MAKING MARRIAGE MARVELOUS
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Some little girls were having a great time playing wedding. They had a couple of bridesmaids, a bride and a maid of honor. The mother of one of the girls observed that the groom was conspicuous by his absence, and she asked, "What about the groom?" One child quickly replied, "We don't need a groom. This is just a small wedding."
There is many a wedding where the groom feels left out, and many where he wishes he was left out, but the fact is, there is no way to get a wedding so small that you do not need a groom. The smallest wedding on record took place without any attendants or guests, and there was no preacher, but even Eve had a groom. When you have cut all the corners possible, and you are down to the bare minimum you still have a groom. The groom is not in limelight like the bride, and his role is very minimal. He gets only a fraction of the published publicity, which is not much more than the ushers get, but he is no mere appendage which can be cut off if necessary. You can eliminate everyone else in the list below the bride, but the groom must remain.
God in His all wise providence ordained that every wedding must have a groom. It is important to man's ego that it is so, for if he was not a necessity he might very well be ignored all together, and the fantasy of the little girls might become fact. It is said with as much truth as humor that some Hollywood brides keep the bouquets and throw the groom away. But why all this rambling about the necessity of a groom? It is because he does play second fiddle when it comes to the wedding, and the fact is, he plays a secondary role in the marriage.
The wife plays the leading role in marriage even though she is to be submissive to her husband. When the biblical view of marriage properly understood, no woman can ever complain that she is treated unfairly. Nowhere is a woman's role as wife and mother so exalted as it is in the Bible. The Bible is almost like the newspaper. It magnifies and glorifies the bride and wife, and just mentions the husband. Proverbs 31 gives the greatest description in literature of the role of an ideal wife and mother. Nowhere in the Bible is there such a description of the ideal husband and father.
Peter was a husband, and he had a great opportunity to write at length about husbands, but in our text of 7 verses of marriage counseling he devotes 6 of them to the wife, and only 1 to the husband. It looks like typical coverage for the husband, and possibly 6 to 1 is even better than what he gets in the paper. But the question is, why? When the groom is just as essential as the bride, why does he get so much attention? It is not only because he is less beautiful than the bride, but also because his role is less difficult and demanding than that of the bride. Generally speaking it is much more difficult to be a good wife than to be a good husband. It takes so many more virtues, and that is why the Bible and books on marriage are filled with so much more advice for wives than for husbands. One of the reasons is that wives read more on improving their marriage than husbands do. Both Peter and Paul deal with the wife before they do the husband, and they say more about her role.
What a wife is and does determines more in a marriage than any other factor. She is the star at the wedding, and must go on being the star, for when she falls the sky is dark indeed. Don't ever fall for the folly that the biblical role of women makes her second class. If women's lib wants freedom from the biblical role for women, then they want to be free to be less and not more, for the biblical role makes her the primary factor in marriage and the home. It is true that man is dominant in business, government, war, and politics, but when it comes to the home and marriage the wife is the leader.
The analogies of Scripture illustrate what I am saying. Jesus is pictured as the groom, and the church is the bride. It is not hard for the groom to be loving and loyal to his bride, but the bride is constantly struggling to be faithful, and to keep unspotted from the world. The battles of the bride is what the Christian life is all about. The brides side of the union of God and man is the hard side. Husbands, of course, cannot be so easily Godlike as God was with His bride Israel, nor as easily Christlike as Christ is with His bride the church. Nevertheless, I am convinced from Scripture, from history, and from life, that it is easier to be superior than it is to be submissive. The wife has the harder role, but also the most significant. As in the relationship of Christ and the church, it is the bride that determines the success of the relationship. If the church fails, it is not because Christ has not loved enough. He is the perfect husband, but if the bride fails to be submissive and obedient, the union is not a happy one. Spiritually and literally the role of the wife is the key role in marriage. That is why Peter devotes the majority of his advice on marriage to the wife.
This advice is far from being obsolete. It is becoming more relevant everyday. Anyone who can read knows that marriage is in big trouble today. It is not that it is less popular, for everybody is still doing it, but the problem is they are doing it more and enjoying it less. The quantity is greater than ever, and people are getting married two and three times, but the quality is sadly deficient. People look upon marriage as an experiment, and if nothing develops they move on to another experiment. This approach is fine in the laboratory, for it is the scientific method, but marriage is not designed by God to fit into the scientific method. Marriage is closer to religion than science, and it is a matter of faith and commitment. One must enter marriage with a religious attitude rather than a scientific attitude to make it work.
The world is flooded with advice for those brave adventurers embarking on the sea of matrimony. The advice varies according to the experience of the so-called expert giving the advice. If some have been wrecked on the rocks and sent to the bottom because of a stormy marriage, they will not encourage you to believe it is a blessed blissful journey of sailing into the sun. In fact, they will offer you some such advice as this-
I would advise a man to pause
Before he takes a wife.
