Current Live Weather

Sunday, September 27, 2015

“What Makes Marriage Christian?”

A Sermon Based Upon Ephesians 4: 1-5:2,  NRSV
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin.  
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Pentecost +18,   September 27th, 2015

Every once in a while I come across the statistic that reveals that people who call themselves Christians are no better at being and remaining married than non-Christians.  In fact, it wasn’t very long ago that it was being said that Christians even had a higher divorce rate than non-Christians.  Part of the reason may have been because they were expecting too much of each other, so that their hearts were broken and they gave up too soon.

While there is certainly something to be learned from such statistics, statistics never tell the whole story.   The part of the story they never can tell is what Jesus spoke about when he told the parable of the ‘Wheat and the Weeds’ (or Wheat and Tares, Matthew 13: 24-30).   In that story a farmer looks out over his crop and sees that the weeds are growing together with the wheat.  He knows that this means trouble, but he’s not exactly sure what to do.  Part of the problem is that he isn’t sure what is a weed and what is wheat.  Even if he does know, he can’t guarantee that the wheat will be saved by removing the weeds.  Sometimes by removing a weed, you can do even more damage to the wheat.  So what’s is this farmer to do?  

Jesus says that a wise farmer, one who will admit that he can’t always tell the difference, so he will let the ‘wheat’ and the ‘weeds’ grow together until the day of harvest.  When that day comes, there will be no doubt.  

The same truth about the kingdom of Heaven might also apply in a marriage.   We might call a wedding or a marriage “Christian”, but that does not always make it one.   Sometimes you can’t tell the difference, but you will only determine what is a Christian marriage by what happens down the road in that marriage, after some time has passed, as the children are being raised, when the couple have come through storms together  that have ‘tested’ and ‘proven’ that their marriage and their faith.

Because going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, just like going into garage doesn’t make you a car, it is important for us who want to have a Christian marriages, to learn what it takes to be “Christian” in our marriages.   Of course, it takes people who are Christians to make a marriage Christian.  What it means to be a Christian is exactly what Paul is talking about in chapter 4 of the Letter to the Ephesians.  Before he comes to his most amazing words about the ‘mystery of marriage’, he reminds us about the ‘mystery’ of Christ---which gives faith (see Eph. 1: 9, 3:3-9).   Like that sign which says rather humorously that the best vitamin for a Christian is “B1”, the best way to make a marriage Christian is to be who we’ve been “called” to be (Eph. 4:1, 4).  But what is this ‘vocation’ we’ve been called into and called to be and ‘walk’ (Eph 1.4)?  Can we summarize it as to how it can apply to having a “Christian” marriage? 
When people come into my office or into my home for marriage counseling, which is a lot less these days, one of the first questions I ask them has to do with ‘what do they want’ to have happen?  Do they want to work on their marriage?  Do they want things to work out?  Will they be willing to do their homework?  Will they be faithful to come to all of the counseling sessions?   If they answer ‘yes’ to this kind of question,  I know we have a chance to work on their relationship.  But of course, the most important thing comes before I make one single request.  Did they both come in together? 

This is what Paul is talking about when he says that among true Christians there is a desire to ‘keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’.    That’s how you can tell a true Christian from a false one.   Do they want peace?  Do they want unity?  Do they want to come together or do they enjoy coming apart?

In my church in Lenoir, a retired couple came to me asking me whether or not I would counsel with their son and daughter-in-law, about their marriage.   Of course I would, but when the son came, he came alone.  It was impossible to get his wife to come along.  Neither of them were committed to the Church or to their Faith, though the Son was a nice guy and I think he really did want to save his marriage.   But no matter how much I tried to help him see his side of the problem, and no matter how many good changes he made to try to make his marriage better, it never worked.  It never worked because we could never get her to come to the “table”.   We could never get her to ‘want’ to come together to find a way to make the marriage work.

The Christian faith is not a faith for loners and it is not a faith that can be worked out all alone.  Paul makes this clear when he says that the Christian walk is a ‘calling’ which calls us to come together ‘with all lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’   This is still the difference between true and false Christianity, and it is still makes the difference in making a marriage or any relationship Christian.  Do we want unity?  Do we want to come together?  Do we want the relationship to work?  Do we want to have a ‘bond of peace’ with each other?

