This teaching includes a free sermon outline to download for personal use, message preparation or Bible study discussion.
I’d like to turn, first of all, to Romans 12:1–2. I consider these two verses to be what I call the gateway. The gateway to any kind of successful Christian living. This is not confined to the area of marriage, this applies to every area of Christian living. There is one gateway and only one. If you do not come through this gateway, really you can’t expect what God promises. Romans 12:1–2. I always point out to people that the opening verse contains the word therefore. I’ve said more times than I can count when you find a therefore in the Bible you want to find out what it’s there for. This therefore is because of the previous eleven chapters of Romans. The previous eleven chapters are the great doctrinal foundation of the Christian faith. Before I became a preacher I was a philosopher, I was a professor of logic and my specialty was definitions. I would like to say from that background, in my opinion, the epistle to the Romans is the greatest single work of logic that has ever been penned by a human being. I’d like to say one thing, I never feel intellectually inferior for believing the Bible. I don’t believe it puts me on a lower intellectual plane.
In the previous eleven chapters Paul has given the total provision of God for the human race in all its desperate need, both Jew and Gentile, through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Characteristically in almost all New Testament epistles there’s a doctrinal foundation and there’s a practical application. The New Testament hardly ever leaves us with just abstract theology. Personally, I have no time whatever for abstract theology. I think it’s been one of the greatest disasters of the church. Basically, I don’t think you learn much about God and the Bible sitting in a classroom.
I’ve been reading a few books from the previous century about men of God and it talks about the man of God behind the sacred desk. I don’t know whether you’ve ever read any of those books. It always makes me smile. Jesus never had a desk. Sacred or non sacred, he never had a desk. He never had a classroom. I believe in learning Christian truth in the context of experience and serving God and man.
Anyhow, in Romans 12 we come to the practical application of the theology that is contained in the previous chapters. Beginning with this 12th chapter we have what God expects us to do in the light of what he has done for us. Verses 1 and 2 of this chapter contain the first thing that God expects us to do. What impresses me is my observation is the majority of Christians have never seen this and most of them have never done it. So characteristic of God and of Paul that it’s not something super-spiritual, it’s not something complicated, it’s not something you have to have a Ph.D. to understand; it’s very simple and very down to earth. What does God want us to do? Let me read.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, [which have been unfolded in the previous eleven chapters] that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
What’s the first thing God asks us to do? Present our what? Body. This thing of flesh and blood, to present it to God. God is so practical. You say, “God, I thought the spiritual things mattered.” He said, “You give me your body and I’ve got the rest.” He says a living sacrifice. Why does he say living? Because, he has in mind the sacrifices of the Old Testament in which an animal was first killed and then placed on the altar. Paul says place yourself on God’s altar but just don’t kill yourself. It’s a living sacrifice. Once you’ve done that you don’t belong to yourself. You don’t manage your own life, you don’t control your own destiny; you belong to the Lord, he has absolute control over your body. He has the right to decide what you will dress in, what you will eat, where you will go, what kind of work you will do. That’s his first requirement.
And, Paul says this is your reasonable service. Or, some translations say your spiritual service. Paul speaks about the result.
“Do not be conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind...”
You see, God begins with your body, not with your mind. Isn’t that remarkable! God says, “Give me your body and I’ll do something in your mind you can’t do for yourself. I’m not going to spend time on something that doesn’t belong to me. Let me know first you belong to me and I’ll start renovating you from inside.”
Be renewed in your mind and so, don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed. See, there’s two ways of changing people. Basically, religion tries to change people from the outside. Religion has a whole set of rules and if you’re like me you’ve been through some of them. Don’t go here, don’t watch this, don’t touch that, don’t eat, don’t et cetera. Don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t run with boys who do. That’s not how God changes things. The problem is people who are changed that way are only changed on the outside. Inside they’re still rebels. God says, “I’ll change you from the inside. I’ll change the way you think and when you think differently you’ll live differently.” You can’t think one way and then live another. If you think like the people of the world you’ll live like the people of the world. But, if you’re changed in your thinking you’ll begin to live a life that’s godly.
Then we come to the conclusion of this:
“...that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Prove means find out in experience. This is what we’re talking about, finding out the will of God in your own life. How do you do it? Well, your old carnal mind, the Bible says, is at enmity with God. God doesn’t reveal his secrets to his enemies. But, when your mind is renewed it begins to find out the will of God. Paul speaks of the will of God in three successive phases. Good, acceptable, perfect.
First of all, God’s will is good. He never wills anything bad for any of his children.
Second, it’s acceptable. When we are confronted with it we need to accept it because it’s good.
Third, it’s perfect. It covers absolutely every area of our lives. It makes provision for every need. The longer I walk with God the more I discover there isn’t a single moment that he hasn’t planned, there isn’t a single situation he hasn’t anticipated, there isn’t a single need that he doesn’t know about in advance.
And, of course, right in the center of this finding the plan of God is marriage. I think generally speaking the most important personal decision any person makes is the decision to marry. Do you believe that God has a person for you to marry? I believe he does and I believe h only has one. I don’t believe he gives you a large choice. I meet Christians who say, “God showed me which car to buy, which suit of clothes to buy, which house to buy.” If God can show them that surely he can show them which person to marry. I believe that good, acceptable and perfect will of God includes your God appointed mate.
