(I share the following at the request of Brother Dewey Moede)
February 20th will be 50 years with my special gift from God, my Sweet Ruthi. However, I have known her for at least 60 years. Now, as a minister, I always ask couples in per-marriage counseling, “Do you believe God has gifted you with one another.” Also, “Are you in love with this (man, woman)? Of course, I always follow their “Yes” to the last question with, “What is love?” —Long pause . . . struggle to find words . . . often settling for . . . “You know, love.” In our own counseling sessions 50 years ago, I was right there with them.
The first few years of our marriage, like many other young couples, I truly loved Ruthi, but I knew I did not know how to love her rightly, though I wanted to so much. I felt quite often that I just was not hitting the mark. I always felt that she was of so much more value than I could honor her with by my affection. I never stopped trying.
Later, after we had our first children, Christopher Jon, then two years later, almost exactly, we had Amy Lyn and things began to change a little. We were so very happy. Our family seemed perfect, at least in my youthful pride. But, I still did not understand love and the giving of love. I felt that I was loved by her very much, but I was not very good, at least in my eyes, at giving it back to her.
Before we were married, I had proposed to her, and she turned me down. That had a shocking affect on my ego. For two weeks I mourned over what felt like a death of a friend. I had lost the one I wanted with all my heart. I had never felt rejection stronger, but I was no stranger to rejection.
A couple of weeks into my sorrow and depression, while working at General Telephone in Huntington Beach, California, I rode my motorcycle onto Huntington Beach Pier on my lunch hour, and through tear filled eyes I cried out to a God I did not know. “God, you’ve got to let me have her.” Over and over I cried out to this unknown God. It felt like hours had gone by before I left there and returned back to work.
I had no feeling that I had connected with this God, but it felt better to have drained my soul of tears. That next weekend, I found myself at an event invited by her brother, Rick, whom I had spent some time in High School and in the military with. I cannot remember what the event was, but Ruthi was there too. I felt pretty awkward about that; wasn’t sure how to act around her. We hadn’t really officially broken up; she had just turned down my proposal of marriage. But, I felt that I had really lost out. You, know; empty.
There was a moment when we found ourselves together and somewhat alone. Small talk. Then suddenly, she coyly asked: “You know that question you asked me before; would you ask me again?”
I was surprised and overwhelmed with an inner excitement I thought I would burst open. I must have asked her again, but I have no memory of how, but she said, “Yes!”
Years later, children, and the memory that an unknown God had somehow answered my prayers; no, cries of pain of heart; that’s when I began to feel a drawing to find out Who this God was. Together, she and I felt we needed God in our lives. I was on a personal quest of two years to find my way to God, but He was so foreign to me and I was clueless as to how to look, and very stubborn in my worldliness, as well.
However, what I did not know is the He was drawing and guiding me through events and persons to eventually have the climax of a glorious salvation experience on a Wednesday night in my home, as two members of the former Bristol Street Baptist Church came by to share Jesus. I found Him in my living room; I have never been the same since. Ruthi was saved on Friday, and we joined that church on Sunday morning.
I joined a young men’s Sunday school group led by a young man who quickly became my first and best mentor, Larry Moody. He challenged me with loving Jesus more than anyone else in the whole world. I remember thinking, “I haven’t enough love in me to love my wife as I should, and he wants me to love Jesus even greater?”
In my quest to learn of Jesus and what it meant for me to love my wife, He led me to the passage below:
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the Church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the Church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the Church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33)
Sadly, most men, and far too many pastors, stop reading after verse 21. “Wives, submit to your own husbands.” I know one such pastor who wrongly interprets this to mean that he has to whip her in line, because she is an evil person. Because so many falsely interpret verses 22-24, I want to begin at verse 25 and following to reveal what God taught me as a husband of His design and purpose.
First, let me present to you in a nut-shell the picture of a God-given husband.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her.”
In this verse and those that follow, we are told that we husbands, who are followers of Christ and His teaching examples, are to love our wives in the same ways Jesus loved/loves His Church. So, that is where we begin and end our quest to fulfill this mandate; we must know of His love and loving actions toward the Church, then be willing in commitment to fulfill them all if necessary.
First, Christ provided and continues to provide everything that His Church needs to mature and survive in such a way that He alone is glorified by her, the Church’s, life. This is holy teaching by word, deed, and example. Help your wife, out of pure love and motivation, be the best Christ follower she can be. This is spiritual nurture at its best. It is a heavy responsibility for the husband to fulfill this obligation to the highest caliber in the lowest humility.
This will also include helping her in physical needs so that she may live the best possible life within a fallen world.
But secondly, let me bring out a higher commitment that often goes unspoken or thought of: sacrificial protection of your wife. “Just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her.” The only way that the Church could come into existence was when He gave His life for her, then resurrected Himself to a new and immortal life, then lastly sending His Spirit to live in the Church and individual Christian within the Church.
The husband must be willing to die for his wife in at least two ways. First, and probably the most to be expected, is to be willing in this marriage relationship to die to self and selfishness. His God-given gift, that being his wife, must be his priority within life-long commitment. She is his priority right under his priority to Christ. In this marriage mandate, the husband best serves God in it by serving her needs above his own. It is not that he becomes her slave, but he becomes whatever she needs to be spiritually fulfilled in Christ. He lives to make her thrive in Him. He lives to see her righteously happy. He delights in her delight. He lives to love her in such ways that she can fully rest in the knowledge and experience of his love for her. There will be willing sacrifices.
But secondly it must be also understood, the husband is to be a sacrificing protector of her life. This may never be realized, but in many ways it may. An example I use in pre-marital counsel is that if there is a present danger that is threatening her life, he as husband in covenant relationship (marriage), would do all to stand between her and the threat, even the laying down of his own life if it were necessary.
The most usual way this sacrificial life would be played out, is to be her sacrificial, giving, loving, care-giver if she were in a health need; whether this was life threatening or simply short-term but burdensome. “Just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her.”
Now in reality, if a wife knew that this was the kind of love her husband was committing to being to the best of his ability, then for her the verses, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the Church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the Church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything,” would not be a burdensome expectation. Yes, this is her mandate regardless, but when there is genuine, God-defined love in the marriage, both parties can easily, without remorse, fulfill God’s demands. It all hinges on the verse before which we often ignore: “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” (Ephesians 5:21) That is a mutual submission; the same loving submission to one another as to Christ Jesus.
50 years of marriage? I would like to say that I, we, have fully lived up to all that I have spelled out here. But, I can say with confident assurance, we each strive to do these things to the honor of each other, and to the glory of God. I try to let my Sweet Ruthi know in many different ways and words every day, that I love her and that she is the most beautiful person I know. And, I live to make her laugh and feel a sense of joy in this difficult world with all of its challenges.
50 years? I could only hope it could be 150 years; she is that special to me, because God himself handed her to me as His personal, hand-picked gift to complete my life. I must not find try to find fault with God’s gift; He is the giver of perfect gifts!