The second signal of true Christian faith which serves our marriages is not only to answer a call to ‘unity’, but it is also desire to grow into the ‘full measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (4.13).  It is one thing to want to have something, but it is another to want to become someone; to be willing to learn, to grow, and to desire to be Christ-like in all that we do and all that we are in our marriage to each other.

Of course, to want to be Christ-like in our life and in our marriage means that Christ must be the ‘head’ of our marriage and lives (4:15).  We can only ‘grow up into him in all things’, as Paul says, when we are ‘no more like children, tossed to and fro’ by everything in the world, but we have to ‘learn Christ’ (4.20) which means we have to be ‘taught the truth’ which is Jesus, not be taught truths about Jesus (4.21).  When we ‘learn’ Jesus we ‘put off the old’ person which includes having false desires and lusts (4.22), and we are ‘renewed in the spirit of our mind’ (4.23) to ‘put on the new’ person, who is ‘re-created by God for ‘righteousness and true holiness’ (4.24).  

When you understand what Paul means, you will understand what it means to be growing toward a certain ‘maturity’ of faith in Jesus Christ, which gives you one of the greatest resources for having a Christian marriage---a new you.   In the psychological world people talk a lot about “EQ” verses “IQ”.  IQ stands for your intelligence—how much you know and your ability to use what you know.   “EQ” on the other hand, stands for your “emotional” ability.   This is about your ability to relate to other people in mature and stable ways.   Many people have passed tests and been given degrees and jobs they couldn’t handle, even though they had the intelligence to answer all the questions correctly. 

It’s much the same in being married and staying married, because a ‘getting married’ means a lot more than being able to say “I do” or “I will”.  Being married and staying married means that you are willing to say “I do” based on what you know today and what you know you need to know and do tomorrow.  This is what ‘maturity’ means.   It means growth, change, adjustments, flexibility and responding to each other in ways that you are growing together in Christ and not growing apart or away from Christ.

GRACEFUL WORDS  (4: 25-29)
One of the best ways to make sure that you do not ‘grow’ apart is grow together in your faith in Jesus Christ.   You can only know that you are on the same journey together in Christ when you learn how to ‘talk’ and ‘communicate’ with each other, both when you feel like it, but even more so, when you don’t.   It is even more important to speak “Christian” to each other when it’s difficult.   Not only must we refuse to lie to each other (v.25), but speaking Christians means we speak the ‘truth in love’ (4.15) to each other.   Learning to speak and hear the ‘truth is love’ is how we keep ‘growing together’ in Christ.   As we ‘speak the truth in love’ and refrain from the ‘anger’ and ‘wrath’ (4:26) that leads to the kinds of relational sins that will destroy relationships, are called in a marriage especially, to ‘speak the truth in love’, which also means to be ‘angry’, but to let Christ help us control our anger with each other so that ‘we don’t let the sun go down upon our wrath’. 

One of the greatest things I teach couples in pre-marital counseling is how to ‘fight’.  That might sound strange, but for most people, in order to have a marriage where you grow deeper and stronger in your relationship with each other, you will have conflict.  Those who never have conflict in their marriage are rare, and normally have very shallow relationships with each other.  Those who only have conflict, are also not fighting fair and have yet to grow up so they can move beyond shallow, immature, superficial ways of relating to each other.   Continual fights and unending conflict only prove they are stuck somewhere, maybe even back in the mind of their childhood, so that they have never been able to rightly address a problem in their own mind, so they are unable to solve a problem between them, so they can only relate to each other in ways that make them like children or juveniles. 

What a Christian marriage means is that we want to deal with our past and our present in ways that will help us break-throw the barriers and open new doors of communication and understanding.   I try to teach this to couples before they marry by teaching them how to listen and hear each other talk.   It sounds silly to them at first, but once they get the hang of it, before they blow up in anger at their partner or spouse, I teach them to ‘repeat’ the words they have just heard, so that they both can hear what is being said.   Then, I remind them that you can’t argue with how another person feels whether it is true or not.  

