Love Your Spouse

In Ephesians 5 the Apostle Paul said that women were to submit to their husbands. Most people reject this approach at face value today. And yet I meet many people who live happily together. I meet other people who believe that men ought to “rule” their wives (and wives who try to rule their husbands) and are not so happy at all.

In thinking about this, it occurs to us that perhaps people in our culture incorrectly interpret Paul’s statement due to a cultural bias.

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The Important Stuff – that’s what we’re talking about today – some of the things that Jesus told us were important. We started with what He said was the great commandment, which is to love God. So that would be the most important thing. And now we’re working on the second greatest commandment, which is love our neighbor as ourselves. So far, we’ve talked about loving our family, loving our congregation, loving our community – all those people are neighbors, because they’re not us. And now we’re working on another aspect of loving our neighbor. And that is Love Your Spouse. Those of you who aren’t married, but hope to be, it’s good for you, too.

I was talking to a woman recently, who told me, when she grew up, that her parents were really stingy with her. They had nice clothes. She didn’t think hers were so good. They went out a lot. She said that they didn’t take her with them. She always felt deprived. And she decided, when she had a child, she would not be like that with her child. So she had a son and she gave him everything that he wanted. Unfortunately, she overdid it. She went to the opposite extreme and gave him so much that he was spoiled. And as a result, he thought he deserved everything without working for it. He was lazy, angry and without empathy for other people.

I see this a lot in families. If we parent our kids, reacting to the wrongs of our parents, we almost always overcorrect and cause another problem. It seems, whichever extreme we go to, our kids wind up angry. You can deprive them and they get angry, or you can give them too much and it makes them angry, too.

Well, since this woman was married, I asked her what her husband thought of her approach. And she said, “He always thought that I was overprotective.” “So what was it that caused you not to let him have any input?” She said, “It seemed to me that he was wrong and I was right, and I wasn’t going to let him ruin my son. But now I see that he was right.” I see this all the time. What I learn from this is that, when marriage doesn’t work – when one person or the other has total input or total control – people need each other to have a balanced approach. And I’m not saying that women are the ones that cause this problem all the time. I see men make really bad mistakes when they have total control, too – like abuse. That is a part of things.
I’m going to tell you another story, too. I was watching the news one night, when I lived in southern California, and there was a big fire near Malibu – burned lots of expensive homes. The newscast, one night, showed a street where every house on the street had been burned down except for one. It was just sitting there untouched. They asked the owner why his house survived. And he said the he realized it was getting dry earlier in the summer, so he hired somebody with a tractor to come in and disk all the brush away from his house. That saved his home. And he also said that before the fire happened, the EPA had begun proceedings to sue him, because his property – he only disked on his property that he owned – was the environment for a particular kind of endangered mouse. If you’ve ever been to Malibu, you know that there are millions and millions of acres that don’t have any houses on them. And they’re all just like the property that was around his house. So you can know that there were millions of acres for this particular mouse            to exist. He made the comment that he thought his environment was as important as the mouse’s. But he was being sued by the EPA.

So, like in this family with this woman, things can get out of balance when you don’t have input from everybody. In our country right now, the government is populated with environmental extremists, who don’t care what the rest of us think, and don’t care as much about the people as they do about little tiny fish and little tiny mice. They’re out of control and out of balance. And they’re so unbalanced, they’ve turned the rest of us off – given their own cause a bad name with most of the people in the country. We have a government where they are taking more care of the environment than they are the people who live in it.

So where are we going with this in a presentation about marriage? Well, our society, for hundreds of years, has been working its way out of an unfair situation – namely inequality for women. Men have believed it was their right to have control over women – for a long time – and now society has moved away from that unbalanced position. But what is in its place? That’s the question. There’s a lot of confusion about all of that. So today we’re going to attempt to put away all social preconceptions on either side and just look at what the Bible says about marriage and how to love your spouse. When we’re done with that, we’re going to take a look at how the biblical teachings could translate into marriage in 2011 – outside of what culture has to say about it.

Let’s look in Genesis 2, verse 18, to begin with.

Genesis 2:18 – God said, “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make a helper fit for him.”

