A Portrait for the Married
Passage: Ephesians 5:22–5:33
A Portrait for the Married
December 9th, 2007
Way of Grace Church
I. The Problem of Marriage
Did you know that we are surrounded by pictures of marriage, pictures that can inform and sometimes subtly influence our own marriages?
We could, of course, talk about the celebrity marriages that grab so much attention in the media. What's most memorable about these marriages though is not their storybook romances, but their very short lifespan. With many celebrities, marriage seems to be as recreational as dating.
How about in politics? How about the picture provided by Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, who is now on his third marriage, has had two extra-marital affairs, and announced the decision to separate from his second wife at a press conference before he actually told his second wife.
Or you might recall last May when the pictures of marriage that many were talking about were pictures on a Chicago billboard advertising a local law firm. One picture showed a man's muscular, shirtless chest, and the other picture showed the chest of a woman in a racy bra, and the billboard said. "Life's short. Get a divorce."
All of these, of course, are simply the kinds of things the media thinks were interested in. There are many pictures that are not so public. Think about the picture you grew up with. Think about what your parents' marriage looked like. I believe it is that picture that will impact you the most.
This morning, I have good news. God has a picture of marriage that he wants to reveal to us, one that definitely should inform and absolutely influence your marriage. This picture or portrait is on display for us in Ephesians chapter 5. Turn with me there (page 978).
At this time of year when we spend a lot of time thinking about and being with family, it's important that we go back and ask God what he wants to teach us about family.
The family is the foundation for any society. And the foundation for the family is marriage.
And if marriage is the foundation for the family, then it so important that we understand what God has revealed about marriage.
Now let me again encourage those of you who are single, please be 1) praying for and encouraging those who are married in light of what you learn this morning, and 2) if marriage is a possibility for you, be preparing in light of what you learn this morning.
Before we look at Ephesians 5, let me remind you of something. I probably don't need to remind you of the fact that marriage is in a serious crisis in our day and age. But what I think we need to recognize this morning is that what we're doing to address the issue, to remedy the crisis, is not working. What we're doing is failing.
What we need to adequately address the marriage crisis in our culture, in our own lives, is something radical and uncommon.
And I believe God has given us that very thing this morning.
II. The Passage: Just as Christ (5:22-33)
A. What Comes First
As we come to our passage this morning, in verses 5:22-33, let me begin by talking about the broader context of these verses.
The portrait or picture that God has given us this morning is really a "detail". As an art major, I looked at a lot of details in college. "Detail" is an art term that refers to one section of a larger painting that is blown up to be it's own picture. What God has given us in Ephesians 5:22-33 is just a detail from a larger portrait.
And that portrait begins back in chapter 1 where Paul proclaims:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined usï»¿ for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making knownï»¿ to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Did you hear that? In some sense, Paul has just made us drink from a fire hose! What an incredible truth! We have been blessed with "every spiritual blessing", we have been redeemed and forgiven! God has adopted us. Is that because we're all so wonderful?
No, listen to chapter 2. Paul tells us, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodyï»¿ and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 Butï»¿ God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved"
God has taken sons of disobedience, he has taken children of wrath, and by grace, has adopted us as his own children in Jesus Christ. What an incredible rescue! What an incredible gift! What an incredible calling!
That's why Paul goes on to urge his readers in 4:1 to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [or with which] you have been called". Chapter 4 then begins the second half of the book in which Paul instructs his readers about how to live for God in light of the life God has given.
When we get to chapter 5, we only need to look at the beginning and the ending of the section just before our main passage to see how radical and uncommon God's calling is for those who belong to Him through Jesus. Look at 5:1 and 2:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as [or "just as"] Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
If you are a child of God, then there should be some family resemblance; you should be like your Father. Specifically here that means that our lives are to be radically distinguished by love.
And Paul knows better than to leave the term love without some kind of reference point. The love we are called to in light of the calling we've received in Jesus is the kind of loved modeled by Jesus. It is self-sacrificing, self-giving, self-denying, self-emptying love. It is unconditional. It is without strings. It is love that puts the needs of "the other" before its own. And it's all done to glory of God.
