The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Make Your Marriage Perfect’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 3/23/2014, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here: http://bit.ly/NLgDx7
Spoiler alert: your marriage will never be perfect. That does not mean, however, that you shouldn’t try to make your marriage as close to perfect as you possibly can! When it comes to our lives, we should seek to emulate the only Man who was ever perfect: Jesus Christ. When it comes to our marriages, we should seek to emulate God’s design for perfect marriage.
God lays out His blueprint for marital bliss in Ephesians 5:22-33 (read Eph 5:22-23 here). This is one of the most challenging texts to preach in church today because of society’s view of marriage (we’ll spend more time on that later). The goal with this discussion isn’t to give you rules to follow, but rather to change your thinking. Whenever we think about marriage, we tend to think about our rights: what am I owed by my spouse, and how is (s)he coming up short? Instead, we should focus on our responsibilities: how can I be a better husband/wife?
One of my least favorite words in the English language is ‘deserve.’ I know my distaste for it is quite unpopular because it’s such a popular word. When we work hard, we deserve a vacation. When we work out, we deserve dessert. But the Bible is about grace (unmerited favor), which by definition can never be earned or deserved. ‘Deserve’ is actually ‘de – serve.’ The prefix ‘de’ means to ‘distance or remove yourself from.’ So, when we take the posture that we deserve something, we are actually canceling our ability to serve. When it comes to marriage, we should never think about what we ‘deserve,’ but always ask ourselves, ‘How can I serve better?’
Eph 5:22-33 covers three themes: the wife, the husband and the union. Let’s take a look.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. – Eph 5:22-24
Let’s start out by stating the obvious: the word ‘submit’ makes us all extremely uncomfortable. ‘Submit’ has a negative connotation. When we think of submission, we think of inhumane treatment. We think of bending to a will that is not our own, even though it is completely against our wishes. I’d like to try and change the way you think about that word.
Submit means ‘to accept or yield to the will of another person’ (source: Google dictionary). But it also means ‘to present to a person or body for consideration’ (source: Google dictionary). When you submit, you actually position yourself to receive something favorable. As part of the application process for a new job, you submit an application. Once you get that job, you receive promotion. As part of the application process for school, you do the same thing. If you want to receive wisdom at school, you need to submit your name for consideration. If you want to be considered for an award, you guessed it – you need to submit your name to be considered as the potential recipient of the honor associated with that award. In order to assume a posture that makes you capable of receiving something favorable, you need to submit. When a wife ‘submits,’ she is not bowing to the will of an abusive husband; if the husband and wife honor each other, she is actually positioning herself to receive the honor and blessing that come with a Biblical marriage.
The wife has a very tough task in front of her, and I will be the first person to acknowledge that. Submission requires complete and total trust. When we submit our lives to Jesus Christ, it is because we trust in Him for salvation. When wives submit their lives to husbands, they have to fully trust them.
Husbands, this is where you come in. Before you can expect your wife to submit to you, you have to be worthy of submission. Submission is not a right, but a responsibility: you need to become a God-fearing man whom your wife can trust with her life. It’s not up to you to tell your wife she needs to submit to you. It’s up to her to accept God’s counsel and decide she needs to submit to you. You worry about becoming the best man, husband and father you can be, and let your wife worry about following this Biblical mandate for herself. If you prove you’re a leader with a soft heart, she will have no problem following you – without you asking. Ultimately, your wife is submitting to God’s design; not yours. God will change her and soften her heart to the idea of Biblical submission, which means you don’t have to. You have your work cut out for you as it is.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own 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 the Lord does the church. – Eph 5:25-29
Between the husband and wife, the former really has a tougher responsibility than the latter. Don’t get me wrong: the wife has a very tough job. However, let’s think about what God is actually asking of husbands. God asks men to ‘…love your wives…as Christ loved the Church.’ What did Jesus do for His bride, the church? He DIED! He endured unending agony and suffered and died so she could be free. So wives, your job is to submit. Husbands, your job is to die. I don’t know about you, but I’d take the former over the latter.
Husbands, this is where you come in. Don’t worry about ‘making’ your wife submit or ‘convincing’ her to follow you. If you lead properly, she will have no problem accepting this passage. Jesus never forces anyone to love Him or to follow His lead. He showed His magnificent love for us in the greatest act of compassion the world has ever seen, and then allowed us to make our own decision for Him. We should treat our wives the same way.
Wives, don’t worry about turning your husband into a better leader. If you demonstrate you’re willing to follow, he will become a better leader. So, let’s stick to ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ statements. When it comes to improving your marriage, there is always work that you can do personally.
The husband’s primary responsibility as outlined in Eph 5:26-27 is becoming the spiritual leader of his household. As husbands, we need to provide an atmosphere where our wives can grow and flourish: without spot, without wrinkle and without blemish. We need to ‘cleanse’ our wives ‘with the washing of water by the word.’ That means several things, and all of them are going to take some work: 1) the husband needs to know his Bible better than anyone else in the family, 2) he needs to be the leader when it comes to prayer (NOT just before you eat), and 3) He needs to be the leader when it comes to displaying grace and unconditional love for everyone in his family, especially his wife.
Too often, the wife (mother) is the member of the household who takes spiritual responsibility for the family. Maybe dad goes out and plays golf while mom takes the kids to church. Maybe dad relaxes and reads (or watches football) while mom teaches the kids about Bible stories. Whatever shape it takes, this is a trend that we need to reverse. The Promise Keepers website has an amazing statistic: “When a child is the first to attend church, 3.5% of the families follow. When a wife/mom is the first to attend church, 17% of the families follow. When a dad/husband is the first to attend church, 93% of the families follow” (source: promisekeepers.org). If we want our families to follow Biblical mandates, we (husbands & fathers) have to be the ones to commit to loving God and His Word. We have to lead by example, knowing that as we lead our families will follow.
