Husbands And Wives:
The Responsibilities Of Marriage
1. “For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” (Rainer Marie Rilke)
2. And marriage is the place where that work is most completely done. The great text upon which our study is based says so.
a. These remarkable instructions to husbands and wives were written against the dark background of a culture that had almost totally ignored the ideal of God for marriage.
b. It reasons from the noble model of the Lord’s love for his people rather than from the failures and problems of people.
c. And it raises up, for the third and last time in the Bible, the beautiful statement of what marriage is meant to be.
d. Ephesians 5:17 – 33
3. Here we discover the responsibilities which are to be met by two people who want to love each other in such as way as to turn that divine ideal into human reality.
1. Keep everything in the context of gratitude at all times: “...giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father...” (v. 20).
a. A healthy relationship has to breathe the air of thankfulness.
i. It’s true in our relationship with God (cf. 1 Thes. 5:16-18).
ii. It’s also true in a marriage.
(1) Verse 20 makes it clear that everything the apostle has to say to husbands and wives belongs in a setting of thankfulness.
(2) When he speaks of these matters again in Col. 3:18-19, each of the three verses immediately preceding his instructions mention being thankful (v. 15, 16, 17).
(3) In Heb. 13, the call for marriage to be “held in honor among all” is followed closely by “and be content with what you have” (v. 4, 5).
b. The work of marriage is to be done with a spirit of thankful contentment.
i. That means, of course, keeping little differences in habits or personalities in perspective, as well as recognizing and appreciating the practical blessings the other persons gives to the marriage.
ii. Isn’t interesting that these instructions to husbands and wives are connected so closely to “singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (v. 19, NASB)?
(1) Thankful worship with each other is one of the best ways to keep your perspective toward each other.
(2) I might paraphrase the song and say to couples:
When upon life’s billows ya’ll are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what your mate has done!
(3) At all times, and in all things, keep the tone in your marriage thankful.
2. Gladly and willingly submit everything else to what the relationship needs: “...submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v. 21).
a. Treat the marriage like it’s the third person in the room.
i. There’s the husband, and there’s the wife, but then there’s the marriage..
ii. Do what it needs! Voluntarily submit yourself to it.
iii. That’s when it will give you back what you need!
b. University of Miami professor Blaine Flowers, in his 2000 book Beyond the Myth of Happiness, argues that our focus on marriage as a relationship primarily about happiness has diminished marriage as a relationship.
i. He says that we badly need to re-envision marriage as an opportunity to practice the virtues of friendship, loyalty and generosity.
ii. He points out that to simply try to be “happier” or “more in love” is not the path that will lead you to either – because it involves expecting from the relationship instead of doing for it.
iii. But, he says, walk the deeper paths of commitment, forgiveness and friendship – and happiness and love will find you.
c. A married person is responsible for willingly submitting to (v. 22), for giving self up for (v. 25), what the marriage needs.
3. Faithfully attend to that special bond with the one who is “your own”: “...to your own husbands...should love their wives as their own bodies...for no one ever hated his own flesh...” (v. 22, 28-29).
a. Part of our task is to think of each other as “our own.”
i. Nurture, preserve and protect that precious world that belongs only to the two of you – emotionally, socially, physically and spiritually.
ii. Tenderly and dependably cherish “your own.”
iii. Thoughtfully nourish “your own” in each of the four areas of life we just mentioned.
b. Scott Peck wrote, “The principal form that the work of love takes is attention. When we love another person we give him or her our attention; we attend to that person’s growth.” (Cited by John Ortberg, Love Beyond Reason, 45).
c. Someone offered this counsel to husbands and wives: “Preserve sacredly the privacies of your own house, your married state, and your heart. Let no father or mother or sister or brother ever presume to come between you or share the joys or sorrows that belong to you two alone. With mutual help build your quiet world, not allowing your dearest earthly friend to be the confidant of aught that concerns your domestic peace. Let moments of alienation, if they occur, be healed at once. Never, no never, speak of it outside; but to each other confess and it will come out right. Never let the morrow’s sun find you at variance; renew and renew your vow. It will do you good; and thereby your minds will grow together contented in that love which is stronger than death, and you will be truly one.”
