Monday, November 18, 2013

The Weakest Link

I learned something new this of those things that you feel you always should have known but somehow just didn't.  I got to preach this Sunday and I was assigned my topic, because Jeff is in the middle of a series and he didn't want to break the flow.  My passage of scripture was that sort of infamous verse about women being weak.  I've never studied it before, so I was actually interested to find out what it really meant and how it applied to my life.  It was a great verse, and I thoroughly enjoyed studying it.  I thought I'd share it here, just because I thought you might enjoy it too.  And after you've read it, you can get your husband to read it because it's even more applicable to him!

Jeff makes me feel like an 8-cow woman!
(You'll get it later!)

So here it is...The Weakest Link

I Peter 3:7 - Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.

The word "likewise" in this verse is there to remind you of what was just discussed above, because the principle that applied in those passages also applies here.  The theme was submission, everyone's favorite word!  Since you're not sitting in a pew listening to a sermon right now with your Bible on your lap, I'll just re-cap what the previous verses said for you here:

- Everyone - submit to laws, ordinances and ruling authorities, for that is the will of God

- Servants - submit to your master, because Christ suffered for us

- Wives - submit to your husbands, so they will be won by their wives’ conduct

- Husbands - know and honor your wife, that your prayers may not be hindered

I Peter 3:7 is a misquoted, even disliked verse. All the good words and admonition in this passage of scripture are completely overshadowed and even ignored in the light of the phrase, "the weaker vessel."

No one wants to be weak...weak-minded, weak-kneed, weakling, the weakest link, showing signs of weakness...

Does anyone remember the game show, "Weakest Link?" That was the game where contestants had to answer a long string of questions unbroken by a wrong answer. If they failed to answer a question correctly and broke the chain, the host would say in her crisp British accent, "Karyn, you are the wwweakest link. Goodbye!" and Karyn would slink off the stage in shame.

My kids really liked this game show when they were young, and I remember one day Kate was struggling to open a door where the latch always stuck. Jeff reached over and opened it for her, and she laughed and said, "I’m such a weak link!" mixing up the word "weakling" with the title of the show, "Weakest Link." We all laughed.

But being weak is no laughing matter. Personally, I hate being weak. I hate asking for help and I hate feeling inadequate or useless. So a scripture like this immediately gets my defenses up, and I start affirming myself..."I’m not weak...I can outrun Jeff, I can outwork Jeff, and I have more stamina than Jeff."

But when it comes right down to it, he’s stronger. He’s almost a foot taller than I am and he has more muscle mass. He can lift things I can’t. He can carry things I can’t. He can open things I can’t. He can reach things I can’t. And then there’s my youngest son, who gets the greatest kick out of scooping me up like a sack of potatoes, tossing me over his shoulder and running up the stairs with me. I haven't done that with him since he was a toddler!

I realized what a weakling I truly was when I joined the gym this year. I went to a HIIT class, which stands for, "high intensity interval training." When I first walked in I thought, "This will be no problem...I run every day and I’m in pretty good shape." The instructor had us planking on huge exercise balls, doing push-ups with our feet suspended, holding a plie squat and bouncing with tiny little pulsations until our legs quivered. She called out encouragingly as people began to groan in agony, "Come on, you can do’re stronger than you think!" And I argued back inside, "No, you’re wrong. I’m weaker than I think, because I thought this would be a piece of cake, but I feel like I am about to collapse!"

So, I admit it: I am weak. And I have really wimpy arms! And before you laugh at me, most of you do too!

But let’s not get hung up on this fact! We get our feathers ruffled over being the weaker vessel and miss the rest of the verse, which is just begging us to pay attention, because there are some precious gems waiting to be discovered!

Let’s compare the two husband-and-wife passages: Wives, you are to be submissive to your own husbands. Husbands, you are to dwell with your wives with understanding, giving honor to her. It’s a give-and-take scenario...the wife submits and the husband honors. When the husband honors, it is easy for the wife to submit. When the wife submits, the husband finds it easy to honor.

The beginning of verse 7 commands the husband to dwell with his wife with understanding.
"To dwell" means to live together domestically as husband and wife. It comes from the Greek root word that means "to stand beside, accompany, or preside." Husbands are to stand beside their wives and preside over the marriage. It’s a position more than it is a place. The first thing a husband can do to strengthen his marriage is to take his God-given position...

