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God's Design for Marriage

God's instructions for husbands and wives are the key to a long and happy marriage.

I saw a cartoon some time ago in which a preacher had prepared the pulpit area like a fortress. He was peering through the crack of a machine gun nest. The caption read, "Today my text is 1 Peter 3:1, 'Wives submit to your husbands.' "

Well, I have the unenviable task tonight of speaking from 1 Peter 3:17 in our study through this book. It's not a popular section. It's resented by many women in this age of women's liberation.

But verse 7 isn't very popular with the men, either, because it says, "You husbands be considerate of your wives." And that's not easy to do in an age of pride and egocentricity. In spite of its unpopularity, it's a section.

Before we look at the Scriptures, there are three preliminary principles that I want to underscore.

God is our designer and he knows what is best for us. When you buy a car, you look in the glove compartment and take out the owner's manual. The one who designed that car knows how it is to best function.

I bought a video camera about a year ago. I'd used it for about ten minutes, then recharged it. I later learned that you should not recharge the battery until the energy is completely depleted. The first time you recharge it programs it for the future. I've got a battery pack that will last only ten minutes because I did what I thought was best and did not pay attention to the one who designed the battery.

God made man from the dust of the ground. God made woman from the rib of Adam. God performed the first marriage ceremony. We need to look at what the owner's manual says in order for marriage to function best.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, " 'These are the plans that I have for you,' says the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.' " God is our designer. He knows what's best for us.

Man is a sinner and in rebellion against God's authority. Satan came to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and said, "Has God said that you're not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that you would die? That's not true. If you eat of that tree, you will really live. You'll be like God." Adam and Eve disobeyed. They discovered God's Word was true, and they began to die.

Since that time, there is in every heart a spirit of defiance against God's authority. Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." We do not want God's authority over us.

God says, "Don't take my name in vain," and though there are thousands of names available to us, when we get angry the one word we choose is the word "God" or the word "Jesus Christ" in defiance, in rebellion against God.

God says, "I don't want you to hoard up your money on earth. I want you to learn to give at least a tenth of it away." But we hoard it up for ourselves.

God says, "Whenever you are wronged, don't retaliate. Be kind to your enemy." And we do just the opposite because we are in defiance against God. Man is a sinner and his nature is to rebel against God.

A Christian is a humble servant acknowledging the authority of God and God's Word.

When you become a Christian, you submit your ego and will to God, saying, "Not my will but thine be done. I acknowledge that my way is not the best way. I've come with a spirit of submission to your word."

Isaiah 2:8 says, "Let us go to the mountain of the Lord that he may teach us his ways. And we will walk in his paths." An airplane pilot is not to trust his own instincts in a storm, but to trust the instrument panel. Instincts can be wrong if he experiences vertigo. Just as a pilot can get so jostled around that he loses his sense of up and down, we can get so jostled around by the philosophy of this world that we lose our sense of right and wrong. We have an instrument panel that is more reliable than our own feelings.

Proverbs 12:14 says, "There is a way that seems right unto man but the end thereof are the ways of death."

So when it comes to God's design for marriage, you can come with a spirit of defiance as a sinner, saying, "I'm going to do it my way." Or you can come with a spirit of submission to the one who designed you, saying, "Lord, teach me what you would have me to be in my home." I trust that as we open this passage it will be with the latter spirit.

What is the wife's role in a marriage?

"Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands." A good definition of the word "submissive" is "acknowledging the sovereignty of God and respecting his delegated authority." A submissive spirit is one who acknowledges that God is the king. Jesus is Lord. We acknowledge his sovereignty, his right to rule over us; but we also acknowledge that he has delegated authority to individual people in the world.

God has delegated authority to three spheres of influence in this world. One is the government. We are to respect the President, the governor, teachers, policemennot because they are perfect but because they are God's delegated authority to keep order in the world.

The second sphere of influence is the church. We are to respect the teachers, the elders, the overseers of the churchnot because these people are perfect, but because they have been delegated authority by God.

The third sphere of influence that God created is in the home. God delegated authority to the parents, saying that children are to be obedient to their parents. That's the right order of things. And even though parents are imperfect, children are to respect their authority.

In marriage, God has delegated that the husband benot the dictatorthe leader in the home. The husband and wife share; but when they come down to a point where they cannot arrive at a common agreement, the husband is to be the recognized leader in the home. There is a definite purpose for this.

Let's say you came to my house for a party and the cars were lined up along the street and you pulled in the empty driveway. A little girl came out and said, "Mr. Russell has asked you not to park in the driveway because a caterer is coming later, and he wants the driveway free. Would you park in the street?"

