Last week I discussed some of what makes a marriage a marriage as opposed to a business relationship. The truth is that the love and respect a husband and wife provide each other shows up in all aspects of their life, not just sex. However, sex is the distinctive that makes the marriage relationship most different from all others. It is an intertwining of pleasures that is forbidden outside the marriage because that would cause hurt, confusion, distrust and possibly disease.
In Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’ book, Love and Respect, he presents the idea that just as a woman is wired to give and understand love, a man is wired to give and understand respect. He notes wisely that “the journey to a godly, satisfying marriage is never over.” This is an ongoing relationship that must be tended much as one would tend a garden. You cannot pull out weeds and plant seeds once and leave the garden alone for years and expect good crops every fall. In the same way, a couple cannot say their vows, experience a good relationship at the start of their marriage, and expect it will always continue that way if they never give it attention.
Using the premise of Ephesians 5:33, “each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband,” he notes that most of us readily agree to the idea that love should be unconditional. He then says respect should also be unconditional! Most of us, even men, react against this idea, because we have been trained culturally to think that respect must be earned. However, that is not necessarily the case. In the military a person is “respected” because of the number of bars on his/her uniform. He or she may be a jerk of a person, but we treat them respectfully because of the official position.
Before anyone gets too excited or angry that he is advocating a military style marriage, please rest assured that he balances this with the husband’s responsibility to love his wife. What Eggerichs finds interesting is that husbands are never told to respect their wives just as wives are never told to love their husbands. He figures it is because of the way God created each of us, male and female, and wired us to see the world differently. The “blue hearing aid and blue sunglasses” a husband wears mean that he hears and sees things differently than his wife who wears a “pink hearing aid and sunglasses,” and vice versa. I will not give a complete book report here, but encourage you, if you find this intriguing, to get a copy of his book and consider what you find in it to be true (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
After dealing with the basic attitudes toward marriage and the need to come back again and again to weed-pulling, seeding, pruning and all the other regular features of gardening, let’s address the sexual union of a husband and wife. I encourage you to get a copy of The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner to explore their thoughts. Remember, neither Adam or Eve, nor your husband or wife, came up with the concept of sex. It was the Creator’s idea and He planned it to be a source of unity, procreation, safety, and pleasure. “Our maleness and femaleness, our sexuality is not something added on or part of our sinful natures; it is part of the original perfect creation of mankind. The Bible portrays sex as a symbol of the relationship between God and His people.”
This text builds on Eggerichs’ foundation that marriage should effect a mutuality of personalities, not a place for “standing up for my rights.” The commitment of a godly husband is to be to his wife like Jesus is to the Church; ready and willing to die for her. Not just in a crisis moment of an assault, but in everyday decisions of how to treat her when you are sitting down to supper, opening the mail, cleaning the house. It is not an easy thing to die to oneself as Jesus did on the cross, but that is what a husband is called to do; to put aside his wishes and meet his wife’s deepest needs.
In the same way, a wife is not to assert nor usurp authority and hen-peck a husband. She is to submit to his authority as the Church should do to Christ. And again, not just in a crisis, but in everyday things like going fishing, helping with the lawn care or walking the dog. As noted, it is not an easy thing to die to oneself, but that is what a godly wife is called to do; to put aside her wishes and meet her husband’s deepest needs.
Then comes the conundrum! “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” (1 Corinthians 7:4) One wonders if Paul was just setting us up for an argument! Who is in charge!? What does a husband do whose wife does not want to have sex? What does a wife do whose husband wants to have sex all the time?
Paul lays down some guidelines in 1 Corinthians 7, but very little specifics. That is because every couple is different. For some, the “limited time” of 1 Corinthians 7:5 may be a couple days or even hours. For others it may be months or even years. However, a couple should “come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” And it should be recognized that such abstinence within a marriage should come from “mutual agreement.” The gist here is that there is communication in a marriage about sex. For many, this is as foreign as speaking Latin!
Just as Adam and Eve were “naked and unashamed,” a husband and wife must learn to communicate without shame. We are supposed to be getting ready for a new Paradise in which there is no shame, and marriage provides one of the best testing grounds to see how well we are preparing. (Not the only one, for sure, as Paul addresses those who are not married as being no less prepared for holiness.) But for those who are married, consider reading The Gift of Sex by Penner and Penner, and again, see what you find in there to be true (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Next week, we will discuss a distinctly “guy phenomenon” (mostly) of the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.