I’d like to invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to Ephesians, chapter 5. We’re continuing in a series that Derek Thomas is taking the main part of the load in. He began it last week with an excellent message setting forth some of the basic principles about marriage and family out of Genesis 1 especially. We’ll have an opportunity tonight to refer back to an important passage at the end of Genesis 2 but we’re assigned the focus of Ephesians, chapter 5. It’s perhaps a passage that you have heard read and explained to some extent many times, especially at weddings. It’s one of the passages which is most frequently taken to expound upon at weddings but because weddings are a time of general excitement and often we hope with much joy sometimes it’s hard to concentrate on those messages because of all those things which are connected to those wedding ceremonies, and so it’s wonderful to have opportunities, from time to time, where we can come back and take serious focus on an important passage like this that speaks to marriage and family. Now, Derek said to you last time that it is a daunting thing for a man to stand up and speak about marriage. He said there was sign on the back wall flashing, hypocrite. Well, tonight the sign is on my forehead, not on the back wall.
It is a daunting thing to speak about the subject of marriage, for one is always conscious of one’s own failings, and the way in which one falls short of the biblical ideal. But on the other hand, that is perhaps the ideal way to deal with the teaching of God’s word about marriage, because it’s not me speaking to you about marriage, it’s not me giving you my opinions and it’s certainly not me giving you; my expertise and success in marriage. It’s God speaking to you about the ideals that He Himself has established for marriage, and calling you to strive after those ideals in a fallen world where there are problems, heartaches, and difficulties.
Now, I want to say at the outset just two or three things. First, many of you will bring to this sanctuary great burdens in your hearts about your own marriages. They’ll be different. Some of you will feel isolated; some of you will feel as if you are the only person or the only couple struggling with a particular issue in marriage. And it is possible that as we go through Paul’s ideals, that you may be discouraged. And I want to say to you at the outset that is not my purpose, to discourage you. By the very act of speaking to these things we dredge up issues in the heart that burden us greatly, and which haunt us in the hours in which we are alone and reflecting. I understand that. I’m there with you in that very struggle, perhaps in different ways, but all of us who are reflective about our marriages, have those questions and those griefs that we carry. My purpose here is to encourage you in love and good deeds.
The second thing I’d like to say follows on that. We often say that the best counseling is done from the pulpit. Now, there’s a certain truth about that, but there would be a misapplication of that if we were saying that the only things and the most important things can be dealt with in every particular situation from the pulpit. They can’t. In fact, often times when the man of God ha s don what he ought to do from the pulpit, it dredges up so many questions in our minds and in our hearts that we cannot answer them all from the pulpit, and that means that one needs personal encounter with ministers and other Christians in working through those issues. God caused us to need one another, and I can’t answer every question about these vital things in one sermon or even in a series of sermons from the pulpit.
The Puritans used to say that good preaching ripped up consciences. Now, they didn’t mean that in some sort of a masochistic way. They didn’t mean it in a sadistic way. But they did mean that often times good, faithful preaching will raise issues in our hearts and minds that we need to follow up on. I can’t follow up on all those issues from the pulpit, but I am delighted to be a part of those in this congregation who help you follow up on those issues, and I would encourage you when things come up in the course of the sermon, or anywhere in this series, seek out a minister, seek out an elder, seek out a friend, seek out a counselor, and pursue those things to the glory of God.
One last thing I want to say. As God sets forth the ideals of marriage in this great passage, and elsewhere in the word, God is keenly aware that the glory of the Christian life is living life to God’s glory in a less than perfect world. And if you find yourself in an imperfect, a very imperfect situation today, that cannot keep from you the privilege and responsibility of living for God’s glory. And that’s something that all of us need to remember as we approach this subject. So, let’s look at this great passage, in Ephesians 5:22:
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– 30for we are members of his body. 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”32This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Amen
This ends our reading of God’s holy and inspired word, may He add His blessing to it. Let’s pray.
