Redeeming Marriage: The Bible’s version of marriage differs significantly from the way cultures have viewed it over time. Paul’s teaching on marriage is not based on men being superior to women, but as a picture of Christ’s relationship to and love for the church. The path to change and growth in marriage is costly, but if you do the work, the result will be a life and marriage which is honoring to God, your spouse, and yourself. Recorded on Oct 30, 2022, on Ephesians 5:21-33, by Pastor David Parks.
This message is part of our sermon series “Redeeming Regular Life,” from the Epistles of the New Testament in the Bible. The Epistles are letters from the Apostles to the early Christian churches around the Roman Empire, helping them understand and apply the gospel to life. The way of Jesus changes everything, including marriage, sexuality, singleness, parenting, work, politics, and friends. In some ways, it’s easier to accept Jesus our Savior than it is to accept him as the Lord of our lives who wants to make some changes in our lives. In Christ, regular life is a gift. The way of Jesus is not easy, but it’s the way of redemption which leads to true and lasting freedom, joy, and peace.
So all year, we’re focusing on Learning the way of Jesus. And we just spent three months working through a very famous teaching of Jesus called the Sermon on the Mount. If you missed any of those sermons, you can always go back and watch them online or listen to the audio podcast if you’d like. But today, we get to start a new sermon series called Redeeming Regular Life. And this series is from the Epistles of the New Testament in the Bible. The Epistles are letters from the Apostles to the early Christian churches around the Roman Empire, helping them understand and apply the gospel to life. “To what part of life?” you might wonder. And the answer is: to every part! The way of Jesus changes everything, including marriage, which we’ll consider today, but also sexuality, singleness, parenting, work, politics, and friendship, which we’ll cover in the weeks ahead. All very easy topics to talk about, right? No, I know this series will be challenging for us, especially compared to what the world believes about these things. In some ways, it’s easier to accept Jesus our Savior than it is to accept him as the Lord of our lives who wants to make some changes in our lives. But my hope is that you’ll see that in Christ, regular life is a gift. The way of Jesus is not easy, but it’s the way of redemption which leads to true and lasting freedom, joy, and peace. So today, we’ll start our series with a message on redeeming marriage. If you have a Bible/app, please open to Eph 5:21. We’ll read this first and then unpack it together.
Ephesians 5:21-33 (NIV), “21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do 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 their own body, but they feed and care for their body, 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.”
The book of Ephesians in the Bible is an epistle/letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christians in and around the city of Ephesus in the modern country of Turkey. And this passage obviously deals with marriage but is part of a broader set of teaching sometimes called the household codes of the NT. Instructions on household relationships, and household codes were common in the first century AD. People had been writing for hundreds of years by this point on the relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, slaves and masters. About 400 years earlier than Ephesians, the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, wrote about household codes, but had a very different teaching than what we find here. It might be worth a reminder that the way of Jesus is a different way than the ways of the world, whether it’s the writing of Aristotle or the modern secular view of marriage that is common today. So let’s start back at v. 21.
Ephesians 5:21 (NIV), “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ok, let’s pause here. So, v. 21 is the main thesis statement of this section of the letter, of which marriage is only one example. Paul says we are to mutually submit ourselves to each other in our household relationships but gives the uniquely Christian motivation of reverence for Christ. Literally, he says in the fear of Christ. This might be parallel to the concept of the fear of the Lord, not being afraid of Jesus but having a holy and reverent awe of his glory and power. Or it might be referring to the healthy fear of the authority of Christ as the judge of our lives, including our marriages. Or maybe both. But either way, for the Christian, it is our respect for and our commitment to Christ that ought to have an impact on all of our relationships, which certainly includes our relationship with our spouse if we’re married. We see this as Paul moves from this general principle to the specific application of marriage in v. 22. Look back at that with me now.
