Please take a copy of the holy Scriptures in your hands from the pew racks before you and turn to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5; Ephesians chapter 5, page 978 in the church Bibles. We’ll be reading from the eighteenth verse through the end of the chapter. Before we do that, let’s bow our heads as we pray together. Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, we come to You as the bridegroom and we, Your Church, Your bride, plead with You now to speak Your Word in the power of the Holy Spirit for our instruction and nurture, for our growth, that You might beautify and adorn us and make us holy that the great end for which You gave Your life might be fulfilled among us and we might be presented to You, having been cleansed by the washing of water with the Word, a splendid, spotless, unblemished and holy bride. For we ask it in Your precious name, amen.
Ephesians chapter 5 at the eighteenth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy Word.
The other day I was reading about the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. It is, I understand, a stunningly beautiful place. It has become something of a de facto nature reserve. Hundreds of species of rare wild flowers, endangered birds and animals flourish there. People don’t go there, of course. It is heavily fortified. It is covered with anti-personnel lands mines. It’s beautiful but very dangerous. And it struck me as I was preparing to preach from the passage we’ve just read together that it is not at all unlike that – at once an incredibly beautiful picture of Christian marriage and yet also extremely dangerous. Our culture tends to hear the language that Paul uses here of submission and headship as the verbal equivalents of anti-personnel land mines. They are explosive, incendiary terms and not to mention potentially deadly for a pastor who ventures out among them if he takes a wrong step. So we will need to tread carefully as we navigate the teaching of the passage. And yet the dangers of misunderstanding aside, the fact remains that as we look around our society today, witness the Ashley Madison scandal or the Supreme Court attempt to redefine marriage, it is abundantly clear, isn’t it, that it’s never been more important for us to articulate clearly and winsomely and compellingly the Biblical teaching about a Christian marriage.
Of course marriage has always been a demanding, difficult institution. At a dinner party a woman once turned to Winston Churchill saying, “Sir, if you were my husband I would give you poison to drink!” to which he replied, “Madam, if you were my wife I would drink it!” To a people living in such proximity and intimacy need to learn to navigate frustrations and difficulties. Marriage can be hard. And yet marriage is also an immense blessing. And those who have enjoyed a happy marriage would never exchange it for anything. At another dinner party the guests were asked the question, “If you could be anyone else who would you be?” Everyone, of course, wanted to know what Winston Churchill would say to such a question. “If I could be anyone else, I’d be…” and then he reaches over and takes his beloved wife, Cleme’s, hand and says, “I’d be Lady Churchill’s second husband.” A happy marriage is a great blessing and all who know it would never exchange it. It’s something worth fighting for. In an age that discounts its value, distorts its meaning, praise God that in this portion of His holy Word He has given us teaching, instruction, and resources to help promote and help us build a happy, God honoring, Christ centered marriage.
Would you look at the passage with me? I want to unpack its message under three headings. First – the Gospel power for a healthy marriage. Then secondly – the Gospel pattern of a healthy marriage. And then thirdly – the Gospel practice of a healthy marriage. The power, pattern, and practice of a healthy marriage.
I. The Gospel Power of for a Healthy Marriage
Look at verse 21 with me first of all. Here’s the Gospel power of a healthy marriage. If you back up to verse 18 where we began our reading you will see that Paul is commanding us to go on being filled with the Holy Spirit. The steady state of the Christian life is one of dependence upon and having been filled by the Spirit of Christ. And following that command in verse 18 there is a string of participles that explain the way in which a Christian may go on being filled with the Spirit. Do you see them? Look at the text. Verse 18 – be filled with the Spirit, how? “Addressing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The way that we will be filled with the Spirit is by addressing the Word of God in the sung praises of the sanctuary to one another – singing and making melody to the Lord with our hearts; giving thanks in everything to God. “And,” verse 21, there’s another participial clause, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ,” which tells us that Paul’s vision of church life involves both God’s people speaking the Word to each other, particularly as we sing the praises of God, and meekly receiving the Word in mutual submission so that there is give and take in the assembly of the saints on the Lord’s Day and as we receive the Word and speak the Word God gives the Holy Spirit to strengthen and equip us to live for His glory. We are filled with the Spirit.
