Is There a Servant in the House?
January 16, 1994
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 5:22-6:4
We live in strange and troubling days. I wonder if a week ago any of us had ever heard of Tonya Harding. Now, we’re all watching this tawdry thing unfold before our eyes wondering how this could have happened. Our hearts go out to Nancy Kerrigan. We hope that she can recover in time for the Olympics. And if you heard her on the interview the other day, they asked her, “Can you understand?” She said, “No, I can never understand why anyone would do something like that.”
There’s a lesson there.
Lost in all the hoopla, there is the story of someone else, who last Sunday came in fourth in the 500 meter speed skating finals, making the Olympic Team. Instead of celebrating, on Monday she flew to Baltimore and checked into John Hopkins Hospital and on Tuesday she had bone marrow taken out and given to her brother Jason who has aplastic anemia. The doctors told her, “If we do this, it will probably save your brother’s life. But you need to know that this is a painful procedure. If we do this, you may miss the Olympics coming up in just a few weeks.” Her decision was immediate and easy. She said, “He’s part of my family. Sometimes things happen in life which make you realize how unimportant other things really are.” She may make the Olympics or not. But as she said, it doesn’t really matter.
This is the year of the servant here at Calvary. We’re just starting on the journey to discover what it means to be a servant. I thought about that speech and I thought about Tonya Harding and I thought about how Tonya Harding has gotten all the press this week when we really should be talking about her and what she did. The sacrifice. That’s what it means to be a servant in the family. The title of this sermon series is Servants Unlimited. All we’re trying to do is discover what it means to have the spirit of a servant in the different relationships of life. This morning, is there a servant in the house?
The text for this sermon is often considered a hard, difficult passage of scripture. But God never asks us to do anything that he doesn’t give us the strength or grace to do. It’s perfectly put together so that if you could have a family that could live not just according to the words of that passage but according to the spirit of that passage, if you could have husbands and wives and mothers and fathers and children who lived the spirit of that passage, I wouldn’t have to preach to you about servanthood in the home. You would all understand it without any explanation from me.
Servanthood should begin at home. If it doesn’t begin there, it probably won’t be seen anywhere.
Three reasons why servanthood must begin at home:
1. That’s where you are seen for what you really are. That’s where you are seen for the reality of your personality. That’s where the public persona and the reputation and all that is set aside and the people who know you best see you for what you really are.
2. That’s where the values of life are translated to the next generation. Children don’t do what you say. Children do what you do. They become what you are. That to me is a very frightening thought. That’s not something that I take lightly.
Home is where life makes up its mind.
Home is where children learn to be servants, to give, or where they learn to be selfish and greedy, like all the rest of the people in this world.
3. The servant spirit is needed most desperately in the closest relationships of life. It’s no big deal to stop and help somebody that you happen to see on the street. Why? Because you’ve just happened to see them and you’re never going to see them again. It doesn’t require very much investment to serve somebody that you’re just passing in the night. It’s much different when it has to be lived out seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day.
Many of us, I think, would find servanthood easy if we could only serve anonymous people that we would never see again. But it’s much different around the breakfast table. It’s much different in the bedroom. It’s much different behind closed doors day after day after day. And so if servanthood doesn’t begin in the home, I question whether it‘s going to be seen at all.
What does a servant look like at home? How can you spot a servant at home? What is a servant spirit?
I want to begin by talking to the husbands first of all.
What does servanthood mean to husbands?
Husbands and fathers, men, I speak just to you for a moment now. It all begins with you. As I read this text, I find it interesting that twice as much space is used to address the husbands as it is to the wives. Isn’t that an interesting thought? There is twice as much space used to address the husbands, as if Paul is sending us a message about the importance of what husbands and fathers are to do in the home. Basically, for husbands and for men there is one word that sums it all up. That’s the word love. Husbands love your wives. Husbands love. Fathers love. Men love. The word is agape.
You know there are three primary words for love in the Greek language. There’s agape, there’s eros and there’s philos. Eros is sexual love. It’s never used in the New Testament. Philos or philean, used a number of ways, means brotherly love. It’s friendship love. It’s comradeship love. It’s the kind of love that we have for friends and acquaintances that we meet on a daily basis. Then there’s agape love. That’s the word that’s used for husbands, for fathers, for men. It’s agape. It’s self-giving love. It’s love that is poured out completely.
It’s love that knows no limits.
Listen to the next sentence. Agape is the word that the Bible writers used when they wanted to describe God’s love for us: “For God so loved the world,” John 3:16. It’s agape. That is the word that is used here. It’s not “husbands, eros.” It’s not “husbands, philos.” It’s “husbands, agape” Husbands love your wives with complete self-sacrifice and self-denying love. Husbands love your wives with a love that has no limits.