Let me give you an example of ‘speaking the truth in love’, not anger.  My wife may tell me that she feels like I don’t love her because I don’t put up my socks.  My immediately fleshly, unchristian response would to move beyond acknowledging what she is saying, by responding,  But I do love you, whether I put my socks up or not.”   That may in fact be true, but it is not what she is feeling in this moment.  

There may indeed be other reasons that she or he is feeling a certain way, but you’ll never get to it until you acknowledge what you are feeling, hearing, listening, and ready to try to understand from each other.     What you should say when she or he says that something is wrong, is to first acknowledge and respond with empathy what has been heard.   For example, when she or he says, “You don’t love me because you don’t put up your socks,”  is first of all to acknowledge that you have heard and understood exactly what has been said by saying something like:  “You are saying to me that my not putting up my socks makes you feel as if I don’t love you.”  

It’s hard to listen and to repeat what we don’t want to hear in the first place, but it will begin the whole conversation in a much better way, letting the other person know that you at least admit to hearing and understanding what seems or is so frustrating to them.   All good “Christian” communication begins not only by ‘speaking the truth’ of how we feel, but also being willing ‘acknowledge’ that this is ‘truth’ to the other person, whether or it is ‘true’ or not.  I remind couples that saying what you ‘feel’ should never be opposed or argued against.  Acknowledging how we ‘feel’ is how we feel, whether it ends up being the final or whole truth.  Only by acknowledging what we feel when we are alone, will we ever hope to discover any truth together.

Of course, Christian communication and conversation must go beyond speaking the truth, because the truth must still be spoken in love.   Speaking the truth in love means that ‘how’ we say things to each other is just as important as ‘what we are saying’.   Furthermore, being Christian in our conversation and in our life together also means that we must stand ready to speak lovingly to each other and to be willing to forgive each other, even before the conversation begins.   We must keep in mind what we want to happen to guide us in how we speak.  Paul puts it this way: “Let not evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up….  Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God….Put away all bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling and slander, together with all malice…AND be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”  (4:29-32). 

Perhaps you’ve heard that old saying that ‘sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you….”.   As children, we often use rhymes like this to try to break the charms and powers of people who were bullying us.  For good reasons, perhaps, we didn’t want to let them see us sweat or show signs of weakness.  That may seem to be a good strategy in the moment, but it doesn’t hold up for the long haul.  In the real world words do hurt.  Those ‘sticks and stones’ that could ‘break our bones’ from a stranger never will hurt as much as the sharp, cutting and biting words from the one who is closest to us.  Although words don’t inflict visible bruises, they do pack and punch and verbal attacks are harder to heal because put scars in our hearts.

This is why Paul says that Christians should not let any kind of destructive, ‘evil speech’ come out of their mouths.  Instead, Paul demands that Christians ‘be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving as Christ forgives.”  But how do we do this when we ourselves are hurting?  How are we able, especially in a marriage where our feelings are so tender and sensitive to each other, refrain from the cruel ‘talk’ that can work like a cancer to destroy our marriages?

Paul’s final word explains that we can only do this when we live ‘in love’, as “Christ loved us and gave himself for us” (5:2).  The only way a person can live in love with another person in every situation is to stand ready to make the daily ‘sacrifice’ of loving the other, even when it hurts or it is hard to love.   This is what God does for us, so ‘be imitators’ of God (5:1), Paul says. 

Of course, Paul qualifies that he is not talking about one person allowing another to walk all over them.   Paul goes on to insist on maintaining a ‘loving’, clean, genuine,  and faith-oriented atmosphere among Christians (5: 3-6).   There are things in a Christian marriage and home that are ‘entirely out of place’ (5:4) or you will find yourself up against the ‘wrath of God’ (5:6) which will fall upon those who are deceptively disobedient to the command to ‘live in love”. 

This is heavy, but good stuff, so let me end with a lighthearted story.  A young woman named Liz was sure her that her boyfriend Martin would make a great husband, especially when she met Martin's parents. "They're so nice to each other," Liz remarked. "It's great how your dad brings your mom coffee in bed every morning."

