By Pastor Glenn Pease
The question was asked of a class of Catholic girls-"What is matrimony?" One girl confidently stood and said, "Matrimony is a state of terrible torment which those who enter are compelled to undergo for a time to fit them for heaven." "No, no," said the priest, "You have given the definition of purgatory." "Let her alone," said the Archbishop, "Maybe she's right." Her definition of the word was wrong, but her description of the experience of many in the state of marriage was right. Matrimony can be a purgatory rather than the paradise God intended it to be.
Marriage can produce a paradise, or it can produce a paradise to ashes by means of the fires of conflict. Marriage is a paradox. It can be the best or the worst state. We commit ourselves in marriage for better or for worse because both our equally possible. Conflict is just as real a potential as cooperation. There are those who tell us that even conflict can have its values, and there is truth in this perspective. What of the couple who reached the height of their argument, and the wife exploded, "I wish I'd taken mother's advice and never married you." The husband said, "Do you mean to say your mother tried to stop your marrying me?" She nodded. "Well now," sighed the husband, How I've wronged that woman." Whatever value was gained, it is doubtful that the quarrel can be counted a positive factor in marriage bliss, even if there are poets who claim it is so.
O we fell out, my wife and I,
O we fell out, I know not why,
And kissed again with tears.
And blessing on the falling out
That all the more endears,
When we fall out with those we love,
And kiss again with tears.
The only reason there is any truth to this poetry is because some mates only show affection to each other when they make up. Just like some children can only get attention by causing a disturbance, or by getting in trouble. It is not the conflict that is of any value, but the peace settlement, and the kiss of peace. Anyone with a taste for kissing, however, knows that its better without any salty sauce from the eyes. Kissing again with tears is not a gourmet delight. Far superior is the relationship where affection does not depend on conflict.
I read of a wise man who quarreled with his wife during their 50th year of wedded life. He tucked this note under his wife's pillow. "My darling bride, let's put off quarreling until after the honeymoon is over. Your devoted husband." Here was a husband who took the high road to marital bliss by avoiding quarrels instead of the low road of squeezing some value out of conflicts. Carlton could write-
And if ever we meet in heaven
I shouldn't think it queer
That we loved each other the better
For the way we quarreled here.
My response is- When we meet in heaven
I should think it odd
If we loves each other better
For disobeying God.
It is always true that God can bring good out of evil, but it is never wise to do evil in the hopes that good will come of it. Our objective as Christians and as mates is to live in harmony and never desire discord. What Paul says to Christians in general applies to mates in particular. In Eph. 4:31-32 he wrote, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
Following this path will lead to successful marriage, and Peter tells husbands how they can be successful in seeing that their marriage follows this path. Any husband who will follow Peter's advice will not only be a successful husband, but he will be an exceedingly happy husband. Any wife whose husband treats her with the respect involved in what Peter says in this one verse will lavish upon him more devoted love than all the harem of Solomon. What does Peter say a husband must do to be successful? He must first-
I. RESPECT HER EXISTENCE AS A PERSON.
Peter says the husband is to be considerate as he lives with his wife. This means that a husband is to care about what his wife needs as a person to make her life fulfilled. She is a person who has special needs and desires, and it is a husbands obligation to know what they are. To ignore another's needs is to lack respect for them as persons. Wives need to be treated as people worth understanding. Phillips translation puts it, "You husbands should try to understand the wives you live with." The NEB has it, "You husbands must conduct your married life with understanding."
Peter clearly implies that it is possible for a man to understand a woman. Peter has a high view of the perceptive powers of the male. He says these powers are to be applied in marriage. Someone said there are two periods in a man's life when he feels it is impossible to understand a woman. One is before marriage, and the other is after. Peter does not agree. It may take more than a grain of faith to remove the mountain of doubt that has accumulated in the minds of men on this issue, but it can be removed. The Gospel according to Peter is that wives can be understood, and not only by experts who study them and write books about them, but even by their husbands.
