|I Love My Family
March 14, 1999 / Ephesians 5:21ó6:4
There is an old Jewish story that I have seen in different forms. The essence of the tale is that a devout but very poor rabbi in Krakow had a dream one night. A voice in his dream ordered him to make a journey to Prague and to look for treasure under the bridge that led to the kingís palace. When he woke the next morning, he remembered his dream. Yet he did nothing about it. When he had the exact same dream the night following, he began to grow restless. After having the identical dream for the third night in a row, he awakened, put on his walking shoes, and set out on his long and difficult journey.
When the poor rabbi arrived in Prague, he found that the bridge was guarded day and night. But he persisted in going to the bridge early every morning and continued to walk around it until dark. The captain of the guard, who had spotted the man who came to the kingís bridge every morning, asked him if he was looking for something or expecting to rendezvous with someone. The devout teacher of Torah told him the story of the dream that had brought him from such a faraway place.
The soldier laughed at the scruffy-looking old man. "Because of a silly dream, you fool, your have merely worn out your shoes from walking!" he roared. "Why, if I were foolish enough to pay attention to dreams, I would have long ago made a trip to Krakow to dig for treasure under the stove in the house of a Jew, someone named Eisek ó yes, that was the name, Eisek ben-Yekel. Can you imagine that a man of my position would go on such a wild goose chase!" And he laughed again and shook his head.
With that, the old man bowed to the guard, turned his face toward Krakow, and made his long journey back home. When he arrived there, Rabbi Eisek ben-Yekel dug up a treasure from beneath his own stove. How many of us have wandered far afield in search of treasure that was right under our noses at home all the time?
Approximately ninety percent of people will choose to marry at some point in their adult lives. Most of these people will choose to say their vows in a context of Scripture and prayer. And all who are Christians will affirm that marriage is a "holy estate" intended for the honoring of God. But do we really live what we say we believe?
By definition, marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman that is to be lived in love until death separates them. The substance of this definition is found in the opening lines of the Bible, at the conclusion of the creation account. After telling how Yahweh created Eve and brought her to Adam, the account closes with this generalization about all husband-wife unions: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24).
Jesus cited the Genesis account at Matthew 19:1ff and affirmed both the divine origin of marriage and its inviolable status within the divine will. "Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate" (v. 6b).
And Paul explored the nature of covenantal, committed Christian marriage in his epistles. What he said about the nature of marriage was absolutely revolutionary for its time. Those who point an accusing finger at Paul over his teaching in this text simply do not understand how radical his counsel was to those who first read his words.
Everything the apostle says about husband-wife relationships is governed by this principle: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph. 5:21). All social relationships for Christians are to be ruled by love, and love cuts against the grain of self-assertion and winning through intimidation. So Paul told married men and women to abandon selfishness for kindness, conquest for submission.
How does this translate into real life? First, for the woman: "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything" (Eph. 5:21-24). The Greco-Roman world of Paulís day saw women as mere chattel without rights, and the prevailing Jewish view was little better with its notion of female inferiority to men. The Christian message to women told them they were free in Christ!
Set free in Christ, however, Paul asked these women to submit to their husbands voluntarily as part of their spiritual function in the body of Christ. After all, a misunderstanding and abuse of the freedom theme could have easily held the gospel up to ridicule in the first-century world. In what is called a "household code," Paul was on his way to asking not only wives but husbands, not only children but parents, and not only slaves but masters to give mutual honor and service to one another for Christís sake. His ideal of mutual submission by all parties involved in a first-century household is simply a particular application of this Christian principle: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil. 2:3-4).
And what did the coming of Christianity mean for men? "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church ó for we are members of his body. ĎFor this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.í This is a profound mystery ó but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband" (Eph. 5:25-33).
A Christian husbandís duty in a word was to love his wife ó with Christ as his model to imitate. He is not a tyrant to his wife but her submissive servant who protects her purity and helps her realize her full potential. He is not so insecure as to understand his "headship" as some sort of despotism but is willing to sacrifice himself for her sake. The world into which Paul wrote these words had no precedent for seeing a husband as having a reciprocal duty to love, submit to, or sacrifice himself for his wife.
For some of us husbands, we might have to "ease into" this new way of treating our wives. I heard, for example, of a fellow named Ed who went over to his friend Jim's house. He was amazed at how well Jim treated his wife. He repeatedly told her how attractive she was. He complimented her decorating and housekeeping. He showered her with hugs and kisses.
"That's amazing," Ed said to his friend later. "You really make a big fuss over your wife. Is that genuine?"