And then in verse 20, it says:

V-20 – The man gave names to all livestock, and to birds of the heavens, and to beasts for the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept, He took one of his ribs, closed it up, and in its place was flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, brought her to the man, and the man said, “This, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother, and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Now, modern people, for the most part, are willing to acknowledge that males are incomplete and need help. But some people are not willing to acknowledge that females were made to complete the male-female relationship. Our present day society – at least, the extreme parts of it – rage against these two roles. They don’t want those two roles to exist. And I think that’s because we’re coming out of an unfair situation and we are overreacting – just like the lady who was mistreated growing up, and so she overreacted and created an imbalance between her and her husband about how to deal with their son. It’s understandable, because women couldn’t even vote in this country until well into the last century. I mean, that’s totally unfair. How do you justify that in light of the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights? Unfair. But I think people coming from that background – and that’s all of us – assume God is saying that women are inferior here, when He says that woman was made to be a helper for man. But you can also say that God was just telling Adam, “By yourself, you’re just not going to cut it, boy. You need help!” Really.

So what does that say about the woman? Well, maybe we can learn more about that later.

Let’s look in 1 Peter 3. This is an interesting statement.

1 Peter 3:7 – Likewise husbands, live with your wives – we’re in 1 Peter 3:7 – in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel. What! Weaker vessel?? Never! But, you know, if we can just get past our bias and see what it’s saying…. Weaker means that her husband is weak; it’s just that she’s weaker. Okay? In our country – in our culture – most people acknowledge that men are, generally, physically stronger.

Now yesterday, I met a lady – I was at the Children’s Grief Center Marketing Committee meeting – and I met a lady who competes in power lifting at the national level. I mean, she could probably lift more weight than I could right now. So there are exceptions.  A while back, I had a cute little fourteen-year-old girl, who had come to see me, and she could do twenty-five pull-ups. That’s more pull-ups than I’ve ever done at my best. Right now there’s a twelve-year-old girl that comes to see me, who can outrun every twelve-year-old boy in her school. And that will last for, maybe, another year and, then, it’s going to start going the other way. And I don’t think most men would want to race with some of the women athletes that we see in the Olympics. So there are always exceptions, right? But most boys can outrun most girls by the time they are teenagers. And most boys are stronger.

So that’s what God is saying. And you can deny that all you want to, but it’s still the truth. Women aren’t as strong, physically, on average. They can withstand pain more. They can learn things faster. There are lots of ways they’re stronger, but I think He’s talking about physically here. And given that a man is physically stronger, what’s he to do? Well, he’s to show respect to his wife, show honor to her – that’s what it says, right? – and to help her. “Honey, would you put this in the car for me? Honey, would you go deal with the burglar in the family room?” Right?

I heard Fred Kellers talk about this once at the Lake of the Ozarks. He was giving a sermon on marriage. And he brought a Presto pressure canner. Have you ever seen one of those things? He was jumping up and down on it, when it had the lid on it. Then he pulled out a very fine wine glass that someone had given to him and his wife as a gift. And he mentioned that they both cost the same amount of money. But the way he got the wine glass there was to pack it in newspaper and put it inside the Presto pressure canner to bring it. And he said, “Which one of these is the superior vessel?” Well, it’s a stupid question, because they’re both for different things. You wouldn’t want to drink wine out of a Presto pressure canner and you wouldn’t want to try to boil vegetables in a wine glass. They have different roles. Right?

So, when God is talking about women being the weaker vessel, he’s not talking about them being less beautiful, or inferior. He’s talking about gender roles. He created each one to do something different – something unique in the relationship. For a woman to fulfill her role in the relationship, she doesn’t have to be as physically strong as a man – as far as lifting stuff. She’s probably stronger than he is, when it comes to squeezing out children. Right? None of us guys want to try that!

So what does it say about spiritual value in this scripture – that people have taken exception to? Well, it says:

V-7 – …since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers be not hindered. “Heirs with you of the grace of the life” – fully equal in that. Same potential, same reward. And what does it mean, “…so your prayers be not hindered?” Well, what that means is that, if a man doesn’t take care of his wife and treat her with respect, God is not going to listen to him. That’s what that means. He knows men are, sometimes, lunkheads and don’t treat their wives like they should. And this is a cultural thing. The roles are also being assaulted because homosexuality is becoming more prevalent. And they have to fight against the biblical roles, as well, to provide validity for their position. We can – all of us – from whatever position we come from – we can rage against these, but they’re still natural laws. And if we break them, then we lose in a variety of ways.

I was talking to a psychologist sometime ago, who is homosexual in his orientation. He was telling me about a client he had who is confused about his gender. That can happen because of a genetic issue, or it can happen because of early childhood experience, but this person felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body, and wanted a sex change operation. And the psychologist pointed out to me – he was my supervisor, so he was trying to teach me and help me navigate through all of this stuff that I didn’t have any experience with – he pointed out that in all his years of dealing with people who are confused about gender, he had never seen anybody happy. And he’d never seen anybody adjust well to a sex change operation. I mean, one of the worst tragedies that can happen to a human being is to be confused about his gender – or her gender. That’s just how it is. We were created male and female – at least, that was the plan. And I know, sometimes, there are genetic anomalies that take place. I think a lot of it has to do with environmental contamination that we face. And that’s, certainly, not anybody’s fault – at least, not the person who is contaminated and has a genetic anomaly. But it’s still difficult that that happens to us.

