Back to Index

Listen to sermon by clicking here:

Affirming Marriage
January 24, 1982

First United Methodist Church of Modesto


I had a dream the other night, I dreamed I was standing outside the gates of heaven. I saw lines of people and noticed in particular two lines. One had a sign that said, “Henpecked husbands, stand here.” The other sign read, “Heads of the house, stand here.” While there was a long line of men standing behind the henpecked husband sign, there was only one man behind the sign that read, “Heads of the house.” I looked closer and it was Everett Swedenberg! I said, “Everett, how come you're standing in the sign that says ‘Heads of the house?” He said, “I don't know. My wife told me to stand here.” 

I remember talking to a young couple who were going to be married. We were talking about the relationships between husband and wife and the young woman said, “Well, my father is the head of our family except all of us kids know that mother really is.” Who is the head? We started this series on marriage and family making the point that Christ is the head of the home. What does that mean, practically speaking? Who is the head of the house? 

Before we get into that, let's look first at the ideal of Christian marriage. Several years ago, Dr. and Mrs. John Cuber released a study on marriages of successful people—whatever “successful people” means! People that exert a little more influence than the rest of us, I guess. They used as a criterion that the marriage had to have been in existence at least ten years. 3/4 they called “utilitarian marriages”. Utilitarian marriages are convenient, useful, marriages in which there is a low degree of intimacy, affection, and warmth. They live together as roommates for convenience, for the sake of the children, or for the sake of business or security. There is a low degree of investment in that marriage and therefore there is a desperation. They are desperate for warmth, affection and sexual satisfaction. One woman interviewed said, “Oh, I would do anything to bring back the excitement we had when we were first married, I would do anything.” This craving, longing, desiring for affection and understanding leads them to adultery, to extramarital affairs— 3/4 of successful marriages! 

The other 1/4, the doctors called “intrinsic marriage” where something intrinsic in the marriage binds the two people together. There is value and meaning in the marriage that is not dependent on anything like for the sake of the children, or for business, or for security. There is meaning and value intrinsic in the relationship. There were signs of affection, love, mutual interest, mutual sharing of leisure, home life and career problems. One husband quoted said, “The things we do together aren't fun intrinsically. The ecstasy comes from being together in the doing.” 1/4 of the marriages which is a high rate and is approximating the Christian ideal. 

I believe Christian marriage is the creation of a whole new life in which two people participate. Paul quoted from the Old Testament, “the two shall become one”, a new life in which two people participate. The Discipline of the United Methodist Church states, “We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant, which is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman”—love, mutual support, personal commitment and shared loyalty, faithfulness. 

There is a risk with this ideal of marriage. This study showed that the divorce rate is at least as high or maybe even higher in intrinsic marriages than in utilitarian marriages because the investment in the intrinsic ideal marriage is so great that frustration is often accompanying the ideal, frustration with not making it in the marriage. Actually, it is new on the face of the earth to hold before us this Christian ideal of marriage where two people can come together and make a new life that is satisfying, rewarding and fulfilling with love, affection, warmth and sexual satisfaction. That is new on the face of the earth. 

It wasn't too many years ago that, at least in the upper classes, marriage was for convenience, money and business. The man and the woman both achieved their needs for fellowship and intimacy in lodges, clubs, fraternal organizations, bridge clubs, and so forth. The man received his sexual satisfaction with mistresses and the woman was not supposed to have sexual needs. The woman never admitted it; it was not respectable for the woman to have any rights to affection and satisfaction. It is relatively new that we are holding before us this ideal that two people can come together and find love, warmth, affection, understanding and support within the marriage relationship. That's our ideal. 

How do we achieve it? How do we achieve satisfaction, fulfillment and meaning in marriage? Our Discipline statement on marriage and family goes on, “We believe the family to be the basic human community through which persons are nurtured and sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect and fidelity.” Those are the characteristics, the values of a Christian marriage and family—mutual love, respect, responsibility, fidelity, faithfulness. 

Let's look at mutual love and ask the question again, “Who is the head?” You heard the lesson from the book of Ephesians chapter five—one of the most beautiful, eloquent statements on marriage that we have in the Bible and that we have anywhere, these words of Paul expressed in the language of his culture and his day. Most people begin with the verse, “Wives, be subject to your husbands,” and then they stop. But, the passage begins with the previous verse where it says, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” 

Then Paul goes on to spell out what that means. He says, “Wives, be subject to your husbands and husbands, love your wife.” Now, how does a husband love his wife according to Paul? Paul says, “As Christ loves the church”, as Christ loves you and me, and how does Christ love you and me? Does he dictate? Does he force his will? Does he lord and master it over us? Sometimes I do admit that God hits you over the head with a club right between the eyes. But, does Christ force his will on us and make our decisions? Paul goes on and says, “Christ loved the church by giving himself up for her.” Laying down his life for you and for me, dying on the cross expresses the deep love of God for you and me, the forgiveness of God for you and me. That's how Christ loves the church. And that says Paul is how a husband loves his wife—by dying for her, by willing to lay down his life, his dreams, his goals, his objectives, everything for the sake of the wife. That is a mutual subjection. Wives, be subject to your husbands and husbands, give up your life for the wife. 

Now, in case you don't get the point yet, Paul goes on, and says, “Husbands should love their  wives as he loves himself, as he loves his own body, as he cherishes his body and nourishes it.” Have you ever watched a man looking in the mirror when he doesn't think anyone is watching, when he's getting the blackhead out of his nose, or a teenager combing his hair, gazing in the mirror, enraptured with himself. “Oh, you gorgeous he-man”, and all this muscle stuff. And all you joggers out there getting your body in such beautiful shape. We men love our bodies! Paul knew that and Paul said, “Love your wife as you love your body.” Cherish her, nurture, care, love her. 

I take that to mean a couple things. A Christian marriage is where there is mutual subjection to one another out of reverence for Christ, where there is mutual love, where there is cooperation, where the couple together are in subjection to Christ who is the head and together seek to work out the will of God in cooperation. There is no head and no foot. There is no master and no slave. There is no boss and no common laborer in marriage. It's mutual. 

Sometimes decisions are made together— buying a car or buying a house. Sometimes you are the leader and the spouse is the follower. Sometimes the spouse is the leader and you are the follower. That's how it works out. If one is better at bookkeeping than the other, let him or her do the finances. Whoever is the best cook, let them be the cook, who loves to shop and find all those bargains, let them do it, who likes to garden let them be the head of the garden. You work it out on the basis of the strengths and the interests of each partner together in subjection to Christ. 

This concept that Paul is developing for us also means that mutual love means you have a commitment to the success of your spouse.

Christian marriage is based on mutual love, respect, and loyalty where Christ is the head, and together the couple serves him and does his calling.

© 1982 Douglas I. Norris