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Priorities Chapter 2: For Husbands and Wives

Tela ChheArt Remus couldn’t sleep. He was dying of cancer, and the process seemed to consume every minute of his existence.

The doctor hadn’t said much—he hadn’t needed to. The familiar twinkle was gone from his eyes; there were no more jokes. These things had betrayed the truth: The disease was out of control. Art wouldn’t live long.

As he waited for the pain pills to bring coveted sleep, his thoughts swirled like elusive snowflakes on a windy day.

Wanting to spare his daughter the imposing task of cleaning out after his death, Art had spent hours sorting through the contents of his house. One day he found the diaries his wife had left behind when she died. He leafed through the first one and began to read—until tears began to blur his vision. The pain that ripped his heart was worse than that which coursed through his body. The words were the quiet tears of a miserable, lonely woman.

While he had been climbing and clawing his way to the top of the business world and collecting the trophies of his success, her heart had been bleeding in secret—empty and without fulfillment. While he had traveled across the country and wined and dined his clients—and worked and worked and worked—his wife had raised their children and taken care of their home—alone. While he had basked in the recognition and respect of the community, his wife had yearned for some attention. While he had kept an eye on his investments and had gained riches, his marriage had floundered in bankruptcy—and he hadn’t even seen it. Turning the pages, he shuddered as he realized that her life had ended long before she died. Now he was haunted by the lingering thought that it could have been different. If only he had told her he loved her. If only she had been the first priority of his life.

Art’s mistake is repeated untold thousands of times by both husbands and wives. They use up their lives on trivial pursuits, abandoning the true treasures in their lives—their marriages. They trade this precious pearl for baubles of painted plastic. Then, when nothing is left except memories and a tombstone, or bitter words meant to hurt, or when the family has splintered and the judge’s gavel signals the end of the marriage, they wonder what happened. Far too many catch on only as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Some never do catch on.

For many, the journey down that errant path begins innocently enough. It had for Art. His father’s drinking binges had shaped much of Art’s perspective on life. The sporadic binges and consequent job losses had extinguished any hopes the family had for a comfortable life. Art was determined to do better for his family. His family wouldn’t shrink under the pitying gaze of the community or live in the most run-down house in the neighborhood. People wouldn’t snicker at Art Remus the way they had at his father.

And they hadn’t.

Art’s obsession to succeed had driven his life. That goal governed his priorities. Hard work was his trademark. But now he had to wonder whether his addiction to work wasn’t just as destructive as his dad’s addiction to booze. He could no longer deny the truth: His marriage had fallen victim to his skewed priorities.

Marriage is a most precious institution from God. Through this institution God bestows a special companionship, a companionship that delights in the highest level of intimacy. Through this institution God establishes the family and gives the blessing of children. The family, which God provides, forms an umbrella of nurture and love for children and a vehicle to carry God’s Word of salvation from generation to generation.

It is hard to think of an earthly blessing more precious or more important than marriage—or more neglected.

In Ephesians chapter 5, the inspired writer points to the reason why Christian couples view the institution of marriage as a priority. He compares the relationship between a husband and his wife to the glorious relationship between Christ and the church. “Husbands,” Paul writes, “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (verse 25).

Love your wives. But Scripture isn’t talking about the spiceless love the world exhibits—love that is little more than liking something that pleases us. Instead, God’s formula for love between husbands and wives involves the same kind of love that he has for us—the sort of love that is shown by action and purpose. Christ demonstrated such love when he willingly took God’s anger for our sin upon himself. His love stems from a commitment that exists whether or not there is a response. In fact, he loves us even when we don’t love him. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). That same kind of active love is what God wants husbands to have for their wives.

A husband reflects that kind of love when he gives his wife the number one position (under God) in his life. He cherishes his wife as a gift from God, and his actions show how much she means to him. He lives for her and would even die for her as Christ willingly died for the church. He is sensitive to her needs and desires and is eager to satisfy them. He recognizes that she needs his companionship, and he loves her so much he is willing to sacrifice other interests in order to spend time with her. He knows that a status symbol car is not what his wife needs. A house in the right neighborhood will not satisfy her deepest yearning. She needs companionship. As her closest companion, the husband strives to give his wife what she needs. And above all, as the spiritual leader in the family, he eagerly shares his eternal hope with her. He takes her to church, prays for her and with her, and studies God’s Word with her—and as they grow in their love for God, they will grow in their love for each other.

A Christian husband is always mindful of the love his Lord has showered upon him. Following Christ’s example, he expresses his love without looking for any response in return. Living for his wife is a priority for him—a priority he will not forget when he considers a job promotion or his hunting and fishing schedule or the offer of tickets to a professional hockey game. Living for her is a priority because his marriage is one of his highest blessings from God.

