There are three relationships that are the most important anyone can have in life. All three are intimate, life changing and maturing. The relationship husbands and wives have with each other in marriage is the basis of family. The relationship people develop within their church is the basis of true lifelong community. The relationship that people have with Jesus Christ is foundational for both marriage and church fellowship. Today marriage is under attack and churches are in drastic decline because few have any real meaningful relationship with Jesus. Many churches have lost their way accommodating the world. Marriage has become what is fashionable rather than Biblical. And both institutions in becoming worldly – church and marriage – are unable to nurture families that produce the next generation of Bible believing Christians.
A couple of years ago my wife and I took a course on pastoral counseling and when the teacher came to the topic of marriage, he said the number one relationship killing issue in marriage was the issue of ‘centrality’. Who is at the center of your marriage – you, your spouse, your kids, mortgage, finances, possessions or lifestyle? I believe the real root of brokenness in marriage AND church is centrality – Jesus is not at the center. If a man doesn’t love Jesus first, he can never love his wife the way God intended. If a church doesn’t put Jesus first and foremost, that church can never build up true community fellowship and nurture family based Godly marriage.
The devil has taken over many a church and destroyed many marriages by getting people to focus on themselves only – their desires, fun and fitting in with the world – rather than Jesus. Paul tells the church at Ephesus; “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22-24). This is so counter cultural today – few accept it. How many women balk at submitting to their husbands while professing to submit to Jesus and His Word which includes this instruction?
Before the women start feeling condemned let me say this – I don’t blame you for balking because men can be absentee husbands – emotionally and spiritually – showing up in the marriage only for physical comforts and preferential treatment. I was a husband like that. Perhaps you were too? And many still are today. Wives put up with it and so does the church! How many husbands come to the altar rail to pray for their wife and family? How many men take a real interest in the church and come forward on behalf of their church community and family? When was the last time you heard a father in the church testify to his need for Jesus in his life, marriage and family? How many young men as sons and young women as daughters see their fathers stand with his peers accountable before Jesus and His church for their family life – and not just for the successes and praise but for their failures and brokenness? Men will give up their authority so they can do their own thing without being accountable.
Who are we accountable to? Rarely the church and this is very sad because it wasn’t always that way. In the 1700’s John Wesley’s discipleship groups would remove people from their fellowship if they habitually fell short: “If there be any among us who observe them not [rules of discipleship], who habitually break any of them, let it be made known unto them who watch over that soul as they that must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways; we will bear with him for a season: But then if he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls. -Wesley’s Works Vol. 8. pgs 270,271,272-274.” Some may think that very harsh but which is worse – maintaining a community discipline that protects by holding men accountable or the indifference and silent acceptance of absentee husbands and fathers in order to avoid confrontation?
As a former school principal I know that order breaks down when the leaders – those in charge of the classroom – are lax and don’t take the rules seriously themselves. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. What havoc is wreaked when the entirety of God’s Word isn’t taken seriously by the Church and by those who God places in authority! Every institution and the relationships fostered within them decline. Marriage is in decline and families are falling apart because many churches have lost their way and decline as well.
What instructions does God’s Word have for married men? “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27) Clearly love in a Godly marriage puts your wife first, after God and above all your own needs. Ultimately there is no room for selfishness. How can a man live up to that kind of dedication? Without Jesus front and center men drift back to the love of their own comforts, leaving wives a distant second at best. If you won’t submit to Jesus and follow His example in your marriage – what right do you have to expect your wife to submit to you? Men give up all spiritual authority and right because we want to please ourselves and do our own thing. When we abuse and abdicate the authority placed on us by God we leave it to the devil by default! And the devil is only too happy to take it and your family!
Church communities that have accommodated to the world’s notions of marriage and family are not Christ centered – How could they be since they don’t follow His Word. Jesus Himself said; “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4,5) . And if the world loving churches are not Christ centered they can’t disciple and support people in Godly marriages. Ironically, the very society, these accommodating churches deform themselves to get along with, deems them ‘irrelevant’ and ‘silly’. Young people leave the church and live lives of empty fun and materialism in what passes for community in our fake impersonal world.
Even churches that appear to follow His Word but remain silent about the unholy curriculum of our public schools regarding sexuality, marriage and family run counter to Jesus’ call upon His people; “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16) There is much talk of pornography in the pulpit and there should be because that too is a marriage and family killer but we remain silent about sending our children to public schools everyday where they learn about same sex marriages and gender blending. These churches too will decline because in one generation no one will take God’s Word on family, marriage and sexuality seriously. The child grown up will say to their parents- that’s not what I learned in school and why should I believe the rest of the Bible either!
I’ll conclude with Paul’s remarks about the mysterious linkage between healthy marriages and the true church. Paul quotes Jesus; “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:31-33) When the devil attacked the institution of the family and marriage with the blessing of some churches and the silence of other churches the quality of family life declined, marriage got shakier and now many young people see no need for this covenant relationship.
Where is Jesus in all this mess? Where are the Godly leaders pointing to God’s Word on these important issues? If there is no Jesus in the center, there can never be Godly love or respect in your marriage, your family or in your church. Respect from the wife is earned by the selfless love a husband gives his wife following Jesus in a Godly marriage – this is the basis of a stable nurturing family.
What can we do? Individually we can read and accept all of God’s Word, not just the parts that don’t conflict with our worldly views. We can accept the responsibility and authority in our churches, marriages and families and not shirk it. As men we can abide in His Word – really abide in it on a daily basis. No more absenteeism. I know God is faithful to forgive our shortcomings if we confess and ask Him (1 John 1:9). If Jesus isn’t at the centre of your life, your marriage and community – ask Him to be. He will fill the void (Rev. 3:20). He does it for me and he will do it for you.
Corporately as His true church we can repent and pray; “. . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) God saves His people and protects them from the evil one. Jesus at the centre of the church individually and corporately brings blessings and Godly order to our community, our marriages and our lives.