Our Lord, open our eyes to see your truth, open our hearts to see our sin, by Your Spirit move our hearts to change, to grow in grace, to be renewed in our zeal to glorify You in our marriages, and we ask then, that You would glorify Yourself in us, and even in our marriages, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you come to a wedding service at a conservative, Bible-believing, protestant church, you’re probably going to hear somewhere in the course of the service, the minister read or quote or extemporaneously repeat the words that are known as the words of explanation about marriage. These words are in varying forms, repeated in most evangelical, protestant worship services of marriage. And in those words of explanation, four things will be said about marriage. The first thing that will be said is that marriage is instituted by God. God is the one who invented marriage. That is a radically important thing for us to remember in this culture, because there are many people who believe that marriage is a social convention developed by human beings over the course of time and therefore since it is a social convention developed by human beings over the course of time, if we want to change its essential nature, or even jettison it for another form of social relation and procreation, we can do so. There are many in our own day and time that want to redefine marriage. No longer do they want it to be between one man and one woman, perhaps, they would say, it would be between two men or between two women, or something else. And it behooves us to remember that marriage was instituted by God. Even in this passage Paul reminds us of that by pointing us back to Moses’ word in Genesis 2 in which God Himself explicitly defined marriage as the conjugal union between one man and one woman in such a way that the two became one flesh, and so capable of imaging certain aspects of God that can be imaged in no other way. That’s an important thing for us to remember.
A second thing that you will hear in the marriage service is that God has established marriage and He has set it apart and made it holy, not only for His glory, but also for our welfare and happiness. We couldn’t count the number of jokes on the market about marriage, and most of those jokes about marriage aren’t very flattering or encouraging. And yet, God in His word makes it clear that marriage is for the benefit of mankind. As Derek pointed out last week, in the constant repeated, refrain of “and it was good, and it was good, and it was very good” In Genesis 1, in the original creation, one refrain stands out, and it is the ascription that “it was not good for Adam to be alone.” Now I want you to think about that for a minute. Adam, in an unfallen paradise, Adam in unmediated relationship with the Creator who made him, the living God, is said to be in a state that is not good because he is not in companionship with the bone of his bone and the flesh of his flesh. That is surely something for us to contemplate, to meditate upon, and so the blessing of marriage to us is emphasized in God’s providing a helpmeet, face to face for Adam, even in the perfection of the unfallen world of the Garden of Eden.
Thirdly, in these marriage services, you will hear these words repeated that the sacredness of the marriage relationship is revealed by the fact that the Holy Spirit has chosen it as an appropriate symbol for the union which exists between Christ and His people, the Church, His bride. Surely, that is a mind-boggling announcement, that God has decided in Christian marriages, to set forth a living symbol, a living representation, a living model of what it is like to be in fellowship with Him. Now that is not only a privilege, it is a humbling responsibility, and when we as Christians reflect upon that responsibility, surely that impels us to do better in our relationships that we might better image that glorious relationship between Jesus and His bride, the Church.
Finally, in those wedding services, you will hear something like this, “That the happiness contemplated in the union of man and woman in marriage, is realized only by those who fully appreciate the sacredness of that relationship, and are faithful in performing the mutual duties that grow out of it, and who daily seek God’s blessing in prayer. Surely that is a lesson too, set forth before us in this great passage. In fact, there are three things in this passage that I would like to draw your attention to, which elaborate those points that are made in the marriage service, and which perhaps brings home to us issues that are important for our growth in grace in marriage.
I. God calls Christian wives to a glad and willing submission to their husbands.
The first thing you’ll see in verses 22-24. If you wanted to outline this passage, the responsibilities of Christian wives are given to us in verses 22-24. The responsibilities of Christian husbands are given to us in verses 25-30. You will already have noticed, ladies, that the husband’s section is longer. Thirdly, in verses 31-33, this tremendous emphasis on the marital relationship being a picture of our union with Christ is brought to bear. So, the duties of the wife, the husband, and the picture of marriage.
In verses 22-24, Paul utters a word that has caused him to be despised ubiquitously in the modern world. “Wives, be subject, or submit yourselves, or even in some of the older translations, obey your husbands as the Lord.” In this passage, God calls wives to a glad and willing submission to the spiritual leadership of their husbands in the home. This command is absolutely crystal clear. It is a call for wives to respect their husbands. You see that explicitly at the end of the passage, when Paul reiterates his main point. What does he say in verse 33? “Wives, see to it that you respect your husbands.” So this command is a call to respect husbands. Christian wives are to respect husbands, and to acknowledge and to submit to their spiritual leadership in the home.
