Christian marriage, like all of life, is shaped by self-denial. There is, of course, an understanding among most adults that we cannot always get our way in human relationships. However, I’m talking about something a little different: the denial of self in pursuit of our daily worship of God. Romans 12:1 teaches we are, by God’s mercy, to present our bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” The motive is not inward, but an act of worship toward God. As John Calvin has said, that “we are consecrated and dedicated to God, and, therefore, should not henceforth think, speak, design, or act, without a view to his glory.” (On the Christian Life, Chapter 2, Section 1). Glorifying God should happen in all of life, so what shape does that take in our marriage relationships?
- Think Sympathetically. The apostle Paul tells the Philippian Christians to think about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). Our Heavenly Father is all those things and, as his adopted children, we are to imitate him (Eph. 5:1). All people are a little irritating at times, but think on that which is excellent: the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of your spouse. Think of the ways your spouse has been used by God to bless and sanctify you. In doing so, you give glory to God for the goodness he has worked in your spouse.
- Communicate Graciously. So often we communicate our love for each other according to our own preferences. We should instead take account of the likes and needs of our spouse in a kind and tenderhearted way (Eph. 4:32). If your wife needs help managing the children we are not expressing concern about them when we buy them our favorite cordless drill. That purchase was made for you, not her. God calls us to love our fellow man as ourselves. Since our spouses are included within that category, we should honor the Lord in our expressions of affection by being tender-hearted as he commands.
- Serve Selflessly. The first years marriage, Lisa and I would argue about who worked harder. We were both convinced we were shouldering the bulk of the family’s load. Obviously we were thinking of our own glory instead of God’s. Yet he commands us to “through love, serve one another.” (Gal. 5:13). The most important question is not whether you are working harder than your spouse, but whether you are effectively and selflessly performing your God-ordained role. In doing so you give glory to God.
The Bible tells us we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The reflection of the content of your heart can only be seen by what you do. It is not most clearly seen in what we do when we know everyone is watching, but around the one person most likely accept us despite all our warts and sins.
Having laid out foundational assumptions in last week’s installment we can now begin to address the issue of marriage. In Genesis 2:18-24 God establishes marriage in this order: 1. God made man; 2. God made woman; 3. God brings them together; 4. therefore, marriage. But God does much more than simply establish marriage. Our God and Savior gives us roles within marriage to be practiced for his glory.
There are three primary biblical texts to which we can turn for instruction on the roles of husbands and wives within marriage: Eph. 5:22-33, Col. 3:18-19, and 1 Pet. 3:1-7. In examining biblical roles we will mostly use the Ephesians passage. This text begins by addressing the woman’s role in marriage.
In Eph. 5:22, Paul calls the wife to “submit to your own husbands”. Paul helps us understand what this means through a word-picture. “Now, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Eph. 5:24). In our day, submission is often associated enslavement to tyranical napoleon complex types. Even “complementarians” can do summersaults to avoid the cultural backlash of using this word. But if God says it, it must be good. So what should we consider when it comes the issue of biblical submission?
- The cultural definition of submission is misrepresented and/or misunderstood. Submission is not an enslavement, but rather a joyful yielding of our rights to one in leadership over us. Each day we submit to many things such as traffic laws, lines at customer service counters, our bosses, clients, and the list goes on. Why then would a woman submitting to the man she loves be a bad thing?
- The nature of submission is misrepresented and/or misunderstood. Submission is not an assessment of the value or rank of a person. Therefore there should be free and open discussion between husbands and wives on the decisions that will be made in their marriage.
- Wives are to follow the leadership of their husbands. The church is led by Christ, and marriage is a picture of that relationship. The wife takes on the role of the church and the husband that of Christ. Therefore, the husband leads the marriage, and the wife follows his leadership.
- The wife is to submit to her husband in everything. The Bible teaches that, unless the husband is leading to sin, the wife is to submit to her husband. In everything. My next post will show this instruction to be less risky than it may appear to you now, especially when considering a properly functioning, Biblical marriage.
The challenge of examining biblical roles for marriage by weekly installments is that we look at each role in isolation. The Bible teaches on these roles in relation to each other, so our conclusions on roles within marriage will have to wait until next week when we examine the Bible’s prescribed role for men.