How many pictures do we see in our world that reveal that kind of love? The love we are called to, brothers and sisters, is as radical and uncommon as the notion of God in human flesh dying for rebellious sinners.
It's no surprise then when we read at the end of the first half of chapter 5, in verse 21, that if we are walking in Jesus-like love then we will be submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ."
Now, if you're familiar with Paul, you may have noticed that the word "submit" is used here in a slightly different way than he normally uses it. The word literally means, "to place oneself under something or someone".
Paul uses this word 23 times in his writings, and in every other instance where Paul is using this word to talk about relationships between people, the submission he calls for is based on the reality of another's position of leadership and responsibility.
So for example he talks about submitting to government officials. He tells slaves to submit to their masters. He calls believers to submit to their church leaders. He calls children to submit to their parents. Submission, therefore is a recognition of and response to the order that God has graciously given to our world.
But here, in verse 21, the call is to mutual submission, between brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no position of leadership here, but there is a recognition of the other's worth. Listen to how Paul describes this kind of submission in two of his other letters:
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus... (Philippians 2:3-5)
Once again, we are being called by Paul to Christ-like self-emptying love that places others before ourselves. Look at this verse:
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
This is the kind of submission that Paul is talking about in Ephesians 5:21. It is our willingness to serve each other in love because of the great love with which we have been loved.
Therefore, listen to this, therefore, the follower of Jesus Christ, the Christian, the believer is called to walk in a manner worthy of God's incomparable calling by living a life of self-giving love and submissive servanthood.
Did you hear that? "Self-giving love and submissive servanthood". Knowing what you know of our world, what you know of human beings, wouldn't you consider that radical and uncommon? How many self-help gurus are prescribing that? How often is that held up in the media or in advertising as the goal of our lives.
But I am half way through the sermon and we have not even gotten to our main passage. I think you'll see why that is.
B. Our Main Passage
Knowing now the context, having seen the bigger picture, look at this "detail", listen to this portrait that God has given to the married:
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 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. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as [or "just as"] Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 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.ï»¿ 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
In addressing husbands and wives here, in addressing this incredible and incredibly important arrangement called marriage, Paul gives each spouse only one instruction: Wives, submit to your own husbands. Husbands, love your wives.
But do you see, do you see this detail in light of the whole? Self-giving love and submissive servanthood. This radical and uncommon approach to life brings about a radical and uncommon approach to marriage.
And it only happens when we are blessed with every spiritual blessing, because we are saved by grace, in order that we might walk in a manner worthy by imitating God through the example of Christ.
It only happens when we are walking with Jesus. That's why Paul points both spouses back to Jesus.
You see, the secret of a successful marriage is not this or that set of techniques or principles. The secret of a having a successful marriage is Jesus Christ. And that's no secret.
III. Who Do You Put First?
The portrait that God has painted for us really has two halves, doesn't it? On one side we see displayed the bride of Jesus Christ, his church. On that side of the portrait, we see this bride humbly submitting in love to her Savior.
One the other side of the canvas we see Jesus, the bridegroom, laying down his life for his bride in order that God's transforming work of grace might take place in her life.
Are these the pictures that inform and influence your marriage?
I think what we see here, in light of the overall context, is that for two Christians, the condition of your marriage will be directly connected to the condition of your faith. Why is that? Because the very thing that God calls you to be and do in this world is the very thing He calls you to be and do in your marriage.
The only reason Paul gives each spouse one instruction here is because he has just spent four and half chapters revealing how big those instructions actually are. And based on those four and a half chapters, it's very clear that marriage is not some kind of separate compartment in our lives that requires we have special skills and experience. No, a strong marriage simply requires the very things we should already be about: self-giving love and submissive servanthood.
Wives, what do we see here? We see that Paul goes back to his normal usage with the term submit because he specifically tells us that the husband is called by God to a role of leadership and responsibility. He is the head of the wife.
But the submission here is still a submission motivated by love and reverence for Christ.
Wives, is it your joy to be a servant in your marriage? It won't be if it is not your joy to be a servant of Christ and a servant to all, as Paul described himself in I Corinthians 9:19.
