The Great Chicago Fire raged from October 8 until October 10, 1871—eventually destroying about four square miles of that city and killing hundreds of its citizens.
Most people believe the cause of this devastating fire was Mrs. O’Leary’s cow who kicked over a lantern in her barn that night. But, in 1893 Michael Ahern—the reporter who first wrote about the cow story—Ahern admitted that he had made that all up because he thought it would make colorful copy—which shows you can’t always believe what you read in the paper! By the way, I don’t know about you but I can’t help wondering—why would Mr. Ahern think that a story about a fire that nearly leveled a huge city like Chicago—why would he think a story like that needed to be colorful?!
One thing the papers DID get right is the fact that this was a truly HORRIBLE fire—in fact, it was one of the worst disasters of the 19th century—and several things helped it get that distinction.
- First, there was the city’s overuse of wood for building—and a long drought prior to the fire.
- Another problem was the fact that city officials did not react soon enough and citizens were apparently unconcerned as well—at least in EARLY hours of the disaster.
- On top of all that—the firefighters were exhausted from fighting a fire that had happened the day before. They did not even receive the first alarm until nearly an hour after the fire started because the first glow in the sky was thought to be from the smoldering flames of a fire the day before. Then, when the blaze got bigger, people realized that there actually was a new fire and firefighters were summoned—but due to a clerical error they were sent in the wrong direction.
This cavalcade of mistakes gave the fire time to spread to neighboring frame houses and sheds. Superheated winds drove flaming embers northeastward. The fire’s growth was also helped by firewood that was stored in most of the closely packed wooden buildings, and by wooden ships lining the river, the city’s elevated wood-plank sidewalks and roads, not to mention the commercial lumber and coal yards along the river. All this combined to help the fire grow to a staggering size—so big that the blaze generated its own weather system—including extremely strong winds and heat, heat so intense that it ignited rooftops far ahead of the actual flames.
Attempts to stop the fire were unsuccessful. The mayor had even called surrounding cities for help but by that point the fire was simply too large to contain. Plus—when the fire destroyed the waterworks, just north of the Chicago River, the city’s water supply was cut off which forced the firefighters to give up all together.
As the fire raged unstopped through the central business district, it destroyed hotels, department stores, Chicago’s City Hall, the opera house and theaters, churches, and printing plants. Even the huge mansions on the city’s north side were not spared. There was mass panic as thousands fled into Lincoln Park and to the shores of Lake Michigan, to seek refuge from the towering flames.
By the end of the third day the fire finally burned itself out, aided by diminishing winds and a light drizzle that began falling. Eventually it was determined that the fire had destroyed an area of about four miles long and 3/4 mile wide, encompassing more than 2,000 acres—acres that included more than 17,500 gutted buildings—$222 million worth of property—about a third of the city’s value back then. Of the 300,000 inhabitants, 90,000 were left homeless. The Chicago Daily Tribune later reported that the fire was so fierce that it surpassed the damage done by Napoleon’s siege of Moscow in 1812.
I share this bit of history because in a very real sense there is a fire raging throughout thousands of homes in America right now. I’m referring to the “fire” of DIVORCE. And please understand, this word picture is indeed an accurate one, because divorce is a powerfully destructive force that leaves behind thousands of hurting and homeless people every year. Plus, just as churches were not exempt from the devastation of the great Chicago fire—Christians—church GOERS are suffering from the sorrows of divorce just as much as people who don’t claim to know Jesus.
Here’s another parallel between these two disasters, past and present. In the same way that officials in Chicago were at first slow to respond to that fire—in the beginning many church leaders failed to act soon enough to deal with this one. For decades people who went through a divorce were simply ridiculed and ignored—in almost the same way people with leprosy were treated in Jesus’ day. Plus, for years churches did not do a good enough job in teaching husbands and wives to cherish and enrich their marriages…which leads us to this morning’s topic. As I told you on VISION SUNDAY, today we are beginning a series of sermons designed to help us all be better equipped when it comes to combating this “blaze.” The next six messages will be geared to teach us how to strengthen our marriages—how to make them more “fire-proof.”
Webster defines the word “FIREPROOF” like this: “CAPABLE OF WITHSTANDING OR PREVENTING DAMAGE BY FIRE.” And as children of God—the INVENTOR of marriage—we know that our Heavenly Father intends marriage to be “fireproof.” He designed it to be a relationship that lasts. It is to be a life-long covenant between a man and a woman.
