Marriage Big Issues

I recently read a book by Joel and Kathy Davisson, Man of Her Dreams, in which they address a tendency by some men to make the wife’s “submission” a key issue in marriage.

As they see it, Biblical marriage teaching popularised in the 1980’s ended up making “submission” the key issue in Christian marriages, leading to various ways in which wives have suffered. To bring redress they seek to wind back the significance of a wife’s submission and call upon men to lay down their lives for the wife.

It seems that the 1980’s teaching promised that if a wife submitted, the marriage would be wonderful. So the Davisson’s replace that erroneous idea with the proposition that if a husband submits to the vision of the marriage as directed by his wife, then they will live happily ever after.

Joel and Kathy’s book prompted me to consider how I would address imbalanced thinking about the Biblical issues for husband and wife.

Mind Your Own Business

The readily identifiable responsibilities for husband and wife as given in the Bible are clearly that the husband must “love” his wife and the wife must “submit” to her husband.

Now obviously wives are to love their husband and husbands give attention to and work alongside their wives. Mutual affection and submission are obviously ideal in a good working marriage relationship. However, the clear directive is that the husband give supreme attention to loving his wife and the wife give supreme attention to submitting to her husband.

But take note that the clear instructions to love and submit are clearly addressed to the responsible party, not their spouse. Husbands are not instructed to enforce submission, nor the wife instructed to force her husband to love her. Each is individually accountable before God for their actions.

So, husbands and wives, “Mind Your Own Business!”

Marriage is not a battleground where you struggle to get your spouse to do their part. It is a place where you live in the fear of God and be the man or woman God has called you to be, through all the “for better or for worse” challenges.

Dear Husband Dear Wife

Let me show you, in your face, so you can’t miss it, that the instructions for a husband and wife are given to the relevant party. It is NOT your place to be an enforcement officer in your marriage, or anyone else’s.

Ephesians 5 is the most extensive Bible passage addressing the responsibilities of a husband and wife. Here we see the love/submit responsibilities stated repeatedly and expanded with reference to Christ and the Church. Yet at no point is anyone authorised to police the responsibilities, except the individual husband and wife taking responsibility for their own actions.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:22

“Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” Ephesians 5:24

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” Ephesians 5:25

So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself.” Ephesians 5:28

“Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” Ephesians 5:33

Note that the last verse does not say, “Husbands see that your wife reverences you”.

The Focus on You

When Paul repeats to the church he planted in Colosse the personal responsibilities of husband and wife he goes on to show that these are personal responsibilities before God. The point is, therefore, that we are not accountable to our spouse, but to God. And our spouse is not accountable to us, but to God.

In Colossians 3:18-25 Paul addresses wives, husbands, children, fathers and servants in a common instruction regarding their personal challenges.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:

And whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men;

Knowing that of the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance: for you serve the Lord Christ. But he that does wrong will receive for the wrong which he has done: and there is no respect of persons.”

Note that the Lord will reward those who do right and will see that wrong actions receive due response, because all we do, as wife, husband, child, father or servant, is really done in service of Christ our Lord.

Beware the Human Heart

Marriage issues in western Christian homes are rarely about the husband or the wife not knowing their role and responsibility. The problems spring from the selfish evil human heart we all carry within us.

Men fail to love their wife. They do so often because of laziness and selfishness. They also do so because of resentment toward the wife.

Women fail to submit to their husband. They do so because of such things as self interest, self will and resentment.

God is watching our heart and will reward us according to how our heart responds to the various challenges that come our way, including the challenges that come from our marriage and family.

I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Jeremiah 17:10

Always Show Grace

The most common issue in marriage is that husband, wife or both have given up giving grace to each other. We all know that when we are in a good mood we suffer all manner of frustrations, but when we are troubled by ill will toward our spouse we find it impossible to show grace.

Human selfishness is counter to God’s grace. We are sinful but God is perfect. We are instructed by Christ to show God’s grace so we too may be perfect.

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; So you may be the children of your Father in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust.” Matthew 5:44,45

Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

However our human heart rebels against blessing those who we feel have wronged us. And that is toxic to a marriage.

Enter Resentment

Newlyweds find many things to resent in their newfound spouse. We enter marriage with hopes, dreams, delusions, false ideas about ourself and our spouse, fears, insecurities, unrealistic expectations, and so on. It is a recipe for hurts and disillusionment.

