Ephesians 5: 22-33
1 Peter 3: 1-7
I was thinking of the standard of marriage and the practical walk for those of us who are married, and indeed, for us all. What we see in Ephesians is the divine standard, God’s standard for marriage; and it is seen in Christ and in the assembly. That is the standard and nothing lower than that. We tend to lower the standard, lower the level, all the time. We are affected by what goes on in the world and by how far the standards have fallen. Alas, it can tend to creep in amongst the people of God. I think it helps us to keep God’s standard before us, keep God’s view of marriage before us as we have it here in Ephesians, “Husbands, love your own wives”. There might be a possibility of loving another man’s wife, but Paul says, “even as the Christ also loved the assembly, and has delivered himself up for it”. What could be greater than that, to love and deliver oneself up for it? Then it says, “in order that he might sanctify it, purifying it by the washing of water by the word” and “nourishes and cherishes it, even as also the Christ the assembly”. That is the standard for those of us who are husbands, to love our own wives. It is not dependent in any way on the wife, what she may be or her behaviour; we are to love our wives, “as the Christ also loved the assembly”. It is a great challenge to us all to maintain things at this level, but it is in the Scriptures; and I think God would have us keep it before us that the standard in Christian marriage is that of Christ and the assembly, and nothing less. He says, “So ought men also to love their own wives as their own bodies”, how testing that is. Men are selfish by nature; that is what marks the man naturally - selfishness. Women naturally are more unselfish, but here there is no thought of that, we are to love our own wives as our own bodies, “he that loves his own wife loves himself”. The object in view is not to love oneself, but we are to love our own wives in that way, “even as also the Christ the assembly”. We are to nourish and cherish, we are to care for our wives, be thoughtful as to their welfare. The standard in Ephesians is that of Christ and the assembly.
Paul says, “Because of this a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be united to his wife”, that is an exercise. Once a man has his household he is responsible to the Lord. He has left his father and his mother, he is not under their influence exactly, although always open to guidance and help, which many of us have been so thankful for in the past; but you leave your father and mother. That would be morally, and you cleave, or are united to your wife, “the two shall be one flesh”. There is nothing between them; they are indivisible in that way, “one flesh”. Then he says, “I speak as to Christ, and as to the assembly” - what a standard in Christian marriage, that of Christ and the assembly. There could never be any thought of disparity, or distance, or darkness, or a spot between Christ and the assembly. It could not be contemplated, and so it should not be between wives and husbands, they should be united, “one flesh … as to Christ, and as to the assembly”. How testing these things are.
Peter takes up more the practical side of our walk. It is not only husbands and wives; it is all of us, but he speaks to the wives, “wives, be subject to your own husbands”, and as it is worked out practically what a result there might be, “even if any are disobedient to the word, they may be gained without the word”. So, the wife in that sense by her demeanour and her manner of life is a substitute for the word of God. How precious that is, that a wife, by her behaviour and her demeanour and her manner of life, can be used of God to gain the husband! Not by His word exactly, but by the conversation of the wife. Then it says, “whose adorning let it not be that outward one”. What a test that is. We often say, ’God looks on the heart’, and that is true, but I might just say, feelingly, that others do not look on the heart; they look on the outward. If they see in me the habits, the dress or the customs of the world, what are they to think? They cannot see my heart. I might say God knows my heart, but is that enough? He says, “let it not be that outward one of tressing of hair … but the hidden man of the heart”. That is Christ Himself. Then, “the incorruptible ornament of a meek and quiet spirit”, seen so perfectly in that Man when He was here, perfectly in every moment of every day, “which in the sight of God is of great price”. We should covet to have these features which are of great price in the sight of God, not in the sight of men, or even our brethren, but what is of great price in the sight of God. He goes on to speak of the holy women that have been examples to us, all subject to their own husbands, “Sarah obeyed Abraham”. I do not think wives are told to obey their husbands in the Scriptures, but Sarah did, and she was a help to her husband too. On one occasion Abraham was told to listen to Sarah, Gen 21: 12. The wife does not just do everything her husband tells her, she does what is right before the Lord, obeys her husband and is subject characteristically. How precious these things are. “Ye husbands likewise, dwell with them according to knowledge, as with a weaker, even the female, vessel” - we need to care for our wives and for one another, “a weaker … vessel”. Man is weak, but woman is weaker. It is not that the man is strong and the woman weak, but the man, weak mortal man, and the female vessel is the weaker vessel. We are to look after them, “giving them honour, as also fellow-heirs of the grace of life”. How wonderful that expression is! No doubt the life that was seen in the Lord Jesus was here, “that your prayers be not hindered”. We have spoken about households and household prayer. So there should be nothing with us, personally, individually or householdly that would hinder our prayers because prayer is one of the greatest influences that a believer has, one of the greatest resources and one of the most effective ways of bringing to pass God’s thoughts for His people.
These are just a few thoughts. I thought we could get help from; even just reading the Scriptures, to see the perfect divine standard in Christian marriage and in the way that it is worked out, not only in husbands and wives, but that all of us might be exercised to have this incorruptible ornament of a meek and quiet spirit and to be those who can be spoken of as “fellow-heirs of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered”.
May God bless the word.
13th September 2008