Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:26a “That he might sanctify. . .”
Why did Christ give Himself for the Church? To “sanctify” her, to set her apart for His own sacred purposes. “The holy Bridegroom must have a holy bride” (Strauss), and husbands have a key role to play in this process.
As “head of the wife” (EP 5:23), a husband leads. The question is, where does he ultimately lead his family? A husband is to “love” his wife (EP 5:25). What is to be the result of this love? Our text helps us pinpoint the ultimate purpose of a husband’s leadership and love. He is to influence all under his authority to take part in the sanctification Christ desires for His Church.
As leader, a husband is to guide toward Christlikeness. A husband, realizing his wife and children are imperfect, is to help them reach their full spiritual potential. He is to lead by example, his own life being a steady star to guide others aright. When following a husband, family members must be able to look over his shoulder and see Christ down the road ahead in the distance.
As lover, a husband is to woo his family’s affection not only to himself, but also to the Lord. Real love is the great sanctifier of life. Any love which drags a person down or weakens moral fiber is a false love. A true love is one which helps the beloved be set apart in holiness and service to God.
Our text brings us to the heart of what home is all about. First and foremost, it is a spiritual training center. Generally speaking, the battle of faith is won or lost at home. An inherent danger of Sunday Schools, organized youth groups, religious schools, and regular church attendance is that they can sometimes cause parents to become lax about spiritual training at home. This task must be primarily done at home by parents, not elsewhere by proxies.
J.C. Penney’s grandfather was voted out of a Baptist church for advocating Sunday School. Parents felt home was the place for Christian instruction of children. They were wrong, of course, in opposing Sunday School, but right in believing home is the main school for religious training.
All believers are pilgrims, making our way up a difficult slope. Christian husbands, wives, and children are strangers in this world, journeying toward Christlikeness. Heaven is our ultimate destination. Home is to be our way-station, our safe haven along the road, our temporary processing center where we get help as aliens in a foreign land. Aliens desperately need two things, leadership and love. They need guidance, and to know someone cares.
This is the role a husband is to perform for his family. His wife and children are on a pilgrimage and he needs to be the one who gives them the leadership and love they need to continue their journey to Christlikeness.
The husband is responsible for the spiritual growth of his wife and his children. “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath; but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (EP 6:4). The man of the house should always have in view his family’s spiritual development. A husband has awesome power to help or hinder the spiritual life of his family. Studies indicate children are more likely to copy their father’s religious habits than their mother’s. In other words, whether he likes it or not, for better or worse, for good or bad, a husband is the spiritual leader of his home.
It has always been God’s plan for the man to lead in the spiritual affairs of the home. In Abraham’s household, he, not Sarah, was held responsible for spiritual matters. God said of Abraham, “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord” (GN 18:19). Spirituality was not optional in the father of faith’s family. He did not deem the issue of secondary importance, and delegate it to the wife. The matter of spiritual growth was a priority in the life of the family leader.
It was not Mrs. Joshua who said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (JS 24:15). God held Eli, not his wife, responsible for the sins of his wicked sons (1 SM 3:13). Husbands, let us “sanctify” our homes to Christ.
If the husband abdicates his vital role, this does not mean the job is to be left undone. Spiritual training is too vital to forego. The wife must take up the mantle. This is no easy task. A wife who has to circumvent her husband to provide spiritual leadership is fighting an uphill battle. A wife is not to leave her husband, even if he is lost (1 C 7). Never nag or whine, the actions of inferiors and subordinates. Do not chide. Instead, lead a circumspect life. “Wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior” (1 P 3:1-2).
You dear wives who have unbelieving or backslidden husbands, you single mothers who have no husband at all, your task is difficult. You must spend twice as much time alone in prayer, plus twice as much time with your children in spiritual training. Your assignment is formidable, but not impossible. Engage the battle, and with God’s help, fight with all your might.
If both husband and wife abdicate their role as spiritual leaders in the home, then responsibility falls upon the children. Dear teens, even if Mom and Dad do not serve God, you have no excuses for not following the Lord fully.
“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth” (EC 12:1). “Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 TM 4:12).
In the church where I grew up, we had no youth choir, no youth minister, no youth program. A group of us teens banded together and took responsibility for our own spiritual lives. I started preaching at age 15, other teens took on significant church responsibilities. We were never able to develop an “effective” youth program, but did at least understand our accountability before God. Out of that group came two pastors, three pastors’ wives, two deacons, two deacons’ wives, and other godly lay-persons.
My father-in-law, Emerson Huey, at age 12 had just finished his chores one evening when a neighbor-farmer came by on a hay wagon. The Hueys were not believers, and the neighbor, on his way to a General Baptist revival meeting, paused at the Huey’s long enough to see if anyone wanted to go along. Emerson begged to go, and was given permission. A lady preached, and Emerson was saved. He could hardly contain his enthusiasm. After church, rather than waiting for the neighbor, Emerson ran straight across the field, over ditches and fences, to tell his folks. Sadly, they could not have cared less. Emerson was disappointed, but undaunted. Having truly been saved, he began taking his younger siblings to church, sometimes paying them a penny apiece to bribe them to go. One by one they, too, became Christians. Years later, his parents also believed. It can all be traced to one who, even as a child, understood he was responsible before God for the spiritual welfare of his family.
Youth, it is difficult to be effective for God if Mom and Dad are not on fire for Him. Some of you are being raised by parents lackadaisical about spiritual things. You are brought to church maybe once or twice a month; church is attended only if nothing else gets in the way. Teens, do not be satisfied to accept that as your role model. Be gracious and kind, submit to your parents’ authority, but determine in your heart of hearts that you will rise higher than their standard. Lift your own spiritual expectations to a higher level.
Fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, we are all accountable before God for our actions and for our influence at home. The main focus of our text is on husbands. Husbands, because of our influence, are our wives and children more like Christ? Spiritually, are they better or worse due to us?