Expecting God in our Marriages

August 17, 2008 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Expecting God

Topic: Marriage

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1 PETER 3:1-7

 

Expecting God in our Marriages

 

For the last two months we have been in a series entitled Expect God - a series that focuses on the importance of faith in God and expectation in the church in God's activity in the church. As planning out series I had a burden that we drop into our home life with this series. All too often our picture of God's power and presence includes powerful services and healings and people coming forward or other visible (and spectacular) signs and wonders but we can fail to appreciate or pray for God's activity in our families and marriages.

There was a sobering example of that in the news: This week a tent revival that had been going on in Lakeland, Fl. for the last 4 months came to an end. Almost as soon as it was over, the leader of the movement, an unusual character name Todd Bentley, announced that he and his wife were separating, to the shock and dismay of his followers.

Now we are not sitting in judgment of the Bentleys - we should pray for them. And there were some serious issues in that tent revival should have set off alarm bells - the church needs to be more biblically discerning. But if we compartmentalize the great spiritual happenings from where we live life - we are in danger of spiritual phoniness. God's activity in our lives isn't most deeply challenged and most accurately displayed on a church stage, but on the stage of everyday life. In our homes, in our kids, in our marriages. This is where we most need God's grace. Activity. Power.

So I thought it important that in this series on expecting God - that is, growing in our faith and trust in God and daily expectation of His activity in our lives - that we drop into the home.

The title of this message is Expecting God in our Marriages

I realize not everyone here is married, but there are truths that will apply and transfer to other relationships so stay with me this morning. Let's pray.

1 Peter 3:1-7

Peter is writing to believers who are facing escalating persecution. According to tradition, Peter himself would be martyred not much more than two years after writing this letter. Peter's purpose in writing this letter is to point these suffering believers eyes beyond their circumstances to God and transcendent hope of gospel, so that in midst of hostile world, live victorious in Christ.

Chapter 2 and 3 he is addressing different contexts that Christian face, but he is always quick to connect their behavior to their faith in God.

• All: be subject to every human institution. Why? For the Lord's sake. (2:13) Good citizens - give glory to God.
• Slaves - those who most have to endure suffering and injustice. Be subject with all respect. Not only to the good and gentle, but also to the unjust. Why? For this is a gracious thing (evidence of grace of God) when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (2:19-20)

Because this is such a hard saying, Peter reminds them of the unjust suffering of Jesus Christ - follow in his steps. He bore our sins on the cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. You once strayed, now returned to Shepherd and Overseer of souls. That is motivation to endure the harshest of sufferings. It is a hope that is strong enough to help us stand through anything.

Then he says, likewise. Likewise wives. Likewise husbands. Christian marriages need the same supernatural grace that enables a mistreated, suffering slave, rather than to hate or retaliate, to love and serve the master who is abusing. Grace poured out and exampled on Calvary. Marriage is a wonderful thing - but not necessarily an easy thing. It takes grace-empowering to do it as God intended. Why? First point:

1. Expect God to sanctify you through your marriage

When a newspaper once asked the question, "what's wrong with the world?", GK Chesterton wrote back, "I am." It was an honest and humble response. But that's not the functional answer most of us feel at any given point in lives: when something goes wrong, our sinful hearts whisper, "What's wrong with the world? Everyone else!" My supervisor. My neighbor. My sister/brother/friend/parents/that-guy-who-cut-me-off.

Or, "what's wrong with the world? Everything going on in my life! It's this situation, or that problem, or this thing that needs to be accomplished." Functionally, we live with the belief that all our problems are external. Everything is happening to us - rather than being generated from us.

Stop and think of what's wrong in your life right now - solution outside of you? If you could change one thing in your current life, would it be external or internal? Honest?

Bible tells us our deepest problem isn't a situation to be corrected or an item to be accomplished or person to be avoided. It's us. You. Me. It's internal.  our character. We re not like Christ. Things fall apart around us. It's why relationships stress and crack. Why we love people when we first meet them, but love them less when really get to know them. If we deal superficially with this, we go from person to person, relationship to relationship, situation to situation.

Enter marriage.

Marriage is one of the instruments God uses to change us internally. God places us in a close relationship so that we can't live in the illusion that we are further along than we are. We need to relate. Communicate. Work through issues and arguments and sinful attitudes. Die to selfishness. Work past: what's wrong with the world? My wife! My husband! Someone said marriage is like being given a full length mirror - gives us a good look at our own sin and character - designed it to help us become more like Christ.