This opens up a great hope for marriage from a Christian perspective. For most of history men have not been able to treat women as equals because they could never accept them as persons. They never tried to understand the needs of wives, but only the function whereby wives met the needs of husbands. Christianity raised the level of women from possessions to persons who are created in the image of God, and endowed with intelligence, and great potential as children of God. Understanding this makes a Christian husband desire to treat his wife in a manner worthy of a person made in the image of God.
D. H. Lawrence in one of his assorted articles wrote, "Man is willing to accept woman as an equal, as a man in skirts, as an angel, a devil, a baby-face, a machine, an instrument, a bosom, a womb, a pair of legs, a servant, an encyclopedia, and ideal or an obscenity; the one thing he won't accept her as is a human being, a real human being of the feminine sex." Peter says a Christian husband is obligated to rise above this historical hang up of men.
Before marriage men tend to see women as persons, and they treat them as such. They are aware of the needs of the female to be appreciated. They are free with compliments, and they give them undivided attention. Marriage, however, often causes a man to regress. He ceases to think of his wife as a real person. He ceases to live with her with a considerate attitude. He takes her for granted as part of the total machinery of life. She keeps the wheels of life rolling in the home. He forgets that she is a person who needs to feel loved and appreciated. She needs to talk and be heard. Helen Rowland complained, "Before marriage a man will lie awake all night thinking about something you said; after marriage he'll fall asleep before you finish saying it. Its as hard to get a man to stay home after you've married him as it was to get him to go home before your married him."
When husbands do this it is because they have ceased to be considerate. They are not thinking of their wife as a person but as a possession. Peter says don't do that, but respect her as a person. Everything you gain in terms of fulfillment in the world of your job she must gain through you, and this is often just as true for wives who work. A wife needs a husband who makes her feel important. She needs compliments and encouragement. She needs to feel she has value, and only a husband can adequately meet these needs. Listen to the tribute of a wife to her husband who succeeded in doing this. Jessie Rittenhouse wrote,
My debt to you, beloved,
Is one I cannot pay,
In any coin of any realm
On any reckoning day:
For where is he shall figure
The debt, when all is said,
To one who makes you dream again
When all the dreams were dead?
Or where is the appraiser
Who shall the claim compute,
Of one who makes you sing again
When all the songs were mute?
When we respect individuals as persons we make an effort to be interested in them, and in their interests and problems. Often a husband tends to lose interest in anything his wife does. It is often just boring to him. He's like the man standing at a fork in the road when a woman tourist stopped and asked if it made any difference which road she took to Vermont? He replied, "Not to me." Indifference like this towards one's mate is a common fault of husbands. The saying is true that a wife with good horse sense doesn't nag, but often her nagging is a desperate attempt to break through her husband's wall of indifference.
If a husband lives in respect for his wife as a person he will avoid many of those problems that develop because of indifference. In a moment of bitterness a husband said to his wife, "You should have married a better man." She replied, "I did." If a husband will respect his wife the way he did before they married he will be a successful husband. The way to get ahead is to go back to how you were when you first met. The second thing he must do is-
II. RESPECT HER EQUALITY AS A PARTNER.
Peter says you are joint heirs of the gracious gift of life. There is equality of the sexes as partners in the business of life. A husband cannot produce life by himself, nor does he receive more grace from God than does his wife. She is an equal partner in both. The inequality she has of being the weaker sex physically is not a disadvantage for her, for Peter says that her weakness is to call forth greater honor from the husband. Just as you treat your china better than you do your everyday dishes, so a wife is to be treated with greater care because of her delicacy. Peter says that wives are marked as fragile, and husbands should handle them with care. The greater strength of a man is for the protection of the female, and not for domination.
