As hopefully most of us have picked up on by now, our congregational theme for the year is “Be the Light”. As a result, Clay and I are going to be spending the rest of the Sunday mornings in May preaching on various aspects of light. We aren’t going to be following any particular theme, just looking at the abundant Biblical discussions of light.
This morning, though, I’d like to look at a passage that reminds us that we’re mirrors, not light bulbs. The light that we shed isn’t our own light; instead, it is the light that we reflect from God. Without His light, we would spend our lives in darkness.
This is important all the time, but it is especially important in difficult times. Even when we feel like the night is closing in around us and there is no hope, God still gives us hope. His power, compassion, and love constantly show us the way forward. Without Him, we cannot succeed, but with Him, we cannot fail. This is not a new insight; indeed, it is something that David understood very well 3000 years ago. Let’s consider what it means, then, that the Lord is the light for each one of us.
Our text, of course, will be Psalm 27, and in it, David first identifies God as THE STRONGHOLD OF MY LIFE. Look at Psalm 27:1-3. David’s fearlessness really shines through in this reading, but the important point is that David’s confidence isn’t in himself, even though he was a gifted man. His confidence is in God.
The same holds true for us. God is the only reason we can have to be fearless. Somebody who goes through life without God and is confident and unafraid isn’t courageous. They’re a fool. Sooner or later, something is going to happen in every one of our lives that we cannot handle. However, there is nothing that can happen that God can’t handle, so fearlessness in Him is completely justified.
Second, notice how David looks to the past for confidence for the future. God defeated his enemies for him before, so no future enemies can make him afraid. This is a vital lesson for us. Repeatedly, God has proven Himself to be faithful. We see it in the lives of the people of the Bible, and if we’ve been Christians for any length of time, we’ve seen it in our own lives too. On that basis, we can be sure that God will be faithful in the future too. Whatever lies in front of us, He will get us through it!
In the next section of the psalm, David asks for ONE THING FROM THE LORD. He explains in Psalm 27:4-6. This is an interesting text. David asks God to let him dwell in His house and His temple all the days of David’s life, but as far as we know, there wasn’t a temple in existence during David’s time at all. We should understand this, then, as not being about any earthly building, but as being about God’s heavenly presence.
This is sort of like walking with God. It doesn’t mean that we can look over and see Him trotting down the sidewalk next to us. Instead, it means that we are abiding in Him.
It’s vital for us to be with God because when we’re with Him, He’s with us. As David observes, that’s when He protects us in times of trouble. David describes Him as simultaneously hiding us in His tent and putting us on a rock. Basically, the protection that God offers is the best that it can possibly be.
When God is faithful to us, though, we have a responsibility to be faithful to Him by doing what David describes—praising Him for His goodness. Too often, we busily bang on God’s door when we’re in trouble and need help, but as soon as He helps us, we go our way without even a thank-you. That’s not right. Every time we experience God’s blessing in our lives, let’s make sure that we glorify Him as He deserves.
The third part of the psalm is about SEEKING GOD’S FACE. Consider Psalm 27:7-10. Once again, I think this is a passage about not taking God for granted. My father-in-law likes to joke, “I told you I loved you once. If that changes, I’ll let you know.” That’s not how our relationship with God ought to be. If we truly are intent on dwelling in His house, we need to be calling out to Him and seeking His face continually.
We do this in part because we recognize the all too ample reasons we give Him to turn away from us. When David is worried about God turning him away in anger, he’s not just being paranoid. He says this because he knows he’s an imperfect man seeking a perfect God. When we get complacent about our sin, God will turn away from us in anger too. Instead, we must seek Him in humility and repentance.
Notice, though, what the result of seeking God in this way will be. He will be a better protector for us than our own parents would be. For some Christians, sad to say, this is a low bar to meet, but in my case, I had amazing parents, and God is still a more faithful friend than they were! How good it is to have a God we can trust so much!