But in the honeymoon phase we tend to press past these bumps and show grace, in the hope that we can get our spouse to change, or in a trade-off for the benefits which marriage provides.

Eventually, however, our selfish hearts give up on grace and we give in to our selfish feelings. Not everyone pouts, seethes or revolts, but the tiny roots of disappointment, resentment, hurt, frustration, disillusionment and the like begin to sprout in our hearts.

What I call “resentment” is the soft term for “bitterness”. But westerners don’t like to be told they have such ugly things in their heart, so they will more likely accept the softer label of resentment, since resentment suggests we have a right to be resentful based on the failure or actions of the other party.

Enter Bitterness

Having softened you up with the ‘R’ word (resentment), let me switch it for the ‘B’ word, Bitterness.

The writer to the Hebrews warns us clearly that if we fail to show grace the alternative is BITTERNESS. Call it by any other name if you like, but if you are feeling hard feelings toward your spouse you are in bitterness! Sorry about that, but it’s actually YOUR FAULT. You are in deep trouble because your heart has rejected God’s grace and given in to the powerfully destructive bitterness plant growing in your heart.

See it for yourself in the book of Hebrews….

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” Hebrews 12:14-16

Let me paraphrase the message for you…

‘Live by peace and holiness, or you will never see the Lord. And be really careful about always giving God’s grace to people, because if you don’t a “root of bitterness” will spring up and trouble you and poison many people. And don’t commit spiritual adultery by putting other things ahead of your spiritual inheritance, like Esau did, selling his birthright for self indulgence.’

Be Not Bitter

Your selfish heart will readily enter into resentment (bitterness) and will justify those feelings based on the failure of your spouse.

Wives and Husbands will feel hurt, frustration, disappointment, shame, offence, defeat, death of their vision for the marriage, and all sorts of related feelings. Those feelings could easily feed feelings of self-pity, defeatism and depression. Those feelings make psychologists busy and profitable.

But God’s will is that we do not give in to those various expressions of bitterness. We are to show grace, like God does, and not fail to keep giving our best to those who don’t deserve it, just as God gives sunshine and rain equally to the good and the evil.

No matter what our spouse puts us through God is watching our heart to see how we react. He wants us to react in a perfect expression of His grace. Our flesh wants to react with anger, manipulation, retaliation, indulging our hurt feelings, and so on.

Note Paul’s specific word to husbands in Colossians …..

“Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.” Colossians 3:19

The Big Issue is the Heart

The big issue in marriage is not the wife’s submission. And it is not the perfection of the husband’s love for his wife. The whole trouble with marriage is the resentment and bitterness that springs up in the human heart, producing hardness toward the spouse and justifying those bitter thoughts and the resultant actions they produce.

What comes out the husband’s heart and what comes out of the wife’s heart are the “issues of life” for that couple. Well, it is actually the issue for the individual, since the spouse does not really get affected.

Ooops! Did I hear a reaction to that statement?

Remember that you are in control of your heart. Your rebellious wife or your uncaring husband are not your issue. They are each accountable before God for their rebellion against God’s will for their lives. All that is important for you is that you show grace to them.

If you fail to show grace, then your heart reaction will become a serious issue in your marriage. What comes out of your heart determines the issues of your life and marriage.

“Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

“All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” Mark 7:23

Hidden Man of the Heart

The Bible reveals we have a hidden personality in our heart. It is our most private part.

Peter encourages women to let the beauty of their hidden inner heart attitudes of submission be more important to them than dressing up with clothes and hairdo.

“Likewise, wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the lifestyle of the wives; While they behold your chaste lifestyle coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” 1Peter 3:1-4

Your wife is married to your hidden man of the heart. Your husband is married to your hidden inner man.

Is your hidden man of the heart one with a meek and quiet spirit? Does it live by the fear of God? Or is it defiled with seething self interest, selfishness, pouting, resentment, bitterness, and such like?

The Problem with Your Marriage

The problem with your marriage is your heart. It is not your wife’s lack of submission or your husband’s insensitivity.

God has set you up with a spouse that will constantly fail you and test your heart. As far as you are concerned, God is focussed on your heart reaction, not your spouse’s selfishness. It is up to God to deal with your spouse. Their willingness or unwillingness to be the husband or wife they are supposed to be is a matter of God’s judgment on their life. You have no stake in the matter.

You have a huge stake in your heart reaction. And you have a HUGE stake in the question of your resentment or bitterness toward your spouse.