The Spirit’s Help for Godliness
And yet, Paul, as he calls us to mutual submission, has an eye to more than the Lord’s Day assembly of the people of God to worship. He says that should spill over from our worship services into every facet of our Christian lives and so in verse 22 through the ninth verse of chapter 6 he shows us different categories within which mutual submission ought to be worked out. Wives submit to your husbands, children to your parents, slaves to masters. And seeing that ought to be enormously helpful to us as we now turn to think about what Paul has to say to wives and to husbands about Christian marriages. You see what he’s telling us? As we submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, we are filled with the Spirit and equipped for a life of godliness. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands. Husbands, love your wives.” Submitting to one another, you are given the Spirit to enable you to live for Him. How must you live for Him? Wives, submit to your husbands. Husbands, love your wives. Here’s the Gospel power for a healthy marriage. Paul will tell us, as we’ll see in a few moments, some hard things about the way to bring honor to Jesus in the context of our marriages, challenging things. But it’s important for us to begin first by recognizing that there is power, there is grace supplied to us to enable us to live for the glory of God.
That is so helpful for us, especially if we find ourselves in a less than ideal marriage. Paul is not saying wait to be filled with the Spirit before you try to submit to your husband, wives, the way the Church submits to Christ. Or to husbands, wait for some special, additional endowment of supernatural enabling before you give yourself in sacrificial service and leadership the way Christ loves the Church. He’s not saying that at all. What he’s saying rather is, “Get busy obeying God in your homes! Wives, submit to your husbands. Husbands, give yourself, pour yourself out for your wives. And as you obey, the Spirit of God will be given to you, strengthening you, equipping you for obedience.” Obey in faith and the grace of God will be given to strengthen your obedience. Marriage is hard work. There are conflicts and disagreements, aren’t there? Money troubles; employment issues. A marriage plays out “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, for as long as you both shall live.”
And God has ordained, Paul wants us to see, God has ordained not just the obligations of marriage but He has given the provision of Holy Spirit power to fulfill the obligations of marriage. There’s grace for a godly marriage and so He’s calling us to hear His command to holiness in the context of your home life and to give yourself to obedience, trusting His promise to give you His Spirit that you may be filled and equipped for His glory. A Christ-less marriage, because of the common grace of God, need not be an unhappy marriage, but oh how much better to face the demands of life knowing that you and your spouse live today in the grip of supernatural grace. The Spirit of Christ, by which you are united to Jesus, is given to you in your marriages that you may also be more profoundly united to one another. And when the hard times come in your marriage you know what the world will say – “Walk away. Just walk away. You can get out of marriage without fault and without pain,” the world says. “Marriage is at best an arrangement you need only maintain as long as it works for you.” But the Word of God, amidst the hardships and sorrows of trying times in your marriages would remind you that there are supplies of supernatural power beyond the meager resources that you have by nature to enable you to stay together even through the worst of it all and to pursue the glory of Christ in your marriages. Gospel power for a healthy marriage.
II. The Gospel Pattern for a Healthy Marriage
Then secondly, notice the Gospel pattern of a healthy marriage. Look at 22 to 33. We can summarize the teaching of this whole section in two words. I wonder if you can guess those two words. The two words that summarize verses 22 to 33 – what are they? They are submission and sacrifice. That’s the Gospel pattern. That’s the Gospel pattern evidenced in the life of the Church in the way that the Church relates to her Savior and in the way that the Savior gives Himself for the Church. Submission and sacrifice. Submission, verse 22, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Sacrifice, verse 25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Submission: What it is and is not
Let’s think about submission first. It’s worth saying right out of the starting blocks here that Paul is not suggesting that wifely submission to their husband is the total surrender of their will to every whim and dictate their husband may have. Neither is he saying that the husband has absolute authority like the Lord in the home. A wife is not to obey her husband when her husband calls her to sin. It is better to obey God rather than men. No, what Paul is saying rather, is that a wife should submit to her husband as part of her devotion to Jesus. You do it “as to the Lord.” That’s what verse 22 says. You don’t do it first for your husband; you do it first for Christ’s sake as a part of your submission to the rule of King Jesus in your life. And notice carefully Paul does not say wives should only submit to their husbands if he keeps his side of the deal, as though you have to be nice only if he’s nice first. This is not a quid pro quo – you only submit if he first gives himself up for you. I think that’s partly why Paul deals with the wife’s submission before he speaks about the husband’s sacrificial leadership. Paul doesn’t want anyone thinking that the Christian duty of a wife toward her husband is conditional upon her husband’s good behavior. No, you submit to your husband “as unto the Lord,” Paul says. You do it for Jesus, even if your husband is far from a picture of the loving sacrificial leadership to which he is called. And who knows, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 7 and verse 16 in dealing with a case just like this, who knows whether your godly conduct not returning evil for evil but rather good, showing the fruit of the Spirit in a difficult place – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. Who knows but that your godly obedience may not be the very instrument God has ordained to win your husband and convert your husband and bring him with you under the lordship of Christ. You do it for Jesus’ sake, Paul says.
