Category Archives: Marriage

1 Corinthians 7: What God says about singleness

Bush-Fire-Survival-Plan-Cover_RFS-FB-CrestsSummer is on the way. And one of the things that means is BUSHFIRES. Not so relevant for us in Ashfield, but pretty important if you live in the Blue Mountains.

And the authorities encourage people living in a bushfire zone to have a BUSHFIRE SURVIVAL PLAN. To be READY when a bushfire threatens.

And the first part of a bushfire survival plan is to decide whether to STAY, or GO. As the flames get closer, should you STAY where you are, or CHANGE where you are? If you GO, you’re guaranteed to be safe. But there’s no chance you’ll save your home. But if you STAY, there’s a RISK to your safety. If you STAY, you need to make sure you’re PREPARED. And you need to TRUST your equipment and your home.  Stay, or go? Make the choice, and prepare accordingly.

Stay

And there’s a similar choice here in 1 Corinthians 7. The Corinthian Christians knew that Jesus was coming back soon, and so they wanted to be ready. They were putting together their JUDGMENT DAY SURVIVAL PLAN. They were living in the LAST DAYS, and they wanted to be ready. And it seems like some of them thought it was all about GOING. About moving from where they were / to somewhere ELSE. Especially in the area of MARRIAGE. Which is what chapter 7 is all about.

But Paul’s message is that God’s put you exactly where he WANTS you. And you should REMAIN AS YOU ARE. You should STAY. Being CONTENT, and being STEADFAST, is a measure of your trust in God. And that’s true whether you’re married, or widowed, or single. And it’s just as true TODAY as it was THEN.

The chapter begins, v1, with a reference to a letter the Corinthian church had written to Paul. “Now for the matters you wrote about.” And it seems like they had a number of questions. And here’s the FIRST one.  “It is good for a man not to marry.”

It literally says, “It is good for a man not to TOUCH a woman.” And it’s probably what the Corinthians themselves thought. So Paul is QUOTING their letter.

It seems there were some who thought it was more spiritual for husbands and wives not to have sex. And their thinking probably goes something like this: “Jesus is coming back soon. And the flesh will be FINISHED. And we’ve already begun to live the heavenly life. We’re in the END TIMES. So let’s get a head start on that by being extra spiritual NOW.

But Paul says that’s not God’s will. Marriage isn’t the PROBLEM. It’s part of the SOLUTION. Abstaining from sex in marriage won’t make you LESS EVIL and MORE SPIRITUAL. It’s actually God’s way for us to AVOID sexual immorality. It’s part of his protection AGAINST evil behaviour. Not PART of the evil.

God’s will is verses 2-6. To guard against sexual immorality, each man should have a wife, and each woman a husband. And they shouldn’t DENY each other. Because their bodies belong to each other. THAT’S God’s plan for these last days. Depriving each other doesn’t lead to greater spiritual maturity. It doesn’t prepare you any better for Jesus’ return. It just leads to a lack of self-control and temptation. The message is “Don’t change. Stay as you are!”

And he’s got the same message for those who’ve been WIDOWED. V8-9. It’s good to STAY unmarried. (Which he comes BACK TO near the END of the chapter.)

Or those who are married (v10-11). They should STAY married. Don’t divorce because you think it’s, somehow, more SPIRITUAL. Or getting you ready for Jesus’ return.

Or the SPECIAL case of those married to UNBELIEVERS. V12-16. It’s no different for you. STAY AS YOU ARE, he says. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re any less holy because your husband or wife isn’t a believer. In FACT, (v14-15) there’s a sense in which THEY are more holy, because of YOU. They might benefit from YOU. It may be, v16, that your spouse is saved by YOU.

But notice what he DOES say. V15. If your unbelieving spouse chooses to divorce, let them DO so. You can’t MAKE someone commit to a marriage if they don’t WANT to. And then he makes two comments. “God has called us to live in peace.” And “how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband?” In other words, it’s not about YOU convincing them. (Only GOD can do that). You can’t FORCE them to stay married. Or force them to become a Christian. Better to lose the argument, and win the soul. Act with grace and humility and love and peace. And leave the “saving” up to God.

In verse 17 we can see the general principle that applies in a whole range of situations.

17 Nevertheless, each one should RETAIN the place in life that the Lord ASSIGNED to him and to which God has CALLED him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.

In all sorts of situations. And not just in Corinth, but every OTHER city where there’s a church. God has CALLED each person to that position in life. And so they should STAY AS THEY ARE. It’s an expression of trust that God is SOVEREIGN. That he doesn’t make mistakes. And that he’s working all things for the good of those who love him. Who’ve been called according to his purpose.

And he goes on to give some MORE examples. Circumcised or Uncircumcised. Stay as you ARE. And then the REASON, v19. Circumcision is NOTHING. Doesn’t affect anything either way. What MATTERS is obeying God.

And then the general principle again in v20. Each one should remain in the situation they were in when they were called.

Same thing, v21, if you were A SLAVE when you were called. Don’t let it TROUBLE you. Stay as you ARE. Because the REALITY is you’ve been purchased by something far more valuable than MONEY. By the BLOOD OF JESUS. And you’ve been SET FREE in the way that’s MOST IMPORTANT. Set free from sin and judgment and death. So work at being the best Christian slave you can be. And then, again, at the end of the paragraph, v24, the same instruction. “Each man should remain in the situation God called him to.”

But that doesn’t mean he’s advocating slavery. Notice what ELSE he says? Some wise, realistic advice. There at the end of v21. “Although if you CAN gain your freedom, DO SO!” This confidence in God’s sovereignty shouldn’t be misunderstood to be FATALISM. Sometimes it’s RIGHT to try to change your situation. But if it doesn’t work out, don’t be concerned. God’s in control, and he’s working things for good.

If we pushed Paul’s position too far, we end up with FATALISM. We might stay as we are when it’s RIGHT to change. Like not seeing a doctor when we’re SICK. Or not getting an education when you have the opportunity. Or not buying a house, or getting a job, when you’re ABLE to. Paul’s saying, “If the opportunity comes up to change, and it seems right. Take it. But don’t WORRY about it EITHER WAY. Because God knows what he’s doing.”

So how do you know whether it’s a situation where it’s RIGHT to change, or whether it’s right to STAY AS YOU ARE? One test is to look at your MOTIVATION. Is your desire to change because you’re not CONTENT? Do you think you know better than God? Are you distrusting God’s plans? Or is it genuinely because you’re seeking God’s will? And you’re happy EITHER WAY, because you know God’s in control? (Like Jesus, who prayed, “If it’s POSSIBLE, take this cup from me. But not MY will, but YOURS be done.”)

V25. Paul moves on to consider those who’ve NEVER been married. Same thing with THEM. V26. “Now about VIRGINS.” (Probably another question from the Corinthians’ letter).

26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for YOU to REMAIN AS YOU ARE.

He’s careful to point out that it’s not a matter of right and wrong. They’re not disobedient if they marry. V28. But if you DO marry, you have not SINNED

Rather, it’s a matter of WISDOM. V25, he says there’s no specific command from the Lord, just Paul’s own JUDGMENT as someone who’s trustworthy. There’s some good reasons NOT to marry. And then at the end of v28 he says  But those who marry will face MANY TROUBLES in this life, and I want to spare you this.

Now, taken out of CONTEXT that verse could get you into a lot of trouble! (That there’s many troubles in marriage). But remember he’s just said WHY it’s better not to marry. “Because of the present CRISIS.” Which is probably PERSECUTION.

What a terrible situation it must be for those fathers and husbands whose family are taken by ISIS. Or they themselves are threatened with having a family member killed unless they renounce Jesus. What a choice to make! And Paul’s saying that, in the light of THAT sort of situation, it’s WISER not to have any earthly connections, like a wife or children. It’s the PRESENT CRISIS that causes the TROUBLES he’s thinking of.

Everything needs to be coloured by the fact that Jesus is coming back

In fact, this advice to remain single is just ONE example of A BIGGER PRINCIPLE. EVERYTHING needs to be influenced by the fact that Jesus is coming back. V29. 29 What I mean, brothers, is that THE TIME IS SHORT.   And then again, at the end of v31. For this world in its present form is PASSING AWAY.

And then, in between, a whole series of situations and relationships, INCLUDING remaining SINGLE, that need the perspective that Jesus is coming back. And that nothing will LAST, and so shouldn’t be over-valued. V29 “From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them.”

Gordon Fee, in his commentary, says “Those who have A DEFINITE FUTURE, and see it with clarity, live in the present with RADICALLY ALTERED VALUES as to what COUNTS and what does NOT.” None of these situations (marrying, buying, using things of the world) is wrong or right on its OWN. What counts is your ATTITUDE to them. How you VIEW them through the lens that Jesus is coming back.  If you’re MARRIED, remember that marriage won’t last. ENJOY it, WORK at it. But don’t IDOLISE it, or make it your top priority. Only your relationship with JESUS will last. Your marriage is coloured by THAT reality. If you MOURN, remember THAT won’t last. Grieve, but not like those who grieve without HOPE. If you’re HAPPY, don’t OVER-EMPHASISE that. It’s not ULTIMATE. IT won’t last EITHER.

And when it comes to THINGS, don’t set your HOPES on them. Because you can’t take them with you when you die. Certainly, BUY stuff, and ENJOY IT. But keep some perspective. Don’t be ENGROSSED by it. Only fools build up riches on EARTH, and aren’t rich towards GOD.

And, even though he doesn’t MENTION singleness, it’s good advice for singles. Some singles want to marry so badly, they OVER-DESIRE it. But marriage won’t solve all your problems, or stop you ever feeling lonely, or satisfy all your sexual frustration.

And to put all that expectation on a marriage partner is FOOLISHNESS. A marriage partner isn’t perfect and can’t save you, or complete you. And even marriage ITSELF won’t LAST. It’s passing away. Much better, says Paul, to treat it as a GOOD thing, but not an ULTIMATE thing.

What these verses are really saying is that it’s about where you find your IDENTITY. If you see yourself as being a Christian FIRST, and a single SECOND. That determines your attitude to singleness. It’s not ultimate, because it won’t last. That’s not WHO YOU ARE. Being a CHRISTIAN is ETERNAL, Being a SINGLE isn’t.

Same with being married, or rejoicing, or being widowed, or using the things of the world.  They’re all passing away. But YOU belong to GOD, and you’re eternal future’s WITH HIM.

Paige Benton Brown has written about her experience of being single. “Am I a Christian single or am I a single Christian? The discrepancy in grammatical construction may be somewhat subtle, but the difference in mindset is profound. Which word is DETERMINATIVE and which is DESCRIPTIVE? You see, we singles are chronic amnesiacs—we forget who we are, we forget WHOSE we are. I am a single Christian. My identity is not found in my MARITAL status but in my REDEMPTIVE status. I’m one of the “haves,” not one of the “have-nots.”[1]

What a great word THAT is!

From v32 Paul has a few more things to say about SINGLENESS. And how it compares to MARRIAGE. And his point is that, because of the present persecution, getting married MAKES LIFE MORE COMPLICATED. It’s all about which life has the least concerns, or anxieties. V32 begins, “I want you to be FREE from anxieties, or concerns.” Someone who’s SINGLE can be UNDIVIDED in his concerns. He can focus on the Lord’s affairs. While a MARRIED person has concerns to do with his family, AS WELL as with the Lord. One’s not better or worse than the OTHER. There’s just MORE concerns when you marry. And they’re not necessarily OPPOSING concerns either. It’s not a matter of serving God OR your family. In fact, one of the ways married people SERVE God is to look after our FAMILY. One of the ways we SHOW our love for God is loving OTHERS, beginning with our family.

And so one of the advantages of being single is that you can be UNDIVIDED in what you’re devoted to. That means that if you’re single, make the most of this time in your life. Perhaps there’s a whole area of ministry you can be involved in / that married people CAN’T. Like missionary service, or youth work. Or some sort of TRAVELLING ministry. Grab hold of it with both hands. Don’t look longingly at ANOTHER situation. Be CONTENT where God’s placed you.

I think that’s what Paul means back in v7. When he’s describing God’s plans for sexual satisfaction in marriage, and then he says “I wish that all men were as I am (that is unmarried). But each man has his OWN GIFT FROM GOD. One has THIS gift, another has THAT.”

I think Paul’s saying that both states are gifts. Singleness is a gift, AND marriage is a gift. If you’re single at the moment, that’s the gift God’s given you at the moment. So rejoice in that. Use it. Be content with it.

It MAY be that, one day, God may give you the gift of MARRIAGE. Then, your response will be to rejoice in THAT. And work away in the area God’s given you THEN.

Paul’s sometimes accused of hating women and being anti-marriage. But I think it’s better to say he’s PRO-singleness. He saw the single life as VALID and VALUABLE. In a way that was INCREDIBLY counter-cultural. That’s what God says about singleness.

And a word to the REST of us. (Those of us who are married). Let’s make sure we INCLUDE our singles. Our church family is God’s instrument for providing love and nurture and support for ALL of us, but especially for singles, who often need it the MOST.

And INCLUDE them in your married life. Be real and transparent. Show them the REALITIES of married life. So they won’t OVER desire marriage. But feel free to show them what’s GOOD about marriage TOO, so they won’t UNDER desire it.

And PRAY for our singles. For contentment and self-control. It’s probably never been harder to be single. With all the garbage that’s on the internet, and all the expectations the media is filled with.