In fact, I see no earthly cause
He should not pause for life.
All to often the negative attitude dominates even in the Christian mind. He begins to think like Elijah, and feel that he is the only one left. In spite of the fact that marriage failure is a major social problem, there are still millions of happy marriages where the mates have not bowed the knee to Baal, and the other idols that break up the marriage duet. For them, marriage is a joyful journey, and not a tragic trip. The sun may not always shine, but they know it is always there even if the clouds are covering it for a time. They can appreciate the truth of what Middleton writes concerning marriage.
The Treasures of the deep are not so precious,
As are the conceal'd comforts of a man
Lock'd up in woman's love. I scent the air
Of blessings, when I come but near the house;
What a delicious breathe marriage sends forth.
The violet-bed's not sweeter. Honest wedlock
Is like the banqueting-house built in a garden
On which the spring's chaste flowers take delight.
To cast their modest odors.
Marriage can be so wonderful that it even smells good. It can be all that God intended it to be if we obey the principles He gives us. Making marriage marvelous is a matter of making sure the ingredients that Peter mentions in our text are mixed well into the relationship. As we inspect these ingredients take note of any that you lack, and do some shopping soon in the supermarket of God's abundant grace. Keep them on your prayer shopping list until you are well supplied. We want to concentrate on the ingredients which the wife is to add to the recipe for a marvelous marriage. One is a matter of external action, and the other is a matter of internal attraction. The visible and the invisible are both important. Let's look first at-
I. EXTERNAL ACTION.
Peter says that what you do as a wife is far more important than what you say. A woman's behavior has a powerful impact on a man even if he is an unbeliever. Peter knows he is writing to many women who are married to men who are not Christians. He says that by beautiful behavior they can win their husbands even without saying a word. Nowhere is it more true than in marriage that actions speak louder than words. So often wives try and convince their husbands by argument that the Bible is true. They are very seldom successful because it is hard for any man to admit that his wife has more good sense than himself. He will not be overly impressed if a religious experience changes his wife's vocabulary, but he will be impressed if it changes his behavior.
Many women do not like the action and behavior that Peter recommends, but when it is understood it is not hard to swallow. Submissiveness frightens a lot of women. They often think this is degrading for a wife. It seems to deny her equality, and it makes her a slave to the male chauvinist. This is a total misunderstanding of the principle involved. Jesus did not grasp at equality with the Father. He humbled Himself and took upon Himself the form of a servant. He was obedient even unto the death of the cross. The result was that God highly exalted Him, and gave Him a name above all names that at His name every knee should bow. The way of submission is the way to sublime exaltation. The wife who fulfills God's role, and is submissive to her husband will soon be on a pedestal of admiration. He will not treat her as mere equal, but as a precious gift far superior to what he is worthy to possess.
The principle of submissiveness is far more effective than the strategy of women's lib. Peter says that even a non-Christian husband will find it hard to remain an unbeliever if his wife lives with him in submissiveness. Peter is not guilty of a blind and unrealistic optimism. He does not say this is fool proof and will work in every case. He says wives should so live that some may be won by this means. Paul was all things to all men that by all means he might win some. Not all are saved because Christ died for all, and not will be won even if Christian wives obey Peter's advice, but the Christian wife is obligated to try.
It is of interest to note that Peter does not say anything about husbands with non-Christian wives. The implication is clear that right from the start it was easier for women to become Christians than for men. Women can respond to the Gospel on the basis of hearing. Faith comes by hearing to the feminine mind, but men are more skeptical and demand evidence more than women, and that is why the actions of Christian women are such a vital part of evangelism. Satan knew that the best way to influence a man was through a woman, and that is why he went to Eve first. In God's plan women are also leaders who influence men to follow Christ by being living examples of the power that comes through yielding to His lordship.
Jesus said that the servant is the greatest of all, and if women could only see that submission is the means by which they take first place they would not resist the role that makes them the key to God's best. The more the church, as the bride of Christ, submits to Christ, the more power she has to fulfill the will of God. The call to submission is not to degrade but to enrich and exalt. This same principle operates in marriage. Of course there are abusive husbands where submission can be a participation in their evils, but this is not to make the normal marriage be one where this principle is neglected, for it is the way to victory. A wife is not to strive for mere equality, but to aim for a much higher goal where she is exalted because of her submission. When she is pleasing to her husband by her actions which make him happy, he will exalt her and follow her leading even into the kingdom of God. Shakespeare's Katherine, who was the tamed shrew, finally came to this realization and said,
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
The idea of obey rubs women the wrong way, but it is only because of the false image of a master and slave. This is not the image of the Bible. Jesus did not obey the Father out of necessity as one who was bound to do what He did not want to do. He chose to obey the Father, and we are to choose to obey Christ, and the wife is to choose to obey the husband as an act of love. There are many exceptions where the wife ought never to obey the husband when he wants her to disobey God, or her own conscience. We are dealing here with the issue of cooperation where the wife gladly goes along with the husbands goals and seeks to be a helpmate. She is a helper and not one who hinders his goals, and the result is he is happy with her, and will honor her for this role. Jesus was not degraded by His obedience to God, and we are not degraded by obedience to Christ, and any idea that a wife is somehow degraded by obeying her husband is contrary to all that the Bible means by obedience. To obey is to be exalted, and that is the only kind of obedience the Word of God expects of a wife. Any obedience and submission that degrades her is not God's will.
