How should we Live (Part 3)
© C. O. Bishop
1st Peter 3:5-7; Ephesians 5:18-33
We have been working our way through the first epistle of Peter, and have arrived in a place where the specific topic seems to be “how husbands and wives are to relate.” But the broader context was “How are we to live, as believers?” and we see this admonition to husbands and wives as a continuation of that topic. So, in keeping with that idea, we took a side-excursion to talk about the whole spectrum of marriage relations. That will include Ephesians 5:21-33, and other such passages, so we are going there today.
Remember as we study, that the “mirror” of God’s Word is for you to see YOU: apply these truths to your own life, not that of your spouse or someone else.
21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
This passage is a continuation of verse 18—people who are “filled with the Spirit” as commanded in verse 18 (meaning “under the influence of” the Holy Spirit) are characterizedby the things we see in verses 19-21 They rejoice, they give thanks, they worship, they fellowship with the brethren, AND they submit themselves to God and to one another. Submission to God and to one another is the “introduction to the rest of the chapter.” Then he spells out an underlying “hierarchy:”
A hierarchy and pattern for Submission
Now—as we continue into verses 22 and following, you will notice there is a continuing pattern of submission. Many people don’t like these verses. You have to determine how you are going to respond to God’s Word. It is all God’s Word, and whether we like it or not, it is there, and we have to deal with it. We will be held accountable to it. Some things are more comfortable than others. But if you are going to choose to be “under the influence of the Holy Spirit,” as the command in verse 18 is given, then you must remember that it is part of this same context. People who are Filled with the Spirit, or “under the influence of” the Holy Spirit, act like this! Please don’t brush it off as “not applying to you.” It does apply to you.
But, read the whole context—from Ephesians 5:18-6:9, and then see how it all ties together. Yes, it means what it says, but remember there is no individual who is not called to a life of submission to God, and no person who has no responsibility to another human, somewhere.22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
I underlined some words and phrases in this passage:
- “Own husbands” you are not told to be subject to any other man, just because he is a man. This is part of the marriage relationship, only!
- “As unto the Lord” It is possible for a bad husband to attempt to force he wife to do something that is simply wrong. That is not “as unto the Lord,” because the Lord would never try to get you to sin. We actually used to have laws to protect women against this, so that if it could be shown that she acted on her husband’s orders, she went free. Those laws have changed, for obvious reasons.
- “Head”…not abuser. The head in a normal body does not usually (knowingly) do things that endanger the welfare of the body. This is one reason to not get married as a teenager: (sorry!) sometimes teenagers do take foolish risks! (So do some adults.) And, you need to know an individual quite well before you agree to a marriage. If he (or she) acts like a fool (or angry, or arrogant) before marriage, there is no guarantee that he or she is going to change after marriage. Check out how he/she treats his/her parents…and how he/she treats your parents, siblings and friends.
I am going to let the rest of this passage speak for itself, apart from the underlined emphases added by me, but, remember: Sisters, this is to you…husbands, you have no right to “beat your wives over the head” with this passage—you will have more than enough trouble with “living out” the part that is to you—and if you are in full submission to God in that part (loving your wife as Christ loves the Church,) then you will not be using this passage in that manner, anyway.
James compares God’s Word to a mirror (James 1:22-25), with which we are to examine ourselves, not our wife, our husband, our neighbor, or whomever else. The mirror is pointed at you—look at the part that “reflects you” until you have that under control—then you can see clearly to help others with their part. I can’t emphasize this enough.
As Christ Loved the Church
25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
Here again is the Agapé love: this is the self-sacrificing love that calls me to work for my wife’s benefit, to care about the things she cares about, and to strive to make her dreams (wholesome dreams) a reality. Not just my dreams, my goals, my desires. There is no room for self-centeredness in marriage. That goes for both husbands and wives.