The text talks about the husband as the head of the wife. We talk a lot around here about the husband being the spiritual leader of the home. I will say what it means to me to be the spiritual leader for his home. It means responsibility and accountability. I think it means some day, men, you’re going to have to give account for your family. Some day, husbands, some day fathers, some day, you will have to stand before God and you will have to explain to Almighty God about how your wife was, how your children were, how your family was, in this world. Are you asking me will my wife have to answer? YES! Yes, your children will, but you as the spiritual leader of your home will some day stand before God and you will have to account for your spiritual stewardship as the leader of your family.
That’s an awesome thought. A lot of fathers are absent, AWOL, spiritually. A lot of Christian fathers have gone over the hill spiritually in terms of leading their wives and their children in the direction their families should go. A great problem in America today is the great problem of illegitimacy. I had a chance this week to read about illegitimacy, of children being born to unmarried mothers.
William F. Buckley said that the problem of illegitimacy is the number one social problem facing America today. The rate of illegitimacy in America is up 300% in the last 30 years and corresponding that rise of illegitimacy, is in the breakdown of the two-parent home which is the foundation of any stable society. Corresponding with the rising of illegitimacy, violent crime has risen 600% in the same period that illegitimacy has risen 300%. You say what’s the meaning of that? The meaning is this.
When the father is there, he makes a great difference. When the father is not there, his absence makes a great difference.
I read this week of two scientists who made a survey of thousands of families in three places, Rochester, New York, Tampa, Florida and St. Louis, Missouri. They studied for what would be the best predictors of poverty, what would be the best predictors of crime, what would be the best predictors of social breakdown and the delinquency of children.
They looked at all of them and what they found was that it wasn’t race or class or color. It wasn’t what part of town you were from or education. The best predictors for those negative traits was a “father absent household.” That’s something for us to think about inside the church. It’s something for us as men to think about concerning the awesome responsibility that God lays upon men, fathers and husbands. No wonder the word is agape, love which knows no limits.
How is it that a husband is supposed to love his wife?
How is it that a father is to love his family as Christ loved the church and gave his life up for her?
I’ll give you three answers to that question.
1. He’s to love his family by putting his family first in his emotions and in his affections.
Putting his family first. Sad article in the newspaper. So many fathers miss this. We just have to preach it over and over again because so many fathers miss this. This article in the newspaper is about Mike Keenan. He used to be the coach of the Chicago Blackhawks and now he’s the coach of the New York Rangers. That’s the hockey team in New York. The New York Rangers have come to Chicago to play the Blackhawks and it’s the first time, I guess, he’s been back since he left here. It says here in the article that his coming back to Chicago ought to be a glorious triumph. But it says he will look in the stands and remember all that he has lost. “There won’t be a more difficult time in my life. This is the most painful thing I’ve ever gone through.” Keenan, 44, is paying the toll of obsession. Through his career and lifestyle decisions, Keenan’s marriage of 21 years has failed and the article talks about his daughter. Mike Keenan says, “I made the ultimate sacrifice. I sacrificed my family. When you go through something like that, you rediscover yourself to a certain extent and it sensitizes you to things that are a lot more important than your job.”
Men, when will we understand?
When will we understand that the most important responsibility and obligation that God gave us was to our wives and to our children and to our families? I have never known a man who came to the end of his life and said, “I wish I would have spent more time in the office.” I’ve known lots of men who came to the end and who said, “I wish I had spent more time with my family.”
You serve your family when you put them first in your time, in your affections, in your concern.
2. You serve your family when you protect them.
I was thinking this week back 30 years ago to those days when I was growing up with my father, who was a surgeon down in Alabama, who was raised on a farm in Mississippi. We used to go on the weekend from Alabama over to Mississippi to visit the farm and whenever we’d go, we’d normally go in two cars because Dad’s work meant that he had to leave a little later. We’d go over to the farm and we’d come back on Sunday afternoon and we’d drive through some of the most deserted roads in the south. We’d leave the farm and go down the road to New Albany and turn right and go to Tupelo and keep on going and go to Fulton. There outside of Fulton it was about 30 more miles to the Alabama border and you could turn one way and go through some desolate territory and go to Redbane and back to Russellville or you could go over to Hamilton and go north. We’d get loaded up in the cars and the boys would get divided up any way they wanted. My father would always say, “Hon, you go first.” He would make her drive her car first on the way back to Alabama. I saw him do it dozen and dozens of times. I never understood it until one day I asked him. I said, “Dad, how come you always make Mom go first?” He said, “Oh, if she breaks down on the road, I’ll be coming along later to take care of her.”
