In preparing for this sermon, I decided to use for my title, The Importance of Treating Your Spouse Like a Dog. I’ll leave that alone for a few minutes for you to think about it, and I’ll address it later in the sermon, but let me say for now that I think that a lot of marriages today would be better off if the people would just learn to treat their spouses like a dog.
Our subject this morning is dealing with marriage and family relationships, in the context of the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Why, in a series of sermons on the work of the Holy Spirit, would I include a sermon on family relationships? The answer is simple. We all want to experience a little bit of heaven here on earth, but there’s only one way that can happen. The sweetest type of heaven is a home where the Spirit of the Lord presides. We must have the Spirit of God, or we can never have harmony in our homes. We cannot cherish home affection with too much care; for the home, if the Spirit of the Lord dwells there, is a type of heaven.
Let me say something else in addition to that last thought. You see, what we are at home is what we really are. We can fake it when we’re at work, at the shopping center, on the golf course, just out with our friends, and even at church. But the way we live at home when nobody is watching is what determines whether or not we are genuine Christians or hypocrites. Men and women, children and youth, are measured in the scales of heaven in accordance with that which they reveal in their home life. A Christian in the home is a Christian everywhere.
God created two lasting institutions before the entrance of sin into this world—the Sabbath and marriage. Both of these were created perfect by God to be blessings for His children, and yet the devil has attacked both of them in every way possible, trying to discredit them and make them both to be burdens, and to ultimately do away with them altogether. And it seems today that, unfortunately, he is succeeding more and more.
I want to suggest to you that in our world today, where 1 out of every 2 marriages ends in divorce, that the presence of the Holy Spirit in the home is the only answer to the problems of our society. You see, the home is the foundation for everything else around us. As the home goes, so goes the school. As the home goes, so goes the government. And as the home goes, so goes the church.
If you have your Bibles today, turn with me briefly this morning to Proverbs 15:17. It says, “Better is a dish of vegetables where love is, than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” That’s talking about the home. That’s talking about our human relationships. In essence, Solomon is saying that it is better to be poor and eat food of lesser quality in a loving home, than to be rich and eat all the fanciest gourmet food in a home full of hatred and quarrelling. And while hatred is called one of the works of the flesh, love is the principal fruit of the Spirit.
How can a home be filled with love in today’s society? The answer is simple. Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” In other words, Jesus must be the foundation of the home. If Jesus is not the central figure in the home, then that home is already doomed to misery at the least, and failure at the most.
But what does this have to do with the Holy Spirit? Our main passage of scripture for this sermon is the latter half of Ephesians 5, which compares the marriage relationship with Christ’s relationship with His church. There are many wonderful counsels here to consider in our relationships, but notice what Paul says just a couple of verses before he begins to address marriage. Ephesians 5:18 says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” He then goes on to talk about the joy that the presence of God will bring to our relationships with our friends and family.
In this passage, Paul emphasizes 3 main points about the home. I want to address his second point first, because even though he mentions it second, he places more emphasis on it than the first one. We’ll come back to the first point later, and then finish up with the third. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” The word that Paul uses there for love is agapao, which comes from the word agape. This is unselfish love that is willing to give up everything—the same love that God has for us. This love is selfless, saving, and sanctifying.
Let’s go down now to verses 28 and 29, and then read part of verse 33. Paul says, “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church…Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself.” Three times Paul tells the men that they must love their wives with a selfless love, but then he says something that seems like an oxymoron if you just do surface reading. He says that if you love your wife selflessly, you will in turn love yourself selflessly. How can you love yourself unselfishly?
Let me explain something. There is a philosophy that comes from the world of psychology that has slowly over the past few years crept almost unnoticed into many churches, including our own. The philosophy tries to comment on when Jesus gave the two great commandments—love the Lord with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. This philosophy has tried to add a third commandment by saying that you can’t love God or your neighbor or your wife or your family until you love yourself first.
I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to knock the people who teach that, because I’m sure that many of them are well-meaning and sincere. But think about it for a second. You can’t love your wife until you love yourself first. You can’t love your children until you love yourself first. You can’t love God until you love yourself first. Didn’t Paul just say in verse 29 that nobody hates themselves? Not only that, but if you look at 2 Timothy 3:1-5, you see Paul listing a long number of sins that would be prevalent in the last days, making the times dangerous to live in, and the first sin listed is that men would be “lovers of self.”
These same people are also saying that the key to a successful marriage is to love yourself first. Okay, let’s use some common sense here. I think that I’m in the minority here today in that I’m not married, but most of you here today are married. Think with me for a moment. Ladies, if you’re having marriage problems, will the problems get better or worse if your husband decides to love himself first and you second? If he decides to put his own interests ahead of yours or anybody else’s, will that strengthen the marriage? Of course not. In fact, divorce has skyrocketed since these concepts that were intended to save marriages have been taught. They’re doing the opposite—destroying homes and lives.