Eventually, Martin and Liz got married. As they were heading for their honeymoon destination, Liz spoke of the loving home they would have, and mentioned once again Martin's father's habit of bringing his wife coffee in bed each morning. Liz asked jokingly, "And does this trait run in the family?"   "It sure does," answered Martin, "and I take after my mom." Dwayne was entering his third month of marriage when he ran across a bachelor friend of his. "How's married life treating you?" the friend inquired.

"It's the best, man," Dwayne replied. "I think everyone should be married. I'm living a great life. Every day, I come home to a hot meal and a clean house. My slippers are right in front of the easy chair, and dinner is brought to me while I watch television. I'm really getting spoiled. Of course, WE'RE STILL LIVING WITH MY MOTHER."
(Collected Sermons, King Duncan, Dynamic Preaching, 2005, 0-000-0000-20).

“Living in love” with each other means created ‘loving “Christian” climate’ in our own homes and marriages.  It will include saying good, loving words to each other, but it must also go beyond words.  It will mean that we have a unity of Spirit with each other,  that we are growing and maturing together in faith and life, and that we do speak gracefully, tenderly and forgivingly to each other, and when we do misspeak out of pain and hurt, that we ‘do not let the sun go down on our anger.’    That in a nutshell, is Paul’s perspective on what makes a marriage ‘Christian’.  There is of course, more, but for now this is the “Christian” foundation for building a marriage that promotes love and protects life.  Amen.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

“The Marriage Mystery”

A Sermon Based Upon Ephesians 5: 21-33,  NRSV
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin.  
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Pentecost +17,   September 20th, 2015

Early in their marriage, Everett and Cindy Hall bought a nice little starter home in the Headlands neighborhood of Mentor, Ohio.   They had had lived there for several years, when one day Cindy overheard “Ev” on the telephone giving out our address to somebody.  Ev spelled the name of their street Glen Lodge with two n’s which was incorrect.  When he hung up, Cindy couldn’t resist laughing at him and said “Honey, we’ve lived here for 2 1/2 years, and I can’t believe you don’t even know how to spell the name of your own street!”   Ev was not amused and said “What are you talking about? It’s Glenn Lodge.”   They argued for a few minutes, both certain of course that we were correct, and getting nowhere dropped the issue.

Several weeks later they were in the car together and at the corner, remembering their little argument, Ev pointed to the sign proving that he was right.  It said Glenn Lodge, -- two ‘n’s’.”   Wait a minute,” Cindy said, “turn around and go the other way.” A s they approached the other end of our street, much to their amazement, the sign read Glen Lodge, with one ‘n’.   They  were both right!  Their house was located in the middle of the block, and they never realized that she had always approached it from the south end, while Everett always entered via the north end of the street.   It gave them a good laugh and they enjoyed a rare moment when we could both win the argument and be absolutely right!

When we are married, we need to laugh more.  We don’t need to laugh at each other, but we do need to find ways to laugh together.  Marriage is not an exact science.  It is not like 1+1= 2, but should be more like 1+1=1.   All the way back in Genesis, the Bible calls those who marry into the mystery of ‘oneness’.  But what is that?   In fact, the Apostle Paul is the one who calls marital “oneness” (5.31)  “a great mystery” (5.32).   

We can understand how marriage is the greatest mystery because marriage is about two not so perfect ‘strangers’ coming together from different personalities, different backgrounds, different ideas, different values, and sometimes even different beliefs and trying to make their relationship work.  In marriage we are legally ‘tied together’ in a knot in hopes that the ‘knot’ will not come loose, when many things work against untying that knot.   How some couples make their marriage work can be astounding, if not miraculous.  Why other couples, even a majority of couples can’t make it work no matter how hard they try, can be disheartening and heart-breaking.   Understanding this great ‘mystery’ may be finally impossible, but to try to understanding it, and to live into and for the mystery,  can have magnificent and wonderful rewards.  

So what makes the difference so that a marriage will work?   Social Scientists have studied and still study the characteristics of marriages that succeed and marriages that fail.   Still, this does not solve the ‘mystery’.  Some marriages that should fail don’t.  Other marriages that shouldn’t fail do.   Again, it is hard to turn love and marriage into an exact science no matter how many statistics you have. 

