“Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest…”
The readings for this Sunday have a profoundly domestic bent. The OT lesson for morning prayer is from Ecclesiastes (9:4-10) and concludes in this manner:
“Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life and in thy labor which thou takest under the sun.”
While the morning reading from Ephesians (6:1-9) includes what I consider one of the most important verses in all of scripture—you can ask my children what it is if you’re curious.
In case you haven’t noticed, our early 21st century American culture is not a safe place for the raising of children. It is probably safer to their bodily health than the one I grew up in—I don’t think I wore a bicycle helmet until I was an adult and I remember being free to roam about the back of my parents’ cars until I was a teenager; my friends frequently spent the fourth of July shooting at each other with Roman candles and bottle rockets held in their naked hands—But our times are more deadly to their souls. One can observe the rates of mood disorders and consequent pharmacological intervention across many areas of the country and it makes you wonder. And many of the cultural products grouped under the general category of “entertainment” are deeply disturbing. It seems to me there are three principal ways by which the culture influences us: what we watch and listen to, what we read, and how we’re educated. I’d like to say that professing Christians aren’t as susceptible to these things as are unbelievers, but then, that would be ludicrous. If that were true, there would be a difference in how Christians treat, say, family difficulties that lead to divorce than unbelievers. But the sociologists tell us that there are no such differences.
So I’d like to try to offer a little corrective this morning by focusing on the best defense that a Christian family can have against invading culture: a good—or better yet a great—marriage. I’m not going to focus today on sin and the fruits of sin that can defile the marital union. That would be a depressing and discouraging litany. Instead I’m going to look at the positive and the normative and aim to be encouraging. And I apologize in advance for mostly addressing the men here, because…well, I only know about marriage from the man’s perspective. So what I’m going to tell you comes from two things, one is an analysis of scripture and the second is my limited experience of following it. But I do think I have some experience of keeping my wife happy and raising children who are reasonably content in that context. I met Kristen almost exactly 28 years ago and we’ve been married close to 24 years.
“Live joyfully with the wife thou lovest all the days of thy life…”
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen.†
We all asked our wives to marry us for a reason. Principally because we thought they were delightful and at some level we knew we needed—even craved—what they had. We swore to stay with them for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, all the days of our life. The Blessed Trinity created marriage as a sign of the union that would occur between the Son and the Church, the coming together of God and Man. There is nothing higher or more profound in the universe than marriage. The sacrament of marriage is above Baptism and the Eucharist. It is more ancient than they are. Marriage was given as the divinizing sacrament, effecting what it signified, to unfallen mankind—remember, “male and female created He them” while the latter two sacraments were provided essentially as medicines for fallen humanity. Man and wife leave their families and come together to produce their own integral and fruitful entity. Larger than either of them.
“Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the Lord…” (Proverbs 18:22)
We men need our wives in a variety of ways. We are not sufficient in ourselves, no matter what we might imagine sometimes in that strange place between our ears. I am convinced that for married men maturity in Christ requires loving communion with our wives. We will not reach our potential if we do not extend ourselves to serve her.
As St. Paul tells us in Romans 14:7, “…not one of us liveth to himself.” We need our wives for companionship and for fellowship. I know when I go on a trip away from home, I feel weird and incomplete. I can get cold and empty feeling pretty fast. A wife is a source of helpful advice and counsel and this can work in a variety of ways. For some of the more autistic among us, our wives are the public face of “Us, Incorporated.” They provide the tact, the social lubricant, and the open temperament necessary for effective dealing with most of the people in the world. My wife is, frankly, my social filter and keeps me informed of things that I should know about, say, you all. Or local happenings. After she visits her hairstylist, I am usually treated to a 15 minute synopsis of community events for the past six weeks or so. And I’m happy to hear it from her. Let’s not neglect the important fact that for at least half of us our wives are smarter than we are and it would be foolish in the extreme not to listen to what they have to say.
It’s also important to note that communication is a two-way street. If I don’t tell Kristen about things that are important and weighing on me, she won’t know enough to help me. It my experience, it is usually the husband that is the reticent one in the relationship and needs to be encouraged to share.
Our wives provide emotional balance. Men like to think that our wives are emotional while we are dispassionate, cool, and logical. The actual state, however, is that our wives have all the good emotions that lead to social cohesion while we’ve got the tempestuous ones that lead to death, destruction and mayhem. And truth and justice—we do get those good things. Just keep in mind that wrath, anger, irritability and grouchiness mostly segregate with the Y chromosome when you start thinking that your wife is the overly emotional one.
