|Date of Sermon: January 14, 2007||
Last week I confessed my naïveté regarding Reality TV. I had not watched a complete episode of the Extreme Home Makeover. In fact, it was only last week that I discovered the Makeover was just that. The home is made all over again. The old home, which was no longer adequate (if ever it was), is torn down, bulldozed, razed to the ground. Then a beautiful new home is built, where once the shanty stood.
I started thinking about that concept this week as I continue to address the topic of the true infrastructure of a home - relationships. Last week we were reminded to set a place for Christ at the table and that as we do perspectives and relationships are set right. It appears to me that some ideas of marriage are so misguided that they may have to be torn down, while others may only need to receive some minor repairs.
Much has been written about marriage. Men, women, children and teachers have all been widely quoted. Let me share some of these with you:
● Before marriage, a man declares that he would lay down his life to serve you; after marriage, he won't even lay down his newspaper to talk to you. ~Helen Rowland
● Marriage is an alliance entered into by a man who can’t sleep with the window shut, and a woman who can’t sleep with the window open. ~George Bernard Shaw -Playwright
● English Law prohibits a man from marrying his mother-in-law. This is our idea of useless legislation. ~Author Unknown
● You should never kiss a girl unless you have enough bucks to buy her a big ring and her own VCR, ’cause she'll want to have videos of the wedding. ~Jim, age 10
● Young Son: Is it true, Dad, that in some parts of Africa a man doesn't know his wife until he marries her? Dad: That happens in every country, son.
● Marriage must constantly fight against a monster which devours everything: routine. ~Honore de Balzac - author
Yes, much has been written about the concept of marriage. The Bible speaks rather openly to this subject, but there has been much debate over what it says, because let’s face it, the most recent words we have recorded in this book are nearly 2,000 years old. Can the writings of an itinerant preacher from the 1st Century Middle East really have much to say to the 21st century American marriage? I believe that with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit they can. Listen to what the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the relationships found in a marriage. These words are in Ephesians 5:22-33 on page 195 of your New Testament. Hear now the Word of the Lord:
22Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27so 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. 28In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
In this passage Paul encouraged Ephesian couples to reflect the relationship of Jesus Christ and His church. Before I go any further in this message I need to address the single, divorced and abused. I realize that these words can seem either foreign or offensive. They are words written to describe a healthy marriage and a healthy church. We do not always have those in our lives and for that my heart aches. However, I am convinced that we must not let go of the desire to be healthy or to be in healthy relationships. It is also important to note that Paul wrote this letter to the whole church, so there must be something in this for every one of us. I encourage you to listen for that which God will apply to your life.
One other thing that I must say before I launch into an exposition of this passage. Please pay close attention to the commas in this passage - especially those that come after the words, “wives” and “husbands”. I learned very early in a marriage that will celebrate its 30th anniversary this July that it is not polite to read another person’s mail. Husbands, if this passage is addressed to wives – don’t read it. That is, don’t take it upon yourselves to tell her what it means. Wives, if this passage is addressed to husbands – don’t read it. That is, don’t take it upon yourselves to tell him what it means. Having said this, let us move forward with a message entitled, “I Do” Is Present Tense. This is a message that speaks to wives, husbands and the church.
Wives, respect the man God has put in your life
The apostle actually does not use the verb “be subject” in verse 22. It is supplied by the context, because it was the verb used in verse 21 that we addressed last week, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Therefore, the instruction finds its context in our mutual submission to one another. But that does not exactly answer the question that has been uttered for centuries, “What does, ‘wives, be subject to your husbands’ mean?” The answer may be found in our last verse in this passage, “a wife should respect her husband.” The 1st Century apostle encouraged wives to respect their husbands.
Oddly enough, so did the 21st century best-selling author John Gray whose book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, sold 6 million copies. Dr. Gray, a certified and world-renowned family therapist wrote, “Men and women have very different primary needs. Men need appreciation, acceptance, and trust. Without these three things in a relationship, there are often countless communication problems.”
The 20th Century playwright, Eugene O’Neill tragically reflected this need in his one-act play, “Before Breakfast” where Mrs. Rowland spends twenty minutes berating her husband for all of his shortcomings and transgressions, of which there were plenty. I know this play because Tammy and I went to see three one-act plays by Eugene O’Neill to celebrate our anniversary years ago. This would probably be filed under “Bad date choices” - for us to spend our anniversary watching a woman nag her husband to death. However, it was an unforgettable experience as we stared at each other in horror at the conclusion of the play. As I recall she seemed very respectful and affirming after that date.
Women, it is true. We men are fragile beings who do require appreciation, acceptance and trust. Apostles, authors and playwrights all know that. At every wedding I ask brides, “Do you take this man to be your husband? Do you promise to love him, comfort him, honor and keep him?” and I cannot proceed with the wedding until they offer two words – “I do.” Wives, I ask you to turn to your husband and whisper to him, “I do.” Remember, “I do” is present tense, continue to live into that vow. Wives, respect the man that God has put in your life.