In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul writes in some detail about the relationship between a Christian husband and a Christian wife; not from a scientific standpoint, but from a religious, faith-oriented, and Christian standpoint.   Why does Paul move from discussing religion to relationships?   If the gospel is transforming and it is about new ways of living, then should it not only have an impact on our personal and private lives,  but it should also be life-changing for our relationships, both personal and public. 

What may be most challenging about this text is not what it says about the marital relationship, but what it doesn’t say, but people often think it says.   Unfortunately many have misused Paul’s words about the husband being ‘the head of the wife’ (v. 23) to control, abuse, or manipulate their wives.  Such wrong-headed views (please excuse the pun) overlook how Jesus told his disciples not to ‘lord over each other’ (Mark 10.42).  This command must include husbands and wives in a marriage too.  Wrong-minded interpretations of this also omit the fact that Paul has just written that the husband and wife are first Christians, being ‘be subject’ to one another ‘as to the Lord’.   It is NOT so that the husband can dominate his wife that the wife should submit, but the wife only submits out of a caring relationship of love and devotion.   This kind of submission is reserved only for her loving husband (not all males) because it is deserved in their unique relationship.  The wife only submits to a husband who loves her unconditionally and is prepared to ‘give up’ his own life for his wife (5.25).     

Again, we must be clear.  It is not a “Christian” marriage relationship when one person dominates or controls the other.   The submission and devotion pictured here is freely offered out of mutual submission of love, equality and partnership because in Christ there is neither  ‘male’ or ‘female’ (Gal. 3.28).   Paul is not picturing a Christian husband who dominates or forces his rule over or against his wife.  That is not very Christian.  Paul is picturing a call to spiritual leadership for the husband, and upon the wife’s acknowledgement of this leadership because it is earned, deserved, and agreed upon as they come together ‘in Christ’.  This is why Paul says that the ‘husband is the head of the wife JUST AS Christ is the head of the church….  (5.23).  

We all know that Jesus did not become ‘head’ of the church by force nor domination, but Christ leads the church by humility, sacrifice, and servanthood.   Being the ‘head’ of a home is not about claiming physical power, but it carries with it the idea of having the spiritual responsibility which only God gives---which is portrayed as a husband ‘loves his wife as Christ loves the church’.    There can be no Christian ‘headship’ without both ‘hearts’ beating as one in the Spirit.  No marriage can be rightly called Christian unless both husband and wife are already mutually submitting to each other under Christ’s lordship. 

Paul’s presumption of ‘mutual submission’ is most important to any kind of leadership, not just in a marriage.  Think an open, respectful, and transparent relationship, either at church, work, or at home, where people rely upon each other’s distinctive talents, gifts and assigned roles.   It is only a relationship of mutual respect, trust and responsibility that ever really works.  Who would want to be in a relationship or marriage where the only one ‘leads’ has to be right 100% of the time?   My wife Teresa and I, had to, and still have to work out how our marriage works and who ‘leads’ when and where, as all couples do.   I don’t want nor need to assume all responsibility, and neither should she.  We all come out of different backgrounds with different needs and this has to be navigated and negotiated.   Teresa came from a large family with 7 children and she was the oldest.   I came from a family of 3 and was an only child.  The way you thrive and survive in a household of 9 is very different from how you thrive and survive in a household of 3.   There was a lot of freedom and room for discussion in my home.  There was limited freedom, and very little room for discussion in Teresa’s home.  Her Father was dominating at times, sometimes too dominate.  My Father was passive, and was sometimes too passive.  But you can understand the differences because the needs were very different in those homes.  Fortunately, we both had good homes with good parents who figured out how to relate with each other and were good role models for us.  But how we would make our marriage work is something we had too and still have to work out ourselves, in Christ.