Paige Benton Brown finishes with a great perspective:

I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one. I am single because God is so abundantly good to me, because this is his best for me. It is a cosmic impossibility that anything could be better for me right now than being single.”

Remain as you are. CONTENT and TRUSTING. That’s the attitude God wants ALL OF US to have. The time is short, we should use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For the world in its present form is passing away.

[1] “Singled out by God for good,” PCPC Witness, Feb, 1988.

 

1 Corinthians 6:9-20: Ten reasons you should flee sexual immorality

 

st-paul-s-cathedral-SEEING THE BIG PICTURE makes all the difference for how you BEHAVE.  In London around 1670, the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren began building a new St Paul’s cathedral. The story is told of a journalist interviewing three workmen on the site. He asked them, “What are YOU doing here?” The first replied, “I’m cutting stone for three shillings a day”. The second answered, “I’m working ten hours a day.” And the third replied, “I’m helping Sir Christopher Wren build the greatest cathedral in Great Britain for the glory of God”. It’s easy to imagine who WORKED THE HARDEST, and had the GREATEST JOB SATISFACTION. Seeing the big picture makes all the difference for HOW YOU BEHAVE.

And if it’s true for your WORK, it’s MORE true in THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. Seeing the big picture of who God is, and who we are in Jesus. All of that helps and motivates and energises us to live pure and holy lives NOW.

That’s Paul’s strategy all the way through 1 Corinthians. He begins with the INDICATIVE (WHO WE ARE and WHAT GOD’S DONE). And THEN he moves on to the IMPERATIVE (what we should DO in RESPONSE).

And we need to hear BOTH in the Christian life. (Who we are, AND what we should DO). If it’s just the indicative, without the imperative, (FACTS without APPLICATION). It’s just EDUCATION. (Dry and lifeless. Irrelevant.) If it’s just the IMPERATIVE without the indicative, (the COMMAND without the REASON). It’s just LEGALISM. MAN-CENTRED RELIGION.

Seeing the big picture makes all the difference for how you behave.

Ten reasons you should flee sexual immorality and, instead, honour God with your body.

And that’s true here in Ch 6. TEN REASONS WHY you should flee sexual immorality and, instead, honour God with your body.

Have you noticed how that’s a new technique in journalism? No one seems to be able to read ARTICLES anymore. So journalists are basically just writing LISTS. The SPORTS journalist: Five things we learned from the Wallabies losing. The TRAVEL journalist: Ten places you HAVE to visit in Europe. The GOSSIP columnist: Five things you never knew about Kim Kardashian’s wardrobe. The POLITICAL correspondent: Sixty five mistakes Donald Trump has made.

None of THOSE things matter. But what we REALLY need to hear is THIS list. TEN REASONS WHY we should flee sexual immorality and, instead, honour God with our bodies.

We’re up to week six of our series on What God Says About Marriage. And we really need to HEAR what God says. Because the world says THE OPPOSITE. When it comes to sex, the world screams LOUDLY that ANYTHING GOES. And that Christians are old-fashioned and bigoted and judgmental for believing there are BOUNDARIES for sexual behaviour. That there’s right and wrong. That God has STANDARDS, and that he JUDGES US according to them.

  1. You won’t inherit the Kingdom of God.

And the FIRST reason God gives to flee sexual immorality is because you won’t inherit the Kingdom of God. See there in v9? 9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders

A broad list of sexual sins. With idolatry thrown in, probably because it was all happening at the pagan temples in Corinth. People like THAT won’t inherit the Kingdom of God.  And then in v10, Paul moves OUT of the temple, next door, into the Corinthian MARKETPLACE.  10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

People who continue to practice that sort of behaviour won’t be part of God’s future kingdom. They’ve DISQUALIFIED themselves.  Like the Olympic athletes exposed for cheating, or lying, or drug-taking. It’s not behaviour befitting the Olympic movement. They miss out.

“Don’t you KNOW this?” says Paul. It’s BASIC. Christian teaching 101. The character of the Kingdom of God is the complete OPPOSITE of these things. It’s OBVIOUS.

And “Don’t be DECEIVED!” he adds. Don’t let the world try to tell you DIFFERENTLY. The world says, “These aren’t SINS TO BE PUNISHED. But DIVERSITY TO BE CELEBRATED.

The world says, “It’s not harmful or evil, it’s just harmless SELF-EXPRESSION!” The world says, “Do whatever you feel like. There’s no such thing as Right and wrong. The world says “Sex is an appetite, like hunger or thirst. And appetites are there for a reason, so it’s UNHEALTHY to deny yourself. It leads to ALL SORTS of psychological and physical harm.”  The world says, “Behaviour like this is FREEDOM. And RULES and MORALITY are SLAVERY.”

And it’s not just TODAY’S culture. You can see the sorts of lies the people in Corinth were using in v12 and 13. “Everything is permissible for me!” In other words, “I’m free to do whatever I feel like. No one tells me what to do!”

And ANOTHER lie they spread is there in v13. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food.” Which SEEMS fair enough. Except they’re not talking about FOOD. It’s their reasoning for satisfying the SEXUAL appetite. In other words, “It’s not wrong, it’s just an appetite. If you FEEL like it – DO it. No harm done. In fact, it’s GOOD.”

But Paul says, “Don’t be DECEIVED! Don’t be fooled. It’s not FREEDOM. There are CONSEQUENCES. People who continue in THIS sort of lifestyle miss out on God’s kingdom.”

  1. you’re not that person anymore – you were washed, sanctified, justified

But almost straight away you can understand how the Corinthians might react. Perhaps you’re even feeling it yourself. Perhaps you’ve committed some of these sexual sins. Or maybe you’re same sex attracted. Or maybe you’re taking seriously Jesus’ words that anyone who looks at a woman LUSTFULLY is guilty of adultery. Or maybe it’s just the SECOND part of that list that’s got you worried. Thieves, greedy and drunkards. Who is there who’s never felt GREEDY? Who HASN’T looked at what someone else has, and WANTED it? And so your head sinks, your despair deepens. And you feel like these verses are describing YOU. And God’s judgment hangs over you. And you doubt whether you’ll make it into the kingdom. But there’s THREE rays of light that shed HOPE on the despair.

FIRST, these are descriptions of the NATURE of people. People DEFINED by these things. Who HABITUALLY do them. Adulterers, homosexual offenders, thieves, greedy and drunkards. People whose basic direction is AWAY from the Kingdom of God. NOT people heading TOWARDS God, who WANT to please him, but who STUMBLE. But then they REPENT, and turn back to God in humility. If that’s YOU, then DON’T DESPAIR. The kingdom’s about God’s FORGIVENESS, not your PERFORMANCE.

And the SECOND ray of light HINTS at that. When it describes INHERITING the kingdom. Inheritance comes by FAMILY CONNECTION. By RELATIONSHIP. Not by merit. That’s PAYMENT. The kingdom is given by God the Father to those he’s made his children by GRACE. Forgiven sinners inherit the kingdom by GRACE.

And the third ray of light is Paul’s SECOND reason. There in v11. It might have described them PREVIOUSLY. But NOT ANY MORE.  11 And that is what some of you WERE. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

The difference between “ARE”, and “WERE”. The TENSE of the verb makes ALL THE difference! The GLORIOUS past tense. That USED to be you! But you were WASHED. But you were SANCTIFIED. But you were JUSTIFIED. Three “buts” in the Greek. Each one answering a doubt.

Doubt: I’m a sinner. I feel DIRTY.  Answer? But you were WASHED! Washed clean, and forgiven by God. Spotless and pure. Doubt: I’m a sinner. I’m JUST THE SAME AS EVERYONE ELSE. Answer? But you were SANCTIFIED. Made HOLY. Set apart from the world, removed, for a DIFFERENT PURPOSE. Doubt: I’m a sinner. I’m guilty. I deserve JUDGMENT.Answer? Yes, you DO. But you were JUSTIFIED. The judge of the universe declared you INNOCENT. His justice satisfied. Your fine paid by another. You’re INNOCENT.

And all of it in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. By his AUTHORITY. By his POWER. Status guaranteed.

If that’s you, REJOICE! If it’s NOT you, it CAN be. All you need to do is ASK. None of those actions are ones you can do yourself. Only God can do them. And he WILL. If you ASK him. If you turn away from those sins in v9 and 10. And turn to HIM, then he’ll wash you, and sanctify you and justify you.

  1. It’s not beneficial

Third reason to flee sexual immorality. V12. It’s not BENEFICIAL. Not HELPFUL. Which isn’t what gets whispered in your ear as you’re TEMPTED. It doesn’t make you MORE human, but LESS. It doesn’t FULFIL you, it DISAPPOINTS you. It doesn’t lead to greater PLEASURE AND SATISFACTION, but greater FRUSTRATION and hurt and DISsatisfaction. And guilt and divorce and HIV. And in the END, it leads to God’s JUDGMENT, and missing out on the Kingdom of God. It’s not BENEFICIAL.

  1. It enslaves you.

Fourth reason. V12. It ENSLAVES you. Paul concedes, “Everything MIGHT be permissible. But then adds, “But I will not be MASTERED by ANYTHING.” The world whispers that sexual sin, without boundaries or restrictions, SETS YOU FREE. But the TRUTH is it ENSLAVES you. Traps you. Like a drug addict whose world shrinks down so small that all he thinks about is his next hit. It CONSUMES him. Sexual desire is so strong, and its effect so THOROUGH, every interaction is viewed through that lens. It’s a monster that grows as you FEED it. Every person is a conquest. Every conversation an opportunity. Every image lingered over. People aren’t personalities, they’re an object.

Your desires end up controlling you. That’s not FREEDOM, that’s SLAVERY. The reality is YOU are the master of your body. You’re free to say NO to your body.

Why not PRACTICE saying NO to your body? Take a cold shower when your body wants a hot one. Go without breakfast to pray, when your stomach is rumbling. Run an extra lap of the oval when your lungs are bursting. PRACTICE some self-control in ways that DON’T matter. To prepare yourself for temptations that DO matter. So that when temptations come, and your body says, DO IT! You can say NO! You control your body. Not the other way around. So you CAN flee sexual immorality.

  1. Your body was made for the Lord instead.

Fifth, your body was made for the Lord instead. See there in the second half of v13?

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord,  Our bodies were designed for a different purpose. Our bodies MATTER. They’re not evil. They can just be USED for evil. Instead, our bodies were made FOR THE LORD. To be used IN HIS SERVICE. Romans 12:1 says “In view of God’s mercies, offer your BODIES as LIVING sacrifices, holy and acceptable to him. THIS is your spiritual act of worship.”

Our worship is very DOWN TO EARTH. PHYSICAL. Everything we DO can be worship. In obedience and thanks to Jesus. And for his glory. Our place of worship isn’t a building, but the WHOLE WORLD. Our worship service isn’t just WORDS from our MOUTH, but ACTIONS from our BODY. It’s not a SONG, but a CHOICE, a DEED, a COMMITMENT.

It’s what we were MADE FOR. Our bodies work BEST when they’re performing the tasks they were DESIGNED for. Right tool for the right task. I’ve got a reasonable set of tools. But sometimes I need a SPECIALIST tool. Like a spark plug socket wrench, or a bicycle gear remover, or a torque wrench. But I haven’t GOT one, so I have to use a pair of pliers, or a NORMAL wrench, or the good old favourite, a HAMMER. But they never work as well, because I’m not using them for the purpose they were DESIGNED for.  And it’s the same with our BODIES. They were made for THE LORD, not for SEXUAL IMMORALITY.

  1. Jesus has a plan for your body.

Six. Flee sexual immorality because JESUS HAS A PLAN for your body. (The end of v13) The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, AND THE LORD FOR THE BODY. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and HE WILL RAISE US ALSO.

Not only is the body for the Lord, but the Lord is for the BODY. What does THAT mean? Jesus CAME in a body. He showed that the body is IMPORTANT by taking on FLESH. He got blisters and bleeding noses and indigestion. And then he GAVE his body up to DEATH. And he did that to redeem YOUR body. The resurrection of HIS body is the guarantee that OUR bodies will be resurrected. Our bodies are destined for a greater purpose. The Lord is FOR the body.

So what does all of THAT mean? It means that if our RESURRECTED bodies are for Jesus’ eternal service and glory, then we should use THESE bodies NOW for Jesus’ service and glory. And to be involved in sexual immorality doesn’t match up with Jesus’ future plans for our bodies.

  1. Your bodies are part of Christ.

Seven. Flee sexual immorality because your bodies are PART OF CHRIST. V15. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! When we trust Christ, we’re JOINED to him. We’re ONE with him. He REPRESENTS us. He died, and so WE died to our old selves. We are seated in the heavenly realms because that’s where JESUS is.

But not only THAT. WE represent HIM. We are his hands and feet, and his eyes and his mouth. We achieve his purposes, in his strength. He exerts his power IN us, and partly, THROUGH us. Which is LOVELY if you’re thinking about how we LOVE and SERVE and WITNESS to the world, as Jesus’ hands and feet. But it’s SHOCKING if the image is that Jesus comes along while you have an affair with your boss. Or Jesus looks over your shoulder as you watch porn on the internet.

When a member of Christ’s BODY commits sexual sin, it’s as if JESUS HIMSELF is joined to a prostitute. That’s v15. It’s shocking and wrong and unnatural. “Don’t you KNOW that?” says Paul.