But, the gateway is what? Presenting your body as a living sacrifice to God. What I am going to be teaching tonight really doesn’t apply to people who haven’t met that condition.
The second vital principle is contained in Romans 8:14.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
That word “led by” is a continuing present tense. I think it would be legitimate and right to translate it “as many as are regularly and continually led by the Spirit of God, they are sons of God.” Not children but sons. You see, when you are born again of the Spirit of God you become a child of God. But, to become a mature son you have to be led by the Spirit of God. That’s the only pathway to maturity. I would say millions and millions of Christians who’ve been born again have never achieved spiritual maturity because they’ve never learned how to be led by the Spirit of God. But, being led by the Spirit of God is the only way to find God’s will in your life.
In that connection also I’d like to give you a word of counsel from Proverbs 3:5–6, familiar verses. I’ll read them and then I’ll comment on them.
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.”
I believe that. I believe it because the Bible says it and I believe it because I’ve proved it true. Learning to be led by the Spirit of God for most of us is progressive. I have to admit, looking back I was a slow learner in many ways. I can look back at areas of my life when the Holy Spirit was like an emergency vehicle to me. When I was in desperate trouble, you know, I would summon the ambulance and it would come with its sirens blaring. But, that’s not being led by the Spirit of God. It’s not an emergency situation, it’s an ongoing relationship. The Holy Spirit is a person, that’s one of the facts the church has so often overlooked. You have to cultivate a personal relationship with him to be led by him. He’s not a drill sergeant, he doesn’t shout orders at you. He speaks very gently. You have to have an ear that’s open to what he wants to say.
I remember in l964 I was pastoring a church in Seattle, Washington. I was being invited more and more to go out and speak, mainly by the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship. I came to a kind of crisis of conscience where I said to myself it isn’t right for me to be accepting my salary from the church and to spend so little time with them. Up to that time I always reviewed myself as the kind of person that has to spend at least two years in any place to make any impact at all. But, I thought if I give up my pastorate I’ll just be dependent on people inviting me to speak.
So, I did two things. First of all, I said – I’m not sure this was very spiritual. I said if the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship invites me to be the banquet speaker at their Fourth of July banquet in Philadelphia in l964, I’ll know that’s God’s will. They did. Incidentally, it was rather a good occasion for me to sit there at this banquet table on the Fourth of July as a Britisher with my little black African daughter. I mean, I was a little bit unusual.
Then I thought from now on how am I going to know where to go, which invitations to accept and so on. I got this scripture.
“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
I began to make a regular practice of acknowledging him. The best way to acknowledge God is to thank him. At the end of the day thank him. “Thank you, Lord. You’ve led me through this day. Thank you that you helped me do this and you helped me do that, that I met that person and so on and so forth. Now Lord, because I’ve acknowledged you I know you’ll go on directing me.”
Ruth and I pray a prayer that we probably pray at least three times a week, maybe more often. “Lord, help us to be always in the right place at the right time.” We pray it consciously aware that only the Holy Spirit can enable us to do that. You see, God may have a beautiful young lady waiting for you, young man, but if you’re not led by the Holy Spirit you won’t meet her. Think of what you’ve missed. How did I get to meet Ruth? Well, there you are. The first time I met her I don’t recall, she recalls. It was in l971 somewhere near Washington, D.C., and I was praying for the sick. I have a peculiar way of praying for the sick. I check people’s legs and if they’re unequal, the short leg grows out.
So, I didn’t know it but Ruth came and I checked her legs. The short leg grew out and I forgot all about her. I was married to my first wife at the time. Then in l977 I went on a rather peculiar tour to Israel to Jerusalem. The tour was led by Cardinal ?Sunance? who is the Charismatic cardinal of Belgium. He was going to celebrate his 50th year in the priesthood in Jerusalem. He invited a whole lot of non Catholics: Bob Mumford, Don Basham, myself and others to go and help him celebrate. It was a most unusual invitation. We actually found ourselves laying hands on the head of this blessed Catholic cardinal and asking God to bless him. I never imagined that would happen to me, least of all in Jerusalem!
Well, at that time my first wife had died and I felt pretty sure that it was God’s will for me to return to Jerusalem because that’s where I started my ministry. I wanted to seek God as to whether that was the time to do it. When the rest of the party left I spent an extra week in Jerusalem just waiting on God. There was an organization there that had published some of my books and translated them into Hebrew and Arabic and other languages. I thought I ought to go and greet them. I went to their office which was then on the Mount of Olives and I recall having had a letter from a lady that worked in the office about something to do with my books and then there was a little handwritten postscript at the end which said, “Your ministry has meant a great deal to me over the years, I want to thank you. Ruth Baker.”
