Love And Respect
LOVE AND RESPECT
A single man preaching on marriage is like a guy who is color blind teaching an art class. Or a deaf person conducting an orchestra. It is like someone who is afraid of falling and flying teaching you how to skydive. It is like someone who is retired today teaching a teenager about texting. It is like a vegan teaching you how to make Texas BBQ. It is like someone who hasn’t been divorced judging those who are divorced. It is like someone who doesn’t have a gay son teaching on what the Bible says about homosexuality. It’s not that such folks don’t have insight. It isn’t that people who haven’t experienced something can’t teach what the Bible says about that something. It isn’t that our personal experience is the ultimate Truth over the Word of God. It is that we all come to the Word of God through our personal experience. And when we lack experience about what we are talking about it can make us less sensitive to the intricacies of that issue. If you don’t have experience in what you are talking about people have a legitimate reason not to take you seriously. Because the Word hasn’t been made flesh for that person. They are talking about abstract truth not truth that has been tried by the crucible of life. They are on the outside. They haven’t been initiated into what you have been initiated into. They haven’t gone through what you have gone through. There are limits to what you can say when you lack experience. I have enough experience to know that.
But when you are in the thick of it, when you are in the trenches, it is also true that you can lack perspective. As Proverbs 21:2 declares, “A person may think that their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart.” Just because we have experience in what we are talking about doesn’t mean we know what we are talking about because we may have taken the wrong lessons from our experience. And just because I don’t have personal experience about the subject of marriage doesn’t mean I can’t offer a valid perspective. Because it is the LORD who weighs the heart. The LORD knows your hearts and he knows mine, so we can hope that despite my lack of experience he can build a bridge between us where I can speak the truth in love to you.
And I believe in this text that bridge between me, a man who is single, and you who are married or have been married is this, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
Notice here what Paul does. He tells the Ephesians that this text in Genesis, the basis for biblical theology around marriage, which they thought was just about marriage, is actually truly about Christ and the Church. Marriage is a symbol, a sign, of Christ’s relationship to the Church. I may be single. But I know a lot about Jesus. And I know a lot about the Church. I have been called into Christ’s service and the service of His Church. By this bridge I cross the river of experience to speak to you with authority. This text suggests, that as a single pastor, I may have something to say even as a single pastor. Today I have four points.
- God is a matchmaker. As He guides a Shepherd to his or her people he guides a wife to her husband and vice versa.
- God prepares us for what He calls us to. As God prepares a pastor for His or her people he prepares a man for his wife and a wife for her husband
- As a Shepherd leads a church into health so to a man leads His family into health through Love and Respect.
- What you should do if you have not experienced the type of marriage that I am going to talk about today.
First, God is a matchmaker. Many of my ideas for this section of my sermon I draw from Derek and Ruth Prince’s book God is A Matchmaker: Seven Biblical Principles for Finding Your Mate. I don’t agree with everything the author says and where I differ I will add my own opinion. This section of the sermon is for those who are single, seeking marriage, married, and those who are thinking about remarriage. The main message is we need to prepare ourselves for marriage. If were not prepared when we entered into marriage that is okay. We just need to step up our game.
I bought God is a Matchmaker as a skeptic. Perhaps you have heard Bon Jovi’s lyrics, “shot through the heart and you’re to blame. You give love a bad name.” That about summed up my view of Christian marriage. It was very practical. I am jaded. Maybe some of you are as well. And sometimes Paul speaks of marriage in practical terms. Elsewhere, he says it is better to be single because a single man can devote themselves fully to the Lord whereas married people’s attentions are divided by their spouse’s concerns. I can tell you that those words are true. I have much time to give to you as a minister because I am single. And I love doing so. I do it gladly. It is not a burden for me. For I am your shepherd and I love you all with all my heart
But reading this book caused me to see how much being called as a pastor is like being called into marriage. In our church we call a pastor by forming a Pastor Nominating Committee or PNC. For those of you who have served on such committees you know that the process can be either long, arduous, and not enjoyable or long arduous, and enjoyable, depending upon your attitude and who you are doing it with. That sounds a lot like dating to me. In our church we don’t assign pastors to churches like some denominations. Instead we have an online matching system called the Church Leadership Connection, which by the way sounds like an internet dating site. Having done both internet dating and pastor to church dating I will tell you that the two are similar except church dating is way more awkward and intimidating. I mean to get this job I had to convince a room full of people that I was the right fit, then I had to convince like thirty people at Presbytery that I was the right fit, then I needed to preach before you guys and have you guys vote on me. I don’t know who I will marry but I think you will agree I am already ready to meet the in laws.
Anyone who has been on a PNC will tell you that the system is far from perfect. But anyone who has worked on a PNC will tell you that if you approach an imperfect system through prayer, waiting for the Lord’s Will to be done, than He can work out His calling through that imperfect system. He can call a Shepherd to you for your time of need. I know He has done so.
