The Head and the Helper
About the Guest
Ephesians 5 says a husband is to love his wife, but what does that mean? Pastor Ray Ortlund explains that men are predatory by nature, which is life depleting. A Christian husband should aim to fill his wife with life. When a woman feels cherished she feels loved and cared for.
Ray OrtlundRaymond C. Ortlund Jr. is the former and founding pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee. He serves as President of Renewal Ministries and as Canon Theologian in the Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast of the Anglican Church in North America.
Pastor Ray Ortlund explains that men are predatory by nature, which is life depleting. A Christian husband should aim to fill his wife with life.
The Head and the Helper
Bob: If you could somehow objectively observe your marriage relationship, would you say you’re doing more giving or more taking? Here’s Pastor Ray Ortlund.
Ray: There are really only two kinds of relationships that exist: predatory relationships and Christian relationships. Predatory relationships are life-depleting / Christian relationships are life-giving. Love—the kind of love that the Apostle Paul is talking about—the love in the heart of a husband that nourishes and cherishes his wife—imparts life to her / she comes alive! She flourishes under that kind of headship.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, May 3rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey. I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll see today how God’s design for marriage is for us to be the one pouring out—the one blessing the other / the one who’s doing the giving.
We’ll talk more about that. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to, maybe, get into some controversy today; you think—with what we’re talking about?
Dennis: Yes. We’re going to turn the hot water on. [Laughter]
Bob: The hot water.
Dennis: We’re going to let our guest take a bath in it! [Laughter]
Bob: We’re going to see— [Laughter]
Dennis: We’ve been playing slow-pitch softball all week. Now, we’re going to play a little fastball. [Laughter] Ray Ortlund joins us on FamilyLife Today. He’s a major league hitter; and he’s standing in the batter’s box and here comes the first one.
Bob: Are you ready for a Rainey fastball?
Ray: Let’s go for it! Let’s do it!
Dennis: He’s written a book called Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel. He’s a pastor at Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and has been married for 45 years. He ought to be able to handle a fastball or two.
Bob: So you got one for him?
Dennis: I do! Here’s where I want to go—I want to talk about how this generation—and I’m speaking of those maybe 45 and under—
—are looking at the design of Genesis 1, 2 and 3—at what God creates in the beginning. They’re questioning the issue of male and female—
Dennis: —and what that means. They’re questioning the definition of marriage as God proclaimed it; and third, they’re also questioning the responsibilities of husband and wife and questioning: “Is there really a difference between one who is the husband and one who’s the wife?” That’s really where I want focus today.
Bob: Or: “Should those differences / should our assignment really be tied to gender; or should it not be tied to gifting, talent, and ability?”
Bob: So that—you’ll hear somebody say, “Well, a husband should be the leader of the home.” A lot of young people are going: “Who said that and why? Why can’t a wife be a leader if she’s the better leader?”
Ray: I welcome these questions, because they push all of us to think more deeply.
The issue underlying these important questions you guys have put out on the table is—reality is either a do-it-yourself kind of Play-Doh® reality that we can shape into whatever we would like it to be—and that leaves us in in control.
Ray: Or, as the Bible says, reality is pre-formed by God—we step into something that’s preexistent—and the Bible says is beautiful—it’s not a trap. We have less control, but we have God that way—with His goodness and wisdom. It’s not a trap / it’s not a death sentence, except to our selfishness. [Laughter]
Ray: For example, in the book of Hebrews [13:4], in the New Testament, here’s a verse that is not sort of in tune with the times—it says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all,” — including unmarried people—“and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
Now: “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! ‘God will judge the sexually’—what is the big deal with God and sex? Why this intensity in the Bible about sexual—what He calls sexual sin?”
It’s not because the Bible is uncomfortable with human sexuality. The Bible tells the story of human sexuality that starts in the Garden of Eden; and the Bible says, “Adam and Eve were both naked and not ashamed.” It is so wonderful to be completely known. To be naked in every sense—literally / metaphorically—with one other human being—my wife and she with me—and there’s no shaming / there’s no belittling. There’s only total acceptance. The Bible is very comfortable with human sexuality.
So: “Why these severe statements?” It’s precisely because God values sexuality—
—sexuality speaks the gospel itself.
