Build with One Hand, Fight with the Other Part Two
Topic: Marriage Passage: Nehemiah 4:1–4:20
Turn with me to Nehemiah 4. We’re on the second week of what began as a Father’s Day message, grew into a two week message, and now it turns out it has grown again and will actually be a three week message.
The title of this series is Build with One Hand, Fight with the Other, an idea taken from Nehemiah, and last week we talked about building up and fighting for our children, we’re going to spend this week and next talking about building up and fighting for our marriages. This message was prepared with the husbands and future husbands in mind, but like the message last week, I think everyone will be able to apply what we talk about to their lives. Let’s read a portion of Nehemiah 4 together.
Neh. 4:1-9, 14-20
The picture is of a city in disgrace and in danger. The walls of Jerusalem are in ruins leaving it the laughingstock of the surrounding nations and virtually defenseless against its enemies. When Nehemiah hears all this, he breaks down weeping and praying and determines God is calling him to do something about it.
If I had to describe Nehemiah with one word, I’d say “leadership”. Nehemiah is able to get a scope of the job, rally and envision the Jews for the work, and get the project started. It’s very hard work and there’s a lot of rubble and ruin they have to work around, on top of that the Jews around them are nagging them to stop the work and worst of all their enemies, led by Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, are furious when they hear that the wall is being built and begin to mock them and intimidate them, threatening to sneak in while they work and kill them. It would be very easy for the Jews to grow discouraged and hopeless and stop the work, but Nehemiah reminds them that God, who is great and awesome, is with them and calls them to fight for their families. He splits the job up into sections, and puts families by their clan in front of sections of the wall, and they continue the work, they don’t stop, they don’t slow down. Only now they’re also ready to fight. One verse says they are carrying bricks with one hand and a sword in the other.
I want to superimpose that picture on what we’re called to do with our families and in particular our marriages – build with one hand and fight with the other. Make no mistake, marriages – our marriages – are in the enemies sights. The quickest and most effective way to take down a family is by taking down a marriage. Marriages are under attack. But they are also hard work. Having a healthy marriage is hard work. If you don’t believe me men, ask your wife. And the casualties of marriages that either fell into ruin or were destroyed by enemy fire are all around us. The national statistics say that 40-50% of all marriages will end in divorce. Nearly one of every two couples who make their vows to one another will see those vows broken by divorce. Those aren’t just statistics, they represent real lives and real pain.
Marriages banged out of shape
ILL: In Albuquerque, NM, there’s a company called Freedom Rings that helps people celebrate their divorce. Customers are given a four pound sledgehammer, and a glass of champagne, and with music playing in the background the MC says, "We will now release any remaining ties to your past by transforming your ring--which represents the past--into a token of your new beginning. Now take the hammer. Stop for a moment to consider the transformation that is about to begin your new life. Ready? With this swing let freedom ring!" And they then take the sledgehammer and pound and beat their wedding ring into a shapeless piece of metal as a way of celebrating their new found freedom.
It’s a sad attempt to put a happy spin on the heart wrenching consequences of divorce. But the truth is, way before someone gets to the point that they’re picking up a sledgehammer to bang their wedding ring all out of shape, there were forces in their lives that were banging their marriages all out of shape. The pressures of life, the bitterness and pain of spouses sinning against each other over the years, the inner and outward temptations to be unfaithful, and the daily currents that cause couples to just drift apart over time, these can all bend and twist marriages until they don’t look anything like what we had hoped for and looked forward to on our wedding day.
Every married couple in this room experiences those forces pressing against your marriage. Some in this room might feel like your marriage is in the enemy’s sights and under all out attack. For others of us, those forces might be more subtle, more gradual, but there are parts of our marriages, like the walls of Jerusalem, that are in a state of disrepair and neglect and the husband isn’t doing what needs to be done to build. We need to work at and fight for our marriages. We need to build our marriages with one hand, and fight for them with the other. This morning we’ll consider building our marriages with one hand, next week we’ll consider what and how we fight with the other.
I. Build our marriages with one hand
1. Build with love
In Ephesians 5 Paul commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Jesus’ love for his bride is our example, which means the foundation we build our marriages on isn’t our love for our spouses, its Christ love for us and our spouses. If a marriage is going to stand the test of time and trial, it needs to be built on a strong and deep foundation. When a couple builds their marriage purely on their love for one another it’s like building a home on sand – eventually it will prove to be a shifting, moving, unreliable foundation. Christ’s love is the only strong and sure foundation for our marriages, and Christian couples should remind themselves often that their marriage is built – as is their lives – on the deep, deep love of Christ. So as we think of the image of building a wall, the foundation is Christ’s love, and on that we build with a love like Christ’s for our wife.
