Submitting to Another in Reverence for Christ

Ephesians 5:21–6:4  21… and by submitting to one another in reverence for Christ.

22Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he himself is the Savior. 24Moreover, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.

25Husbands, love your wives, in the same way as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, by cleansing her with the washing of water in connection with the Word. 27He did this so that he could present her to himself as a glorious church, having no stain or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that she would be holy and blameless. 28In the same way, husbands have an obligation to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29To be sure, no one has ever hated his own body, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones. 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.” 32This is a great mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33In any case, each one of you also is to love his wife as himself, and each wife is to respect her husband.

6:1Children, 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 live a long life on the earth.” 4Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” (Revelation 22:17)

Have you noticed that we are living in a time in our country when marriages are really under attack? We live in a country where family values are being eroded by movies and TV. Where the court system has confused the definition of marriage so that a wedding between a man and a woman is considered old-fashioned and naïve. Where many are confused about what it means to be a man or a woman anymore. Where sex is mistaken for love; living together is preferred over marriage; and unborn children are looked upon as a burden.

God wants marriages to succeed. He wants marriages to be filled with joy and love and forgiveness. He wants marriages to receive His divine blessing. God desires that marriage between a husband and wife be an illustration of the marriage between Jesus Christ as the Bridegroom and we, as Christians, as His bride.

In his beautiful commentary on Christian marriage, St. Paul first discusses the role of the wife: “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).

I understand that in our politically correct society, no one likes the word “submit” anymore. At the reception of a wedding I officiated, the mother of the bride said to me, “That was a very good service, Pastor. Although, I could have done without that whole ‘submitting’ thing.”

“Submit” means to put your trust wholly in the other person. Women, that means you trust your husband to make the right decisions for your household. He is the God-appointed leader for your home. 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. St. Paul explains it this way: “For the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he himself is the Savior. Moreover, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:23-24).

Women, your role in your marriage is to trust your husband’s leadership, the same way that you trust Christ’s leadership. God has made you your husband’s “helper.”

After making Adam, the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is a suitable partner for him.” (Genesis 2:18). Again, many today consider the “helper” role to be inferior. Except, almost every time the Bible uses the word “helper” it is referring to God being our helper. Psalm 118:7: “The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies.” Deuteronomy 33:29: “Blessed are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword.” Hebrews 13:6: “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” God is our helper … and He is certainly not inferior.

So, women, your role as “helper” is to be like God the Father in your marriage. You are to build up your husband. Encourage him. Listen to him. Cheer him up when he’s depressed. Calm him down when he’s frustrated. Love him and support him, just like God the Father does for you.

Men, your role is to be the Christ figure in your marriage. St. Paul explains: “Husbands, love your wives, in the same way as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her …” (Ephesians 5:25). You are to put your wife first in your life. You are to put her up on a pedestal. Everything you do is to first serve Christ and then serve her and your family.

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.

You give yourself up for her in the way that Christ gave Himself up for us. And remember, Christ died for us, His bride.

This scriptural advice of submission and leadership goes against the grain of the American ideal of the “liberated” woman and the “sensitive” guy. But look at what has happened in our “enlightened” culture when we went away from God’s prescription for a blessed marriage. The consequences of men and women abandoning their God-given roles has been disastrous. A tragic rise in divorce. Broken homes. Sex without marriage. Children raised by people who aren’t their parents.

Our culture will say that this is freedom and progress. Except that freedom from God’s will and progressing away from God’s blessings will always lead only to disaster.

Don’t forget this key verse which provides the context of our submission and leadership roles: “… and by submitting to one another in 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. Paul wants you to remember that everything you do because you are married to each other, you are doing, first, because you are married to Christ.

The Holy Spirit is instructing you to be the helper and leader in your marriage. You are to submit to each other. You are to give glory to God in your marriage. But, I’m telling you as your pastor that you are going to fail. You are going to argue. You are going to demand instead of give. You won’t be kind or compassionate or forgiving. You are going to hold a grudge. You are going to go to bed mad. You are going to wake up angry. Like so many other married couples, you can become trapped in cycles of bitterness and resentment.

So, how do you break this cycle? You submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Submitting means to put the other person ahead of yourself. None of us want to do this because we are inherently selfish individuals. We want others to serve us. We don’t want to serve someone else. That goes against our very nature. Why would we ever want to put someone else’s needs above our own?

We wouldn’t … unless we are Christians. Then we submit – we live unselfishly – “in reverence for Christ.” We submit to our spouse in marriage because we love our spouse, but really because we love Jesus. We put someone else first because Christ always put us first.

How did Jesus Christ put us first? St. Paul teaches: “Husbands, love your wives, in the same way as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her ...”

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 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.

 “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy.” Jesus became bloody so we might be made holy. He gave us life by dying our death. He presents us before His Father’s altar by bleeding and dying upon His Father’s altar of the cross. He gives us a seat at His wedding feast by being forsaken, tossed out of the Trinity, and bound hand and foot upon Calvary’s cross. He gives each of us beautiful wedding clothes to wear every day as His believers. Please understand that these wedding clothes we wear were washed clean in the shed blood of the Son of God.

One of the hymns in our hymnal portrays this beautifully: “Jesus, your blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress” (CW: 376 v1).

Jesus is the faithful Bridegroom who didn’t wait for us to clean up ourselves (because we can’t). Instead, He came and laid down His life for His bride – you and me – to cleanse us and make us His pure and holy bride. That we might have something to wear to the wedding feast in heaven.

Women, as beautiful as you were or will be in your wedding dress, Jesus Christ, your Bridegroom has made you – and all of us – even more beautiful through faith in Him. He has made all of us who are Christians beautiful as His beloved bride. Paul teaches that Christ has made us holy, righteous, perfect. He has clothed us with the gleaming white gown of our Baptism – “to make her holy, by cleansing her with the washing of water in connection with the Word. He did this so that he could present her to himself as a glorious church, having no stain or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that she would be holy and blameless.” Now, each of us appears beautiful – wearing the spotless wedding gown of eternal marriage to Christ.

We submit to each other because we submit to Christ. We submit to Christ because Christ submitted to us. He always put us first. He is our Helper. He is our Leader. He is our Bridegroom who laid down His life for us, His bride.

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. Marriage is an opportunity for us to submit to each other in reverence for Christ. Marriages crumble and collapse when either the husband or wife or both, fail in their “Christ and the Church” type of relationship. However, when marriage reflects Christian character, then marriage is wonderful. 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.

St. Paul’s advice for a Christian marriage is really advice on Christian living. The only way you will ever be able to put up with each other is because you have Christ with you. Marriage is difficult because it is putting two sinners in the same home for life. That is bound to cause major problems. But, when Christ is in the home of those two sinners, then there is love, forgiveness, and mutual submission. All in reverence for Christ. Amen. 

‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Amen. (Matthew 25:6)