Ephesians 5:21 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. 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." 32 This is a profound mystery-- but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 "Honor your father and mother"-- which is the first commandment with a promise-- 3 "that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." 4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
In the beginning. Nothing. No light. No darkness. No time. No space. Nothing … except God.
And God said, “Let there be light!” And suddenly there was time and space and light and darkness!
That was the first day. On day two, God created the atmosphere above and the waters below on the earth. On day three, God separated the oceans from the continents. Then He covered the continents with vegetation. Mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, soft moss and towering redwoods, dandelions and roses. On day four, God flung balls of fire out into the universe and called them suns and stars to cast light upon the earth. On day five, God filled the air with flying creatures – dragonflies and pterodactyls, eagles and bats. He filled the waters with swimming creatures – blue whales and octopuses, blue gill and jellyfish. On day six, God filled the countrysides with elephants and velociraptors, mice and monkeys.
Then God paused from His creation. The Triune God spoke to Himself, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
The Creator then rolled up His sleeves and got His hands dirty. With everything else He only spoke and it came into being. But with the crown of His creation, He took His time. He sculpted man from the dust of His newly created earth. He then formed woman from a rib God had surgically removed from the man.
After each day, God commented on His handiwork and said, “It is good!” He had looked over everything from the molecular makeup of water to the far-away stars in the Andromeda galaxy and it was good. But when He looked at Adam and Eve, He exclaimed, “It is very good!” Man and woman, brought together in marriage on the sixth day of creation was very good. They were the crowning achievement of God’s perfect creation.
But that crown was quickly broken. Very good turned to very bad very soon.
Adam and Eve blamed each other for eating the forbidden fruit and ruining God’s perfect creation. The marriage of two perfect people was now marred by two sinners. Over the years, the marring of marriage grew worse. Abraham had a child with his wife’s maidservant. Isaac and Rebekah played favorites with their sons. Jacob had twelve sons from his two wives and their two handmaidens. King David murdered a man to cover up his adulterous affair. King Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines.
All of them really messed up marriage! And all of them are in the genealogy of Jesus!
The devil attacked the first marriage. Throughout the years, he attacked the marriages of God’s people. But he didn’t stop there. He continues to attack marriages today.
Governor Ronald Reagan signed no-fault divorce into law in California in 1970, making it easier to attain a divorce. But Reagan only signed into law what Moses had signed into law 3,500 years earlier because of the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts. People are still bailing out of marriage for no good reason. It’s easy to fall in love. It is difficult to stay in love.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed for same-sex “marriage” in all fifty states. So now the homosexuals want to get married, but the heterosexuals don’t! Cohabitation, living together outside of marriage, shacking up – call it what you will, but this sin is pervasive in our society – even among Christians.
The increase of broken homes, unstable families, and absent fathers has led to an increase of everything from violent boys and promiscuous girls, to youths in prison, homeless children, and suicidal teens.
But before you get all self-righteous and pharisaical because you haven’t committed adultery or gotten a divorce, you have still broken God’s gift of marriage with your pride that makes you get the last word in an argument; your lack of humility that won’t allow you to say, “I’m sorry” to your spouse; your anger that drives hurtful words at your children; your lack of patience that causes you to get tense and stressed at home; your bitterness that consumes you as soon as you walk in the door at home; the laziness; the badgering; the lack of leadership; the absence of submission – all of these are sins that mar God’s gift of marriage.
Mankind has always messed up marriage, right from the very beginning. So what we need to hear today is what God has to say about marriage. He gives very clear direction for men and women as He describes marriage God’s way.
Mankind had messed up marriage so the Creator of mankind had to clean up the mess. He fixed what was broken. The Father spoke the universe into existence using His Word. He then sent that Word in the flesh to dwell in physical form upon the earth to be our Savior – to save us not just of the sins committed inside and outside marriage, but all sins. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, loved His Church – all of us – so much that He gave Himself up for us. He saw that the Church wasn’t all that pretty. He witnessed all the backbiting, the squabbling, the accusations, and the divisions. But He didn’t throw what was broken away. Instead, He came to fix it. He died for all of our ugliness. He went to the cross for all our filth. He lay dead in the grave for all our corruption of what was once very good.