Finally, the psalm discusses WAITING FOR THE LORD. Let’s read here from Psalm 27:11-14. One of the things that I love about the Psalms is the way they capture the divided thinking of humankind. On the one hand, we see that David is concerned about a new batch of enemies that has risen up. On the other, though, he expresses complete confidence in a positive outcome despite his fear.
Isn’t this so often the way that our own minds work? I know who God is. I know that I’ve seen His goodness in my life, over and over again. And yet, every time I see some new challenge ahead of me, there’s that little voice inside my mind that says, “This time is different. God won’t get you through this one.”
When we hear that little voice, it doesn’t mean that we are unbelieving, any more than David was unbelieving. It means that we’re human. Always, our hearts will be divided between faith and fear. God knows that, and He wants us to know that it has always been so with His people.
Look, though, at what the conclusion of David’s self-talk is. He tells himself, “Wait for the Lord.” This is where our self-talk should end too. No matter what our problems are, waiting for the Lord is always the right answer. Even if we do not see how it possibly could work out, God knows just what He will do. He will be faithful to us as He always has been faithful to all of His people.
Revelation 5:10-10 presents one of the most stirring scenes in all of Scripture. John has spent the previous chapter painting us a picture of the eternal glorification of God that goes on around His throne. However, in the first part of this chapter, a problem arises. God holds a book with seven seals, a book that represents His purpose on earth. However, no one can be found who is able to fulfill that plan.
No one, that is, besides the One described as the conquering lion of the tribe of Judah. John’s angel guide assures him that this One will be worthy. However, His appearance is not that of a lion or a conqueror. Instead, He looks like a lamb, the meekest of animals, and a lamb that has been brutally butchered at that! Nonetheless, all the hosts of heaven begin bowing down before Him and acknowledging His worthiness.
In this lamb, of course, we recognize Jesus, the capital-L Lamb of God. He is indeed the One who has been given the name above every name. But why? Why does Jesus deserve to be worshiped by all the inhabitants of heaven and indeed by us too? Why is the Lamb worthy?
Helpfully, the text before us provides three reasons. Jesus is worthy to carry forward the purpose of God because HE WAS SLAUGHTERED. This shows up in the first part of Revelation 5:9. At first glance, this doesn’t seem like much of a recommendation. Usually, when we go looking for someone who can accomplish a mighty plan, we don’t pick someone who meekly allowed his enemies to kill him! In fact, we might think that choosing such a champion would only lead to our defeat too.
However, the fact that Jesus was slaughtered shows His worthiness in several different ways. First, it proves His humility. The purposes of the flesh might be best advanced by an arrogant leader, someone who dominates others and exerts his will over them because he believes he is superior.
Jesus, however, did not and does not regard Himself in that way. Even though He is the only begotten Son of God and literally is worth more than we are, He did not count Himself as worth more than we are. Instead, He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross.
Second, Jesus’ willingness to be slaughtered shows His obedience. He did not come to earth or die on His own initiative. This was not Jesus’ idea. It was God’s idea. God asked Him to leave behind the eternal glories of heaven for death on a criminal’s cross, and Jesus did it, just as He did everything else His Father asked of Him.
Finally, Jesus’ death shows His love. In John 15, Jesus tells His disciples that no one has greater love than to give his life for his friends, and we are the friends of Jesus if we do what He commands us. There’s a problem there, though. None of Jesus’ apostles did what He commanded, and we don’t either. Jesus didn’t only love us enough to die for us as His friends. He loved us enough to die for us when we were His enemies.
Second, the text tells us that the Lamb is worthy because HE PURCHASED US. This shows up in the second part of Revelation 5:9. Once again, there’s a lot for us to unpack here. First of all, it tells us why Jesus allowed Himself to be slaughtered. It’s because He wanted to redeem us from hell, and the only currency that could accomplish the task was His own blood. The whole earth and everything on it would not suffice to purchase even a single soul from the devil’s bondage, but the lifeblood of Jesus is enough to pay the ransom of billions. There are spiritual concepts that are impossible for human minds to understand, and I think that one of them is just how precious the blood of Jesus truly is!