The 10th commandment concludes God’s instructions through the Decalogue on how we can properly express our love to God. This commandment does not deal with action so much as it does with attitude, making it stand out from the previous eight ordinances God gave Moses. You do not “do” covetousness in the same way you steal or commit adultery. It is simply present in your motivations and emotions.
Covetousness is seen in many of the accounts of Scripture. Achan coveted the things from Jericho devoted to God. David coveted Bathsheba. Absalom coveted the throne of his father David. Although the objects these three men covet are different, there is one common thread tying these examples together: dissatisfaction. Those who covet are unhappy with that which God, in his goodness, has given to them. They are struggling with contentment.
Jeremiah Burroughs defines contentment as follows: “Contentment is the inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal in every condition.”(1) According to Burroughs, contentment is not a grudging submission to God, but actually taking pleasure in our God-given circumstances. Contentment is learning to delight in all God has planned for us. If you want to pass that lesson on to your children, be assured that giving them everything they want will not help. So what are some ways we can help our children learn contentment?
- Teach your children to love God. Many of us have an exaggerated sense of “needs” versus something we would like to have. Needs are actually a fairly small category: food and clothing (1 Tim. 6:8). For the Christian, God is the central desire. When God, through Christ, occupies such an exalted place, toys, free time, hobbies and recreations should not cause us to grumble against our creator.
- Encourage your children to rejoice at a sibling’s success. Our children do not need to be the object of everyone’s praise and attention. Let them learn to cheer on siblings at their soccer games and take interest in their piano recital. Help them recognize when brother or sister needs a hug. Encourage them to be happy to participate in someone else’s chosen game.
- Teach your children to serve. From a very early age, children can learn to be part of the family. This lesson can easily be learned through participation in family chores. Even little children can learn to bring their plastic plate to the counter after lunch is over. Sincere service is a good instructor toward contentment.
Each of us face difficult circumstances, from a human perspective. However, we are the people of God and are to serve him alone. Nothing else should supplant him as the object of our desires. Yet often by allowing discontentment in our families, we are teaching our children to place their own desires before things God has determined for our good. Do not covet.
(1) Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, (The Banner of Truth Trust, Versa Press Inc.: East Peoria, IL, 1964). 40.
Adultery. It is a prominent theme in the entertainment and fashion of our culture. I do not mean that every TV show or movie is about adultery, but adultery is part of most entertainment we see. Maybe not physical adultery, but sexual innuendos, provocative dress, unbridled passion between unmarried people… They all feed into a spirit of adultery.
Christians understand the Bible forbids adultery. It clearly condemns the physical kind in Exodus 20:15. Jesus broadens the application of the 7th commandment when he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:27-28). These words turn adultery from an exclusively physical act into something found also in our thoughts and motivations. Our culture’s constant portrayal of adultery as something normal can easily take root in us, let alone our children. So what guidance can we give them to help conform their minds to Christ instead of the world?
- Teach Your Daughters to Dress Modestly. I know there is disagreement as to what is modest and provocative when it comes to dress. However, we should not therefore assume that everything is modest. Let me offer a solution. Look at the headlines of the fashion magazines. Many are explicitly geared toward a woman’s sexual appeal to men. They are trying to help their readers achieve these headlines in part through fashion. So, if my daughter has a “look” resembling what is in those magazines, she is wearing clothing designed to achieve sexual appeal. This clothing violates the 7th commandment by inviting lust.
- Teach Your Sons to Respect Women. People critical of discussions on modesty often ask the following question: “Why is the responsibility for keeping the 7th commandment always the girls’?” They make a very good point. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount the assumption is that you do not have to look lustfully. It is a choice, and a sinful one at that. Teach your sons to respect the ladies they meet. Teach them to look them in the eye, to be sincerely interested in them as people, and to delight in serving them. The “oogler” violates the 7th commandment by practicing lust.
- Control Your Family Entertainment Mediums. In parenting, we are trying to help our children think according to God’s word. We will not be able to compete with a billion dollar industry when it comes to presentation. Be wise. Just because it’s on and keeps our children occupied does not mean it is godly or good. Parental laziness violates the 7th commandment by not protecting our children from lustful thought patterns.