So, when I got to the office I said, “Is there a lady named Ruth Baker that works here? They said yes but she’s injured her back, she’s in bed, she can’t come. I had this ministry of praying for people’s backs. I thought to myself, you know, really, I’d be extraordinarily callous if I didn’t offer to go pray for the lady. I said, “Do you think that the lady would like me to go and pray for her?” They said oh yes – which I didn’t welcome. I said okay so they phoned and there was a young man driving me around in a Volkswagen bus. I said we’ll get the address, we’ll go there. We drove around the streets of Jerusalem for about half an hour and couldn’t find the place – which is not surprising in Jerusalem. I said to the young man, “Listen, we’ve done our best. Obviously it’s not God’s will for us to find this lady. Let’s go back home.” As he began to turn the car around I discovered we were opposite the house we were looking for. We went in, there was the lady lying on the sofa and I said, “I’ve come to pray for you.” She expressed appreciation.
I said, “I have a rather unusual way of praying for people. I check their legs to see if they’re equal. If they’re unequal the short legs grows out and that’s when God heals you.” I said, “Would you mind my checking your legs?” It’s one thing to do it in a meeting, it’s another when you go to a home when she’s lying on her sofa! She said yes. I checked her legs, they were absolutely equal. I’ve checked literally thousands of pairs of legs. It’s very unusual to find people with absolutely equal legs. I said, “Isn’t that amazing? Did somebody pray for you?” She said yes. I said they certainly did a good job. She said, “You did.” I didn’t remember that.
Well, I didn’t know where to start, I couldn’t start with her feet so I placed my hand on her head, you know. “They shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.” I prayed over her, God gave me a little prophecy for her which I was reluctant to take. I have reservations about personal prophesies. I got this one so I gave it and I said, “Now we’re going, good-bye.” And, that was it.
Well, I went on for the rest of the week and heard nothing from God. It came to the last night, we were due to get up at 6 A.M. and go to the airport. I went to bed at 11 o’clock and never slept a wink all night. I didn’t even feel sleepy. God really began to speak to me. He spoke to me about many things, about my past, how he led me, how he provided for me, how he kept me from making mistakes, he preserved me for his will, and promised me that if I would continue to obey he would fulfill all that he’d promised to me. Then, in the middle of this I had this vision and I’m not one given to having visions. In this vision I saw a woman sitting at the bottom of a hill which had a very steep zigzag path running up it. I could see from the woman’s attitude that she was in pain. As I looked closely I said that’s the woman I went and prayed for the other day. Then I got the strong impression that God wanted me to marry her. Well, I tell you, I was taken aback to say the least! I got almost resentful. I said, “God, here you’re asking me to marry somebody I don’t know, I don’t love.” God didn’t answer that at all. But, he left me with the same impression.
The next morning I thought this is where preachers get into trouble. I’m not going to say anything to anybody. For a month all I did was pray and at the end of the month I felt more than ever that God wanted me to marry the woman. Then I said faith without works is dead. I’m going to do something about it. I wrote a short letter saying if you should ever be coming to the United States I have a close relationship with a fellowship in Kansas City which is very interested in Israel and the Jewish people. I’m sure they’d be happy to see you there. I didn’t know it but the letter arrived a week before she was leaving for the States. I got this letter back saying I am coming, I’d like to come to this fellowship. You can reach me at such and such an address and a phone number.
Well, Ruth didn’t know but I hate phoning people. If I were the only person in America they would have never invented the phone. So, I phoned her three times! Only later did she get to know that that was a very distinctive indication of something. Anyhow, that’s how we came to get married.
But, if I hadn’t been led by the Holy Spirit I would have never gone to her house, it would never have come about. I just had the one opportunity to meet her. Otherwise, there was really no reason to expect that we would ever meet again.
What I’m preaching to you is not theory, it’s something I’ve proved in experience. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.
It says elsewhere in the book of Proverbs you never know what a day will bring forth. Isn’t that true? You can make your plans. I’m a very orderly person. I plan what day I’m going to get my hair cut. But you’d be surprised how many times it doesn’t get cut that day, something else happens.
Ruth and I had all sorts of plans last Sunday. I forget what they were but as we arrived at our church for the morning service there was a lady walking up from New Zealand, the furthest place on the earth, who we had known closely. Our whole plans for the day were completely changed. I’ve learned by experience don’t expect that you can plan it out ahead. Make plans but be flexible.
Now, coming down specifically to preparation for marriage. What I’m saying is still applicable both to males and females. I want to speak about your attitudes. These are basic. Most of us tend to focus on actions but if you analyze it, attitudes precede actions. Your actions come out of your attitudes. And, in the sermon on the mount, for instance, Jesus emphasized attitudes rather than actions. He said, “The Lord said don’t murder. I say to you don’t hate. The Lord said don’t commit adultery. I say to you don’t lust.” You can’t have the wrong attitudes and live the right life. So, I want to talk to you about four attitudes which I consider to be immensely important.
First of all, your attitude toward marriage. Not only does secular society have a very wrong attitude toward marriage, in my observation the majority of Christians don’t have the attitude that God would like us to have to marriage. That’s why there are so many unhappy and broken marriages – even in the church. They tell me today divorces are as frequent in the church as they are outside the church. You’ve probably heard that little parable. “A ship in the sea is all right. The sea in the ship is all wrong.” What’s the application? The church in the world is all right. The world in the church is all wrong. When the world gets into the church then we think and act like the world and we get the same results as the world.
