Heirs Together of the Gracious Gift of Life


Review

  1. The establishment of marriage and the creation of man and
    woman for marriage.
  2. Celebratory Speech as the primary means of the practice of
    married love.
  3. The Headship of the man in marriage and the submission of
    wives as realities of nature, and so divine callings, that are
    to be sanctified and practiced in a Christ-like way, to the
    mutual pleasure and blessing of man and woman.
  4. The endemic temptations of married life: the peculiar
    temptations of men and women in marriage and where, so often,
    marriages go wrong.
  5. Then we considered the biblical data concerning the proper
    choice of a spouse.
  6. Finally, over the last two weeks, we considered marriage as
    a sexual union and as the divinely ordained context for the
    sexual pleasure and fulfillment.

Today, I want to treat marriage as one primary sphere in which
Christians are to work out their salvation, to live and grow as
disciples of Jesus Christ, and to practice their faith. Or, in
the language of Peter, we will now treat marriage as the life of
two “heirs together of the gracious gift of life.”

Heirs Together of the Gracious Gift of Life

Marriage is not, of course, the only such sphere of Christian
living and growing. In 1 Tim. 2:15, for example, the Apostle Paul
writes that “women will be saved throughchildbearing – if they continue in faith, love, and
holiness with propriety.” He is saying that for women – not
all women, of course; he admits exceptions – the bearing
and raising of children will be the sphere in which to a great
degree they live their Christian lives, the sphere in which they
love and serve the Lord, the sphere in which they will have to
work out their salvation and grow in the grace and knowledge of
God. For Christian children, their relationship to their parents
is the primary sphere in which they work out their salvation.
One’s job, even more for a man, is such a sphere, so is
one’s life in the church, and so on.

But, clearly, marriage is one of the most important of those
spheres of life, those ways of being in which we are called to
practice our faith and grow up in it.

And, in regard to this, I want to consider two texts.

1 Corinthians 7:32-35 (Read)

Now, at first glance, you might conclude that this text was
making precisely the opposite point, viz. that marriage
interfered with the practice of the Christian life. After
all, doesn’t Paul seem to be arguing here that, for the
purposes of a consecrated Christian life, the single life is to
be preferred to the married. “An unmarried man,” he says, “is
concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can
please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs
of this world – how he can please his wife – and his
interests are divided.” Well, there is no getting away from the
burden of Paul’s remarks. He does seem to prefer the single
life for Christians, though, as we have already seen, even in
this chapter, only for those who have the gift of single living
– which, he is ready to admit may be a small minority of
Christian people. For example, interestingly, in 1 Tim. 5:14 Paul
counsels younger widows to marry. It is too difficult for them to
be single and holy at the same time. And he has said the same
thing about men and women in general earlier in this same chapter
[7:7]: “I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his
gift from God; one has this gift, another that.” And, however
good it may be to remain single for spiritual reasons, “it is
better to marry than to burn with passion.” [v.9] By and large
marriage is the normal condition of life for most people and
needs to be
.

But, there is something else of real importance to notice in
Paul’s words in vv. 32ff. For, while it seems unmistakable
that Paul favors the single life – all things being
considered — he says something of considerable importance
about marriage and the sacred obligations of marriage in the
process. For what is clear is that Paul is not saying that
married men and women have this divided concentration and are no
longer entirely devoted to the Lord’s affairs but that
this shouldn’t be
! He is not saying that marriage
produces a divided interest between the Lord and one’s
spouse though it shouldn’t! He isn’t saying
that at all. Rather, he is acknowledging that marriage
must produce such a division of interest
. Paul
is saying that it is God’s will, God’s law, indeed,
that marriage produce this division of attention and interest,
and that a husband must give some of the attention he once gave
to God and give it to his wife instead, and vice
versa
.

Frankly, that makes even more remarkable that Paul goes on to
say (vv. 36-38) that if one desires to be married, he is always
free to do so and does not sin. In other words, Paul is as much
as saying that God does not mind if a man or woman no longer has
undivided devotion for him, but divides that devotion between God
and a spouse. The Almighty, Paul says, is ready and willing to
share with a wife the devotion of a Christian man, or with a
husband the interest and commitment and attention of a Christian
woman.