So men, when Paul says we should love our wives as Christ loved the church, I don’t think he’s saying we should look at Christ’s perfect love and then try to work that up in our hearts for our wives. As the church we have been loved that way, and by the Holy Spirit we can draw upon the love of Christ to fill our hearts and help us love our wives in the kind of self-sacrificing way that Jesus loves his church. By nature, men, our love is shallow and selfish and puts our own interests first. But by the supernatural work of the Spirit we can grow in expressing the love of Christ through us to our wives.
Going back to Nehemiah’s image of building a wall, the foundation is Christ, but guys, we shouldn’t think of our loving our wives as just another brick we plug into the wall – “yep, I loved my wife as Christ loved the church yesterday at 8:03am before I left for work. I poured her a cup of coffee (even though I was running late for work) and I put my dirty socks in the hamper without her nagging me about it. It’s good to get that brick plugged into the wall for the week so I can concentrate on other things.”
I want to suggest we not think of our love as being one of the bricks we put on the wall, but as the mortar that holds all the bricks together. Love is to surround everything and hold everything we do together. So with that in mind, here are just some bricks we need to put in the wall:
2. Build with loving leadership
Guys, there’s no getting around the fact that God calls us to lead our wives and I submit that leading well in our marriages is the most important and necessary way that we build our marriages up. It’s also, if we’re honest, one of the most common ways that most of us fall short. So few areas are more important for us as men to grow in than the area of leadership – good leadership, the kind of leadership that builds up and not tears down.
I think there are two common ways that men fail to lead well (and we all have a tendency to go in one direction or the other so you might want to identify where your struggle is):
a. Some men simply don’t lead
In chapter 3 of the book of Nehemiah, there are a group of nobles who won’t stoop to do the work. They should be setting the example but instead they are absent on the job. These are the kind of men that seeing other men working, seeing that there is a great job to do, seeing that they are needed, doesn’t stir them to action. They can look a great need in the face and not feel compelled to do anything about it.
Some men are absentee leaders in the home. They’re not hands on with the kids, they’re not tackling the family problems or challenges, they’re not initiating times alone with their wives to encourage (build up) their romance and communication, they’re not leading in any kind of spiritual direction for the family. Seeing the need doesn’t compel them to feel responsible to do anything about it. They might feel bad deep inside, but they don’t take responsibility for it.
Other men – and I think a lot of us fall into this category – we are like the nobles in that there are certain jobs or certain needs that we don’t stoop to do anything about. For me, honestly, I think that I can struggle with a complacency that says, “it’s good enough”. I don’t neglect, but I am satisfied too soon or with too little. Others struggle with a sense of inadequacy or inability in certain areas and rather than ask God to help them grow in that area, they avoid it. Some of you may feel inadequate to lead your family in spiritual things – you can take your kid hunting or fishing (which are areas I feel inadequate in) but you don’t want to crack a Bible with them or initiate a spiritual conversation.
I relate – it’s hard for me too at times. Sometimes our family “devotions” are more a disaster than a devotion. We tried going through a book as a family called War of Words, but had to stop cause it seemed that every time we cracked that book we’d end up in a war of words. To this day Matthew is convinced that book was at fault.
We need to build the wall where it needs to be built, not just where we’re comfortable building. Guys, God will grow you to be a better leader specifically in the areas you aren’t comfortable leading in, because it’s there you will be depending on Him to help you most. Let’s ask God to help us be faithful in our leadership, even if in a natural sense we’re not always successful in our leadership. If this is where you struggle, step out in faith and lead.
b. Some men lead as authoritarians
The second way that men mislead their families which leads to tearing down rather than building up is to lead as authoritarians. In his book, Point Man (which I highly recommend), Steve Farrar says this about authoritarianism:
A man has moved from proper authority to authoritarianism in his home when he demonstrates the following symptoms:
• He lacks interest in his wife’s input and disregards her feelings,
• He forbids the children (and I would add his wife) to discuss his decisions with him and is reluctant to let them make decisions on their own as they mature
• He trusts few people
• He displays an intense need to control those closest to him.
