May 10, 2015

Loving Mom

Have you ever been in one of those situations where at first things looked one way, but once you looked more closely they proved to be entirely different.  I brought some pictures with me this morning of situations that fall into this category.  In this first one, if you happened to be on this train, you could be forgiven for wondering just exactly what kind of passengers they were transporting these days.  I mean, I’ve heard that long-distance train trips attract an interesting crowd but this is a little ridiculous…or that’s just a woman traveling with her dog who happened to be leaning over at the exact moment the picture was snapped.

In this next one, have you heard of photobombing?  It’s a recent trend where you watch for people around you taking pictures and jump into the picture in a funny way at the last minute.  Usually the goal of photobombing is to not get caught until the person looks at the picture sometime later.  At first glance it looks like this guy understood the concept of photobombing but didn’t execute it particularly well…or the woman on the left has a stripe on her shirt that happened to perfectly line up with where the guy in back’s leg would have been had he been really short and riding on her back.

One more just for fun.  You perhaps heard of babies having big heads—mine certainly all did—but having big legs isn’t quite as common.  Having legs this big, however, might be cause for concern unless you’re a basketball coach…or mom was having fun hiding behind a pillow while dad was snapping pictures.

Thing aren’t always as they appear, right?  There is potential for this happening just about everywhere we go and in everything we do.  Some places, though, seem to have a higher likelihood of misunderstanding than others.  One of these higher-percentages places is time spent reading the Scriptures.  There are some Scriptures that are hard to understand and which at first read can seem to be saying something very much different from what the author intended.  If we merely go with our first impression about every passage we read, we run the risk of drifting off into the theological weeds and getting so tangled that we just give up on ever really understanding it.

One of the places where seems to happen more frequently than others is in the writings of the apostle Paul.  Now a big part of this is because Paul wrote so much of the New Testament, but it seems sometimes like Paul was almost tripping over himself to stick his foot in his mouth as far as his readers 2,000 years after he wrote would be concerned…or, he was telling the truth and our cultural blinders are such that we have a much harder time understanding him than he meant for himself to be understood.  And of all the places where this happens the times that seem to give modern readers the most heartburn are when Paul talks about women and marriage.  And so I thought that in honor of Mother’s Day, we’d look at one of those this morning.  If that seems a bit odd to you at all, just stay with me and see where we end up in a few minutes.

Grab a nearby copy of the Scriptures and find your way to Paul’s letter to the believers of ancient Ephesus.  In Ephesians 5:22 and following Paul wrote some of the most important words ever written about what marriage is and how to do it right.  Unfortunately, most folks today don’t get past the first three verses here.  Let me read these right quick and let you see if you can figure out why.

From Ephesians 5:22: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” Yikes, right?  That might as well be a dog-headed train rider or a giant-legged baby.  At first read out of culturally-tuned ears, that sounds terrible.  Paul’s trying to ship wives off back to the Dark Ages (which just as a fun side note was a term made up by anti-Catholic and anti-Christian historians and never actually happened) where they were afforded a value barely above a recliner and were expected to feed their men, have babies, keep the house clean, and stay out of the way!  Or, there’s something else going on here entirely and if we stick with Paul until we can get the whole story, things will turn out very much different than they seem at first glance.

The fact is, we are celebrating moms today.  Moms should absolutely be celebrated, too.  Moms have an irreplaceable and really an inestimably high value.  They love us in ways dads just can’t because we weren’t built for it.  They serve as a kind of glue for families that holds when the storms of life rise up and threaten to tear everything apart.  In fact, in a day when way, way too many kids are being forced to grow up without an actively involved dad in their homes, strong moms are the reason our society hasn’t slid completely down the toilet.  Chances are, you have a mom sitting next to you, or at least awfully close to you right now.  I want you to look at her and say this: “You are wonderful and I love you.”  So again, we are celebrating moms today.  As a matter of fact, moms, because it’s your day, I’m not going to preach to you this morning.  You get the day off—unless you want to take good notes in order to remind the men in your life what I’m going to say in a minute.  Guys, what comes next is mostly for you so put your listening ears on and check it out.

You see, after Paul writes those tough words to wives, he writes some even tougher words for husbands.  In fact, he has about three times as much to say to husbands as he does to wives—I’ll let you come to your own conclusions as to what that says about us.  Come back to the text with me, let’s look at this together, and then we’ll talk about it.

From Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands [wives are off the hook now], love your wives…”  Well that seems like a bit of a no brainer.  Husbands, anybody want to confess to not loving your wives this morning?  I mean, we’re not going to protect you from the coming onslaught of ridicule and abuse, but if you feel like you need to confess that I’ll give you a minute to get it off your chests.

Silliness aside, though, let’s push just a bit harder here: Does she know it.  And using the excuse that you told her on your wedding day and she ought to remember it won’t fly this morning.  Have you told her?  Recently?  Better yet, have you told her in a way she was actually able to hear.  We’ve talked before about the fact that different people have different love languages and if we don’t send messages of love via another person’s love language the great likelihood is they aren’t going to hear it.  The five love languages are gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, touch, and acts of service.  If you don’t know your wife’s love language, find it out.  You could try asking her.  If she doesn’t know, come see me and I’ll help you both learn what your love language is.  The point is: whatever her love language happens to be, figure out what it is and tell her often in her language just how much you love her.  That was for free.  Back to the text.

Again then, being told to love our wives should go without saying…well, almost without saying.  Paul knows this which is why there’s more to that verse.  Next Paul gives us the model.  He answers the question of how we should love our wives.  Look at this: “Husbands, love your wives, as [like, after the manner of, in the same way as] Christ loved the church…”  Okay…well…yeah…you see, Jesus was sort of love incarnate.  So, doesn’t making Him the standard set the bar kind of high?  Yes, and that’s Paul’s point.  Stick with me a bit further in the text here because Paul gets a lot more specific as to what he means.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”  Let’s pause there for a minute.  If you were curious at all what it looks like to love your wives as Jesus loved the church, there’s your image.  He gave His life for her.  But, He didn’t do that just because.  That would be silly.  He did it for a purpose.  And that purpose was to make her holy, to make her more reflective of Himself, so that she might be able to stand before Him in perfect, sinless beauty.  That’s the goal, husbands.  Your love should result in her being more like Christ than she was without it.  If that’s not the case, you’re failing.  That doesn’t mean you’re a failure…but you’re not getting everything right yet and if you care about both your wife and yourself, you’ll recommit yourself to doing better.

Here’s a hard truth we can draw from what Paul is saying here: The person most responsible for the spiritual quality of our wives is them, because we are all responsible for ourselves and the choices we make.  But after them the person most responsible is us.  If our wives’ lives are a spiritual wreck, God’s going to be looking at us for a reason why.  Again, our love should move them every single day closer to Christ.  Our goal is for them to be able to stand before Jesus “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”  Now, if she’s resistant to our best efforts that’s one thing.  God knows what’s going on and won’t hold us responsible for things that aren’t our fault.  But if her heart is good—and come on, our wives have good hearts—and she’s not moving actively in that direction, a big part of the reason is likely that we’re not leading her there.

Now let me talk to the wives in the room for just a second because what I’ve just said may not be sitting well.  In the ears of our culture, the thought of women being led anywhere by men is anathema.  But think about this.  I said that you are chiefly responsible for your spiritual lives.  You are the one most in charge of following the path of Christ.  Your husband is designed by God to be your helpmate in moving you down that path even faster than you can get there on your own.  Who doesn’t want some built in help to become more like Christ?  You should be the biggest cheerleader there is for your husbands getting their duties before Christ right as far as you are concerned because they are to your benefit.  What Paul is saying here is entirely about empowering women, not reducing your stature.  Again, things aren’t always like they appear at first glance.  Back to the guys, now and here’s the point: If you want to get loving the moms in your life right—the mom to the people you care about most—the model is Christ and the church.  Our model for marriage is Christ and the church.

Here’s why.  Look at v. 28: “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”  Remember what Jesus said is the second greatest commandment?  Love your neighbor, as what?  As yourself.  Paul is just appropriating that here and applying it to the relationship between a husband and wife.  Love your wife as yourself.  But, because of the nature of marriage—vv. 31-32: “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”—there’s an additional element, namely the fact that because you and she are one flesh (whatever exactly that means—not even Paul is totally sure) when you love your wife properly you are loving yourself and when you love yourself properly you are loving your wife.  If you fail on either of those counts the whole thing becomes a mess.  Paul said the whole one flesh thing refers to Christ and the church which he does because the church is considered the body of Christ such that the church is the representation of Christ on earth or perhaps to make things even a bit more intimate, the church is Christ on earth.  But, since our model for marriage is Christ and the church, it applies equally well to us.  The relationship here is so intimate and intense that there really aren’t words to sufficiently describe it.  Our model for marriage is Christ and the church.  The better you understand that, the better you’ll be able to love your wife.