How should it be? First off, let’s get a clearer definition of unselfish love. We are all familiar with 1 Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter. But I want to quote part of that famous chapter from a modern Bible version that I have come to greatly appreciate—The Message Bible. It says, “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first,” doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end. Love never dies.” I like that.
Now, let me read the passage from Ephesians from the Message Bible. It says, “Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything He does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already one in marriage.” That’s some powerful stuff.
Now I want to get back to the point that I made at the beginning of the sermon, and I want to address it to the husbands. I believe that many marriages today would work much better if the husbands would begin to treat their wives like dogs. What do I mean by that? Simply put, in many homes, the pets are treated better than the wives. There are men who will spend more money on their pets than they will on their wives. They will spend more time with their pets than with their wives. They will show more affection to their pets than to their wives. They will scream and curse at their wives more often than they do at their pets. And yes, in some cases, they even feed their pets better than they do their families. My dad raises birds as a hobby. I remember several years ago spending a summer with him, and I observed something interesting. Every night, he would cook brown rice and some mixed vegetables and feed that good nutritious food to cockatiels, and then go and get food from McDonalds for all the family.
Paul said that husbands need to love their wives. I once heard about a couple who was having marriage problems. The wife said that her husband didn’t love her. When asked why she felt that way, she said that her husband never tells her that he loves her. The husband’s response was that he told her he loved her when they got married, and he’d let her know if he ever changed his mind. Men, your wives need to know that you love them. They want to hear you tell them. They like to receive flowers for no reason at all when they aren’t expecting them. Husbands, love your wives.
By the way, that works two ways. Men like to feel loved as well, and they don’t like all the bickering and fighting either. I’ve been in a home where the wife is constantly telling the pets how wonderful they are, how much she loves them, always praising them, and yet she rarely has anything good or positive to say about her husband.
Think about it, folks. I’m going to get gender neutral here, because this is true with both men and women. If most people treated their boss the way they treat their spouse, they wouldn’t have a job. If most people treated their car the way they treat their spouse, they’d be walking. Brothers and sisters, I repeat what I said at the beginning of the sermon, until we can learn to be Christians in the home, we won’t be Christians anywhere else.
Someone might be thinking, Pastor Ethan, you’re telling us to do the impossible. It can’t be done. My spouse is just too unlovable. If you only knew what I was going through, you’d understand and tell me I’m justified in my anger and bitterness and hatred. Well, I hate to tell you this, but Jesus said to love your enemies, and that doesn’t just refer to Osama bin Laden. It could mean the people in your own home who have become your enemies, yet it is your duty to love them unconditionally.
The second aspect that I want to deal with is what Paul mentions first, but doesn’t spend as much time on. He says in Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” Again, in verse 33, “Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband.”
The Bible teaches that the man is to be the head of the house. I know that this isn’t popular today because it isn’t politically correct, but it is still what the Bible teaches. That doesn’t mean that the man is superior and the wife is inferior. Remember, God created Eve by taking a rib from Adam’s side. If God had taken a bone from Adam’s foot, the implication would be that she was beneath him and he could walk on her. If God had taken a bone from Adam’s head, that would imply that she was above him and could henpeck him. God used a rib from Adam’s side, indicating equality.
“Submission” is a word which is often abused and distorted from God’s original intention. What does this word bring to your mind? To the human mind it has the connotation of being “less than.” However, this is not the divine interpretation. Submission expresses the very same relationship that God desires us to experience in which we lovingly and willingly submit to His wisdom and guidance. The wife’s submission to her husband is not to be a forced, reluctant “giving in.” Instead, it is to be an illustration of that submission, or yielding, of both husband and wife to their Creator and Friend, Jesus Christ and to His Holy Spirit.
The man should also be the priest of the home. I understand that for the most part, women tend to be more spiritually minded than men. There are significantly more women in the church than there are men. And yet God calls the man to be not only the head of the home, but the spiritual leader as well. The man should lead out in family worship. The man should see to it that the family is in church. The man should do everything humanly possible to ensure that he family will go with him to heaven.
I want to point out something. Often times, we like to add things to the Bible that aren’t there because it fits what we want to believe. Yes, the husband should love his wife. Yes, the husband should be the spiritual leader and head of the home. Yes, the husband should do everything he can to earn his wife’s respect and support. But nowhere in this passage does it say that the wife only has to respect her husband and be submissive to him only if he earns it or deserves it. No, it just says that wives should submit to their husbands, period.