Jonathan Edwards—back in the day, you know?—the First Great Awakening New England preacher and so forth. He’s famous for the “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It’s really unfair to him. It’s like saying the only sermon Jesus ever preached was: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!” Jesus had a lot of really sweet things to say and so did Jonathan Edwards. He [Jonathan] imagined the intimacies of marriage as a sort of preview of coming attractions in heaven above—that taking my wife in my arms and her experiencing my care for her / my tenderness with her—it’s a metaphor for where we’re going with the Lord.
Here we are—we are shamed / we are uncomfortable with ourselves. The reason why we think God is uncomfortable with us is we’re uncomfortable with ourselves!
We project that onto God when, in fact, His arms are open to us. The reason why God cares so deeply about our sexuality is that He gave us this gift so that we might understand more clearly something of His own love. Human sexuality is sacred.
Dennis: You’re speaking of male and female. Obviously, as He made Adam and Eve, He called them to become one—
Dennis: —as husband and wife. He had a word in Genesis 2 that He used to declare who the man was in this marriage relationship—he was to be the head of the woman, and the woman was to be the helpmate. Now, those words cause this generation to recoil.
Bob: A little acid indigestion, I think. [Laughter] In fact—I’m looking here, at
1 Corinthians 11:3—
Bob: —you’re familiar: “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ.
“The head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” People read that today and go” “If that’s what the Bible teaches, I’m not going to believe the Bible / I’m not going to be a Christian. The head of every wife is her husband? What does that mean?”
Ray: Well, on the other hand, we can ask, “How did our culture become the apex of all human wisdom?” The reason why we ask these questions, guys, is because we’re modern Americans / it’s not because we’re so insightful. Now, 1 Corinthians,
Chapter 11—you just read, Bob—has always been countercultural. People in the first century thought it was crazy. We, Christians, believe things that seem crazy.
The Apostle Paul draws an analogy between a husband’s care for his wife / his assuming responsibility for her—his caring for her; loving her; covering her with his sincerity; with his selflessness; and so forth—and she, gladly deferring to him, receiving his care.
The Apostle Paul says, “Actually, that’s going on in heaven right now, because the head of Christ is God.” Something like headship is going on in heaven above. We invented slavery, guys. Slavery emerged in the course of human social evolution. Headship came down from above.
I happen to think democracy is a great idea, but it was invented in Greece—what?—around 400 BC / something like that?
Ray: Alright; it’s not a divine institution—it’s just a really great idea. But marriage is more than a really great idea. It actually came down from God. If He defined it and gave it as a picture of His love for us, then we really have no right to redefine it—it wasn’t ours to begin with.
Bob: We have to acknowledge, I think, that when we hold to what the Bible teaches about the husband being the head of the wife / about the wife being a helper—not only is that countercultural—but there are some people, who believe the Bible, who have taken those truths and have perverted them and have made them ugly.
I was reading an article that your son wrote—your son, Gavin, wrote an article about the dangers of affirming the biblical idea of roles in marriage. One of the things he said was there’s an ugly patriarchalism—an ugly hierarchism—that some people twist the Bible into saying that’s what it’s teaching. We need to be the people who stand up and say, “No, no!” When we talk about a husband being the head of his wife, we’re not talking about some kind of hierarchy or patriarchy; are we?
Ray: Yes. I would say two things in total agreement. One is that the Bible says God is our helper. For example, we read in the Book of Psalms: “The LORD is on my side as my helper,”—so the Lord is my ally / He’s my advocate.
When I need help, I don’t go to a weak person / I go to a high-capacity person, who can really make a difference. That’s what a godly wife is.
The other thing I’d say is that even though, at the level of concept, what the Bible teaches might seem shocking and countercultural—and it always has—nevertheless, if we invite our friends, who have all kinds of heartburn and difficulty over Christian beliefs—invite them over for dinner! Let them come into our homes. Let them see what it looks like.
The other night we had a friend over / some friends over for dinner, and they don’t believe what we believe. It was a fantastic evening together, over a great meal Jani prepared; and we talked honestly about what we believe. They walked out of that situation with a new experience—they were socially distant from Christian believers—and they parachuted into our home for an evening and experienced intimate and honest Christian community such that I don’t think they’d ever seen that before.
So, we need to give good answers; and we need to invite our friends into our homes.
Dennis: When God called the man the head of his wife—and he ultimately became a husband—you point out in your book that has a meaning that is, really, very tender. Again, it’s not like the culture wants to stereotype it, at this point.
Ray: Ephesians, Chapter 5, tells us husbands to love our wives; but of course, who’s going to argue with that?