So, if we become confused about that, for whatever reason, life is going to be harder. So it’s very important for us to feel good about what we are. And, you know, you can talk to some elementary aged kids – 4th grade boys or girls – and you can say to the girls, “How would you like to be a boy?” And they’re going to go, “Oooohoooo! Uuuhuuh!” And we still feel that way as adults, too. We just don’t express it as well. That’s what they do. It’s also true that, when God tells us that the husband is the head of the wife, and we won’t go with that, then life is going to be harder for us, because that’s how God designed it. Now, that may seem unfair, because our cultural bias prevents us from understanding what God means when He says that. And we’re going to get to that today.

There are so many things in our culture that throw us off – all the language that we have used – the English language – I don’t have any experiences in other languages – for hundreds of years has been biased towards men. Mankind – why didn’t they just say humankind? Because the way they oriented their thinking was towards men. We call it gender bias. In the past, sometimes, that was just the way society oriented itself toward the roles of men and women, and there was nothing that was intended to be demeaning to women about it. Then, at other times, there have been cultures that have been extremely oppressive to women. And such cultures exist today, as well.

But in the Bible, if you get past what the 1611 King James translators did and how they explained things – like mankind, and they always refer to anything that had to do with both sexes as male – if you get past that, and you just look at what is in the Bible – if you think about it – the Bible is always above or outside of culture. Now there’s plenty of culture in the Bible, when you’re dealing with the people there, but the views that are presented by God and the biblical writers are kind of outside of that. The Bible was written over a four thousand year period, so there’s going to be a lot of cultural change there, too, isn’t there? And yet, all the women in the Bible, who have lived well their biblical roles, have always been venerated in the Scriptures. Ruth, Deborah – who was a judge; she was a national leader in Israel – Abigail – who had a churlish husband, and who was way smarter than he was, and tactful, and wise. There was Mary. I mean, you can just go on and on. And still people say, “Well, men above women; men in control of women; women subservient to men. It just seems so unfair.” That’s what I mean about having a hard time seeing past our own cultural bias.

So let’s move into the New Testament and see a picture of marriage as God intended it. Let’s go to Ephesians 5, and verse 22.

Ephesians 5:22 – Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. Some women say they submit to no man. Well, when you think of Jesus Christ, do you think of Him as a woman? Or do you think of Him as a man? We’re all supposed to submit to Him, right? So, is there a problem with that? Well, He’s perfect. Well, okay then. Husbands are supposed to treat their wives perfectly, too. What is all this role of submission for anyway?

V-23 – For the husband – verse 23 – is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church – His body – and is Himself its Savior. So there’s a lesson to be learned here about the roles that God has assigned men and women in a marriage. And it has to do with what is going to happen forever after we’re in the Kingdom of God. Christ and the church picture the relationship between the Father and Christ. And since, we’re in the church, we’re a part of that relationship. So that’s teaching us how it’s going to be in the Kingdom of God.

Now, all of us aspire to be in the Kingdom and to be submissive to God the Father and to Jesus Christ. We don’t have a problem with that, do we?

V-24 – Now, as the church submits to Christ, so wives also should submit in everything to their husbands. So, if you have a man, who is a converted member of the Church of God, he has to submit himself to Jesus Christ, just like his wife is supposed to submit to him. He doesn’t get away with being in total control of anything. He has to submit, too. It’s just that there is a little bit of layering going on there.

So God is asking women and men to live out the role of Christ and the church in their marriages. Why is that? Because this life is a practice ground for us to learn how to live in the Kingdom – in the family of God – later. Let’s think about this a minute. Let’s go back to “the husband is the head of the wife, just like Christ is the head of the church.” Guys, on a daily basis, how much does Christ boss you around? How much does He? Is He a control freak? Does He check your cell phone to see where you’ve been or who you’ve been talking to, or look on your Facebook page to see if you’ve been talking to somebody that you don’t like? Does He decide whether you get to watch the Super Bowl or not? Does He tell you what color your Ford or Chevy has to be? No! Any influence that He has in your life is because you allow Him to have it. And that’s how you’re supposed to be the head of your wife. No bossing her around every day, no checking up on her, no controlling behaviors, no abuse, because you love her and are supposed to take care of her. See, this is all about learning how to lead and how to follow. Women have a position of authority over children, too. And they have to learn how to take care of them.

