June 13, 2014 Broadcast

Criticism and Compliments

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Words are powerful. They carry implicit power to change the world for better or for worse. In marriage, words can either destroy or uplift. Such words often come in the form of either criticism or compliments. In this lesson, Dr. R.C. Sproul explains how to use words to grow a healthy marriage.

From the series: The Intimate Marriage

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Understanding Suffering

  2. devotional

    Serving One Another in Marriage

  3. devotional

    The Model of Christ's Love

Understanding Suffering

Christian or not, suffering remains an inevitable result of living in this world. Human beings often find themselves asking “why?” any time they encounter a terminal illness, a child with birth defects, unjust imprisonment, or any other such tragedy.

Non-Christians have offered several answers to this question, and it is helpful to examine some of them since these replies can influence us. Some non-believers adopt a docetic view of suffering, which denies the reality of pain altogether. Suffering is merely an illusion in this view. The docetic view is held by the Christian Science cult, and it has many affinities with the teachings of Eastern religions.

Our culture has embraced the hedonistic view of suffering more than any other. This worldview seeks to reduce pain and acquire pleasure, at any cost. To dull their physical and emotional pain, men and women turn to sexual infidelity, illegal drugs, gluttony, and other sinful behaviors believing that “if it feels nice, don’t think twice.”

The stoic view of suffering says that we have no control over what happens to us externally. All we can do is choose how we will respond internally; the goal here is to let nothing bother us. We should do our best “to keep a stiff upper lip” and to “let nothing get us down.”

Evangelicals have probably been most affected by the stoic view. Regrettably, we are often prone to minimizing the reality of our grief and will act as if the proper way to face suffering is to pretend nothing of any consequence has happened. But this is not the approach of Jesus; after all, John recorded that He wept (John 11:35). It is not sinful to mourn the loss of a loved one or to admit our pain.

Christians ask God “why?” when we suffer, and sometimes we find that it results from the Lord’s discipline (Heb. 12:3–17). However, Job’s life shows us suffering is not always due to our sin. And as with Job, God may not tell us the “why” of our pain in every case.

God is not obligated to give us the reason for our suffering. Still, whether He is disciplining us or not, we know He is always with us in our pain (Ps. 23:4) to use our suffering for good, redemptive ends and to bring glory to Himself (Rom. 8:28).

Serving One Another in Marriage

Because of the grace of God shown toward us in Christ and due to the gratitude we experience as redeemed people, we must walk “worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called” (Eph. 4:1). As members of Christ’s church, this walk involves serving one another (Eph. 5:21). Moreover, the Christian imperative to serve appears often in Scripture (Matt. 20:20–28; 1 Peter 4:10).

The meaning of service, however, differs according to our specific vocations. Obviously, the pastor serves his congregation differently than the layperson. He preaches the Word of God, administers the sacraments, and provides leadership and vision for his people. His leadership is a specific form of service that fulfills the Lord’s general call to serve others just as the layperson’s following of the pastor is a particular kind of service that obeys this same command.

Let us keep in mind this principle of the call to service as we consider Paul’s teaching on the roles of husbands and wives. Husbands and wives are to serve one another according to the principle of mutual Christian service, but the form this service takes is gender-specific. Thus, Ephesians 5:21 cannot be used to deny male headship and authority in the home. Wives serve their husbands by submitting to them (vv. 22–24). Husbands serve their wives not by submitting to them but by leading them and by loving them with a sacrificial love in imitation of the way that Christ loves the church (vv. 25–33).

The submission that the apostle enjoins upon wives in verses 22–24 is not the kind of service that all believers, husbands included, must render to one another in the church (v. 21). Wifely submission is a particular submission, one in which she obeys the Christian obligation to serve within the parameters of the marital covenant. Wives must follow the leading of their husbands, not every man in this world.

Furthermore, a husband’s authority is not absolute. The wife submits to her husband “as to the Lord” (v. 22); thus, she follows his direction insofar as he does not ask her to sin. There are innumerable applications that flow from this call to wise submission, and we will consider many of them over the next few days.

The Model of Christ's Love

Remarkably, the Bible has very little to say specifically about how a wife’s submission to her husband is to look in practice. Certainly, it is clear that the wife is to follow the loving direction of her own spouse, for “the husband is the head of the wife” (Eph. 5:22–23). Furthermore, although today’s passage indicates that the husband’s spiritual leadership is of utmost importance to the family, it seems plain that the husband’s authority is not limited just to spiritual matters. After all, wives are to submit themselves “in everything to their husbands” (v. 24).

Still, the practical outworkings of wifely submission are never specified in great detail. Consequently, each family possesses a great deal of flexibility to decide how it will function. Of course, the husband is the final decision-maker when a couple cannot agree upon a choice between two or more godly options. This preserves the principle of male authority and helps ensure that chaos does not rule the home, which would be at cross purposes with Christ’s work to unite all things in perfect harmony (Col. 1:19–20). But nothing says male headship means that he keeps the checkbook and that she does all the housecleaning. Examples could be multiplied, but the point is that the church must give every family latitude in figuring out what headship and submission looks like in its own home.

Christian husbands, however, are accountable to love their wives as Christ loves the church, and a passionate concern for the wife’s spiritual well-being is essential to this love. Ephesians 5:26–27 reveals that one goal of our Savior’s affection for His people is that He might present the church fully sanctified and flawlessly beautiful to all creation. Paul borrows imagery from Ezekiel 16:1–14, wherein God washes Israel and takes the nation as His bride. This act reaches its ultimate fulfillment in the new covenant as we are washed by the “word” of the gospel and given a bridal gown that is as white as snow (Isa. 1:18; Zech. 3:1–5; Rev. 19:6–8).

Unlike Christ, husbands possess no inherent power to sanctify their wives. But since Jesus’ love serves as the husband’s model, he must do all that he can to encourage her sanctification. As Christian husbands rightly love their wives, the beauty of their wives’ holiness becomes indescribably magnificent.

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