The good thing about ‘mutual submission’ before any kind of ‘headship’ or ‘leadership’ by the husband is a relationship that takes the pressure off of either  having to be perfect in the relationship.  None of us can be 100% right all of the time but we do have to find ways to agree together, and we always have give ourselves to Christ first, and then we also have to submit to each other second, before we can begin to think about what comes next.   Only when a  couple come together in Christ and give themselves to each other, only then, should the wife ‘submit’ to the strength and leadership of her husband, which comes out of her own willingness, her own weakness, and her own need, not out of male power, male dominance nor male rule.  Some women liberation groups still don’t want to admit that such a caring, loving, submissive relationship will work, but a majority of Christian wives know this is still the only kind of relationship that will work.  Only when a couple submit to Christ and then to each other, should a wife freely submits to her ‘Christ-like’ husband out of reverence to Christ (v. 21) and out respect  (v. 33) and for her husband, whom God has chosen to lead.  This is not the only kind of relationship that might work, if agreed upon, but it is the kind of relationship that works best, and do you know why?

Paul says that a wife should ‘subject’ or to ‘submit’ to a loving, caring, devoted husband only as the devoted husband ‘loves’ his wife ‘as his own body’ (vs. 28).   The point here is that as a husband loves ‘nourishes and tenderly cares for his own body’ he should ‘love, nourish, tenderly care’ for his wife ‘as Christ does for the church’ (vs. 29).  What should be unmistakable in a Christian marriage could be misunderstood and mistaken in a secular.  The goal of a Christian marriage is not only a person meeting their own personal and relational needs, but the goal of a Christian marriage is also meeting the personal and relational needs of the other.  This is why Paul requires that the wife meet the need of her husband for ‘respect’ (v. 33) by submitting to him, and that the husband meet the need of the wife, for ‘tenderness’ and ‘love’ (vs. 25, 28-29).  

In a demanding and challenging way, the wife is expected to ‘serve’ her husband in a way that will be hard for her to do (submission),  and the husband is expected to do what could be hard and difficult for him to do, which is to be ‘tender’ , compassionate, and be nurturing.   They are each called not only to companionship, but they are challenged in Christian discipleship to serve each other in their marriage, in ways the other needs most, so that they may truly become one.  

Many years ago, before Gary Chapman, associate pastor at Calvary Baptist in Winston-Salem, wrote his best-selling book, “The Five Love Languages”, he came to a pastor’s meeting I attended.   At that meeting, he gave all of us pastors a copy of his first book on Marriage, entitled: “Toward a Growing Marriage”.  One of my favorite chapters in that book with the heading “Who’s Going to Clean the Commode”.  But perhaps the best story comes right before that chapter where Dr. Chapman answers a question he had to answer in his own marriage: “Who’s going to close the drawers?” 

Chapman says that that when he and his wife Karolyn first got married, he noticed almost immediately that she was not a ‘drawer closer’.  His wife was definitely a ‘drawer opener’ but not a ‘drawer closer.’   He didn’t notice it that much at first, but after a few years of marriage it began to irritate him ‘greatly’.   He eventually ‘confronted’ her about it, but it didn’t work.  Every time he found unclosed drawers he fumed.  He even used his educational skills to try to give her a visual imprint of how drawers worked;  he emptied all the draws, showed her how a drawer worked on a wheel and how good an invention it was.  It was all to no avail. 

Then came the time when Chapman’s young daughter had to go to the hospital for stiches because she had run into an drawer that had been ‘left open’ by his wife.   It was in this moment that Chapman finally came to realize that his sweet wife Karolyn was not going to change.   He had a decision to make.  As he saw it, he had only one of three options:  (1) He could leave his wife because of the ‘unclosed’ drawers, or (2) he could get mad at her every time he came home to find a drawer left open,  or (3), he could accept that she would not and could not change, and he would ‘serve’  his wife by becoming the ‘drawer closer’ in their home.

On the day Chapman made his decision, he came home to announce it to his wife.
      “Karolyn, do you know the thing about the unclosed drawers.” 
      “Oh Gary,” she answered.  “You’re not going to bring that up again, are you?”
      “No,” he said.  “But I have an answer.  From now on, you don’t have to worry about it.  You don’t have to ever close another drawer.  I’m going to accept that as one of my jobs.  Our drawer problem is over!”  

Chapman concludes, “From that day on those ‘open drawers’ have not bothered him.   He feels no emotion.  No hostility.  No animosity.  Now, when he gets home he just closes them and all is well (From “Toward a Growing Marriage” by Gary Chapman,  Moody Press, 1979, p 99-100). 

