Titus 2: 1-8, 11-14 (page 998 in our pew Bibles)A description of good and decent behaviour on behalf of followers of God.
Whenever a phrase “Be submissive to your husbands” is heard you can hear the howls of many people both within and without the church screaming that the church is out of date and out of step with society and modern culture. It is the same when we talk about the centrality and sanctity of marriage.
When we married three years ago Louise desired to say “love, honour and obey” as did Queen Elizabeth the most powerful woman in the country and supreme governor of the C of E. when she married. She didn’t have to but insisted on saying that she would obey Prince Philip within the marriage.
Marriage is a lifelong covenant relationship and the security this brings to both parties allows both of them to flourish.
We the church might in turn also point to the increasing instability, breakdown of families and enormous hurt caused to everyone caused by our increasing liberality. The headmaster of our state school in Budleigh Salterton, in our look around the school spoke to us about the growing problem of children arriving at school unable to use a toilet, speak properly and with a mountain of emotional and behavioural problems as a result of the breakdown of families which is putting increasing strain on an already creaking system in terms of finance and time. At the very least we can say that we discount these supposedly out of date attitudes at our peril.
The fact is the relationship between a husband and wife, lived according to Christian principles is very much misunderstood, even by very many Christians.
The wife needs to be “obedient to her husband” says Paul but this is a two way street and Paul (who wrote this letter) also says in Ephesians that “husbands must love their wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”.
The example for both husband and wife is Christ who served people and never considered his own self- interest. There is a mutual self-giving between husband and wife, a covenant of love in which they grow and mature, knocking off all the rough edges in the process.
This mutuality, this complementarity, between the sexes, in a lovely phrase means that “One completes the other” as God created humanity (men and women) in God’s own image. “Male and female he created them”.(genesis 1:27)
In a marriage there are only two votes so how can a stalemate ever be broken if there is a dispute? According to Christian principles, each will try to give each other his or her pleasure. The wife will try and respect her husband’s headship and he will try and please his wife. In this dynamic, overruling will be rare indeed. In the unlikely case of an impasse both are called to submit to their God given role.
As ever the role model is Jesus who submitted to his Father by saying “Yet not my will but yours”
And in the sometimes fraught relations in many marriages, remember taking authority is just as hard as ceding authority.
There are certain principles that govern the marital arrangements.
1) The husband’s authority (like the son’s over us) is never used to please himself but only to serve the interests of his wife.
2) A wife is never to be merely compliant but is to use her resourses to empower. Husband and wife will be their most trusted friend and councillor. They complete each other and this takes a lot of give and take. To complement each other means they need to hear each other out and make their arguments. He as a wise manager much know when to allow her superior experience to trump his own
3) No Christian is called to give anyone their unconditional obedience, and this goes for a wife in a marriage. For example if a man hits his wife the loving thing to do is to forgive him and have him arrested.
This set of principles for the regulation of marital relationships is based on our relationship to God. We are all of us under authority and in the image of the final consummation being a wedding feast as we heard this morning, our human marriages are governed by the nature of our relationship with God, and between Father and Son in the Godhead