What are we hoping to accomplish in our homes? We are charged by God to show our children what it means to love him. Let us be diligent, not surrendering our children’s minds to the patterns of this world.
I’m assuming most people are not having to spend inordinate amounts of time trying to explain to their children that homicide is sinful. It is a basic idea: murder is not okay. Even little children understand this truth. However, how many of us are thinking beyond the narrow reading of the sixth commandment and seeing the broader application as defined by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount? Jesus expands our understanding of murder. He puts anger and murder in the same category: a failure to rule over your emotions and passions. In Matthew 5:21-24, Jesus uses strong language to warn those who neglect this commandment with the “fire of hell.” I wonder if we take that warning seriously enough to help our children navigate through the difficult challenges of managing their feelings and emotions according to the word of God?
Emotions are powerful and can easily be abused even while doing something “good.” I remember from my own childhood. During family worship one evening my older brother and I were asked to recite our memory work from Matthew 11:28-30. As my older brother struggled through the verses I sought to “help” him when he got stuck. I remember delighting in showing him how much better I knew the verses. I quickly forgot all the times when he had known his verses better than I. And so anger broke into the peaceful bliss of the Gleason home. Right as my brother was reciting “for I am gentle and lowly in heart…” my final prod pushed him over the edge. He turned without blinking and punched me in the arm as hard as he could. My pride and his anger both were sins against the 6th commandment. Both of us were in need of forgiveness because we did not control our emotions. With both transgressions common in our families, how do we help our children navigate these waters?
- Teach them what is right. So much of parenting is spent on correction, but we also must remember the positive instructions. These are the conversations we have with our children when all is well. When your child has hit his sibling, teach him about gentleness as you share a walk with him. When your child is manifesting pride, talk to him about humility on your way to the grocery store. When he becomes a “name caller,” teach him about encouragement as you tuck them into bed at night. Help them learn to control their passions.
- Correct what is wrong. Most parents are more naturally attuned to this part of parenting. However, you have to learn to recognize the transgressions. Do you let your children slam doors? stomp out of the room in anger? lash out with their tongues? Your children should understand these expressions are not permitted in your home. More than that, they should understand these expressions are not permitted in your home because they dishonor God.
How do you teach your child to live joyfully for God? There seem to be so few opportunities to express love toward God for our children, especially when they are young. And yet parents have the responsibility to form a shape of something abstract like loving God for them. How? There is a very simple way: the fifth commandment.
When the Bible says, “Honor your father and your mother…” it is part of God’s holiness code for children. No matter what age our children might be, they can express their love for God by obeying this commandment. Let me be clear: honoring parents is not the end game for the Christian child. The goal is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God’s call for them to honor mom and dad gives them an opportunity to do so, and “practice makes perfect” as they say (but not in the “perfectionism” sense). As Christian parents you have been given the privilege of leading them through this process. So how should Christian parents teach their children to glorify God in honoring the fifth commandment? Below are some suggestions:
- Expect obedience from your children. Colossians 3:20 commands children to obey their parents in everything. To obey is to honor their parents. To honor their parents is to glorify God. Do not teach your children to despise God’s commandment by allowing them to disobey you. Parents, when you call your little darling to come to you and they run the other way, that’s not cute. It’s sin. Instead lead them in honoring God even at an early age by requiring obedience.
- Give your children the chance to honor you in service. Parents are not exclusively in the law enforcement business, although you may sometimes feel that way. Try to find ways your children can honor you positively. Dads, give your child the joy of bringing mom her toast in the morning. Help your teens organize that special surprise for her. Certainly your children are to honor through obedience, but they can also honor in service.
- Teach your children to honor the adults in their lives. This lesson is easy to teach in the context of church. For your children, all the adults at church are old. Have them carry things, open doors, or give a friendly greeting to some of the senior saints at church. Have them speak respectfully to adults and use titles of respect for them. Grown-ups and children are not peers, or buddies. By teaching your children to act this way you are giving them opportunities to put God’s commandments into practice.
Of course, external obedience or service without love for God is not glorifying him. If only parenting were that easy. Add to that your children’s natural propensity to disguise their rebellion through deception and you have a recipe for much prayer. But while you pray, you also teach, showing your children what it means to honor their parents in the hopes of teaching them how they might glorify God.