While we all need to have room to grow, changed and be challenged in our marriages,  we also need to have room to accept those things we cannot change about our spouses.  This means that when we can’t change them,  we need to find a way to change ourselves, our own attitudes, and the greatest attitude anyone can have to make a marriage work, is to want to ‘serve’ the other.   It is the willingness to serve each that both the way of ‘submission’ and the way of ‘love’ will call for in our marriage.  Until we answer the challenge and demand of servanthood---toward Christ and for our spouse, we cannot rightly call it a “Christian” marriage.  For there is no marriage in Christ, without being “Christ-like” that you ‘serve’ and give your life as ransom (Mk. 10.45) for the other.  

Let’s conclude by applying this Christian idea of Christ ‘giving his life as a ransom’ in a marriage to where Paul says a husband is to ‘give up his life’ for his wife (v. 25.

When you apply the Christian gospel to marriage, eventually you will get to the bottom line.   The bottom line is neither submission of the wife to the husband, nor is it each one serving the other in ‘tender, nourishing love’.  No, the bottom line of a Christian marriage is the same as the bottom line of a Christian’s life.  It is the cross.  This is why Paul now writes, that since the husband is the ‘head’ of the wife he now has the primary spiritual responsibility of making the marriage and the wife holy.   Listen to how Paul states it so poetically, beginning in verse 25: 
“Husbands, love your lives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind---   yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.” (5: 25-27).

Now, to some so called ‘liberated’ persons, this will sound like the epitome of male chauvinism, saying that the love of a devoted husband will make the wife clean and holy as Christ cleanses the church.   But before anyone jumps on this anti-chauvinistic bandwagon, we need to recall that in 1 Corinthians 7:14, Paul wrote that both the husband and the wife sanctify and make each other holy.   In a marriage, holiness and marital health is not a ‘one-way’ street, but it is a ‘two way’ partnership so that a healthy and wholesome relationship strengthens and purifies both. 

But if this is true---that each one assists the other in being a Christian---why isn’t Paul saying it that way here?  Why is he now putting most of the responsibility for the success or failure of marriage upon the husband?   Well, this should be rather obvious, shouldn’t it?  The ancient world was very much a ‘man’s world’ and because of this, if the marriage was going to work, the primary responsibility was to be placed upon the husband.   This is why Paul only requires that the wife ‘submit’ to the husband, but requires that the husband ‘give himself up’ for his wife.   Paul is putting a greater responsibility upon the husband because this is how it was, and still is, in many places in the world.  With the privilege of being the head,  the ‘husband’ also bears call to the greater sacrifice, to show a love to his wife that not only willing to serve, but is willing give up everything, even his own life.

I’ve told you the story about my getting to know a Shepherd’s wife in Germany.  I met the Shepherd only once, but I met his wife several times when I went to borrow some of his equipment for using in our Bible School with children.   When I noticed that her husband was seldom home, but always ‘out’ taking care of the sheep, I asked his wife, why she would marry a man who was most often not at home.  “Why did you marry a Shepherd?” I asked.
       She told me a story that went something like this.  “Once when we were dating, and we were out there watching over the sheep,  one of the young lambs feel into a swirling pool of water.  We did not know how deep the water was and it was certain that the little lamb would drown.  Without giving it a second thought, even though the water was cold and who knows how deep, he jumped into the water and risked his own life to save that lamb.  When I watched him do that I thought to myself, “If he cares that much, then I know he will also take care of me.”  That’s the day I decided that I would marry him.  I knew that he was capable of the greatest love and devotion, even if it would require giving up his own life for his wife.

When we marry, we no longer only bear our own cross, but because we are one, we begin to bear the ‘cross’ of each other, with each other and for each other.   This unconditional love is not unique to Christianity, but it is, without doubt, the greatest kind of love.  This ‘cross-bearing’ love not only keeps marriages together when they could easily fall apart, and it also the kind of love that keeps the mystery going until the day when we all come to ‘know’ as we are now ‘known’, by the one who knows us best and still loves us most.  If the great mystery of marriage is ever solved, it will be solved by an even greater mystery, the mystery of God’s own sacrificial and unconditional love.   Amen.