Also, notice that the text says that Jesus purchased us for God. In other words, the blood of Jesus didn’t merely cleanse us of sin. It also reconciled us to God.
This was not easy. God is perfectly holy, perfectly just. On our own merits, none of us could expect to appear in His presence and live. He would destroy us instantly because of our sin, and He would have every right to do so.
However, through the blood of Jesus, His great wrath has been propitiated, and God welcomes us into fellowship because Jesus has suffered what we should have. When the price has been paid, no debt remains.
Last, this text tells us that those who have been purchased for God have been brought out of every tribe and language and people and nation. In reconciling us to God, Jesus also has reconciled us to one another. We know how hard that is. Every time we look at the news, we see evidence of the divisions that lead people to treat one another in horrible ways. I see no reason to hope that in this fallen world, human division and hatred ever will come to an end.
However, this impossible task has been accomplished by Christ. We were many before we came to Him, but now we are one, and in Him, those divisions are far less important than the love that we share and the blood that marks us as His brothers and sisters.
Finally, the Lamb is worthy because HE MADE US A KINGDOM. Look at Revelation 5:10. This is deeply significant. Most of us have trouble appreciating it because we’ve spent our lives as citizens of the United States, the mightiest nation on earth—for now, at least. However, imagine what it would be like to be a penniless refugee, someone who couldn’t rely on any country to take them in and protect them. Before Jesus made us His kingdom, that’s where all of us were. However, Jesus is our King now. He watches over us, and His might makes the United States look positively inconsequential in comparison!
Second, we see here that Jesus made us priests to God. Remember how just a moment ago we talked about how dangerous it is for the sinner to approach God? Now, though, we are not merely God’s people. We are God’s priesthood. Every one of us has the right to approach Him now, and we need no other intercessor but Jesus.
The world is full of all kinds of self-described spiritual experts and holy men. They want us to believe that we need them to go to God for us. That’s a lie. Because of what Jesus did, every one of us can seek His throne not with fear, but with boldness.
Finally, we see the one item in the list of the Lamb’s attributes that is a promise instead of an accomplishment. He is worthy because we will reign. This is not necessarily obvious. None of us look like kings right now. In the first century, Christians commonly looked very much not like kings! However, Jesus didn’t look like royalty when He was on the cross either, yet He was. The day will come when every proud thing that exalts itself against Jesus will be brought low, and His humble people will be lifted up. The final proof of the worthiness of the Lamb will be in what He does for us for eternity.
Among the various other websites I frequent, I commonly visit a forum called Bogleheads, which focuses on investing in index mutual funds. A couple of things set it apart from the other things I read online. First, there are many Bogleheads posters who celebrate what we might call old-fashioned virtues: discipline, hard work, frugality, and patience. Second, the posters there are much wealthier than the Internet or national norm. None of them would be so gauche as to brag about their net worth, but they spend a lot of time talking about tax issues that aren’t relevant unless you’ve got a pile.
I don’t think this is coincidence. Having those old-fashioned values doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to end up with a lot of money. As the book of Ecclesiastes says, time and chance can overtake anybody.
However, if you don’t have them, it is nearly certain that you won’t prosper financially, and if you do, you won’t be able to hold on to it. This is usually what happens to lottery winners. They have the money, but they don’t have the character.
Of course, laying up treasure on earth is much less important than laying up treasure in heaven. However, those old-fashioned values that play such a large role in the former are significant in the latter too. This morning, let’s spend some time considering a Biblical ideal that encapsulates them all, the ideal of perseverance.
If we want to persevere so that we inherit eternal life, there are three things that we must understand. First, we must KNOW OUR GOAL. Consider what the Hebrews writer says in Hebrews 12:1-3. Here, he tells us to run with endurance, a Biblical synonym for perseverance. In doing this, we should look to Jesus, who endured the cross but received the reward of sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God. If we want to get what Jesus got, we have to do what Jesus did.
This too is nothing more than financial common sense. Unless I know about how much money I want to save to ensure a comfortable retirement for my wife and me, I have no way of evaluating my current financial situation. Have I saved too little? Have I saved too much? Who knows?