  1. Sexual sin damages you profoundly

Reason number EIGHT. Sexual sin damages you PROFOUNDLY. There in v18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are OUTSIDE his body, but he who sins sexually SINS AGAINST HIS OWN BODY. The reality is sexual sin can SCAR you like no other sin. Lying or stealing can damage other people. But sexual sin damages YOU. Damages your mind and your emotions and your spirit. And it’s not like sneezing, or a workout at the gym. It’s sin you can’t get over quickly. It impacts your thoughts and expectations and behaviour for years to come.

And that’s because sex is POWERFUL. That’s the way God DESIGNED it. That’s the point in verses 16-18. Sex CONNECTS two people. Makes them ONE. And it makes a profound impact. It’s powerful for GOOD in the RIGHT context. Or for BAD in the WRONG context. So FLEE sexual immorality. Because it’s powerful. It’s a nuclear bomb, not a firecracker.

9 Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit

Nine. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. That’s v19. Corinth was FULL of temples. And when you entered a temple, different rules applied. Different behaviour was expected. But with Christianity, your temple is with you, wherever you went. Because God’s HOLY SPIRIT is in you. That means there’s no switching from secular to sacred. From worldly to spiritual. Your BODY is God’s holy temple, so EVERYTHING it does is sacred and holy. And it doesn’t make SENSE for a holy temple to be involved in sexual immorality.

  1. You were bought for a price

And finally, reason number 10. You were bought for a price. See there in v20? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. In other words, it’s not your body. If you’re a Christian, then your body no longer belongs to you. It belongs to JESUS’. So don’t abuse it, or trash it. If you borrowed someone’s CAR, you’d look after it. So look after your BODY even MORE. Jesus considered it so valuable he DIED for it. You belong to a different master.

Two imperatives

So, that’s it. Ten reasons. Ten descriptions of the way things are. But did you notice there’s only TWO COMMANDS? At the BEGINNING, and the END of that last paragraph. The start of v18, and the end of v20. Flee from sexual immorality. And honour God with your body. Ten reasons, and only two commands. Because the reality is/ knowing what’s right and wrong is fairly SIMPLE. God’s rules are CLEAR. And knowing what you should DO is fairly simple. Flee what’s WRONG. And, instead, put God FIRST – OBEY him – in everything. Simple in THEORY. But often so difficult in PRACTICE. So we get this long list of REASONS. MOTIVATIONS. When you lose sight of the big picture of who God is, and what he’s done, and who you are, this list REMINDS you. And lifts your gaze, and speaks truth to you. And gives you the strength to USE your bodies, rather than for immorality, to HONOUR GOD.

Like Eric Liddell. Eric Liddell was a Scottish school teacher and international rugby player. He’s best known from the movie Chariots of Fire. He was selected to run for Great Britain in 1924 Paris Olympic Games. Against the odds, he won the 400m, breaking the Olympic and World records, and beating his own personal best by 2 seconds.

A committed Christian, he said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure.” That’s what it means to honour God with your body.

But it’s not just ATHLETES God takes pleasure in. Or gold medals. EVERYDAY ACTIONS bring him pleasure And bring him glory. Many people don’t know that Liddell went to China as a missionary the following year. He served there for the next 17 years in relative obscurity, until the Japanese invaded in 1943 and he was sent to an internment camp. He died of a brain tumour there, only a few months before the end of the war in February, 1945.

He was once asked if he ever regretted giving up the fame of athletics for missionary work. He replied, “It’s natural for a chap to think over all that sometimes, but I’m glad I’m at the work I’m engaged in now. A FELLOW’S LIFE COUNTS FOR FAR MORE AT THIS THAN THE OTHER.”

That’s someone who understood and who lived out verse 20. Who understood the INDICATIVE, so obeyed the imperative. Go and do likewise. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Song of Songs 7-8: What God says about sex

proposalThe movie An Indecent Proposal stars Robert Redford as a billionaire who meets Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore at a casino in Las Vegas. They’re a married couple who’ve lost their savings at the roulette table. Gambled on the hope of making enough money to fund a real estate development.

And the movie gets its title from the offer Redford makes them. He watches how in love they are, and he wants what they’ve got. He says, “I’ve got money, I’ve got businesses, I’ve got security. But you’ve got something I just don’t have. Love.”

Woody Harrelson replies, “I guess there’s limits to what money can buy.” “Not many,” says Redford. Demi Moore joins in, “Some things aren’t for sale. You can’t buy people.

And so Redford comes back with his INDECENT PROPOSAL. He says, “So what are you saying? You can’t buy love? That’s a bit of a cliché isn’t it? Let’s test the cliché.” And he turns to Harrelson, “Suppose I was to offer you one million dollars for one night with your wife.” And the rest of the movie is about how that choice plays out. About what LOVE is worth. About what SEX is worth. It’s about loyalty. And money. And jealousy. And power.

We think it’s A MODERN dilemma. But I’m pretty sure that’s what’s happening here in Song of Songs chapter 8. Around 1000 BC. And these last few verses of Ch 8 are the key that unlocks the meaning of the book. Solomon is used to getting any woman he wants. 1 Kings 11 tells us he had 700 wives and 300 concubines! And in v11, we read about his vineyard, with its tenants who look after it.  11 Solomon had a vineyard in Baal Hamon; he let out his vineyard to tenants. Each was to bring for its fruit a thousand shekels of silver.

Almost certainly, that’s his HAREM, and its attendants. And their job included finding new girls, then offering the family 1000 shekels in payment, and then bringing the new addition into Solomon’s harem. But then they meet a girl who’s not so easily influenced by riches. V12  But my own vineyard is mine to give; the thousand shekels are for you, O Solomon, and two hundred are for those who tend its fruit.

She’s the only one who’ll offer her body, her vineyard, to anyone else. It’s not for the attendants to offer her. So, she tells Solomon he can KEEP his thousand shekels. And the attendants can keep their commission. She’s not open to offers. V10. She describes herself as a wall, with breast like towers. SHE chooses who she offers her comfort and contentment to.

And we can imagine as the news is reported back to Solomon. His first ever knockback. He wants to know what sort of woman turns down Solomon, the richest, wisest man alive. The greatest lover.  And he arrives on the scene to see ANOTHER man calling out for his beloved, his wife. V13.You who dwell in the gardens with friends in attendance, let me hear your voice!  And then she appears, and answers.  14 Come away, my lover, and be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the spice-laden mountains. And they walk off into the sunset, arm in arm. In love and enjoying each other.

Do as I say, not as I’ve done: The voice of experience

And as Solomon looks on as an outsider on this scene, he realises that he’s missed out. Just like Robert Redford’s character in the movie. He’s got more of everything than anyone else. He’s had more SEX than anyone. But he doesn’t know LOVE. He doesn’t know what THIS COUPLE have.

And may that be what THE WORLD realises as it looks at OUR marriages! It’s looking for love and satisfaction in all the wrong places. But when people look at Christian marriages, may they see enjoyment and contentment and satisfaction. May they look longingly at OUR marriages.

That’s Solomon. And so, he sets out to write a Song of Songs. The greatest song ever written. About true love and great sex. And how it’s NOT found with a cheque book, or in multiple partners or one night stands. And it CAN’T be rushed. And how it’s NOT necessarily better with expensive dates and gifts and romance. And how it’s WORTH waiting for the real thing, and letting it develop NATURALLY.  It’s a song, I think, with the basic message “Do as I SAY, not as I’ve DONE.”

Frank Avent was telling me about his endocrinologist, who is the expert on the pancreas, and Frank’s diabetes, among other things. And his good advice is to watch your weight, and not eat sugar, and you’ll avoid type 2 diabetes. Except the doctor is very overweight, and has type 2 diabetes HIMSELF. So his message to Frank must be like Solomon’s. “Do as I SAY, not as I’ve DONE. Avoid the mistakes I’ve made.” That’s the message of the song.

And the stars are this couple. It’s a song that’s undoubtedly about SEX. And it CELEBRATES it. Which isn’t what people have THOUGHT was Christianity’s view about sex. So it comes as a surprise to lots of people. It CELEBRATES and DESCRIBES sex. But it’s not EXPLICIT. The language is DARING AND SUGGESTIVE. But it’s full of METAPHOR – often to do with fruit and gardens and fountains and eating and drinking. And we’re left to IMAGINE much of what’s going on. But it’s never OBVIOUS. In fact, there’s plenty of opinions about what almost every verse means.

Sex is about love

But the FIRST lesson we’re to learn about sex. Is that it’s about LOVE. Love is the FOUNDATION. By God’s design, great sex is ALWAYS within a LOVING, monogamous, committed relationship between a husband and wife.  Look at 8:6. The woman declares her LOVE for her husband. 6 Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave.  It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.

This isn’t a CRUSH. A FLING. “I’m here FOREVER,” she says. “I’m superglued onto your heart. I’m tattooed onto your arm.” Why? Because LOVE IS STRONG AS DEATH. It’s unstoppable. Undefeatable. Or in v7, it’s like a fire you can’t put out. Like an oyster on a rock – you can’t wash it away.

And TRUE love is JEALOUS. Protective of the one it loves. THAT sort of jealousy is GOOD. Love FIGHTS for a marriage. It’s right for a wife to be jealous for her husband’s affections and attention. Jealousy like THAT is powerful. Stronger than sickness and poverty and childbirth and prostate surgery and temptations.

And in the second half of v7 she considers how VALUABLE love is. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned. YOU CAN’T BUY LOVE, she says. Perhaps there’s a hint there of Solomon’s indecent proposal?

Sex is about just two people

So, with that FOUNDATION (in Ch 8), let’s jump back to the BEGINNING, and skim through the song. And see what lessons Solomon wants to teach us.  FIRST. Sex is about just TWO PEOPLE. Solomon got it SO WRONG! 1000 sexual partners. And he’s STILL not happy. But this couple only have eyes for each other.  2:14. The husband can’t wait to see his wife. 14 My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your FACE, let me hear your VOICE; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.

And then in 2:16, his wife responds.  16 My lover is mine and I am his; It’s perfectly RIGHT for there to be no sharing with anyone else. They belong to each other. It’s the same idea in 7:10 I belong to my lover, and his DESIRE is for me. If his wife is 150 cm with short brown hair and freckles. Then the type of woman he finds attractive and desirable is… 150cm tall with short brown hair and freckles! Nobody else!

Or jump over to Ch 4. It’s a long, adoring description from the husband about everything he finds so attractive and gorgeous about his wife’s body. And then, v 12, he says 12 You are a garden LOCKED UP, my sister, my bride; you are a spring ENCLOSED, a SEALED fountain. 13 Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard, 14 nard and saffron,  In other words, you’re modest and demure. You’re not a flirt. You don’t tantalise other men with revealing clothing, or suggestive looks or conversation.

But notice what ELSE he loves. Her garden might be locked up to OTHERS, but its delights are available to HIM. V13 “Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with choice fruits, with henna and nard,” and so on. And in v16, she invites HIM ALONE into her garden. To enjoy all it has to offer. 16 Awake, north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on MY garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad. Let my lover come into HIS garden and taste its choice fruits.  And the husband is quick to respond. 5:1 I have come into MY garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk. HER garden is now HIS garden. It doesn’t spell out exactly what they’re doing. But it doesn’t really NEED to, does it?

Sex is about words

Next point. Just in case you hadn’t noticed it already. Sex is about WORDS. Husbands can learn a thing or two from this man.  The start of Ch 4 has an imaginative description of everything he loves about his wife’s body. You may be wise to avoid the connection between your wife’s hair and a flock of goats (v1). Or her TEETH and a flock of freshly shorn SHEEP (v2). But learn from his attention to detail. And his application to the task. And his single-minded determination. And his SHEER CREATIVITY!

And don’t stop with her BODY. STUDY her. Her LIFE. Her PREFERENCES. Spend time thinking about what you can do to PLEASE her. What might she like as a gift? Or as a thoughtful gesture?

And at the start of Ch 7 he’s on the job again. It’s a full-body inventory. From feet to head. He’s drinking in every detail. V8. May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, 9 and your mouth like the best wine. And notice how the woman RESPONDS to his words. V9 of Ch 7. May the wine go straight to my lover, flowing gently over lips and teeth. 10 I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me.

He’s won her over. One commentator on these verses says, “Men require twenty-four SECONDS of foreplay. Women twenty-four HOURS.[1] Husbands, we need to connect with her MIND before we connect with her BODY. But compliments have to be GENUINE. Flattery has an ulterior motive. But compliments are completely other person-centred.  Gifts need to be “JUST BECAUSE I LOVE YOU”. Time and attention needs to be SINCERE. They’re NOT to come with an agenda. There’s to be no expectation of a FAVOUR IN RETURN. That’s not LOVE.

Sex is worth waiting for

ANOTHER lesson Solomon’s learned is that SEX IS WORTH WAITING FOR.  Like every good song, this song has a chorus. And it’s always sung by THE WIFE. And it’s always sung to her friends, the DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM. And we hear it first at Ch 2 v6. She’s describing her husband’s embraces. 6 His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.  And here’s the chorus 7 Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.  And it’s there again in Ch 3 v5. And it’s there again in Ch 8 v4. Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.  In other words, this is GOOD. But that doesn’t mean RUSH INTO IT. It’s ONLY this good because it happened at the right TIME, with the right PERSON. In the right SITUATION.  Sexual desire is an appetite, but you don’t HAVE to satisfy it. (Unlike what the world says). The reality is you CHOOSE when you satisfy it. YOU choose when to arouse, or awaken, love. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit.