But, as important as all this is, I recognize that it’s a bit on the abstract side.  We’ve been talking about what we’re supposed to do.  We’re supposed to love our wives using Christ’s love for the church as our model.  But how do we actually do it?  What does it look like when we put it into practice?  I’m glad you asked.  For the rest of our time together this morning, I want to get a lot more specific with you.  I want to give you ten practical ideas for ways to love your wives on the model of Christ’s love for the church.  These are things you can work to put into practice on your “second shift”—that time between when you get home from whatever it is you’ve spent the day doing and bedtime.  The stuff you’ve been doing all day is important, but that pales in comparison to what happens in the second shift.  Getting this time right will have a wide ripple effect that will result in greater joy and productivity in all the other times of your life.

So then, if our model for marriage is Christ and the church, what does this look like in practice?  First, be kind.  I didn’t say be nice.  That’s kindness’ weaker younger brother.  If we practice kindness, niceness is part of the package.  Settle for niceness and you probably won’t end up with either.  In any event, there are days when your first shift is tough.  I know that because there are days when my first shift is tough.  By the time you get home for second shift you are out of energy and tolerance and patience.  But, that’s not the fault of anybody inside your house (and even if it is, by the way, the love of Christ compels you to forgive them and be kind anyway).  When you go on second shift, start fresh with warmth and kindness.  This will set a tone of love for your household that will be received and reciprocated.  This is exactly what Christ does for us and our model for marriage is Christ and the church.

Second, get in the kitchen.  Now, some of you already do this, but for the rest, for how many of you does your wife do most of the meal prep?  The fact is, a great deal of life happens in the kitchen.  Because eating is such a spiritually significant part of our lives, the kitchen in many ways represents the heart of the home.  If you aren’t eating together regularly (at least 3-4 times a week) make the necessary schedule changes to fix that.  In any event, because so much of our families’ lives happen in the kitchen, you need to be there.  At the very least you need to be in the room sharing your heart with your wife and making yourself available to serve as she has need.  Beyond that, help with meal prep.  Or, if that’s not your thing and your wife has done the cooking, get off your tail and do the dishes.  Guys, come on: if she’s cooked the meal, unless she doesn’t want you doing them for some reason, you should not ever leave her also doing the dishes.  The point is, you need to be present in the heart of your home.

Third, household chores.  Do I need to make the point that it takes a lot to make a household run smoothly?  Let me just say it: it takes a lot to make a household run smoothly.  Keeping the house clean and safe for your family requires a lot of energy.  How much of that does your wife do versus how much you do?  I’m not so concerned with the balance being exactly equal—a wildly abused and misunderstood idea in our culture—but you should be the one taking the lead in this because you are the leader.  And leading here doesn’t mean delegating.  If there are things to be done, jump in and do them.  Don’t wait for her to take the initiative.  Learn to see the house through her eyes if you have to.  Also, if there’s anything on your list of “chores I won’t do,” go ahead and erase those.  The fact is, there isn’t anything Jesus won’t do to see the church running smoothly in our quest to accomplish His plans.  And, our model for marriage is Christ and the church.

Fourth, errands.  Just as it takes a lot of effort at home to make the house run smoothly, not everything we need to keep things running is at home all the time.  It never fails that at the last minute something will turn up as necessary and the only place it can be found is at the store.  Listen guys, she’s just as tired as you are by the time second shift comes around.  For some of you getting back in the car is the last thing on your list.  But, it is for her too.  Be the leader God designed you to be and make the run to the store if she needs that.  It may be that she needs the time in the car by herself to get away for a while.  If that’s the case allow for it, but be ready to show her the serving love of Christ if that’s what she needs.  Again, the model for our marriages is Christ and the church.

Fifth, stress reducer.  If you have young kids, or even not so young kids, at home, there’s a good chance she has spent more time with them than you have.  Even if she hasn’t, though, she’s had a whole day to build up stress just like you have.  She needs a break.  She needs some time off.  Make it happen for her.  Get the kids out of the house.  Take them with you to run errands if there are any.  Disappear with the posse after dinner and dishes are done so she can soak in the tub in a quiet house for a while.  If need be, take everybody out to dinner so she doesn’t have to think about a meal.  Have a conversation about ways you can help her reduce her stress level and put them into practice.  Stress kills our souls and you want hers healthy.  It’s what Jesus’ love does for the church and that’s our model.