However, once I settle on a goal, then I can tell whether I’m making the progress necessary to achieve my goal and what corrections I need to make. I can also consider other decisions in the light of how they will affect my goal. Sure, it would be fun to trade in my 12-year-old Toyota Corolla for a bright shiny new King Ranch F-150, but that’s not really the question. The question is whether that King Ranch F-150 will keep me from achieving what really matters.
The same is true for us spiritually. We have to fix our eyes on that goal of being with Jesus and make all our other decisions according to that goal. Let me give you an example. Because the COVID danger has abated somewhat, last week, the elders returned our congregation to our usual schedule of worship services for the first time in months. Now, we have a decision to make. Are we going to fully return to in-person services, or are we going to keep on with pajama church because that couch is so comfy?
Let me suggest to you this morning, brethren, that if we make our decision about attendance without our goal in mind, we’re going to make the wrong decision. The only way to make the right decision here is to ask, “Which choice about church attendance will be most likely to get me to heaven?” If heaven is truly our goal, asking that question will tell us all we need to know about where we need to be when the church-house doors are open.
Second, we must KNOW OUR ENEMY. James identifies this enemy in James 1:13-15. That deadly enemy isn’t all the worldly people around us. It isn’t even the devil. After all, the devil can’t harm us spiritually at all without our consent and cooperation. Instead, the worst enemy that every one of us has is ourselves.
This is certainly true in the world of finance. It’s statistical fact that as a whole, individual investors underperform the market. They’re not very good at picking which stocks are going to do well. When they see the stock market at all-time highs, they get greedy and buy in very expensively. On the other hand, when the market crashes, they get fearful and sell out, often for much less than they paid on the way up. As a rule, the fewer decisions an investor makes, the better they will do.
In our spiritual lives, we don’t have the luxury of simply going through our days making no decisions of significance. We call people like that “one-talent servants”. However, we must be aware that the same fleshly biases that wreck investors are tools that the devil will eagerly use to wreck our souls. Almost all people who go to hell will do so because they wanted something they shouldn’t have wanted or feared something they shouldn’t have feared.
As a thought exercise this morning, then, let’s pause to do what is sometimes called a pre-mortem. Imagine that 1000 years from now, you have lost your soul. You are immersed in an eternity of suffering and regret. You look back on your life and you say, “If only I hadn’t. . .”
If only you hadn’t what? What is the one thing that you know, in the silence of your heart, has the potential to cost you your soul, or, worse yet, is in the process of costing you your soul right now? Unless you are deceiving yourself, that tells you what your enemy is. That tells you what you must guard against or change in order to inherit eternal life.
Finally, we must KNOW OUR PLAN. Paul gives us the outlines of what it has to be in Galatians 6:7-9. It’s not enough for us to know where we want to spend eternity. It’s not enough for us to guard against the greatest danger to our souls. It’s not even enough for us to do good. We have to continue doing good, even when we’re tired, even when we want to get up. Then and only then will we reap the harvest of eternal life.
Again, there’s nothing different here than is true in the world of saving for retirement. They say as a rule of thumb, if you don’t have a pension, you should look to have 10x your annual salary saved up by the time you retire. Now, I don’t know for sure, but I doubt that most of us have 10x our salary sitting around someplace, waiting to be thrown into a retirement account. To me, at least, that’s a whole, whole lot of money!
So how do you get there? Simple. One investment at a time. You put something aside month by month, year by year, decade by decade, and as that money starts to compound, by the time the day comes, you’re ready.
In the same way, I think we’re best off if we take our salvation one day at a time. If we’ve got some spiritual struggle, if we know we’re not where we need to be, the magnitude of the change we need to make can be overwhelming! Let me tell you a secret. None of us are perfect, and none of us are ever going to be perfect, but what every one of us can do, every day, is be better. We can find five extra minutes to read the Bible or pray a little more. We can summon up the willpower to fight off that one temptation. We can send that one encouraging message to a brother, friend, or loved one. In short, we can grow and be faithful. If that’s what we do, then by the grace of Christ, it’s going to be enough.
