In the beginning, on the sixth day of the creation, God created man and woman and joined them together as one, thus instituting the gift of marriage. This is not a small gift, but is a foundation of all human life and society. God intends that each child have a father and mother who love and nurture them and raise them in godly faith. Even where there are no children, marriage is a beautiful joining of man and woman as one flesh. So high and lofty is this fantastic gift that it is no less than a picture of Christ and His Bride, the holy Church.
But what do we humans do when we receive a good gift from God? We twist it. We wreck it. We make a mockery of it by creating immoral imitations of it. The godly joy of holy matrimony is replaced by all kinds of substitutions of which it is not my purpose to speak today. Suffice it to say that these false corruptions of marriage come from satan, who hates everything noble and beautiful that the Lord has created for us.
One of the ancient serpent’s favorite tactics to spoil marriage is to nurture hatred in the hearts of husbands. The devil finds ways to make the husband focus on negative aspects of his wife, whether they are real or imagined. His eyes become blinded to the many good and selfless efforts coming from his wife, and at the same time he fixates on the tiniest word or look which he can interpret as hate. Bitterness can grow in the man, gradually choking off his expressions of love towards her. He may stop saying kind words to her, and think to himself that it is not worth the effort to do anything good for her. Why bother?
We know extreme examples of this in men: abuse, adultery, the crushing of the gentle spirit of woman that a heartless man can do. May our dear Lord protect women from such men, and men from such destruction.
But it need not be so extreme. Harboring ugly resentment in either spouse, even if there is no visible expressions of hate, is not the Lord’s will for marriage. The Lord says to such men through Malachi: “The Lord is witness between you and the wife of your youth whom you despise, although she is your companion and the wife of your covenant.” So I also tell you: Guard your heart in regard to your spouse. Do not let it become bitter, and if so, repent and pray for the Lord’s healing for your marriage.
Once the devil has slithered his way into your marriage, it is very hard to evict him. He will work to make things worse, building up any negative feelings however he can. Soon a husband will regret his marriage. His wandering eye may find another woman. He may seek sexual sin with her, or perhaps he is looking for a substitute companion in place of the wife whom he has come to despise. This other woman who is not his wife may seem wonderful and sympathetic when he complains to her about his wife. She will indulge his feelings toward her, not necessarily in a sexual way, but in intimate conversation that ought to belong to the marital union.
Be warned! The Lord says that no adulterer will have a share in the kingdom of God. He will judge the adulterer and fornicator. In the apocryphal book of Sirach it says, “A man who commits adultery and thinks to himself, ‘Who sees me? No one sees me. Whom shall I fear? The Most High pays no attention to my sin.’ He fears only the eyes of men and does not consider that the eyes of the Lord are far brighter than the sun, and see all that men do, and peer even into secret corners. Such a man will be punished publicly in the city and will be caught when he least expects it.” And if you want to see a graphic picture of God’s wrath against breaking the Sixth Commandment, consider the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Fire and brimstone from heaven wiped them out so that no one in the cities survived.
Men, fight hard against the devil’s schemes. A key requirement is a simple but powerful attitude: Thankfulness. If the husband can simply get it in his thick head that his wife is a precious gift that the Lord has given to him, then how could his heart become bitter? If the man resists thankfulness, then he will wonder whether this woman, with all her faults, is worthy of him. What stupid thoughts! Yet men are vulnerable to them. Instead, they should think, “Wow! I am in no way worthy of this wonderful woman! God has joined us together, and she does so many things for me! How could I ever repay her for all she does? How could I ever be too grateful to God that He gave this treasure to me?”
But the sinful world around us joins the serpent in wanting to encourage marital dissatisfaction. It’s all about your happiness! If you are not happy with your spouse, time to move on! But rather than create happiness, it creates sadness and bitterness in both spouses. When it’s all about ME, then it is not about the one flesh union that the Lord desires. If it is about my happiness, then I do not see the tremendous gifts I receive, but instead I judge each gift to decide whether I really like it or not, can I find fault with it, should I hold out for a better gift, etc.
Out of gratefulness flows love. This is what the Lord wants for husbands, which creates an abundance of loving deeds and sacrifice for their wives. This is not merely a command, but it is the instruction from the Lord on how to have a harmonious union. Love! - not so much because you must, but because that will make both you and your spouse happier and more peaceful as well. Ironically, by stopping the focus on whether you feel happy, you actually end up more blessed, more joyous, and more contented.
If only we could do this better. And why can’t we? We have the best model for husbandly love ever. Christ our Lord loved the Church as her husband, willing to sacrifice Himself for her, even to the point of death on Calvary. How much should husbands love? That much. Suffer all, up to and including the worst limits this life can inflict.
