THE CODE FOR A FLOURISHING MARRIAGE
By Pastor Michael Olawore
New Wine Church, London
Foundation Scripture: Psalm 128: 1-6; Ephesians 5: 21-31
Sunday 11th May 2014
Last week, we looked at a message 'The Blueprint for a Flourishing Family' in which we understood that just as a plan or a blueprint is required to successfully build a house, we also require a plan or a blueprint to build a flourishing home. A flourishing home, we understood, does not just happen; it must be planned and then built. In looking at four fundamental truths about families we learned family is the foundational unit for reproduction, that family is a prototype of society and that the destruction of the family is essentially the destruction of a nation and most importantly, God's plan is for us to have happy prosperous and flourishing families. We looked also at the power of a father's influence, learning that when a man walks in God's ways, his wife, children, grandchildren, community and thereby, the nation, prospers. Today, I want to examine the code for building a flourishing marriage.
During the course of the week, I was awaiting the arrival of an important document. When it finally arrived by email, I clicked to open the attachment only to find that it was password protected. I had the document but needed a password, or code to gain access to the content of the attachment. I believe that this applies directly to the lives of believers in that everything that God wants to do in our lives has already been done but we need the code with which to be able to access it. For every successful marriage, there is a code. In the same way that you can only gain access to your house with a key, you can only gain access to a successful marriage, you need the correct key, or code. Psalm 128 alluded to this. It is not enough simply to know or be aware of God's ways; you must follow His ways.
Success in life is not a mystery. It is, if anything, predictable. Failure also is predictable. There are things that you can do to bring about success and there are also things that you can do to bring about failure. If a young man decides to spend all day and night playing computer games and listening to music, a less than successful life is predictable. So it is in marriage. Success in marriage is the outcome of the application truth. As long as you know the truth and apply it, a successful marriage is essentially guaranteed.
Proverbs 24:3-4 (NIV) says, 'By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.' Here, the 'house' is representative of a marriage. To be 'established' means to be set and become unshakeable and 'rooms' in this context are representative of atmosphere. We also see here three key features: wisdom, understanding and knowledge. Wisdom is the application of knowledge. Understanding is knowledge that is comprehended and knowledge is information. We can therefore surmise that it is not enough simply to have a lot of information, but information must be understood and most importantly, applied properly.
When you decided that you wished to begin to drive, you did not simply choose a car and apply and receive a licence in the post and begin driving. For very good reasons, you had to be taught and made to study the rules for driving and when you were considered to be ready, you were tested and when found to be adequate, you were granted a licence. If we recognise the importance of taking the required steps with driving a car which we will keep for probably 5 or 10 years, how is it that we do not actively study and prepare for marriage? On many occasions, I have counselled people who were dating and keen on rushing into marriage and having advised them to take it slow, I have seen them become offended. However, when you take the time to prepare properly for marriage, you are far more likely to have a successful outcome.
You must have information and you must have understanding and you must apply it carefully. It is not however, just any information that I am talking about; we must distinguish ideas, theory and opinion from truth. In John 17:17 Jesus made clear that God's word is truth. God authored and instituted marriage and therefore being its manufacturer, He is the ultimate authority on how it should operate. What therefore is the truth that is relevant to building a flourishing marriage? Let's look closely at Ephesians 5: 21-31 (MSG)
Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another. Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor—since they're already "one" in marriage.
No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That's how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become "one flesh." This is a huge mystery, and I don't pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.
Here, Paul is speaking to husbands and wives collectively and also in their individual capacities. The ultimate picture of marriage that is set out is that of marriage being a reflection of Christ's relationship with the church with the wife submitting to her husband and the husband loving his wife. The institution of marriage is difficult to understand and Paul acknowledges this. An understanding therefore of Christ's relationship with the church therefore is key to understanding the institution of marriage. If we can attain a clear understanding of this relationship, we can begin to get marriage right. The ultimate aim in instructing husbands and wives how to relate to one another is not to create tension or separation but to bring them together. Oneness is the objective. This passage of scripture begins with the instruction to both husbands and wives to submit to one another out of respect for Christ. Your mate is a member of the body of Christ and acceptance of this truth should affect the way in which you treat one another. Mutual submission and courteous reverence for one another is the standard that God expects.