As I’m sure you’ve heard, these messages are based on the movie FIREPROOF. In fact, most of the outlines I will be hanging my comments on are not original with me but are taken from campaign materials provided by OUTREACH ministries.
And, in addition to these sermons we’ll be offering FIREPROOF studies as part of our Grace at Home ministry. You have three opportunities to participate: Adult One is hosting one on Sunday morning during the SS hour starting this week. Bobby is leading another group on Sunday evenings during AWANA starting tonight—and I’m facilitating a midweek class starting this Wednesday after prayer meeting.
If you are single—don’t let this series prompt you to worship elsewhere for the next six weeks—because these messages are structured such that they will help any relationship to be more Godly—more “fireproof.” Plus—statistics say that there is a very good chance that even if you are single now you will be married one day—and this study should help you learn things that will help you to be better prepared.
I hope you have seen this powerful movie but in case you haven’t let me share a synopsis of the plot. The film tells the story of a young couple named Caleb and Catherine whose marriage is breaking up. They’ve been together for seven years but, to quote the Frankie Valley song lyric, they’ve “…lost that lovin’ feeling…” and things are going south fast. The film tells how with the help of God, this couple puts their marriage and their lives back together. In the process they struggle through the issues of forgiving, rekindling feelings for each other, breaking free of addictions and things that hold them back, and finding the love of God. We’re going to explore each of these themes over the next six weeks.
Our text for this morning is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians—chapter 5 verses 21-30. Listen as I read this very practical guidance for marriage that God has put in His Word. After we read it—I will point out three basic truths that all spouses must understand if they are to build a marriage that is fireproof.
21 – Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 – Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
23 – For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior.
24 – Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 – Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her
26 – to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word,
27 – and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
28 – In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
29 – After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—
30 – for we are members of His body.
Here’s the first principle that will help our marriages to become more resistant to the kind of “flames” that tend to attack matrimony these days. Marriage LASTS—it works BEST when…
(1) Spouses discover who is to be number ONE in their relationship.
To make marriage resistant to the flames that will threaten to destroy it, husband and wife must learn who is to be in charge. And verse 21 or our text helps us with this. Look at it again. It says, “Submit to ONE ANOTHER out of reverence for Christ.” The Greek verb that we translate as, “submit,” here literally means “…to line yourself up under…” or, “..to give up your rights.” So, according to Scripture husband and wife are to each give up their rights—they are to line themselves up under EACH OTHER.
Now—this first principle is a very important one for us to grasp because the fact is most of the problems in marriage can be traced to one thing: POWER.
The majority of arguments between husbands and wives FLARE UP over disagreements as to who is to be in charge of what in the relationship. More often than not marital disputes HEAT UP because spouses don’t resolve this issue properly and that leads to a POWER IMBALANCE in marriage. Let’s stop and think for a moment about what exactly happens when power and authority in a marriage relationship gets out of wack.
First, what does the person who holds the GREATEST power and authority in a relationship usually do?
They tend to LORD IT OVER THE OTHER PERSON. If it’s the husband he tends to attempt to control his wife. He uses her to make his life easier. The members of the church we served in seminary would often go to a nearby river for a church-wide canoe trip. On our first such trip I noticed that whenever we got to a place in the river where the water was low and the canoes got stuck in the mud or hung up on the rocks…well when this happened our pastor would stay seated in the canoe and order his wife to get out and pull the boat free. And without complaint she did this every single time. When this happened I remember thinking two things: First, I thought, “Why is Bill doing that to Joyce? He should get out of the boat—not her.” But close on the heals of that first thought was this. With my relatively newly wed brain I wondered, “How can I get Sue to do that so my feet don’t get wet?” My sinful, selfish self wanted that kind of authority—that kind of power—for my own benefit. And many people interpret this part of Ephesians to support that kind of relationship. Pastors who DO say things like:
“The husband should make all the important decisions in the relationship…” Or
“The husband should go out and earn the family’s daily bread and the wife should stay home and bake it.” or
“The husband is the president of the family and the wife is the vice-president.” or—and this is my favorite: “The husband should control the TV remote…”
And you know what I’m talking about. That’s the kind of thing that the person in POWER justifies. He or she demands that HIS or HER needs be met by the weaker person.
Okay—what about the other side of this power IMBALANCE in a relationship. What does the person holding the LESS power or authority tend to do?