What does that mean practically? Well, practically it means the recognition that God has established a divine order in the household. God has made the husband the head of his home, and the husband will give account to God for that spiritual stewardship, and it’s calling on Christian wives to realize and acknowledge that stewardship which has been entrusted to their husbands. That means recognizing one’s husband’s authority under God and it also requires a voluntary, sacrificial, self-giving, long suffering loyalty to one’s husband. Let me unpack that. It calls upon a wife as a believer in Christ, to gladly and willingly submit to her husband’s spiritual leadership. I often have thought that the reason that Paul begins with wives in this passage, is not because that’s his real agenda. In fact, usually Paul climaxes to his main point, and in this point, of course, verses 31-33, represent that main point and climatic statement about marriage. But I suspect that Paul started with wives because he knew that the reality of freedom in Christ might have tempted some wives to think that they no longer had the responsibility of reflecting this divine order in their marital relationship. Because the freedoms of Christ are so expansive and comprehensive and great and yet, here he calls them to a willing, a voluntary submission to their husband’s spiritual leadership. It is a sacrificial submission to the husband’s spiritual leadership, because husbands are sinners. It is a self denying submission to a husband’s spiritual leadership, because wives are sinners, and will want their own way, and will think that they have better ideas from time to time, or maybe all the time, than their husbands. And you know what? Sometimes they will. And so, it will require self denial to enter into this submission to spiritual leadership, and it will be a long suffering loyalty to one’s husband’s spiritual leadership, because it will require patience to relate to a man.
You know, in one way, the wife’s relationship to her husband is harder than her relationship to Christ, because Christ has no sin in Him, and Christ always loves her perfectly, and Christ never disappoints her, and Christ never fails her trust, and Christ never ever does anything than seek her best interests. And a husband will fail in that area and every other area. And God still, amazingly calls the Christian wife to respect and acknowledge and submit to her husband’s spiritual leadership in the home.
John Piper and Wayne Grudem, in their excellent little book called 50 Questions and Answers About Manhood and Womanhood, and that is a booklet I would recommend that you look at and you can see all the questions and answers on the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website, www.ebmw.org. And in their question, “What does it mean for a Christian wife to submit?” they give this answer: “Submission refers to a wife’s divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. It is not an absolute surrender of her will, rather, we speak of her disposition to yield to her husband’s guidance and her inclination to follow his leadership. Christ is her absolute authority, not the husband. She submits out of reverence for Christ. The supreme authority of Christ qualifies the authority of her husband. She should never follow her husband into sin, for instance, nevertheless, even when she may have to stand with Christ, over against the sinful will of her husband, she longs for him to forsake sin and lead in righteousness, so that her disposition to honor him as head can again produce harmony, and she shows by her attitude and her behavior that she does not like resisting his will. The wife voluntarily submits to her husband.” Notice, Paul makes it clear in verse 22 that this is not a statement about women in general to all men in general, this is a call for wives to honor their husbands in a particular way. And whatever implications there may be for general male-female relationships from the creation order, Paul is here concentrating here on the marriage and the home. Notice in vase 22, he makes this statement with this qualifier, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” What is Paul saying? Paul is saying that for a married Christian woman to show her loyalty to Christ, is to express that loyalty to Christ in this willing submission to her husband. To submit to her husband as to the Lord is what it means to call Christ “Lord” for a married woman. And, according to Paul, there is no possibility of a married woman’s surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ that is not made visible and actual in her relationship to her husband.
