Every day ants do pretty much the same thing. They go out of their nests, find some food, and bring it back into the nest. Along the way, they stop each time they pass another ant, and their antennas touch briefly. Do they say hi? “How are the wife and kids!?” Receive a message from the Ant Captain? News update on where to get more food or which enemies were spotted nearby?
I often wondered about this.
But the ants just do their thing, day in and day out, look for food, bring it back. Greet their mates. Repeat. Sure, every now and again they need to deal with something dangerous. An ant eater comes, a human running shoe kills a few ant-friends, someone left some food out in the kitchen (I am not thinking of Kaylin and Paul-Philip right now) and they have to redirect to take advantage of that.
But there is something that the ants don’t know… they don’t know about the billions of human people over the course of time who have been instructed to look at them, consider them, and actually follow their example! Small and seemingly insignificant as they are, their task is to be an example to the crown of God creation if you can believe it — to us human beings.
King Solomon wrote thousands of years ago in Proverbs 6:6-11:
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.
Proverbs 6:6-11; ESV
There are many ways in which we can take these words and apply it productively in our lives, but they recently struck me in quite a direct and unexpected way… It spoke to my marriage.
In one way, I realised that I am quite like the Proverbs-sluggard when it comes to my marriage. Too often in my relationship with Ronèl I am asleep, slumbering, my hands remaining folded for little more rest. One couple in our life group, sharing about a marriage enrichment course they’re attending, made me realise I am definitely neglecting a few simple but basic things necessary for marriage health. Things like carving out time for dates, or special moments to talk about things that are bigger than just tasks and tastes. We all know this, but how often do we put this into action? In my case, certainly not enough!
In another way, I realised that I follow the ants’ example for the wrong reason. Just as they do their thing day in and day out, collecting food and taking it home, I too go through each day whilst forgetting how important marriages are to God. We have our normal ups and downs like in any relationship, but by the grace of God I think Ronèl and I have a great one. And that is what I easily forget — God’ grace. And how we should reflect that.
A Christian marriage is not only for companionship (Genesis 2:18), or for the blessing of having children (Psalm 127:3). It is also not a human construct to perform a social function. It is an institution born from God back in Genesis, and it should reflect something of his glory.
It must reflect nothing less than the Father-Jesus-Church relationship itself.
This idea is not something new to me. Soon after we got married, a mentor (let’s call him CLR) took me and a few other young married men under his wing. He really made us appreciate how important it is to have a godly, biblical view of being servant-leading husbands. Ephesians 5 has a lot to say about the roles for both men and women, but has often been used in abuse ways. For example, if I as a man, focus on the verses about wives (Ephesians 5:22-24), I can easily take it out of context and think I have the right to be domineering and tyrannical.
Likewise, if Ronèl focuses on the verses about godly husbands only (Ephesians 5:25-30), she can easily use that to hold me up to a standard against which I will certainly fail, and likewise become rebellious and domineering in the opposite direction.
Ronel and I have both come to understand and accept the importance and sheer magnitude of this teaching about mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21). We believe this is a picture of illustrating our reverence for Christ, and that it is also a form of witness to reflect how the Church, Jesus and the Father all relate to each other. Again, nothing here is new to me. But how easy do I not forget!
It is always an eye-opener to read about the work God is doing in people’s lives which are very dissimilar to my own. For example, reading about Korn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch’s Christian walk and journey, with all its raw honesty, was such a mind ride for me. His story of conversion played out around the same time as my own. For someone like that, to become a Christian has some really strong public consequences and ridicule. The pendulum swing from one lifestyle (sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll) to the other (trying to be faithful follower of Christ and parent in non-conventional circumstances) is a far one. It is a difficult road, but shows God’s love and patience in an exceptional way.
I am busy reading about another such encounter, where God took a radical leftist, lesbian, feminist intellectual activist and helped her to see the blessing of a biblical heterosexual marriage. Her name is Rosaria Butterfield, and she shares her journey in a book called “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert — an English professor’s journey into the Christian faith”. In the book, she shares the message that was preached at her wedding to Ken Butterfield, and it just struck me again how powerful the Gospel of Jesus Christ is, even if us Christ followers are not always the best stewards of it. It is a power that reaches deep into the heart, renews the mind, and brings about brand-new life and fresh perspective to even the most unlikely people. During their wedding Pastor Doug Coming preached from Ephesians and 1 Corinthians. In it, he encouraged both husbands and wives in their marriage journeys. He preached about the sanctity of marriage and the message and witness it conveys (or should convey) to an unbelieving world. When I read these, I was refreshed and convicted, and I would like to share some of the points he made as a reminder to myself and anyone else who might benefit from these words.
When I read stories of these heavy-pendulum swings, it grabs me in a fresh way.
Comin encourages men to test their love by Scripture’s own definition of love, which should not be based on the pressing of a husband’s headship or to assert his rule. Rather we should demonstrate self-sacrifice and servant leadership according to the character of Christ. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 gives context.
The Husband’s challenge
The following section contains direct quotes from Doug Comin’s message as published in Rosaria Butterfield’s book (chapter entitled The Home Front: Marriage, Ministry and Adoption)
Love is patient and kind — 1 Corinthians 13:4
When you are tempted to be impatient and harsh with your wife, remember the infinite patience that Christ has shown toward you, and continues to show on a daily basis.
Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant — 1 Corinthians 13:4
When you are tempted to be jealous for preeminence over your wife, remember Christ who did not think it beneath Himself to wash the feet of His disciples.
Love … is not rude. It does not insist on its own way — 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
When you are tempted to insist upon your own way, and belittle your wife, remember the condescension of Christ, who left the glorious habitation of heaven, clothed Himself with flesh, and endured the shame and suffering of the cross all for the sake of your own helpless, hopeless soul.
Love … is not irritable or resentful — 1 Corinthians 13:5
When you are tempted to raise your voice in frustration against your wife, remember Christ, who “when he was reviled, did not revile in return.”
Love … does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth — 1 Corinthians 13:6
When you are tempted to judge her motives, or to exalt in being proven right when she is in the wrong, remember Christ who had every right to think evil of you and to rejoice in your destruction, but instead took your shame upon Himself and covered you with His righteousness. When you are tempted to belittle your wife, or to sit quietly while others tear her down, remember Christ, who comes to the defence of His sheep and stands between them and the accuser.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things — 1 Corinthians 13:7
When you are tempted to throw in the towel, and surrender hope that your marriage can continue—when conflicts mount and it seems that it would be easier to walk away than to persevere, remember Christ who bears your sin daily in order to cause your hope to persevere until the end, and who promises “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” The love of Christ for His people is not based upon any worthiness within them, nor should your love toward your wife be conditioned upon her actions and your judgment as to whether or not she has earned your love.
Love never ends — 1 Corinthians 13:8
Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate. In all of these things, and in many more ways, the self-sacrificial, loving headship of the Christian husband mirrors the love of Christ for His Church.
This is your calling as you enter into this sacred union.