President Jimmy Carter said, prior to his inauguration, that the strength of a nation lies in its family unit; I agree with him. God is very much concerned with the family concept. He instructed Adam and Eve to begin the first human family. This is patterned after the heavenly family that God is developing, and it will involve us. When God draws analogies to show His relationship to us, He uses terms that illustrate a family. Jesus Christ, we are told, loves the Church like a husband is supposed to love his wife (Ephesians 5:23-32). God reveals Himself as fulfilling both the roles of father and mother. We see God's love illustrated through the mother's role in Isaiah 49:15. "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee." So God compares Himself to a mother who literally brings a child forth, nourishes and dearly loves it.. You can see this analogy of God as a mother in Isaiah 66:9 as well. "Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith the Lord: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb?..." In Malachi 1:6 and 2:10, Revelation 21:7, and many other scriptures, God appears as a father to Israel and to the saints. We have Christ as a husband to the Church (Revelation 19:7, 9; Ephesians 5:25-32). We have Jesus Christ as our elder brother (Hebrews 2:11). God and Christ explain what it's like to live forever and continually draw analogies to the family unit! In the family unit people reach their full potential. It's inside the family unit that people can be happy and educated to contemplate God's purpose in their lives. Stripped of the family unit, most people are miserable and uncomfortable. They do not come up to the potential that God has in mind for eternity. There are exceptions, of course. The family unit is important to the nation, the Church and to the fulfillment of God's plan for the entire Universe. With this in mind, I would like to talk about one aspect of the physical family unit — the marriage relationship.
I would like to point out several observations from my experiences in dealing with people that should help us all improve, strengthen and build our marriages. "Marital rule one" is the most important rule of human relationships. "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them... " (Matthew 7:12). In other words, treat others — especially your mate — as you want to be treated. Now the husband who is "macho" or the "big wheel," puffed with lordly ego and authority and orders his wife around like a slave, should ask if that is the way he wants to be treated. Wives who like to punish their husbands by picking away at them and tearing them down by rehearsing their faults should ask if that is the way they want to be treated. The best way to learn to give is by analyzing your own needs. We all desire recognition, love, affection, attention, encouragement, inspiration, companionship, understanding, patience. Seeing what satisfies and makes you feel good teaches you to "turn on" and satisfy other people too. It's as simple as that. But it takes constant effort to do what you know you should!
In Ephesians 5:22-23, we read: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church... " This is part of God's inspired Word and IS a law of marital happiness. However, I believe there is a tendency to overemphasize this one facet to the point that some husbands "beat" their wives over the head with it. In some cases, rather than having a husband-wife relationship, they have a master-slave relationship or, at best, a father-daughter relationship. The master goes around and tells his slave what to do, when to do it and exactly how to do it. That's not a marital relationship. And the father-daughter relationship is one where there is a vast disparity in experience, wisdom, stature. A daughter honors her father. But a wife is to be one flesh with her husband. Husbands and wives are partners who ought to be sharing life in a unique relationship. The concept of wives being submissive is not the only biblical instruction to consider. I Peter 3:7 tells us just as authoritatively: "Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life... "
"Marital rule one"... "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them... " (Matthew 7:12).
I believe the term "weaker vessel" means physically, not mentally, not emotionally and certainly not spiritually. If the husband and wife emphasize that they are heirs together of the grace of life, this is closer to what God wants than the master-slave concept, which some have had in mind. "Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them" (Colossians 3:19). In the marital relationship, husbands and wives walk down the path of life together. There is a poster you can buy in bookstores that says: "Don't walk in front of me, I don't want to follow you. Don't walk behind me, I don't want to be your leader. Walk beside me, and we'll share life together." That's what marriage is all about. The husband is neither out in front nor is he behind, nor is the wife behind. Both should be walking down life's path together, hand in hand.
Some husbands tend to punish their wives by putting them down in public. A husband will make some complimentary remarks about some other woman and say, "Why can't you be like that?" or say, "Honey, why can't you cook like this? How come your pies are always burned?" That tears away at confidence and is certainly dangerous and destructive to the marriage. Now I think we have to recognize when we do those things and quit being a bully. Mates also punish each other by withholding what the Bible calls "due benevolence." This shouldn't be done. "Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also 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 one 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" (I Corinthians 7:3-5). This will tear down your marriage. But it's a common form of punishment, used mainly by wives, although there are husbands who use it. Wives sometimes punish their husbands by tearing down their confidence. While many wives stay at home, almost all husbands have to go out and get a job and provide the income. It's easy to sit in the background and complain about what he's doing. It's very easy to tear down his confidence. Unfortunately some women play this game! We need to find ways to compliment, encourage and support each other. We should realize that our mate is part of our flesh and when we criticize, tear down and wound, we are actually injuring our own bodies, and that is stupid. "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself" (Ephesians 5:28-29).