Sixth, be the handyman at your house.  Things break.  Usually they break when it’s really inconvenient.  Even then things aren’t broken, there are things that need to get done around the house.  More specifically, there are things your wife would like you to do around the house to bring it more in line with the vision she has for a home that perfectly meets the needs of her family.  When she asks for your help with these things (and ladies, that’s the right way to frame it), she’s not trying to restrict you and put upon you in any way.  She’s trying to create a home that honors you and the rest of her family and she needs your help to make it happen.  Don’t give her a hard time.  Step up and get them done.  Don’t subordinate them to your stuff, either.  Make them a priority.

Seventh, be respectful.  A marriage book came out a few years ago called Love and Respect.  The authors, a husband and wife team, argued that the primary need of men is respect while the primary need of women is love (they were not using my definition).  While I think they made some really good points that are worth putting into practice in our marriages, the truth is that women are just as in need of respect as men are.  Your wife needs to know not simply that you love her, but that you respect her.  Recognize and honor her many and significant contributions to the family.  Give her praise and compliments in abundance, but make sure they are meaningful and not cheap.  Show her all the respect you would the Queen of England…and she’ll be very likely to reciprocate.  In this way, lead your marriage to wholeness by example.  It’s what Jesus does for the church and that’s our model.

Eighth, show affection.  Unless your wife has wounds in her past that have not yet healed, one of the things that fills up her love tank is affection.  Lisa was watching TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting this past week and there was a segment about Jim Bob and Michelle’s relationship.  After 19 children they are more in love today than when they first tied the knot.  They have a very healthy marriage built on a great deal of mutual love and respect and one of the key reasons for this is that Jim Bob takes the lead in showing his wife affection—publicly—every chance he gets.  He even acknowledged that he probably embarrasses her—and especially the kids—on occasion, but also that the occasional PDA overload is worth the great health of their relationship.  Guys, go out of your way in showing your wife physical affection.  Don’t do it with a goal in mind, and don’t save up for big displays on a more infrequent basis.  Instead, make small, intentional shows of affection a part of the daily fabric of your marriage.

Ninth, put your family first.  Listen, I get that you need time for yourself to pursue your own interests and hobbies.  You need time with your friends doing the things you love to do with your friends.  I need that too.  But, those things can’t come before your wife and your family.  Every time you can’t or won’t do something with or for your wife and kids because you have already committed yourself to this other stuff is a time you make a big withdrawal from the relational bank.  That’s not an account you can draw from once it’s empty.  Trying just leads to conflict.  Spending too much time on these other things—and you can tell you are because she’s said to you, “I think you’re spending too much time on these other things”—hurts your wife which, as we saw earlier, hurts you even if you don’t feel it in the moment.  You need to work to make the phrase, “Sorry guys, I can’t today,” a regular part of your vocabulary.  Your wife needs to be your priority.  The church is the priority of Jesus and our model for marriage is Christ and the church.

Last, worship.  We were made for worship.  We reflect the nature and character of whatever it is that we worship.  And as men, we are designed to lead our families in worship so that they might come to reflect more fully the character and nature of Christ.  This certainly happens in this room at this time each week and we should be the driving force behind being here.  If we’re not, we’re failing.  We should guard a weekly corporate time of worship as sacred space for our families.  But, worship can happen at other times as well—even during our second shift.  Finding ways to lead your family, to lead your wife, in worship as a regular part of your routine is a fantastic application of the love of Christ.  After all, our model for marriage is Christ and the church.

Alright, let’s wrap all of this up.  Guys, you now know not only what you need to do, but you also have some really practical examples of how to do it.  Your challenge is to put these into practice.  Show your wives the love of Christ so that they can become fully who God designed them to be.  That will be to their immense benefit.  It will be to your immense benefit.  It will be to your kids’ immense benefit because spiritually healthy moms radically increase the likelihood of spiritually healthy kids.  And, lest I leave you thinking today was only about your wives, you can apply each of these ten practical steps in appropriate ways for all the moms in your life.  As for the ladies, you have a role to play in this as well.  Encourage your husbands.  When they get it right, tell them.  God made guys with fragile egos that need to be handled with deft care.  If we hit the mark and you don’t let us know, there’s a good chance we’ll miss next time because we’ll be aimed at the wrong mark.  Generally we get more of what we celebrate so celebrate your husbands.  But husbands, make certain that you love your wives.  They need it.  They need you.  Love them so that they will one day stand before the throne of God without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but will instead be holy and without blemish.  That’s what the love of Christ does for us.  And our model for marriage is Christ and the church.