Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ….. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord….. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church…. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Eph. 5:21, 22, 25, 33)
“Pastor, we just can’t do it anymore. We try and try but we just can’t do it. We’re always at odds with one another and can’t agree about anything. In fact, we’re always fighting, even over stupid pointless things. We just can’t get along. We’re thinking of getting a divorce.”
The young couple in the pastor’s office needed help desperately and thought that their marriage was pretty much over. They had come at the insistence of their parents but deep down both husband and wife thought that they had tried everything and it just wasn’t working. They had mastered the pre-marital counseling class, watched the marriage improvement videos, sharpened their communication skills, and knew each other’s love language. But they still fought all the time and felt like failures.
In fact, they had taken so many courses and tried so hard to make it work that they already knew what the pastor was going to say as he opened his Bible to Ephesians Chapter 5.
“Hold on, Pastor,” the husband interrupted. “With all due respect, I don’t think you understand. You just aren’t hearing us. We have studied that passage over and over again in the counseling session and the video courses. I am trying so hard to be a good husband and a strong spiritual leader, just like the Bible says. I lead us in devotions every morning and Bible study every evening. I work hard to make enough money for us and I provide strong leadership for my wife. All she has to do is submit to me like the Bible says. Instead, it seems like she is always wanting something more from me.”
“Just wait a minute,” said the wife. “It’s not as if I haven’t been trying to make it work. I try to be submissive and do what you tell me to do but I just get so angry with you. I try to be loving and ask you about your day but you just shut me out. I try to draw you out of your shell or depression or whatever the hell you are going through but you just won’t even talk to me. All you want is food on the table when you come home from work and sex at bedtime without any thought to me or how I am feeling or how my day went. Our devotional times and prayers are just religious duties that we have to do; we never really connect with one another or with God. The only time I connect with God anymore is when I am crying over the way things are between us.”
The conversation went on along these lines for quite a while. The pastor thought it was good that they were actually talking to one another and hearing each other say that they were working hard to do their part. It seemed obvious to him that they still loved one another and wanted to work it out rather than get a divorce. They were thinking of divorce only because it seemed to be the only way to escape the pain of constant conflict and feelings of failure. They no longer had any hope for a happy marriage.
So when it seemed like the couple had spent enough time venting their feelings and frustrations with each other, the pastor began to relate how he and his wife had problems the first few years of their marriage even though they were trying to follow Ephesians Chapter 5 and the other Biblical instructions about marriage. He shared his testimony and told the couple that they, too, could have a happy marriage if they just changed their thinking a little bit.
“You see,” he said, “You are both trying really hard to make the other person do what the Bible says. Couples do this all the time and it was the same mistake my wife and I made. It’s human nature, I guess. Husbands will often try to make their wife submit by being overly domineering or micro-managing their life. And wives will often try to make their husband love them by trying to please him or getting him to open up emotionally. The key to a successful marriage is for each spouse to focus on his or her own role in the marriage. Husbands should focus on loving their wife, not making them submit. And wives should focus on respecting her husband and following his leadership instead of trying to make him love her.”
“So then,” said the husband, “I shouldn’t focus on being a strong leader and making my wife submit but should instead focus on being loving towards her.”
“Exactly!” exclaimed the Pastor. “Show her that you love and care for her by listening to her. Ask her how she is feeling, how her day went, what she likes or doesn’t like – show her that you love her and care about how she is doing. Bring her flowers occasionally, take her out to dinner, or surprise her with something she enjoys. Show her love and affection, make it obvious to everyone that you cherish her, and share your thoughts and feelings with her. If she feels valued and loved and emotionally connected with you, it will be much easier for her to follow your leadership.
“Unfortunately, for most of us men, it is not always easy to share our feelings and emotions. Showing love to our wives is something that is easier said than done. It’s something that we often intend to do but never seem to get around to actually doing. But our wives need it. I think that is why the Apostle Paul brings it up again at the end of his teaching on marriage – it’s important enough to repeat and say again so that the reader really gets it.
“And remember,” the Pastor went on to say, “Paul doesn’t just remind the husbands to love their wives, he also reminds the wives to respect their husbands. And, unfortunately, in the same way that husbands struggle to show love, many women struggle to show respect towards their husband. Whether it’s just human nature or due to the curse after the fall of man (Gen. 3:16), many women have a hard time respecting their husband and following his leadership. They will love their husband to death, even though he has many faults, but it is hard for many wives to not be critical of their husband and the decisions he makes. Second-guessing him, putting him down in front of others, and speaking negatively about him seems to come naturally whereas building him up and complimenting him in front of others seems to require supernatural assistance.
“Men and women are opposites in this way, if you think about it. Men find it easy to respect their wives – they find it easy to say my wife is great, she’s beautiful, she works so hard, takes care of the kids, manages things well, etc. – but find it hard to express love by telling their wives how much they are loved and cherished or by listening to them and connecting with them emotionally. Women, on the other hand, find it easy to express love but have a harder time showing respect. All of us, men and women, must make a conscious effort to do our part, to fulfill our role, in the marital relationship.
“It’s not easy!” exclaimed the Pastor as he continued his exhortations. “In fact it is hard work. It is sacrificial, laying down our lives in the same way that Jesus gave his life for us. It requires faith and trust in the same way that we give our lives to Jesus. Being married, then, isn’t easy, but it sure is worth it! To have a companion for life – someone who is always in your corner, who is always for you and not against you and is in many ways a part of you – is worth the effort and sacrifice needed to make the marriage work.”
“That’s what we want!” the couple agreed. And they left the pastor’s office with renewed hope for their marriage. Today they share their testimony with other couples and remind them to simply focus on the thing that God is calling them to do as husbands and wives – loving as Christ loves the Church and submitting as the Church submits to Christ.
Questions for Contemplation and Discussion
Think for a moment about Christ and His love for His bride. Is His love based upon the behavior of His bride, the church, or is it based upon His own commitment and character? Should a husband’s love for his wife be based upon her behavior or his commitment and character? Or, to put it another way, is it the church’s job to persuade Christ to love her? Is it the wife’s job to make her husband love her?
Think for a moment about how we who make up the Church submit to Christ. Is it a voluntary submission or is it forced upon us? Should wives then be forced to submit to their husbands or should their submission be voluntary?
Scriptures: Eph. 5:21-33, Gen. 2:21-24, Matt. 19:1-12, 1 Cor. 7:1-16, Col. 3:18-19 Let’s Pray Together:Lord, we confess that our marriages aren’t always what they should be. Help us who are married to reflect the sacrificial love and voluntary submission of Christ and the Church. Help those of us who are single to be wholly devoted to You and to encourage and pray for those who are married. I pray for the following couples that I bring before You now….