I’d like to read just two or three verses from Matthew 19. Jesus was being questioned about marriage and divorce. We read in verses 4–6:
“Have you not read, that he who made them at the beginning made them male and female [he’s speaking about God and creation] And he said, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife: and the two shall become one flesh? So then they are no longer two, but one flesh.”
I want to point out briefly that marriage was ordained by God. Totally. The first marriage Adam had nothing to do with. He didn’t even know there was such a thing as marriage. He didn’t plan it, he didn’t ask for it; it originated completely in the mind of God. It is something that is totally divine in its origin. It’s not merely a human social institution.
Furthermore, the purpose of marriage is very clearly stated, it is that two may become one. It’s purpose is unity.
Then, one other vitally important fact. In the New Testament human marriage is taken as one of the main patterns of the relationship of Christ to his church. If you turn to Ephesians 5 just for a moment. Ephesians 5:25:
“Husbands, love your wives...”
Notice husbands, that’s not an option, it’s a commandment.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”
You see, there’s a direct parallel between the relationship of a husband to his wife and Christ to his church. At the end of the chapter Paul quotes the same passage that Jesus quoted. Verse 31:
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife: and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
So, marriage is a mystery. I wonder if you appreciate that? It’s not something you can work out with your own unaided understanding. You can’t make a marriage succeed unless you allow God to initiate you into the mystery. The word mystery in the time of the New Testament had a very special meaning. You may have heard of the mystery religions. There were a number of religions, we probably would call them cults today, which claimed to have special knowledge which would enable people to be more successful but, in order to become part of that cult you had to be initiated through its mysteries. So, when Paul says marriage is a great mystery, what he’s saying is it’s something you have to be initiated into. Who initiates you? The Holy Spirit. It’s something far above the level of mere human thinking and planning and arranging. You have to approach marriage with a sense of reverence. This is a great mystery. If I become married I’m going to be involved in a relationship which represents the relationship between Christ and his church. I think it’s good if a person stops at that point and says “I’m unworthy. How could I possibly do that?” The answer is you can only do it by the enabling of God, by the grace of God, by the supernatural help of the Holy Spirit.
Marriage for Christians is something supernatural. I think a lot of people get married without any idea of what’s going to be required of them. I’d also like to say that I think basically the Christian church has failed tragically to prepare young people for marriage. I don’t think most young people growing up in Christian churches today get any kind of adequate preparation for marriage. In my book I recommend that every church should hold regularly, every year, some kind of seminar for young people. You could call it “Face to Face With Marriage,” something like that. I feel that the church is neglecting one of its main duties toward young people.
That’s your attitude to marriage. Then, your attitude to yourself. We live in a society which is almost paralyzed by people with a sense of rejection and low self worth. I think it’s due primary to the failure of the family. But, that’s a fact and we can’t always change people’s pasts. We can’t put you back in your infancy and arrange for your parents to treat you better or for society to treat you better. But, a person who has a low sense of self-worth and always feels rejected is a person who hardly can succeed. One of the problems about people with such an attitude towards themselves is you have to keep propping them up, you have to keep reassuring them. That becomes very wearisome.
The Bible says that we should love our neighbor as ourself. I don’t know whether you’ve ever thought about that. If you don’t love yourself you don’t have much to give to your neighbor. This could be a whole subject on its own but let me just give you two scriptures. 2Corinthians 5:17:
There’s another therefore, you see that?
“...if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: old things have passed away; behold, all things are become new, and all things are of God...”
If you are in Christ you are a new creation. God didn’t just patch you up, he didn’t repair you, he didn’t adjust you; he created you all over again. The old things have passed away, you’re no longer the slave of the past. All things have become new and all things are of God. The new creation originates solely with God. Everything in it is from God. That’s what you are in Christ.
If you can apprehend that that’s the remedy for rejection and low self esteem and insecurity. But, you won’t believe that unless you spend time with your Bible. The Bible is a mirror and you need to keep looking into that mirror to see what you are in Christ. Turn off the television, it doesn’t tell you. Open up your Bible. I tell many people in many places, “I’ll tell you how to become super-spiritual. It’s very simple. You just change two things around. The two things are the amount of time you spend in front of the television and the amount of time you spend with your Bible. Just change them around and you’ll become extremely spiritual.” I don’t think it’s necessarily sinful to watch television but it’s usually a waste of time.
I don’t want to boast and I’m not proud of this and I’m not suggesting that other people are like this. I can’t remember when Ruth and I last turned on the television set. It must have been four years ago at least. Somebody phoned us when we were in London recently and said there’s a program in Israel on channel 4, you’d be interested to watch it. We couldn’t turn on channel 4. I mean, that’s nothing to be proud of but it gives you an idea of my sense of values. In my priorities television comes so low it’s dropped off the bottom of the list. I don’t regret it. I think I’m the better for the time I spend in my Bible.
But, you see, you will never really believe what God says about you until you take time with your Bible. The remedy may be a psychiatrist or a psychologist could help you but the real remedy is to let God speak to you out of his word, speak to your heart and show you how much he loves you, what he thinks of you, what he’s done for you, the provision he’s made for you. You could never feel rejected after that. You could never feel that you’re insignificant. I tell people to remember you’re a member of the best family in the universe.