We need our wives for encouragement in our labors and for challenging us—in a loving way—when we act like jackasses. Which, of course, hardly ever happens.
Our wives are what motivate us to maintain civilization. Father Glenn is fond of stating—truly—that men are heads of their wives but that wives are the overseers of the household. As he says, the man enters into a matrimony, not a patrimony. Our wives need us to maintain a stable home environment with the strength of our bodies and the work of our minds. And they also need us, in time, to help fill it with children. But more about that later.
No, no, maybe now is a good place for it. We need our wives to meet our erotic desires. We’re complementary beings, sex means “difference” and God wants us to come together in all of our differences to unite to form “one flesh”. The human organism cannot reproduce as a lonely entity, and praise God for it. St. Paul tells the husband to:
“render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body but the wife. Defraud ye not the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.” 1 Corinthians 7:3-5
See! He calls it benevolence. So go and make sure you’re benevolent to one other. It’s Biblical. I could also direct your attention to Proverbs 5:19 and the entirety of the Song of Solomon. I’m not going to address those things this morning because children are present.
Another thing that the scriptures tell us about marriage is that we need to honor our wives if we expect to have our prayers heard. It’s kind of the same deal as in the Lord’s Prayer where we ask the Father to “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” So you see that if you don’t forgive you won’t be forgiven. Similarly, St. Peter tells husbands (1 Peter 3:7) to:
“…dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”
You see how that works? If you don’t honor your wife, your prayers will not be as effective. I believe I have seen this principle operating in my marriage. If you aren’t right with your wife, it is a lot harder to be right with God. I have become convinced through study of the scriptures that what our wives really want to do is to help us. This is what they were made to do
In the beginning, God said (Genesis 1:26-27; 2:15):
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion [over all of creation]. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them…And the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and keep it.”
When God looked on Adam he observed that (Genesis 2:18), “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him an helper suited for him.” So God sends the beasts to see if any one of them would work out, but no suitable companion is found—not even dogs. Then God forms woman and Adam says (Genesis 2:23-24):
“This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
Your woman, your wife, is oriented to help you achieve your goals in creation. And your job, as the husband, is to love and protect your wife and allow her to help you. I’m going to end with an exposition of a little passage in Ephesians, the epistle that probably provides more solid, homely advice than any other letter. St. Paul tell us (5:25-29):
“Husbands love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.”
This verse gives us men the pattern to follow with our wives. Marriage was established in the image of God’s relationship to his people. And within it, the husband gets to really—I’m serious here—play God. Sexual relations between man and wife reflect the communion of the divine with the human. Man and wife are made one flesh in marriage and we are made members of His Body, the church (Ephesians 5:30).
No husband or wife ever entered a marriage as a perfect person. Jesus Christ receives an imperfect bride and has the responsibility of loving, sanctifying and cleansing her. Husbands are called to the same ministry with our own wives, joining hands with them to become “heirs together of the grace of life.” Too often husbands exemplify the truth spoken by St. James 3:6 “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity…that it defileth the body and setteth on fire the course of nature and it is set on fire of hell.” Even when we aren’t overtly critical, we withhold our good feelings and praise from our wives. But what Jesus does with us is “sanctify and cleanse us by the washing of water by the word.” He encourages, He praises, He builds us up. “There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.” And so we should treat our wives. Tell her what she means to you. Don’t be afraid to get gushy, you can take it. Share yourself with her. Praise her for her virtues and accomplishments, her kindness to the children and to you (even though you probably haven’t done a darn thing to deserve it). Our job as husbands is to take a wife with her “spots, wrinkles, and blemishes” and wash out the spot, smooth out the wrinkles, and love out the blemishes over the course of the marriage so that she is made perfect. Spots are things that aren’t inherent but happen as a result of bad experiences. Our wives can hold a lot of guilt about their spots. Our job is to wash them away with our encouragement, our forgiveness, and our assurance that, in Jesus, all of our garments are made white with His blood and that He is purging our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God. Wrinkles are the result of disuse, of talents that never were developed and ideas that weren’t explored. Husbands should encourage their wives to develop their gifts and talents to the enrichment of their life together. Blemishes are structural issues, not related to sin. Deafness or blindness is a blemish. If your wife grew up teased about that blemish that she couldn’t help, she could be really sensitive about it. Your job as the husband is to give her a safe, secure, and encouraging place in which she can flourish despite any blemish.
Marriage should be the safest spot in the world for the two people involved. A place of rest and growth and peace and love. A refuge from the world. An icon of the relationship between God and mankind. So you husbands, “Live joyfully with the wife thou lovest all the days of thy life” and it will be very well with you in your last days.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen.†