For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. – Eph 5:30-33
The perfect union between husband and wife is based on three things as illustrated in the passage above: mutual need, mutual honor and mutual dependence.
Mutual Need: Paul’s teaching on the necessity of different members of the church body is also applicable to healthy marriages:
But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. – 1 Cor 12:20-26
The husband and wife are designed as equals – but with different functions. Healthy functioning of the union is dependent on healthy functioning of both parties that contribute to the union. Each part of the body is also dependent on the healthy functioning of the other body parts. The human body serves as our example. Our bodies cannot survive without the brain sending messages to every body part, to regulate functions and allocate resources and energy. In the same way, we can’t survive without the heart pumping blood throughout our entire bodies. The same can be said for the stomach digesting food, or other internal organs processing waste. The marriage union requires a healthy husband and a healthy wife, working together to achieve health for the overall organism. No individual is more valuable to the union than the other, just as no body part is more valuable to the whole organism than any other. Husbands and wives need to recognize each other’s significance and work together.
Mutual honor: The text above also describes a process whereby church leaders must intentionally honor those members who ‘seem to be’ less honorable. The same truth is applicable to marriages. Society is set up in such a way that husbands naturally receive greater honor than wives. I’m not saying this is right; I’m just stating that it’s a fact, like it or not. Husbands & fathers receive accolades publically and often; wives do not typically share that luxury. It is important, therefore, that we honor our wives. As the head, the husband is uncovered and receives public glory. As the body, the wife is covered. As husbands, we must receive go out of our way to intentionally honor our wives. So, if you want your wife to invest more in your marriage, honor her more.
Mutual dependence: Husband and wives need each other to function properly within the marriage union. However, they should not be mutually dependent. A Biblical marriage is market by mutual dependence on JESUS CHRIST; not on each other. Husband and wife must rely on Jesus Christ as individuals, so that when they come together in the marriage union they will rely on Him as a couple.
Both in the church community and outside of it, we see people get married for the wrong reasons all too often. The principal offender in this area rears its ugly head when two people get married as a solution to unhappiness. An unhappy man and an unhappy woman create an unhappy union. There is no canceling effect, as when multiplying two negatives in mathematics. Marriage is an exercise in addition. Two negatives, when added together, produce a more negative number.
Unfortunately, if you get married and expect your spouse to make you happy, you’re setting both yourself and your future spouse up for failure. Joy and happiness are attributes that only God can provide. In Psalm 16:11, David recounts to God that “…In [His] presence is fullness of joy…[and] and [His] right hand are pleasures forevermore. As finite human beings, we cannot provide for each other something that can only be provided by an infinite God. If we seek happiness from our spouse, we might as well be driving a Mack truck over a bridge made out of popsicle sticks and glue. Neither the husband, nor the wife, nor the marriage union, is designed to bear that much weight. Only God can make you happy, so please don’t ask your spouse to provide something that he or she can never ultimately provide.
Far too often, we use marriage as a vehicle for personal satisfaction. That is a good part of the reason why divorce is so prevalent. If a husband or a wife isn’t happy, he or she feels the need to escape the relationship, and the court system is ready and willing to satisfy that request without so much as batting an eyelash.
Edwin Friedman describes something he calls the ‘myth of incompatibility’ in his book ‘Generation to Generation.’ The idea that we have adopted as a society is that if marriage isn’t easy, the pair involved must not be compatible. Instead of working towards a solution, both parties hit the eject button after swallowing the lie that the marriage won’t ever work between them.
Marriage is hard work. It’s such hard work, in fact, that Paul recommended in his letter to the church at Corinth that everyone should stay single (1 Cor 7:7-8)! The Bible is the resource that provides us with motivation to make any struggling marriage work, along with a plan for making it happen.
The Way Out: God’s Design for Marriage
Instead of satisfaction, seek sacrifice. Jesus Christ died for the church. As husbands and wives, we must die to ourselves so that we can be alive for each other. When my wife and I were in premarital counseling at our church (THANK YOU Shawn & Sarah Martin!!!), we read a book called “Marriage on the Rock” by Jimmy and Karen Evans. The authors reinforced the fact that husbands and wives are equal, but distinct. Man’s chief need is honor: husbands all want a wife who makes him feel like a king. Woman’s chief need is safety: wives all want a husband who is a strong leader with a soft heart. When we don’t agree to follow God’s design for marriage as outlined in Ephesians 5, we aren’t respecting the way we’re designed. When we don’t respect our design, we dishonor God’s purpose for us. And when we don’t honor God’s purpose for us, we will never be happy.
Sacrifice is the answer to marital bliss. Stop focusing on yourself. These are all questions that should be banished from your thought repertoire during self-reflection: ‘Am I happy? Am I getting everything out of this marriage that I want to? Is my husband/wife meeting my needs?’
Instead, start focusing on your spouse. What can you do to make this marriage better?
The Biblical model for marriage is absolutely beautiful. When you try to achieve happiness for yourself, 1) it will feel like a lot of work and 2) it will never be attainable. However, if you’re trying to make your spouse happy, 1) it will feel effortless and 2) you will find yourself insanely happy as a by-product of your sacrifice. If a husband and a wife are constantly bending over backwards to meet each other’s needs, two things will happen: they will both be incredibly happy, and that happiness will feel absolutely effortless.
For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. – Matt 16:25
Jesus’ message to us is simple: if you seek to live for yourself you will be miserable, but if you seek to live for Him you will find indescribable joy. Those are our choices in marriage as well. If you want to live to honor God, you have to start with honoring your spouse.
– by Pastor Mike White
© Michael D. White and CityLight Church, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael White and CityLight Church with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.