Another scripture is Ephesians 1:3–6. You might think this doesn’t have much to do with marriage but believe me, if we don’t lay this foundation we’ve got nothing to build on when we come to teach about marriage.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ...”
Has blessed us. Notice that. He’s not going to, he has. But, you have to be in the heavenly places because that’s where the blessings are.
“...just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love...”
Can you realize that? Before the world was created God chose you. Chose you for a purpose. That you should be holy and without blame before him. Incredible but true!
“...having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to himself...”
Before creation took place God had determined to have a family and he determined that you’d be a member of his family. How can you ever think you’re unimportant after that? We could go on reading but I don’t have time.
The next attitude that is very important for marriage is your attitude toward other people. Remember, your attitude toward your wife or husband is not going to be totally different from your attitude toward other people. You may have a very special love but if you’re normally selfish you’ll be selfish in marriage. Marriage doesn’t change a person’s character. It can be one of the formative influences in helping a person to change but if a person was selfish before he’s married he’ll be selfish afterward. If a person was irresponsible before he was married what will he be after he was married? Irresponsible. So, if you want to have a good relationship with the one you’re going to marry you better start by cultivating good relationships with other people around you right now. Use them to practice on.
Let me give you just two scriptures. Philippians 2:4–5:
“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”
And describes how Jesus gave himself for others.
Self-centeredness is a prison. You talk with self centered people and they spend all their time telling you about their problems. They don’t realize that when they’re doing that they’re strengthening the bars of the prison. They’re making it harder to get out.
Another scripture in this context is 2Corinthians 4:5.
“For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
You need to know that Paul was educated as a rabbi, he was a very religious Jew. By nature, I would have, to say religious Jews tend to be extremely proud. There may be exceptions. And, these people were really the scum of the earth. They were the people from a big seaport, Corinth. Paul lists what they’d been, they’d been prostitutes, pimps, homosexuals, drunkards, extortioners, and all that sort of thing. Here’s this proud Jewish rabbi saying we’re not preaching ourselves but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your slaves for Jesus’ sake. That’s the secret of happiness. It’s not myself but Jesus the Lord; and me a servant.
If you cultivate that attitude you’ll be happy wherever you are. Married or unmarried.
The fourth is your attitude towards you parents. I have come to learn by experience that many marriages are frustrated and unhappy because the husband and wife don’t have the right attitude to their parents. Ephesians 6:1–3:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor your father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.”
I have moved in the body of Christ for 45 years. I’ve ministered to hundreds and thousands of people from many different racial and denominational backgrounds. To the best of my knowledge I have never met a Christian who dishonored his parents and had it well with him. I don’t say you can’t be saved, I don’t say you won’t go to heaven when you die but I do say that the blessing of God will never rest on you on this earth. You’ll probably die prematurely. To honor your parents doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they say, it doesn’t mean you have to do everything that they demand of you that’s unscriptural or unpleasing to God. But, it means that you have to respect them as your parents. I suggest to some of you if you are looking for reasons why your life isn’t going as well as you think it should, check on your attitude to your parents.
Let me recapitulate those four attitudes. Your attitude toward marriage, your attitude towards yourself, your attitude toward others and, your attitude toward your parents.
Now, we’ll come for a little while to speak about that which concerns men rather than women. In other words, how does a man prepare himself as a man for marriage. If you’re going to prepare yourself for any kind of calling or profession you need to know what you’re preparing yourself for. You need to have an idea of what you’re going to have to do, of what are the requirements. If you’re going to be a carpenter you need to know what a carpenter has to do. If you’re going to be a doctor you need to know what a doctor has to do. If you’re going to be a husband – and probably a father – you need to know what’s the job description, what’s expected of me.
So, let’s begin with that. We’ll turn to 1Corinthians 11:3.
“But I want you to know, that the head of every man [or every husband, it’s the same word in Greek] is Christ; and the head of woman [or wife] is man [or husband]; and the head of Christ is God.”
People can argue about that and they can introduce a new social order but they can’t change it. Because, it’s an eternal fact established by Almighty God. You don’t break God’s laws, they break you. We are all familiar with the law of gravity. Nobody has ever broken the law of gravity. You step out of a fourth floor window, what breaks? You do. It’s the same with what we’re talking about. Nothing can be changed by human feelings or votes or acts of Congress; they have no power to change what we’re talking about. These are eternal facts.
Paul sketches out what I would call a chain of relationship that starts in heaven and ends in the family. God the Father is the head of Christ. Christ is the head of the husband. The husband is the head of the wife. Whether you like it or not, that’s true. If you don’t let it work in your life you won’t break the law, the law will break you.
I’m not involved in arguing with women’s libbers, I’m not interested. I mean, I’m sorry for them, they’re like people to decide to step out of the fourth story window – they’re going to end broken.