It’s a word for SINGLES. Don’t rush into marriage. It’s GOOD, but only if the timing, and the PERSON is right. If YOU’RE at the right place in your life to marry. Marriage to the WRONG person can be FAR WORSE than being single.  And it’s a word to MARRIEDS TOO. Probably more to HUSBANDS. There’ll be SEASONS in your marriage. Times when it’s loving and right to NOT have sex. Love never DEMANDS. It’s always about the OTHER PERSON. Loving sex is NEVER just about you, and what YOU want. Whatever your situation, trust God’s perfect timing.

Sex in the real world

Solomon’s NEXT lesson is a dose of realism. About sex in the REAL world. One of the cruellest lies of pornography is that women have perfect bodies, and are always available. But the reality is more about mismatched libidos, cramps and crying babies. More about exhaustion and brains that won’t switch off and dodgy hips and yeast infections and erectile dysfunction and inconvenient phone calls. So, Ch 1, we see the wife’s insecurities about her body. V5. Dark am I, yet lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, dark like the tents of Kedar, like the tent curtains of Solomon.  6 Do not stare at me because I am dark, because I am darkened by the sun. My mother’s sons were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyards; my own vineyard I have neglected.  She’s suntanned, with callouses on her hands, and unwashed dirty hair.

She heads off to find her husband at his work as a shepherd. There’s no opportunity for a romantic date, so they make the most of what they’ve got. V7. Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock and where you rest your sheep at midday. And when she arrives, they spread out their picnic on the grass. As good as any king at his rich banquet. V12. While the king was at HIS table, MY PERFUME spread its fragrance.  And down in v16. How handsome you are, my lover! Oh, how charming! And our bed is verdant  (A lush green pasture) 17 The beams of our house are CEDARS; our rafters are FIRS. They make themselves at home under shade of the trees. The REALITY of life doesn’t need to squeeze out the romance. Be creative and pro-active and imaginative.

Down in v13 of Ch 2, she invites him, “Arise, come, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.” And he doesn’t need to be asked twice. Despite the outside picnic, and her unkept hair and tanned skin. V14.My dove in the clefts of the rock… show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.  And then look at v15 Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.

What are LITTLE FOXES? And why does he ask her to CATCH them? Well, remember that her vineyard is her body, or their intimacy together. And foxes RUIN vineyards. They’re a PEST. I think the little foxes are those distractions and annoying details that REAL LIFE is about. And they can upset a couple’s physical relationship. And he’s asking her to CATCH them. To not let them get in the way of their enjoyment of each other. It’s a call that they cooperate with honest communication. And that they’re creative and keep a sense of humour. When it comes to tiredness and teething babies and cramps and car alarms and mismatched libidos. And a hundred other excuses that can de-rail intimacy.

Husbands need to hear the word about WAITING UNTIL THE TIME IS RIGHT. Perhaps it’s WOMEN who need to hear the word about CATCHING LITTLE FOXES. Work against your natural inclination to get distracted by the dirty laundry or trouble at work. Work hard to be IN THE MOMENT with your husband.

REAL LIFE isn’t all romance, and perfect bodies, and perfect timing. But the couple are COMMITTED to making it work, because they’re COMMITTED to EACH OTHER.

Sex ISN’T just about two people

NEXT point. Sex is about two people. But it’s also NOT just about two people. All the way through the song, THE FRIENDS are looking on. Eyewitnesses of their relationship. Giving their approval, and guidance and support. A wedding is a PUBLIC ceremony, where promises are made before FRIENDS and FAMILY and before God. That’s a GOOD thing. For the stability of the marriage AND of SOCIETY. Because the community helps the married couple. And the married couple help the community. And you’ve got the daughters of Zion listening in. Learning the lessons from the experienced wife.

And advice flows THE OTHER WAY TOO. In Ch 8, we read about the place of the PARENTS in this marriage. V2, the wife says to her husband 2 I would lead you and bring you to my mother’s house-SHE WHO HAS TAUGHT ME. I would give you spiced wine to drink, the nectar of my pomegranates. It seems like her mum’s taught her about THE ART OF INTIMACY. You might think that’s awkward, but who BETTER to do it? Her friends? The media?

Sex ISN’T just about two people. And that’s got implications for our modern debate on same sex marriage. Lots of people say it doesn’t matter what two consenting adults do behind closed doors.  But the relationships of married couples influences society, and society influences a couple’s relationship. Society will SUFFER if marriage is re-defined to include same sex couples. And AS A CHURCH community, we can be helping our couples. Mentoring and supporting and guiding them. For the good of the individual family AND the CHURCH family.

Sex is good, but not ultimate

And finally, the message of the whole Bible is that sex is GOOD. But it’s not ULTIMATE. It’s not the greatest joy and satisfaction there is. Sex, like every OTHER good thing in God’s world, can become AN IDOL. Sex, like every other good thing, works best when it’s enjoyed with thankfulness to God who GAVE it. Rather than WORSHIPPING it. Rather than expecting it to complete or fulfil us.  Sex is GOOD, but it’s not ultimate. Or supreme. Sex isn’t your right. . No one ever DIED from not having sex.

It’s not the solution. If you’re single, it won’t end your sexual frustration or cure your self-control if you got married tonight. It won’t change you. Only God can do that through the gospel.  Our world screams at us that sex is the best thing on offer, and you’re sub-human if you’re not having sex every night. And to impose boundaries on who you can have sex with is cruel and inhumane. But Jesus was the most fulfilled and complete human being who ever lived. And yet he never married. And he never had sex

And, like everything else in this life, IT WON’T LAST. There’ll be no sex in eternity. There’ll be connection that’s FAR BETTER. And we won’t MISS IT. The connection and fulfilment of two people joining is a picture, a shadow, a signpost of a far deeper and longer-lasting connection. Something BETTER. We’ll look at this passage more next week. But Ephesians 5 describes that husband and wife is a picture of Jesus, the bridegroom, and THE CHURCH, his bride. And the honour and love and service we offer each other help us to UNDERSTAND and RECEIVE and LONG FOR all that Jesus DOES, and WILL, offer us. Here in Song of Songs, the imagery that’s used to describe their intimacy involves gardens and fruit and fountains. Creation BEGAN in a garden with fruit and fountains. And the NEW creation is ALSO described as a garden, and it’s got fruit and fountains. And as Revelation describes the new creation, there’s ANOTHER married couple at its centre. Jesus, the bridegroom, and HIS precious pure BRIDE, his CHURCH. And THAT connection and that pleasure and that intimacy are the REALITY that all our pleasures HERE are just SHADOWS of.

That’s the relationship you REALLY want to have. The one that’s worth FAR MORE than a million dollars. LONG for it. And EXPERIENCE it. And ENJOY it.

 

[1] O’Donnell, 37.

Proverbs 19:8-23: What wisdom God gives about marriage

BachelorThe new season of The Bachelor has just started. Richie is looking for love. One man chooses his favourite from 24 hopeful ladies. All romance and fancy dates.

marriedAnd then there’s Married at First Sight. About 4 guys and 4 girls all looking for love. And the experts match them up, and organise the weddings. The only problem is they don’t meet until they walk down the aisle. Which happens in the first episode. And then the rest of the show is about how they learn about each other. And whether it will work or not. And it’s more about how tough it is to live with another selfish person. And some of the relationships continue. And others don’t survive the honeymoon.

The publicity calls it a bold experiment. Although it wouldn’t be much of a show in LOTS of countries. Where arranged marriages happen all the time.

sevenAnd then there’s The Seven Year Switch. The worst of them all. A show about two couples who are having problems in their relationship. And the show SWAPS the couples. Putting temptation in front of them, with another attractive person, who’s also vulnerable, and in a similar position. And we all watch as relationships fall apart.

And all those shows are watched by hundreds of thousands of people. Perhaps it’s because we all want the close connection that’s promised. Or maybe we want to learn some lessons about improving our own marriage. Or maybe we just like watching the struggles so we don’t feel quite so bad about our OWN imperfect relationships.

But there’s ANOTHER couple we’re going to watch this morning. From the pages of Proverbs. And this relationship is A MESS. Things are falling apart. The husband and wife are barely SPEAKING to each other. And when they DO, it’s only to ARGUE. To complain or criticise. It’s a household where the husband looks for excuses not to go home. Because the moment he walks in the door, the nagging starts. She’s never satisfied. No matter what he says or does, it’s not good enough. There’s never any complements, just complaints. It NEVER STOPS. To the point where he daydreams about heading off all on his own to somewhere quiet.

It’s a household where the wife just seems constantly FRUSTRATED. This isn’t the man she married. She married someone who NOTICED her. Who treated her as SPECIAL. Who had ENERGY and AMBITION. Who was HEADED somewhere. But now, when he finally DOES get home, he says nothing. And she might as well be invisible. And he thinks she doesn’t notice the way he looks at their attractive neighbour as she hangs out the washing.

And the husband and wife both have a deep, heavy SADNESS. Because they never imagined life would turn out like this. They look at the wedding photo on the shelf. And the two young, hopeful people grinning back at them seem like strangers.

But there’s HOPE, TOO. Because as Proverbs describes this family. It gives us WISDOM so we can learn how not to be like THEM.

This is week 2 of our series on what God says about marriage. Last week we looked at first principles. At God’s DESIGN, and the very FIRST couple. In some ways, it was a bit theoretical. This week we’re thoroughly PRACTICAL.

Marriage is a good gift from God.

First thing God wants you to know is that marriage is A GOOD GIFT. A gift from God himself. So, Prov 19:14 says Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is FROM THE LORD.

Or 18:22. He who finds a wife finds what is GOOD and receives FAVOR from the LORD.

Now, it’s important to notice that Proverbs is written as advice from A FATHER TO HIS SON. So much of its advice describes A WIFE. But it works equally well as advice for a DAUGHTER looking for A HUSBAND.

And the point is THIS. A wise wife, or husband, makes for a better home life than a nice house, new furniture, a home theatre system, or plenty in the bank. And it’s GOD who brings a partner like that along.

  1. Character counts

We can see something of HOW THAT WORKS in Prov 12:4 A wife of noble character is HER HUSBAND’S CROWN, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.

Notice what really counts? CHARACTER! Physical looks are normally what we notice FIRST. But Proverbs says there are more important qualities to look for in a marriage partner. 11:22

22 Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no DISCRETION.

Beauty is one VERY SMALL PART of the whole package. It might be a beautiful gold ring, but the REST of the pig makes a far greater impression on you than the RING. Same thing with CHARACTER and BEAUTY. Character counts.

So singles, are you LOOKING for CHARACTER? Do you notice discretion, Truthfulness, sense of humour, humility, generosity, faithfulness, loyalty? All those things are more valuable than good looks, or a nice figure. Or when it comes to HUSBANDS, gentleness, humility and patience are more valuable than muscles or money. What do you NOTICE about a girl or a guy? What turns your head? Perhaps more importantly, what KEEPS your interest? How about spending a bit more effort looking for NOBLE CHARACTER!?

Because a wife of noble character is her husband’s CROWN. He VALUES her, and is PROUD of her. But also, she makes her husband BETTER than he was before. Like a crown on his head. (Same with a good HUSBAND for that matter.) A wife of noble character is the mirror that points out embarrassing faults, the sounding board to get ideas right, an encourager, a sharpening stone, a kick in the pants, a shoulder to cry on, a warm comforting pillow to relax against.

And a HUSBAND of noble character is gentle and patient. He values his wife in how he SPEAKS to her, and how he TREATS her. He encourages her when she feels inadequate. He genuinely complements her when she lacks confidence with what she sees in the mirror. He’s a crown for HER head.

But the opposite of that is the DISGRACEFUL wife. Or husband. A wife who’s more concerned with clothes and comfort than character and service. More concerned with HERSELF than her HUSBAND. She’s like decay in the bones. She takes strength and endurance AWAY from him. Her criticism disempowers. Her lack of respect, and her conflicting agenda de-stabilises and distracts him from what he SHOULD be concentrating on.

Then there’s the disgraceful HUSBAND. Like decay in her bones. He’s too proud to apologise, or too pre-occupied to notice, or too impatient to simply listen, or too critical to notice, or too lazy to talk. And his wife shrinks up as he self-confidence plummets. And she freezes up. And withdraws into fantasy and romance. Or into raising her children. And dies inside a little more each year. Marriages like THAT are decay in the bones.

And you can see how character is important in a couple of OTHER areas in this sad household.

A nagging wife

We’ll begin with the WIFE. Life just hasn’t turned out the way she imagined it. And she’s placing much of the blame on her husband. And she lets him know every chance she gets. You meet this wife so often in Proverbs it’s almost a refrain. Again and again verses like 27:15 A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day; 16 restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.

This woman is simply unstoppable. Nagging and nagging. All the time. She can’t be STOPPED. She can’t be PLEASED. That sort of life just DRAINS the LIFE out of a man. 25:24 offers a better alternative. 24 Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. It’s like living in a constant episode of Keeping up Appearances, that old English comedy with Mrs Hyacinth Bucket. Pronounced BOUQUET. With Richard, her poor hen-pecked husband, who’d rather be ANYWHERE ELSE than where Hyacinth is. Things are SO bad, he’s thinking about moving his things up onto the roof. Anything for a bit of peace and quiet. Or 21:19 It’s better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill tempered wife It might be dry and difficult to survive in a desert. But at least it’s QUIET!

