As we have gathered today, gathering as witnesses for this happy occasion, we are marking the inauguration of Boden and Shanna’s voyage of discovery together. They have already discovered enough about one another that they want to take the voyage together, but once they have embarked, the real discoveries will start. It will be a great age of exploration.
Now one of the first things they will discover will be one another’s strengths and weaknesses. As God has designed it, these strengths are offered to one another as a means of filling in the gaps caused by various weaknesses on the other side. One is strong where the other falters, and the next week it goes the other way. As they each walk with the Lord, He will see to it that they don’t both hit a trough at the same time. So the adage that there is strength in numbers has scriptural support. Ecclesiastes says it this way: “Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:11–12).
In other words, where one is weak, two are strong.
It is this kind of relative or comparative weakness that Scripture refers to when it tells husbands to live knowledgably with their wives. “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). We are told to use this information to help us dwell with knowledge, which is not at all the same thing as using it to reinforce our ignorant prejudices. Men are stronger in certain ways, and they are to use that strength in loving their wives. Wives are stronger in other, very different, ways, and they are to use that strength in respecting their husbands.
This is part of what I mean. Here is how Scripture describes an excellent wife.
“A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: But she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones” (Prov. 12:4).
The phrase that is rendered here as virtuous wife is eset-hayil, and literally this would be “woman of strength.” The word hayil has an interesting range of meanings—it can mean strength, faculty, competence, wealth, or even army.
We find the same expression at the beginning of the famous Proverbs 31 description of the ideal wife. “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies” (Prov. 31:10). Now notice the realism. This kind of woman is as rare as priceless rubies. So the Bible does not lie to us, does not tell us that excellence is automatic. It does not tell us that excellence is just lying around on the ground, waiting for someone to pick it up. Excellence is rare, but is still excellent.
But it does tell us what excellence looks like. It does tell us what a woman who is a crown to her husband is like—and she is not compared to a shrinking violet. An outstanding wife is a wife of strength. And a strong man is the kind of person who is not threatened by that. He is a rare one also.
We live in a fallen world, and so our vices grow up easily out of the ground. It is not the case that virtues rain down out of the sky. It is not the case that all men are strong, or that all women are. Men who fear the Lord are strong the way men ought to be strong. Women who fear the Lord are to be praised.
A woman’s strength is not a mere multiplication of the man’s strength, as though they were both to be doing the same thing. They are not. There are places where she is weak in the stereotypical ways. There are places where he is strong and true to type. Yes. But there are other places where her strength fulfills him.
When Hannah rejoiced in the child Samuel that God had given her, she rejoiced in the strength that it displayed. “Mine horn is exalted in the Lord: My mouth is enlarged over mine enemies” (1 Sam. 2:1). This particular form of conquest, which God first promised Eve (Gen. 3:15), and declared in types like Sarah and Hannah, and finally fulfilled in the great work of strength that He accomplished through Mary, the Lord’s mother, is a form of strength that men can only admire from a distance. But at the same time, while women accomplish such feats of prowess, they need to be protected and provided for—and such protection and provision has been the man’s calling from the Garden onward. When God made us the way He did, He knew what He was doing.
So the two of you—be strong for one another. Accept strength from the other when you are weak. Let Scripture define your strengths, and identify your weaknesses. Don’t be hesitant to offer strength when you have it. God did not give it to you in order for you to save it up.
Boden, the vows you are about to take are vows that summon you to expend all your strength on behalf of another. Just as the Lord Jesus expended all that He had on our behalf, so you also are called to love your wife as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself up for her. A married man is called to be a sacrificing man. A married man is to be a cruciform man. A married man should routinely have spiritual stitches—but please note that I did say spiritual stitches.
Shanna, you are taking these vows in a generation which pretends to praise feminine strengths to the skies, while at the same time disparaging all the strengths that are truly feminine. Your task, as you walk with God, is to receive your marching orders from God, and from nowhere and no one else. He is the one who called you to be a girl, then a woman, then a wife, and then a mother. So as you delight in your calling, you will find that you are enabled to provide Boden with a strength that he does not have, instead of trying to duplicate something he already did have.
God calls you both to complement one another, not to duplicate one another.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.