Even though physically you could overpower that girl, I suspect you would park in the street because of your respect for me. She is a delegated authority.

We show our respect for God by being obedient to his delegated authority.

See that phrase "in the same way"? In the previous section of Scripture, Jesus Christ was submissive to the authorities who came to arrest him. Even though he was mistreated, he did not retaliate. He was superior to them. He could have struck them blind or struck them dead. He did not. But he did so for the purpose of the salvation of mankind. He was going to go to the cross.

That submissive spirit in Christ, far from being degrading, was his glory. In Philippians 2 it says that he was "obedient even unto death, the death on the cross. Wherefore God has highly exalted him and given him a name that is above every name." When we are submissive to God's delegated authority, it is not degrading. It is our glory as a Christian.

Now, God had several purposes for this delegated authority in the home.

1) For the orderly function of the home. Any group of people needs a delegated leader. In the military, the sergeant has authority over the private for the orderly function of the military. In a business, there is one president with authority over the company. (The exception is a business partnership, but they have a notorious record for failure.)

In the cockpit of an airplane, there are two peoplea pilot and a . Both fly the plane; but if there is an instant decision to be made, the pilot is to be the leader.

God knew for the orderly function of the home that there needed to be a designated leader. And so he said, "Wives, be submissive to your husbands."

2) To fulfill a need of your mate. Wives, if a man does not feel that he is the leader of the home, he has a poor and a poor .

One man said, "I'll always have the last word in my home."

What's the last word? "Yes, dear."

Man has been created by God in such a way that he feels deprived if he doesn't feel he's the leader of the home. He feels unfulfilled.

3) For the salvation of an Christian husband. "In the same way be submissive to your husbands; so that if any of them do not believe the Word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives."

Some of you have husbands who do not believe. They don't come to church with you. Some of you have husbands who do not share the intensity of your faith.

Now, you've tried to persuade them. You've talked with them about salvation and the lordship of Jesus Christ, but they don't get it or want to share that commitment.

You will not win them over by rebelling against them, putting them down, saying "I'm praying for you today," playing the preacher's tapes loudly on the stereo, or leaving a little verse of Scripture on their pillow when they come home!

The way to influence your husband is to have such a cooperative, gentle spirit that he says, Jesus Christ is making a difference in her life. The church is making her more pleasant to live with. I think I'll investigate. A cooperative spirit softens him up.

If the Lord is making a difference in your life, you'll have much more of a chance to win him over to the Lord.

4) To exalt Jesus Christ. You bring honor to him by submitting. I'm accountable to the elders of the church; there are about twenty men who have oversight over me. If I say to you, "There's no elder who's going to tell me how to run this church," if you have spiritual perception, you are going to say, The guy has an ego problem. He really doesn't have a submissive spirit to the delegated authority over him.

When a woman says, "No husband tells me what to do. No way," if you have spiritual perception, that's a telltale sign that she's not in sync with the servanthood of Jesus Christ.

If I say, "The elders have delegated this authority over me and I need to be obedient to them," if you're spiritually perceptive, hopefully you'd say, He's accountable the way the Lord intended him to be. When you are submissive as Christ was submissive to the Father, far from being degrading, it is honoring to Jesus Christ.

He says, "Be beautiful for your husbands. But not just external beauty. It should be internal. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes."

Now, he's not saying you shouldn't ever pay attention to your hair, or wear jewelry, or wear clothes! He's just saying, "Don't let your outward appearance become ."

I remember a man telling me that he was going to divorce his wife. I said, "I have to admit your wife is really pretty."

He said, "Yeah, but if you lived with that critical spirit and that attitude very long, you'd see the beauty doesn't last."

On the other hand, haven't you known people who seemed normal in appearance but they have such a gentle spirit, pleasant personality, a good sense of humor, or a contagious spirit, that the longer you know them the more attractive they become?

Peter is saying, "As you are married for a long period of time, physical appearance is going to be less and less important. Who you are inside is going to be more important." So let the source of your beauty be internal and not external.

His example is Sarah in the Old Testament. "This is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands like Sarah who obeyed Abram and called him her master."

Now, I don't know of any man who wants his wife to call him master. That kind of gags you. That's like I Dream of Jeannie. But I don't know of any husband who doesn't want his wife to respect him, and in a sense consider him a hero. Somebody said every woman needs to be loved and every man needs to be admired.

Mrs. Leon Apple, the wife of a preacher who recently died, was speaking to the 120 committee, mostly preachers, of the North American Christian Convention in St. Louis. She said, "I always said I'd rather hear Leon Apple preach than any man I knew, because I was sure that he lived what he preached at home, and I wasn't sure about some of you guys."