He is our Maker and our Savior. He loves us with an undying
love, has made a sacrifice for our salvation of incalculable
cost. We are always on his heart, the Bible says. He has an
inalienable right to every last gram of our worship, our
devotion, our interest, and our love. He would be entirely within
his rights to demand of us the undivided interest and devotion of
our lives, married or not.

But, quite the contrary, he permits us – no, that is not
quite right – he urges us, even commands us, to give some
of that interest, some of that love that is due to him alone and
give it to another instead. God so delights in the love we show
to others – to husbands and wives especially – that
he is happy to surrender his own rights to that love so that
others may enjoy it and profit from it. And if you are tempted to
think that is a small thing, ask yourself how easily you do the
same. How easily do you happily surrender the love, the interest,
the attention that might be given to you and take pleasure in it
being given to another instead?

Now this reality, of course, is not unique to marriage. We
love and serve God by loving and serving others. We are taught
that a thousand times in Holy Scripture. The first commandment is
that we love God, but the second is right behind it: that we love
others as we love ourselves. And marriage is the first and
foremost of all neighbor-loves. But, hold that thought, as we
look at another text.

1 Peter 3:7 (Read)

We have considered other aspects of the teaching of this verse
already. I want, this morning, to draw your attention to the
command to men to treat their wives with respect as heirs with
them of the gracious gift of life so that nothing will hinder
their prayers.

Here is marriage as an aspect of the fellowship of the saints,
the partnership of two Christians living the Christian life. And,
what is more, like other parts of Christian obedience and
service, faithfulness to the obligations of marriage is here made
a condition of effectual prayer, just like a number of other
pieces of Christian faithfulness are made the condition of God
hearing our prayers (“if I regard iniquity in my heart…”;
“you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives…”;
etc.).

The German evangelical theologian of a former day, Adolph
Schlatter, wrote:

“The rule, live your marriage so that you can pray,
indicates very surely what is pure and important in marriage
and what must be avoided.”

Christian faithfulness is what is required in marriage, a
distinctively Christian faithfulness between husbands and
wives, the living of a faithful Christian life in partnership,
husband with wife, is what we are called to as Christian
spouses.

Don’t think this too obvious to mention. The fact is,
there are a great many Christians who are much more faithful
outside their marriage than within it! They are more caring of
others, more faithful in prayer, more consistent in holiness
outside of the home than in the partnership with husband or
wife.

C.S. Lewis once wrote:

“It is terrible to find how little progress one’s
philosophy and charity have made when they are brought to the
test of domestic life.” [Letters to Arthur Greeves,
362-363]

Fact is, it is harder to fake it in the intimacy of married
life. We are there what we really are. Some might say, well, no,
my husband or my wife works against me and makes it more
difficult for me to live as a Christian in my marriage than in
other dimensions of my life. But, that amounts simply to saying
that I’m the kind of Christian who can live in faithfulness
to God if and only if the conditions are ideal. Faithfulness to
Christ is always tested and we have as much faith and true
godliness as stands the tests that God appoints for us.

Indeed, the state of marriage seems to be one of the primary
means of a Christian’s growth in grace and the knowledge of
the Lord precisely because it so constantly and profoundly puts
faith to the test.

Alexander Moody Stuart, the 19th century Scottish
preacher, wrote to a young lady before her marriage:

“Only, my dear friend, remember this, it needs more grace.
The amount of grace that is sufficient for single life is not
sufficient for married life, and what seemed a fair amount of
grace in the daughter and sister seems often to evaporate and
disappear in the wife and mother. But the Lord will give more
grace, and with more grace there is unquestionably more ample
opportunity both for its exercise and its influence.”
[Memoir, 210]

So here is the general point. In marriage we are to practice
our Christian lives. We are to be fellow Christians to our
husbands and our wives. God expects the highest measure of
neighbor love between a husband and a wife and expects that all
the rest of the duties and obligations and the means and the
instrumentalities of Christian living will be on display as much
in our marriage as anywhere else in our Christian living.

