Sunday, October 31st, 1999
Making Marriage Work
I was shocked to discover that more than one million Australian children will see their parents divorced in the next 20 years. 40,000 divorces occur each year and a growing number of children find alternate, or substitute parents, and sometimes foster parents. We see an increase in single parent families. We see an disappointing rate of failure in second time around marriages. 87% of people in Australia believe that marriage is an essential part of family life. They believe it is much more than a piece of paper and is essential for the benefit of the community. We believe that yet our lives reflect something altogether different.
I was flying home one Sunday afternoon in a small aircraft at 6,000 feet. Suddenly no more than 400 yards away, there were two eagles slowly rising on the thermals. I have always been fascinated by eagles. I made a study of them and discovered some very interesting things. For example the great wedge-tailed eagles have a wing span two and a half metres in width. I found out their habits, their courting and the way they choose mates. An eagle has a marriage that is literally made in the heavens. They court each other at about 5,000 feet and whirl about with displays of diving and featherwork.
The courting consists of diving and rolling high in the sky. When the moment comes, the two mate, and once they have chosen each other, they will remain together for the rest of their lives. They fly round each other in a great courtship dance. They find a tree and set about nesting. They build their nest on a large platform sometimes ten feet wide and there the eggs are laid. Eagles never fight.
When the eggs are laid they take it in turn to hatch the eggs. The male eagle will hunt and bring back food for his mate. Sometimes they hunt together and soar in the sky singing to each other. When the eggs hatch, immediately the male provides things at home, and he cares for the little eaglets. Here is a very interesting habit the male eagle has. While the female is on the nest he takes off and flies a long way until he finds some green plant brings it back to the nest. He places it in the nest. A love gift for his wife! He does that every day. Sometimes a male eagle has been known to fly 400 miles to get greenery. They feed together. As the young ones grow up they are taught to fly and eventually leave home. But the two parent birds stay together the rest of their lives.
We talk about marriages being made in heaven. I think eagles are like that. It is a pattern from nature that we ought to consider. When we read the Bible, we read of the significance of marriage. The picture of marriage as presented by Paul is like what we see in the Australian wedge-tailed eagle.
Paul in Ephesians 5: 21-32 talks about our relationships and says that people have sexual, social, and economic relationships. The percentage of marriages preceded by cohabitation rose from 16% in 1975 to 56% in 1992. Living together before marriage does not ensure a good marriage. There is no proper trial until there is commitment. Too many marriages fail because people do not have the commitment. They do not work at them. There are four things in this Scripture that will help make good marriages better and help give poor marriages the right kind of foundation for a future.
1. THE BASIC REQUIREMENT IN MARRIAGE.
v21"Submit yourselves to one another because of your reverence for Christ." I often hear people say wives must obey their husbands. That word is not used in Scripture except for the fact that all of us are to obey God, and children are to obey their parents. Wives are not told to obey their husbands. Husbands and wives are told to submit to one another. The husband to the wife, the wife to the husband, and both to God. The basis of marriage lies in mutual submission to the other. It is a mutual service of a lover, who says to the spouse, "What can I do for you?" That is the basis of marriage - not "what can I get out of this?" It means learning from each other. It means adapting to each other's attitudes and ways.
There is no class, there is no distinction because of sex, there is no one person better than another. There is a mutuality of submission. Why? It is out of our reverence to Christ. In a Christian marriage it is our allegiance to Christ that first of all enables us to get on with each other and to submit ourselves to each other. The head of the house is not the wife, nor the husband. "The Head of this house is Christ, the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener to every conversation." Christ is the Head of the Christian house. That is what the Bible clearly says: "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who seek to build it."
A good marriage has wholehearted commitment by both partners. Pride, an overbearing attitude, authoritarianism, selfishness, will ruin any marriage. Paul starts with a point of learning to be humble and submissive to each other.
2. THE BASIC RESPONSE OF THE WIFE.
Paul always has an equal balance. He starts here with the wife. We welcome the liberation of women from the shackles of exploitation. There is no place in Christian marriage for exploitation. There is no place in Christian marriage for putting down women. Note carefully how Paul gives the roles of the wife and then the husband.
(a) v22 Wives, submit to your husbands: Paul started by saying submit to each other. Now he looks at the wife first and tells her to submit to her husband. There are people who think that maybe they should change partners because they have married the wrong person. Let me say you did not marry the wrong person. When your family changes and the house does does not suit, it is better to renovate than relocate. I think that is what we should do within our marriages - renovate them, extend them, build them, improve them. Do not relocate.
