A Little Bit of Heaven on Earth

Ephesians 5:21 (ESV)
21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Dear Friends in Christ,                                                                                             

   Some years ago the Saturday Evening Post ran an article entitled “The Seven Ages of the Married Cold.”  It revealed a series of reactions that a husband gave to his wife’s colds during the first 7 years of their marriage.  And this is how it went:  The first year when his wife came down with a cold the husband said, “Sugar Dumpling, I’m really worried about my baby girl.  You’ve got a bad sniffle and there’s no telling about these things with all the strep going around.  I’m putting you in the hospital this afternoon for a general check-up and a good rest.  I know the food’s lousy, but I’ll be bringing in your meals from Rossini’s.  I’ve already got it all arranged with the floor superintendent.”  Second year: “Listen, Darling, I don’t like the sound of that cough so I’ve called Dr. Miller to rush over here.  Now you go to bed like a good girl, please, just for Papa.”  Third year:  “Maybe you’d better lie down, Honey – nothing like a little rest when you feel lousy.  I’ll bring you something.  Do we have any canned soup?”  Fourth year: “Now look, Dear, be sensible.  After you’ve fed the kids, gotten the dishes done and the floor finished, you’d better lie down.”  Fifth year: “Why don’t you take a couple of aspirin?”  Sixth year:  “If you’d just gargle or something instead of sitting around barking like a seal all evening!”  Seventh year: “For Pete’s sake, stop sneezing!  You trying to give me pneumonia?”  That’s the decline of marriage as seen through the eyes of the common cold.

   The great British general Bernard Montgomery once gave the following advice to his troops.  He said, “Gentlemen, don’t even think about marriage until you have mastered the art of warfare.”  Indeed, there does seem to be a lot of warfare going on in many marriages these days.  The American home in many instances has become a veritable battleground where husbands and wives go at one another with all the ferocity of two wild animals fighting over a dead carcass, and sadly, in so many of those cases the children are the ones who are being torn asunder.

   All of which is very good reason why I want to spend some time examining the whole subject of marriage today as we get back to my sermon series on the 10 Commandments that we took a break from during the Advent and Christmas seasons.  When we took that break we were studying the 6th Commandment which is “You shall not commit adultery.”  So since this commandment deals in part with unfaithfulness in marriage, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about some of the key ingredients that we can mix into our marriages to help fortify them against things like adultery, conflict, abuse, and divorce. 

   And the first of those ingredients and perhaps the most obvious is love.  But as we all know, love can mean different things to different people.  For example, a little 1st grade boy might say that he is in love with that cute little girl who sits across from him.  Or in the course of an evening I can tell my wife that I really loved the meal that she prepared for supper only to tell her that I love her when we go to bed later on.  Now obviously and hopefully I love her in a way far different than I love the food she prepared for our evening meal. 

   Well, nobody understood these different levels of love better than the ancient Greeks who actually had 3 different words for our one word love.  The lowest form of love, according to the Greeks, was known as eros from which we get our English word erotic.  This was a sexually motivated love, a love based purely upon physical attraction – not exactly the kind of love that you would want to build a lifelong marriage upon because our physical qualities have a way of fading over the course of time.  For example, here is a picture of me back when I was in college (show picture of my head on the body of Arnold Schwartzenegger) and look at me now.  I’m thankful that my wife and I had more than eros love for one another when we got married or she would have left me a long time ago.

   The second form of love according to the Greeks was known as philia from which we get our English word “Philadelphia,” the city of brotherly love.  This is the kind of love that exists between friends and while I would hope that those of you who are married would always think of your spouse as your very best friend in life, that’s still not quite the kind of love that you want to build a marriage upon.  For that you want the highest form of love which, according to the Greeks, was known as agapeAgape is a self-giving, self-sacrificing kind of love.  It’s the kind of love in which you always place your partner and their needs and their desires ahead of yourself and your needs and your desires.  This is the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated for his bride, the Church, when he willingly gave his life into death on the cross to pay for all of our sins so that we could one day spend eternal life with him.

   Some years ago I ran across a beautiful example of agape love that came in the form of a fellow with a rather unusual name.  His name was Robertson McQuilkin.  As a young man he had dreamed of becoming the president of Columbia Bible College in Columbia, SC, the same position his father had held when Robertson was younger.  And sure enough, his dream came true.  And as he assumed his position as president of this Christian college, he sensed in a very strong way that this was God’s calling on his life.  It was definitely what God wanted him to do.  And he did it well.

   But then came the time when this very special and gifted man realized he had a tragedy developing in his home right before his very eyes as his beloved wife was beginning to show the tell-tale signs of Alzheimer’s disease.  And this was no slow moving case either.  In just a matter of months she not only lost her memory of their life together, but she even reached the point where she no longer recognized him as her husband.