That doesn’t seem like much, but when I sat down to think about a father protecting his family, that memory came floating back across the years. A husband and a father serves his family by protecting them.
3. A husband and father serves his family by praying for them.
A sweet thing happened several months ago. John Tahl retired from Moody Bible Institute after about 30 years. I was invited to come down and be a part of his retirement dinner at the Institute. They had different people who stood up, read letters, made statements. It was a beautiful statement. They asked his daughter Carol Michaels to stand and say something about her father. She stood and talked about what a good man he was, how he had loved them, how he cared for them. Then she said, “I remember how early in the morning I would get up and I would come downstairs. I would see my father on his knees praying for me and my sisters.” And she broke down and began to cry, “I’ve never forgotten the sight of my father praying for me.”
Men, have you prayed for your family today? Husbands, have you prayed for your wives? Have you prayed for your children? Have you taken the role as the priest that God has called you to be, to serve your family through prayer? Men, it starts with you. If you want to see the spirit of servanthood around here, it’s got to start with you! It’s got to start in the home and it’s got to start with husbands who truly love their wives and fathers who truly love their children, who will put their family first, who will protect them and who will pray for them. I’m convinced that everything else in this passage is possible if husbands and fathers will love their wives and love their children. It all begins right there.
Then the text talks about the wives. Two different words are used here. It says, “Wives, submit to your husbands.” Then in verse 33 it says, “Wives, respect your husbands.” Two different words. One is submit, which means to put yourself under authority. The other is respect, which means to hold in affectionate regard. I just make a comment here that when you understand those words that way, it is not so much a legal requirement as it is a spirit and an attitude of the heart.
Submission is believing that God can work through your husband to accomplish his will in your life.
But that’s believing. Submission is not just a matter of obedience. Submission is a matter of the heart. It’s believing that God has said he will do what he said he would do. It’s believing that God will enable you by the Holy Spirit to do everything he called you to do.
How is it that a Christian wife is to serve her husband and her children? By listening, by encouraging, and by cultivating a calm and gentle spirit. I’m very impressed by I Peter 3 which talks about the Christian wife and the unbelieving husband. It talks about the calm and gentle spirit. Without a word, without an argument, a Christian wife may win over her unbelieving husband by the quality of her life. It talks about the calm and gentle spirit.
What does that mean? I think it means that if the husband is the head of the home, the wife is certainly the heart of the home. What I mean by that is that I have come to the conviction after watching hundreds of families over the years, that even if the husband is the leader, head of the home, it is the wife’s calling, or gift, to set the emotional tone of the home. You go into a home, if the wife is frenetic, if the wife is depressed, the home will be depressed. If the wife is encouraged, the home will be encouraged. If she’s wild, the home will be wild! If she has a quiet spirit, there will be a quiet gentleness there. It’s like that saying on the sweatshirts, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” I think we laugh because that reflects a biblical truth that God has given to wives and mothers the privilege of setting the emotional tone inside the home.
Richard Foster, in his bookCelebration of Discipline, has a whole chapter on submission. He’s not really talking about submission in marriage but just the whole idea of submission as being a spiritual discipline for Christians. In that chapter, he talks about the fact that for every discipline, there’s a corresponding freedom that when you practice the discipline, freedom comes. He said, “what is the freedom that comes from discipline?” I wrote this down so I wouldn’t forget it. He said “Submission frees us from the terrible burden of having to have our own way.”
He said that most of us, and this is for men and women, live in terrible bondage of feeling that we’ve got to be number one, like we’ve got to be in control, like we’ve got to have our own way all the time. Submission frees you because when you truly have the idea of Biblical submission, it doesn’t matter. It’s OK, and you can let it go. How many people are there who are hanging on and who are angry this morning when instead we could learn joy and peace by letting go? As he said in his book, most things in life aren’t as important as we think they are. That’s a profound insight. The word of the Lord to me lately has been, “Pastor Ray, cease striving and rest in me.” Somebody wrote that in a letter and I just realized that it was from God. I’m a striver. I strive in my spirit all the time. I’m doing better, thank you. I’m not there yet.
To the children, then, two words. One is obey and to obey is to do what somebody else says.
To honor is to treat with dignity and respect.
