- 1Thessalonians 4:1-8
- 1 Peter 3:1-7
A wool growing farmer on an outback station once made this remark about Christians and effective evangelism (and he probably just applied some principles of breeding and selecting stock to build up his sheep): “Pastor, there’s one sure way for Christians to get the upper hand over non-Christians – we need to start breeding Christians!” He went on to say, “If every Christian marriage can be successful in raising Christian children, and they then do the same thing, before long we would populate this planate.”
His premise is probably somewhat naive and simplistic, but there is something about the truth in it. Can you for just one moment let your mind go and work out how much different this planet would have been if every child growing up in a Christian home, would continue to do the same – generation after the other.
Biblical framework: Three Marriages
Right at the beginning the Bible states that God created animals and made it possible for them to multiply – and this was possible because there were generally two opposites, male and female. When He eventually made man to rule over what He had made, He gave him a helper of the opposite sex—both of them were created in the image of God. This way creation was blessed by the first marriage mentioned in the Bible – it was a work of God’s hand.
When Jesus began his ministry on earth, He chose to perform his first miracle at a wedding celebration. It was as if Christ knew the importance of marriage as a way of building the kingdom of God.
The last few pages of the Bible again take us to a wedding: this is the wedding of the Lamb, Christ Himself. Right now He is preparing the rooms and the mansion of his Father, and when the fulness of time arrives, He will come back and take his church to be with Him. The marriage will be consummated when He purifies his church, being washed clean from all sin in the blood of the Groom Himself and his bride will be dressed then with fine linen; then, bride and groom will be united forever—that will be the last and final marriage of all time.
Three images of marriage; right in the beginning with creation, right at the beginning redemption in Jesus Christ, and then the image of and eternal union with the Groom at the end of time.
When God “took” a wife
The Bible is full of images of a marriage relationship between God and his people. Some might find it offensive to think about our relationship with God is this way, but we cannot escape the expressions pointing to this in the Scriptures. Let’s listen to a few Scripture passages:
For your Maker is your husband— the Lord Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. (Isaiah 54:5)
As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5)
“Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. (Jeremiah 3:14)
It all began when God rescued his people out of Egypt. The very same word the Bible uses for a man who “takes” a woman in marriage is used in Exodus when God rescued his people from sin. For instance: when Abraham pretended that Sarah is his sister and give her to Abimelech the Lord appeared to Him with these words: But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.” (Genesis 20:3)
Deuteronomy 24:1 uses the same expression. When Boaz married Ruth, he “took her”.
Now, let’s go to Exodus. God sends Moses to his fellow Israelites with these words:
Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6:6–7)
Ezekiel chapter 16 in very explicit way describes the relationship between God and his people: God took a young girl, Israel, who was rejected by everyone else and took her to be his wife. The book of Hosea is all about the marriage relationship between God and his people. Their unfaithfulness is expressed as adultery.
Now, what was God’s purpose of taking Israel as his wife. We can only look at one passage:
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My-Delight-Is-in-Her (or Hephzibah) , and your land Married (Beulah); for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. (Isaiah 62:3–4)
In this sense God is the husband, or the Lord and owner of his people: He bought them in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. The world Beulah in the verse in a way refers to the other partner of the marriage: the woman, or the bride. The whole picture is so beautiful: the tiara, the beauty, and the lonesomeness which changed into the delight of the groom.
The point to make further is this:
The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. (Isaiah 62:2)
The relationship between God and his bride-church is to display to the nations who both the Groom—God—and the bride—the church are. The whole idea is that this attractive and beautiful marriage will draw people to be part of it, seeking the God who so loves and cares for his bride that they too will want to be part of it.
The husband under God
With all of this in mind, we now go to 1 Peter 3:7
Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honour to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7, NKJV)
This is not the easiest verse in the letter of Peter. But a good way of interpreting Scripture is to have other passages help you. Now, quite often in the Old Testament where the wife is referred to as “vessel” it has in mind the marriage relationship. The husband, the “lord” “took” his “vessel” and cared for her and loved her. In a sense, both of them are “vessels” in the hands of God as part of his bride-church, but the husband caring for his “vessel”, his wife, cares for her using the relationship of God between Him and his people as example: he cares for her as he cares for his own body. As a matter of fact, this is what Paul had in mind in Ephesians 5:
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, (Ephesians 5:28-29)
She was made from the man, in a sense he is not complete without her, and she is not complete without him. So is the wife always part of her husband, and the husband always part of his wife. The husband acts like the Lord God, who will do everything to see that his “weaker vessel” is cared for, that she is loved.
Commentators see the resemblance between this verse and 1Thessalonians 4:4
that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, (1 Thessalonians 4:4)
The Greek in this verse uses the word “vessel” (translated here as “body”), and adds the word “own” (translated as “control”). The context here is very clear: live holy, avoid sexual immorality, no passionate lust like the heathen; add to this that no-one should wrong his brother (which in the context means to not defile the marriage of another). Another translation of this verse can then go like this:
“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you keep yourselves from fornication, that every one of you know how to hold his own vessel in sanctification and honour (i.e., live with his wife in sanctification and honour), not in passionate lust like the Gentiles who know not God.
This corresponds with Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:2
But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2)
Unfaithfulness to God and spiritual adultery of God’s people stood in the way of the nations to seek God. In the same way, unfaithfulness in the marriage will stand in the way of outsiders seeking the Lord. But on the contrary, the faithful and godly marriage reflects something of the relationship between Christ and his church, and it’s at this point that marriage is such a mighty tool for evangelism: it is not only an example to your children to love the Lord, but it is attractive to outsiders. It becomes one of the best and successful tools for evangelism.
Understanding and knowledge
A translation of 1 Peter 3:7 reads:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7)
Most of us will never know how to understand our wives! So, what does this verse tell us? I know one can stretch the point a bit, but “know” and “knowledge” in the Scriptures very often refers to the intimate relationship between husband and wife. In the same way do we find the word in Hosea – the book about God’s marriage relationship with his people – and brings out this charge against the people:
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you …(Hosea 4:6)
Of course this knowledge implies knowledge, but the lack thereof stems from their poor relationship with the Lord.
In the same way, it is possible to understand the words in 1 Peter 3:7 that the husband’s relationship to God is somehow conditioned by or dependent on one’s relationship with your wife, and vice versa. If husbands do not apply everything they know about God and his Word in their marriage relationships, marriage will suffer. The verse says: both will receive the gift of life. It is God who gives it, and He is most pleased when husband and wife live in a relationship which reflects his relationship with his church.
A good marriage and answered prayers
A crippled marriage relationship has a result a crippled prayer life. A healthy marriage has a result a healthy prayer life. A husband who does not know Christ and his redeeming love for his church, which is his bride-church, will not know how to pray for his family, or even the word around him. We cannot try to get around this. We may say how many prayers, and we might even be serious about it, but according to this text, we will have unanswered prayers if there is something wrong in our relationship as marriage partners.
I think the same applies for the wives: if they do not understand their relationship with Christ correctly, and live in perfect submission to Him as the Bible says, they prayers will remain unanswered.
A house that prays together is a house that stays together. I wonder if our stale prayer life as a church can not be taken back to unfulfilled marriage relationships.
May God give us the grace to live as godly husbands and wives so that our married lives can indeed be a reflection of the relationship between Christ and his Church. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 10 June 2019