Today is Mothers Day – when wives and mothers are celebrated. Yet for many wives and mothers, their experience is one of domestic violence. It is not just about physical violence, it is also about spiritual violence. Every time that a woman is denied the opportunity to be the person God created her to be, an act of violence is committed. We were talking to a Christian lady just a week or so ago who was deserted by her “Christian” husband because he wanted to go off with a younger woman – to me that act is an act of violence.
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Wives and husbands
Today is Mother’s Day and you may wonder why I am talking about violence against women. I am doing it because it is imperative that we, as Christians and as members of the Christian church, as mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, grandmothers and grandfathers, understand that we have an important part to play in overcoming this epidemic of violence by living our lives in a way that demonstrates the importance that God places on motherhood. Rather than speaking about what a good mother is or should be, I want to talk about how we, as Christians, can take the lead in demonstrating that fact.
Paul’s Letter: to change the status of wives
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Ephesus that was revolutionary in the way that it sought to change the status of women in the first century and it provides us with some guidelines for the 21st century.
In the world in which Paul wrote the Jews, the Greeks and the Romans had a very low view of women.
In Jewish law, a woman was not a person, but a thing; she was absolutely in her husband’s possession to do with as he willed. The fact was that in the time of the Church, divorce had become tragically easy. But, the wife had no rights of divorce at all unless her husband became a leper or an apostate. However, a husband could divorce his wife for any cause. All a man had to do to divorce his wife was to give her a bill of divorcement correctly written out by a Rabbi.
It said, ‘Let this be from me thy writ of divorce and letter of dismissal and deed of liberation, that thou mayest marry whatsoever man thou wilt.’ As long as he gave her this in the presence of two witnesses and returned her dowry the divorce was final.”
In Greek law, the position was worse. The Greek expected his wife to run his home, to care for his legitimate children, but he found his pleasure and his companionship elsewhere. A learned Greek of the time said, ‘We have courtesans for pleasure; we have concubines for daily cohabitation; we have wives for having children legitimately and of having a faithful guardian for all our household affairs.” In Greek law, there was no legal procedure for divorce. The only security a wife had was that her dowry must be returned.
In Rome, things were even worse. William Barclay, a well known Bible Scholar writes that women were married to be divorced and divorced to be married. The whole atmosphere of the Roman world was adulterous. Chastity was the casualty of the increasing luxury of civilization. The marriage bond was on the way to complete breakdown.
A revolution re wives had occurred:
The Holy Spirit had invaded the lives of many men and women.
They had become Christians and their whole lives had been turned upside down. Wives suddenly find that they are no longer just chattels. The threat of divorce has disappeared, the threat of exploitation has disappeared. Husbands had a new perspective on their relationship with their wives; children saw their mothers differently. But, there was a dilemma because although the old mould had been broken their thinking still had to be changed. The mother’s thinking had to change; the father’s thinking had to change, and certainly, the children’s thinking had to change.
Paul saw the dilemma and in the passage, we will look at he gives them some guidelines to follow as he exhorts them to “think differently.”
· Turn to Ephesians 5:21-33.
· To discover what Paul is saying we need to start at V21. Paul writes there, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Notice who is to be submissive? Not just the wife, but the husband and children as well. In fact, everyone is included “out of reverence for Christ.” So the basis of the passage that follows is not how do I get people to submit to me, but rather how do I live in my relationships out of reverence for Christ.
Focus on the family
In V25 Paul talks to the husband who is a new Christian about how he is to treat his wife, the mother of their children, “out of reverence for Christ,” but I want to suggest that the relationship principles he outlines can be applied to their children as well. So as we work our way through the four principles found in V25 to 33 I want to apply them equally to dad and the kids. Why do I believe that? A little bit later in Chapter 6 Paul addresses believing children and he says, “Honour your father and mother” something unheard of in that society. Honour your father – yes, but never honour your mother. So they needed guidelines for that too. Paul gives four principles:
1. Bring sacrifice into your relationship. Look at V25.
He writes, “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Remember the way that the wife would have been treated in the past? The Jewish, and the Greek, and the Roman view of the woman was that she was nothing so that’s how she was treated, as nothing. Even the children treated her as nothing. Paul says that now you’ve been born again you’re under the Christian law, the law of grace, and Christian husband, you are to sacrifice yourself for your wife and love her as Christ loves the church; and Christian child you are to give up your old ways for your mother. And he does this knowing that Christ loved the church so much that he died for her.
So, men, and children, you and I need to be willing to die for our wives and mothers? Sounds pretty drastic doesn’t it so what do I mean? I asked Jan how best a husband (me) could love her in this way. And do you know what she said – she said to spend time with me; show me that I’m more important than anything else. And I reckon that she has a point there. Too many of us men get involved in our work, and in our committees, in our hobbies and our work for God and we leave our wives on their own.