An adulterous husband

But few problems in marriage are completely ONE-SIDED. Let’s take a look at THE HUSBAND for a moment. Maybe there are REASONS for the wife’s quarrels and nagging. Maybe it’s because his head’s being turned by the woman down the street. Who promises things that are so much easier, and more exciting than what he gets at home.

And Proverbs is LOADED with warnings against the sort of foolishness. Like chapter 2. Be WISE about the attraction of adultery. 2:16.

[Wisdom] will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. For her house leads down to DEATH and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the PATHS OF LIFE.

The LIE of adultery is that it will lead to a FUN, EXCITING, SATISFYING life. Everything your marriage ISN’T. That finally you’ll be treated the way you DESERVE. But it’s just NOT SO. That’s FOOLISHNESS. Life gets FAR MORE DIFFICULT and COMPLICATED when you head down THAT path. And it doesn’t just ruin YOUR life, there’s the kids And the grandparents. Not to mention your CHURCH family. It’s A MESS. The moments of excitement aren’t worth the trail of destruction it leaves behind. That path LEADS TO DEATH.

Marriage needs wisdom

And WISDOM will save you from that. A marriage built on a solid foundation of God’s wisdom is much more valuable than the most expensive house in Bellevue Hill. Prov 15:16-17  Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. 17 Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.

And that’s a comparison we see played out in real life. The poor but contented family in the suburbs. They don’t have heaps, but they love each other and share what they’ve got. And they laugh and ENJOY each other. Compared with the rich, bitter family in Double Bay. They’ve got everything they want, but they can’t stand being in the same room as each other. And there’s more TV’s than PEOPLE. And they’re all off watching their own show, living their own lives. Who’s got MORE? Fear of God, and HIS WISDOM, is worth much more in a family than money and stuff.

Or Prov 14:1.The WISE woman BUILDS HER HOUSE, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. The WISE PERSON builds up her own house. She doesn’t TEAR IT DOWN. It seems obvious, but we all fall victim to this one. You fight with your spouse, and you give them the silent treatment. “I’ll show them. I’ll teach them to hurt me/ ignore me/ disappointment me” Whatever it might be. Or you GET EVEN with words. You HURT as YOU’VE been hurt. Or you deliberately DON’T mow the lawn, or take out the bins. Or forget the appointment. To prove a point. To win an argument. To maintain your pride.

But what do you end up doing? Make yourself MISERABLE! You LOSE! And you’ve CAUSED it. You’re tearing down YOUR OWN HOUSE. It’s called biting your nose to spite your face. That’s FOOLISHNESS – you’re destroying the peace of your home by your own hands! But the WISE wife. Or husband. BUILDS their house. So, do and say things that BUILD UP. Have attitudes. Use words. Have the servant heart. That BUILDS your home, rather than tears it down. Only FOOLS do that. Only fools console themselves with the thought, “But I showed her! But I was right!” And they take their aggrieved sense of self-justice all the way to the divorce courts. And misery. And regret. So, what are some specifics for BUILDING your home?

Listen first, speak second

Proverbs says Listen first, speak second. Prov 12:18 Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Prov 13:3 He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin. Proverbs 17:27 “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered”. Proverbs 10:19 “When words are MANY, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise”. Listen first, speak second. You’ve got TWO ears, and ONE mouth for a reason! Ask questions. Reflect back what you’re hearing. Don’t assume you know what your partner is saying or feeling. Put your brain into gear before your mouth. Count to ten before you return fire. Begin your sentences with “I” rather than “You”. It’s much harder to accuse and hurt when you start the sentence with “I”. “I feel taken for granted when you don’t clear the table after dinner.”

Listen first and speak second doesn’t mean that you can’t say anything at all. That can be more frustrating for wives than an argument. But think of words as GIFTS. Proverbs 16:23-24. “A wise man’s heart GUIDES HIS MOUTH, and his lips promote instruction. PLEASANT WORDS ARE A HONEYCOMB, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” As you’re putting your brain in gear before your mouth. Ask yourself, How can what I’m about to say BUILD UP?

Stop the merry go round

Another way you can BUILD your home is to stop the merry go round. In other words, if you’ve been hurt, let it go. Forgive. Don’t escalate or intensify arguments. Prov 20:3 It is to a man’s HONOR to AVOID STRIFE, but every FOOL is quick to quarrel. Prov 17:13-14 If a man pays back evil for good, evil will never leave his house. 14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; SO DROP THE MATTER BEFORE A DISPUTE BREAKS OUT. Prov 26:20 Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. Prov 17:9 He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.

Be willing to lose the argument, or apologise first. It’s not WORTH IT. That’s WISDOM. It takes a bigger man to admit a mistake. It’s LITTLE men who have to keep PROVING THEMSELVES. Proving themselves always RIGHT. Justified in their anger, or their actions. In Christ, you’ve been forgiven a HUGE debt. So let things go. Nothing else compares to that.

Eat at home

Another piece of wisdom for building up your home is to always EAT at home. Now, I’m not saying anything at all here about where you have dinner. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, from a husband caught looking at a pretty girl, “It doesn’t matter if I look at the MENU, as long as I always EAT AT HOME.” Proverbs wants to say EVEN MORE, “Don’t eat out. In fact, don’t even LOOK AT THE MENU.” I’m talking about where your needs are satisfied. In particular the needs marriage is designed to satisfy. Look to YOUR MARRIAGE ALONE to satisfy those needs. That’s the way of wisdom. Listen to the advice the father gives his son in Prov 5:15-20. And I’ll just give a warning, just in case there’s any of you out there more sensitive than the Bible is / that this verse carries a M15+ rating.  15 Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. 16 Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? 17 Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. 18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 A loving doe, a graceful deer– may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. 20 Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife ?

Obviously talking about a man. We NOTICE women. It’s almost an instinctive reaction. If you’re following a ute or van with some blokes in it, just watch what they do as they pass a woman walking in the street. Almost ANY woman. As they pass her, all heads in the cabin will automatically turn to the left. Just checking the menu. Men, we’ve got to foster, or recover, the enjoyment we find in our wives. Write lists, or love letters, or poems. Think back to what you loved about your spouse when you first married. Tell her. Enjoy her. That’s God’s wise plan.

Looking at the menu might be a temptation for men, but it’s just as relevant to a woman. And, at the risk of stereotyping, women’s temptation is to check out the menu of another man who might meet their EMOTIONAL needs more than their husband. Someone at work, or the gym, who notices them, who seems to listen. Who understands them, who pays them attention. But it’s YOUR HUSBAND who’s meant to provide those needs. Don’t make do with him NOT meeting them. TELL him, invite him BACK. Encourage him. Be creative. Meet him half-way. It might be an uncomfortable conversation, but it will be WORTH IT. REJOICE in the husband or wife of your youth. That’s God’s counsel.

Pray

And if you’re a wife caught up in the same spiral of nagging and criticism, try PRAYING for your husband. And not just that he’ll do what YOU want. But that God will be working in him to make him like Jesus. And pray for YOURSELF. Have a good look in the mirror. And ask yourself what’s BEHIND the nagging. What unbiblical goal have you set for your marriage that’s not being achieved? Is it having high-achieving careers? And your husband just doesn’t have the ambition? Or is it having the perfect house? And he can’t keep it the way you’d like? Or he can’t satisfy your emotional need for affection? Or gifts? Or quality time? Or that the kids achieve what you never could? All of those things are GOOD. And they might be PART of what a marriage together can build. But they’re not GOD’S priority. What GOD wants is for you both to be growing more like Jesus. Whether you get any of those other things or NOT!

And HUSBAND with the wandering eye. Pray for your wife. List before God the things your thankful for. And pray WITH your wife. INITIATE that. You’re the one God’s appointed to LEAD. If you’re not in the habit of that, it’s not easy to do. Because to pray is to let go of PRIDE. And men don’t like to admit we’re not in control. But she’ll LOVE you for it. And as you listen to her pray, you might be surprised by the things that are on her heart. And you’ll come to KNOW her better. And love her MORE.

God as the foundation

And finally, perhaps most OBVIOUSLY, build your house with GOD as the foundation. As the central beam that bears the load of the whole house. The central space that every other room joins. Prov 19: 21 Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. 19:23 The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble. Fearing God, honouring him. Putting him first. In EVERY aspect of your marriage. He MADE you. He DESIGED marriage. It’s HIS wisdom that leads to LIFE. TRUE life. Maximum life. A contented, peaceful, rich life. And don’t we all want our homes and marriages to be like THAT? For God’s honour and glory.

Proverbs: Marriage Wisdom

For the next few weeks, we’re going to focus on what, for MOST of us, is the most SIGNIFICANT earthly relationship we have. Our MARRIAGE.

But for those of us who AREN’T married, I’m hoping this series will still be useful. Perhaps to PREPARE for being married one day. Make some notes on how to be a good husband or good wife. And how to build a strong marriage.

Or even for NOW as you help your married friends. Recognise the struggles they have. Help share the load. Encourage them to be the godly husband or wife God wants them to be. And to intelligently PRAY for them.

I think, for many of us, our marriage is A BLIND SPOT.

Our spouse is the person we spend most of our TIME with, the one we VALUE MOST, the one we most ENJOY spending time with.

And yet, the reality is, to our SHAME, we spend more energy and effort working on the OTHER relationships in our life. And take our spouse FOR GRANTED.

We take management courses on how to deal with work colleagues. Uni courses for our jobs. We take our kids shopping, or book up golf or fishing or coffee with mates, we look after our parents when they need help.

And our spouses are left with CRUMBS. The crumbs of our time, of our energy, our conversation. The crumbs of our AFFECTION.

We think we can get away with it because they LOVE us, and they’ll always be there. And, friends, it shouldn’t BE like that!

An old married were sitting on their verandah as the sun was setting. After a few moments of silence, the wife’s gaze dropped to the floor, and she started quietly sobbing.

“What’s wrong, dear?” asks the concerned husband.

“We used to be so passionate,” she said, a tear rolling down her cheek, “You’d bring me flowers, and you couldn’t keep your hands off me. I know I’m old now, I’ve got more wrinkles and gravity’s taking its toll. I just want to know, do you still love me?”

Her husband looked at her lovingly, “You silly old thing! I told you I loved you on the day we were married… And if anything changes on that front I’ll be sure to let you know.”

We laugh at the foolishness of that husband. But, for many of us, it’s a slightly NERVOUS laugh. Because, while we mightn’t be quite as bad as THIS husband, we recognise something of ourselves in him. We realise how little effort we make on our marriage. How few words we use, how little energy we spend, or little thought we give/ to fan the flames of our marriage.

Let me say from the outset that I’m not preaching to you from the high ground here. I’ve got a LONG way to go when it comes to being a good husband. Caron will let you know that. These are all lessons I need to be putting into practice every day. Some of them are lessons I’ve learned the HARD way. That I’m STIL learning.

But the good news is that it’s not simply about MY opinion. GOD HIMSELF is giving us the inside information on how to have a good marriage.

The manufacturer’s instructions. The optimum operating conditions.

Steve Bamford was telling me about working on some of the Air Force planes. Every tiny maintenance job has a step by step manufacturer’s instruction sheet that has to be followed TO THE LETTER. Might be 50 or 60 steps long. “Lubricate THIS joint. Tighten THIS screw to THIS torque. Do it all in THIS order.” That’s the way to make sure the plane is working at peak performance. All according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

And it’s the same with our marriage. Faithfully follow GOD’S instructions, even when it seems to be the opposite of what TV or movies or magazines tell you. That’s the way to have the best marriage in your street. The best communication, the best enjoyment and satisfaction, the best .

TODAY we’re looking at Proverbs. Which has LOTS of good advice on marriage. Written, for the most part, by King Solomon. And the situation we see is of a father giving good advice to his son. WISDOM to live his life by.

Like Ch 1 v8.

8 Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. 9 They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.

In other words, Valuable information. Worth listening to. But not just from Solomon. From God himself, So listen up.

Marriage is a good gift from God.

First thing God wants you to know is that marriage is A GOOD GIFT. A gift from God himself. Have a look at Prov 19: 14

Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a p nt wife is FROM THE LORD.

A wise wife or husband is much more important for a good home life than a nice house, new furniture, a home theatre system, or plenty in the bank. And it’s GOD who brings a partner like that along.

It’s God’s DESIGN for man and woman to be MARRIED. Right back in Gen 2, that was the PLAN. God, man and woman in a perfect, innocent, intimate relationship.

And the traditional marriage service makes THIS STATEMENT about marriage. “Society works BEST when the foundation of marriage is respected.”

Let me just stop for a moment, And say a word to SINGLE people.

Marriage is a good gift from God. Which DOESN’T mean that if you’re single, you’re somehow outside God’s plan. And you need to desperately go looking for it. God MAY have marriage planned for you, but he also may NOT.

It’s important to realise, as good as marriage can be, as much as marriage is a gift from God. That singleness is better than a BAD marriage. And that God can, and does, give the gift of singleness to people ALSO.

The attitude God wants ALL of us to have is to TRUST him. Whether marriage or single. To be CONTENT where He’s placed you. Trust his timing and plans. Be God’s person whatever your situation.

(pause) Marriage is God’s GIFT. And it’s a GOOD one too. Prov 18:22.