Do you believe that God has given your husband to you for your good? It might not always seem that way when he acts like a blockhead or says something really, really stupid. Trust me, I know.
But ladies, when you submit to your husbands with the beautiful humility and the self-emptying love of Jesus, it is one of the most powerful ways to point him to Christ.
Listen, submitting to your husband does not mean that you become a doormat every once in a while when you come to some major impasse in a decision-making process. It is not slavish obedience or exaggerated unassertiveness. It is not just submitting, it is being submissive 24-7. It's that same spirit that you have with Jesus himself.
The pictures for wives that we see in the world hold up things like independence and autonomy. They condone manipulation. They often assume superiority because the husband is always seems to be a buffoon or only driven by his cravings. But really, how far has that gotten us?
Husbands, notice that the command given to us is somewhat unexpected. In parallel with submission, we might expect to read here, "Husbands, lead your wives as Christ leads the church."
But Paul is a man and he knows what men need to hear. We don't need to be instructed to simply lead, we need to hear what real leadership looks like. And what we see here is that this leadership does not look like a conquering general or a shrewd king or savvy landowner. It looks like a man dying on a cross.
Husbands, is it your desire to lay down your life in love for your wife?
Again, this kind of love is not that once-in-a-blue-moon kind of obligation that requires you to go out of your way to get flowers or give up some important appointment or project in order to take your wife on an expensive date. It's not working on the "honey-do" list after your wife's fifteenth request. "Look how I'm sacrificing for you honey."
No, this is the kind of 24-7 perspective that places the needs of our wives before our own. In fact, as we see here in verses 28 and 29, this makes the needs of our wives one with our own needs. Her needs are your needs because you are one flesh before God.
And the goal of this love is clear. Just as Jesus Christ laid down his life in order that God's best might be accomplished in our lives, so too must we as husbands love our wives in such a way that she sees more of Jesus Christ. We don't love her in order that our best for her might be accomplished. That's manipulation. We are seeking God's best for her.
Husbands, how might you serve your wife in order to encourage her in her faith?
Loving your wife is not first about how you feel about your wife. It's about what you will do for your wife in light of the love of Jesus Christ.
The pictures for husbands that we see in the world are actually not too different than those for wives in the sense that independence and autonomy are often the things that husbands are encouraged to fight for. In these pictures, "being a man" seems to be about getting your own way, about control and not sacrifice. But really, how far has that gotten us?
Look, we could spend ten Sundays talking about tips and tricks for your marriage. We could talk about communication, finances, sex, goals, etc. But none of that would be of any real profit, that kind of marriage seminar would ultimately be a waste if we were not first pointed back to Jesus Christ, back to our hearts in light of his heart. And the heart of Jesus is always about putting the needs of the others before oneself.
Think about your marriage. When the difficult times come and there is tension between you and your spouse, have you in humility and love, with your eyes on Jesus Christ, put their needs before your own? Or has it been about defending your own rights?
When the everyday times come, when life is just moving right along and the waters seem calm, have you, in humility and love, in light of what God has done for you, have you put the needs of your spouse before you own? Or has it been about protecting your own needs?
IV. The Ultimate Illustration of Husband and Wife
Do you see that the only picture of marriage that God wants us to be really looking at is the picture provided by the relationship between Christ and His Church? That is the ultimate illustration of what it means to be husband and wife.
Our marriages should illustrate for others the transforming grace and unconditional love and radical humility and enduring faithfulness that exists between Jesus and His bride.
And anyone who is married will tell you that a marriage like that is impossible, except for the grace of God, except when we are filled with the Spirit of God, except when we are looking to Jesus.
I don't think we understand how good a marriage can be when a husband and wife are living according to the heart of Jesus. Isn't that what you want? Even if you have a spouse who is not looking to Jesus Christ, God's word still calls you to these same things, because remember, what we're talking about here is being, not a certain kind of husband or wife; we're talking about being a certain kind of person.
The number one goal of your marriage is not be happy or have your needs met. It is to bring glory to God, trusting that he will first satisfy you in all things through Jesus Christ. That is the radical and uncommon perspective that we need to ask God for right now. Let's pray.