Men, life is too short to waste it on things other than the woman you married and promised to love honour and cherish. Show your children, and your grandchildren, that you love their mother and their grandmother sacrificially. And kids, try to show mum that she’s special by doing all you can to make it easy for her to be your mum.
2. Bring purity into your relationship. Look at what we find in V26 & 27.
“to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish.” Again, remember the way that the wife was treated in the past. She was there to bear children and run the house while the husband lived a life of impurity. Paul says that’s no longer permissible, you are now to make your wife the object of your love by treating her with purity and dignity. Paul says, now that you’ve been born again you’re under the Christian law, the law of grace and you are to love your wife in a way that makes her pure and righteous in the sight of God. And that principle carries through to the children who are to honour their mother by treating her with purity and dignity.
Men we live in a world where women are so often viewed as sex objects who exist to please the male of the species. And more and more our wives and daughters and mothers are the butt of cheap jokes and are not really taken seriously, simply because they are women. So, us husbands need to make sure that we protect our Christian wife from those things in our world that would debase her. Make sure that we deal with the unpleasant stuff; make sure that we shoulder the burdens of the day; make sure that we are always there for her. And kids, this means that you show mum the respect that is rightly hers. Nothing is worse than a child who badmouths his mum.
3. Bring care into your relationship. Look at V28, 29, and 30.
“In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church, for we are members of His body.” What Paul is saying is that in this male-dominated society where it was customary for men to go to extraordinary lengths to look after their bodies, then the Christian man must now do the same for his wife. Remember the way that these men had treated their wives in their pagan state? They treated her often in a worse way than they treated their servants. Paul says that’s not on any longer because this woman is a part of you, and you are to love her and care for her as though she were your own body. And that principle of care applies equally to children, regardless of age. For a Christian child not to care for their mum is to be disobedient to God.
Men, we need to see our wives as part of us, to be loved and cherished? Some men I know care more about their car or their boat or their sport than they do their wife. But as a Christian man, as a citizen of heaven, we must do the best we can to take care of her. And I would add that because none of us got here without a mother, it is up to us to care for our mums as long as they are alive.
4. Bring permanence into your relationship. Look at V31.
“For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Paul quotes from the second chapter of Genesis and says that marriage is forever. Why? Because in marriage the man and woman become one flesh. What a change of understanding for the husband who has become a Christian. Paul says no more easy divorces; no more exercising control over your wife; no more opting out for any reason. Paul says you are now under Christian law, under the law of grace, and the marriage bond is to remain in place until one of you dies.
What does that mean for us fellows? It means that we are to treat the marriage bond as something precious in the sight of God, in fact it is so precious that he likens it to the bond between Jesus and the church. And it means that you and I need to be the ones who keep the marriage sweet. It means that us men have to keep the romance alive, to make sure that there is no chance of a marriage breakdown. As I see it divorce is not an option for a Christian and that means that for the Christian the only way a marriage can end is when one of the partners dies. And for children, this principle of permanence means that we don’t forget our mums, we don’t turn our backs on our mums and as far as it rests with us we are to love them until they pass away.
Now I realise that what Paul said is pretty tough stuff.
What Paul said flew straight in the face of what the world taught so the question arises, “How can a Christian possibly do what he asks?” “How can a Christian be able to live up to God’s expectation in this area?” Men and women, God had asked the husband who was now a Christian, and the child who was now a Christian, to completely rearrange their thinking and to go from selfishness to sacrifice, from impurity to purity, from disregard to care, from temporary to permanent, but he didn’t leave it there because there are two sides to his argument and so he also speaks to the Christian wife and mother.
Look closely at V22.
The NIV says, “Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” The King James Bible says, “Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.”
But, in the original language of the Bible, koine Greek, there is no verb, no mention of the word submit. The original language says, “The wives to their own husbands as unto the Lord.”
What Paul was saying is this, “wives, cooperate with your husband as he submits himself to Christ and as you submit yourself to Christ. And do it out of reverence for Christ.
The real instruction:
Paul’s instruction to the new Christian wife is not, “submit to your husband in all things whether you like it or not” as some suppose, but, “Christian wife, to show reverence to Christ and receive God’s blessings cooperate with your Christian husband for by doing that you will be the woman God wants you to be and your husband will be the man God intends him to be and God will be glorified.” This is the Christian way to live and it will mean that your husband will be able to love you the way that God has commanded him, and it will mean that your children will gladly give you the honour you deserve.
What then is the husband’s role and the children’s role in demonstrating the value God places on motherhood? Simple – love your wife and honour your mother! And how And how can they do that? Wives and mothers that’s up to you – because they can only do this if they see in you the spirit of cooperation as you cooperate with your husband as he seeks to serve God and honour Christ and as you cooperate with your children as they endeavour to honour you. And when both of these things happen we are all submitting to the authority of the Word of God and we fulfil our obligation that as Christians our primary responsibility is to live the way a citizen of heaven should live and act within our families.
And, I can guarantee that this will lead to many happy Mother’s Days.
Grahame Daniel May 2020