Peter holds up Sarah as an example of a submissive wife. She was married to Abraham who was a very godly man, but it was not easy. He pulled up stakes often and was a wandering man. He got her involved in some foolish lies to protect himself and almost had her ending up in another man's harem. He did some foolish things, but still became a great man because of having a submissive wife. The facts of history make it clear that most great men of God are that because of the partnership they have with submissive wives. We can paraphrase the well known poem and say,
Wives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.
Take Emma Revell Moody for example. Who ever heard of her? Her husband was D. L. Moody who turned both England and America upside down for Christ. People all over the world know of and read the works of Moody the great evangelist. But what would he have been without his partner Emma? He met her when she was just 17, and she became a Sunday School teacher in a mission he was starting. She got a good education and was a public school teacher. Moody never finished his education, however, and had handicaps because of it. His wife was a major helper and instructed him all his life. They had three children, and one of the two sons paid her this tribute: "To you, father owed such an education as no one else could have given him." The other son, who was a Presbyterian pastor wrote, "My father's admiration for her was as boundless as his love for her. Till the day of his death he never ceased to wonder two things-the use God had made of him despite what he considered his handicaps, and the miracle of having won the love of a woman he considered so completely his superior."
She did everything for Moody. She wrote all of his letters, and handled all his money. She paid the bills and dozens of things that he might be free to do what God called him to do. Her submission to her husband's authority and goals, even though she was superior to him in many ways, did not degrade her, but made her one of the greatest influences in Christian history. She made her marriage a marvelous tool for the kingdom of God, and millions were added to the kingdom because of her submission.
Submission is not always easy even with a godly man, and it can be near torture with an ungodly man, but the principle is universal. The hope for a happy marriage lies in a wife's ability to be a good vice-president. Sometimes a president is absent, sick, or unable to function, and the vice-president has to be able to take over the duties of the president. The vice-president has to be equal with the president, and be ready to take over, but also have the added virtue of being a servant of the president. Such is the role of the wife in marriage. She is capable of being president, but her primary task is to help the president be successful in his task, and her submissive behavior is the means to this end. To be equal and yet submissive is exactly what we see in Christ. This means the wife has the most Christlike role in marriage. Lets look briefly at the second point which is-
II. INTERNAL ATTRACTION.
Peter urges wives to focus on the inner beauty of a quiet and gentle spirit. To be gentle and quiet rather than aggressive and loud is to be submissive. But where is the power in that to change life for the better? Gary Smalley in his book The Joy Of Committed Love tells of Mike and Gail. Their only competition was who hates who the most. They had no love for each other, or their two children. Mike went to a bar after work, and spent his night with other women. He came home late at night drunk, and he and Gail would have violent fights. Gail's only dream was to save up enough money to leave him.
A friend got hold of Gail and showed her this idea of Peter's about a gentle and quiet spirit. She was persuaded to try it. The first week nothing happened, but the second week she saw Mike begin to change in response to her radical change in behavior. They began to fall in love all over again. And now for over two decades they have helped many hundreds of other couples make the same discovery of the power of gentleness and quietness. These feminine qualities of life are not weak, but very powerful. Submission can conquer where aggression can never win. It is the tool by which a wife becomes a queen and not a slave. Submission is power, and it is folly to avoid it by thinking it is a form of weakness. It is the very power that is the basis for our salvation.
Jesus taught that the one who wants to be the greatest will need to learn how to be a servant. The wife who learns the power of submission and service will be the greatest leader in the marriage. All the ideas that make this issue of submission negative to women are a distortion. It is simply being Christlike in a way that will lead to exaltation. When seen in relation to Christ's spirit of submission it becomes the noblest of virtues. If a husband does not respond to a wife's submission by exalting her and making her delighted to submit, then he is the one failing to fulfill his role as a husband. He is in the place of God the Father in the relationship, and just as God exalted Jesus for His submission and obedience, so the husband is to do for the wife. If he does this, he fulfills his role and makes the marriage marvelous. If your marriage is not marvelous, one of you, or both of you, are not playing the role that God has ordained. Each partner doing their part, as Peter commands, will be daily making their marriage marvelous.