In that chain there are two links in the chain which have a joint upwards and a joint downwards. That’s Christ and the husband. Christ is related to the Father above, to the husband below. The husband is related to Christ above and to the wife below. So, as you consider the role of Christ you understand the role of the husband. Christ represents God the Father to the husband, the husband represents Jesus Christ to his wife and family. That’s the job description of the husband. It’s to represent Christ to his wife and family.
We could look at one other passage in 1Timothy 3:4–5, speaking about the kind of person who ought to be an elder, or bishop if you want to use the word, or overseer. Paul says:
“One that rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence: (For is a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)”
There Paul sketches out what’s required of a successful husband and father. To rule his own house well, having his children with an attitude of respect and obedience towards their parents. Paul says if a man can’t achieve that he should not be an elder in the church. If he cannot make it work at home then don’t let him try in the church.
See, actually, the home is the church in miniature. In the New Testament there are three main constituents to a church. The pastor, or pastors, the deacons or helpers, and the congregation or the flock. Those correspond in the home the pastor, the shepherd is the husband/father. The helper is the wife who is appointed to be helpmate. The congregation are the children. So, really there’s a very close parallel between the family and the church. Paul says very reasonably if a man can’t make it work in his family, don’t turn him loose in the church. It doesn’t say he can’t be a member of the church but he can’t be a leader in the church.
But, that’s the job description. To manage or rule his own family well. The word “to lead” there in Greek is to stand out in front. It means to go ahead or to stand in front and protect. Like, the husband/father is responsible to shield his family from the forces that come against it. That’s the job description.
If your job is to represent Christ to your family, how will you do that? I want to suggest a number of very simple ways. I have nothing very complicated to say. I think the first requirement is love. Let’s go back to Ephesians 5:25.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church...”
As I pointed out, that’s not an option, it’s not a recommendation; it’s a commandment. I’ve already pointed out that marriage doesn’t operate on the natural plane. It’s supernatural. The kind of love that Paul is talking about doesn’t come naturally to many men. But, we’re not limited to the natural. We have the resources of God’s supernatural grace.
What does love include? Of course, you could spend a long time on that. The first thing I want to say is love is extremely strong. I think there’s a picture in contemporary society that love is weak. That’s completely wrong. I think some men feel it would be sissy to be loving. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a simple statement in the Song of Solomon which I love. Chapter 8, verse 6. It’s very simple, it says:
“Love is as strong as death...”
And, death is irresistible. When death comes no one can resist it. Love is as strong as death. Don’t think about love as something weak or sissy; it’s something tremendously strong. A man who can love is a man with great strength of character.
Then, love – and especially the love of marriage – should include tenderness. Again, we have a beautiful picture of the Lord’s love for Israel in Jeremiah 31:3.
“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying, Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.”
What tenderness there is in those words! How does God draw us to himself? With his lovingkindness, with his tenderness. I think it’s very important for a man to learn to be tender. Many of us definitely have to learn it. I know for one, I do. I don’t know how well I’ve learned it. But, tenderness is a very important element in making a marriage succeed.
I grew up as an only child without brothers or sisters. I really had very little exposure to females for a long while. It took me a long while to realize that women don’t think like men. No matter how much they ought to, they don’t! Essentially, I mean, this is not totally true, men reason it out, they think it out, they plan it. Women intuit it, don’t they? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a husband and wife talk and the husband says, “Well, I really came to see that that man wasn’t honest, he was a swindler.” The wife says, “I told you that all along.” How did she know? She just knew, you know. I don’t mean women are infallible but I’ve learned by experience. I’ve been married to two extremely smart women, believe me. I’ve been smart enough to profit from their smartness! I feel so sorry for the man who has an intelligent, gifted wife and all he does is keep her down all the time. Misguided effort.
There’s another thing that is helpful in marriage and that is romance. I’ve had a wide exposure in my subsequent years. As I say, I was an adoptive father to nine girls from different racial backgrounds and I’ve traveled and seen culture in many different areas. I don’t believe there is a single woman on earth that doesn’t like romance. Nowhere. There never has been a woman created that didn’t appreciate romance. Lots of them never get it. Some of them don’t even know what they’re longing for. But, there’s something in a woman that responds to it.
Well, why throw away your trump card – to use a rather worldly expression. Romance is very interesting. I explain it like this. It’s not an extra course tacked on at the end of the meal; it’s a special kind of flavor that’s added to every course. You can do things one way or the other. You can do things in the ordinary way or you can be romantic. You can drive to church with your wife and it’s just a drive. Or, you can drive to church with your wife in such a way that she feels she’s really exciting you, that you’re excited to be sitting next to her on the car seat. People tell Ruth and me everywhere we look like newlyweds. We always say we are, we’ve only been married eight years. We always walk hand in hand. You’ll never see us walking any other way. I don’t say everybody’s got to do that but I’ll tell you, there are a lot of useful spinoffs from walking hand in hand. The Bible says can two walk together except they be agreed? You cannot walk hand in hand with a person without be agreed with them. If you’re not agreed you won’t walk hand in hand. People say Brother Prince has become a teenager. I could care less! If that’s the secret of youth, I’m happy for it.
You can take your wife shopping and it can be just a chore or it can be a romance. You don’t have to change anything in your circumstances. It’s something about you. Believe me, my dear male brothers, it’ll pay you many times over. Use that little extra flavor.
