We are in between the most celebrated day of the spring, Mother’s Day, and the lack-lustre celebration of Dear Old Dad Day. So I thought it was time to speak on the family, a topic I really haven’t addressed in my time here.
I have some pretty good friends in the ministry. Sometimes these ministerial associates come to my house to talk shop or to discuss the latest theological trend. Other times it can be as unspiritual as watching hockey. I recall inviting a member of my pastoral staff for supper on one occasion. In that instance I went the second mile for a supper. I baked this ministerial colleague a cake. It was one of these real fancy cakes with fresh mandarin oranges in the creamy white frosting. It was high and fluffy and moist. It was a wonderful cake. I found that to make that cake as perfect as it was, took a special skill. I had to go by the recipe with absolute precision. The fact that a man named Duncan Hines helped a little is immaterial.
The recipe called for cooking oil in a special quantity. I used canola oil because of the lesser amount of cholesterol. It looks a little like another kind of oil called castor oil. Had I substituted, the results could have been messy. For you younger folk, castor oil is the greenish extract of a large tropical plant, which has been used for many years to ease constipation and induce vomiting. Basically, it’s WD40 for the gastro-intestinal tract. This esteemed member of the clergy doesn’t know about the kind of emotional struggle I had deciding on the best type of oil for the cake. I think, for his sake and our friendship, I chose the right kind.
If it is necessary to bake a cake according to a recipe, it is imperative that we apply the biblical pattern of home-building that the Holy Spirit directed through the pen of an anointed and inspired writer. There’s a blueprint to give us direction in order to build a home where God is honored. The fact that Scripture contains advice to men and women and children is proof in itself that God foresaw the need for a good foundation, constant maintenance and sometimes wholesale renovations to the oldest of institutions – the home. If every marriage was created in heaven there would be no need for biblical instruction. Clint Eastwood once quipped that marriage was made in heaven, but so is thunder and lightning!
Proverbs 24:3-4 3 by wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; 4 through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.
Homes can be built or rebuilt by Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge. These three words are connected to three action words: built, established and filled. Wisdom, understanding and knowledge are not things that get transferred to us in one deposit when we say, “I do.” Building, establishing and filling are processes that take time.
Wisdom is good construction material. Any house can be built, but it takes wisdom to create a home. It is not making wise purchases and making good deals on materials; it is seeing with discernment. It is a God-imparted skill to see the broad perspective. Wisdom is not a matter of saying the right words. It is having the right answers. We hire carpenters who measure and fit wood together. Bricklayers and plumbers are hired to install systems. We run chalk-lines and use levels to keep things fair. We constantly refer to the blueprint to ensure that we are building according to plan. Systems have to fit and different tradespeople have to co-operate. When this is done there are inspectors who go over the work to ensure it has been carried out according to the specifications of the blueprint. The finished product always reflects the builder. The wise builder is the one who knows that what he builds has to last.
If wisdom is needed to build a house, how much more is it needed to fashion a household? Houses and homes are not the same. People are not pieces of wood or blocks of stone. They can’t be cut and chiseled and forced into place. They can’t be treated as things. Paint and plaster can hide defects, but poorly built homes come apart to reveal gaping deficiencies. I realize that the traditional nuclear family is not the only unit that needs good advice on building. A man and a woman, or either of the two, are not only building a home they can live in; they are creating a pattern their children will likely copy. Ever say to one of your children, “This is the way my dad taught me to do it.” Mom’s say, “This is my mother’s recipe. She got it from her mother.”
“By wisdom a house is built.” Wisdom is passed on from generation to generation. I trust we pass on the right stuff. Where does this wisdom come from? God’s word gives us that broad perspective that we need to put together a structure that will be sound. He provides the tools and the blueprint. We supply the time and the labor. And we are the materials that are used. Once all the things that are necessary are in place and dedicated to the task, the work can begin.
Understanding establishes. Understanding means to act based on the wisdom. It is the ability to see from God’s perspective. It is responding with insight. It is acting without insecurity. The easiest response to an issue that involves you personally is to fight back, lash out and bite. Understanding gives the ability to respond rather than react. A response is a measured action and a reaction is an involuntary action, the proverbial “shoot from the hip” or “knee-jerk.”
How silly would it be to use a plan for a home that we know is structurally unsound? Cut the studs out of a bearing wall and a house will sag and founder. When we understand God’s blueprint we can establish something strong and we can be confident in it.
Let me speak to couples for a little while and to those who will be couples in the future. Paul borrows a verse from Genesis that sets the tone for the first and all other marriages, Ephesians 5:31-33: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
God put some foundational things in place to establish marriage. The steps to marriage include LOOSING, BINDING and STAYING:
- LOOSING: changing the nature of our ties with parents. When we marry we loosen some ties. Notice we don’t cut them, but we do create a new family. I’m no longer ‘‘Mommy’s boy - and my wife is no longer “Daddy’s girl.” The relationships are still strong, but Mommy doesn’t check my ears and Daddy doesn’t bandage her cut knee. We become one flesh, an indivisible unit.