V-25 – 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.

A man can make it really hard for his wife to be in the Family, or Kingdom, of God, or he can make it easy. It just depends on how he treats her. All of us have made a deal with Jesus Christ. And we promised to follow Him wherever He goes. We talked about that in this series. And He promises to love and take care of us and to help us into the Kingdom of God. So we all voluntarily submit with the hope of great gain. Wives are supposed to follow their husbands wherever they go, because of the hope of great gain. There is an exception to that rule, and that’s when he is not following Christ.

Let’s keep reading.

V-28 – In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own body. He who loves his wife, loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ loves the church.

No man has ever said, “I hate my thumb, so I’m going to put a rubber band around it until it falls off.” We just don’t talk like that. “I’m mad at my thumb. I’m going to hit it with a hammer.” No. I hit my thumb with a hammer once, and those watching thought it was quite humorous actually. But I didn’t! I didn’t like that at all. Do you think that any of us are like the thumb, with the rubber band around it, in God’s church – that God wants to squeeze the life’s blood out of some of us – that He doesn’t care about us? No, that’s not how it works. He cares about all of us. He wants to shepherd all of us into the Kingdom of God. We’re just as important to Him. He gave up His life for us we’re so important. Husbands are to love their wives like that – like they’re a part of their own bodies.

V-30 – Because we are – verse 30 – members of His body, 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’m saying that it refers to Christ and the church. And Christ and church refers to marriage, too. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Wives want respect, so they are to respect their husbands. Really, both of these roles go both ways. Husbands need to be loved and taken care of, so they should love and take care of their wives. Wives need respect, and so do husbands. So everybody is supposed to love, take care of and respect each other.

God’s law, really, is outside of and above any societal biases or position. It doesn’t matter what kind of culture we come from. Men and women, in marriage, respond well to love, respect and care. That’s just how it works.

How can we apply these principles in our culture? What works? What does it look like? Applying them in 2011, there are some cultural norms that we have to look at. In our culture, women are becoming more and more seen as equals with men. They’re not considered inferior to men. And that’s good. How, then, do we follow the biblical principle of the man as the head of the family?

I work mostly with couples who are not in tune with God at all. And I’ve noticed that they will unthinkingly gravitate to appropriate gender roles tasks if there is one thing in place. And that one thing is a simple principle that I tell them. If it doesn’t work for both of you, then it won’t work for either one of you in the end – any decision you make, any role you take, any action you take. “I don’t care what he thinks. I’m going to stand up for my child at school.” There was a lady whose kid was accused of bullying somebody, and she wanted to go to school and drop the hammer on the administration. Well, how is that going to work for Dad, if he’s not included in the decision making? Is that going to work for him? Well, maybe not. What’s going to happen if she persists down that track, if he doesn’t agree with it? Well, he’s going to argue with her. He’s going to resist. He’s going to struggle. Or he’s just going to give up, and go hands off, and let her take over. And what’s that going to do? Well, it’s just going to make him resent her and her controlling ways. The same thing with the opposite, if he does that, and she isn’t included. So, whichever one of them takes control of the situation, and overrides the other, is going to pay for it in resentment, turmoil and lack of support.

What’s the solution for that problem? Well, the solution is communication – to negotiate a new way of being a family. What’s that going to look like? Well, it gets down to who does what. So you’re talking about roles in the family again. And so both of them go to school to learn what has happened – to get a clear picture of the situation. Is the child varnishing the story to his own advantage? Well, most kids do that. You hear your kid, and you think that they were unfairly accused, and then you go to school, and you find out whether they really were or not. Was the administration just trying to protect others from him, or are they callous and punitive, or did they not see what happened? I mean, you just don’t know until you go there. Or did he really do what they said he did? So parents can help each other see the whole picture if they communicate and decide together what is to be done. And then they can come home and have a family meeting with him and present a united front. And mom, who wants to make sure he’s treated fairly – poor helpless boy that he is – will see that her son does, indeed, sometimes, need discipline. And her husband will help her accept that. Or vice versa. I see it go both ways all the time. I always ask them, “Who was the one who spoke the most at the meeting at the school?” Well, the man did. He’s finally stepping into his role – respectful and commanding respect.