I believe in God’s calling for a Shepherd and a Church. I am living it. We are living it. But before I read Derek Prince’s book I was skeptical of God’s calling into marriage. But after reading it I have no choice but to believe. When Jesus convicted his generation of their hardness of heart in divorce he overruled Moses command by appealing to a higher precedent, that being how things were in the beginning, before the Fall, in the opening chapters of Genesis. Prince makes these observations about how God created Eve, a wife for Adam. I tried to reason my way out of agreeing with Him. But I could not. Basically, Prince argues that God is a matchmaker. In Genesis we see that God brings Eve to Adam. Even when Adam didn’t know what he was looking for. The scripture says that Eve was a help mate to Adam. This word for helper is also used in Exodus
I can not argue with these principles. God created man and woman in the image of God. Equal, both designed to rule over creation, but each with a different purpose. God designed Eve as a helper. the Hebrew means one who comes alongside to aid Adam in His journey. This term is also used again in Exodus 18:4 as the name of one of Moses’ son Eliezer. Moses named his son this to remember how God had helped his family in the wilderness. Thus the term seems to suggests someone that God sent to Adam to help him through the struggles of life not as a servant who is at his beck and call.
Maybe some of you are in marriages like this, what I would call a unity marriage. If you are not maybe you have seen it. In seminary I had a Hebrew professor who I greatly admired. He loved Hebrew, and he made me want to love Hebrew, even though I hated it. But his class wasn’t just about Hebrew. He also went on and on about how he loved his wife. Frankly, I remember more about His wife than I do about how to translate Hebrew. I meet few men who love their wives as Christ loved the church. My Hebrew professor was one of them. And when I finally met his wife I was like, “ oh she isn’t a super model.” She was just a regular woman to me. But together I saw they had a unity that I envied. A unity that I have longed for. I have longed to meet someone and declare as Adam declared, “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.” If you want that as well I am going to tell you how to prepare yourself for it. If that is not the way your marriage is I am going to tell you how it can become that with God’s help.
My second point is that God prepares us for what He calls us to. Many of the principles that Derek Prince lays out for a man and woman to prepare themselves for this type of marriage, I found to be how the LORD has been preparing me to be your Shepherd. He makes more suggestions than I have here. But I will give you what I think is relevant for this sermon.
First, Prince talks about the need to know your self worth, the need to know you are loved. As my mother once said to me during a dark hour in my life. “My son. My beloved son. My only son. You are worthy of love.” Our insecurities make us hard to live with in intimate relationships. The Lord has been teaching about the power of His love. He has been revealing to me revelations of the wonders of His Love. Because our Father loves us more than any man or woman ever will. His love is better than wine. While our marriage with our spouse ends at death our marriage to our Lord will go on forever because He has loved us with an undying love. We are the bride He is the bridegroom and he has come to cleanse us through the washing of the water and the Word. We need to be safe in the Lord’s love because His love is perfect and thus His love casts out fear and is safe. His love allows us to enter into relationships aware of our insecurities and not controlled by our insecurities. But human love is not perfect and thus not safe. There is always a level of risk in loving others in this world. I believe His love is the key to my restoration. It is the key to your restoration. It is the key to the restoration of the church. It is key to the restoration of broken marriages and relationships. I will speak more on this in the coming weeks. So stay tuned.
Second, Prince talks about your view towards others. Here he says humility is key. And he defines humility as I have defined it using Philippians 2:3, where Paul says we should consider others to be better than ourselves, or that we should lead others to surpass us. This is the best type of teacher, the best type of coach, one who is not afraid of losing their job, but tells everything they know so their students shall surpass them. I said this in my sermon on Unity before I read Derek Prince’s book. In fact, many of the things he says about marriage, I have said about the pastorate. I do not consider this to be a coincidence.
Third, Prince talks about honoring your parents. As Paul points out in Ephesians 6:1-3 this is the only one of the Ten Commandments with a future promise, “ so that it may go well with you and you may enjoy long life on the earth.” This too I have spoken about to you over the past few weeks. None of our parents are perfect. Even the best parents will not be able to give us some of the love and provision we need for life. But if you cannot even give thanks for the fact that without your parents you would not exist, than you cannot believe the Lord has a purpose for your life, which I believe He does, and thus you speak death over your life and death over your relationships. Give thanks for what your parents could give you, if even that is only your birth. Forgive them for that which they could not give you and trust your heavenly Father to give you what they lacked because they are broken people just like you. Your life will go better if you do. That isn’t my promise. It’s the LORD’s promise.