In his book Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas asks this profound question: what if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy? Not that holiness is against happiness - it's actually the truest route to it. But the goal isn't happiness, it's becoming something in character that pleases God. Holy.

Peter speaks to heart, but with God in sight:

Wives, be submissive to your own husbands...

Faith in God is all over this, ladies. Respecting your husband's leadership isn't built on his great leadership qualities. Peter even speaks to those whose husbands aren't even Christians - so there can't even be a possibility of good spiritual leadership in that case. How they lead isn't even factored in this.

Many wives are tempted to be critical of husband due in part to husband's sin or deficiency in leading. But ladies, sin deceives you into thinking that that is the problem: if he would lead more competently, I'd have no trouble respect and follow his leadership. What's wrong with the world? My husband!

Peter points us to God. Beauty in eyes of God is a submissive and pure heart - adorning of the hidden person -which is precious in God's sight. Spirit speaks through God's Word and asks "Is that precious to you? Is what is precious to God precious to you?" The process of living with that in view is sanctification. Holy.

It's not easy, he points to the examples of other women who persistently hoped in God, specifically Sarah. Abraham, out of fear for his life, exposed Sarah to being taken as the wife of Pharoah. He put her in danger of being violated and was in sin against God. Serious stuff! She didn't panic, nor did she tear her husband down (may have wanted to). She did an amazing thing: she trusted God. She hoped in God.

And God intervened and saved her from her husband's folly. She did not fear. She did good. Peter says, with God in sight, that is how you should live - do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

Wives: your marriage is primarily about your relationship with God, not your husband. You follow and respect his leadership because you follow and respect God's Lordship in your life. You are living out your marriage in the sight of God - walk in faith and hope. Expect God to sanctify you in your marriage.

Husbands, understand your wives

Peter's word to husbands is a shorter word, but in some ways more direct. He says live with your wives in an understanding way. Your wife is different than you - you will be tempted to criticize her for that. You will be tempted to be harsh, or exploit her weaknesses, or manipulate or control her or neglect her.

Often, in arrogance, husband can think they have their wife figured out perfectly - and their wife is just being ridiculous. But they are not understanding their wives. They are not understanding what is important to them. Not understanding they feel things differently, look at things differently, struggle with things differently, and display strength and courage differently.

Last night we got a call from Slacks - (our friends who are in Gaithersburg, MD for Pastor's College) - Janice was talking to Siobhan and she related how she had a wonderful week and was warmly welcomed. But Siobhan told Matt he needed to be careful - she's dealing with all change and its not easy. It reminded me of when we moved to PC. I was gung ho -but  it was harder for Janice to deal with changes. I remember one attempt when I was trying to convince her how good it was and it didn't work, then I got angry and accused her of not "walking in faith and gratitude." I was not living with her in an understanding way.

Wives are the weaker vessel. That is not an insult ladies. It is God's design. I'm not denying that there are women who are stronger than men - and there are ways in which women as a whole are stronger than men - but a part of the femininity of a woman is that she is a "weaker vessel". Some ways (stress some) more fragile. More easily broken. Posessing great beauty. Crystal is weaker than plexiglass, but that's part of what makes it so beautiful.

We see amazing feats in Olympics - but the strongest men are stronger than strongest women. It's God's design. If guy lives next door comes to house cursing and screaming because dog went to the bathroom on his lawn, the man should stand and deal with it, not send the wife out to deal with it.  She is to be considered the weaker vessel - which means treating her with honor - carefully, protectively, not abusively or domineering. Leadership is to be of selfless love and care. Cherishing. Why? Again, Peter does not let this conversation stray far from God. First because they are saved by the same precious blood and are heirs of the same gracious salvation we are. You have the same shepherd - treat her well because you are responsible before God. Second, so that our prayers are not hindered. What does that mean? It means that God doesn't hear our prayers the same when we are not loving and understanding our wives.

"So concerned is God that Christian husbands live in an understanding and loving way with their wives, that he "interrupts" his relationship with them when they are not doing so. No Christian husband should presume to think that any spiritual good will be accomplished by his life without an effective ministry of prayer. And no husband may expect an effective prayer life unless he lives with his wife "in an understanding way, bestowing honor" on her. To take the time to develop and maintain a good marriage is God's will; it is serving God; it is a spiritual activity pleasing in his sight." (Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, p. 146.)

