I know, I know. All my brothers are probably getting pretty tired of me beating up on them. I get that. I promise that today’s posting won’t be as quite as “hard hitting” as the last couple of days. There's not much about being willing to die for your wife, or being the spiritual leader, or how lousy a husband you are. Instead, today I just want to work on changing your perspective.
The interesting thing is that Paul’s pattern here is sort of the reverse of his normal one. Usually he presents doctrinal truth X, then tells us “Because X is true, you need to do Y.” In the section of Paul’s instructions to husbands, however, he does the opposite. He tells us to love our wives just as Christ loved the church. We do this through 1) making sacrifices, whatever’s necessary for her well-being, and 2) being the spiritual leader, taking the initiative on prayer, Bible reading, family and corporate worship, generally doing things God’s way, etc.
In earlier verses, he told us what to do. Now he's telling us why to do it, a deep theological truth to motivate us. Of course, if God tells you to do something, that’s all the reason you should need. But here in this passage Paul gives us more. Interestingly enough, he submits self-interest as a great reason to be the husband you’re supposed to be.
On my other blog (the political one), I have a posting on the difference between selfishness and self-interest. To summarize my argument there, selfishness is putting your own desires before the needs of others. You see someone in need, and you choose to help yourself instead of them. The most obvious examples of this are in the story commonly known as “The Good Samaritan,” in which both a priest and a Levite saw a man possibly dying on the road and walked on the other side to avoid him.
Self-interest is different. You eat healthy because you care about yourself. You exercise because you care about yourself. You fasten your seatbelt because you care about yourself. Now, granted, the higher reason you should take care of yourself is because you belong to Someone Else and you’re accountable to him for the body he’s lent you. But in and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with self-interest in the sense we’re using it.
In fact, in this case, self-interest and selfishness are not only hugely different, they’re mutually exclusive. Let me explain.
You remember when we talked about how Paul in Romans chapter 12 told us to live with each other? The truth we need to take to heart is the essential unity of the Body of Christ. I mean that we’re part of one Body, whether we acknowledge it or not, or whether we even know it or not. The ways in which we treat each other are supposed to be based on that truth.
It’s the same principle at work here. When you were joined in marriage, you were united as “one flesh.” This union will last as long as you both live. This union is there whether you acknowledge it or not, whether you even know it or not. And. . . it’s there whether you live in accordance with it or not.
Truth is true whether I know it or not, whether I believe it or not, whether I acknowledge it not, or whether I act on it or not. I may not A) know about, B) believe in, C) acknowledge, or D) act in the light of gravity. But the law of gravity remains unchanged, and if I walk off the roof of my house, I ignore that law to my loss.
You’re united with your wife as “one flesh.” What does this mean?
· Nothing affects you which doesn’t affect your wife. What hurts you hurts her. When she’s doing well, that picks you up. It’s the same thing as with your physical body: If your arm is wounded, then your whole body 1) suffers along with it, and 2) expends resources to the wounded part and works towards healing the wound. On the other hand, if you get a back massage, then your whole body “rejoices” along with it.
· There’s no such thing as individual success or failure. Just like any team sport, we either succeed together or fail together. This applies to each and every area of life: financial, spiritual, emotional, sexual, etc.
· Just to emphasize the spiritual aspect, this is a self-interested reason why I need to be concerned about my wife’s spiritual growth. If/when she grows closer to Christ, I benefit. If/when I stagnate or regress, we both suffer.
· As a corollary, there’s really no such thing as winning or losing an argument. If we have a disagreement, then we either get closer to the truth at the end of it (in which case we both succeed), or we don’t (in which case we’ve both failed). We're never really in competition with each other.
Let’s turn to the converse of this truth. None of us perfectly love our wives like Paul’s told us to. I get that. I don’t love my wife nearly as much as I should. But we need to understand that to the degree that I don’t love my wife the way I’m supposed to, I’m hurting myself. When I hurt her, it’s not just immoral, it’s stupid and self-destructive.
That’s what I meant when I said that I want to change your perspective. If you and I actually gain and retain this perspective, we’ll have much better marriages.
Is that what you want?
Father God, how foolish is it when I only look to my needs, my wants, my hurts, as if I’m alone in this. Please help me to love my wife, treat her as the precious jewel she is, and live in the light of this great and glorious truth. For my sake, but much much much more for yours. By your grace.