People tend to become what you make them. A friend of mine once said if you trust your children, they will rise to that trust. And if you are always suspicious of them, they will often sink to the level of conduct reflected in your suspicion. Treat them with respect and dignity, and they'll rise up to that level. It usually works the same in marriage. You treat your wife with respect and dignity, and she'll rise up to that level also. But if you treat her as somebody who's common and unimportant and unloved, she'll sink down into despair. The same is true for the husband. If the wife treats him as someone special and looks to him as someone special, honors, respects him and places him on that pedestal, he'll rise to it. "Nevertheless let everyone of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband" (Ephesians 5:33). We ought to be concerned with helping each other rise toward perfection!
We need to teach ourselves how to respond inside of marriage. Today, we have a mistaken idea, because of the freedom we have in our western society, that we have the privilege to say anything we want to anyone. But the Bible does not give us that freedom. If we harm others by our words we are accountable to God. "But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36). Proverbs 12:18 tells us: "There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health." Proverbs 18:21 says, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof." You might think you have the right to respond in any way you want to your mate, but God hasn't given you that right. The wise and righteous person teaches himself how to respond. "The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable: but the mouth of the wicked speaketh frowardness" (Proverbs 10:32). God praises the individual who uses the acceptable response. "He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace" (Proverbs 11:12). A wise man learns how to respond and realizes many times he should say nothing. "He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction" (Proverbs 13:3). There's a time not to respond in a negative way. "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). We as Christians have to train ourselves how to respond, how to answer.
The best way to learn to give is by analyzing your own needs. We all desire recognition, love, affection, attention, encouragement, inspiration...
Suppose you're late for a dinner party, and you both are scurrying around trying to get ready. The husband may say, "Honey, where are my shoes?" The wife, a bit upset by this time, says, "Well, if you'd clean up your closet, you'd know where your shoes are." Now we have antagonism. How you as a husband respond is important. You can say: "Hey, I'm not taking that from anybody. I didn't ask you for a smart comment, woman. I asked you where the shoes were. Now get 'em!" And what have you got? Deeper antagonism — that's all. A better response would be: "You know, you're right. But I still can't find my shoes." That comment takes the sting out. Then, if the wife realizes her wrong position, she will say, "Oh, I shouldn't have responded that way, I'm sorry," and help you find your shoes. No more antagonism. In Psalm 141:3 in a prayer to God, David says, "Set a watch, 0 Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips." He's saying to put a little governor between brain and mouth, a little check, a little balance, something to make us say: "Hey, wait a minute, is this a positive thing I'm going to say? Is it going to hurt? Is it wrong?" If it's wrong, you send it back to the brain with a little word repent next to it. If it's all right, it goes on out. So one observation of marriage is, teach yourself how to respond to your mate. Train yourself so that you aren't always rendering evil for evil. Turn the situation around. Somebody has to break the negative vibes that come up in marriage.
Every relationship is based on mutual need. Where there is no mutual need, relationships break down. In marriage if one person is always getting and taking but giving nothing, you have a breakdown. It's only when two people need and help each other that they really grow and develop throughout life. When you recognize your need for one another, you grow together. We need kind and thoughtful things said to us; we need to be cared for. Both husband and wife need it, so you must give it to each other. Mutual need is a biblical principle. I Corinthians 12, talking about the Body, the Church, says, "God has set the members everyone as it pleased Him." Then it says in verses 21-22: "And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary." The point Paul is making is that we all need one another. When we recognize that need, we respect one another, we love one another, we grow together. It's through that concept of mutual need that the relationship grows. In Ephesians 5:28, we read: "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself." When you give love to your mate, you get it all back. It's like putting money in the bank; you even get interest back with it!
I think that a lot of the problems that I've observed inside many marriages are that two people who start out together begin to grow apart. And this brings on problems. You have to strive to grow together and discuss your goals, plans, hopes, dreams. Communicate. Talk about important subjects such as: "Where are we going to be 10 years from now? What are our goals for the children? What do we hope to do? Where do we view ourselves religiously? What do we want from each other? Are we fulfilling each other's needs?" Happily married people will be sitting down and talking about these things quite often. It's extremely important. It will prevent the common problem of growing so far apart that one day you say, "Hey, I'm over here and my mate's over there," and then you scramble to try to get close again. It's a difficult thing to do. Don't let the problem ever get started. Communicate with one another. Talk about everything.
Work toward perfection
In conclusion, let's remind ourselves again to reinforce it in our minds: "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" (Ephesians 5:25-27). Christ wants a perfect marriage, and He knows that in order to get a perfect marriage He has to work at it. Christians should have the same goal that Jesus Christ has with His marriage. They should continually ask: "How can my marriage improve? What can I do to help? How can I uplift? How can I build? How can I create? How can we go forward? How can we grow?" In a good marriage two people want to make it better and better and better. Quoting Herbert W. Armstrong, "There can be no more wonderful physical blessing in this mortal human life than a happy marriage, based on true love, honor, integrity and faithfulness... " This is an essential part of Christianity.