He who finds a wife finds what is GOOD and receives FAVOR from the LORD.

We can see something of WHY it’s good in Prov 12:4

A wife of noble character is HER HUSBAND’S CROWN, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.

A good wife enables her husband to be BETTER than he was before. Like a crown on his head. Same with a good HUSBAND for that matter. A wife of noble character is the mirror that points out embarrassing faults, the sounding board to get ideas right, an encourager, a sharpening stone, a kick in the pants, a shoulder to cry on, a warm comforting pillow to relax against. A wife, or husband, of noble character is… HOME.

Like that memorable line from the movie Jerry Maguire, “You complete me.” That’s a wife of noble character. Her husband’s crown.

2. Marriage is hard work

That’s the first point. Marriage is a good gift from God.

But just in case you thought Proverbs was being a little unrealistic, the second point it makes is that Marriage is HARD WORK.

A wife of NOBLE character is her husband’s crown. But that’s not EVERY wife. As Solomon’s lived his life, he’s learned a thing or two. And he warns his son about a household where things aren’t going quite so well.

A household where there’s one hen pecked husband who’s not QUITE so convinced he’s wearing any sort of crown at all, unless it’s one with EARPLUGS fitted. A husband who’s not convinced he’s found favour with anyone.

His wife is clearly frustrated. And she says so. Over and over again. Always ready for a fight at the slightest provocation.. In fact, you meet this wife so often in Proverbs it’s almost a refrain.

Can you pick the common theme in these proverbs?

21:9: It’s better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

21:19: It’s better to live IN A DESERT than with a quarrelsome and ill tempered wife

25:24: It’s better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

It’s like living in a constant episode of Keeping up Appearances, that old English comedy with Mrs Hyacinth Bucket. Pronounced bouquet. With Richard, her poor hen-pecked husband, who’d rather be ANYWHERE ELSE than where Hyacinth is.

And we’re told in exactly the same words twice, this guy is on the verge of packing himself a sandwich and living on the roof.

This kind of wife is so persistent it’s like water torture. The constant dripping of a tap. Proverbs 27 verse 15:

A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day. Restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.

This woman is simply unstoppable. Like holding back the wind, or grabbing a handful of olive oil. No wonder he’s seeking refuge on the roof. He’d rather have blisters on HIS BACKSIDE, than blisters on his ears.

(pause) But it’s not one way traffic here. What MAKES for disappointment and broken expectations like that? Maybe there are reasons for her nagging. Maybe there’s a deep seated despair behind her quarreling. That’s got something to do with the flagging faithfulness of her husband.

Maybe it’s got something to do with Proverbs chapter 30. Which I think is maybe the saddest little saying of all. Proverbs 30, verse 21 to 23. Because what if she’s unloved?

See, there are three or four things that make the earth shake. Three or four things that so go against the order of things that the earth QUAKES when they happen. Take a look, 30:21:

Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up: a servant who becomes king, a fool who is full of food, AN UNLOVED WOMAN WHO IS MARRIED, and a maidservant who displaces her mistress.

It just isn’t . See, maybe at the heart of things, here’s a woman who’s unloved by her husband. Ok, maybe nagging isn’t the way things are meant to be. But it’s not for a marriage to be stone cold. How much does that describe YOUR marriage?

Men, how do you FEEL about your wife? Do you NOTICE her across a room? Do you still love BEING with her? And do you TELL her? Or are you just sort of COMFORTABLE with each other? Or worse, you TOLERATE each other because there’s no other choice.

It’s obviously not going to be the way it was when you first met. But in lots of ways it should be BETTER.

It’s not going to be easy. Perhaps it’s going to take some serious swallowing of PRIDE. Humble pie. Some apologising. Some mending fences. Some re-shaping ways of relating.

But let me ask you, Men, “Is she WORTH it?” Worth the hard work it’s going to need?

It’s UN for a married woman to be unloved.

But perhaps you’re thinking, “All very well pointing out the PROBLEMS, Dave. The QUESTIONS. But what about some ANSWERS. Some SOLUTIONS?” Enough generalities. What about some specifics. WHAT am I to be working hard on?

We need wisdom in our marriages

Point three. We need WISDOM in our marriages. Prov 24:3-4

By WISDOM a house is built, and through understanding it is established; 4 through knowledge its rooms are filled with RARE AND BEAUTIFUL TREASURES.

A marriage built on a solid foundation of God’s wisdom is much more valuable than the most expensive house in Bellevue Hill.

Prov 15:16-17 16 Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. 17 Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.

And that’s a comparison we see played out in real life. The poor but contented family in the suburbs. They don’t have heaps, but they love each other and share what they’ve got.

Compared with the rich, bitter family in Double Bay. They’ve got everything they want, but they can’t stand being in the same room as each other.

Who’s got MORE?

Fear of God, and HIS WISDOM, is worth much more in a family than money and stuff.

Or Prov 14:1.

The WISE woman BUILDS HER HOUSE, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.

The WISE PERSON builds up their own house. She doesn’t TEAR IT DOWN. It seems obvious, but we all fall victim to this one. You fight with your spouse, and you give them the silent treatment. “I’ll show them. I’ll teach them to hurt me/ ignore me/ disappointment me” Whatever it might be.

Or you get even with words.

Or you deliberately DON’T mow the lawn, or take out the bins.

Or forget the appointment.

To prove a point. To win an argument. To maintain your pride.

But what do you end up doing? Make yourself MISERABLE! You Lose! And you’ve CAUSED it. You’re tearing down YOUR OWN HOUSE. It’s called biting your nose to spite your face. That’s FOOLISHNESS – you’re destroying the peace of your home by your own hands!

But the WISE wife. Or husband. BUILDS their house.

So, do and say things that BUILD UP. Have attitudes. Use words. Have the servant heart that BUILDS your home, rather than tears it down. Only FOOLS do that.

Only fools console themselves with the thought, “But I showed her! But I was right!” And they take their aggrieved sense of self-justice all the way to the divorce courts.

(pause) So, what are some specifics for BUILDING your home?

Listen first, speak second

Proverbs says Listen first, speak second.

Prov 12:18 Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Prov 13:3 He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.

Proverbs 17:27 “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered”.

Proverbs 10:19 “When words are MANY, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise”.

Listen first, speak second. You’ve got TWO ears, and ONE mouth for a reason! Ask questions. Reflect back what you’re hearing. Don’t assume you know what your partner is saying or feeling.

Put your brain into gear before your mouth. Count to ten before you let rip. Begin your sentences with “I” rather than “You”. It’s much harder to accuse and hurt when you start the sentence with “I”. “I feel taken for granted when you don’t clear the table after dinner.”

(pause) Listen first and speak second doesn’t mean that you can’t say anything at all. That can be more frustrating for wives than an argument. But think of words as GIFTS.

As you’re putting your brain in gear before your mouth. Ask yourself, How can what I’m about to say BUILD UP? Think about your words like THIS. Proverbs 16:23-24.

“A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction. Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones”

Stop the merry go round

Another way you can BUILD your home is to stop the merry go round. In other words, if you’ve been hurt, let it go. Forgive. Don’t escalate or intensify arguments.

Prov 20:3 It is to a man’s HONOR to AVOID STRIFE, but every FOOL is quick to quarrel.

Prov 17:13-14 If a man pays back evil for good, evil will never leave his house. 14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; SO DROP THE MATTER BEFORE A DISPUTE BREAKS OUT.

Prov 26:20 Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.

Prov 17:9 He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.

Be willing to lose the argument, or apologise first. It’s not WORTH IT. That’s WISDOM. It takes a bigger man to admit a mistake. It’s LITTLE men who have to keep PROVING THEMSELVES. Proving themselves always RIGHT. Justified in their anger, or their actions.

In Christ, you’ve been forgiven a HUGE debt. So let things go. Nothing else compares to that.

Eat at home

Another piece of wisdom for building up your home is to always EAT at home. Now, I’m not saying anything at all here about where you have dinner. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, from a husband caught looking at a pretty , “It doesn’t matter if I look at the MENU, as long as I always EAT AT HOME.”

Proverbs wants to say EVEN MORE, “Don’t eat out. In fact, don’t even look at the menu.”

I’m talking about where your needs are satisfied. In particular the needs marriage is designed to satisfy. Look to YOUR MARRIAGE ALONE to satisfy those needs. That’s the way of wisdom.

Listen to the advice the father gives his son in Prov 5:15-20. And I’ll just give a warning, just in case there’s any of you out there more sensitive than the Bible that this verse carries a M15+ rating.

15 Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. 16 Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? 17 Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. 18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 A loving doe, a graceful deer– may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. 20 Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife ?

Obviously talking about a man. We NOTICE women. It’s almost an instinctive reaction. If you’re following a ute or van with some blokes in it, just watch what they do as they pass a woman walking in the street. Almost ANY woman will do. As they pass her, all heads in the cabin will automatically turn to the left. Just checking the menu.

Men, we’ve got to foster, or recover, the enjoyment we find in our wives. Write lists, or love letters, or poems. Think back to what drove you wild about your spouse when you first married. Tell her. Enjoy her. That’s God’s wise plan.

Looking at the menu might be a temptation for men, but it’s just as relevant to a woman. And, at the risk of stereotyping, women’s temptation is to check out the menu of another man who might meet their EMOTIONAL needs more than their husband. Someone at work, or the gym, who notices them, who seems to listen. Who understands them, who pays them attention. It might start out innocently enough.

But it’s YOUR HUSBAND who’s meant to provide those needs.

Don’t make do with him NOT meeting them. Tell him, invite him back. Encourage him. Be creative. Meet him half-way.

It might be an uncomfortable conversation, but it will be WORTH IT. REJOICE in the husband or wife of your youth. That’s God’s counsel.

And finally, perhaps most OBVIOUSLY, build your house, with GOD as the foundation. As the central beam that bears the load of the whole house. The central space that every other room joins. Prov 19: 21

19:21 Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.

19:23 The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.

Fearing God, honouring him Putting him first. In EVERY aspect of your marriage. That’s what leads to LIFE. TRUE life. Maximum life. A contented, peaceful, rich life.

And don’t we all want our homes and marriages to be like THAT? For God’s honour and glory.

Ephesians 5:22-33: What God says about leadership and submission

men and womenThe MYSTERY of marriage. That’s what we’re talking about today. Some people might think it’s about the mystery of men and women UNDERSTANDING each other. Like John Gray’s book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. It tries to unravel THAT mystery. The idea is that men and women are SO different, it’s like they’re from different planets.

And it’s TRUE. As a GENERAL rule, men and women think and act very differently. We’re WIRED differently. We think about each other differently. We TALK differently. We even SHOP differently. But I’m not talking about THAT sort of mystery.

Christ and the church

Instead I’m talking about the mystery of marriage we just read about in Ephesians 5. Did you notice it there in v32? Towards the end of the passage? 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  32 This is A PROFOUND MYSTERY- but I am talking about CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.

In some way that we’ll get to in a few minutes, husband and wife can be so close, so united, that they’re like ONE FLESH. Two become ONE. THAT’S a mystery. But even MORE importantly. The unity between husband and wife is simply A PICTURE of the relationship Jesus has with his people. The one-ness of marriage reflects the ONE-NESS, the connection, that’s now available between Christ and the church. THAT’S the REAL mystery.

Not MYSTERY in the sense of throwing your hands up in the air that it’s too hard. (A puzzle that’s tricky to solve). But mystery in the way THE BIBLE uses the word. In the sense of something that USED TO be hidden / but is NOW REVEALED and made obvious.

There’s a DEEPER meaning of a married couple becoming ONE FLESH. A meaning that’s only revealed in Jesus. It’s the relationship between Jesus and his saved people that’s the REALITY. The PATTERN. And marriage is a picture. A signpost. A copy of that fundamental connection.

So let’s think about THAT connection for a few minutes, before we turn to husbands and wives. Back up in v23 we read that Christ is the HEAD of the church, which is his BODY. We’re JOINED to Jesus. How does THAT happen? The same verse, says he’s the SAVIOUR of the church. And in v25 it says that Christ loved the church and GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR HER to make her HOLY. That’s when we’re JOINED to Christ. When he died in our place, taking God’s punishment for himself. We become ONE with him when we confess our sin, and trust his saving work on our behalf.

ONE with Christ. ANOTHER way of saying that is there in v23. That Jesus as our HEAD, and we’re his BODY. We’re CONNECTED. And headship has TWO ideas connected to it. The idea of SOURCE. Or ORIGIN. Like the head of a river. Where the river BEGINS. So, Jesus is our SOURCE. We have life because of him. He is the ORIGIN of his church.

And BECAUSE of that/ he has the right to be our HEAD, in the sense of THE LEADER. The source of direction and guidance. Like the head, and the brain, guides the body around. Or the head of a company or an army sets the rules and direction that everyone else follows.

So Jesus is our KING. Our CAPTAIN. As WELL as our Saviour. He hasn’t just saved us in the PAST. He’s our King IN THE PRESENT. For a purpose IN THE FUTURE. V27. (he makes the church holy and washes her) 27 to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

He KEEPS working on his church, through his Spirit and his Word, to make us more and more like him. Pure and blameless. Standing firm through trials. Having loved and served and trusted. So that on JUDGMENT DAY, we’ll be READY for him.

