March 8, 2020
It is great to be with you today after a trip to Israel a couple weeks ago. It was a great time as we visited places like Caesarea, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Jericho, Bethlehem and Jerusalem – the Temple Mount, Mount Zion, and the Mount of Olives. It was glorious as we concluded the trip with a visit to Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb, where we remembered the death and resurrection of Christ with Communion. It was sweet with very special people.
It was a deeply spiritual trip. I was enjoying the flight back to Charlotte on Lufthansa. I had downloaded Michael’s sermon from the previous Sunday, and had just finished listening to it – it was a great sermon – as was Josh’s last week. But on the plane, I looked across the aisle to one of the guys from the trip – an Elder to remain unnamed – who looked at me and said, “I have some great country music if you want to listen.” Merrill, I mean the Elder, was smirking, knowing my great admiration for country music. He said, here’s a good one, and made me listen to a song called Dead Skunk. No, it’s a real song. Some of the lyrics go like this, speaking of the skunk:
Crossin’ the highway late last night,
He shoulda looked left and he shoulda looked right.
He didn’t see the station wagon car,
The skunk got squashed and there you are.
You got your
Dead skunk in the middle of the road,
Dead skunk in the middle of the road,
Dead skunk in the middle of the road,
Stinkin’ to high heaven.
Where else but country music can you get such meaningful lyrics? The song goes on, I’ll spare you. It did get me thinking, though, about how country music is a gold mine for relationships, especially the wonderful and abiding husband-wife relationship. Consider the following (these, by the way, are actual song titles of country songs – I just picked the top ten among dozens):
- How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?
- I’m So Miserable Without You, It’s Just Like Having You Around
- If The Phone Don’t Ring, Baby, You’ll Know It’s Me
- If You Don’t Leave Me Alone, I’ll Go And Find Someone Else Who Will
- My John Deere Was Breaking Your Field, While Your Dear John Was Breaking My Heart
- How Come Your Dog Don’t Bite Nobody But Me?
- Thank God And Greyhound She’s Gone
- You Done Tore Out My Heart And Stomped That Sucker Flat
- You Were Only A Splinter As I Slid Down The Bannister Of Life
- You’re the Reason our Kids are so Ugly
Now, to be honest, there is one country song I kind of like. It’s by Rascal Flatts, titled, Backwards. It goes like this:
I was sitting on a barstool
In a barbecue joint in Tennessee,
When this old boy walked in
And he sat right down next to me.
I could tell he’d been through some hard times,
‘Cause there were tear stains on his old shirt,
And he said you wanna know what you get
When you play a country song backwards?
You get your house back,
You get your dog back,
You get your best friend Jack back,
You get your truck back,
You get your hair back,
Ya get your first and second jobs back,
Your front porch swing,
Your pretty little thing,
Your bling bling bling and a diamond ring,
You get your farm and the barn and the boat and the Harley,
And that old black cat named Charlie.
It sounds a little crazy, a little scattered and absurd,
But that’s what you get when you play a country song backwards.
Now that I’ve lost some of you to lyrics running through your minds, come back. You see, many songs – not just country songs – bewail the end of a relationship. Now, the Scripture says much about the abiding marriage relationship – as God is the one who created it. He knows how it should work – even in the midst of our country-song brokenness.
And so, for example, we find many household codes in the NT – by Paul and Peter, for example. You see, contrary to those songs, I’m actually trying in these past two sermons to see what Scripture says about how to live with each other – husbands and wives – to stay married till death do us part. Now remember, we are studying I Peter, where Peter is writing to struggling, suffering believers. His purpose is to tell them how to live beautiful lives in a culture that opposes you and your faith. How to live beautiful lives to make Christ and His Gospel attractive. You see, the marriage relationship is the model of the relationship Christ has with His bride, the church, and we should strive to make that model beautiful.