In churches, give thanks for what good past Shepherds of your church could give you. None of us are perfect. If by the time I am called away from here all of you speak well of me that is not because of me that is a sign of God’s Grace bringing Unity. If we can’t give thanks for the good and let go of the bad we shall be forever bound to bitterness. And we deserve to be free. We are not slaves to fear. We are children of God. I speak it forth because it is true. As I speak it forth so that the Spirit may make it true in your lives. It may be hard to cultivate these attitudes. From the time I set my heart towards the ministry till now it has been thirteen years. It may be hard to wait on the Lord. But if we hope in what we do not see we wait for it with patience. As Bruce Gordon reminded me with a beautiful book mark he gave me, we shall reap a harvest if we do not give up.
My Third point, a Shepherd, who can be male or female in our tradition, and a husband must lead through love and respect. Love and Respect is the title of a book by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. The book takes its title from today’s verse where Paul commands that husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church and wives should respect their husbands. The idea being that women are naturally more oriented towards needing love and men more oriented towards needing respect. The premise of the book is to avoid what Eggerich’s calls, “the cycle of crazy” in your marriage, you need a level of unconditional love and respect. Without unconditional love the wife will feel ignored and unloved. She will not feel cherished. Without unconditional respect the husband will feel disrespected and demoralized. He will feel his spouse has contempt for him. I have found this to be true in my own relationships. I have found this to be true in many marriages. And I have found this to be true in ministry.
I give thanks for Calvin every day. But it is not because you guys love me. In many churches the majority of the congregation love their pastor. But that alone isn’t enough to stop the cycle of crazy in church life. You all have been for me a spring of living water to me because you all respect me. You respect your pastor not just because I do my job, but for the very fact that I am your pastor, and as your pastor, the Lord commands a certain amount of unconditional respect. Because you all respect me that spurs me on to love you with all my heart and that leads to you all to respect me more. As the scriptures would say it is a tree of life not a root of bitterness. That does not mean my authority is without question. Not questioning your pastor and doing whatever he or she says isn’t healthy spiritual authority that is a cult. Likewise, never questioning your husband and always seeding to his will, is not healthy spiritual authority that is an abusive relationship. That is not a marriage that is a prison. We can be imprisoned in churches. We can be imprisoned in relationships. And if you are in a prison today I am telling you that you need to get out.
Still, unconditional love and respect are key. We all know what happens when you lose that respect for your pastor and when your pastor loses love for his or her sheep. It is a cycle of crazy. You feel like there is no escape. It seems to keep spiraling downward. There is enough blame to go around but the blame only increases the craziness. It is true for churches. It is true for marriages. It is true. You know it is so. The Spirit witnesses to your Spirits that it is so.
This passage raises a very contentious issue. The issue of Spiritual headship of the husband. Elsewhere Paul says the husband is the head as Christ is the head. Even in the church this is true to some respect though we do not interpret the scriptures to have gender specific roles for Elders or Pastors. In our Church we have Ruling Elders, who make the decisions for the church, and teaching elders or ministers of the Word and Sacrament, who have authority over preaching, worship, and the sacraments. Thus as a pastor I can preach on whatever I want to and schedule communion as often or as infrequently as I want. The Ruling Elders run the church. They make everyday decisions about church life. But I have found that if churches just considers the Pastor the hired gun, here to entertain and get butts in the pews, and not as the Spiritual Leader of the church, one who is first among equals, than the church just doesn’t work. Together the ruling elders and teaching elders represent the head who is Christ to you. And I am the moderator, the head of the session, and an ambassador of Christ, as the head of this local church. I am only human. I am better at some things and not as good at others. But if your respect for me is dependent on me being proficient, on performing, in every area of church life, than eventually that respect will fail because I am human and I will fail. And when that respect fails we enter the cycle of crazy. And without a certain level of unconditional respect we will never escape from it. So to is the case for marriage.
As the book of Genesis suggests, husband and wife are coheirs to creation, they are equal in substance, both called to reign and bring order to creation, but different in function. I was trained in a liberal seminary that had no concept of spiritual headship. I mean I remember going to see one speaker in Richmond. A black, feminist, theologian. She was about as independent of a woman as you can imagine. And God knows this idea of submission and male headship has been used to do oppress woman, abuse women, and turn you all into objects. But as this speaker was talking she said something that didn’t make any sense to me. She said the black community needed black men to cover their wives and families. It just didn’t seem to make any sense based on everything else she had said and her own persona. But even she couldn’t escape this sense of headship.