(b) v22 "as to the Lord" We are talking about a submission in the same way as you give a submission to the Lord. Some husbands are not worthy of that, some do not earn that submission, and the wife has to give the reverence as to the Lord. That means willingly, lovingly, prayerfully.
(c) v23 "For the husband is the head of the wife" Why is this so? Thirteen times in the New Testament Paul says that the husband's role is to be the leader within the family and within the marriage. Some husbands are not worthy of that and do not live up to that. But it is God's intention that the husband should give the leadership within marriage and the family.
Just as Christ gave Himself for the Church, v23 served the church and denied Himself for it, so the husband must be prepared to give himself for his family, provide and care and even sacrifice himself for his family. I have heard women complain that v24 "wives should submit to their husbands". They have not read the verses before which indicates their husbands are to submit to them, nor have they read the verses that come immediately afterwards. To be head is to be responsible and accountable, "loving their wives as their own bodies."
Every known civilisation reveals what one anthropologist called "the inevitability of patriarchy". In other words, husbands inevitably are the head of the family. Professor Margaret Mead, one of the greatest anthropologists and a liberationist, has likewise said, "All claims so glibly made about societies ruled by women are nonsense. We have no reason to believe that any existed." These anthropologists claim this is a pattern of humanity. Scripture states a wife should submit to the leadership of a husband in marriage.
3. BASIC RESPONSIBILITY OF THE HUSBAND
The husband has to fulfil the obligations of headship. Husbands must exercise love, not domination. Paul uses the same word for love that Jesus has for us and the church.
(a) v25 "Love your wives" As Jesus had an accountability to God, and a responsibility to the Church, so a husband has to his wife and his family. In the same way as Christ loved the church, so men ought to love their wives, with a deep caring love, so she can be radiant, without stain, wrinkle or blemish, but a woman who is holy and blameless. v27. Not with authoritarianism, but a responsibility "to provide for, to protect, to care for, to sacrifice for." Strangely enough, that is what the eagle male does. He cares, provides for, protects, grieves and he will even give his life for his partner.
(b) v28 "Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies." Marriage is based upon a bond that is physical, emotional, psychological and sexual, a oneness in marriage. "He who loves his wife loves himself." A husband has a right to provide for his wife. He has a right to care for her. He has a right to protect her. He has a right to sacrifice himself for her. v29-30 He has a right to be faithful throughout all of his life. Those are the rights that are mentioned in Scripture.
(c) v31 "A Man will leave his father and mother" Paul quotes from the Old Testament Genesis 2: 24. In one of the most beautiful passages of Scripture, when a couple come to be married the first thing they should do is leave their parents because they are starting a new family. The eagles in the nest very carefully push the little ones further out on to the branch until they leave home to find their own mates. Many marriages could have been improved by following that practice: leave your father and mother, establish a new unit, a new family, a new togetherness.
(d) v31 "and be united to his wife" There are four pictures because it is love that is mutual - now you share with each other, and that means communication. Where marriages break down it is at that point of mutual sharing, it is at that point of communicating. No union leads to no communication.
Love is sexual - the two shall become one, meaning one in sexual relationships. Their sexual love is an important part of their total togetherness. It is conjugal love. It is based upon their loyalty and fidelity to each other - not to his mother or her father, not to anybody else. It is theirs. And it is continual. It is to last a lifetime.
The Scripture does allow for divorce, because people are sinful and foolish and marriages break down. Divorce is allowed in Scripture, but the intention of God is that partners should be together mutually, sexually, conjugally and continually.
4. BASIC MARRIAGE.
It starts with a reverence for Christ and a mutual submission to each other. Then it says, "a husband must love his wife as himself". As you love yourself, provide for yourself, support yourself, you must love your wife in exactly the same way. The husband must love, and the wife must respect. Respect can only come when love is given. Christian marriage is very sophisticated. And it works!
It starts with reverence to Christ. It goes out with our sense of service and submission to each other. If the eagles can do it, why can't humans?
If we start with a mutual submission to Christ then our obligations and responsibilities easily follow after. It is a wilful, proud, independence that does not allow submission to Christ, and therefore to each other that is the basic cause of so many marriages not working. It is the basic reason why so many good marriages do work. If we look to the good marriages, you will see submission to God.
Gordon Moyes 1999
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