Then another very important aspect about the love we’re talking about is this is a self-giving love. If you want to go back again to that key verse, Ephesians 5:25–26:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it...”
How did his love express itself? In giving of himself. That’s essential to making a marriage work. The husband has to give himself. So does the wife but I’m talking about the husband’s part. I’ll tell you this. Giving yourself is not natural to fallen man. It’s something that has to be cultivated. Here is where parents can really help their children to lay the basis of a successful marriage, by teaching them to be self giving, teaching them to care for others. There’s endless different opportunities in a family to teach children to care for one another and to care for their parents and to care for the home.
You see, again, marriage isn’t a miracle that changes your character the moment you get married. If you’ve been selfish and self-centered all your life you’re not going to change. But, your marriage will suffer. I don’t say it will fall apart but it will suffer. Cultivate giving of yourself. Pastors, train your church members to do that. In any church there are endless opportunities to give of yourself. There are shutins, there are widows, the sick and the poor, there are jobs to be done – all the chores that nobody wants to do. The person who does them is building something into his character which will make him successful when the others aren’t.
The next way in which a husband can represent Christ to his wife and his family is stated in the next verse of Ephesians 5, that’s verse 26. Christ gave himself for the church:
“...that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.”
So, Jesus sanctifies the church by the teaching of the word of God. The teaching of God’s word has a sanctifying effect. I’ve observed that there’s a difference in the worship of congregations who regularly are under the teaching of the word and those who don’t get much teaching. Both congregations can worship, they can sing, they can clap, they can get excited but there’s a purity and a solidity about the worship of Christians who are really instructed in the word which is lacking in the others. In the others there’s a lot of fleshiness, superficiality. The teaching of God’s word has a sanctifying power. It cleanses people.
As Jesus sanctifies the church through the teaching of the word, the husband should sanctify his wife and his children through the teaching of the word. It’s a husband’s responsibility to accept the instruction of his wife and his children. Turning to Ephesians 6:4:
“And you fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath: but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Whose responsibility is it to see that the children are instructed in the things of God? The fathers or the mothers? And, how many fathers do it? In most families today in America, if anybody sees that the children get taught, who is it? The mother. What happens to the children, especially the little boys? They grow up thinking religion is a woman’s business. When I get old enough I’m going to be like daddy. That’s delinquent fathers.
In order to be able to teach the word of God you have to learn the word of God. One very important preparation for a man is to get a thorough grasp of the Bible, to be able to see what is right and what is wrong. To be able to teach his children what is right and what is wrong. To do that you have to put yourself in a place of being instructed. Let me mention there’s more than 400 teaching cassettes by Derek Prince available to start with! I don’t want in any way to seem arrogant, but the people that study those cassettes prosper. They do. I’m not saying I’m the only source but I’ll just tell you people that study that teaching prosper. This is a matter of proven experience. You’re not going to be able to teach your family if you haven’t learned yourself.
Another way to do it is to become a teacher somewhere, become a Sunday School teacher. If you have the opportunity become involved with teaching college students, whatever it may be. But, put yourself in a place where you’re getting experience in ministering the word. When the time comes you’ll do a good job with your family.
And, I would say, normally a man who wants to succeed in marriage should find and commit himself to some Christian fellowship, come under pastoral care and teaching. There may be exceptions but, generally speaking, I would say that is a must.
Then, I’ll just speak briefly about two other aspects. Not only does Jesus teach the church, he intercedes for the church. If you turn to Hebrews 7:25 it says of Jesus:
“He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him, since he ever lives to make intercession for them.”
So, what has Jesus been doing for the last nineteen centuries? Doing what? Making intercession. For whom? For us, for the church.
Well, that’s one of the responsibilities of a husband and a father. Intercession is part of your necessary equipment for being a successful husband and father. Intercession is something that has to be learned and has to be practiced. One thing I suggest you could do if you take this seriously is study the pattern of the great intercessors of the Bible. To take just three outstanding examples: Abraham, Moses and Daniel. Study how they interceded for God’s people. There’s a text in Ezekiel 22 which is very powerful. I think we should turn there for a moment. Ezekiel 22:30. God has been describing the backsliding of his people Israel. Every section of the community has backslidden and if you want to remember the sections it so happens it’s easy to do it in English because they all begin with P. It’s also very interesting to see the order. First the prophets, then the priests, then the princes, then the people. You see, that’s the way it is in a nation. Backsliding doesn’t begin with the secular rulers, it begins with the spiritual leaders. First the prophets, the men whose job it is to declare the counsel of God to the nation. Then the priests, those who are responsible for the spiritual care of God’s people. When they backslide then the princes, the senators and the congressmen and the others will backslide. Finally the people. That’s just about the way it is today in the United States with some wonderful exceptions.
But, God says in that situation, he makes one of the most remarkable statements. Ezekiel 22:30:
“So I sought for a man among them, who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found no one.”
The implication is if God could have found one man it could have changed the destiny of the nation. He looked for a man and found none. So, as a prospective husband and father you need to study the ministry of intercession. There’s a beautiful picture of Job beginning in the book of Job. He had seven sons and three daughters. Once every week Job got up early in the morning and offered sacrifice for his sons and his daughters that they might be kept right with God. That’s intercession.