- stand beside your wife, which speaks of commitment, loyalty and support

- preside over your marriage, which means to take the spiritual leadership in your relationship

Husbands are to be the initiator of spiritual things---the one who should make a stand for morality and integrity, the promoter of a godly life, the protector of his family against spiritual attack by the enemy, the first to pray, the first to speak faith, the first to bless, the first to love and the quickest to forgive and say sorry.  Husbands are the leaders over their home, and they also live in that home together with their wives.

Secondly, you are to do this with understanding, or knowledge.

Although in Peter’s day, a man had the legal right to dominate, control and even physically abuse his wife, the Bible here takes a stand for women by admonishing men to be considerate and understanding of their honor them, not hurt them, even though they had the brute strength and legal right to do whatever they pleased. Peter was calling the men of his day higher than what society taught, allowed and even accepted. This is a beautiful verse that expresses God’s great care and value for women.

The Bible says husbands are to dwell with their wives with understanding or knowledge..."Okay," men say, "so just how am I supposed to treat my wife?" And that’s what the rest of the verse is about. So after today, men can’t plead ignorance! James 4:17 says, "for him who knows to do good and does not do it, it is sin." Here what the Bible teaches on how to treat a woman, summed up in just one word, because God knows that men like the short version!

Give honor to your wife

I’ve done a lot of clean-up projects over the years, and one thing that intrigues me is how people value things. As the one cleaning up, I see very little value in the objects I’m sorting...but for the person they belong to, there is great value. After mercilessly tossing aside someone’s treasures, I then go home and do some cleaning out of my own. I pick up an object and think about parting with it, but suddenly I can’t. I paid good money for that. It was my favorite! I’ll never find another one like it. So I hang on to it when I know very well someone else would look at it and say, "Really, Karyn?" See, because I paid a price for it, it has value to me, and because it has value, I honor it by placing it in a special spot, taking good care of it, speaking fondly about it, admiring it, and keeping it for a very long time. That’s what the word "honor" means in this passage. It is "value based on a price paid for a person or thing that is bought." In Bible days, a wife was purchased. A man had to pay a dowry for his bride, and then in a legal contract she became his property. You know that romantic line in wedding vows, "to have and to hold from this day forward"? That word "hold" has nothing to do with taking the one you love in your arms. It meant to hold as in business, real estate. You own it, you hold the title. Sorry, ladies, but that was just the way it was!

But again, the Bible takes the side of the woman, not society. This scripture tells men to treat their wives worthy of the price they paid for them. I don’t know about you, but if a dress is hanging on a hanger in a store, I may admire the dress for a moment but if I don't buy it I’ll walk away, and if the dress falls off the hanger and gets trampled on the floor, it really doesn’t matter to me. But if I purchase that dress, suddenly I want that dress wrapped in tissue and placed in a bag to keep it clean and safe until I get it home. I value the same dress entirely differently once I’ve paid the price to purchase it and it becomes mine.

Here’s another old story that I learned waaayyy back in Bible college...a story that because the campus joke for quite awhile!

Johnny Lingo and the 8-Cow Woman

Johnny Lingo was a shrewd but honest and well-liked Polynesian trader.  He came to one of the islands to bargain for a wife. The young woman he desired was considered by her neighbors and even her father to be of little value, as she was sullen, ugly and undesirable. As the bargaining was about to begin, women of the island bragged to each other of how many cows their husbands had given for each of them and commented that the father would be lucky if he got one cow as dowry for his daughter.  The tribal counselor advised the father to ask for three cows so that hopefully he would get at least get one.  The bargaining began and, as the counselor suggested, the father asked Johnny Lingo for three cows. The Islanders laughed, waiting for Johnny to make his counter-offer.  But Johnny surprised them when he said, "Three cows are many, but that's not enough for my girl!" He then offered the unheard-of price of eight cows for her hand in marriage. The next day Johnny brought the cows and subsequently married the daughter.  He and his new bride then left the island on a trading trip.  When they came back, to everyone's astonishment, the homely bride was now a beautiful, happy woman. Johnny, the honorable husband, had proven to her that her she was valuable.  He had paid the highest price for her.  When she realized how precious and priceless she was to Johnny, she blossomed.  His love and honor for her made her beautiful and desirable.  She was an 8-cow woman!!