When relating to your wife, you can ask yourself, “is this how Jesus treats the church?” Kindness, and respect, and absolute tenderness are to be your whole demeanor. Jesus never mocks us for our silly fears, nor does He condemn us for our constant failures. He consistently treats us with Grace. Remember, too, that Grace is “unmerited favor”. We do not earn the good treatment Jesus offers to us. He cares for us because we are His bride. We cannot require our spouses to “earn” the Love and Grace that God so freely gave us. Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give!”(Matthew 10:8)
An important cross-reference to this verse is Colossians 3:19; “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.” Notice that there are no “qualifiers” listed here: no “unless”, or “except” or any other means by which we can “wiggle out of” what it actually requires. If I am growing irritated or angry, or bitter, or sour toward my wife, I am wrong. It is that simple. Jesus said that there would never be any condemnation from him toward the believers (John 5:24), and He has maintained that stance (Romans 8:1). There have been local churches which have become corrupted to the point that he shut them down as a group (Revelation 3:14-19), and there have been individual believers whose lives have become a bad enough example that Jesus called them home (Acts 5:1-11), but He never offers condemnation. I am not to deal harshly with my wife, under any circumstances.
According to Knowledge
Another important passage would be 1st Peter 3:5-7, speaking of the whole marriage relationship: especially verse seven where it states that I am to honor my wife “as the weaker vessel, and as a fellow-heir of the grace of life that my prayers not be hindered.” Let’s read it:
5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: 6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. 7 Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
So, we can see that there are potential consequences to not treating our wives with the grace and kindness, and honor that Jesus requires. Let’s take a brief look at that passage in more detail:
- Dwell with them according to knowledge. You have been given a fair amount of information in God’s Word about the gift of marriage, and the nature of the marriage relationship. Use that knowledge wisely. Relate to your wife “according to the instructions” in God’s Word. (We will see another aspect as well, in a moment.)
- Giving honour unto the wife. This is talking about respectful treatment: no belittling, or shaming, “talking down to,” or disrespecting the person God had given to be your partner in life. It means living in such a way as to make her life easier, not harder.
- As unto the weaker vessel…I had trouble with this one, because, rarely, one does find a woman who is actually physically stronger than her husband. Does that negate the principle? (No, it doesn’t!)
You might ask, “But who says it means physically weaker?”
OK, that might get us into a dangerous area, but let’s examine that: I have known lots of women who were intellectually superior to their husbands, maybe especially in certain areas. So “intellectual weakness” is definitely not the question.
I have known even more women who were spiritually better-equipped than their husbands. Better-taught in the word, blessed with greater wisdom, faith, or whatever: so I don’t think it means “spiritually weaker” either. “Physically” looks most likely, but there are definitely exceptions to that. So what could it mean?
An elder Christian woman set me straight on this: she told me quite bluntly that the issue is the fact that once a month, a woman’s body essentially “drugs her” with a sudden change in hormones, and she may be emotionally unstable for a few days because of it. (Bingo!)
And husbands are advised to know that (dwelling with them according to knowledge,) and respond kindly, acting in a supportive manner until that period of time is past. It does no good to argue or criticize, or try to “explain” why her feelings are not “logical.” You are to respond in love and patience, maintaining respect for her as a person, and (more importantly) as a fellow-heir of God’s Grace!
- As being heirs together of the grace of life. We are in this together! Treat your wife as your precious teammate! Your partner in Life! If you are both believers, then she has the Holy Spirit the same as you do: God is living in her, same as He is in you!
And, here’s the “kicker!” He says that if you do not respond in this way, your own prayers will be hindered! Give this some thought! Take it seriously!
By the Word: (Back to Ephesians 5)
26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
This is an important verse, too, as it gives us a clue as to the relationship of “Water” to salvation and sanctification: The Water is the Word of God. This is in keeping with John 15:3 where Jesus told the eleven that they were “clean, through the Word” that He had spoken unto them. We are saved through hearing God’s Word and believing it. 1st Peter 1:23 confirms this, saying that we have been born again by the Word of God.
But it also has practical application: the life we live, soaked in God’s Word, and loving our wife, will also have an effect upon our wife: it opens her heart further to the ministry of the Word, and we see our relationship deepening and improving. I frequently tell people that “marriage just keeps getting better!” and it is true…but it is especially true because God has continued to mold us into His likeness, and has deepened our love for one another.
27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
This is what Jesus does regarding the Church at large—the whole Body of Christ—and why: He is “producing the Bride” and is preparing her for an eternity with Himself. But how is He doing it? He is preparing and perfecting us through the Word, and by the Holy Spirit.
Think back to Genesis 24, please: What we see in Genesis chapter 24 is a beautiful picture of how the Lord is calling out the Church; the Bride of Christ.