Ephesians 5:22-24 (NIV), “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do 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.” Now before you throw your bibles at me, ladies, remember that Paul has some challenging stuff to say to the husbands in just a second. Nobody is left out of the calling to die to self and take up your cross daily in following the way of Jesus. But notice what Paul isn’t saying. He isn’t saying every woman should submit to every man because men are superior. He’s specifically talking about within the covenant of marriage, when two people have unconditionally but voluntarily committed themselves to one another. In that context, what does “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” look like? Paul says that wives are to submit themselves to their husbands as they do to the Lord. He goes on to say in v. 24, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” And this is the uniquely Christian vision for marriage. Paul bounces back and forth in seeing marriage as a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church and then back to seeing Christ and the church as a picture of marriage. And if we fail to make this connection, we will greatly misunderstand what he’s saying and possibly even use this text to justify abuse. For example, the statement, “wives should submit to their husbands in everything,” sounds repressive or as the justification for abuse. But is the relationship between Christ and the church repressive or abusive? Not at all. In fact, just the opposite! Only in a relationship with Christ do we find true and lasting freedom, joy, and peace. Only in a relationship with Jesus do we receive the incomparable riches of God’s grace and his unconditional love for us. So our voluntary submission to Christ is wonderful and life-giving as his church. Only by connecting these relationships, the relationship between Christ and the church to the relationship between a husband and wife, do we understand that this is Paul’s intention for wives: To find freedom, joy, and peace in marriage, and to see marriage as a wonderful and life-giving relationship. His intention for wives is not to be repressed or abused. That would be sinful and unjust. From the first page of the Bible, we discover that God created both men and women in his image and likeness with equal dignity and worth. Paul was an expert in the Scriptures. He knew the value of women as image-bearers of God. But what does this type of submission look like? Let’s look at the teaching for the husbands and come back to that question. Look back at v. 25.
Ephesians 5:25-27 (NIV), “Husbands, love your wives, just as 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.” Again, notice what Paul is not saying. He’s not saying, husbands, use your wives however you want because men are superior or because wives are your property. Incidentally, both of these statements were common beliefs in Paul’s time. In fact, I would guess almost everyone in the church in Ephesus was raised with those beliefs. But instead, in a very counter-cultural and yet gospel-centered way, Paul charges husbands to love their wives just as Christ loved the church. And how did Christ love the church? He gave himself up for her, for us. Jesus Christ, the Son of God from eternity past humbled himself, came into the world he made, lived in relative obscurity, had to put up with all sorts of regular frustrating and foolish people, and humbled himself further by suffering and dying on the cross for the sins of the world. Had he sinned? No! Jesus perfectly obeyed the law of love. He didn’t deserve to die. But he died in our place. Why? Because we couldn’t save ourselves. And why was he willing to do this? Because of his great love for us! Remember the thesis statement of v. 21? “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” So how do husbands do this? By being humbly willing to love and serve and ultimately lay down our lives for our wives, just as Jesus did for us. But it doesn’t stop there. Paul reminds us of the purpose of this costly love of Christ. That we would become a “radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” The work of Christ is to help his bride grow in godliness and be perfected in beauty inside and out. This wasn’t a self-centered or self-serving goal for Jesus, so it can’t be a self-centered goal for the husband. Husbands aren’t called to love their wives so they’ll complain less or so they’ll have sex more often or for any other selfish reason. The love of Jesus changes us for the better, it encourages us when we’re down, it strengthens us in our weakness, and it challenges us to grow in godly character and fruit. This is the same goal for the husband’s love for his wife, to help her grow and change for the better. To encourage her when she’s down, to strengthen her in her weakness, and gently challenge her to grow in godly character and fruit. This is radically different than both an ancient and modern secular vision for marriage, which is about making sure your needs are being met according to your expectations. The belief being that if your needs aren’t being met, then you’re free to break your marriage vows. Are you unhappy? Is marriage hard? Move on. But this is worlds different from what we find here. The illustration I often use in a wedding ceremony is that marriage should be like two pitchers pouring into each other. Always pouring into the other, but still always full. Isn’t that beautiful? That’s the kind of marriage that can last until death do us part.