So, get over the fact that your wife is a tyrant and your husband is a jerk. Get serious about your heart response. That’s the only thing you have to care about.

Churches as Systems

Churches function as systems and so they bring limitation and problems, just like any other system. It’s about time we looked at Churches as Systems and came to some understanding of how they curse their followers and blind us to what God may really want to do.

Systems Reviewed

I reviewed systems recently in a post titled The Curse of Beneficial Systems. I suggest you review that article for insight into how systems, which are created to regulate process and outcome so consistent worthy output can be achieved and maintained, have the side-effect of limiting other possibilities and even blinding people to better options.

If the church is a system then it too is prone to cursing its adherents by regulating due process which is not necessarily ideal or worthy of widespread application to all.

What is a Church?

Church is the Bible term for two general entities: all of the people who are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ (what is called the Universal Church because it encompasses All believers); and the local group of believers in any particular place, as a sub-set of the universal church.

We are told that Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25), speaking of it as a single entity. Yet we also have reference to the “church that meets in his house” (Colossians 4:15). Either way, as the church universal and the groups of local believers, the “church” is not an institution, nor a system of processes leading to outcomes. It is a community of “called out” people, since the Greek word translated as “church” is ekklesia, meaning “called out ones”.

The church is people. Groups of people who are joined by their faith in Jesus Christ comprise the church in any of its expressions. So why do systems have anything to do with churches?

Churches and Systems

While any church is a group of people that group functions as a society. Consequently there are social processes which need to be administered. Some of those processes are expressions of worship which God has prescribed and so they are quite important. Other processes are matters of necessary administration, to facilitate effective social interaction. Things need to be done ‘decently and in order’, so that people are given appropriate opportunity to do whatever it is that they are supposed to do. Then there is the need for people to take and share responsibility. Administration involves all those organisational decisions and practices which enable facilities, programs and resources to be provided, while also adjudicating social interaction when the actions of one or more impact the actions of others in an adverse manner.

Even in their simplest form churches are benefited by the application of systems. Who is to tell who that there is a meeting in someone’s home? What time will they meet and for how long and for what purpose? What will be done about catering, or cleaning the room? Who will lead the meeting and how will it be directed? Are we to bring along friends or is this meeting for those who are already involved? Will there be singing? Who will provide musical instrument or vocal leadership?

If there are several meetings, at different times and with different focus, some elemental systems will begin to emerge.

The New Testament Church Had Systems

The initial days of the early church were quite organic and unstructured. But issues arose, demanding attention. Provision was being made for the needy, but one group, the Greek widows, was neglected in the daily handouts. Appeal was made to the Apostles, who were the natural leaders of the movement, for a solution. They decided to appoint administrative people to oversee the process and they gave instruction to the fledgling church about how to identify appropriate candidates.

“Wherefore, brothers, find from among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, who we may appoint over this business.” Acts 6:3

Leadership was established, through elders and deacons. Letters of introduction were used to certify a person’s bona fides. Councils were called to resolve issues in dispute. Key people were sent to specific locations to deal with specific issues. Letters of instruction and doctrine were sent to various churches to clarify beliefs and process.

So the early church had systems. And churches have systems today. But, as I have already pointed out, systems have an inherent risk element. That was seen in the early church and it is seen today.

Dangers in the System

As early as New Testament times there were disputes and abuses of process. Some people used letters of introduction, being commended by one another, but were intent on opposing the work of Paul the Apostle. Paul warned that trouble makers would come forth from the group of appointed leaders. Jude described the activities of certain teachers who exploited the churches. Peter compromised the gospel message when he was intimated by one of the Christian groups.

Within a few centuries the church was beset with heresies, power struggles, competing doctrines, fake documents, deception and so on.

Since the early church experienced such things it is foolish to imagine that today’s church is immune from such abuses of the systems which it employs.

Audit Your Systems

So, what systems do you operate by? How does your church protect you against systems that frustrate the call of God on your life? Are you helping to perpetuate systems which are ineffective, but which you give undue credence to? Are you bound to what you know, as if has divine imprimatur? Are there better ways for your group of believers to function together? What is being limited by your set of processes and your targeted outcomes?