When wives for example are subjugated forcefully to the authority of the husband they often REBEL or RESIST. They find some way to make their domineering husband’s lives miserable. I’m reminded of the story of a wife whose husband treated her like a slave for years and she always obeyed but she got even with her demanding dictator…by swishing his toothbrush in the commode when he wasn’t looking. I hope this doesn’t give any wives out there any ideas!
As I inferred a moment ago, in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul offers us a solution to these power imbalance problems. He reminds us that God’s ORIGINAL blueprint for marriage…is found in MUTUAL submission. Look at verse 21 again. It plainly says to both husband and wife, “submit to ONE ANOTHER…out of reverence for Christ.” This verse tells us that the ANSWER to the power imbalance question—you know, “Who is in charge, husband or wife?” — the answer is NEITHER. The correct answer to that question is JESUS. He is in charge. He is the boss. He is the head of any marriage—just as He is the Head of the church. We’ll talk more about this in a moment but please understand—Paul is saying that marriage doesn’t have much of a chance of surviving the fires of stress that always come when two sinners live under the same roof until they both embrace this principle and SUBMIT to Jesus’ authority in their relationship.
Let’s apply this principle more SPECIFICALLY. For example, what does this mean for the wife? And before I answer this question I want you to note something very important. In fact, if your Bible does not translate verse 22 this way, I want you to write these words in the margin. Ready? Here goes: “The word, ‘SUBMIT’ in verse 22 is not in the original Greek text. It is supplied in verse 21.” So literally verses 21 and 22 should be worded this way,“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ—wives to your husbands, AS TO THE LORD.”
The clear principle then is this—wives are to relate to their husbands in light of their relationship with Jesus. They are to treat their husbands as Jesus would want them treated. I mean, a Godly wife should constantly be asking herself, “What would Jesus do?” Here’s a rough but I think accurate paraphrase of these verses, “As the church is constantly asking ‘What would Jesus do?’ in everything, wives should also be constantly asking, ‘What would Jesus have me do?’ when it comes to relating to my husband.”
Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to have a wife who always treats you the way Jesus would want her to…whose love for you reflects her love for Jesus? Maybe—like me you don’t have to imagine what this would be like—and if so you would certainly testify as I do—that no man can be treated better than one whose wife relates to him in this way!
Okay—that’s the WIFE’S side—what does this principle mean for HUSBANDS? Look at verse 25. “Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it.”
Men, that’s a nice poetic way of saying, “Jesus chose to submit himself to the whip, the thorns and the nails for our benefit and that’s the example you husbands are to follow.” In short, Paul says here that we men are to have not a DOMINEERING…but rather a SACRIFICIAL love for our wives. Men, their needs are to always come before our own—even if it is costly for us. In fact, we are to be willing to lay down our lives for our wives.
You may remember my telling you the story of one of the Generals under Cyrus, ruler of Persia, a general who learned that his wife had been accused of treachery and had been condemned to die.
When he heard this he rushed to the palace and burst into the throne room….throwing himself on the floor before the king. Then he cried out, “Oh my lord Cyrus, take my life instead of hers. Let me die in her place.” Cyrus, who by all historical accounts was a noble and extremely sensitive man, was touched by this offer. He said, “Love like that must not be spoiled by death.” And then he gave the husband and wife back to each other and let the wife go free. As they walked away the husband said to his wife, “Did you notice how kindly the king looked at us when he gave you the pardon?” The wife replied, “I had no eyes for the king. I saw only the man who was willing to die in my place.” Everybody say, “AWWWWW” Warren and the rest of our ushers have Kleenex for anyone who needs to dab their eyes. All kidding aside, this is the kind of love husbands are to have for their wives.
Of course, most of us men will never have to put our love to this extreme of a test…but we do have countless lesser ways plenty of opportunities to show our love…as we learn to die to self daily…and put our wive’s needs first. Men, think for a moment. What is an area in your life that you need to die—so that you can put your wife’s needs first? Where are you giving YOUR needs priority when it should be your wife’s? If you have a hard time thinking of any areas, you might want to ask for your wife’s help! And wives—can you imagine how wonderful it would be to have a husband who always puts you first—who is constantly dying to self to make sure your needs are met? Hopefully some of you don’t have to imagine!
In the film, the thing that finally heals their marriage is when Caleb gives his life savings—money he’d been stashing away for a boat—to provide a hospital bed and powered wheel-chair for his mother-in-law. That act of submission and sacrifice was what rekindled the fires of love in his wife’s heart.