Now, let me elaborate the practical implication and
application of this way of looking at marriage as a primary
sphere of the practice of the Christian life, which to say of
this conceiving of the duties of husbands and wives in marriage
as simply the fundamental duties and obligations of Christian
brotherhood.

A Christian woman is the sister of the Christian man she
marries, and, precisely because of the intimacy of their life
together, all the obligations of Christian brotherhood are
particularly in force. Let me give you Richard Baxter’s
summation of the “Common Duty of Husband and Wife” [this from
The Poor Man’s Family Book, Practical Works,
iv, 234]. Notice how easily one could take this list and turn it
into a statement of the obligation of a Christian toward his
fellow Christian.

  1. Entirely to love each other…
  2. To dwell together, and enjoy each other, and faithfully
    join as helpers in the education of their children, the
    government of their family, and the management of their worldly
    business.
  3. Especially to be helpers of each other’s salvation:
    to stir up each other to faith, love, and obedience, and good
    works: to warn and help each other against sin, and all
    temptations: to join in God’s worship in the family and
    in private: to prepare each other for the approach of death,
    and comfort each other in the hopes of life eternal.
  4. To avoid all dissensions, and to bear with those
    infirmities in each other which you cannot cure: to assuage,
    and not provoke, unruly passions; and, in lawful things, to
    please each other.
  5. To keep conjugal chastity and fidelity, and to avoid all
    unseemly and immodest carriage with any other, which may stir
    up jealousy; and yet to avoid all jealousy which is
    unjust.
  6. To help one another to bear their burdens (and not by
    impatience to make them greater). In poverty, crosses,
    sickness, dangers, to comfort and support each other. And to be
    delightful companions in holy love, and heavenly hopes and
    duties, when all other outward comforts fail.

With few changes you could offer that same list as a summary
of the obligations of all Christian brotherhood and fellowship.
Husbands and wives, as the closest possible brother and sister in
Christ, are only all the more obliged, “to forgive one another as
Christ forgave them,” “to bear one another’s burdens and so
fulfill the law of Christ,” “to pray for one another,” “to wash
one another’s feet,” “to keep no record of wrongs, to
believe all things, to hope all things,” “to speak the truth in
love,” etc.

And, as elsewhere in the Christian life, there is a great deal
of the act of the will in Christian obedience and service, and
not a dependence upon an always active affection.

The obligations we sustain to the brethren are not lessened if
we don’t find a particular brother or sister very likeable.
Quite the contrary, the obligations of brotherly love are
enforced in the Bible in the full realization of the difficulties
the brethren are always throwing up in our way, all the ways that
Christians can be unlovely, irritating, unresponsive, and,
generally, a pain in the neck.

In the same way, in marriage, where we often step on one
another’s toes both because of our constant proximity to
one another and because we expect so much of one another and need
so much from one another – and so can so easily disappoint
– , we are obliged to be a faithful Christian to our wife
or husband however we feel toward them at the time!.
Indeed, there are standing problems in marriage, resulting often
from the differences that exist between men and women, that are
constant strains on brotherly love. Lewis describes one source of
standing discontent between men and women this way.

“A woman means by unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for
others; a man means not giving trouble to others…. Thus
while the woman thinks of doing good offices and the man of
respecting other people’s rights, each sex, without any
obvious unreason, can and does regard the other and radically
selfish.” [The Screwtape Letters, xxvi, 121]

Or, take another example, that of the powerful memory women
have for personal matters, which makes them struggle not to keep
a record of wrongs, while men typically remember such things much
less well, which women take to be a lack of concern, interest,
and seriousness about love. Here is Jim Elliot in his
Journals [385] on Betty’s harboring the remembrance
of some of his first impressions of her.