We’re in the main body of Peter’s letter, extending from 2:11 to 4:11. He starts by recording his own household code. But we must remember the context. If we simply use I Peter as marriage manual, as I said last time, we’re missing it. Peter lists three relationships of authority, within which those under authority may face challenges:
- People and Unbelieving Governments (2:13-17)
- Slaves and Unbelieving Masters (2:18-20)
- Wives and Unbelieving Husbands (3:1-6)
Very interestingly, Peter does not much address those in authority as Paul does. Paul, for example, has much to say to masters and their relationships with slaves or servants. He has much to say to husbands and their relationships with their wives. Peter says nothing to masters, and here very little to husbands. But what he says to husbands is deeply meaningful and frankly convicting. So read the text with me, I Peter 3:7.
To sum it up, Peter says we are to live with our wives in (our outline):
- An Understanding Way
- A Supportive Way
- An Honoring Way. Let’s look at each of those.
- First, I am to live with my wife in an understanding way. Literally, I am to live with her according to knowledge. I am to live with and know my wife. That seems easy enough, until you try to do it. It takes work. Now, most of the commentaries point out there are sexual undertones here. Without going into great depth in this audience, it simply means as a husband, I am to meet my wife’s sexual needs, not merely my own.
But further, what does that mean, I am to live with her according to knowledge? It means I am to be a student of my wife. I am to study her, understand her, know what makes her tick, not just what ticks her off. That’s right, guys, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to understand your wife. I know it sounds like mission impossible.
There was a man slowly walking along the beach one day on the coast of California when he discovered a genie’s bottle. When he rubbed it, the genie came out, and granted the man one wish. The man said, “I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii, but I’m afraid of flying. Would you build me a bridge to Hawaii?” The genie responded, “Listen, I know you humans think we can do anything, but do you understand what you’re asking? That’s a three thousand mile trip – that would be an engineering marvel. Ask for something else.” So the man thought for a moment and remembered why he had been walking on the beach. “Okay, my wife and I just had a fight. She says I never understand her – grant me the ability to understand women.” To which the genie responded, “You want that bridge two or four lanes?”
It may sound like an impossible mission, but we are commanded to live with our wives according to knowledge. When we say, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” to live with her according to knowledge means we’re willing to make the trip to Venus. You’re willing to live in her world, probe beneath the surface, understand and meet her needs and desires. Who is this woman you’ve married? What goes on inside her mind and heart? What are her fears? Her dreams? The idea is not only to know and understand her, but having done so, live with her in such a way that you are considerate with that knowledge – you do something with it. You know, when the Bible says we are to leave our parents and cleave to our wives, it means we are to be actively involved in the lives of our wives. We pursue them – we know them.
We’ve got to hear that, guys. Let’s be honest. We’ve hid behind the shield of ignorance long enough. The problem with most of us is not that we don’t know – the problem is that we refuse to act on the knowledge we already have. Live with your wives with knowledge – in an understanding and considerate way.
- Secondly, we are to live with them in a supportive way. I get that simply from the phrase, “live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman.” Now, that’s not meant to be demeaning, a slam or chauvinistic. We first need to eliminate, as I said last time, any idea of inferiority. Peter is not saying women are morally, spiritually, or intellectually weaker or inferior. They are not. Let’s be honest, many of our wives are superior in most of those ways. Some want to say Peter is referring to physical strength here, and I suppose there is a sense in which that is true. Generally, men are physically stronger than their wives. That’s not a statement of condescension – I wouldn’t want my wife to be able to beat me in arm wrestling.
The point is, we should use our strength to support our wives. To provide for and protect our wives. I remember reading a book on Christian counseling during my college years, and the author astutely pointed out that while a man’s primary need is significance, a woman’s primary need is security. She needs to feel secure in the relationship, and so God gave men strength to make that happen.
But, like many of God’s gifts, physical strength may also be used to abuse wives. And many of you have used your physical strength to intimidate and manipulate your wives. That is not what God intended. You should never raise your hand to your wife. That is not living with them in an understanding and considerate way.
