Alex and I sat at the outdoor restaurant table well after sundown. In the middle stood a lit candle, which gave a soft orange light through the tinted glass holder. The sky above us was inky black, with countless stars shining brightly. The air was warm without being sticky, not a breath of wind stirred, and just a few feet away, the waves of the Mediterranean Sea lapped gently at the sand and shingle beach, making a continuous, almost melodic sound which combined with the gentle music drifting from a nearby speaker.
And as such, was the high point of a holiday (vacation) at the Greek island of Kos, from which we were able to see the distant lights of the Turkish resort of Bodrum several miles away, across the stretch of sea.
So were we celebrating anything? Indeed we were. Our twelfth Wedding Anniversary.
Perhaps I'll let you into a secret. I married quite late in life compared to the average age here in the UK. As such, our anniversaries means everything to us both. Of all twelve anniversaries, four of them we flew abroad - to Israel, Italy, the Greek Island of Rhodes and this time to Kos. Three other anniversaries were spent in Cornwall, the extreme South-West corner of the UK where palm trees and even banana bushes flourish. Two more were spent at a hotel in London, only thirty miles (48km) from our home. The rest spent either at home or a day in London. What determine our venue is not the state of our marriage at all, but our budget.
But this year we wanted to make an extra effort to make our twelfth special. Twelve means something special, particular to me. The twelve months of the year, the twelve hours on the clock, the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. It is a number divisible by two, three, four and six. More important, it was God himself who chose that number for both the nation of Israel and the foundations of the Church. Therefore if God, for his own pleasure, had chosen that number to fulfill his purpose, why not us to fulfill ours? In a nutshell, because of my late age on our wedding day, I vowed back then that for the rest of our lives our anniversaries will always be a holiday. But the most important reason for our anniversary holiday, whether at home or abroad, is for us to spend time together.
If you are single and reading this, you can if you wish, start solving your Rubic Cube, pick up a newspaper or (heaven forbid) go on to another website. But I bid you to read on instead, as I was single too, right up to the age of 47 years. So I would understand how you might feel. Many a time back then whenever a sermon was preached about marriage, I took that as a good opportunity for a spell of mid-morning forty winks!
But marriage in the real world is not about from one anniversary to the next. Our experience of it had taught us that it's a 100% commitment to each other. One rather unusual writing about marriage came from the pen of the apostle Paul. He wrote,
Husbands, love your wives...wives, submit to your husbands...
Ephesians 5:22, 25. Colossians 3:18-19.
This seems unusual in a way that one would have thought that both partners would be encouraged to love each other. I as a man am exhorted to love my wife. We men are by nature less emotional than women, maybe because we were created with the purpose of bread-winning to provide every need to our families. In turn, it is the woman who carries her offspring for the first nine months of the child's life, and therefore makes sense that she has a much broader array of emotion. For her to love her husband comes perfectly natural to her, but as men we have to work at it. In other words, we guys have to make an effort to love our wives.
Wives submitting to their husbands? By writing this blog, I feel that I'm putting myself at risk of becoming unpopular among female readers here. In this day and age, it looks as if it's anathema for a young female, fresh out of university, to think about being supported by a working husband holding down a job. Independent women, as I can see, is the culture of today, the 21st Century. It wasn't that long since I found myself watching a TV commercial of the carefree, independent career-minded woman driving away in her flashy Ferrari sports car after dumping her partner when he failed to meet her expectations. Perhaps with ads like this delivering such messages of attitude, little wonder that many a male, especially one who had struggled at school, feels that he has no sense of purpose or responsibility, and takes to drugs or become part of a gang culture, or merely mopes at home suffering insecurity or inferior complex.
Added to this, the high rate of divorce in the UK may indeed be put down to female independence in the home.
Husbands, love your wives. History seem to tell me that male dominance in the home, including domestic violence, were the seeds sown which sprouted feminism. Male leadership in the home is Biblical, but Paul emphasises love alongside leadership. Loving our wives takes effort. I, for one, have to make a conscious effort to be romantic to my wife, especially after coming home from work, slumping down in front of the TV, or nowadays, go online. I have found it a lot easier to catch up on the latest on Facebook than it is to walk into the kitchen while she is preparing the dinner, put my arms round her and ask, "What sort of a day did you have?"
But by making the effort, Alex appreciates this and in turn, finds it easier to submit. There also seem to be good evidence that by submitting to my leadership at home gives her a sense of security. By relying on me to provide, she remains free from worry on how is she to keep a roof over her head, nor dread another day under a stickler of a boss in the office. As a result of taking Paul's advice, I'm very happy to say that our marriage is strong and robust.