Now, the apostle Paul adds two other statement in verse 23. One, which I think helps the wife follow this directive. One, which challenges a wife in following this directive. In verse 23, Paul tells Christian women the basis of this divine order in the home, and the basis of their obedience to this command. He says this, “For the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the Church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” In other words, Paul is saying husbands sustain a relationship to their Christian wives in the home that is analogical to Christ’s relation to the Church. And on the one hand I think that helps a woman to realize it is God’s design to image His rule of His people in the marriage, and on the other hand, that can make obedience to this directive particularly painful for women whose husbands are not exercising a loving, self-denying spiritual leadership. I want to say a couple of things about that. The first thing is this: when women are called to endure a husband who is not exercising self denying, edifying, spiritual leadership, those women have the privilege in participating in the pains and in the tribulations of Christ, about which Paul speaks in the book of Philippians, when he says, “We fill up that which is lacking in Christ’s suffering.” There can be few things more painful than a woman desirous of a Christian home, saddled with a man who is unwilling to exercise spiritual leadership. And can I say this, friends, as I have have had men and women come into my office over the course of the last six years, though from time to time I have seen marriages where the husband is domineering, and unChristlike in his authoritarian, and unselfdenying approach to his wife, nine times to one I have had godly women in my office saying, “I wish that my husband would take spiritual leadership in the home, and he won’t.” Men, there is a congregation full of godly women at this church who are waiting for you to exercise loving, self-denying, spiritual leadership. Can we, as men, challenge one another to do that? Can we encourage one another to do that? Can we gather together, men, and encourage one another to exercise that kind of self denying, serving, loving leadership in our homes? There are women waiting for us to do it in our congregation. Ladies, those of you who are called to endure in an imperfect situation, remember, that no one can appreciate your situation more than your Savior, because He was called to love a Church that was recalcitrant in its love to Him.
And therefore, Paul goes on precisely because of these fallen situations, to say in verse 24, that wives are to be subject to their husbands, listen to this phrase, in everything. You couldn’t get a more comprehensive directive. This is a very comprehensive submission that is being called for as the wife seeks to emulate her submission to Christ in relationship to her husband. I suspect that Paul speaks that word under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit because we are inclined by nature to seek out the exception to the rule.
And my friends, there are exceptions to the rule. I’ve already given you one, when the husband calls the wife to follow into sin. The wife’s response is, “No.” That is absolutely the Christian wife’s response. It’s an exception to the rule. But Paul states this in the general and the comprehensive, because he knows that we would rather run to the exception than follow the rule when it’s hard. God calls Christian wives to a glad and willing submission to their husbands. That is not popular teaching but it is biblical teaching. It is not easy teaching, but it is blessed teaching for those who follow in the way of the Lord.
II. God calls Christian husbands to a radical self-denying spiritual leadership for the good of their wives.
Now secondly, in verses 25-30, Paul gives the duties of Christian husbands. He says to husbands, “Love your wives just as Christ also loved the Church.” God, here, calls Christian husbands to a radical, self-denying, spiritual leadership for the good of their wives. This is a mind-boggling command. First of all, it’s a command to love. We don’t normally think about love as something that can be commanded. But the Apostle Paul commands love, in all its forms. He commands emotive love, he commands motive love, he commands active love, he commands that as Christ loved the Church in His heart and with His deeds, that husbands love their wives from the heart and with their deeds. He stresses this love apart from any reciprocation from the wife. It is agape love, it is self giving, self denying love. This is easy love, when a marriage relationship is sweet. It is hard love when there is stress, tension, when one’s partner is disrespectful and disloyal or unloving. And the Apostle Paul here makes no qualification. The husband is ready to say, “But what about my unsupportive wife?” And the Apostle Paul’s word to the husband is, “Die to yourself.” That’s how you love her. You die to yourself. Your purpose, your goal in your love for her is her good. Your responsibility, your commitment in this marriage, is not to get something out of it for yourself, but to give to her that which she needs and which is good for her. Bitterness easily creeps into human dealings and justifies itself so as to become even more deeply entrenched, and a wife can disappoint a man’s hopes and ambitions and those feelings of disappointment can quickly find expression in a bitter spirit and harsh words, and Paul is waiting for husbands right there with this directive. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church. But my wife is disloyal.” Jesus responds, “So was Mine.” But my wife doesn’t love me like she ought.” “So did mine.” “but my wife has resisted my leadership!” “So has mine.” Over and over, Paul meets the objections of the husband, running to the exception, with this directive, die to yourself in your love to your wife. But he doesn’t stop there.