In this chapter, Abraham sent his chief servant to find a bride for His only begotten Son (the Heir of all things…sound familiar?) and he gave specific commands as to where to find her, and how to select her. One criterion was who the family was from which she was to be chosen, and another was where that family was to be found. Another, the final clause, was that she had to be willing to come. If she was not willing, then the deal was off. (No one becomes part of the Body of Christ through force, coercion, or trickery. Every single member of the Church-at-large gained that status by hearing the news of Jesus’s payment for their sins and willingly, by faith, choosing Him as their only hope for salvation. There are no exceptions.)
The Servant followed the instructions to the letter, submitting himself to the will of the Father, as well as looking to God for direction. He found the Bride (Rebekah, in this case) and made his case before her and her family. And she stated clearly that she was willing to become the bride of the Son (Genesis 24:58), and immediately the Servant demanded that the journey begin: that they begin the trek across the desert, to get to the Son. (As a new believer, there is no “waiting for the transaction to be completed:” the moment you trusted Jesus as your Savior, you were placed into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit (see 1st Corinthians 12:13), and the “journey” was begun. You were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and He began shaping you for God the Son.
We know for a fact, when they were drawing near (Genesis 24:65), that the servant identified the Bridegroom to the Bride: and I am going to surmise, that, since we also know that he began the relationship by telling her about the Son, then the time during their travel across that huge desert was often spent telling her more about the man she was going to meet, and whose Bride she would become. The Holy Spirit, especially through the Word of God, will tell you all about Jesus, His character, His Grace, His authority and His Love…if you are willing to hear Him. And the result will be that the “journey” does not seem so long, nor the “desert” so bleak and barren. The “relationship” was well under way before Rebekah ever actually met Isaac. The Servant had spent the weeks of travel telling her all about him.
Throughout the Journey, too, Rebekah and her companion were under the full protection of the Chief Servant and his fellow servants. For their purposes, they had the single “most precious and irreplaceable treasure in the world,” and their only objective was to deliver the Bride to the Son. The Holy Spirit will never lose you: you were made part of the Bride, and you are precious and irreplaceable in His sight: not just a “cog in a machine:” not something unimportant or “dispensable.” This is how the Holy Spirit and the Bridegroom sees YOU!
Do you see your wife in the same way as Jesus sees you? Because that is precisely what he is demanding of you, here in this passage! Love your wife as Christ loves the Church!
As His Body
28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
The Bride of Christ is also called the Body of Christ. Technically, I suppose, it should be said that we are currently the Body of Christ, and when the Church is complete, it will then be the Bride of Christ. But to teach how I am to respond to the needs of my wife, the Lord uses my own physical body as an object lesson:
One day, years ago, I carelessly closed my thumb in the door of one of our out-buildings. It was a heavy, metal door, and there was a solid “thump” as it caught my thumb. Right at that moment, had you asked me a question about current events, or a theological question, or even the current project I had been building, I would not even have been capable of understanding your question: I was completely absorbed in the needs of my thumb!
My whole body, in fact, responded very oddly: I seemed to be imitating a kangaroo, as I frantically hopped up and down toward the house, rushing to get some ice, to relieve the pain and swelling. Why is that important? Because my wife is to have that level of priority in my life. We care for our bodies instinctively, and, depending upon what we understand about health, we care for our bodies “according to knowledge” as well. There is to be both a baseline “because she is my wife” care and a growing, learned “this is how I meet my wife’s needs” care, for our wives.
A Picture of Christ and the Church
31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. (Quoting Genesis 2:24)32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
What we are seeing here is that, back in Genesis, before sin entered into the world, God ordained marriage: not just as a precious gift to the human race (which it is) but also as a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, though the Church would not be revealed for another 4,000+ years!
If you think you have this all “under control” and can flawlessly love your wife as Christ loves the church, then I personally think you are fooling yourself, or at least that you are “comparing yourself with other people,” and not with the living Christ. Compare yourself with Him, and smugness will never be part of your life. Remember Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Don’t become self-satisfied.
33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
You know what I think? I suspect that a wife whose husband was loving her in the ways listed above, consistently putting her first in their relationship, would have very little trouble seeing him as her head, and responding to him accordingly.
Lord Jesus, help us to respond to your Grace, and to pour out that Grace upon our spouses, not demanding from them, but pouring out Your blessings upon them. Let us become living portraits of your divine love for the Church!