I wasn’t being nosy. I didn’t even ask. In fact, it started with a casual conversation about our dogs, and somehow we got all the way around to his admission, “Well, I used to have a family.”
In the course of seven brief minutes, in the hospital corridor, this complete stranger unveiled pieces of his story. “I was married once…you know, my son…but she kept the dog…don’t see them much…life was better then—when I had a family.”
My heart sunk a little, distracted from the surface of our conversation by the sadness in his eyes. Moments later, we parted and I’ll likely never see him again. But my heart was bruised with sympathy. What a loss! What loneliness; what a painful realization: “I used to have a family.”
The next day, I called my mom during my morning walk. Her precious voice, the assurance that I have a family who deeply loves me, filled me with joy as bright as that early morning sun peeking over the trees.
“You know, your dad and I had the strangest conversation the other day,” she told me. “Now that we have grandkids and all, it’s strange to wonder what life would have been like if we hadn’t hung in there through the first tough years of our marriage. We wouldn’t have you! We wouldn’t have your youngest sister. I can’t even imagine life with out each of our grandchildren! It’s startling to consider that if we had given up on us—we would have given up everything else! The entire course of our life would be so different. We would never had experienced the joy of each of our children and their children! So many fewer friendships, hugs, tears and promises.”
One of the most common reasons given for broken marriages is, “We just weren’t compatible anymore. We had irreconcilable differences.” Incompatibility—there is a Biblical App[lication] for that.
Ephesians 5 is often quoted over Christian marriages. You can almost see a finger wagging in your face, “The Bible says submit to your husband!” or, “The Bible tells you to love your wife!” Both statements are true, but just one verse before those instructions is another command we rush over on our way to our favorite ones.
“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” (Ephesians 5:21)
The Greek word translated “one to another” is allelon. It means, “reciprocally, mutually”. Those words are eerily similar to the English word, “compatible”, which according to thesauraus.com means, “like-minded, together, sympathetic, on the same wavelength, cooperative, congruent”.
Compatibility isn’t something that just happens. The phrase, “submit yourselves to one another”, can aptly be paraphrased, “subordinate, or arrange yourselves mutually beneath the other”. In essence, “make yourselves like-minded, together, cooperative, congruent, reciprocal”. It is not acceptable to simply be incompatible, anymore than it is okay to simply be cruel. Scripture indicates we are to make ourselves compatible.
The impossibility of this command weighs heavy on spouses that have struggled, with blood, sweat and tears, and still find themselves hopelessly at odds. But light dawns with the next two verses, the ones that usually sound ugly, harsh and demeaning:
“Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore, as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.” (Eph. 5:22-25)
In his book, The Power of Right Believing, Pastor Joseph Prince says, “…we need to teach the entire verse…The emphasis is on Jesus’ love for us. Everything we do today under the new covenant of grace springs from our love relationship with Jesus. His love needs to first work in us.”
Prince gives the example, “How would you like your husband to say to you, ‘God says that I should love you and that we should talk more, so let’s go out for dinner tonight.’? Then he sets a timer on his phone and says, ‘Alright, lady, your time begins now.’ Hey, no self-respecting woman would accept that, right? You want your husband to take you out for dinner not because he has to, but because he wants to.
“That’s why the Word of God doesn’t simply exhort husbands to love their wives and then stop there. It goes on to teach husbands just how to go about doing so—the power to love comes when husbands first experience how Jesus loved them and gave Himself for them.”
The instruction in Ephesians 5:21, “To submit yourselves one to another”, is a command. It’s a non-negotiable. Rather than a shackle for women, is a lock on the door to an easy escape from one’s marriage vows. However, God never leaves us in a position to “buck up” or “grit our teeth and bear it”. The Bible walks us right into the truth that Christ goes before us. “We love because He first loved us”. (1 John 4:19)
The answer to our irreconcilable differences is the irrefutable truth that Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us. A convinced, firm, heart-grip on the knowledge that Jesus loved us enough to die for us even when we were still sinners (and still sin), even when our abject rebellion was decisively incompatible with His holiness—that knowledge, shods our feet in the Gospel of Peace. It enables us to walk mutually, sympathetically, submissively, cooperatively and congruently. His unshakable love for us—husbands and wives, sin-stained all—sheds a new light on our differences, and if we accept it, brings peace to our homes and longevity to our marriages.
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