God in His infinite wisdom has determined to make men and women very, very different. But we must be careful because there are different kinds of differences.
What do I mean? A coral reef and a cirrus cloud are quite different—as in entirely different. A violin and a bow are also completely different, but a careful look at their design shows that their differences are complementary. A lock and a key are almost completely different, but their differences are complementary as well.
Certain differences don’t go together at all, except to show up together in extravagant or far-fetched illustrations. Other differences are only apparent, and when you carefully examine the work of the designer, you find that they mesh wonderfully.
Some things don’t fit together because of their differences. Other things do fit together, and they do so precisely because of their differences. In the former, it is the differences that clash. With the latter, it is precisely the differences that bring about the harmony.
In the Garden, when the Lord said that it was not good for the man to be alone, He went on to say that He would make a helper fit for him (Gen. 2:18). And a short time later, after Adam had named all the animals, it repeats this when it says that he had not found there a helper fit for him (Gen. 2:20). There was no helper suitable, or comparable, or compatible. There were plenty of differences between Adam and the animals, but no complementary differences.
This use of harmonic difference is therefore a basic creation design, underlying everything. But the high matters of Genesis 2 were complicated considerably by the entrance of sin in chapter 3, not to mention the entire story of God’s glorious restoration project that begins in that chapter also. What this means is that a man and a woman coming together in marriage is an exquisitely designed creation, one that was thoroughly gummed up by the presence and reality of sin and selfishness, but which then has been greatly ameliorated (and altered) by the forgiveness that Christ offers and brings.
But which is what? Creation established differences that are designed to work together. Sin then established differences that don’t work together, along with additional differences that don’t work at all. And our redemption has introduced yet another layer of differences—how we forgive one another being an example of that. So how are we supposed to know what is going on? Which is what?
Given the forgiveness that comes to us through the gospel of Christ, we are all of us called to be students of what is going on. We are to learn what is going on by becoming adept students in the school of what is going on. We are called to be learners there. And this is the key—God by His grace creates disciples, learners. We are to study His ways in creation, we are to study what His Word says about sin, and we are to translate the gospel into our day-to-day lives.
We see this with regard to husbands and wives both. Joseph and Lia are today being enrolled in a glorious course of study. Peter tells husbands to dwell with their wives “according to knowledge” (1 Pet. 3:7). Paul summons the older women to teach the younger women to be, among other things, lovers of their husbands (Tit. 2:5). If some are teaching how to be married according to God’s pattern, this means that others are learning how to be married in that way.
What this means is that this young couple, like all brides, and like all grooms, are standing before us here today at the base of a very steep learning curve. It is perhaps surprising that more wedding registries don’t include a section for alpine climbing equipment.
Now this climb is exhilarating, and challenging, and exacting, and, it must be added, totally worth it. But it does entail a lifetime of learning. A husband is enrolled in a course where he must study his wife. A wife is enrolled in a course where she must study her husband.
There is one pitfall that should be remembered though. We are not to study our spouse in order to find fault, or to be critical. That must not be the first impulse—when your studies reveal some difference, it is the easiest thing in the world to assume that there is something that is somehow wrong. Of course fault is a possibility, but it is dangerous for learners in this school to have their first impulse, and we should also consider the possibility that there is true fault involved, and that it lies in the fault-finder. As Spurgeon once put it, faults are thick where love is thin.
Joseph, you are a teacher, and the world of study and learning is not a strange one for you. You have studied much, taken many courses, and you have also taught under various circumstances. That is all to your advantage, and it does help, but you have never taken a course like this one. There will be items on the test that never, ever appeared on any study sheet. You will be confronted with situations that are almost perfectly opaque to you. When you are in those circumstances, I want you to remember this exhortation. When you are completely fogged, you will need to know the answer, and you don’t think you know what it is. I am telling you now that the answer is kindness. Be a kind husband, and that will cover almost all of those situations. Obedience here will make many opaque situations plain to you.
Lia, you were privileged to grow up with lots of sisters. Joseph grew up with lots of brothers. This should be considered as a divine-sense-of-humor thing, and you will need to adjust to it. But in order to adjust to it you will have to pay some attention to it. You also will be confronted with pop quizzes that you feel unprepared for. But you also have been given a master key answer—but it is not the same one that Joseph was given. He is to love you as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. He is to be kind to you. You are called to emphasize respect for your husband. Men and women run on different kinds of fuel, something like diesel and regular. So don’t put the wrong fuel in the wrong tank. When in doubt, respect your husband, and honor him. Obedience here will make many opaque situations plain to you.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.