Wives need to be treated as though they are valuable and precious...worth 8 cows, at least!

I Peter 3:7 tells us there are two ways that husbands should honor their wives:

1. As the weaker vessel

We already agreed that the wife, generally speaking, is weaker. There are always exceptions...some women have Olympic gold medals and are bigger, stronger and faster than any ordinary man, but most women are physically weaker than men.

The "vessel" concept is a funny one. On researching this verse, I came across analogies that state "weaker vessel" must surely mean "delicate," like fine china. So then men, you must handle your wives as though she is a piece of fine china, delicate and valuable. Now that’s a nice picture, and I suppose there is an element of truth to the analogy, but if you really want to know what the "weaker vessel" is, it is very simply, "the weaker body."

The word "weaker" doesn’t mean delicate or fragile, it means weaker...not as strong. And the word vessel is a common Greek metaphor for body, which the Bible uses in other scriptures in the New Testament.

So how does a husband honor his wife as the physically weaker one? By using his physical strength not to hurt her but to help her.

- physical abuse vs. physical affection (touch her romantically, not just sexually)

- physical force vs. physical freedom (encourage her opinions, desires, interests)

- physical laziness vs. physical labor (work for her, assist her)

- physical desertion vs. physical defense (cover and protect her, physically, emotionally and spiritually)

- physical absence vs. physical awareness (spend time with her, listen)

- physical control vs. physical care (love her as your own body)

The greatest key to understanding this verse is this: A husband, more than anyone, should know his wife’s weaknesses, and a husband, more than anyone, should know best what she needs...from him.  Husbands honor their wives when they know her weaknesses, when they understand her needs, and when they strive to meet them.

2. As joint-heirs of the grace of life

The second way a man honors is wife is by recognizing that she is a joint-heir with him of the grace of life. Once again, the Bible is championing for women. Only in scripture was a woman elevated to a place of equality with her husband. Men and women have different functions within the marriage relationship and different levels of authority, but they have equal value and worth. God gives grace to each of us, both male and female. God offers salvation to each of us. God grants forgiveness to each of us. God brings each of us into eternity. Once a man realizes that the fact that his wife is weaker than he does not mean that she is less spiritual than he, then he will be able to honor her the way God commands. A wife is a husband's partner. Together they stand before God in covenant relationship, together they serve Him and work in His kingdom, and together they reap all the spiritual blessings that enhance and bless their life and, ultimately, the lives of others.

So why is it so important for a husband to honor his wife? Can’t they just agree to disagree? Can’t they just live their own lives before God? Can’t the husband just be the boss and tell the wife what to do?

No. God has given a command, and with his commands come either a blessing or a curse. The blessing is a strong, committed couple who walk in the grace of God and fullness of life. The curse is hindered prayers.
I Peter 3:7 says for husbands to honor their wives that their prayers may be not hindered

When husbands aren’t communicating with their wives properly, God won’t communicate with them. It’s that big of a deal.

The word "hindered" doesn’t mean "get through with a little bit of difficulty," the way we might think it does. It actually means, cut out and cut off, like a tree.

The very same Greek word is used in these scriptures:

Matthew 3:10 - And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 5:30 - And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

Rom. 11:22 - Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.

When a husband's prayers are hindered, he is actually cut off from God.  God will seem distant and not very real. That man will go to bed at night and lie there staring at the ceiling, thinking, "God's not listening." When he tries to pray, he'll feel hypocritical. 

Here is a thought-provoking quote from commentator Wayne Grudem:

No Christian husband should presume to think that any spiritual good will be accomplished by his life without an effective ministry of prayer. And no husband may expect an effective prayer life unless he lives with his wife "in an understanding way, bestowing honor" on her. 

When a husband doesn’t honor his wife, he...and not the actually the weakest. She may be weaker than him physically, but he is the weakest link in the chain between the blessing of God to his family.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands...
Likewise, husbands, dwell with your wives with understanding, giving her honor...

If we purpose in our hearts to do this, we will see our marriages revitalized. We will see our spouses change. We will see our prayer life flourish. We will see our relationship with the Lord grow and strengthen. And we will walk out our days side-by-side with the one we love, enjoying the full blessing of the grace of God on our lives!