Ray: But on the other hand, the word, “love,” is used so often—so overused—we really wonder: “Come on! What does that mean?” That is one of the reasons why Ephesians, Chapter 5, matters; because it says, here in Ephesians, Chapter 5: “No one ever hated his own flesh but”—and you’d think—“but loves it.” No; but it says, “No one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it.” Now that’s what a husband does—that’s how a husband loves his wife: nourishes and cherishes. Let’s think about those two words for a minute.
Nourish means to develop / to nurture such that—okay; the insurance companies are betting that I’m going to die first; right? So, there’s a good chance that someday Jani’s going to be an older lady—right now, that’s unimaginable to me—she’s going to be sitting on a front porch somewhere, in a rocking chair, thinking about her life; right? She’s going to be thinking over the years / she’s going to be going over the memories. My goal—if I nourish my wife—is that, when she is in that moment, she’ll be thinking: “This was so not a dead-end life by being married to that guy!
Ray: “We made mistakes / we even sinned at times, but God was redemptive / God was merciful—God worked all things for our good. This has been a great run! I’m so thankful for my life.” Now that’s nourishing the wife.
Cherishing—in pre-New-Testament secular Greek—classical Greek—that word was used to soften something as by heat—like wax.
We use our word heartwarming in that sense. When a woman is cherished, she feels loved, cared for, thought about, provided for, and defended such that it has—it creates a glow within her heart: “I’m going to be okay because this man is my head, and he’s laying down his life for me. He is nourishing me / he is cherishing me. What a joy to be involved in this marriage.” Now, that’s what it means to love my wife.
Dennis: I would say to every man, who’s listening to us now—who is a husband—you ought to go home tonight and, over the dinner table—even if the kids are around—ask this question, “Sweetheart, what do I do that helps you feel nourished / truly cared for so you grow?” Then a second question, “What do I do that makes you feel cherished?”
It wouldn’t be unwise of the guy, at that point, if he pulled out his phone and wrote down her answer in a place where he could be reminded of what exactly does cause her to be nourished and cherished—because we forget, as guys. We think that the same thing that communicates love to us is what communicates love to them.
Ray: You know, I wish this weren’t true; but I am, by nature, predatory. There are really only two kinds of relationships that exist: predatory relationships and Christian relationships. Predatory relationships are life-depleting / Christian relationships are life-giving. Love—the kind of love that the Apostle Paul is talking about—the love in the heart of a husband that nourishes and cherishes his wife—imparts life to her / she comes alive! She flourishes under that kind of headship.
Bob: You describe that as predatory versus Christian. I think about the difference between a parasite and a paraclete.
Bob: The parasite attaches itself to something and sucks the life out of it. A paraclete attaches itself to something and pours life into it and makes it better. Of course, the word paraclete—in the Greek New Testament—is the word for the Holy Spirit. He is the divine Paraclete who attaches Himself to us and pours life into us. In marriage we ought to be “paracleting” one another; are we not?
Ray: Thank you for bring that up, Bob; because we’re not on our own here. We’re not just being given an ideal we have to, sort of, reach for. We’re being lifted by the power of the Holy Spirit. Every husband listening to this can be assured—there is—if you love Jesus, the Holy Spirit of God indwells you!
Ray: There is within you the power that is going to renovate the universe someday. Just look to the Lord. Trust Him and take the next step.
Dennis: Just be aware that when you entered marriage, you enrolled in the first grade of love. Completing the course and getting your PhD is going to be a lifetime.
Ray: Boy; that’s great!
Dennis: There are a lot of lessons, and there are a lot of things to learn, and a lot of ways to grow! It’s why the fruit of the Spirit is spoken of as fruit.
Bob: I want to go back, though, to helper and head—those terms that are biblical terms about husbands and wives. I remember a guest we had on FamilyLife Today, Bunny Wilson, who wrote a book about this, years ago; and she said: “I read in my Bible that a woman’s to be a helper and a man’s to be a head. I closed my Bible and said, ‘God, why did You have to mess up such a good book with that?’” [Laughter] That was her reaction to it.
There are a lot of women who don’t just hear the words today but they see how it’s modeled in churches today and say: “This is demeaning to women!
Bob: “This is not encouraging women to flourish. It’s kind of saying, ‘You just play a limited role over here and let the men be the guys who are carrying all the weight.’”