"Absolutely! I started to appreciate her more about six months ago," Jim said. "It has
revived our marriage, and we couldn't be any happier." Inspired, Ed hurried home, hugged his wife, and told her how much he loved her. He said he wanted to hear all about her day and offered to take her out to dinner. To Edís surprise, she burst into tears. "Honey," he said, "What's the matter?"
"This has been the worst day of my life!" she said, sobbing. "This morning, Billy fell off his bicycle and hurt his ankle. Then the washing machine broke and flooded. Now, to top it off, you come home drunk!" Uh, thatís why I caution that some of us guys would have to ease into this new way of treating our wives. Weíd scare them!
What If I Just Donít Love Him Anymore?
I hope never to forget the day several years ago when a tearful young woman sat in my office to talk about her faltering marriage. She had been married about three years, as I recall. Now she was explaining why she couldnít stay married any longer. It was all very simple, she said. "I just donít love him anymore."
Based on what I understand the Bible to teach, my response appeared to catch her off guard. "But you promised to love him when you married him, didnít you?"
"You canít promise how youíre going to feel about somebody after your wedding day!" she replied. "Things havenít turned out the way I thought they would. My feelings have changed, and I just donít love him anymore."
Have you ever made the mistake that woman was making that day? She had confused love ó which is an action of the human intellect and will ó with an uncontrollable feeling, a come-and-go-without-invitation emotion. Itís one of the commonest mistakes in all human experience. Let me explain.
Many human emotions are beyond our ability to control. Fear, for example, can make you break into a sweat, push up your heart rate and blood pressure, and tense practically every muscle in your body. You hear a strange noise in the dark. An oncoming car veers into your lane. You lose your balance on a ladder. What happens next is beyond your control. Fear dumps adrenaline into your blood, and you canít talk your body out of feeling afraid. Something will have to change in your circumstances before the fear will go away. There will have to be a resolution of the problem.
But love isnít like fear. It isnít an automatic response of the mind and body to some external stimulus. It is a chosen and deliberate way of behaving that often defies what is happening around you. Love is something to do. You always have a choice about it. You donít "fall" in or out of it. Thatís attraction or infatuation. It might even be respect or admiration. But it isnít love.
If you know the Bible very well, youíve already put enough pieces together to know that what Iím telling you is consistent with the Word of God. For example, here is how the Holy Spirit led Paul to characterize love: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
According to the Bible, love is a way to treat people ó not a way to feel about them. When youíve heard something go bump in the night, I can say "Donít be afraid!" until Iím blue in the face and youíll still be afraid. You canít help it. But love must be controllable, for Jesus commanded, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:44). Love is a choice. Love can be directed toward "enemies" ó the very people our feelings react to in negative ways. I canít like my enemies, but I can obey this injunction from the Word of God: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink" (Rom. 12:20a).
For the moment, though, I am less concerned to exhort you to treat strangers or enemies lovingly as I am trying to remind all of us to act in a certain consistent way toward the people we say we love more than anyone else ó our families. In our families, we must learn to live the things we say we believe about loving one another.
What happened with the woman who said she just didnít love her husband anymore? She thought about our conversation and admitted that what the Bible teaches made sense. She pledged to go home and ó in spite of "feelings" she had lost for her husband ó keep her promise to be kind, less easily angered, more persevering, and so on. We prayed for her ability to carry through with her intention. She didnít get a divorce. With changed behavior in her marriage, she began to experience the positive feelings that had all but died. God snatched a potential victim from the pain of divorce.
Let me take you back to the story of Rabbi Eisek with which I started. The moral of the story is that what the devout rabbi was seeking was there in his home all along. What are you looking for in this life? Security? Relationships? Peace? Love? Some of you have been so deceived by the worldís warped messages that you are looking in distant, strange, and forbidden places for what is already waiting for you ó at home.
There is a teen-ager who wants attention, wants to be heard, wants to be accepted for who she is. So she sells her Mom and Dad short and dives into people and places that make her feel dirty and ashamed. Please go back home. Give the folks another chance. And, Mom and Dad, be there for her!
There is a husband who wants to be appreciated for all his hard work to provide for his family. There is a wife who needs to be listened to by an adult after a demanding day with two small children. And that husband and wife may be in the same house! He has found somebody else who strokes his ego, and she has met somebody who seems to hang on her every word. Things are getting complex. What to do . . .
Go home! The treasure you want is waiting there for you. You can build a happy home and Christ-honoring life there by living the things you say you believe.
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