Our spirituality cannot be severed from our marriage. Piper puts it strongly:
"There is a way to live with our wives that clogs our prayers and ruins our spiritual impact. And there is a way to live with our wives that frees our prayers and helps empower our spiritual impact. You don't want your prayers to be hindered because when your prayers are hindered, it means you are not connecting with God, and that God himself starts to seem distant and unreal." ~ John Piper

Gentlemen, God will begin to seem distant and unreal in your life if you mistreat your wife. That is important to God. He will cherish her and protect her even if you do not.

A great part of this is listening. Dr. John Barger shared how he learned in time with a group of men.

"I swaggered through marriage for many years, ruling my wife Susan and my seven children with an iron hand...years of dominating my wife and children left them habitually resentful and fearful of me, yet unwilling to challenge me because of the fury it might provoke."

John Barger began to wake up to his arrogance through some difficult events beginning one evening with a difficult delivery. His wife Susan's placenta tore loose and she started to hemorrhage. The baby was stillborn. As he stood there at two in morning holding his lifeless son, he realized he had a choice: to inflict further wounds and pain, to rage against his son's death and his wife's lack of love, or be an instrument of healing and grace in his families life.

This began a process of change - Christ began to control his actions rather than sin.

"I started admitting my faults and apologizing for them. I quit defending myself when I was judged too harshly - for the important thing was not to be right (or well thought of) but to love. As I had made myself the center of my attention for too many years already, I said little about my own labors and sorrows; I sought to know Susan's, and to help her bear them."

He began to seek to understand her - listen. And when he did - he was surprised at what he found out.

And, once I started to hear Susan - once I began really hearing her and drawing her out - I was startled at how many and how deep were her wounds and her sorrows.

Men, God calls for us to seek to understand our wives more deeply - not dismiss them or mock them or assume we understand them. Draw them out. Listen. Carry their load. You are not natural at this - you need supernatural grace.
Expect God to sanctify you husbands through marriage!

2. Expect God's grace in your spouse and look for it

No where is it more important for us to see with eyes of faith and expectancy that God is at work than in our marriage. Why? Because that is where we get the closest. Sin is most evident. On display. Problems and conflicts and challenges that married couples face are often faced again and again and again.

Discouraged. Weary. Hopeless. Ever felt that way? I have. Janice has. It's a downward spiral downward - no grace for change. And it's not true. God is at work. He is active in our lives. It's a process - not usually an instant change. Often very slow.

Peter reminds the husbands, but it's true both ways:

They are heirs with you of the grace of life

It is important that we seek to see and identify evidences of grace in one another. Your spouse is someone Christ died for. Keep that in mind and it will change how look at them. Souls are precious to Christ. Belong to Christ. God's grace is active in their lives (whether you see it or not) because Christ is their Shepherd and Overseer of their soul - just as He is your Shepherd and Overseer of your soul.

Remember Dr. John Barger? After years of this change, Susan's anger began to dissipate. She began to soften and become more gentle. Their love deepened and sweetened. Just as they thought they were entering a new sweet season of marriage, she was diagnosed with cancer and died 8 months later. John looked at it as a time to show her how much he really loved her. She died with her friends and family and her beloved husband with her in final moments. What a different story God's grace told when John Barger began to listen.

We all have room to grow. Areas we need to change. Sinful habits and patterns. But something else we need to realize: it's easier to see where we need to grow. Failures. Deficiencies. It's easier at times to see where spouse needs to grow. Failures. Deficiencies. Be careful our desire for growth (which is a good thing) doesn't become a legalistic whip we use to drive us to do better (or drive our spouse). Expect God's grace and look for it. Identify evidences of grace - frequently.

God's grace is not as easy for us to see, in large part because of sin and arrogance and ungratefulness. Intentionally look for and identify evidences of grace of life in each other. In grace there is motivation to grow. In grace there is power for change. In God's grace there is hope to take the next step. In grace there is strength to get up when we fall.

It's not about positive thinking: it's about reality. God's grace is more powerful and more stubborn than our sin.

"Human sin is stubborn, but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way." ~ Cornelius Plantinga

Let's pray.