More seriously than these questions are the issues touched by the following questions. Is your church a dynamic expression of the Kingdom of God or a self-serving institution? Do people become empowered to serve God or are they expected to serve your programs and processes? What evidence do you have that your church liberates and empowers people to become effective functionaries in God’s Kingdom? Do you entangle your members in maintaining process for your prescribed outcomes, so they are unable to love God and love their neighbour?

Programmed Up to the Eyeballs

I recall reading of one chap whose family was religiously devout about attending every meeting held at the church. They would walk, single file, down their front path, dressed in Sunday best, black Bibles in hand, heading off the to the church, multiple times each week. They saw this parade as a public testimony to their faith and commitment.

Yet their neighbours saw it as religious slavery. Their whole life was consumed by an institution down the road with its peculiar set of meetings and events. They had not other life. They had no real contact with their neighbours, because it was more holy to be at church than socialising with heathen.

Has your church created anything like that kind of environment? Are you intent on locking your people in to more confirmation of their commitment to your program, or are you freeing them to take Christ out into the world?

We’ll look at this issue again.

Regaining Domestic Authority

How does a hen-pecked husband regain his rightful authority? If he is under his wife’s demands and rebuke, how does he restore his rightful place of headship in the home?

This a pretty challenging issue for many husbands, especially those who do not have their wife’s permission to be the head of the home.

The Wife’s Permission

Some Christian ministries handle this by suggesting that the wife’s ‘submission’ is a precursor to the husband’s headship. I object to such nonsense. They arrive at this case by noting that in Ephesians 5, where the Apostle Paul tells husbands and wives about their respective roles, the wife is advised about ‘submission’ before the husband is addressed about his need to love the wife.

The suggestion that a person can only have authority once their subordinate gives it to them is ludicrous on several accounts. Real authority comes from being under authority, so how can one who is a subordinate assign authority to their leader. The leader gets his or her authority from someone with more authority than them, not someone with less!

There is no place in society where true authority is determined by the response of those under authority. What happens in reality is that those who don’t wish to be under proper authority face consequences for that stance. They do not gain power over the authority but are dealt with by the authority.

Husbands are not dependent on their wife’s permission to hold their position of headship over the wife.

God’s Assignment

Husbands have headship over their wife. They have that headship whether they want it or not. They have it whether they use it well or not. They have it for as long as they have a wife. They have it whether they are smarter or stronger than their wife, or whether she outperforms them in every way. They have it because it is God’s assignment to them.

God assigns authority, as the principal authority figure in the universe. No-one has more authority than
God. No-one has the power to revoke God’s authority. No-one has a voice that has the right to speak against or challenge the authority of God. And that God, the Almighty God, our Creator and the sustainer of all things is the one who gives husbands headship in their home.

The attitude, opinion and actions of the wife are inconsequential to the fact. The man carries the responsibility of headship whether his wife likes it or not. He carries it whether his wife approves or not. He even carries it while his wife is vigorously rebelling against it. She has zero power over the man’s authority and headship.

The Wife’s Part

The wife is responsible for herself and her attitudes and actions. She will give account for her words, actions and attitudes to God. She has no authority over the husband’s role. She cannot veto it, negate it, overturn it, modify it or otherwise subvert it in any way. It is outside her power.

The wife did not assign the husband’s role, God did. The wife did not make the husband her head, God did. The wife did not elevate the man by her approval of him, but God placed a mantle of responsibility on him whether the man and woman knew about it or not.

Oh, and it doesn’t matter whether either of them or Christians or not. This is not the Christian order for marriage; it is God’s order for marriage. It applies across all cultures, all ages, all socio-economic situations, and all parts of the globe.

Restoring Order

The first step in restoring the godly order for the marriage is to know the order and how serious it is. It is not something the couple need to agree on in order for it to become real.

Once a husband realises that he stands accountable before God for the place of responsibility which God has given him he can then take the matter to God for divine wisdom about restoring that order in his home.

There are several practical insights that will apply in that process, but I’ll leave the subject for now, so you can absorb and mull over the implications of what I have outlined here. And my prayer in that God give you wisdom and grace to empower you to stand before Him, fully accountable for your actions and completely ready to honour Him ahead of all else.

‘This Holy Estate’ – Real Marriage

There is much fudgy thinking today and marriage is one of the areas where Christians can be as confused as anyone else. Considering that God invented marriage and it finds its greatest fulfilment as a representation of Christ and the Church (see Ephesians 5:32) Christians should be the first to have a good understanding of ‘Real Marriage’. My fourth son’s recent marriage brought to mind this subject yet again and my mind journeyed even further down some tracks it has trudged before. And I think I’m onto something that has fairly sweeping implications.