In our Bible reading for this week, we’re going to encounter Galatians 3:28. It contains one of the most stirring calls to spiritual unity in the entire Bible. Here, Paul tells us that because we have been clothed with Christ in baptism, there are no longer Jew and Greek, slave and free, and male and female in Him.
We probably should understand this as a reaction to the ancient Pharisee prayer, recorded in the Talmud, in which the pray-er thanks God for not making him a Gentile, a slave, or a woman. Paul is pointing out that the things on which the Pharisee based his self-worth are no longer meaningful under the new covenant.
However, in recent years, this passage has become a rallying cry for those who wish to erase the Biblical distinctions in role between men and women. If indeed there is no male nor female in Jesus, the argument goes, then anything that a man can do in worship, a woman also can do.
This is what people take from Paul’s words here, but is that really the result that Paul intended? For that matter, does this argument represent the fulfillment of the spirit of Christianity, or is something else going on here? Let’s consider these issues as we look at the meaning of being one in Christ.
I will freely acknowledge that especially in our time, the no-more-gender-roles argument has considerable appeal. However, I see two significant problems with it. The first is that it takes a statement that Paul was making about value and makes it about role instead.
Let me explain. First of all, it’s obvious that in Galatians 3:28, Paul is speaking metaphorically . It is not literally true that once you are baptized, you cease to have cultural background, legal status, and sex characteristics. Instead, Paul is saying that once you are baptized, other Christians regard you differently in some way.
There are two possibilities here. The first has to do with value. As the Pharisee’s prayer shows, 2000 years ago, some people definitely were valued less than others. To the Pharisee, the Greek slave woman was at the bottom of the heap! What Paul could be saying, then, is that in Christ, there is no difference in worth between the Pharisee and the slave woman.
Alternatively, what Paul could be saying is that in Christ, the difference in role between these various groups is erased. Even though the woman is still a woman, for instance, now she is free to act like a man, and no one should stop her from doing so.
The best way to decide between these two alternatives is to see which one better lines up with the rest of Paul’s writing. Does Paul seem to think that in Christ, there are no longer different expectations in behavior for these groups, that they all should act the same? Or, instead, do these different groups continue to behave differently, even though in Christ they have the same value?
To test these competing claims, let’s look at only one book: 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians, does Paul write as though he thinks there is no longer a difference in role and behavior between the various Galatians 3:28 groups?
The answer here is obvious. In 1 Corinthians 7:20-22, Paul speaks specifically to slaves, telling them that their salvation has not changed their earthly condition. Unless they can legally become free, they are to remain as slaves. In 1 Corinthians 9:20, Paul reveals that when he was around observant Jews, he himself behaved like a Jew, respecting their cultural beliefs. Finally, in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5, Paul distinguishes between the way that Corinthian men were to pray and Corinthian women were to pray.
This is just one Pauline epistle, and it’s not even all the relevant examples in the epistle. It’s clear that Paul believed that all the role differences between Jew and Greek, slave and free, and male and female were not erased. Each of these groups still should behave in the way that was appropriate for them. We must conclude that Galatians 3:28 is about value, not role.
Second, and more insidiously, when we decide that we are going to treat these categories the same, we are IMPORTING WORLDLY VALUES into the church. By this, I don’t merely mean that we are following a worldly pattern. Instead, we are adopting a worldly system of values.
This problem is most obvious when it comes to cultural distinction. I’m reminded of a story a brother told me once that when Russia was opened to the gospel in the 1990s, some American Christians who went there to preach also attempted to teach the Russians Stamps-Baxter hymns to use in worship.
They did this even though the Russian Orthodox Church has a hauntingly beautiful tradition of a-cappella singing in worship that is much older than our own. If you’re not familiar with it, look up Russian Orthodox chant on YouTube sometime. However, these American brethren thought that it wasn’t enough for the Russians to worship God in a lawful way that was culturally appropriate for them. They had to worship God in a way that was culturally appropriate for Americans.
