’t mean the Scriptures are 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 His kingdom.  He wasn’t talking about marriage, but His words here 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 their great ones exercise authority 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 should put the lie to that notion of thinking for all time: “‘It shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not 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 a 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; 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, 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 the husband may have authority over his wife—thus rendering incorrect and unbiblical the notion of equality of role in marriage—but the last part of that question is the most important.  It’s what Peter was talking about when he said that wives are heirs with their husbands of the grace of life.  The husband and wife share an equality of value in the marriage relationship.  When it comes to their standing before God they are on an absolutely equal plane.  We are equally children of our heavenly Father.  And guys, if we don’t treat her like it, her Daddy’s going to come 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 lightning bolt.  Are you with me?

There’s just one more part of this verse and this is where things get really uncomfortable.  This is that part I’ve been pushing off toward the end hoping the sermon will finish before we have a chance to get there.  But, I’ve still got a couple more pages up here 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 may 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 there isn’t much that is right in your life.  Or perhaps to put all of that 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 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 the being right with your wife needs to be among your 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.  First, learn her love language and start speaking.  Get her help and learn the ways she receives messages of love from you the most clearly and start sending messages that way.  If you want more help, check out the book The Five Love Languages.  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.  We did an informal survey of our youth a few weeks ago and every single one of them expressed a desire for more time with their parents.  Around here that burden tends to fall more on moms.  Dads, lift some of it.  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 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 important: give yourself wholly to God.  Without His help you can’t be right with her and without being right with her you can’t be right with Him.  And if that sounds like 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 be right with both.  It may be hard.  It may be uncomfortable.  But it will be worth everything you give to it.