“I can’t get her to believe that I am really satisfied
with her body. She still has me holding my first impressions
stated in our former days together: ‘banana
nose…sand paper…skinny.’ I don’t know
how to explain or clarify the change in this which has come
since I really knew that I loved her last September 20. All I
know is that it doesn’t matter if her breasts are small,
or her front teeth set apart. I wouldn’t like her any
more if they were all ‘ideal,’ partly, I think,
because she would not be what she is psychologically if she
were anything but what she is physically. … I am wholly
satisfied with [God’s] doing.”

I’ve seen many examples of this feminine capacity for
recollection cloud a marriage. And what is the antidote on her
part but true Christian love and forgiveness? And, what is the
antidote but true graciousness, humility, and gratitude on the
part of man, expressed and spoken until the woman’s heart
is full? Or, in other words, what is the antidote to those
violations of love and trust that must occur in a marriage but
the grace of God and the practice of a genuinely Christian
brotherhood. Here is C.S. Lewis once more.

“Love as distinct from ‘being in love’ is not
merely a feeling, it is a deep unity, maintained by the will
and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in
Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and
receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even
at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love
yourself even when you do not like yourself.” [Mere
Christianity
, 99]

To put it simply, then, in marriage we are called to love
another as we desire to be loved, to love as Christ loved us, to
love by faith and out of loyalty to God. Or, in other words, to
practice the Christian life. I said last week that even sexual
love-making requires a genuinely Christian ethic, and so does
every other part of life in marriage. It is not two different
lives we are called to live – a Christian life and a
married life – but, rather, the life of a distinctively
Christian marriage.

Here is Tertullian’s justly famous encomium to Christian
marriage written in c. A.D. 207 [Ad Uxorem, viii, ANF, iv,
48].

“Where can we find the words fully to describe the happiness
of the marriage that the church cements, the Eucharist
confirms, and the benediction signifies and seals; of which
angels carry back the news to heaven, which the Father
considers ratified? Even on earth children do not rightly and
lawfully marry without their fathers’ consent. What kind
of yoke is that of two believers, who partake of one hope, one
desire, one discipline, one and the same service? Both are
brethren, both fellow-servants, no difference of spirit or of
flesh; indeed, truly they are “two in one flesh.” Where the
flesh is one, one is the spirit too. Together they pray,
together prostrate themselves, together perform their fasts,
mutually teaching, mutually exhorting, mutually sustaining.
Equally they are found in the Church of God, equally at the
banquet of God, equally in straits, in persecutions, in
refreshments. Neither hides anything from the other, neither
shuns the other, neither is troublesome to the other. The sick
are visited, the indigent relieved with freedom. Alms are given
without danger of anger, sacrifices attended without scruple,
daily diligence is discharged without impediment. There is no
stealthy signing, no trembling greeting, no mute benediction.
Psalms and hymns echo between the two and they challenge each
other as to whom will chant better to the Lord. Such things,
when Christ sees and hears, he rejoices. To these he sends his
own peace. Where two are, there he is. Where he is the Evil One
is not.”

I’ve noticed often, in my conversations with wives and
husbands, and in observing my own life, that we can be much more
distressed about our marriages not being all that they ought to
be from time to time than we are about our Christian lives not
being all that they ought to be. We can be bothered much more
that our husband or wife is not that he or she should be than
that we ourselves are not all that we ought to be to the Lord
Christ. It is well for us to remember that marriage is for the
married the Christian life in concentration, the very place where
we serve and honor the Lord, where we are to wait upon him, trust
him, submit to him, and honor him. Keeping that in mind will do
much for our perspective on our marriage and, in particular, will
keep our frustrations in perspective. There are frustrations
everywhere in the Christian life and a true Christian deals with
them in faith, hope, and love.

But, remember this. Paul, in his striking remarks in 1 Cor. 7
assures all Christian husbands and wives that God will never
begrudge the attention, the affection, the interest, and the
desire to please which you lavish on your wife or your husband.
He is happy to share your heart with him or her. Indeed, he
delights in the love of husband and wife so much that he
considers himself to be loved in that love you give one another,
just as he considers all the love of the brethren love for
himself as well, but, in marriage, in that closest of all
brotherhoods, still more.