I think that we can all agree that Marriage, as an institution, is in a pretty sorry state, these days. With the number of shack-ups on the rise (ooh, did he say “shack-up”?), with the anti-God push to change the make-up and definition of marriage, and with the unintentional assistance of the Church, marriage is pretty much circling the bowl, in our modern society.
“Assistance of the Church“, you say? Yes, I do say. I’ve made the point before that the Church, wanting to protect and establish the foundation of marriage, has committed the same error as the Pharisees. The Pharisees, with their additions and traditions, added to the Law of God in order to keep the people from transgressing the actual Law, and it was hoped that these additions would keep the people “holy.” We’ve done the same thing by adding to our teachings about marriage. We want to keep it holy, we want people to live up to their roles in marriage, and so we add to the Word, in our explications and expandings, and create burdens that God did not intend.
“As Christ loved the Church”
“Surely, CSL, you’re not going to say that the Bible is wrong, are you?” Uh, read the title of the series, please… “Bad Teaching.”
I’ve been mulling over this post for some time, but a comment by a new reader to one of my previous posts, made me modify my direction. One of the most common, most popular shibboleths in the Church is the abuse of Eph. 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”.
Today, this verse is basically used as a cudgel to pound husbands into submissive acceptance of a backseat role in their marriages. That’s harsh, but I believe it to be true. There are any number of authors and counselors who tell husbands, “If you are experiencing difficulty in your marriages, guys, you need to step up, because it’s your fault. After all, wives want their husbands to be strong leaders, and the best way you can lead is to be a sacrificial servant, just like Jesus was.”
Let’s look at the “gave himself up for her” aspect of this statement. Yes, Christ did sacrifice His life on the Cross in order to save mankind, and He created the Church of the redeemed. I praise God for my salvation. But let me ask this: how many husbands are actually called upon to give that “last full measure of devotion”, and truly die for their wives. Yes, there are husbands who have had to make that choice, and have done so. But is this what we mean when we say “love your wives, as Christ loved the Church”?
Rather than saying that dying for your wife is your goal, the way to “love your wife as Christ loved the Church” is to live for her. To demonstrate what Eph. 5:25 really means, I am going to refer back to 1 Cor. 13: 11 – “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”
As a single man, I could do whatever I wanted to do, as long as it was legal. No one had any moral claim on my time or possessions. But when I became a man and entered into marriage, I promised my life, my goods and my efforts to my wife. I put away my childish, self-centered life when I married Wife; now, however imperfectly I started, I entered into manhood, gladly assuming responsibility for the care and cherishing of Wife.
More than once I have inveighed against doltish clods who believe that marrying means “a live-in chef with benefits.” And also more than once I have lauded husbands who have exemplified laying their lives down for their wives by their lives. I know of men who have changed jobs to make things easier for their wives. I know of more than one who changed careers from high-risk occupations and/or sports that they enjoyed in order to try to ensure longevity, and thus to reassure their wives. Reordering or rearranging your life in order to please or protect her is “living for your wife.”
It Takes Two To Tangle
Above, I mentioned how it seems that a goodly portion of pastors, counselors and writers are more than happy to push responsibility for marital problems onto the husband. Now, if you are one of those doltish clods I refer to above, good! Grow up!
However, it you are an average man and husband, and you are serious about your marriage and your relationship, you need to be willing and able to stand up for yourself, as well as your wife. Yes, listen to your wife and take ownership of your blunders. However, don’t accept faulty theology that blames you for failures, just because you’re the husband. This is not conducive to building a strong marriage. Rather, the only thing that will be created as you try to work off your sins is dutiful monogamy.
If you are being told that you need to “love your wife like Christ loved the Church”, make your advisor be specific. Ask him/her “What does that mean? Just how does a husband, living FOR his wife and not dying on a cross for her, actually do that?” I’m willing to bet that what you will hear will be some version of Servant Leadership, which I addressed in Christian Go-To Marital Tools, parts 2.1 & 2.2.
Then remind your pastor/counselor that there are two sinners in the marriage, not just one. Be willing to stand up for yourself, in counseling, and insist that all issues be dealt with, that not every thing gets pushed onto your side of the plate. After all, there is actually more to Eph. 5:25 than v. 25. The whole sentence, the whole thought, is continued in v.26-27. Here is the whole thought, the complete sentence:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Then ask the counselor if the verse’s description of the wife’s duties comes into play. After all, since you are to love your wife like Christ loved the Church, doesn’t it behoove your wife to respond like the Church, to present herself to you without spot or blemish? If the goal of the counselor is to get you to be like Christ, shouldn’t his/her goal also be to get your wife to be like the Church?
Why don’t we hear Eph. 5:27 preached, do we? “Wives, your husbands are like Christ who loves His Church, and you, as his church, need to clean up your act and get yourself in right relationship with your Lord, your husband.” Yeah, that’ll preach! *snort*
(And the church will re-activate the Pulpit Search Committee the following Monday.)
Husbands: Love, Learn, Live
Of course, the Bible is not “bad teaching”; however, we can sure screw it up, left to our own devices! When it says that husbands are to love their wives like Christ loved the Church, it is not giving us onerous tasks. It is a joy to truly love your wife. But learn what it means to love your wife, and more importantly with today’s bad teaching, learn what loving your wife does NOT mean. (I will be writing about that shortly, stay tuned.)
Now, I can’t define the structure of your marriage. If you were to ask me “CSL, how do I love my wife like Christ loved the Church?”, I couldn’t give you specific tasks and actions. That’s going to be for you and your wife to discover. What I am prepared to do is define is your method. The only teaching that matters is that you both do for the other more than you would want done for you. Show consideration for each other and extend grace to each other.