“You gotta look out for number one!” I agree. Yup, you heard me say it. Although, technically you read it and I didn’t say it, I wrote it. But nevertheless … you read it right.
This pervasive attitude gets a bit of a bad rap. After 20 years of marriage, which Helen and I celebrated a week-and-a-half ago, I recognize how categorically accurate the statement is. The thing is, the application of the statement is a bit misguided.
This week I read Galatians 5–6 and Ephesians 1–5. A well-known passage forms the basis for my reflection of the importance, in our marriages, friendships, and other relationships, of looking out for number one.
And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body.
Out of Ephesians 5:21-30 fall some penetrating principles we all should internalize, in my estimation, whether we’re married or not. At its heart, this passage is telling us to look out for number one. It is also telling us that we have to understand WHO is the number one we’re to look out for, most importantly.
In relationships, we’re told to look out for one another. The principle is advanced more definitively that in marriage, we are to “submit to ONE ANOTHER” … meaning we look out for number one, but number one is the other one. In a sense we’re not getting what we will often bank for as individuals. As husbands, all too often we look to this passage to see what our wives are supposed to do for us. We take the passage as license to apply it to the head of our wives as we would a bludgeon. “Look, it says here, you are supposed to SUBMIT to me,” we’ll argue.
Or, if you are a wife, you look at that part of the passage with ire and try to obfuscate what it says because it’s old-fashioned, out of place, or unfair. Perhaps the husband just doesn’t get it and wouldn’t be worthy of submission if he was a nuclear submarine. It’s unequivocal that in marriage (and other relationships) we BOTH look past the importance of looking out for number one.
In my marriage with Helen, she IS number one … and I am number one for her. I don’t say this to suggest that we’ve somehow unlocked the mystery that has evaded and eluded mankind for millennia. Not in the least. There are many times over our 20-year history where Helen and I have by our actions virtually ignored every important aspect of these principles. So, how do we look out for (the other) number one if they either don’t hold up their end of the bargain or aren’t living up to being “number one”?
Paul (as God’s voice in Ephesians) has unlocked the mystery. We look out for (the other) number one by looking out for the real Number One. Who is that?
Note that the standards to which we’re called are the standards to which He lived and loved long ago as our Example and Template. So it holds that we look out for number one, by looking out for Number One, who in turn looks out for number one.
Jesus is the one that cares for us, loves us, sustains us … He made us, so He knows how best to do it. So why would we entrust that responsibility to a far-less-capable person … ourselves? He’s offered us the sure-fire way to ensure we can look out for number one (us). We look out for Number One (Him), who equips us to look out for number one (our spouse … or other relationship), and then He looks out for number one (us).
In that small section of verses, three times we read “as Christ.” And then Paul says, “For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself.” There is a power circuit here … Jesus is our example of love, sacrifice, and submission. In that, He is worthy of us looking out for Number One. Our response, then, is to love, sacrifice and submit to “one another,” the (other) number one. Not at the expense of being the number one, but so that Jesus in turn can look out for us as His number one. It doesn’t work in reverse, I should point out.
So practically, then, what does looking out for (the other) number one look like? It isn’t just having the other one’s back … it’s getting behind their back to advance them forward and upward. It’s “to present [the other number one] to [God the Father] as a glorious [other number one] without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish.”
Whether you’re married or not, these aren’t suggestions, they’re directions. If you’re not married or not yet married, you now have your roadmap. Frankly, these apply to all relationships. If you’re married … all the more. If you’re a husband and you’re not looking out for number one as this passage addresses, then straight up, you’re missing the mark. Note that I didn’t call out the wives. Our call as husbands is not to look out for (us as) number one and point out when the other number one isn’t “submitting” … our call is to be worthy of that submission. Our call as wives isn’t to look out for (us as) number one only when the other number one is worthy of it, it’s to look out for the other number one as a step of faith and obedience.
Why? Because the real Number One says so. It’s His instruction for fantastic relationships, it’s His recipe for marital longevity and delight, and it’s the way we truly look out for the real Number One. Then He in turn will look out for (us as) number one.
Soli Deo gloria!