We’ve spoken about representing Christ to the wife and we used the word head. Let me consider just for a moment in closing what is meant by headship. Obviously, the picture is taken from the human body. What’s the function of the head? Very, very simply, the head receives communication from every member of the body. The head makes decisions and initiates action. That’s what the head of a family has to do. He has to receive communication from all in the family. He has to be sensitive to what every person in the family is feeling, experiencing and going through. Then he has to make the decisions as to what’s best for the family. Thirdly, he has to carry those decisions out. That requires strength of character.
I had an excellent relationship with my first wife. She was older than I was, she was a much more mature Christian. She was also a Dane and I’ve often said that Danes are the most outspoken race in Europe and my wife was the most outspoken Dane! There was a time when we were making a decision as to what we should do when I felt the Lord had shown me one thing and my wife and our daughters felt something else. I tell you, resisting six Jewish daughters apart from anything else is a test. I was really prepared to give way and the Lord spoke to me very quietly and he said, “You do want me to respect you, don’t you?” I got the message. I realized in the last resort I was the head, I had to make the decision. I had to have the guts to see it through. We did and it turned out right. I think today all the family would agree it was the right thing.
Let me sum up what’s needed to be a head in three words. Sensitivity, wisdom, strength. Let me say that again. Sensitivity, wisdom, strength. To sum it up in one word, it’s leadership. What is the greatest social lack in modern American society in one word? Leadership. When you analyze it it’s a failure of leadership on the political level and the church level, in the family and in many other areas. Today to be a leader is to be a target of attack. The whole of our contemporary thinking is slanted against acknowledging anybody in authority. So, I tell men if they want to be successful they’ve got to be prepared to swim against the current because the whole current of our society is in the opposite direction.
Then I say that’s the difference between a live fish and a dead fish. A live fish can swim against the current. A dead fish can only drift with it. So, which are you? Live or dead? Which do you intend to be?
To close I say this. To build that kind of character, to become that kind of person I think there are two keys. They go very closely together. Responsibility and faithfulness. My observation is – and I think Solomon saw it before me – a faithful person will always get promoted sooner or later. IF they don’t get promoted by men they will get promoted by God. But, faithfulness doesn’t begin in the big issues. Luke 16:10. I could quote this but I want to read it.
“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much: and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.”
Faithfulness does not begin with the big issues, it begins with the small issues. Do you clean up after you? Do you do your job when no one is watching? Can you be relied on to make a commitment and keep it?
I have learned by experience that what Jesus said is totally true. I can look back on situations where I had relationships with younger men who were gifted, talented, had all the ingredients for success it would appear. But, I never could trust them in the small things. All I can say today is Jesus was absolutely right. I should have known better.
So, if you want to cultivate faithfulness begin with everything that’s small and unimportant. Begin with being punctual. How does that go down? If the service begins at 7:30 be there at 7:30. In England they have a strange way of announcing services. They say 7 p.m. for 7:15. Which is kind of slanted to the churchgoer. Well, we really want you there at 7:15 but we’ll tell you to come at 7:00 so you’ll be there by 7:15. To me, that’s a confession of defeat.
There are endless different areas to check on your own faithfulness. Do you answer letters? Do you pay your bills? There’s one scripture that’s very brief but very comprehensive. “Owe no one anything.” Don’t be in debt. The Bible says the debtor is slave to the lender. Do you want to be a slave? Be in debt. See, these are nasty, practical areas they don’t mention in church. But, God knows them, God watches.
I’ve learned by experience God knows who to promote. He watches. If you want an example of faithfulness under difficulty, you study the career of Joseph. He’s betrayed by his brothers, sold into Egypt, faithfully serves his Egyptian master and ends up in jail for doing it. So, how many of us would say, “It doesn’t pay to serve God”? He’s so faithful in jail he’s put in charge of the jail. You see, you cannot keep a good man down, that really is true. Where does he end up? One jump from the jail to the prime minister when God’s time comes.
Some of you have been in the testing stage now. God is testing to see what you’re made of. Will you be faithful when no one is watching you, when there doesn’t seem to be any reward? But, when God has thoroughly tested you he’ll promote you. I’m not really interested in impressing people because they’re so fickle, they’re so changeable. But, if you please God he’ll see to it.
Let me just perhaps briefly recapitulate. When I trained teachers in Africa one of the things we taught them was recapitulation is an essential part of good teaching. So, your job description is head, manager. You’re going to represent Christ to your family. In what way? First of all, by loving as Christ loved.
Love includes strength, tenderness, romance, self giving. You’re going to represent Christ as the great teacher. You’ll sanctify your family by the washing of water by the word. You’ll make sure that the word of God is an integral part of your family life.
Third, you’ll represent Christ as an intercessor, you’ll intercede for your family. You’ll train yourself in intercession.
Fourth, you’ll prepare to be a head by cultivating sensitivity, wisdom and strength which altogether mean leadership.
And, the way to do that is to concentrate on two things. Being responsible and being faithful. Amen.