In the last issue we were thinking about the broad spectrum of the elder’s home and family life. Now, I’d like to focus in on one particular aspect of that picture: the elder’s relationship with his wife. Since Paul makes a correlation between the way a man manages his family, and the way he will care for the church, his relationship with that one person with whom he has become “one flesh” will be of great importance.
This union is so special in the eyes of the Lord, that He has chosen it to be a visible picture before all of the relationship between the Lord Jesus, and His bride. While this writer does not share the viewpoint that an elder must be married (see previous issue), it is understandable why some commentators take that position given the magnitude of this truth.
The Silence of Scripture
Looking at the most indepth treatment of the qualifications (or characteristics) of church leaders in I Tim. 3:1 – 13, it is interesting to note that although guidelines for the wife of the deacon are given, there is no mention of the wife of the elder. This may infer that as spiritually mature men, elders have become one with their wives to such a degree that no separate treatment is needed. Whatever, the reason, there are plenty of passages on the godly husband – wife relationship to draw from. Let’s begin with some foundational insights, and move on to practical implications for the elder.
Foundation passages: Ephesians 5:22 – 33; I Pet. 3:1 – 7
Every Christian couple ought to read and ponder these wonderful sections of Scripture throughout their married life. I want to highlight three truths that are of special relevance to the elder as he shepherds that one special person in the flock – his wife!
1) Christian marriage is a love relationship in which submission is to be both a protection and a delight. By watching the tender love in which the wife finds security and comfort in the headship of her husband, (and honestly would not want to part with it), the believers in the church come to understand how the Lord is constantly using their submission to Him as the means by which He can care for them.
All thought of domineering or harshness is excluded; Paul does not say “Husbands, see that your wife is in submission to you.” Rather, he addresses the wife. This intimate love relationship is a gift from the Lord to the church, so that younger Christians can see in the older (and most importantly in elders!) a “real life” example of how the Lord Jesus cares for His bride as she trust in Him and obeys His word.
2) The above is possible only where each person is both “under” and “in” authority. Being under the authority of Christ and His Word, enables the husband to fulfill his role as “the head of the wife” (vs. 23). The wife is under the headship of her husband, and thereby has great authority in the home. In this connection, it is interesting to note the Greek word used by Paul in I Tim. 5:14 in reference to wives which is literally “oikos” (household) + “despotes” (sovereign ruler). Robertson remarks that this word “rule the household” provides “proper recognition of her influence.” (Word Pictures in the NT). Elders must set the example of letting the Word of Christ dwell in them richly (Col. 3:16)
3) Just as the Lord is working tirelessly to bring the church toward full, maturity and purity, so the husband must be doing the same for his wife. In other words, he cannot be effective in discipling young believers in the church if he is not discipling his own wife! Of course this does not mean that in every case he will have been a Christian longer than she, but only that God lays upon him this responsibility as a life work.
How can an ordinary Christian man hope to have a marriage that would make ordinary Christian people admire the Lord’s love and care for His church? In human strength, this is impossible. But by abiding in Him, ordinary people become extraordinary! Every instruction on the subject given by the Lord is within reach through faith in His promises, coupled with self discipline and determined effort. Here are several areas to work at:
Communication; Peter exhorts husbands to dwell with their wives according to knowledge (I Pet. 3:7). Accurate knowledge of anything comes by studying it. Learn to really listen to your wife; observe her carefully, and speak as if the Lord Himself were standing beside her. Not only will this bring blessing to your relationship, but it will enhance your work in the church as you become more sensitive to people.
Honor: Peter also instructs the husband to give honor to his wife. The need for honor (or respect) is one of our most basic needs. Society today is filled with working women, many of whom are simply seeking honor in the world that they have never gotten at home. If you believe that motherhood, homemaking, and co-laboring in the work of the assembly are honorable occupations, then ask yourself who is most responsible to give your wife honor, and in what form it should come.
Teamwork: Peter describes a Christian couple as “heirs together” of one of God’s most coveted graces: “life!” Does she feel like an essential part of the team, or does she sit on the sidelines while you serve? Praying together, visiting the saints, mentoring younger believers and discussing the Lord’s work are all enhanced by harmonious teamwork. This also suggests helping her discover her gifts and special abilities.
Home: Every couple can study the so-called “Proverbs 31 woman.” She is godly, energetic, creative, and admired, but she also has the full support of her husband and family. This is not a make believe story, found only in dreams, but a portrait of the sort of diligence, virtue, and cooperation that the Lord is seeking to picture His love relationship with the church.
Family: It is a common sight in the world to see a family in which the children fight with their mother, who in turn bucks her husband who in turn lives in relative ignorance of the word and ways of Christ. How different is a truly Christian home! Are we praying daily with our wives for wisdom in training the children and managing the home? Are we able to openly share insights from God’s word about our relationship; the family; the assembly?
Elders are called “stewards of God” (Titus 1:7). As we think of our nearest and dearest earthly blessing, we are reminded again that “it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.” (I Cor. 4:2)