Every preacher sat there thinking, Boy, I wish my wife felt that way about me. Wives, don't underestimate the size of the man's ego. He wants to be the hero. And when you cut him down in public, when you're uninterested in the things that he's interested in, when you ridicule the things that are important to him, it discourages him.

On the other hand, when you boost him up, he thinks you're the greatest in the world. That's when you re being beautiful to him. When a man feels like his wife respects him, that's a real source of encouragement, and his wife becomes increasingly beautiful.

What is the husband's role in a marriage?

In verse 7 he talks about husbands. He says, "Husbands, in the same way, be considerate as you live with your wives." A good definition of being "considerate" is putting the interest and the feelings of your mate ahead of yourself. That's hard to do because men are, by nature, proud and . It means you put the interest of your wife ahead of your ballgames and your golf matches and your job and everything else. Be considerate of your wife.

Dave Clark was one of our elders who died several months ago at 60 years of age. His wife Carolyn told me that now for the first time she was going to have to put gasoline in her car, because Dave always took care of it for her. That convicted me, because I don't do that.

Be considerate. Put the interest of your wife ahead of yourself. The example is that of Jesus Christ. That's exactly what he did for us. He put our interests ahead of his own interest and went to the cross for us.

Ephesians 5 says, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for the church." Here are several reasons why.

1) For the orderly function of the home. Husbands, God has created the woman in such a way that when she is married she wants the security of knowing that she's loved. She wants the security of knowing that there's somebody there who will protect her and take care of her. And she's not going to be fulfilled as a person unless she feels that.

2) To meet our wife's need to feel cherished. She needs to feel that she is the most important person in your life and the most important thing in your life. If you are oblivious to her, there is an emptiness in her. She just needs an expression, a touch, or a note.

Years ago, we were eating pizza in the church kitchen with a crowd of teenagers. I looked across the counter at my wife, who had been preparing the pizza, and she looked particularly attractive to me. I winked at her. She looked away like she was embarrassed.

Later that night I was sitting in the chair watching TV, and she came up around behind me and kissed me on the back of the neck. She said, "You know what that does to me when you wink at me in public like that?"

No, but I found out. I'm going to do it again!

Somebody asked me after the first service: "Do you ask permission to tell these stories?" You bet I do.

3) To honor Jesus Christ.

Mary Francis Meyers died today, a great woman in our church. Her husband Ken died two or three years ago. I'll never forget being in the Fireside Room when they celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. I said, "Ken, fifty years is a long time."

He immediately responded, "Not nearly as long as it would have been without her."

That's what I want for my marriage. That kind of security, that kind of commitment of growing older together and loving each other, the two becoming one. When you do that, you bring honor to Jesus Christ. People can look at that marriage and say that's what God designed the home to be.

"Treat her with respect as the weaker partner." It doesn't say the weak partner, rather the weaker partner. You're both weak. He's not talking about spiritual or intellectual weakness. He's talking about physical weakness.

Most men could overpower their wives. Here's a coffee mug worth probably twenty cents. I can bang it and drop it and be rough with it.

This is a Laura Ashley teacup that costs dollars if you buy it in a set. It's the weaker of the two vessels. If I bang it around very much, I could chip it easily. It is more easily damaged, but the more valuable of the two.

Men can be rough with each other. "Hey, gained a few pounds there, didn't you?" Guys just slough it off. "Yeah, man."

You say that to your wife, and you'll find out she is not made the same way. She's more easily damaged. So you have to be respectful of your wife as the weaker vessel. Treat her with tenderness and understanding.

Your wife is an heir with you of the gracious gift of life. In God's eyes, you are of eternal life. You are going to inherit eternal life together. She's as important as you.

Judy gave me a card years ago that meant a lot to me. It said, "Happiness is being married to your best friend."

" 'These are the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. 'Plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.' "

So, wives, be submissive to your husbands. Be beautiful for them on the inside. Husbands, be considerate with your wives. Respect them as the more valuable vessel, and be thoughtful to them as the with you of the precious gift of life.

Robert L. Russell has been pulpit minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, since 1966.

(c) Robert L. Russell

Preaching Today Tape #166


A resource of Christianity Today International

Bob Russell is a speaker, chairman of the board of the Londen Institute, and author of When God Builds a Church (Howard).

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Sermon Outline:


Today's passage is unpopular, but nonetheless a much-needed section.

I. What is the wife's role in a marriage?

II. What is the husband's role in a marriage?