Marriage is a blessing of equal importance for the wife and, according to the Scriptures, deserves equal consideration from her. Paul wrote, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-24). A woman is to respect the leadership role God has given her husband and to encourage him in carrying out that role. The relationship of the church to Christ is her model. As members of Christ’s church, we recognize that Christ is our head, and we gladly put the goal of his honor and glory ahead of our own desires. We do this gladly because he is the very source of our lives.

So also, the Christian wife sees the role of supporting her husband as the highest priority, even higher than her own happiness and joy. She gladly supports her husband because she recognizes the blessings God has given them through marriage. She views her role as a special way to thank God for counting her as his child—a child who possesses the treasures of God’s eternal kingdom. As a fellow heir of God’s glory, she is careful not to be a snare to her husband by coaxing him to follow the path of materialism. Instead, she helps him recognize that the rock-solid promises of God are more important than the short-lived material trappings that mark their lives together. She encourages him with the reminder from the psalmist who said that the man is blessed who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly or stand in the way of the sinner or sit in the seat of the mocker, but delights instead in the law of the Lord. In times of challenge and adversity, she reminds her husband of the faithful love their Lord has not only promised but has shown them many times. She lovingly encourages him to remember their responsibility to model God’s love for their children. She encourages his attempts, no matter how halting or imperfect, to be the spiritual leader of the family. Living the respect she has for her husband is the top priority for a wife.

God highlighted the priorities of a husband and wife toward each other in one short sentence. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). To those who have imbibed the deadly poison dispensed by our self-centered society, submit is a bad word. To the Christian, however, it is not. Rather, in that word, the Christian sees the loving commitment husband and wife have for each other. They are so committed to each other that they are willing to live for each other. Each puts his or her own interests behind those of the other, their marriage, and Christ.

Yes, submitting to each other also goes against our sinful natures. But we can and will gladly submit to each other when we see that Jesus submitted to the will of his Father in order to bless us—his bride. Out of reverence for Christ, we can commit our lives to each other. With power from the Holy Spirit, we can root out the selfishness that pokes to the surface of our hearts. We can nurture the desire to serve each other. Marriages that grow in such a garden will flourish, blossom, and bear fruit. Marriages that don’t will whither and die at an alarming rate.

In 1981, officials in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, sponsored a divorce counseling seminar to which they invited interested seniors at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. The invitation letter suggested that future members of the clergy might be interested in the seminar. A number of seniors were interested enough to attend—but were dismayed by what they heard. Speaker after speaker (divorce lawyers, psychologists, and counselors of various stripes) all had the same message: “If you are not getting out of marriage what you want, then you should get out of your marriage.” They actually said it in just those words. Never in the course of the two-hour presentation did anyone mention trying to strengthen or rebuild a marriage. Never did anyone suggest that marriage requires work or sacrifice. “If it isn’t helping your career, your self-esteem, your whatever, then free yourself from that burden.” That was the clear message. The suggested priorities were evident: your career, your happiness, your goals—you. Though the students were saddened by what they heard, they did learn something that day, namely, the reason the estate of marriage is in its present condition. The world has bought into the philosophy expressed so eloquently that evening. It is no wonder that a large percentage of marriages end in divorce. Marriages of those who hold such a self-loving, self-centered view of marriage have little chance of survival.

God’s Word doesn’t ask us to focus on what we can “get out” of marriage. God tells us, instead, to focus on what we put into it. The question isn’t whether our partner is uphold­ing his or her role, but whether we are fulfilling ours. And what are we to put into our marriages? Paul’s words to the Ephesians are very clear—everything, even life itself, if need be.

For a Christian husband and wife, nurturing their marriage will be a priority, just as nurturing a garden is a priority for a gardener.

The Art Remuses of the world think their marriages will flourish by themselves. They throw their energy into their careers in order to reap the spoils of success, or they get busy and build a house that will take three jobs to finance, leaving little time for each other. Others follow a different path—eager to give the world to their children, they sign up for every activity, then spend their years driving from game to recital to class. In both cases, the spiritual training and family nurturing is put off until tomorrow. One day they stop to look at the marriage garden and are surprised to see that the flowers are gone, the leaves have withered. In essence, it is dead.

Let’s talk about this:

We show our appreciation for the spouses God has given us by demonstrating our love with our actions.

  1. How does a husband show love for (serve) his wife in the following areas?
    • Companionship
    • Providing for well-being
    • Communication
    • Spiritual relationship
    • Sex
  1. How does the wife show respect for (serve) her husband in those same areas?
  • Companionship
  • Providing for well-being
  • Communication
  • Spiritual relationship
  • Sex
  1. List some specific things you will do, out of thanks to Christ and out of love for your spouse, to serve your spouse. (Consider especially the areas listed above in questions 1 and 2.)