I also think masculine physical strength may be used to abuse what I believe Peter is actually talking about in this passage. In what way, within the context, are women weaker? Is it just physical strength? I don’t think so. Earlier, in verse 1 of the chapter, Peter had told wives to be submissive to their own husbands, even as Paul had done in his letters. We saw this is a voluntary act on the part of the woman – they voluntarily place themselves under the headship and authority of their husbands. Remember, this isn’t an act of superiority – it isn’t that men have earned the right to be the head of their homes – it simply means that functionally, that’s the way God designed it. Tana – wisdom – seek counsel.
Of course, we understand the saying is true that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We understand the results of the curse – men often rule over their wives in a domineering, dictatorial, iron-fisted way. Peter says, don’t do it. Don’t wield your power and authority over your wife in an inappropriate way – live with them as with someone weaker. Meaning, they have less authority than you – they are voluntarily submitting to your leadership – don’t abuse it. Use your authority to live with them in an understanding way. Rather than using our strength and authority to get our way, we use it to support them. There is a sense in which we use our strength to serve them – is that not what Christ did for us? So what does Paul mean when he says, love your wives as Christ loved the church and give Himself up for her. Our strength should not be a source of intimidation and fear for them, it should be a source of strength and security as we lift them.
- Thirdly, we are to live with them in an honoring way – simply said – we are to honor our wives. How do we do that? The word literally speaks of honor, respect, recognition, price or value. In chapter 2, the word was translated, precious – the precious cornerstone. It means we esteem them, we place high value on them. It means we recognize, respect and acknowledge all they do, and honor them for the way God made them and for their priceless contributions to our lives and the lives of our families.
I really want to stress the vocal part of this responsibility. Most men are not very good at communicating, and most are even worse at verbalizing appreciation and honor for and to their wives. When is the last time you told your wife you appreciated her? When is the last time you complimented her? To honor is to affirm her gifts, abilities and accomplishments and express appreciation and gratitude, both privately, and publicly. One commentary said this: honor not expressed is not honor, gratitude not expressed is not gratitude. That old saying, I told you when I married you that I loved you – if it ever changes, I’ll let you know, is dumb.
A husband is to live with his wife in an understanding, supportive and honoring way. And we do that for a couple of very important reasons, one positive, one negative. The positive side of the truth is our wives are fellow heirs with us of the grace of life. Fellow heirs – they have been equally created in the image of God, they have been equally redeemed, and they have equal standing, grace and reward before the Father. Paul said it this way in Galatians 3, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” Whatever our station in life within the structures God has set up, we are all equal heirs of the grace of God.
And negatively speaking, if we fail to live with our wives in this way, our relationship with them will be less than what God designed it to be. And our relationship with Him will be less than it can be, because we see failure to apply these principles actually results in my prayers being hindered. You see, there is a sense in which my relationship with God affects all other relationships. And there is a sense in which my relationship with my wife affects my relationship with God. Abusing my relationship with my wife hinders my relationship with God.
There are three times we read that God will not hear our prayers:
- First, when we regard iniquity or wickedness in our hearts. If we are in willful sin, refusing to repent, God will not hear us. (Psalm 66:18)
- Second, when we ask for things with wrong motives – to spend it on our own pleasures rather than for God’s good purposes. (James 4:3)
- And third is here – if we refuse to understand, support and honor our wives. There is a sense in which, if we know what we should do in this relationship, and we don’t, we are sinning – we are keeping iniquity in our hearts. We are selfish, seeking our own pleasures, and not our wives – whom we are supposed to love as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself up for her.
In other words, while this a short verse, it is full of most necessary truth. Simple questions: does your wife feel understood, in that you seek to listen to and understand her? Does your wife feel supported, or intimidated? Does your wife feel honored, as a joint heir in the grace of life? Or does she feel beneath you because you make sure she knows who you are, rather than who Christ is?