And in verses 23 and 24, he goes on to explain precisely what kind of submission he has in mind. Look at verses 23 and 24. “The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is itself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” The marriage relationship is designed to be a picture, a microcosm of the Gospel itself. That’s Paul’s point later in verse 32, isn’t it? “This mystery is profound. I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” A marriage is supposed to put those who view it in mind of the way Jesus cares for His bride, His people, and the way His people follow their Savior, the Lord Jesus. Which means Jesus loves the Church; the Church delights in Him. Jesus dies for the Church; the Church trusts in Him. Jesus shepherds and cares for the Church and the Church follows Him. So if you ask, “How am I to submit as a wife to my husband?” you might ask first, “How ought the Church to submit to Christ?” It submits delighting in Him, trusting in Him, following Him. Delighting, trusting, following. Submission.
Then secondly, sacrifice. Here’s the other side of the Gospel pattern of a healthy marriage. Verses 25 to 33. I’m sure you’ve noticed that Paul reserves the heavy artillery really for the men, for the husbands. The call to submission certainly is controversial but the call to sacrificial leadership in 25 to 33 is profoundly costly. Let’s take a look at it. Now let’s be honest, it is not always easy for the Church to submit to the lordship of Christ. We often wander; we often disobey. We’re often less than faithful as a Church to our Savior. Obedience to Jesus is sometimes hard. It involves self-surrender, humility and devotion to Christ and His glory, and the truth is, neither is it always easy for a wife to submit to her husband. It too will require humility and self-denial and dedication to the pursuit of his best. But however hard and painful the demands of obedience can be in our ordinary Christian lives as we offer it to Jesus, isn’t it always made easier when we pursue obedience within sight of the cross?
Duty and Delight
Think about it – what duty has Christ called you to perform, brothers and sisters, that is not made lighter and easier when you examine your duty in light of the cross and see how He has first loved you? What hard act of obedience has He called you to fulfill, which though perhaps at first you’ve resisted? You know it’s going to be sore and hard and costly, but now that you remember what He has done for you, now that you begin to see that from His head, His hands and feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down, don’t you begin to find yourself saying, “Actually, I know this will cost me. I know it will be hard. I know it will be painful. But love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. I will gladly surrender to Him, submit to Him, give my all for Him.” Obedience is made lighter when it’s offered within sight of Calvary. Isn’t that so? And the mirror of that pattern ought to play out in our marriages. Husbands, you make your wife’s costly submission lighter and easier by your commitment to giving yourself up for her. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.” You make duties into delights when you pour yourself out with nothing held in reserve for her good in a way redolent of Calvary. A Christian husband’s love for his wife ought to be Calvary love.
The Posture of the Christian Life
Now if we can back up to verse 24 for a moment there are some husbands who are reading the wrong text. There are some insecure bullies out there who get stuck on verse 24 and use it to control their wives and dominate their wives. They say, “Look here now, wives submit in everything to their husbands!” I want to say to such husbands that you need to butt out of verse 24 and read verse 25. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.” He might have demanded that every knee bow and every tongue confess Him, Lord. He might with a word have leveled all His enemies, summoned the hosts of heaven to engulf Him in the glory that is His. But that is not how Christ loved His bride. No, “He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.” You remember how Jesus loves His bride, the great picture of it in John 13, don’t you? Listen to John 13 from verse 3:
“Knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going back to God, Jesus rose from supper, he laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord and you are right for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet you ought also to wash one another’s feet, for I have given you an example so that you should do just as I have done.’”
That’s the pattern for the whole Christian life, right? Take the servant posture, humble yourself, give yourself, wash one another’s feet. But in Ephesians 5:25 and following, Paul is especially pressing that pattern upon husbands as they care for their wives. Stop concerning yourself with the quality of your wife’s submission and start concerning yourself, husbands, with the quality of your sacrifice for her. Stop concerning yourself with how she’s treating you; start concerning yourself with the way in which you are serving her. That is the Gospel pattern. That is how Christ has loved His Church. He gave Himself up for her.