He covered our sins with His holy blood. He sanctified our souls with His holiness. He cleansed His Church with the water and Word of Baptism. Now Jesus sees us within His Holy Christian Church as cleansed and made holy in His name. The Bridegroom sees His Bride – that’s us – wearing the spotless wedding gown of eternal marriage to Him.
It is with this perspective that we can take another look at marriage – marriage, God’s way. That’s what Paul is talking about in our text. Now that we have been cleansed, sanctified, and given a new nature in our heavenly marriage as Christ’s bride, we will want to reflect that new nature in our earthly marriage to our spouse. When marriage reflects that character, it works great. But when either party, or when both parties, step out of that “Christ and the Church” type of relationship, then conflict arises and marriage goes sour. Keep that in mind when you hear what the apostle Paul writes.
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” “Submit” basically means to place yourself under the will of another. Wives, in marriage, it means to place yourself under the will of a godly leader, your husband. You are to trust him in the same way the Christian Church trusts Christ Jesus. Converse, communicate, and make decisions together. But allow your husband to lead you. That’s what it means to be a woman in Christ’s kingdom.
Notice what Paul then immediately says to husbands: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Men, love your wife. Give yourself up for her. Put your desires secondary to those of your wife. Be willing to give up your football games, your hunting trips, your new pick-up truck, in order to put your wife’s needs and wants ahead of your own. Be willing to lay down your life for her. This is the kind of Christ-like headship you should be exercising. Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, so you are to serve your wife in your leadership role. That’s what it means to be a man in Christ’s kingdom.
Don’t forget this key verse which provides the context of our submission and leadership roles: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” It is a mutual submission to each other out of love for Christ. The bottom line is this – submission is something God intends for ALL Christians, male and female, in general, to do to one another.
Perhaps the best way to look at the corresponding gender roles is to understand that both sexes in marriage are ultimately attempting to reflect the attitude and character of Christ. As Timothy Keller shares in The Meaning of Marriage: “Both women and men get to ‘play the Jesus role’ in marriage – Jesus in his sacrificial authority (i.e. husbands), Jesus in his sacrificial submission (i.e. wives). By accepting our gender roles, and operating within them, we are able to demonstrate to the world concepts that are so counterintuitive as to be completely unintelligible unless they are lived out by men and women in Christian marriages.” (The Meaning of Marriage, pgs. 201-202)
What Keller is saying is that, while men and women have different roles, the key ingredient is Christ-likeness. And mirroring Jesus means to put the other person ahead of yourself. Jesus was God who made Himself low enough to save sinners. Jesus was God who subjected Himself to his Father’s will. In both cases, whether in feet-washing leadership or cross-embracing submission, He was putting others ahead of Himself.
Both the man or woman, head or helper, are asking for God’s power to carry out their roles, asking for God’s forgiveness when they fail, and asking for God’s wisdom to grow beyond committing such mistakes again.
This is how God designed marriage to work. This is how it works best, when there is mutual love and respect: Wives voluntarily and willingly submitting to and respecting their husband’s Christ-like headship. And husbands loving their wife as Christ loves the Church and giving himself up for her. When both parties are living in marriage in this way, God’s way, it’s a beautiful thing. And when that is not happening because there are still two sinners married to one another – then we need to practice humility, confess our sins, offer forgiveness, and live once again as two forgiven, cleansed, and sanctified souls in marriage.
From Adam and Eve on, humanity has really marred marriage. However, listen to marriage, God’s way. That means both husband and wife simply trying to play the “Jesus role” in their marriage. And on our best days, when we are doing this really well, this is still only a taste of what the perfect relationship will be like in heaven. Amen.