Headship is more than just fixing stuff. It is more than just providing for your family physically. As a man with not many practical skills outside of preaching and teaching, these everyday tasks are the things I worry about. And thus many of you men have much to teach me. But headship, as the Bible teaches, is about spiritual leadership, it is about covering your wife and family with your love, strength, and tenderness, so they can blossom into everything the Lord has meant them to be. I may not understand many of the practical things. But I understand the spiritual side. And if you are intimidated by that follow me as I am in Christ. As our Good Shepherd said his yoke is easy and his burden is light and you shall find rest for your souls. As a shepherd that is true in my life as well. My brothers We can teach each other. We can love each other. We can encourage each other. We can spur one another on to good works. We can grow with each other. Many of you are good men. But I will teach you to be men of God. Because our families, our churches, our nation need more than a few good men, they need men of God to rise up and exercise their headship with love, strength, courage, tenderness, and compassion. The scripture says we are to love our wives as Christ loved the church. I mean most of you know about how Jesus was crucified. It wasn’t exactly a cake walk even if He got to the resurrection eventually. But he did it for the joy set before Him. He did it for His bride who he cleansed with the washing of the water and the Word. This can be true in our lives. It can be true in our relationships. In our marriages. In our church. It can be true if we have courage, strength, compassion, and tenderness. The time has come for us to lead with love and respect.
To women, those who are married, and those who are unmarried, those who are divorced and thinking about remarriage, I have this to say. If you are looking for this type of unity in your marriage there is a price you must pay as well. The book Love and Respect has some suggestions about how to love your wife and how to respect your husband. Some of them are broad stereotypes that simply don’t apply to every man or woman. For example, the author makes the point that generally men are not great verbal communicators, and when they are upset they will often stonewall or give their wives the cold shoulder. I just got to say I am man, I am comfortable in my masculinity, I have my issues, but not communicating with my words isn’t one of them. Sometimes the love and respect roles are reversed. There is nothing wrong with that. So if you read the book and find some of the roles reversed just reverse the advice and do what it says.
I think what is most important in a marriage and in a church is unity of vision and vocation. We have the same idea about where we are going. Doesn’t matter how well you get along in other ways, if you are going in different directions in life, then you are in for a rude awakening eventually. And for so many men I know that their work isn’t just their work, it is part of their dignity, for some, like me, our occupations and vocations are so connected that they are one and the same. Should the man’s carrier come first? Certainly, it should not consume Him. A man must guard his family and many let their occupations consume their families. But many men are very connected to their vocation, doing is connected to their being, and we need our work to maintain our dignity. Sometimes our vocation, our calling, will be the same as our occupation. Sometimes it will be different. But many of us cannot sacrifice our vocation for the sake of our family. Because it is our vocation which makes us most alive. And when we are most alive we can best serve our wives and family.
Will that require a sacrifice on your part if you are wife? It depends. I have a good friend back in Richmond who is a stay at home dad. His wife is a Doctor. And I really respect Him. And raising children is a real job deserving of dignity and respect whether a man or woman does it and I have made the mistake of saying, “do you work or just stay at home.” That is wrong. But I know my friend. His vocation is not tied up in his occupation, what he gets paid for. I think he is the exception. A lot of men simply are not like that. I have another friend who is the founder of a nonprofit in Richmond. His wife is an E.R doctor. She makes way more money than her husband ever will. But it is clear who’s calling comes first. My friend grew a nonprofit from nothing into a million dollar nonprofit. And I know his wife had to make a lot of sacrifices to walk with him in that journey even though she will always make more money than Him. What we are called to, our vocation, the work our heart is devoted to, isn’t always the same as our occupation, how we make a living. But if you are a wife and you are not willing to support your husband in his vocation, his work and his interests that His heart is called to, you will not experience the sort of freedom and flourishing I have talked about, and your marriage will go through much strain.
I have not covered many things today. I have not covered divorce and remarriage. I have not covered what you should do if you are not happy in your marriage. That’s because those things are entire sermons in and of themselves and I cannot do them full justice today. My experience as a shepherd has taught me that Grace is simple, people are complicated, and I try to walk with people in the mess. As our call to worship suggests today I may not know all the ways Jesus teaching on marriage and divorce apply today but I do know the heart of Christ is not to shame the orphan, the widow, the divorced, and the outcast. The heart of Christ is to restore us. Guilt and shame was nailed to the cross. I don’t believe in guilt and shame. I believe in Jesus the one who scorned the shame for the joy set before him.
All you need is love the Beatle’s sang. That is the anthem of the age. But we who have been initiated, we who have been tempted and tried, we who have fallen flat on our faces, know that isn’t true. No human love can help us escape the cycle of crazy or bind man and woman together in the unity described in the opening chapter of Genesis. Only the Lord’s love, a love that casts out fear, the love of our perfect Father, who’s love is better than wine, who has loved us with an undying love, who gives good gifts to His children, only that love can bind two together with the unity that was in the beginning. Only fear of the Lord, respect for your pastor, and respect for your husband can keep us from contempt when love seems to fail. What does it take to bond two into one, to revive a marriage, to revive a church? The answer is here for those with the eyes to see and the ears to hear. The answer is love and respect.
In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.