III. The Gospel Practice of a Healthy Marriage
The Gospel power, the Gospel pattern, finally notice the Gospel practice of a healthy marriage. Verse 27 again. Christ died with a goal in view, didn’t He? What was the goal He had in view when He gave Himself up for His bride? What does the text say, verse 27? He did it that He might “sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Jesus died to make His church beautiful and glorious and holy. He died; He gave Himself to make her holy. Husbands, here is your primary task. Here is the center of your calling in your marriage and in your home. Pursue the holiness of your wife. Pursue the growth in grace of the wife you love. If you have children, will you take the little ones out sometimes when they begin to squirm so that she can sit and hear the Word during the worship service? Do you pray with and for your wife? Do you lead your home to the throne of grace? Are you cultivating a context and an atmosphere of devotion to Jesus in your household? Men, this is your charge and your great task. This is how you will serve your home and your wife well – by pointing her patiently in self-giving, sacrificial leadership to the Savior she needs. You want her to love Him more than she loves you. That is the secret of a marriage that will last, that will glorify God, that will beautify your wife. She will be beautified with holiness, adorned. Husbands adorn their wives when they teach their wives’ hearts to cling more to Christ than to anyone or anything else.
The Beauty of Holiness
Look down at verses 28 to 31 as we close. Notice how Paul changes the metaphor. Thus far he has been focused on Christ’s care for His bride, the Church. Now he changes the metaphor; do you see that? Now he talks about Christ’s care for His body, the Church. And that enables Paul to drive home the manner or the nature of a husband’s care for his wife. We naturally, instinctively nourish and tend and care for our bodies, Paul says. Christ likewise cares for, He tends, He nurtures and beautifies and nourishes His body. And Paul then quotes Genesis 2:24. The two become one flesh. Husbands and wives are one. A husband is to love his wife as he loves his own body the way Christ loves His body, the Church. He is to nurture and beautify and cherish and protect her.
If you’re a young man hoping to be married one day, I hope you’re paying special attention to these instructions because this is the kind of man Christ is calling you to be. And if you’re not striving after this kind of Christ-like, sacrificial service now, before you are married, you will not be likely to strive after it later when you are married. This is to be the pattern and contours of your life. Sacrificial service, serving others in love and humility, putting others in mind of Jesus by the way you care for them. And in the same way to the women of the church, if God is calling you to marriage, look for a man like this. Look for a man like this. Physical attraction is not unimportant. The ability to provide has its place. Intellectual and emotional compatibility, shared interests and outlook, those all ought to factor in of course. But how many marriages have all of these in place and yet have nevertheless foundered for lack of this most fundamental criterion – he is not a Christ-like man. He is not a Christ-like man. Someone who will pour yourself out for you with nothing held in reserve that your heart may adore Jesus Christ. That is a husband’s great calling – to aim at your holiness and himself to pursue holiness; to be a Christ-like man.
The Gospel power of a healthy marriage – the filling of the Spirit. It’s hard, isn’t it? The call placed upon us is challenging. Submission, sacrificial leadership. Praise God for the supplies of the Spirit of Christ strengthening us so that we may obey. The pattern, the Gospel pattern of a healthy marriage – something that echoes and mirrors the way Christ loves the Church and the Church submits to Christ. And the Gospel practice of a healthy marriage – husbands, pursue your wife’s holiness. Cherish and nurture her as you would yourself. A marriage like that – what a powerful testimony! What a radically countercultural thing it will be in our day and generation. What a witness to the transforming grace of God reshaping and reconfiguring even our most fundamental and intimate relationships in this world. May God be gracious to us that in every marriage represented in our church there may be a picture, a microcosm, a testimony to the Gospel of grace in the way a husband loves his wife and a wife her husband.
Let’s pray together.
Father, thank You for the marriages of our congregation. We praise You for Your grace to them. We thank You especially for the great marriage between Christ and His Church that instructs us how to live in our own homes and for the supplies of the Spirit of Christ enabling us so to live. Forgive us when the world’s pattern and paradigm has shaped our thinking and practice rather than the Gospel pattern and paradigm. Strengthen our marriages that they may bring You glory. Make the young, unmarried men of our church Christ-like men who give themselves up in service of others. And the young women, help them to seek men like this whose great priority will be their holiness. Do it for the glory of Christ’s name in our homes, in our church, and through us in the world. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.