This kind of cultural bulldozing is exactly the opposite of what Paul is trying to encourage. His point is emphatically not “There is no American nor Russian in Christ so Russians should worship like Americans!” Instead, every culture, every race can find its own equally valuable voice in worship. Those are distinctions that we should preserve.
The same holds true for men and women. Lurking underneath the argument that women should assume male roles in worship is the conviction that male roles are somehow better, that the woman who serves God privately is less important than the man who serves God conspicuously. Thus, the only way for her to become valuable and important is for her to start doing public things. If that’s not true, if the woman is doing equally valuable and important things in the kingdom right now, then why the big push for change?
The problem is, though, that if we don’t place equal value and importance on the traditional service of women, we are no better than the American preachers who didn’t place equal value on the traditional worship of Russians. It’s nothing but worldliness. As Jesus points out in Luke 22:25-27, greatness in the kingdom does not come from authority and prominence. It comes from humility in service.
Because of our different gifts and different positions, not all of us can serve the same way. However, every one of us can imitate, and indeed must imitate, the servant’s heart of Jesus. Here at Jackson Heights, that servant’s heart is evident in so many of our women. In no way are the female members here inferior in their gifts, their skills, or their education to the men here, and they wholeheartedly use all of those things to build up the church.
The sisters here are active in teaching other women, girls, and children. They organize and prep for classes, in addition to carrying out a host of other vital administrative functions. They prepare the Lord’s Supper. They clean the church building. They visit the sick and the shut-ins. They call, text, and send cards to brethren they’re concerned about. They invite outsiders to our assemblies. They fix meals for brethren who are dealing with the loss of a loved one or otherwise going through a rough patch. All that’s just off the top of my head; there’s probably a bunch of stuff that I’m forgetting!
In order for this congregation to fall apart, all those women wouldn’t have to leave. They would just have to stop doing what they’re doing. As Paul says in his discussion of the body of the local church in 1 Corinthians 12, all of us have been given a necessary role in the body by God, and the health of the whole depends on each part doing its part. The women of this congregation don’t have to take on male roles to become valuable, important, and God-pleasing. They are valuable, important, and God-pleasing already.
One of the ironic things about marriage troubles is that the couple that’s having the trouble almost always knows what the answer is. If they’re Christians, both of them will have no trouble relating what the Bible teaches about good marriages, and they will be able to identify where their marriage falls short. The problems come when they try to figure out how to apply God’s perfect solution to their imperfect situation.
Nowhere is this more true than with communication in marriage. All of us know that any good relationship, whether marriage or not, is founded on good communication. If two people aren’t communicating well, their relationship is going to suffer. In just about any bad marriage, the spouses will candidly acknowledge, “Yep; we don’t communicate very well!”
However, admiring the problem doesn’t do any of us much good. We have to look for godly solutions. We have to figure out how to clear away years or even decades of failed attempts at relationship-building to lay a foundation for a stronger relationship tomorrow. This morning, then, let’s examine three Biblical principles that we can use to be a light in our marriages through better communication.
First, we must learn to BE DEVOTED to our spouses. Consider the picture of marriage that appears in Ecclesiastes 9:9. One of the things that strikes me about this passage is how all-encompassing it is. It tells us that we’re supposed to enjoy being with our spouses all the days of our lives. There is simply no way to have a good marriage without spending lots of time with our spouses.
However, not all time spent together is created equal, and at least in my marriage, a lot of the problems here start with me. I don’t know about the other men here, but I have a single-track mind. I live my life in sequence. I start one thing, do it, and move on to the next thing.
This means, then, that if I am sitting on the couch in the evening, and I’m reading a book or looking at something on my laptop, that might look like a great opportunity to have meaningful conversation with my wife who’s sitting six feet away, but it’s not. My mind is on a single track, and she ain’t it. If she tries to talk to me, I will listen for about three seconds, then go back to the thing that I’m focusing on. It’s a disaster!