4. Talk and listen in a way that values the feelings of each of you: “...as Christ...the church...as the church...to Christ...” (v. 23-24).
a. As the church, to be healthy, must openly express its true heart to the Lord through prayer, and must attentively hear his heart by taking in his word, husbands and wives have to know each other’s hearts by communicating.
b. Talking and listening is the life-blood of your marriage, but it takes work – it is two people, doing four jobs, none of which comes naturally.
c. The closer we get, the more powerful and the more important what the Bible says about talking and listening becomes.
i. Consider, in this context, Ephesians 4:25-27, 29.
ii. Our interaction is to be honest, good for building up, appropriate, and that which will give grace.
iii. John Gottman, University of Washington psychologist, kept track of more than 2,000 married couples for more than two decades and reported his findings in his 1994 book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. He says that marriages that succeed have, in their talking and listening, at least five positive interactions to every one negative. That means they can talk and listen in a way that makes each partner feel valued and respected.
5. Apologize and forgive in a manner that elevates both people: “...that he might sanctify her...in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing...” (v. 26-27).
a. Robert Quillen said, “A happy marriage is a union of two good forgivers.”
i. The model is what the Lord does to cleanse the church and make it look beautiful to himself.
ii. Ephesians 4:32
b. It’s this, not faultless people who have found the perfect match, which makes a marriage thrive. Gottman says his research shows that success is not determined by compatibility, nor by in-love-ness, but by whether couples work through the conflicts we all have to face.
c. More important than any list of steps to take in apologizing or forgiving is the tone. Paul Harvey told this story: “Carl Coleman was driving to work one morning when he bumped fenders with another motorist. Both cars stopped, and the woman driving the other car got out to survey the damage. She was distraught. It was her fault, she admitted, and hers was a new car, less than two days from the showroom. She dreaded facing her husband. Coleman was sympathetic; but he had to pursue the exchange of license and registration data. She reached into her glove compartment to retrieve the documents in an envelope. On the first paper to tumble out, written in her husband’s distinctive hand, were these words: ‘In case of accident, remember, Honey, it’s you I love, not the car.’” (Retold by Alice Gray, More Stories for the Heart, 154). She cared how what she had done might impact him. He had already forgiven.
6. Do your part in the great work of relationship: “...let each one of you love his wife as himself...let the wife see that she respects her husband” (v. 33).
a. Notice carefully that the apostle speaks of what you are to do, whether you are a husband or a wife, not of what the other is to do for you.
b. The work of relationship has to do with making an effort to care for the needs of that person you married, and this verse is one of the key statements about what that means.
i. Assuming marriage is a need-meeting relationship (and it is), you can see what your mate needs most by observing what observing what the Lord tells you to do.
ii. To the husband, he says “love her” – cherish her. In a world which measures value by looks, youth, and shallow sophistication, she needs to know she is adored.
iii. To the wife, the Lord says “respect him” – honor him. In world that weighs him down with pressure to succeed and makes him feel like an insignificant failure, he needs to know he is admired.
c. Psychologist John Gottman, after his twenty years of keeping track of all those couples, says the two nurturing practices in marriage are love and respect!
7. Approach all responsibilities for Christ and like Christ: “...as to the Lord...as Christ loved...” (v. 22, 25).
a. If marriage can be compared to the relationship between the Christ who gave himself and the church which gladly respects him – and that comparison is the basis of this whole passage (v. 32) – it stands to reason that the work of husbands and wives is to be done acting like the Lord and for him.
b. And, if these instructions speak to you about what you are to do, it means the responsibilities can only be accepted voluntarily and fulfilled willingly.
i. Give of yourself freely to make your companion’s life better.
ii. Serve: don’t major on what the other is supposed to, or is required to, do for you.
iii. Don’t demand or force; draw, attract, win.
(1) That’s how the Lord goes about it (cf. Jn. 12:32; 1 Jn. 4:19).
(2) That’s how you build a relationship that blesses.
8. “Marriage means....”
9. It’s that “partnership with a perfect God” we’re concerned about now. It’s a partnership available to all of us through Christ. Is it how you’re living?