[#] It's not up to you

So I have started this series on marriage without a degree in family counseling, and without 15 years of pastoral experience, and without a net. What I ought to do is somehow pot a course from here to there building precept upon precept until I have an unassailable case by which you, the reader, can then go out and beat up you lesser-informed church family on the nuances of nuptial theology.

Yeah. And where do the comic book images come in to that?

Instead, I'm going to start by making a bold statement: whatever it is that marriage is, it was not made by you and is not subject to what you would rather like it to be. In other words, when it comes to marriage, it's not up to you.

You know: like driving on the right side of the road (which is the right side for everyone but Libbie reading this blog) is not up to you. You're not a conformist or mired in modernist presuppositions if you drive to the right: you're a good driver. You're doing what's expected if you are going to drive a car on the road at all. You may chose to drive a big, gas-hogging, terrorist funding SUV like Arianna Huffington, or you may choose to drive a paid-for beater that gets 30+ MPG like centuri0n, but in order to drive you have to drive to the right. If you don't, the other drivers will tell you what kind of driver you are – nobody's going to hang their heads or look the other way when you come barreling down Rt 16 on the wrong side of the road.

And that's the really crazy part of my assertion here: if we see someone driving like an idiot, we honk our horn, and employ sign language, and shout at the top of our lungs – and maybe we even discover parts of our vocabulary usually compartmentalized to BHT and drunken stupors. But if we see two people driving their marriage on the wrong side of the road -- even in church -- we pretend that it's none of our business. However, again without any extended syllogistic infrastructure, I'd bet that if we were honking our proverbial horns and waving our proverbial sign language and raising our actual voices to warn and scorn people who were using their marriage like an El Torino is a demolition derby, it'd be harder to want to become divorced, and I'll bet we'd be more careful not to "drift apart".

Are you divorced people reading angry yet? I'll bet some of you are. But I haven't been talking about you yet: I've been talking about the church's attitude toward divorce. Let me give you two counter-examples from real life.

I was working in my bookstore back when I was sole prop and chief bottle washer, and it was a quiet night. A guy from church walked into my store (and this has happened more than once, so if you're from HABC and reading this, I am sure you don't know who I'm talking about) and we started chatting. The conversation turned to family, and our wives, and he started telling me he wasn't really happy right now, marriage-wise.

It's a statement that always makes me stand up and open a Bible – which is what I did. I asked him, "what do you mean by 'not happy'?" And I turned to Eph 5.

He started to tell me (in words to this effect) that he didn't feel appreciated, didn't feel honored, didn't feel motivated, etc. He was more open than most guys who see me open a Bible, so points for his transparency, but as you can imagine, I didn't want to hear that garbage.

Ephesians 5 says this, for those of you who are not already there in your Bibles:

    15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

    22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

    25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Now, every decent Baptist has read and been embarrassed by Eph 5:22-24 because it seem to say – and is often preached, sadly – that women are simply at the disposal of their husbands: the husband is a god and they are his church which ought to follow him without any lip. Let's say, for right now, that this interpretation is both horrible and an affront to the Gospel, but let's also remember that even Jimmy Carter thinks this is what this verse says – and it is part of the reason he has ultimately rejected Biblical inerrancy.

But what comes next is far more important in the context of standing in my bookstore with an apparent brother in Christ who says his marriage doesn't make him "happy". When Paul starts up the music in v. 25, we have to remember that he just spent the last 4 chapters of his letter to the Ephesians fairly agog over the nature and work of Christ. It's like a Calvinist Christology picnic in those chapters, so when Paul says to Husbands "love your wives as Christ loved the church," he has pulled out a rather large theological drumstick from the picnic basket.

This statement by Paul doesn't have anything to do with "being happy". It has everything to do with (Baptists, hold on to your hats) the matter of covenant and finished work. For instance, Christ loved the church by choosing the church (v. 1:4) not in a fickle or conditional way, but in a way which reflects his own purpose – which says something about Him as God. We have "redemption in His blood" (v. 1:5) – which means He pays a generous price for us when we are the ones who incurred the debt. You know: Christ doesn't love the church because it's such an example of what it ought to be. Christ loves the church because Christ loves the church. It's His purpose and character that is revealed in the way He loves, not even a microscopic jolt about what we deserve or might earn. He does it because He has decided to do it, and He's not a soteriological indian-giver.

So in that, Christ doesn't love us because we made Him happy. If you are going to love your wife the way Christ loves the church, you don't love her because she makes you happy: you love her because you are loving, and because you have purposed in your heart that you will love her. you do it because you made a vow that you will do it, which means if you don't do it, you're a liar.

You might imagine that he was a little stunned that I would give him both barrels and stop to reload, but it shook him up, and a few days later he realized that if he really trusted God's word, he needed to change the way he thought about love, and the way he thought about his wife. Amen?

Love is not duckies and puppies. It's not all cotton candy and corndogs. In fact, I would say from experience that the times when I have least demonstrated and least loved my wife was when it might have been easiest to do so. Which leads me to my second example, who is me personally.

We will continue the exposition tomorrow.