Instead, we have to know when meaningful conversations with our spouses happen. In my marriage, our best conversations when I’m doing something that involves my body but not my mind. We go for walks together and have great conversations. We run errands together, and it’s the same thing. Even if I’m just loading the dishwasher, I’ll engage for 10 minutes.
Because this kind of communication requires more thought and effort from men, it should be the husband who takes the initiative in having meaningful conversation. I thought Clay’s sermon on intimacy last week was great, and I’m going to co-opt some of his language to explain why this is so. There are exceptions, but I think it’s generally true that women need more preparation for physical intimacy, but men need more preparation for emotional intimacy. We’ve all heard about how men are like microwaves and women are like crock pots, but I think when it comes to engaging conversation, it’s the husband who is like the crock pot. He’s the one who is not going to be able to engage the other spouse in the way they want at the drop of a hat.
In practice, it’s usually the drop-of-the-hat spouse who seeks to have their needs fulfilled, but if you think about it, that’s backwards. Instead, it ought to be the spouse who needs prep time who makes the effort to prepare and then reaches out. The loving wife will get herself ready for physical intimacy with her husband, and the loving husband will set aside time for emotional intimacy with his wife. Men, whatever that time needs to look like in your marriage, I leave to you, but you need to figure it out and make it happen.
Second, we should BE COMPASSIONATE. Peter says as much in 1 Peter 3:8. Even though this verse doesn’t mention marriage, it comes right after a lengthy discussion of marriage, and even if it didn’t, all the Bible’s rules for relationships generally have application to marriage. The point here is simple. Be kind and sympathetic to others.
This is all the more important in our marriages because of the tremendous ability all of us have to wound our spouses. I guarantee that if you look deeply into any troubled marriage, what you will find is two hurting people who are terrified of being hurt again, and so they build up all this emotional armor and lash out at each other in an attempt to protect themselves. Take some mighty macho he-man who whips two alligators every day before breakfast. He’ll never admit it, but he is scared to death of his 100-pound wife’s razor-edged tongue. Every one of us who is married, is married to a fearful, fragile, insecure human being whom we can devastate with a word.
Go gently, brothers and sisters. Go gently.
This starts with listening. A lot of the time, when people complain about lack of communication in their marriages, they mean that their spouses don’t want to talk about what they want to talk about. Brethren, compassionate communication doesn’t start with talking about what we want to talk about. It starts with listening to our spouses talk about what they want to talk about. Demanding that they talk doesn’t work. Giving them our attention when they do want to talk does.
This also means that we will respond to them in a them-centered way, not an us-centered way. Sarcasm, for instance, is self-centered. When we’re looking to be sarcastic, we’re not really listening to our spouses. We’re listening for an opportunity to exalt ourselves at their expense. The problem is, though, that when we hurt our spouses every time they open up, we’re teaching them that we can’t be trusted and that they never should open up. By contrast, the more we reward openness with compassion, the more open they will be.
Finally, we should BE OPEN. Look at Paul’s appeal in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13. Again, this isn’t a marriage-specific passage, but it reveals a truth about all relationships that is particularly significant in marriage. If we want to have good communication in our marriages, it’s not enough for us to listen compassionately to our spouses when they make themselves vulnerable. We have to be willing to be vulnerable too.
Just to be clear, though, “being vulnerable” is not code for “telling my spouse exactly what I think of their awful behavior”. That’s not vulnerability. It’s self-righteousness.
True vulnerability is hard, and it’s especially hard in difficult marriages. Being vulnerable is an act of trust, and how can you trust somebody who’s burned you so many times before? I think the answer is that if you want your marriage to get better, you have to pray a lot, gather your courage, and do it. Maybe you preface it with an appeal for compassion, but there is no way to open yourself up without. . . opening yourself up.
Additionally, I think that being open is especially hard for men. If there is any person on the planet a man wants to impress, it is his wife. We want our wives to see us as tough, competent, in control, and immovable, and the parts of our inward life that don’t fit with those things, we often edit out. I get that. In fact, I am that! However, at the risk of hypocrisy, I will say that I think it’s important for us to try.