If you’ll look at verses 26-27, he tells us what the practical purpose of the husband’s love is. The husband’s love is designed to sanctify his wife on the way to her glorification. In other words, the husband’s agenda in his spiritual leadership, is not control. The husband’s agenda in his spiritual leadership is not to reach a state where his rule is unchallenged. The husband’s goal and agenda in his spiritual leadership is to do spiritual good to his wife so that she grows in maturity in grace and is one day stood before God in glory. In other words, the husband is loving and living toward his wife so that one day he can re-present her to the great Bridegroom and say, “I have lived to prepare her for the day that I would give her back to You, her true Bridegroom, and when I give her to you, she’s going to be spotless, she’s going to be without flaw, and I have directed the focus of my energy to make sure that she was conformed to Your image, so that she would be an acceptable bride for the great Bridegroom.” In other words, the husband is living for the spiritual welfare of his wife.
And my friends, I want to tell you this, I have found very few women, though I have found a few, that were not able and willing to follow the leadership of a man who they knew was ready to put the full of his life’s energies on the line for her good. That’s what husbands are called to. And Paul, when that appeal falls on deaf ears, gives a practical application in verse 28. He says, loving your wife is an act of self-interest, because your wife is you, your wife is your body. You nourish your own body, nourish your wife. You know, you’ve heard the saying, a happy life is a happy wife. Keep her happy and you will have a happy life. Paul is saying, “Look, nourishing your wife, caring for your wife, is like caring for the members of your own body. She is you. You are one flesh. It makes no sense for you to be at enmity with her. You’ll make your own life miserable because she is you, and therefore, even as an act of self-interest, it makes sense to love your wife.
But then he goes immediately back, in verse 29, to this example of Christ in this exhortation, and he points you to Christ, and he says, “How did Christ love His body? How did Christ love His bride? How did Christ love His people?” He loved her by nourishing and caring for her. That’s the agenda of the Christian man, to nourish and care for one another.
And let me say one other aside. Don’t go home with your spouse and say, “You don’t do what Paul said you ought to do towards me.” Wives, don’t do that to your husbands. Husbands, don’t do that to your wives. Instead, go home and do this: husbands, look at your wives and say, “I don’t do what, what God in His word, the Bible, has told me to do for you, but I want to. Would you pray for me? Would you pray for me and help me do it?” And wives, look at your husbands and say, “I don’t do what God says in His word I ought to do for you. But, would you pray for me and help me do it?”
III. God calls Christian husbands and wives to model in their marriages what it means for the church to be united in relationship with Christ.
Paul gives us tremendous motive to urge and to help one another in this task in verse 31-33, because he tells us here that we are living pictures of union with Christ. God calls Christian husbands and Christian wives to model, in their marriages, what it means for the Church to be united in relationship with Christ. Paul takes us right back to Genesis 2, and he tells us that marriage is rooted in creation, it’s part of God’s good purposes for man and woman, from before the fall. But, he goes on in verse 32 to say that this whole matter of marriage is a picture of the Church’s union with Christ. Thy mystery is great, he says, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the Church. In other words, the husband is to model the loving sacrificial leadership of Christ in his relationship to his wife, and therefore to model Christ’s relationship to the Church. And the wife is to model a glad and willing submission offered freely by the Church to Christ, in her marriage, and so model the response of the Church to Christ. Husband and wife together in the Christian marriage, have the responsibility of being a picture of union with Christ, a picture of God’s relationship with His people.
Now I want to say two things about that. For those of us in imperfect marriages, and that’s all of us, that’s a challenge and a privilege and a responsibility. We can’t ignore that. Our marriages are pictures of the way God relates to His people. And friends, just as broken homes harm children, marriages of Christians that do not strive after those ideals harm Christians. They harm the witness of the church they discourage people in the church. We’ve got a responsibility to our brothers and sisters to strive to live this way.
But I want to say something to those of you who may be now out of marriage because of the unfaithfulness of a spouse, because the gross unfaithfulness of the marriage vows. You may be regretting that again, and as we speak of this picture of Christ loving the Church in spite of her failures and sins, let me say this, there are circumstances which justify the breaking of this union, and you may be in one of these circumstances. And if so, God is not asking you to feel guilty for following through with the commandments of His word. We cannot look back to relationships like that without regret. When one’s heart was joined to another, you never ever get it all back. There is pain involved. But in your faithfulness now, wherever God has you, where God has you married or single, you have opportunity to walk with Him faithfully, right now, wherever He has you. May God help us as we seek to model union with Christ, as we seek to love one another, men, love our wives, sacrificially, and wives, as you seek to submit to unbiblical men who will let you down.
Amen. Let us pray.
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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.