   It was then that Robertson McQuilkin made the decision to give up his dream and resign his presidency at Columbia Bible College so that he could give his wife the full-time care and attention that she needed.  Needless to say, there were those who disagreed with his decision.  There were the realists who told him there was no point to what he was doing because any good old soul could take care of his wife, but not just any good old soul could be the president of Columbia Bible College.  And besides, his wife didn’t even recognize him anymore.

   Then there were the pious critics who pointed out that he was walking away from a calling that had been given to him by God himself.  He was letting his personal concern for his wife get in the way of his service to the Lord.

   But Robertson McQuilkin had answers for all his critics.  To the realists he readily admitted that it was true.  His wife no longer knew who he was.  But, he said, that wasn’t the point.  The important thing is that he still knew who she was and he still saw in her now forgetful self the same lovely woman he had married years before.  Then to his pious critics who felt he was abandoning God’s call, he had an even better answer.  He told them, “There is only one thing in life more important than a calling, and that is a promise.  And I promised to be there for her ‘till death do us part.’”  And so he was until after 40 years of marriage his wife went home to be with the Lord. Oh how I pray that that kind of sacrifice, that kind of unselfishness, that kind of agape love will penetrate and permeate the marriages that are represented here today and that will be listening in over our radio broadcast next Sunday.

   But then a second ingredient that is necessary for a strong and healthy marriage is what I like to call mutual submission.  I get that term from Eph. 5 where the Apostle Paul lays out for us God’s blueprint for marriage.  In v. 21 he says: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  Then he goes on to describe how this idea of mutual submission should work its way out in a marriage relationship.  He begins with the wives and he says that they are to submit to their husbands in the same way that the church submits itself to Christ.  Now a lot of women don’t like that passage because they feel Paul is being a male chauvinist here, that he’s saying wives are inferior to their husbands; but he’s not saying anything of the sort.  When he says that wives are to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ, we need to ask ourselves, “How exactly does the church do that?  How does the church show its submission to Christ?”  And the best and simplest answer that I’ve been able to come up with there is that the church shows its submission to Christ by striving to please Christ in all that it does.  Now is that asking too much of a wife to do for her husband?  I don’t think so…provided…and this to me is the key to it all so listen up, men…provided the husband submits to his wife the way Paul goes on to describe when he says that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.  So here we get back to that whole idea of sacrificial love, of the husband placing his wife and her needs and her desires ahead of himself and his needs and his desires.  If a husband will do that, do you think that wife is going to have any problem wanting to please him in all that she does?  I don’t.  In fact, what so often happens here is that this becomes a beautiful cycle that just kind of feeds off itself and repeats itself.  The more the husband loves his wife sacrificially, the more she’s going to want to please him.  And the more she goes out of her way to please him, the more he is going to want to make sacrifices for her. 

   That takes us to the final and most important ingredient that a couple needs to mix into their marriage to make it the best and strongest that it could possibly be.  And that ingredient would be none other than Jesus Christ.  When he is the Lord of the home, when he is the king of the marriage, when he is the head of the household and the unseen guest who has a permanent dwelling place not only in the home but also in the hearts of a married couple, that marriage stands the greatest chance of not just surviving but thriving in spite of all that the devil and the world might throw its way. 

   I believe that is one of the points Jesus is trying to get across to us in the familiar story of the wise and foolish builders that we heard about before in our Gospel reading.  In this story Jesus tells us that there were 2 men who were hard at work building houses.  The one was wise, the other was foolish.  The foolish one, we’re told, chose to build his house upon the sand.  Not a very bright idea, for when the winds and the rains and the floods came and beat against that house, that sandy foundation gave way and this brand new home collapsed and crumbled because it lacked a solid foundation.

   But then Jesus says there was the wise man and he chose to build his house on the rock.  And when the winds and the rains and the floods came and beat against that house, it stood firm and nothing could shake it.  Now in that story, what do you think is “the rock?”  Ask that question of most Christians and 99% of the time they will say Jesus is the rock.  In a sense that’s true, but in a sense it isn’t, for notice how Jesus puts it in this story.  He says: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”  So the rock is really the words of Christ, the principles that he has laid down for us in his Word on how to be a good husband, a good wife, a good mother, a good father, and so on. 

   And notice something else in this story.  Just because the wise man built his house on the rock did not mean that he was now somehow exempt from the storms of life.  Rather, they came to him just like they came to the foolish man.  But because his house was founded upon a solid, unshakeable, unmovable foundation, it was able to weather those storms and stand firm against them.

   So there you have it: 3 key ingredients for not just a good marriage, but a great marriage: sacrificial love, mutual submission, and Christ himself. Mix them into your marriage, my friends, and you’ll be amazed at how they can make your marriage what I’ve called it in my sermon title, a little bit of heaven on earth.  Amen.