Authoritarianism is not ordained by God. But authority is. ~ Steve Farrar
I think some men sincerely think that biblical leadership is authoritarian leadership – but that’s not the kind of leadership that Jesus modeled, Jesus modeled servant leadership. Paul compares our leadership of our wives to Christ’s leadership of the church: it should be characterized by love and sacrifice, not domineering authority.
Some of the men in this room might tend in this direction – and I want to say that in that might be the seeds of being a really good and strong leader, but you need to believe that a domineering leader, a leader that shuts down discussion and squelches all disagreement or appeal, a leader who seeks to control everyone and their actions and reactions, is a leader who is not exampling Christ-like leadership, and will in the end see bad fruit from his leadership.
So for you, it means going to Christ and asking for his heart of love for your wife and others that you lead. Pursuing a leadership that is characterized more by self-sacrifice than self-assertion. Characterized more by fostering discussion and openness to share opinions and ideas even when (especially when) they differ from yours rather than seeing all such discussion as a threat to your leadership. God can help you to grow in this area if you submit it to Him.
In Nehemiah chapter 5, Nehemiah hears about some nobles and officials who are using their position to exact crippling penalties upon the common people in order to line their purses. Nehemiah rebukes them and they repent. God can help us change as leaders where we need to. What we see in Nehemiah’s example – and even more in Jesus’ example – is a leadership motivated by love, and tuned to serve.
3. Build with loving understanding (1 Peter3:7)
Peter says we are to live with our wives in an understanding way – building our marriages requires realizing that God made our wives different from us and we should live in an understanding way towards those differences. Peter observes an important truth: there are ways that women are, in general, weaker than men. John Piper makes the point that there are also ways that women are stronger than men. But in general, physically and physiologically women are more fragile, and are to be handled with care. Not in a condescending sense but just the opposite, honored for their differences – guarded, protected, cared for, cherished. Our wives are fellow heirs of the grace of life and deeply loved by God and we should treat them with honor and gentleness and care or God Himself is going to take up their cause (our prayers getting hindered means that God is going to oppose us rather than give us what we ask for cause we’re messing with His girl).
Years ago I heard about a book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, and I thought, that sounds like a really funny book! I could just imagine the sequels: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Bowling Ball or (keeping with the accessorizing theme) The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Pair of Shoes.
But it’s not a funny book at all. It’s about people who have serious perception problems. So this man really did grab his wife by the hair as he was leaving the office and tried to put her on his head. In ways we all have perception problems after we get married. The same differences that we used to think were so cute now drive us crazy. She doesn’t think like I do. Of course she doesn’t – she has common sense. She has a different perspective on things – yeah and we should listen to it guys. She gets all emotional about things that to me are just silly.
Let me ask you a question men (and I’m asking myself this question too): was the wife silly for not trying harder to be her husband’s hat and fitting quietly on his head? The guy had a serious perception problem and he couldn’t see what he couldn’t see. Let God’s word direct us and be our compass and we’ll stop trying to use our wife as a bowling ball.
• We should honor our wives.
• We should seek to understand their differences and treat them with greater honor in those areas.
• We should learn their strengths and their weaknesses and encourage the one and protect the other.
It takes work men. Believe me, I haven’t arrived. Not sure I’ve even left the station. There are times, husbands and wives, when we can get discouraged, can’t we? Like the Jews we feel like putting down the bricks and walking away. That is just when we need to press in to our God – remember the Lord who is great and awesome – and ask the Holy Spirit to do His work in us and empower us to do the work He has called us to do.
- Testimony of trumpet player who had asthma as a youth. Doctor prescribed he blow balloons every day, but after a while his mother said, this is a waste of time, let's find him a horn to blow and they got him a trumpet. They said he'd never be any good at it but it'd be good for his lungs. He now plays the trumpet professionally and has no more asthma. God strengthens us, blesses us, gives us grace, as we step out and do!
Our hope is never built on what we build, whether we’re doing well or really messing up. Our hope is built on Christ and Christ alone. We work, but we trust in His work. We love, but we trust in His love. We lead, but we trust in His leadership. Our hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
More in Build with One Hand, Fight with the Other
July 1, 2012Build With One Hand, Fight With The Other Part Three
June 17, 2012Build with One Hand, Fight with the Other Part One