Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Sermon for third mid-week Lent service: Table of Duties - To Husbands and To Wives

                                                                                    Mid-Lent 3
                                                                                    To Husbands and To Wives

We live in a very strange world. It is world that says men and women are the same. In fact they are so much the same, that a man can decide he is a woman; or a woman can decide she is a man, and everyone around that individual is supposed to act like this is just the way things are. It is asserted that men and women are completely interchangeable, and so marriage can occur between a man and a woman, or between two men, or between two women.

The basic idea that men and women are the same has been a focus of feminism in our culture. However, reality has a nagging way of not cooperating. The armed forces have been under tremendous pressure to admit women into infantry combat units and special forces. The problem is that men and women are not the same. Men are physically stronger. Women have continually been unable to meet the physical standards required by these combat units.

Men and women are different. My children know it. When they do not feel good or are hurt, they go to Amy. And this is not just because she is a Nurse Practitioner. Instead, when it comes to nurturing and comforting, moms are better at it than dads. Men and women are different.

Men and woman are different because we were created to be different. God created Adam. And then he said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will create a helper corresponding to him.” Now it is clear from these words that man needs woman. And it is also certain that they are not the same, because the woman corresponds to the man in the ways needed to serve as a helper to him. And the ultimate proof that they are not the same is that the one flesh union of man and woman is necessary to produce the outcome of marriage – a child. God’s Word describes an ordering to the creation of man and woman; husband and wife. St. Paul states it very clearly in 1 Corinthians chapter 11 when he says, “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” Woman was created from man. Woman was created for man, as the helper corresponding to him; the one without whom things are not very good. The world may not like to hear this, but Christ’s apostle says that this is a fact grounded in creation itself.
These facts of creation - this ordering of creation – then determines how husband and wife relate in marriage. Paul says in Ephesians chapter 5, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”
The statement, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord,” is the first verse listed in the Small Catechism under the heading “To Wives.” The subject of submission also appears in the second verse listed from 1 Peter 3: “They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

Now in the language of submission, the world hears the assertion of inequality – that women are of less worth and value. Yet the exact same language is used of the relation between God the Father and God the Son at the Last Day. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 15: “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” And of course, we confess that the Father and the Son are coequal.
For Paul, submission does not mean a relationship where one side gives and gives, and the other side takes and takes. In fact in Ephesians 5 the verse prior to the one telling wives to submit to their husbands says, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And this is not about controlling another to get what the man wants – not even in something as basic and foundational to marriage as sex. Indeed Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does.”
Man and woman have both been created in the image of God – God who is ordered as the persons of the Holy Trinity. Man and woman have both been redeemed by the events that we are preparing during Lent to remember again. Jesus died on the cross to give himself as the ransom for men and women. In his resurrection he has begun the resurrection of the body that he will share with both of them. In Christ we are the same – we are united as God’s people. In fact Paul wrote in Galatians chapter 3, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In Christ there is neither male nor female. Indeed, our Lord said that in the resurrection men and women will not live in marriage. But until our Lord returns, we live in the created orderings God has provided. And we live in them as God directs us in his word. For when we do we are living in harmony with the way God made things to work.
The problem is not the ordering of marriage. The problem is sin. After the Fall God said to Eve, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Women find themselves drawn to men who act in self-serving ways. Women also strive against men, competing for the headship that contradicts their own creation. Men act in selfish ways and abuse their position of headship as they take advantage of women.
You act this way. Husbands and wives act in selfish ways that put themselves before their spouse. Men take headship to mean that they get what they want – whatever is best for them. He runs the show and so it should all be about him. Women strive to be in charge in marriage – to get what they want. Guided by the lie of feminism they think they should be “equal” – meaning they disparage those things that are uniquely the gift of being a woman in motherhood, and instead seek to act like men. Men buy the same lie, and go right along with it as they fail in their own responsibilities of being a husband.
When we see the ways we fail to live in God’s ordering of marriage and confess our sin, in Christ we have forgiveness. And it is in Christ that we find that we find the ability to live in God’s design for marriage. The Spirit of Christ who has regenerated us and given us faith, moves us to live the life of faith in our marriage.
Under “To Wives” the Table of Duties list 1 Peter 3’s statement about wives being submissive as was Sarah. Yet this verse is actually a comparison to how Peter says Christian wives live now as he writes, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.” The apostle describes the life of faith which seeks to win over an unbelieving husband. He describes the gentle and quiet spirit which through faith harnesses the unique aptitude of a woman for living in her vocation of wife and mother.
And in particular, it is in verses addressed to husbands that we see the difference Christ makes for marriage. The Table of Duties lists “To Husbands” first, and rightly so. Man has been created for headship in marriage and family. And the conduct of this headship is modeled after Christ. Peter goes on to say in chapter 3, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
Yes, his wife is physically weaker. But the husband is to live in a way that reflect the knowledge of what God has done for both of them in Christ, and of the gift he has received from God in his wife – the helper corresponding to him. He is to honor his wife and recognize the unique status they share together – that they are co-heirs of God’s saving grace.
In the second verse under “To Husbands” Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” The apostles tells husbands to love their wives and not to be embittered toward them – not to be a jerk. The Greco-Roman world had descriptions of how husbands were live in marriage. What is notable is that the instruction to love the wife does not appear in any of them. This is uniquely a Christian focus that flows from God’s love in Christ for us.
And in Ephesians 5, after the brief statement to wives, Paul goes on spend the rest of the chapter addressing husbands and how they are to treat their wives. He says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” The sacrificial love of Jesus Christ for the Church is the pattern that is to guide the husband’s behavior.
And then Paul shifts and expresses it in a different way as he writes, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Joined together as one flesh before God, the husband views his wife as his own body. He cares for and cherishes her, just as Christ does to the Church, which is his body.
Men and women and different. Thank God we are! In marriage God joins husband and wife together as one flesh. They are ordered in marriage in a way that reflects God’s creation of Adam and Eve - the first husband and wife. Uniquely distinct from one another, husband and wife each are needed for marriage and family to be the blessing God has given. By the work of Christ’s Spirit they live in Christ, as they seek the good of one other.

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