The inequalities of the sexes are only temporary, and are for the purpose of fulfilling different functions, but the equalities of the sexes are permanent. It is like the trinity. Each of the three Persons in the Godhead have different roles to play in the plan of salvation. Jesus took on the weakness of human flesh, and He gave up equality with the Father. This was only temporary, however, for He was then restored again to the equality that is eternal. In the things that really matter for eternity husbands and wives are equal. When a child is born they are parents as equal partners. They are equal as joint heirs in the kingdom of God. In Christ there is neither male or female. God does not have one standard of salvation and rewards for wives, and another for husbands. They are one in Christ, and husbands are to respect this equality and treat her as an equal partner.
When two become one in marriage they become a new whole. It is not a 50-50 relationship, but each is a 100% partner. There is no division for you cannot divide a living thing. Solomon was going to cut the baby in half and give each of the feuding mothers a half. That was a 50-50 compromise. If you are dealing with butter or milk or anything that is a matter of quantity you can divide it, but qualities of life are indivisible and cannot be divided. The true mother knew that half a baby is no baby at all, and so she prevented the division. In marriage the partners must see they are one in such a way that there can be no division. Mathematics does not apply in the realm of quality. In marriage one plus one does not equal two, but one. As in the trinity there is a oneness of unity where one plus one plus one equals one, and not three.
If two people enjoy the same music they do not share it 50-50. The husbands does not enjoy 50% of it, and the wife another 50%. They each enjoy the whole of it, and are 100% partners in the qualities they enjoy. There oneness and partnership is such that any failure in the marriage is a failure of the whole, and not just of one partner. If a fuse burns out, you do not try and figure out which side of the seal is to blame. It is a one piece and only has two sides because it burned out. If husbands will respect the equality of their wives as partners, and treat them accordingly, there will be greater communication and a deeper sense of oneness. A wife who is respected as a person and as a partner will not find it hard to obey her role of being submissive. It will, in fact, be pure pleasure. A successful husband is one whose wife enjoys her role in the partnership of marriage. If she doesn't there is something missing that robs her of that joy, and likely it is the lack of respect she receives from her husband. Thirdly Peter says,
III. RESPECT HER EXCELLENCE AS A PRAYER PARTNER.
Peter implies that mates are so much one that a husband cannot even be successful in his spiritual life without his wife. A husband who assumes that he can serve God and go forward in the service of Christ without reference to the way he treats his wife has an inadequate concept of marriage. Peter says a right relationship to your wife is essential to a right relationship to God. If you do not communicate with your wife, and live with her according to these principles, God may refuse to answer your prayers. God will not listen to the prayers of a man who will not listen to the pleas of his wife.
God is a God of justice, and He does not reward injustice. If you refuse to meet the needs of your wife as a person, and as a partner, it would be wrong for God to reward you by meeting the needs you look to Him to meet. You need your wife as a prayer partner to be effective in prayer. Marriage is not a mere secular matter unrelated to the spiritual life of the believer. Marriage is a religious experience, and it affects your relationship to God. Prayer is no automatic matter like a machine where you put in your money and get what your request with no questions asked. Before God responds to your requests He takes a look at your relationship to your wife. If you disrespect the image of God in her, it will hinder your prayers.
God may want to grant many requests of men, but He will not do it because their home life is not worthy of such favor. Unanswered prayer is not always because God does not want it to be, but because it would be unfair to grant it to one who has little or no respect for the needs and desires of his wife. If, for example, you refuse to forgive your wife for some folly whereby she has offended you, you have no ground of hope in Scripture to believe that God will forgive you as long as you withhold it from your mate.
God will not put His stamp of approval on the husband who lives like the man in the moon. The moon shines bright on one side, but is dark and cold on the other. If a man is all bright and smiles before the world, but dark and cold toward his wife in the home, he injures his relationship to God, and is the stumbling block in the road to having his own prayers answered. Few husbands ever think of it, but Peter says a good relationship to your wife is essential to a good relationship with God. The bottom line of all that Peter is saying is that a man who respects his wife in the same way that he respected her when they first met will be a successful husband.