Before I get to my latest ‘rev’ on marriage I should let you know that my fourth son, Jonathan, married the lovely Katie Gunn a week ago. He, like his father and three of his brothers before him found a ‘treasure’ and made a ‘field’ out of her (which is a pretty lame pun on the man who found a treasure in a field and bought the field to have the treasure – it wasn’t any funnier when I said it at my own wedding over 30 years ago).

Now to the matter at hand. I have met many couples who have lined up with their personally created vows, ready to pledge their troth to one another, as if they are the architect of the relationship they are about to enter into. In the past few generations western culture has shifted from the idea that marriage is an historical reality which each new generation gets to enter into, to the notion that marriage is now malleable, able to be what the couple wants it to be. Since the 1970’s in particular, there have been notable examples of couples having a ‘tricky’ wedding – such as being wed underwater, while bunji-jumping, etc. This trend brought with it the notion that marriage is what ever the couple make it to be. The Australian government, under its previous Prime Minister, John Howard, sought to rein in this self-directed notion and to restore marriage as an institution which it expects its citizens to take seriously.

The idea that marriage is in the mind of the betrothed is strong, at least at a subliminal level. Couples want to have their dream wedding, with their choice of guests, their own vows and even their own idea of what the marriage will be. One couple told me they want a 50:50 marriage. We hear tell of the ‘open marriage’, the ‘trial marriage’ and other evidences that marriage is seen as adjustable, to suit the wishes of the couple.

Ah but here’s the rub ….. Marriage was not created by man. Marriage is not a social invention, nor a relationship of convenience, nor a reflection of past economic realities. Real Marriage, which is the only true marriage, is a ‘holy estate’ created by God. That is why the traditional western wedding ceremony starts with a description of what marriage is and then announces that “into this holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined” (quoted from the Book of Common Prayer 1928). However this modern wording is simply an updating of ancient lyrics. The wedding ceremony text recorded in the 1549 Prayer Book of King Edward VI states the same theme in ancient verbage and spelling: “Into the whiche holy estate these two presones present come noew to be ioyned.”

Western marriage has always been understood as something instituted by God, not by man. It is ‘This Holy Estate’ – a relationship which man is privileged to access, but which man has no power to dictate. The 1892 Anglican Prayer Book accounts for marriage as Holy Matrimony which is “an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church”. Because of the supreme quality and divine nature of This Holy Estate – Real Marriage, the Prayer Book goes on to warn that it “is not by any to he entered into unadvisedly or lightly ; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.”

The eager young couple fronting up with their carefully re-worded vows and their desire for a wedding that has the stamp of their own individuality all over it, may well fail to realise the awesome significance of what they are about to do. Their notion of having some control over what the wedding is, may tempt them to think they have some control over what marriage. They may think they can excuse their own actions and thoughts, just as readily as they can modify their own wedding program. This is not so.

Whatever vows a couple come up with and whatever personal agreement they make in the form of their own wedding commitment – that couple has no power to alter, by one iota, what they are getting themsevles into. If, for instance, they agree to have an ‘open marriage’ where infidelity is allowed, God will ignore their arrangement and judge them based on what they did with what God created as a reflection of Christ and the Church. If the couple choose, as I know of some that have, that their marriage is not subject to the cultural mores of their family, and they will enter into a secret and peculiar arrangement of their own, including pre-marital sex, God will completely ignore their arrangement and judge them based on what they did with what God created as a reflection of Christ and the Church.

A godly wedding, such as Jonathan and Katie exemplified this past week, is a joy to all who see it. Marriage is a blessed relationship and I encourage all who have opportunity to enjoy it to do so in the fear of God. I am not down on marriage or young people. I am simply recognising one evidence of man’s tendency to become his own Lord and Master, where God does not give him leave to do so.

And, in closing, let me broaden the sweep of my brush. Most westerners live as if their own life were their ‘own’. They act as lords and masters of their own destiny. This is exactly the same disease that afflicts western marriage. The implications of what I am pointing out here sweep across all those places where we disband God’s reality and make up our own. Such behaviour is vile – yet ever so culturally acceptable, in the same way that tinkering with marriage is now seen as the expected thing. Hmmmmm… Methinks this goeth a long way – and methinks I will wax lyrical about it yet again in due course.