Ray: Yes; that’s just so not fair—it’s not the will of and glory of God—it’s not biblical.
When the Bible says that a man is to be a head, that is not saying a wife is incapable of headship, and leadership, and taking initiative, and taking responsibility—for crying out loud—what does a woman do all day-long but that? Nor, when it says that the woman is the helper, is the Bible saying a man is incapable of being helpful, and supportive, and empathetic, and so forth. But rather, while both the husband and wife are widely capable of amazing things, sexuality comes in specialties—they’re not airtight compartments.
But what is it that I, as a man— just because I’m the husband am called to—I’m called to specialize in? I love what John Piper says—somewhere in one of his books—that one of the things that a godly husband does is—he says, “Let’s…” a lot.
L-e-t-‘-s—taking the initiative—“Let’s do this,” “Let’s think about that.” A wife, who is following the biblical pattern that God created for her—she is bringing a strength / she’s bringing a specialty into the partnership—and she’s going to be better at it than her husband can be. He’s not incapable, but she’s better at it! So she’s strengthening the whole relationship by bringing her unique capacities.
Dennis: That doesn’t mean that the husband can abdicate feeling and assuming responsibility for the care—the spiritual care and nourishment—of his wife.
Bob: Nor can he oppress—it’s neither abdicate nor oppress.
Ray: That’s right.
Bob: And those are the extremes that guys go to.
Bob: Some guys say: “It says ‘head’; so I’m in charge. You do what I say.” Others say: “It says ‘head.’ I don’t know what that means, so I’ll go watch ESPN. Call me if you have any questions.”
Ray: In the modern world, we’re looking at two extremes. We’re looking at women in Muslim lands, who really are oppressed—they are told how they’re going to dress and so forth. And then we’re looking at the western world, which is sexually adventurous, and polymorphous and: “Whatever you want to be and do, you can be and do; and you can become amazing at it.”
The gospel is not a compromise between those two extremes—it’s not meeting somewhere in the middle. The gospel way of being men and women is a third alternative all together. It’s not on that continuum—it’s not an extreme and it’s not in the middle—it’s above all of that / it’s another way of being human.
Ray: We read about it in the Bible. By God’s grace and for His glory, we want— imperfectly—but really to demonstrate it in our lives so that people can look at that and say: “Huh. Maybe that’s not crazy after all, because I’m seeing real beauty there.” Beauty turns heads.
Dennis: In this culture, couples—who are starting out their marriage or they’re already on the journey—from time to time, need a spiritual wheel alignment when it comes to: “What does it mean to be a husband? What does it mean to be a wife?” Your book provides some great thinking in here from the Bible.
Ray: Thank you.
Dennis: I think if there’s ever been a time when we need to encourage a generation to think from the Bible rather than think to the Bible, it’s today.
The second application I’d make from your book is—this would make a great book for parents to begin to think about / pray about and ask God to give them wisdom as they pass on a picture of marriage to their children;—
Ray: Boy; that’s great!
Dennis: —because you started out by talking about your mom and dad, who, you were quick to say didn’t have a perfect marriage; but they left a model to you that you were still going to the bank on today, 45 years into your marriage.
I just want our listeners to know: “If you stop growing, you start dying. Keep growing / keep digging into the Scripture.” A book, like Ray Ortlund has written here, is very valuable to do that.
Bob: Well, and it’s 100 pages too! I mean, this is something you could read in a couple of hours. These are dense pages / it is chocked with lots of good, solid truth. You’ll want to read it with your highlighter in your hand; but you can read through it in a couple of hours, easily. You will benefit from doing it. In fact, there are four chapters. It would be good for a husband and wife—maybe to read a chapter, out loud to each other, before bedtime.
Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of the book, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel by Ray Ortlund. You can order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or order by phone when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Again, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com you can order the book; or order by calling 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know the story in the Bible about the guy who was building a building and he realized, as he was building, that he had not stopped first to count the cost of what it would take to build that building. Well, we’ve been doing some cost-counting, here at FamilyLife, in recent days. We have recognized that some projects we’re working on are projects that we may have to slow down or delay in the coming months unless our listeners will help us out and pitch in and enable us to continue working, full speed, on some of these projects.
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Now, tomorrow, we want you to meet our friends, Dr. David Stoop and his wife Dr. Jan Stoop. They’re here to talk about the subject of emotional intelligence and how we can love one another more effectively in marriage. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® ministry.
Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
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