If your marriage is difficult for some reason, take heart that you will not suffer so much as Christ. Do not forget that whatever you suffer in sacrifice to your wife, God sees, and He approves of your works done in faith. Don’t be discouraged.
But do not love your wife so much that she gets in the way of your love for God. Love should express itself in nurturing your wife and children in the true faith. That means teaching and leading the family in pious fear, love, and trust for God.
Wives can be a distraction or diversion away from the faith. Examples in Scripture include Adam, who should have loved God and His command more than his wife’s offer of eating some fruit. King Solomon should have refused to tolerate the idolatry of his many wives. Ahab would have been a much more godly king if he had refused to be led along by his wife, Jezebel.
Similar things can happen today. A man may think he is showing love to his wife when he is being permissive toward her. But true love would point her to God’s Word.
If spouses are united in the God’s Word, then reconciliation is that much easier. The Gospel will be quick to their lips, since it is always in their ears and hearts.
So may we all be.
We turn now to wives and their duties. Let wives be submissive to their husbands as to the Lord, even as Sarah obeyed Abraham. What a hard word! We say that it is hard in modern America, but it has never been easy. The first wife was told, “Your husband shall rule over you,” almost certainly in the sense of, “Let him rule over you.” If it flowed naturally for Eve, then there was no need to tell her this. In Eve (as well as Adam), the spirit of sin took root with pride and rebellion. And we are all her children.
Today hardly any woman will say that she obeys or submits to her husband. Why should she? She is equal to man. She should not make herself a slave! Or so says modern feminism.
But the Lord, whose ways are not our ways, says that if you want to be great, you should make yourself slave of all. Each one does so within their own vocation. We are all to be slaves of one another. This is not to say that a wife should be treated as a slave by her husband. Instead, the wife should willingly submit to her husband and gladly, out of love, do works of love for him. The husband should do no less for his wife.
This is not something the Lord takes lightly. He took human flesh to be a slave. He made Himself the servant of all, to offer up the best service of all. But he had to make Himself the lowest in order to do this.
If the marriage is working the way it should, with the husband loving his wife as his own body, then submitting to him should be no problem for the wife. He will use his God-given headship in order to benefit his wife, not lord it over her. But of course there are problems, not only in the wife but in the husband.
But these are really only excuses. A wife may point to the imperfections of her husband, which to be fair may be considerable, and then she might say, “I would submit to him except that he does this and that.” That excuse falls flat for two reasons. Christ submitted to human authorities even though they were nowhere close to His level of perfection and holiness and wisdom. Also we are supposed to submit to Christ, but we fail at that repeatedly, showing that a perfect object of submission does not improve our ability to submit.
So we all should set aside our excuses when it comes to submitting to earthly authorities. God grant us to do so.
When wives are enlightened by God’s Word to see clearly, they understand that God’s commandment to submit to husbands is not against them, but for their benefit. To view it in a positive way makes it easier. So they honor God as well as their husbands by setting aside pride. Such humble wives seem foolish and backwards to the world, but they are glorious in the sight of God. They also make themselves a wonderful gift to their husbands. Scripture pictures a good wife as a crown to her husband, more precious than pearls and gold.
If there is a submissive spirit in the wife, then she is able to adorn the marriage with all kinds of virtue and loving works for her family. As much as a contentious wife who constantly fights her husband is a source of sorrow to him, so also a noble wife of harmonious spirit is a source of joy to a man.
A loving wife will be filled with the fear of God and truly selfless love for her husband. She will create in her household peace and unity. Whatever burdens a husband bears, she will make them lighter.
Other fruits of a noble wife’s heart include wise words and actions, self-control, chastity, and hard work for her family. She will love her children dearly and see to their physical and spiritual well-being. Modesty and discipline will flow from her godliness. And there are many other fine virtues that a good wife shows.
Not all wives will be equal in all ways. A wife may wish she had other skills or virtues, just as one woman may envy another for what she thinks is superior beauty. But that is not the way of things. God creates each individual in their own way. One is not superior to the other, even if one gift is greater in one than another. God desires us to see that each gift we have is from Him, and whatever He withholds is for a good reason. Is He not the Potter who makes each piece of pottery according to His will? We should acknowledge that His will is good.
In this way, may we be content with what He has made us to be. This is not to say that we excuse sin by saying, “God made me this way.” Nor is it to excuse laziness, as if we should not work hard to cultivate each virtue we can. We should see clearly what is virtue and what is not, and praise God for what He has given to each one of us.
Thus wives and husbands alike will be filled with thanksgiving in the glorious and wondrous marriage estate.
God help us to do all this. Amen.
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