The picture is of A WEDDING DAY, and all the preparation that’s gone into making the bride so perfect. Except in this case, it’s JESUS who’s doing all the preparation. He’s the beautician and the hairdresser and the stylist. And he’s the One who’ll PRESENT the bride. And he ALSO the One who’ll have the enjoyment of RECEIVING her, as the GROOM.

Groom and bride – together as ONE. And while we experience SOMETHING of that one-ness and joy and closeness NOW. It will only be COMPLETE on that wedding day, a picture of when eternity begins.

And THAT’S the context in which we live NOW. ALL our relationships shaped by THAT REALITY. That future. We work and obey and follow and submit to bring THAT about. To be ready LIKE THAT. That’s what it says in v21. At the beginning of the whole section. “Submit to one another, OUT OF REVERENCE FOR CHRIST.” In other words, live Christ-like, loving, humble and other person-centred lives because you’re JOINED TO CHRIST.

Submission and headship

And the FIRST relationship we look at is that of HUSBAND and WIFE. The one that reflects Jesus’ relationship with his bride, the church. V22. Wives, submit to your husbands AS TO THE LORD. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife AS CHRIST IS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now AS THE CHURCH SUBMITS TO CHRIST, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH and gave himself up for her

God’s DESIGNED the roles of husband and wife in marriage. (The roles of submission by the wife, and headship by the husband.) And they’re not REVERSIBLE. And they’re not OPTIONAL.  And the great mystery that’s being revealed is that they’re roles that are, somehow, MODELLED ON the roles of Christ and his church.

When we look at marriages, God wants it to say something about his Son and his church. He’s saying (v24), “Wives, find your distinctive role as a wife in COPYING the way the church relates to Christ”. Which is to choose to lovingly submit to him.

Then to husbands “Find your distinctive role as a husband in COPYING the way Christ relates to the church. First, v23: For the husband is the head of the wife AS CHRIST IS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH, his body, of which he is the Savior. And again in verse 25: Husbands, love your wives, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH and gave himself up for her. Follow Jesus’ example. We need to be COMMANDED because it’s SO UNNATURAL.

God made the FIRST marriage like this. Eve the SUITABLE HELPER for Adam. Filling in the gaps, underneath the headship of Adam. Who was the SOURCE of his wife. And her LEADER.

But God’s perfect design didn’t last long. In Genesis 3, sin entered the world. When Eve listened to the animal instead of ruling over it. And Adam followed his wife, rather than following God. The whole original design for marriage, for CREATION, was turned on its head. And since that time the consequences of sin are seen in UPSIDE DOWN DISTORTIONS OF MARRIAGE.

Sin ruined marriage NOT because it brought headship and submission into existence, but because it TWISTED God’s design of headship and submission.

And the result? Genesis 3:16. God says to Eve, “Your desire will to be over your husband. And he will RULE over you.” Wives demanding to be BOSS. And husbands selfishly DOMINATING. Man’s humble, loving, serving headship became hostile dictatorship in some men / or NO LEADERSHIP AT ALL – lazy indifference (following) in others. Some husbands spend too much time focusing on DEMANDING THEIR RIGHTS. And too little time concerned with FULFILLING THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES. Too much time feeling sorry for themselves. And too little time looking to meet the needs of their family. Too much time selfishly boosting their ego at work, with the excuse they’re providing for their family. And too little time on the gentle nurturing and support of their kids. Too much time on the active pursuit of THEIR hobbies, sports, and escapes, and too little time on the active discipline and rearing of their kids, or in spiritual leadership of the family.

And sin twisted woman’s intelligent, willing submission into manipulative flattery in some women/ and brazen insubordination in others. Some wives spend too much time criticizing their husbands, even just in thought. And too little time looking for the positives, the commendable. Too much thought spent on how to get around her husband to achieve what she wants instead, and too little thought on how to change her attitude to be content where God’s put her.

Too much emotion wrapped up in nurturing the kids, in satisfying her emotional needs in raising the family, rather than doing the hard work of communicating needs, of listening, of submitting to her husband. Too little interest given to having those needs met in the way God’s designed: a godly husband leading a godly wife connected as one flesh.

Sin didn’t CREATE headship and submission; it ruined them and distorted them and made them ugly and destructive.

Recovering Christ-like headship and submission

And these are accurate descriptions of thousands of households around Sydney today. But, thank God, this is only HALF the story. The good news is that when Jesus comes he begins to REDEEM things. And he doesn’t do it by DISMANTLING the original, created order of loving headship and willing submission. Instead he gets to work RECOVERING it. RECONSTRUCTING it.

That’s what we find in Ephesians 5:21–33 – JESUS at work! He gave himself up for his church TO MAKE HER HOLY, RADIANT, BLAMELESS. WITHOUT STAIN, WRINKLE, or BLEMISH. HE’S doing it!

And so, for Christians, the command is to WIVES. Let your fallen submission be redeemed by MODELING it on the church’s submission to Jesus! Choose to OFFER your submission to your husband. Give him the gift of humble, gentle acceptance of his leadership. And do it because of your own REVERENCE for Jesus. That’s not disempowering, or dishonouring, or controlling. In fact, Christ chooses to offer his submission to God the Father, he’s obedient to DEATH (1 Corinthians 11:3). Submission like that HONOURS Jesus.

And husbands, let your fallen headship be redeemed by MODELING it on Christ, TOO. As he sacrificially serves the church! The shepherd leader who lays down his life for his sheep. As he gives up his LIFE for her, cleansing her, making her holy and blameless. HER good, not yours. HER protection, not yours.

What that means is that headship is not a RIGHT TO COMMAND AND CONTROL. That’s FALLEN headship. And submission is not slavish or coerced or cowering. That’s not the way Christ wants the church to respond to his leadership.

Christ has REDEEMED you from that. He’s redeemed your marriage. He’s given you the power to be putting it back together. To make progress in restoring it in the direction of his original intention. Husbands, he’s redeemed you to love your wives like Christ: to lay down your life for your wife in servant leadership. That’s your RESPONSIBILITY. And wives, Christ has redeemed you so that you can offer submission to your husband/ that’s free and willing and glad and refining and strengthening and honouring. That’s YOUR responsibility.

But…

But you might be thinking, hang on a minute, Dave. That might be easy for SOME marriages. But you don’t know my husband. He ALWAYS gets it wrong. He’s lazy, he doesn’t lead. He’s selfish. Surely God doesn’t expect me to submit to a man like that!

Or perhaps you think “You don’t know my wife” There’s no affection, it’s just orders. No complements, just criticism. Surely God doesn’t expect me to love her like Christ. That’s not possible!

And so it’s easy to add CONDITIONS to God’s COMMANDS. Sub-clauses. “If God just changed my SPOUSE, that would make it easier for me to do MY bit. If he could just lead a bit BETTER, or do things MY way, THEN I’ll submit. Or “If she could just be a bit more lovable, then it’ll be easier for me to LOVE her.” I’ll change, as long as she changes FIRST!

But that’s not the way marriage works. It’s not the way the Christian LIFE works. The Bible talks very little about RIGHTS. And a whole lot about RESPONSIBILITIES. And it’s no different here. It’s about RESPONSIBILITIES, NOT RIGHTS. It doesn’t say. “Wives, you have the right to be loved like Christ. If you don’t get it, stand up for it.” And it doesn’t say, “Husbands, you have the right to have your wife submit to you. If she doesn’t OFFER it, DEMAND it. Enforce it.” CHOOSE to do it. Independent of what your partner does. Choose it not necessarily because your husband or wife DESERVES it. But because CHRIST deserves it. Because you’re serving HIM. V21 Submit to one another OUT OF REVERENCE FOR CHRIST.

Responsibilities, not rights. God’s speaking to husbands about husbands. And to wives about wives. That might seem obvious, but what it means is that you have a duty to CHANGE YOURSELF FIRST. That’s all you’re responsible for. You can’t MAKE anyone else do ANYTHING. That’s GOD’s job to change people. YOUR job is simply to change YOURSELF.

God has given you to your spouse for the purpose of making them more like Jesus. And he’s given your spouse to you for the same reason. To make YOU more like Jesus. Are you ALLOWING your spouse to help you grow? And are you working to do the same for THEM?

Let’s be honest. Non-Christians think the idea of submission is ridiculous. They reckon it makes us look out-of-date, chauvinistic, patriarchal, repressive. And there’s plenty of Christians who AGREE. But let me make three final points.

Who gets more instructions? It’s the HUSBANDS. And who has the more difficult example to follow? Husbands again. (Wives just follow the example of the church submitting to Jesus. But HUSBANDS have to follow the example of Jesus. Who GAVE UP HIS LIFE for his bride.)  So who’s called to a more difficult job? I reckon that HUSBANDS do.

And secondly. I honestly think it’s not that most Christian women have a problem submitting, but that most Christian men have a problem LEADING. Taking the spiritual lead.

Men, YOU set the example about what’s important. If getting your family to church on time MATTERS / then take the lead in that. Don’t sit back and read the paper, while your wife dresses the kids. That’s not leading.

Does it MATTER that your family prays together? Don’t wait until they ASK for you to pray. Set the example. Drag the Bible out even when they groan. Say grace in restaurants even when your kids say you’re embarrassing them.

Does it MATTER that your family supports the missionary, or gives a generous amount to Christian ministry, rather than buys the new TV, or goes on the holiday? SHOW SOME LEADERSHIP by working out how to fit it into the budget. Work out what YOU can do without.

Put yourself LAST. Serve your family as a leader. Do without so they can have the things that matter most. Give up what YOU want to do with your time because you can help your family to achieve THEIR potential. Be willing to be seen as weak,

That’s leading your family, like Christ leads his church. Leadership like that your wife will have NO TROUBLE submitting to.

One-ness in Christ is the key

And one final word about ONE-ness. Does this all seem too hard? Beyond your ability to change? Too many bridges burned? Too many words you regret? Will it take too much swallowed pride to fix? Does it just seem easier to sweep conflicts under the rug? Easier than rocking the boat, and making some tough decisions?

God’s design for husbands and wives is to become ONE FLESH. Two becoming ONE. A picture of the ONE-NESS Christ has with the church. It’s that ONE-NESS that’s the KEY. Christ LIVES IN YOU. His Spirit has made you a new person. He has the power to change you. Change your attitudes, and desires, and priorities. Change YOUR MARRIAGE. It’s that ONE-NESS between Christ and you that’s all the way through this letter of Ephesians. Back in ch 4. The church is CALLED THE BODY OF CHRIST.

And then, down in v15. The PURPOSE of church. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things GROW UP INTO HIM WHO IS THE HEAD, THAT IS, CHRIST. Growing into Christ. That’s where strength to change our marriages comes from. Becoming ONE with Christ ENABLES US to become ONE with our partners, and to better REFLECT that one-ness between Christ and the church.

Or jump ahead to Ch 5 v18. Same idea of one-ness again. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,

Allow the Spirit of Christ to live in you. To become ONE with you. As you listen and obey and follow his lead. Welcome and foster the Spirit of Christ in you. That’s the profound mystery that makes it possible for us to live as married couples who are ONE FLESH. Leading and submitting as God intended.

1 Peter 3:1-7: What God says about true beauty & respect

reality-tv-logoReality TV. It’s everywhere you look. The Bachelor, My Kitchen Rules, Master Chef, Renovation Rescue, Bondi Rescue, Border Patrol, Australian Idol, Australia’s Got Talent, Survivor, Outback Truckers. And that’s just some of the AUSTRALIAN shows! A camera crew follows around ordinary Australians. Filming, then showing it to everyone. Can you imagine people watching everything you do? Hearing everything you say. Under the spotlight from the time you get up in the morning until you hit the pillow at night? The Bondi lifeguards seem to LOVE it. But lots of others can’t handle the pressure. Everyone seeing your tears and your failures, your successes and celebrations? Your weaknesses, your embarrassing moments? Your unguarded moments as well as the ones you WANT people to see?

That’s reality TV, but it’s also THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. 1 Peter says Christians are STRANGERS in the world. Immigrants. Foreigners. We’re ON SHOW to the world. They’re watching everything we say and do.  And God’s called us OUT of the world for A PURPOSE. V11 of Ch 2. Dear friends, I urge you, as ALIENS AND STRANGERS in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 LIVE SUCH GOOD LIVES among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may SEE your good deeds and GLORIFY GOD ON THE DAY HE VISITS US.

The non-Christians we spend our lives with are WATCHING US. Just WAITING for us to SLIP UP. To find some inconsistency, or hypocrisy that’ll undermine our declaration. And so we’re to LIVE SUCH GOOD LIVES that they’ll be forced to recognise something attractive about our lifestyle. Something that SUPPORTS our testimony.

And THEN he gets a bit more specific. What do those good deeds LOOK LIKE? V13. SUBMIT yourselves FOR THE LORD’S SAKE to every authority instituted among men:

Because you serve Jesus, freely offer your submission to any authority God’s put over you. For example:Kings and governors (v13-14) Or slaves, submit to masters, (v18) Or, jump down to ch 3 v1 (today’s passage). “Wives, IN THE SAME WAY, be submissive to your husbands.”

Do you see what the “in the same way” is talking about? A wife’s decision to submit is part of her obedience to Jesus. “For the Lord’s sake” (2:13).  And the purpose is the same as all the other examples (2:12) to “live such good lives among the pagans, that they may see your good deeds, and glorify God.”