- BINDING: being bound to your husband or wife. It is to be bound together by the strongest of ties. In the New Testament the word “united” is the same as “joined.” This binding does not mean imprisonment. The King James Version states the word as “cleaves to” your wife. Cleave used to be something my grandfather asked me to do with wood so it would fit in the stove. Some call it splitting. The biblical concept of cleaving is just the opposite. It is to be unsplit, if fact, “spliced” would be accurate. It means to be glued together. In the poetic language of Genesis 2 it means for one person’s being to be united with another’s.
- STAYING: making your bond a permanent one. God’s plan for a home and for marriage was for permanence. I need not belabour that issue. Pollster George Gallup, Jr. wrote of the condition of the home in the United States in particular and North America in general. He described the attack on marriage as a disease affecting the majority of his nation. As to the response to so much brokenness in homes, Gallup said it was, “an oddly neglected topic in a nation that has the worst record of broken marriages in the entire world.” I am not trying to add any pain to that already suffered because of stress fractures in relationships. People have suffered enough. We will have to have a strong spiritual factor built into our homes and marriages today if we expect them to endure.
Knowledge fills cold and drafty spaces in the way insulation fills walls and attics to make the house efficient to heat and cool. Knowledge is not the sum total of the information we store. It means learning with perception. It calls us to invest time in learning. It calls for a willingness to hear, a quest for the truth. It also allows us to get to the real roots of issues by dispelling ignorance. Because genuine knowledge depends so heavily on truth it fosters honesty and contributes to building real character. The superior source of knowledge is the Word of God. Homes are built as the Holy Spirit grants us clear perception. Homes are filled and lives become fulfilled as God’s instructions are taken seriously.
No discussion of marriage and home is thorough without Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians. Paul addresses each spouse and children and then uses an illustration to dramatize his point. Here is his direct advice to wives in Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
The basic role of the wife is submission to her husband even as the church is submissive to Christ. Paul makes the point that the Christian wife submits to her husband as she submits to the Lord. Yes ladies, that sports-watching, sometimes unshaven creature that always seems to be hungry or sitting at Tim Horton’s discussing politics or swapping fish stories when he should be finishing something at home. Mission impossible? When a wife asks, “Lord, how can I show my devotion?” Jesus answers: “By being submissive to your husband.”
Now men, let’s not think Paul ended his talk there and ladies don’t be worried. This shotgun has two barrels and we’ve only pulled one trigger yet. Let’s take aim at husbands. Here is Paul’s direct advice to husbands in Ephesians 6:25-30: 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but he: and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church- 30 for we are members of his body.” Husbands are ordered to love, to adore their wives: that woman with curlers and bad breath in the morning … whose mother thinks her daughter could have done a whole lot better for herself. When a man asks the Lord, “How can I be the kind of husband I ought to be?” God says, “The whole world will know the kind of husband you are by the way you treat your wife!” (Notice that Paul says twice as much to husbands as wives!) I’m not taking T-shirt orders, but could you honestly wear this? It comes in other colors.
Likewise, children need biblical instruction on their attitudes. Paul says in Ephesians 6:1-3: 1 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 Honor your father and mother--which is the first commandment with a promise-- 3 that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Then comes an added note for fathers in Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” It’s in the dedication ceremony.
Submission is the key to all home relationships. The power of a question is not so much the intelligence to ask one, as the wisdom to ask the right one?
- Wives may ask: Do I love my husband enough to live with him? We should ask: Do I love my husband enough to lift him up?
- Husbands may ask: Do I love my wife enough to live with her? We should ask: Do I love my wife enough to die for her?
- Children may ask: Why should I obey my parents? Don’t read it wrong. It says children should “obey their parents in the Lord.” There are more parents out of touch with God than any of us realize.
These are small changes in sentence form, but they reflect the difference between what our society seems to think homes are built on, and what God prescribes as foundational to a good home. Understand something important! Submission is not bondage. We submit to Christ because He is Lord. We submit because we need him?
Many tradespeople cooperate to build a house. They use a plan and they answer to the builder. Husbands and wives likewise lake their cue from Christ. He built the church on the foundation of His death and resurrection. He established the church in the power of the Holy Spirit. I like what John and Noel Piper state in their teaching on marriage. “Marriage is not mainly about being or staying in love. It’s mainly about telling the truth with our lives. It’s about portraying something true about Jesus Christ and the way he relates to his people. It’s about showing in real life the glory of the Gospel.” Christ fills the church only with people who can coexist under his Lordship and in the unity of the Spirit of God.
Want a modern equivalent to marriage and home life? GERMANY. The Berlin Wall was torn down and two separate nations became one united German state. The systems of government were totally different. The standard of living was different. Education was different. The economies were different. But now they are one. Differences have to be melted into the common good. Personal relationships are similar. Each of us comes to the other with a background and a set of values. Some people open gifts on Christmas Eve; others wait till Christmas morning. You come with your life and your baggage and she comes with hers and we bring more into the home. The challenge: tear down the walls and become one in body, spirit and purpose.
Mutual submission is essential. Unity is essential. Cooperation is essential. Truly being ONE is essential. These factors must be present if the foundations are to be firmly laid and the structure built upon it. Upon them the home is established with strength. It is made strong so that a thief cannot break through and steal. By these the home is not a collection of people under a common roof, but a satisfying place to belong and a source of lifelong fulfillment.