All of us know that the home is breaking down in America today. I don’t have to preach to you on that. All of us know that there is a shocking breakdown in the lines of moral authority. Just a few blocks from here in one of the schools in Oak Park, one girl took a hammer and went after another girl and my son walked through the blood on the floor. We’re all shocked to hear that a little five year old takes a pistol to kindergarten.
Why has there been such a breakdown? I believe, one, father-absent homes, two, the rising tide of divorce, three, a permissive generation, and four, a shocking lack of moral absolutes in America today.
On the domestic partnership issues in Oak Park, one of the ladies was talking with a friend about this and she referred to this homosexual marriage and she said, “Well, I don’t think we should support those alternative lifestyles.” This friend said, “I don’t think that’s an alternative lifestyle at all. It’s fine just the way it is.” I thought, God help us here in Oak Park. We have lost our moral bearings to that degree.
How do we teach our children to obey and honor?
1. By saying “no” with love, by setting limits with love.
2. By honoring your parents, something I think needs to be emphasized more in this generation. Your children will learn to honor you by watching you in the way you honor your parents. Your children will learn respect for you exactly as they see you showing respect and honor to your family, to your parents, to your relatives, and to the tradition from which you come.
Finally, to the parents he said, verse four, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” In Colossians, chapter 3, verse 21. its says, “Fathers do not embitter your children or they will become discouraged.”
Do not exasperate your children.
Do not embitter your children.
That is to say, parents, when you are raising your children, there is a great danger that you can exasperate or embitter them. You say how is that? Two weeks ago, some friends from California were in to visit us for a very brief stay. They had never been to Chicago before. While they were in Chicago, we gave them the great tour of the city. While we were driving around, the woman said something about her children, something unusual that one of her children was trying to do that sounded like it would never work, it sounded crazy. She said, “My mother was a dream crusher. I’m determined not to crush my children’s dreams.”
There are too many parents, both moms and dads, that are specialists in dream crushing. We’re better at telling our kids what they can’t do, and how they failed and how they never measured up. That’s what we’re being warned against in this text. When you do that, when you do embitter and exasperate your children, you cause them to lose heart and you know what? You wonder why they give up.
How then do parents serve their children? Now, wait a minute. If you’re a mom or a dad, you’re not just called to be in charge. You’re not just called to be the big shot who runs the show.
If you are the parent, you are called to serve your children.
How do parents serve their children?
1. By praying for them.
I keep coming back to that, don’t I? You know the story of Susana Wesley, who had 19 children. One was Charles Wesley, another was John. She spent an hour with each child each week, and prayed for each child each day and they ended up serving the Lord. And they asked Mrs. Wesley how did she do it and she said, “I asked God to help me get a hold of my children in their youth and I never let go.”
2. By listening.
Billy Sunday said, and I read it this week, the dumbest thing that was ever said was that children should be seen and not heard. He’s right. You serve your children by listening to your children, by talking to them.
3. By setting limits.
Anarchy begins at home. They learn to be good citizens or they learn to be juvenile delinquents in the home. Serve them by setting limits with love.
4. By being there when they really need you.
That, I think was what Mike Keenan was saying. He wasn’t there when his wife needed him, when his daughter needed him. How many times are we so busy, men, so busy, we’re not there for our children?
5. By loving each other.
Here I speak of Moms and Dads. The best thing, fathers, you can do for the children is to love their mother. Love her openly.
6. By praising your children.
7. By setting the right kind of example.
Edgar Guest said it this way.
“I’d rather see a sermon than hear one every day. I’d rather one would walk with me merely tell the way. The eye is a better pupil, more willing than the ear. Fine counsel is confusing, but example is always clear. The best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds for to see good put in action is what everybody needs. I soon can learn to do it if you’ll let me see it done. I can watch your hands in action, your tongue too fast may run. The lectures you deliver may be wise and true, but i’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do. For I might misunderstand you and the advice you give. But there’s no misunderstanding of how you act and how you live.”
Like produces like. That is true in the physical realm, and it is true in the spiritual realm. What you are will be reproduced in the lives of those around you. When you are dead and gone, you will still be walking the streets of Oak Park in the character of your children long after it has been forgotten that you ever lived in this village. Like produces like. Therefore, let us work to produce a servant’s spirit and a servant heart of Jesus.
Here’s the application, a prayer I’d like you to pray every day this week.
“Lord, Jesus, I would appreciate it if you would bring me someone I can serve today.”
That’s a prayer Jesus will answer and many days He will answer it beginning in your family.
Lord, Jesus, it is much easier to say these words than to live them fully. I pray that you would make me a servant, make us servants, so that in our homes the servant heart of Jesus might be truly seen, even this week. Amen.