How can that be done? The true story is told of two drunks who were sitting in a bar late one night and having an argument about who had the best wife. As they were arguing, the first drunk decides to prove that his wife is the best, so he invites his friend home with him. They arrived at the house at 1:00 in the morning, with the wife fast asleep. The husband barged into the bedroom, began yelling at his wife, and demanded that she get out of bed and come into the kitchen and cook a meal for him and his friend. That man didn’t deserve any respect, yet without uttering a single word of complaint, the wife got up and went to the kitchen and did exactly what her husband asked.
Afterwards, his friend said, “You win the bet. If I tried something like that with my wife, she would have thrown us both out of the house. You have the best wife.” And with that, he left to go home.
The first drunk sat there and looked at his tired and abused wife. He asked her, “Honey, as rotten and mean as I’ve been to you all these years, how can you possibly be so good to me and put up with all my foolishness?” Her response was, “Well, dear, I’m a Christian. I know that I will have to suffer down here on this earth, but I have an eternity of happiness and peace and joy in heaven to look forward to. You, on the other hand, have only this present world to live for. I figure that if I can make the few years that you have a little more enjoyable for you while you’re alive, I’m willing to do it, because it’s all you’ve got coming to you now.” When he heard this, her husband cried and begged her for forgiveness, and he then surrendered his life to Christ. That was a good wife.
The third part of God’s plan for the home is found in Ephesians 6:1-3. Paul said, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.”
Again, this text doesn’t leave room for options. Nowhere does God ask the reader what their opinion is about His Word. He says that in His ideal for the home, the children will be obedient to their parents, provided that their parents aren’t telling them to go against God’s commands (that’s why it says obey your parents in the Lord). Yet today, in the world we live in now, it seems that parents are now obeying their children. Parents take their kids to the store to find out what they want to eat, when those kids have absolutely no knowledge about what is good and healthy food for them. Instead, they get Cocoa Puffs and Fruit Loops and Trix, and then add more sugar because it isn’t sweet enough. Then the parents can’t figure out why the kids aren’t doing well in school.
I need to address something else in this subject, because it is Biblical. It might not be popular today, but it is still what the Bible teaches. Look at Proverbs 13:24, which says,
“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Turn now to Proverbs 22:15. It says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” One more text, Proverbs 23:13-14 says, “Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you beat him with the rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from Sheol.” The language in these verses sounds like the Bible is endorsing child abuse, but it is simply stating the importance of discipline in raising children. The fact is that if you spank a child, within 5 minutes they will have forgotten all about it and will be coming and showing their love for you. And, if it’s done right, then it will no longer be necessary after only a few years.
I want now to go back to Ephesians 6, and look at verse 4 this time. We’ve read about discipline, but the Bible also gives clear warning against going too far. “And fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Parents should always show love and concern for their children, even in discipline. Discipline without love is abuse, and love without discipline isn’t really love at all.
I want to close by stating something that has been said over and over again through the years, but it is still one of the truest statements there is. The family that prays together stays together. Men, you can’t pray for your wife and cheat on her. Ladies, you can’t pray for your husband and criticize him. It’s time to bring regular family worship back into the homes of the members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It’s time that the husbands led out in it, and sought earnestly with their wives for the Holy Spirit to come into their home and bring the presence of Jesus, and let Him be the real leader in their home. Husbands and wives should pray together each night before going to bed, praying with and for each other. And by the way, as long as you are both still alive, it’s not too late to start now. The Holy Spirit wants to come into your home and bring changes and blessings abundantly. Will you let Him come in?
The story is told in Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories of The Two Carolines (have book to show pictures). At school and in public, Caroline was always cheerful, kind, and courteous. At home, however, she was always bitter and angry, and hardly ever cooperative. One day, her mother decided to teach her a lesson by inviting her teacher over for dinner that evening. However, she didn’t tell Caroline that her teacher was coming. That evening, before coming down for dinner, Caroline was fussing and arguing and complaining and yelling at her mom, not knowing that the entire time she was doing this, her teacher was in the other room listening. When she came downstairs for dinner, she saw her teacher sitting there and realized that she had heard everything. Caroline was so embarrassed, and promised her mother that she would never act that way again. And, according to the story, she didn’t. She did change.
Brothers and sisters, we’re not children anymore, yet this story can apply to all of us. We may find ourselves treating everyone else better than our own families, but I want to repeat the point I made at the beginning and have re-emphasized throughout this sermon—if you’re not a Christian at home, you’re not a Christian anywhere else either, but if you are a Christian at home, then you’re a Christian everywhere else, too.
Appeal and prayer