Another thing I must emphasise here. I have been told, especially by my mother, that the reason why many women work is because Dad's income was not enough to be the sole breadwinner. Mum had a point there, although her working hours were always part time in order to make sure my younger brother and I were properly looked after as children. She spent her time as a manual worker in a factory. It was solely to top up the home budget. There is a world of a difference between this and the ambitions of an independent, well-educated career/social climbing female.
I always saw that Mum was submissive to Dad, who did not object to her going out to work, even in his own mind he might have preferred her to stay at home. But I also saw Dad making a conscious effort to love her. Many times. Result? Their marriage is as strong as it was on their wedding day, which was sixty years earlier!
Husbands, love your wives. Wives, submit to your husbands. Why did Paul give this advice? For a stable, happy marriage? Yes, it was certainly for that. But there is more. The mystery of marriage is a figure - of the one between Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, and his Bride, the Church!
The New Testament often pictures the Church, meaning a worldwide group of true believers in Jesus Christ as Saviour, being betrothed to Christ in this present age. Many scholars believe that the actual marriage will take place in Heaven after the Rapture. But whatever the case might be, Jesus Christ loved the Church so much that he gave his own life for her salvation. This, I believe is how husbands should love their wives, ready to lay their lives for them. Humanly speaking, this is very difficult, if not impossible, as self-preservation is the most powerful force operating in every man. But being a believer in Jesus Christ and being filled with his Holy Spirit, this kind of love, known as agape in Greek, the highest form of love a person can have, can be achieved. The love Christ has for his church, that is, for every believer, is agape love.
With this kind of love shown to the wife by her husband, she would find that being submissive not just much easier but something she would be glad to be. My own experience in marriage seem to indicate that love and submission are the right responses to the man who loves her so much. It is the same attitude the Church has for her Head, Jesus Christ. Therefore, Paul was right to liken Christ and his Church to that of a husband and wife relationship. There are many similarities.
But there are some differences too. I don't have any power to cleanse my wife from her sins, nor bring her to purification. These are things only Christ can do. Jesus Christ has that power to cleanse every believer from their sins, to present to himself a Bride which will be spotless and clean, fit for the King. And that is another reason why I believe in Once Saved Always Saved. The Bride will be presented to the Groom complete. For a believer to lose his salvation due to sin, falling away or lack of faithfulness would mean the severance of that Bride's body part (which is another figure Paul uses for the Church - different parts, one body). During our wedding ceremony in 1999, Alex walked into the church building dressed in a white wedding dress. Of course, it never crossed my mind as a waiting groom whether she had all her ten toes on her feet, or had she lost a couple during her transit to the wedding. Of course she had all ten toes! My bride walked into the building complete in herself, so will the Bride of Christ as well.
Christians have come up to me and quoting the parable of the Ten Virgins, found in Matthew 25:1-13 to prove that believers can lose their salvation and therefore be severed from the Bride of Christ. But those ten virgins were not the Bride of Christ. They were guests, most likely to become the Groom's harem, as was the custom in those days of Eastern aristocracy. But still neither of them would become his bride. The Bride was already in the house, and furthermore the central point of attention. When the Groom came out to bring the women in, there was no evidence that he asked where were the missing five. Instead he found five waiting and he invited them in. When the other five arrived, they found the door shut and the Groom was baffled on who these five women were, and dismissed them.
A parallel story is found in Matthew 22 1-14. Here Jesus gives a picture of a King (God the Father) inviting his guests in to celebrate his son's wedding feast. The Bride was about to marry her Groom and therefore, the centre of attention. The invited guests refused to attend. So the King sent out his servants to bring in all who were willing to attend. They were all guests. They did not make up the Bride of Christ.
Yet do these parables apply to us today? Yes, they do. The virgin's jars of oil and the wedding clothes each of the guests wore represented the righteousness of Christ. In the first parable, the five foolish virgins believed that they could enter the Kingdom riding on the backs of believers, without having the oil (Holy Spirit) for themselves. One cannot be saved on someone else's faith. On the same par, the one man at the wedding feast thought he could turn up in his own clothes, rather than in the clothes provided by the host for every guest. One cannot enter the Kingdom without being clothed with the righteousness of Christ.
But to keep the parables in their literal context, in both there was a definite difference between the bride and the guest. In this age, when Christ is calling the Bride for himself, every believer has been called and approved by God the Father, and given to his Son Jesus as a reward for his sacrifice on the cross. (See John 6:39,44; John 17:2,6,9,24.)
Every believer since the Crucifixion is part of the Bride of Christ, she of astonishing beauty and cleanliness, fit to be a wife of the King who loved her enough to lay down his life. And she will be both loving and in submission to the one who loves her so much. No ambitious independence there, apparently.
I love Alex my wife dearly. But would I be prepared to lay my life down for her?
With God all things are possible.