I had another example where it was a woman and a man – they were Christian people – and the lady said her husband didn’t want to lead the family in spiritual activities or go to church. And I asked her, “Why not?” She said, “I don’t know. He has just decided not to.” So I suggested that she bring him in and we taught them how to communicate. They started talking about it and it turned out that she was pushing him so hard, he felt like she’d already taken his role away from him. So her way wasn’t working for him. It made him resentful. So his way wasn’t working for her. She was resentful, too. But nobody knew why. So once each of them realized what was happening together, they negotiated a way of doing things that included both of them. So he started going to church, and saying the blessing on the meals, and the bedtime prayers. And she started doing the Bible studies with the kids. So, instead of autocracy, it looks more like a team in 2011 – each person playing the roles God has assigned. People naturally gravitate to those roles if they’re included.

People might say, “Well, you haven’t said anything about the man being in charge yet.” Well, let me ask you this. If the man, who is in charge, according to God, loves his wife so much that she is like part of his own body, would he leave her out of decisions and make unilateral choices about her life, or would he include her? Is he an autocrat or is he a team captain? Is she left out of decision making or equally included in it – if he’s doing what the Bible says? If she has equal say in the decisions, who is in charge? See, I think that is a cultural bias issue that we have assumed. If it works for both, then it is going to work for both. If it only works for one, then it’s not going to work for anybody. And I think that’s what Paul was saying, though he used the words that he believed and would have been accepted in his culture. It’s just really interesting to watch people resolve their marital problems by doing what Paul said, even though they don’t realize Paul said to them. They think I did. But I’m just repeating what I heard out of the Bible.

So, it’s about taking care of each other, not about being in charge, because, if people are taking care of each other, who is in charge is moot. It doesn’t matter if the man is called the head of the family. If he’s making decisions based on what his wife wants and what he wants, then would she care?

The second issue I want to bring up is the issue of women in the work force. Most women worked in the home in Bible times. I think about my own family. My father was born in 1902 and my mother in 1909. When my dad was a child, most women worked at home doing all the work that it took to keep a home, in a non-electric age, going – much more labor intensive than now. And the men worked in factories or offices or on farms. So they went away and came home. When my mother and father married, she stayed home with me and my brother until we were old enough to be by ourselves at home, and then she went to work to help with the finances, like everybody else in the country was doing in the late 1950s or early 60s. When that change occurred, it was the first time that my father had experienced his wife working. He’d never experienced that. I remember observing that a change took place immediately. I would see him vacuuming and washing clothes and cooking. He didn’t do it all, but he did as much as my mother, because they both worked the same. He kind of saw them as a team. If she worked outside the home like he did, then he was going to work inside the home with her. Now my mother had to work every third weekend, because she worked at a hospital. And on those weekends, he would cook Sunday dinner. It was always the same thing. It was pot roast. You know, you throw the stuff in the pan and put the lid on it. My brother and I used to joke about it. “What’s for dinner?” “Well, what do you think?” His response was always the same. He was a great love and logic parent. He would say, “If you don’t like it, you can always cook dinner for us.”

By contrast, I once worked with a young school teacher. And this is like fifty years after – half a century later – so you would think people were more enlightened now. But this young school teacher had a husband who would come home from work, flop down in his chair with a bag of chips and a bottle of beer, and watch TV while she was fixing dinner after having worked all day with special ed kids. Then she would clean up the trash around his chair after he went off to bed. She said, “He complains that I’m not affectionate like I used to be.” “Well, what do you think of that?” She said, “Well, it’s hard to love somebody who isn’t fair.” I said, “Why don’t you tell him that I’d like his input about your problem and bring him in here sometime? Let’s have a go.” That hasn’t happened yet, but maybe it will someday.

There are still some people who haven’t adjusted to the way things work now in this country. Like my father…he wasn’t giving up a God-given gender role. He was stepping into one – he was taking care of his wife and working as a team with her.

So, working with people in very close awareness of what’s going on inside their marital relationships, what I’ve learned is that many Christians misunderstand what God is teaching us in the Bible about marriage. The emphasis is not on being subservient or in control. It’s about a structure of working together as a team. And, as it turns out, what seems to work across the board in marriage, in family, in business and government, is always the same thing. It’s teamwork.

I asked my parents, once, how they decided things among themselves. I was a teenager. And my mother, who I thought had a really good sense of humor, said, “Well, I’m a perfectly delightful person as long as I get my way. And so is your father. So we try to work it so that we both get our way as much as we can.” And when we do this, we are loving our mate as ourselves. That’s how that works. That is important stuff.

That’s it for Important Stuff – Loving Your Mate. Next time, we’re going to be talking about how to love our enemies, which is much easier than doing the mate thing.