Before we continue, I’d like to point out that this teaching doesn’t dismantle or reject the authority of Christ as the head of the church or of the husband as the head of the wife. But don’t you see how this is so radically different from the way the world sees and uses power/authority? You see, if you keep a worldly understanding of authority — that the weak serve the powerful only for the benefit of those in power, that the strong eat the weak — then the call to submission in marriage would be ripe for oppression and abuse and would rightly be rejected. But Jesus upended our understanding of authority in the Kingdom of God — a kingdom where the King was willing to give up his life to serve not just his subjects but his enemies. And not just to make his enemies his subjects or slaves, begrudgingly obedient to his will, but to make them his brothers and sisters, his friends. And yet Jesus remains our King. This is what godly leadership looks like. This is what a godly king looks like. And if that’s what authority looks like in the Kingdom of God, then voluntary submission in a godly marriage could never be oppressive or abusive. So with a redeemed, Christ-modeled understanding of authority, power, and submission, can you see the beauty and wisdom of God’s vision for marriage? But really, this is one of the themes of our whole sermon series. We’ll see that this upside-down view of authority and submission to God’s Kingdom has a direct and transformational impact on the natural hierarchies and power structures of this world, whether they are found in marriage, parenting, or anywhere else. The gospel changes everything. Let’s finish this passage starting with v. 28.
Ephesians 5:28-33 (NIV), “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” In this whole passage, we have two different metaphors for the church. The church is the bride of Christ and also the body of Christ. There are a number of different images in the NT of what the church is, and each one teaches us a little different truth about our relationship with Christ. Applying the metaphor of the body of Christ to marriage might be confusing at first. But it makes sense when you remember that the marriage covenant unites two individual people from two different families (as important as those relationships are) to become one flesh. This one-flesh relationship represents God’s intention for marriage to be marked by whole-life oneness. Husbands and wives are to be one legally, financially, relationally, emotionally, spiritually, and in every other way. In v.31, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24, as Jesus did when he taught on marriage, of the creation of marriage. Christians believe that it was God who created the institution of marriage and the family to be the basic building block of society. Not that everyone has to get married, and of course, not everyone who gets married stays married for various reasons. Neither Jesus nor the Apostle Paul were married and lived full, meaningful lives. We’ll talk more about this in two weeks with Redeeming Singleness. But according to the Bible, marriage isn’t merely a social construct to be governed by our preferences or opinions. However, it makes no sense to follow the way of Jesus in marriage if you aren’t trying to follow the way of Jesus in life. So Christians ought to be understanding and respectful of our friends and family members and others who have different beliefs on what marriage is all about. If the gospel is true, then our marriages can become a redemptive picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. And that, in turn, can help us understand what our marriage relationships should be like, as well.
So what do we do with this? How do we apply this high vision of marriage to our lives today? Well, for those of you who have been struggling with your marriage, maybe marriage has been tough for years, and you’re thinking about this vision for marriage and wondering if it’s even possible for you. I promise you that it is- if you’re both willing to follow the way of Jesus. God is in the business of redemption. And the gospel is the message of reconciliation. But the path to change and growth and new life in Christ is costly. It takes time and energy and work and humility. It probably will require a series of long, maybe painful conversations with your spouse. Many couples are helped by professional counseling, but also the influence of other Christian couples to look to and learn from. But if you do the work, the fruit you will see will not only be honoring to God but will result in a far better self, spouse, and marriage together. But even more, your marriage will become a picture of the goodness and love of God found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, a light in a world of darkness. On the other hand, if you aren’t struggling with your marriage, then praise God! See and enjoy and be thankful for the incredible blessing of a healthy, godly marriage. But don’t forget to invite others into your home and life, whether in a community group or just over coffee, and help them learn what it looks like to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. This is what redeeming marriage is all about. Let us pray.