That’s the context for this passage about husbands and wives. In particular, Peter’s thinking about the situation of a woman who’s become a Christian after she’s married. But her husband ISN’T. She’s been called out of darkness into light. HE’S still in the darkness. What’s it mean for HER to live as God’s woman in HER MARRIAGE? And the main point / is that ACTIONS speak louder than WORDS. BEING is more important than SAYING.

Which is important in EVERY area of your life. But it’s CRUCIAL when it comes to your HOME life. Because how you live is PERFECTLY CLEAR to those you live with. You can’t play a part for long at home. Living a consistent Christian life is HARDEST among your family. They know what you’re REALLY like. It’s like being permanently on show. A 24-7 reality TV episode. Your every move watched and recorded.

And so Peter says, v1, Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over WITHOUT WORDS by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

When you live with someone all the time words quickly become HOLLOW if there’s no action to back them up. And I’ve heard this from some of the men in our church who have unbelieving wives. They’ve learned this lesson. When they first came to Christ, they spoke A LOT to their wives about Jesus. But now they’ve worked out that the BEST way they can preach Christ is to LIVE HIM OUT. And PRAY. Because only GOD can change a heart. You can’t NAG someone into the kingdom. They need to build up a solid foundation of considerate, thoughtful, loving, serving ACTIONS/ so that their WORDS can be heard.

What submission ISN’T

And for the believing WIFE, those actions are focussed on BEING SUBMISSIVE. We talked a little last week about submission. Submission in marriage has got a bad reputation for all sorts of reasons. But I want to suggest that, rather than disempowering women, it actually EMPOWERS them. And empowers JESUS. That it’s part of God’s plan for the worldwide recognition of his power. Peter says “Offer your submission deliberately, intentionally, purposefully. It’s REVOLUTIONARY submission because it’s purpose is to transform society. To change it from GODLESS/ to one that gives praise to God. Let me show you, firstly, 5 things that submission ISN’T.

  1. submitting to men in general. First, biblical submission doesn’t mean submitting to MEN IN GENERAL. V1 says “Wives, offer your submission to ONE’S OWN husband.” It’s not about a sexist, oppressive rule for the whole society that ALL WOMEN must submit to ALL MEN. Just your husband.
  2. agreeing with everything your husband says Second, submitting DOESN’T mean agreeing with EVERYTHING your husband says. It CAN’T mean that because the situation Peter’s thinking of is a wife who became a Christian after she was married. Her husband’s heard about Jesus TOO, and he’s not a believer. She’s CHOOSING to disagree with her husband. And Peter’s ENCOURAGING that. Whatever Christian submission means, it DOESN’T mean that the wife will agree with her husband in his unbelief. Her husband has said ONE THING, Jesus has said ANOTHER. And the Christian wife puts Jesus FIRST. Because her submission is FOR THE LORD’S SAKE.
  3. avoiding trying to convince your husband Third, submission DOESN’T mean you should stop trying to CONVINCE your husband. That’s two negatives, so let me put it in the positive. Whatever submission is/ it still tries to CONVINCE THE HUSBAND HE’S WRONG.

Peter’s whole strategy in the wife’s quiet, reverent submission is that the husband might be WON OVER (end of v1). Convicted. Converted. His mind CHANGED. That he changes his opinion about Jesus to agree with wife. So, whatever submission is, it can’t mean never trying to change your husband in things that matter.

  1. getting your personal spiritual strength primarily from your husband Fourth, submission doesn’t mean a wife gets her spiritual strength primarily from her husband. A godly husband SHOULD lead and strengthen and build up and nurture his wife. But if he’s NOT providing that, it doesn’t mean a submitting Christian wife is without hope.

Peter’s assumption is that the wife will develop strength and character and hope not FROM her husband, but FOR her husband. Independent of him. Like Sarah (v5), that she might put her HOPE IN GOD, trusting that her husband will JOIN HER in that. Lean on GOD for spiritual strength if your husband won’t help.

5, acting out of fear And fifthly, submission doesn’t mean a wife acts OUT OF FEAR. The last part of v6 says that wives who follow the example of Sarah are her daughters if they do what’s right, and DON’T GIVE WAY TO FEAR. In other words, submission is FREE. Not forced by fear. Fear of physical harm from their husband, or ridicule, or fear of the future, or some other consequence. Submission that God wants is freely given, not forcibly taken.

The opposite of FEAR, at least in THIS context, is HOPE. The Christian woman DOESN’T fear, but HOPES in God (v5). She trusts that his plans are being worked out as she’s obedient. ESPECIALLY his plans to SAVE HER HUSBAND.  And when she HOPES, she’s able to move beyond fear, to freedom. The Christian woman is FREE. Free to submit to her husband.

What submission is

So, if that’s what submission ISN’T. What IS it?

  1. Part of a larger submission The first point is one we’ve already made. A wife’s submission is simply part of the LARGER submission that ALL Christians are to give to those in authority. Remember back in 2:13? Submit yourselves FOR THE LORD’S SAKE to every authority. And then we get in 3:1 Wives, IN THE SAME WAY, submit to your husbands. Wives SHOW THEIR SUBMISSION TO JESUS by the way they submit to their husbands.

In this situation it’s largely irrelevant whether the husband DESERVES submission. What matters is that JESUS deserves the wife’s submission, and she SHOWS that loyalty by submitting to her husband. Even if he’s NOT saved.

1.    Inner beauty

And, as we read on, we get a description of the ATTRACTIVENESS of that submission. And it’s all about INNER BEAUTY. It’s all about ATTITUDE. Submission that’s FORCED, or RESENTFUL, or BITTER isn’t serving Jesus. It’s not furthering his cause.

V2 talks about a life that’s pure and reverent and respectful. That’s the sort of person who’s MOST attractive. V3. Your beauty should not come from OUTWARD adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4 Instead, it should be that of your INNER SELF, the unfading beauty of A GENTLE AND QUIET SPIRIT, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

And this is great advice for ALL OF US. Male or female. Single or married. With a Christian spouse or a NON-Christian spouse. What matters most is the INNER SELF. Your CHARACTER. Your patience, your purity, your goodness, your compassion, your gentleness, your joy, your humility. Your LOVE. That’s REAL beauty. You can’t jazz it up with a curling iron, or sparkling jewels, or designer clothes. You can’t disguise any blemishes in your character under layers of makeup. There’s an ATTRACTIVENESS. An engaging and appealing quality in people like that. That’s the way to REALLY make your husband sit up and take notice.

And what’s more, it’s beauty that LASTS. The ten visible signs of aging have no effect on the INNER person. In fact, THAT sort of beauty often INCREASES with age. We get MORE patient and gentle and humble and compassionate as we get older. Focus on THAT sort of beauty.

And it’s good advice for SINGLES TOO. (Singles who WANT to be married). If you want to be noticed by someone who’s WORTH marrying, work on THOSE things. On INNER beauty. Christlikeness. A pretty face, or an attractive physique, or flattering clothes might get you noticed FIRST. But the person who DOES notice you/ may not be the sort of person worth spending your LIFE with.

And turn it around. Be LOOKING OUT for those things in OTHER PEOPLE. You’ll have to be INTENTIONAL about it. Because they’re not always OBVIOUS. And people who HAVE inner beauty like that don’t always make a big deal about it. So you might have to look a little harder for them. Someone out the back of the church kitchen doing the washing up. Or at the back of the queue. Or still living at home because they care for their aged parents. Or they’re the ones who are humble, or patient, or contented enough not to make themselves OBVIOUS.

Another of Peter’s beauty tips is there in v5. The gentle and quiet spirit in v4 shows their HOPE IN GOD. V5. For this is the way the holy women of the past who PUT THEIR HOPE IN GOD used to make themselves beautiful.

When you trust God to work out his plans in your marriage, you can let go of scheming and plotting. Let go of nagging and pushing. Let go of subtle, and not so subtle, digs at your husband’s expense. The gentle and quiet spirit is AN EXPRESSION of your faith in God. A concrete outworking of how much you place your hope in GOD to work. Wives, how gentle and quiet are YOU? How much are you trusting your situation to God?  Is your first instinct to speak to YOUR HUSBAND about the problems, or to speak to GOD?

GOD is the one who changes hearts. Who opens eyes. Who unblocks ears. Who breathes life into dead hearts. Put your hope in God. Not in your words. And God’s METHOD is there in v1. A method that SHOWS that it’s God who saves and convinces. If any of your husbands do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. And it CAN HAPPEN. It DOES happen.

On display

But it’s not all about impressive PEOPLE with your inner beauty. Even if you’re single and content. Work on inner beauty because GOD is watching. And HE notices.  In fact, the best way to be on display to THE WORLD is to remember you’re on display BEFORE GOD. To perform for an audience of ONE. Have a look at the end of v4. At the end of Peter’s beauty tips he says, “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, WHICH IS OF GREAT WORTH IN GOD’S SIGHT.”

God looks at THE INSIDE. That’s the beauty that counts. All sorts of things we can DO. Activity and energy. Dressing up and looking impressive. Stuff that gets us NOTICED. But what turns GOD’S head is beauty of the INNER person. A gentle and quiet spirit is worth more to God than the largest diamond.

Humanly speaking, no one notices wall flowers. The people who take a back seat. Who prefer the sidelines, rather than the limelight. Who are content with who they are, rather than how many “Likes” they get for their latest post. Who GIVE compliments, rather than go FISHING for them. Nobody notices wall flowers. But God finds them IRRESISTIBLE. So work on THAT beauty routine.

The Husband before God

But it’s not just WIVES who are on display before God. Husbands are TOO. Peter turns his attention to THEM in v7. And notice the familiar phrase? 7 Husbands, IN THE SAME WAY be considerate as you live with your wives.

That goes back to 2:13. “Submit yourselves FOR THE LORD’S SAKE, to every authority.” Just like a Christian WIFE works out her obedience to Jesus in her relationships, so too does the Christian HUSBAND. It looks DIFFERENT, but it’s still imitating Jesus, and done for his honour. Be considerate. Treat them with RESPECT as the WEAKER PARTNER

Be GENTLE. She’s like a fine crystal wine glass, not a plastic coffee mug. Don’t treat your wife the way you treat your mates. Don’t TALK to her the same way. Don’t assume you can be THOUGHTLESS. Your words and your actions, or LACK of them, can affect her DEEPLY.

In what sense is the wife the WEAKER partner? It’s probably PHYSICAL weakness. Just because you CAN impose your will on your wife physically… DON’T! Treat her with thoughtfulness and respect. That would be a HUGELY counter-cultural concept in Greek society of the time. Women had no power, and men ABUSED that powerlessness. But that’s not the submission husbands are to offer.

Peter goes on to give two reasons why husbands should treat their wives this way.

First, because husband and wife are HEIRS TOGETHER. Even though the husband is called to LEAD the family, that doesn’t make him MORE IMPORTANT before God. It’s not men first, and women SECOND. It says “Treat them with respect as the weaker partner and “HEIRS TOGETHER WITH YOU OF THE GRACIOUS GIFT OF LIFE”. Before God, male and female are EQUAL. Different, but EQUAL. Co-heirs. Do everything to bring her WITH you. To encourage her to live out NOW that future identity as an heir of God’s rich inheritance.

And the second reason is there right at the end of v7. Treat your wives with consideration and respect, as co-heirs, SO THAT NOTHING WILL HINDER YOUR PRAYERS. GOD’S WATCHING.

If you take advantage of the weakness of your wife. If you refuse to lead as you should. If you don’t respect her as a co-heir with you of the gracious gift of life. How can you expect God to hear your prayers? You’re pleading for mercy and help and support from GOD, but you’re not willing to SHOW ANY TO YOUR WIFE! No wonder there’s a blockage in the communication with God.

You switch off when your wife talks, but expect God to listen. You’re impatient, but expect God to be patient. You keep a record of wrongs, but expect God to forget yours. God is watching your behaviour towards your wife. And what he THINKS about it/ is reflected in how your prayers are answered. So, whether husband or wife, your most important spectator is GOD. It’s HIS opinion that matters most. And being concerned with THAT is what will make you effective in impacting the non-Christians around you.

Conclusion

I’ve said before that God’s method DOES WORK. The quiet, gentle faithful behaviour of a Christian wife is EFFECTIVE. It just might TAKE TIME. Let me finish by telling you about Jill Birkmyre. She was a struggling young mum in Cairns in 1974. I was 8. Dad had just been appointed to Cairns Presbyterian as the assistant minister. And Mum be-friended Jill, who lived across the road, and gave her some practical help coping with a new baby. And Dad helped out with some Bible studies. And Jill ended up being looked after by the whole church.

When mum died 10 years ago, Jill found out, and wrote to Dad to thank him for how much they’d influenced her life. Let me read you some of her letter. The following year the Lord brought me out from my miry pit and set me upon the solid Rock of Christ.  To this day, I have sought to follow the example that you and Leah set. I have sought to always open my heart and my home to those in need that some may be won to Christ. I have tried to give people sound answers to their questions be they Christian or otherwise.

My Husband, Ken, a Scotsman came to the Lord 17 years later.

That wasn’t a major part of the letter. But it struck me. 17 years! I don’t know the specifics about how Jill dealt with her husband. But that’s not really the point. Because it was God who did it. And God’s timing was 17 years.

God’s method DOES work. So keep working on your INNER beauty. Keep putting your hope in God that those you love (husband, children, parents) will be WON OVER WITHOUT WORDS. By the pure and reverent behaviour of your lives.