This first principle—the principle of mutual submission—is the principle that corrects the IMBALANCE of power that plagues most relationships. Let me put it this way, if we’ve each got the other’s back, then nothing can sneak up on us and no one can get between us. And please understand, relating this way to each other is true BIBLICAL submission—the kind we read about in 1 Corinthians 13 where it says that Christlike, selfless love, “…does not demand its own way…” The kind of submission God intends does not extract service or manipulate the one in charge. Instead it cherishes the one it loves. It constantly, even sacrificially works to satisfy the needs of the other. Husbands and wives who practice this first fireproof principle obey the command of Philippians 2:4 where it says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.”
So husbands, submit to your wife. Wives, submit to your husband. Do this out of your obedience to JESUS as Lord. That’s principle #1 of a fireproof marriage. Okay—here’s the second principle. Marriage works best—it’s the most fireproof…
(2) …when spouses understand that TWO is better than ONE.
In other words, a strong LASTING marriage is one in which spouses don’t expect their partners to be just like them but rather cherish the things that make each other unique. And we ARE unique. Men and women are very different. We see this principle illustrated early on in the movie…because one of the first cracks that develops in Caleb and Catherine’s relationship comes from this challenge all men and women face, namely: “How do I relate to someone who is so different than me?” Watch this clip.
CLIP “He Said/She Said” – length = 1:33
Well—as Caleb and Catherine’s experience shows men and women ARE different because of course God created us that way. Remember, in Genesis we read that our Heavenly Father didn’t simply clone Adam when he needed a help-mate. No—when God built woman, He created a wonderful NEW creature that He intentionally crafted different than man. So husbands and wives ARE unique—and of course humor relating to this subject abounds.
- It has been said that a man won’t hesitate to pay $2 for something worth a $1 if he really wants it.
- On the other hand a woman won’t hesitate to pay $1 for something worth $2 even if she DOESN’T want it.
- A woman marries a man expecting him to change.
- A man marries a woman hoping she won’t change.
But seriously—there are all kinds of differences between the genders. Men tend to be physically stronger than women. But because of their greater lower body strength women tend to do better than men in long distance activities like running or swimming which is why the women’s best time in swimming the English Channel is three hours better than the man’s best time! Women tend to live 4-8 years longer than we guys do. A woman’s metabolism is slower than a man’s—And these physical differences are just the tip of the iceberg! Men function best when they can focus on one thing at a time while women can usually be multi-focused—an ability that can be very handy when it comes to parenting.
Women tend to be more VERBAL than men. In fact they learn to talk sooner than we guys do. A study was done a few years back that showed that 100% of the sounds coming out of the mouths of girls aged 2-4 had to do with conversation whereas for the boys only 60% did. The rest were animal sounds or truck or car sounds. So, the truth is men start off behind women in talking and we never catch up. Communication experts say that the average woman speaks over 25,000 words a day, while the average man speaks only a little over 10,000. This means that in marriage by the time the man gets home from work he’s used all his words whereas his wife is just warming up. Anyone every had a marital argument that stemmed from the wife’s desire to talk when the husband got home from work and the husband’s desire to just vegg out in front of the TV?
This verbal uniqueness is why women who hardly know each other can have a long and meaningful conversation. Perhaps you’ve heard of the man who said, “My wife was on the phone for nearly 30 minutes. When she hung up I asked her, ‘Who was that?’ She said, ‘Wrong number.’” Men tend to focus on doing things—especially FIXING things whereas women focus more on just being heard. Here’s example of how that plays out. A wife comes home from work and says, “I hate my job!” The loving husband responds, “Well, why don’t you quit then?” “No,” she says, “It’s just that there’s so much work to do and not enough people.”
The husband says, “Well, then tell your boss to hire some help for you.” She retorts, “Oh, why can’t you ever just listen to me?” And he, genuinely confused says, “I am listening to you. If you didn’t want my advice why did you bring up the subject?” She didn’t want advice. She wanted to be heard.
To this long list of differences H. Norman Wright adds, “Men snore more, fight more, their blood is redder, their daylight vision is superior…they have thicker skins and longer vocal cords…they age earlier but wrinkle later…their immunity against disease is weaker…they talk about themselves less but worry about themselves more.”
Well—why is this principle important? Why should men understand that women are different and vice versa? What does all this have to do with fire-proofing our marriages?