Submission is not an act of subservience or blind obedience. It is a voluntary attitude of giving in and co-operation, a yielding to admonition and advice. At its very core, submission is voluntary in nature. It is not enforced or demanded but willingly given. In this way, submission enables each spouse to play to their strengths. In applying this to the way in which husbands and wives are instructed to relate to one another, in observing Christ's relationship with the church as a blueprint, we note that Christ is not domineering and our service to Him is not out of compulsion, but out of a love offered willingly. This is how wives should be to their husbands.
There will be occasions when the husband is required to lead and there is a difference of opinion or approach. In these circumstances, the wife is admonished to submit and surrender her will. We have an example in Jesus' relationship with the Father as illustrated in Matthew 26:39. Jesus, whilst equal to God, willingly yielded to the will of the Father. He very honestly articulated that He would wish to avoid the way of suffering that lay ahead of him in the cross but yet let go of His own position and allowed the will of the Father to be done. Submission must not be demanded, but willingly given. It does not make you less significant; it is a sign, not of weakness but of strength under control. Submission is first of all an attitude before it becomes an action. True submission will not stifle personality but instead, will encourage the expression of individuality and creativity. True submission will also facilitate effective leadership as it is far easier to lead those who submit.
Let's look at how this applies in some of the difficult circumstances that can arise in marriage: What is the wife's responsibility when the husband's behaviour is not worthy of respect, for example a man whom is quick to lose his temper or prone to being unreasonable? Is she still required to submit to him? Yes. I would counsel in those circumstances that a distinction be drawn between personality and position. If, notwithstanding his track record of unreasonable behaviour, you know that he is making sense, then do not because of his personality, punish him by refusing to submit. What about the man whom is weak and unable to lead? Is the wife required to submit to him? Again, I would say yes. I have observed that a man whom may appear to be unable to lead will very often accept responsibility and begin to direct his family's affairs when his wife stops assuming responsibility for doing so. If the husband is this way inclined, he must be given the opportunity to grow into more effective leadership; this will include at times getting it wrong and making mistakes. As long as there is a willingness, he will become more effective. What about the husband whom is a non-Christian? In these circumstances, the wife should still submit. Indeed, your submission and reverence may lead him to a relationship with God. If however the man is walking directly contrary to God's ways and requires you to do so, for example, wants to commit fraud, in those circumstances, you should not join him; but you should use grace, gentleness and respect in communicating your refusal to participate.
Let's turn now and look at the instructions given to husbands. The bible instructs husbands to 'go all out in your love for your wife.' In many ways, the instruction given to husbands is more difficult to execute than the wife's requirement to submit. The husband is instructed to love his wife in the way that Christ loves the church. Well, Christ demonstrated His love for the church by laying down His life.
Unless certain things die in a man's life, a successful marriage cannot be attained. Ego must die; this, together with the inherently wilful nature that lives deep inside many men, must die. Christ gave Himself completely to the church. Very often a man is willing to give anything but himself to his wife. He may give money, gifts, houses and cars but he will refuse to give himself. And yet it is this that his wife needs. Your woman wants you, not your chequebook; she wants your time, your communications, your thoughts, your touch and your sexuality. You must give yourself to your wife.
The foundational scripture speaks of Christ's words evoking beauty in His wife the church. Husbands, There is a queen inside your wife; use your words to bring her out. Do not use your words to tear down your wife, but instead, use your words to build her up, letting her know how valuable she is to you, communicating to her that she is of unparalleled and unrivalled in importance to you.
Christ, we are told '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'. Everything that you do in relation to your wife is designed to bring her to you rather than push her away. A man cannot love his wife without first loving himself. At the root of every act of physical or emotional abuse is self-loathing and low self-esteem. If there are issues besetting a man, these need to be addressed and fixed rather than taken out on your wife. Husbands need to cherish and nourish their wives. This means that you must affirm, cherish and reinforce her value. It is easy for a woman whom is loved to submit to her husband. By the same token however, it is easy for a man to love and give himself to a woman whom submits.
By way of conclusion, God's plan as detailed in Ephesians 5 is for husbands and wives to be brought together. He wants them to become one. When we are one we can affect the world and stand shoulder to shoulder and defeat the enemy. When we are one there is nothing that we cannot accomplish. This is God's code for a flourishing marriage.
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