It was twenty-five years ago that I met with a family of three – a mom, her daughter, and the step-dad. The conversation was depressing: recriminations, broken promises, failed responsibilities, vindictive and hurtful words… What was most troubling was that all of it was couched in the most sophisticated biblical language. Each of the parties of that conversation was able to cite chapter and verse with respect to the failings of every person in that room – except themselves.
In a quiet moment, the mom turned to me (at the time I was the youth ministry director) and said, “What should we do?” My response then was much what it would be now: “You need to stop reading each other’s mail.” At this, all parties insisted that they had never read each other’s’ mail. Yet that is precisely what they were doing.
God’s word, often explicitly in the form of a letter (Paul’s letters for example) directs itself to parents, children, employers, employees, husbands, wives, etc… Each of the people in that room on that day knew what God had said to the other two people. Each of the people in that room appeared to be unconcerned with what God’s word said to them. This problem has since played itself out in my pastor’s office in Maryland, Vermont, and California, literally hundreds of times.
This month, I would like to tackle two such “letters” and invite you to think about your marriage biblically. Please take a moment to read Ephesians 5:21-33. The key verses are:
Verse 21: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ…
Verse 22: Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord…
Verse 25: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”
Verse 21 is the basic theme of this passage – we are to submit to one another. What follows is about how we all submit to one another in the context of our different roles and relationships. Verse 22 (which is the conclusion of the sentence begun in verse 21!) and 25 specifically address how the wife and how the husband submit to one another. Now, take another moment to reread the section addressed to wives if you are a wife and the section on husbands if you are a husband.
Now comes the hard part. Take out a pencil and paper. If you are a husband, list ten ways in which you lay down your life in order to bless your wife. If you are a wife, write down a list of ten ways in which you submit to your husband.
Now comes the harder part. Sit down with your spouse and read your lists to each other and ask each other if there are areas in which the other feels either ignored or taken for granted.
Now comes the hardest part. Ask one another for forgiveness for your failure to lay down your life or to submit. Resolve to model your relationship more on Christ’s relationship to the church than on the world’s patterns. Begin a new chapter of married life together. Read your own mail.