A. First, in His Word God COMMANDS that we seek to understand each other.
1 Corinthians 7:3 says, “A man should fulfill his duty as a husband and a woman should fulfill her duty as a wife and each should satisfy the other’s needs.” Well, to satisfy each other’s unique needs—we of course have to know what they are! And 1 Peter 3:7 says, “You husbands should live with your wives in an understanding way.” So God obviously WANTS us to strive to fathom our unique differences.
B. Here’s another reason spouses need to embrace this fire-proofing principle.
You see, it is difficult for a husband and a wife to enjoy any level of INTIMACY unless they really DO understand each other. Larry Crabb writes,“There is a fundamental flaw these days in the way we create intimacy…that has to do with our having lost the uniqueness of what it means to relate to one another as men and women.”
Think about it. Husbands and wives are supposed to live together, sleep together, eat together, spend money together, vacation together, socialize together, raise children together worship together…and so on. How can we do all this in a way that brings fulfillment and joy—and at the same time glorifies God if we don’t understand each other? When we selfishly don’t care about our spouse’s unique needs this becomes an impossible and even painful task.
C. And finally, this is an important principle because when we pool our uniqueness as husbands and wives—we make a stronger team.
I mean, if we were to list our differences side by side, one list would not be right and the other wrong. No—these differences are intended by our Creator to be complimentary. They can bring balance and depth and even excitement to any marriage relationship. The fact is that when we truly UNDERSTAND each other—we are better TOGETHER than we are ALONE. I hate to quote Tom Cruise—but in a marriage where husbands and wives learn to take advantage of their individual differences—they could accurately say to each other, “You complete me.”
You husbands and wives out there who have been married any length of time—think for a few minutes and I believe you’ll come up with a long list of things you have been able to do together as husband and wife that you would never have been able to do alone.
And this segues into the last fire-proofing principle. You see strong, lasting marriages are those in which spouses understand that two IS indeed better than one…but also that…
(3)…THREE is even better.
As I inferred earlier, men and women who experience the joy and fulfillment and excitement that marriage is supposed to involve, are those people who invite GOD into their relationship.
They think of the way they relate to each other as worship because they seek to treat each other the way God would want them to. I think our Roman Catholic brothers may be right in thinking of marriage as a sacrament because matrimony is indeed a sacred thing. And because it is, God MUST be part of our relationship if we are to avoid the fate of thousands of spouses whose marriage is consumed in the fires of marital discord. The truth is a husband and a wife can’t submit to one another—and love one another enough to embrace their differences and work as a team…they can’t do these things on their own power. We’re going to talk more about this next week but if a husband is to love like Jesus—he must have personally experienced the love of Jesus. If a wife is to treat her husband as Jesus would want her to she must know Jesus and have submitted to Him herself. They each need Jesus living in and through them. This is what Paul is saying in verse 21. Husbands and wives are to “…submit to one another—out of reverence for Christ.” In fact the word, “submit” in verse 21 is not the real command in this text. The original over-arching command is back in verse 18 where it says, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.” In other words, submitting to one another is an expression of being filled with the Spirit of God. The text should read, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” You see, if you are a disciple of Jesus, yielding to His lordship, then when a problem comes you’ll let Him take the lead—you’ll submit to what He would want you to do. And you know, it IS impossible to submit like t his on your own strength. We have to draw on God’s power. In his book, A Marriage After God’s Own Heart, David Clarke says, “On your own marriage is impossible. It’s not just really…really difficult…not just a tremendous challenge. It’s impossible. You see, marriage is a never-ending series of conflicts, misunderstandings, and mind-boggling missed connections. Now for the GOOD news: Even with all our differences, marriage can work beautifully when we keep God at the center of the relationship.”
Now, if you are in a marriage relationship that feels to you like the Great Chicago Fire. I mean, if you feel hopeless to stop the destruction don’t give up—because with God’s power and grace—ANY marriage can be saved. And listen—if you’re about to give up—here me! You will be FAR better off if you work to save your marriage than if you just call it quits. This morning I want to close by challenging you to take the same 40-day Love Dare that the plot of the FIREPROOF movie is built around. I believe doing so will bless any marriage. I think the movie illustrates this fact beautifully. Watch this last clip.
CLIP…“Welcome to the new normal” – length = 2:04
If you committed to taking THE LOVE DARE, the books will be here on the altar and I challenge you to come up as we sing our closing song and get your copy as a way of publically committing to make your marriage more FIREPROOF. And if you have other decisions to make—if you want to profess your faith in Jesus or ask to join this church family. Come.