Husbands, reflect the love of Christ toward your wife.
It is curious to me that this passage has drawn such sharp criticism for its insistence on submission, but so little attention for its expectations of love placed upon the husbands. This is a huge responsibility placed on men when we are called to love our wives as Christ loved the church. In fact, John Chrysostom, a 4th century bishop wrote to men these words, “Wouldst thou that thy wife should obey thee as the church doth Christ? Have care thyself for her, as Christ for the church.”
Dr. John Gray wrote, “Women need to receive care, understanding, devotion, validation and reassurance.” These are all concepts that are included in the Greek word, agape, the deep and abiding love given by grace and expected by Christ of his followers. It is the word used here regarding a husband’s love for his wife. Paul wrote that this kind of love dresses the bride beautifully as if for her wedding, without spot or wrinkle.
I have seen five brides in the last eight days in this church and they have all been strikingly beautiful. They were all five pretty at the rehearsal, but at the wedding they were beautiful. This transformation required dressmakers, hairdressers, make-up artists, florists and doting mothers. Now contrast that to the groom who went to the formal shop, dropped $100 down to rent a suit and shoes for the weekend, got a $2.99 bottle of hair gel and a $1.19 razor at the drug store and was ready in 30 minutes. Or worse yet, contrast it to the preacher who last week between weddings went over to the annex to see how things were going in preparing for our inaugural service over there. I had parked close to the fence that separates our parking lot from the annex property. I examined the fence and thought to myself, “If I step over this fence it will save me all those steps walking around it.” What I did not take into consideration was the unsteadiness of the wrought iron fence or the lack of balance of the pastor or the firmness of the ground or the dampness of the ditch. I got up on the fence, but never really achieved what one would refer to as balance. As I was falling backward I was wondering who would officiate the two weddings should my head strike the fence. Fortunately I missed the fence and hit the hard, wet ground and stood up just in time for Laurinda to see me. I was a mess, covered on my whole left side in mud. I took off my suit coat and discovered that mud can actually soak through the fibers and lining of a suit. My shirt was gross. It was a good day to be a United Methodist pastor, throw a robe over that mess and act as if everything was fine. Now what if that had happened to the bride. That would have been a story! As it was, it was only the preacher and no one noticed.
Husbands, the love that we show our wives has the power to dress her as if for her wedding day. It will not do to throw a robe over her on an anniversary or birthday with a sprinkling of attention and tenderness. Simone Signoret, a French actress, said this about marriage, “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years.”
At every wedding I ask grooms, “Do you take this woman to be your wife? Do you promise to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her?” and I cannot proceed with the wedding until they offer two words – “I do.” Husbands, I ask you to turn to your wife and whisper to her, “I do.” Remember, “I do” is present tense, continue to live into that vow. Husbands, reflect the love of Christ toward your wife; wives, respect the man God has put in your life and
Church, bedeck yourself as the body of the Christ - His bride.
The apostle became so excited about marriage and its portrayal of the relationship between Christ and his church, that he actually wrote more about this spiritual relationship than the marital relationship. The church provides a wonderful witness to the world through healthy marriages.
Today is the Houston Marathon and we have several members who are participating in the race. Some are even running in it. What I have recently discovered about these races is there are more participants who line the streets of a marathon, than those who run it. I used to think that the people on the sidelines were spectators, but I have learned that is not the case. Those who know the runners, call them by name, shout out times to them and encourage them in ways that they know motivate the runners. Those who don’t know the runners are no less encouraging. They cheer for all the runners especially those that seem to be hitting the wall, “Come on! You can do it. Just a few more miles. You’re doing great! Pace yourself.”
What if the church offered this kind of encouragement to married couples? Two more quotes from people wiser than me:
● “More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse.” ~Doug Larson - musician
● One advantage of marriage is that, when you fall out of love with him or he falls out of love with you, it keeps you together until you fall in love again. ~Judith Viorst – author.
The church has the power to encourage marriages and to set a standard for marriages through our relationship with Christ. After all, we are the bride of Christ, we are the body of Christ. As we live into those roles we strengthen marriages. There is a question that every member of the church is asked at one time or another, “Do you confess Jesus Christ as your savior, put your whole trust in his grace and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church that Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations and races?” Now turn to your neighbor and whisper the words, “I do.” Remember, “I do” is present tense, continue to live into that vow.
Wives, do you promise to respect the man God has put in your life?
Husbands, do you promise to reflect the love of Christ to your wife?
Church, do you promise to bedeck yourself as the body of Christ – His bride?
If so, answer, “I do.”