"Three Essentials in Christ-Like Marriage"
(Delivered Sunday, September 23, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
This morning, I ask that you turn to what I suspect is a very familiar passage to many of us. It's the passage that contains the instructions that the apostle Paul gave in his letter to the Ephesians concerning marriage.
In Ephesians 5:22-33, he writes;
These are the words that the Holy Spirit gave through the apostle Paul, and preserved for the instruction of us who are God's people by faith. They are not words that the unbelieving world around us accepts. An unbelieving person doesn't have the capacity to even receive these words—let alone obey them. But then, they aren't meant for someone who does not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. They are for those of us who are believers. And to us, these words are to be received as authoritative.
They set forth a pattern of marital harmony and union that is unlike anything this world can produce. It sets forth the pattern that each of us—as disciples of Jesus Christ—are to follow in our relationship to our own husband or wife.
And it is all based on Jesus Christ and His love for His church.
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First, notice what this passage says to believing wives. It commands them to "submit" to their own husbands as to the Lord.
The word "submit" isn't in the original text of verse 22. Rather, it's borrowed from verse 21; where Paul speaks of "submitting to one another in the fear of God"—making Paul's instruction to “submit” an expansion of what he says in verse 21 concerning a mutual attitude of submission.
In the original language, the word translated “submit” is one that means "to place" or "to arrange one's self under" another—much in the way that a soldier would be submitted to a position under a higher-ranking official. It in no way suggests inferiority. In fact, the one doing the "submitting" may have, in many respects, far superior qualities to the one being submitted to. Rather, it's a matter of submitting willingly to an order of roles established by an even higher authority. All women are not commanded here to be submitted to all men; but rather, a wife is only to be submitted to her own husband. And she is to do this out of regard for the role that the Lord has given her own husband over her. She is to be subject to him "as to the Lord".
Look at why she is to do this. "For", Paul says, "the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body." The Lord has commissioned the husband to be the "head" of his wife; and we understand what it means for the husband to be her “head” by looking at how Jesus is the "Head" of His "body"—the church.
He is called both "Head" and "Savior"— not just "Head", which speaks of His great authority, but also "Savior", which speaks of His great love and mercy over those to whom He serves as Head. His authority as the church's Head is never to be understood apart from His loving care as the church's Savior. In Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul speaks of Christ as "Head" of His church; and in that context, He is clearly set forth as "Savior". We won't understand what it means for a woman to submit to her husband's role as "head" unless we understand what that full passage tells us. Listen to it carefully. It says;
Look at how Paul prays that his believing friends would have their eyes opened to see Jesus in all the glorious dimensions of what it is that He has saved them to experience. He prays that they would understand that they have the great hope of His “calling”—that is, the glorious prospect of glorification with Him in heaven. Paul also prays that they would see how Jesus so unites Himself to those believers that He shares His own eternal glory with them; and that they themselves are His glorious, eternal inheritance as well. He prays that they would understand the greatness of Jesus' own power in them—a power so great that it raised our Lord from the dead, and seated Him at the right hand of God as supreme above all.
And it's in this context that He points to Jesus as “Head”. Paul prays that his believing friends would see how Jesus is so united to the whole body of believers as their Head that He is now, in some sense, incomplete without them. The church is now "the fullness of Him who fills all in all". He is so united to them in His great saving power and great authority that they are destined to be completely glorified with Him. His inheritance is their inheritance. His glory is their glory. His blessedness is their blessedness.
Personally, this picture of Jesus as the Head of His church has lead me to understand "headship" as "authority exercised to love, serve and bless". A "head" is so vitally connected to the body that it sits on top of that it gives itself to the protection and the welfare of that body. As the head is honored, so is the body honored. As the body is blessed, so is the head blessed. And so, the head uses its authority to love, serve, cherish, nurture, bless, and ultimately glorify the body.
As its Head, Jesus is all of this to the church. He is, in the exercise of His authority, the source of all blessing to the church. There is no blessedness for the church except as it is united to its Head, Jesus Christ.
And as the church is to submit itself to Jesus' role as "Head", so is the wife to submit herself to her husband's role as her "head". "Therefore, as Paul says in verse 24, "just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be subject to their own husbands in everything."
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That brings us, secondly, to what Paul says about the husband's role. What he has to say about the husband is also an expansion of what he has to say in verse 21—that we, as believers are to be "submitting to one another in the fear of God". The husband is, likewise, to be submitted to his role under the authority of God. But his expression of that “submission” is different from that of the wife. She is commanded, in verse 33, to "respect" or "reverence" her husband. He, on the other hand, is commanded to love his wife in the same self-sacrificing way that Jesus loves the church.
"Husbands", Paul says, "love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her . . ." (v. 25). "Love", for the husband, is not simply to be a 'feeling' of affection. Rather, it is to be a self-giving, self-sacrificing action. Just as Jesus gave Himself for the church—even to the point of laying down His life on upon the cross for her—the husband is to be prepared to lay down his life in service to his wife.
It's like the man I once heard about who went to see his pastor with a problem. "Pastor; you gotta' help me", he said. "I think I love my wife too much. I'm thinking about her all the time. She's occupying all my thoughts. I feel like I'm obsessed with her. I wonder if my love for my wife is taking too great a role in my life." The pastor said, "Wow. That's quite a problem. But let me ask you; do you love your wife so much that you'd die for her?" The man thought about it for a moment; and he said, "Well; I have to be honest. I love her a lot. And I'd do a lot for her. But I guess I'm not sure that I'd go so far as to die for her." The pastor told him to go home and repent. He clearly didn't love his wife enough yet; because that's how much Jesus loved His bride.
And then, look at why Jesus gave Himself for the church in this utterly self-sacrificing way. Paul says it was "that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (vv. 26-27).
Jesus died on the cross—shedding His own blood—in order to make the church His pure, spotless, beautiful bride. He gave Himself to set her apart as special to Himself; and He spoke to her in such a way as to cleans her and lift her up with His “utterances”. He once told His disciples, "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you" (John 15:3; see also 13:10; 17:17). You might say that the Lord Jesus has spoken "sweet-somethings" into His bride's ear; and she became more glorious and sanctified as a result. He surrendered Himself to the cause of giving His church everything she needs to be the most "perfect" bride she could be to Him.
And that is what we, as husbands, are to do for our wives. We are to make her our life-project—even to the point of laying down our life for her. We are to use our God-given authority to give our wife everything she needs, in order to be all that God means for her to be. We are to give ourselves to the work of presenting her to ourselves as an utterly God-fulfilled, God-glorified woman. And we are to do all of this to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ; who did the very same for His church.
And finally, look at how deeply Paul defines the bond of connection that exists between the husband and his wife in his service to her. He shows us what such love means when he says, "So husbands ought to to love their own 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 the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones" (vv. 28-29).
Jesus does not try to find a "separate identity" for Himself apart from His spouse. Men sometimes do this. They use "working late" as an excuse to get away from their wives. They leave their brides alone at night so they can go "hangin' out with the boys". But Jesus never does this with His church. He loves His church as if she were His own body—because she is! He nourishes and cherishes her as He would nourish and cherish Himself. He finds His own blessedness and fulfillment in her—that is, in blessing and fulfilling the needs of His beloved wife.
Paul cites Genesis 2:24—God's original affirmation of marriage: "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" (v. 31). But Paul is here showing us that the 'one-flesh' union God has established between a man and his wife is simply a picture of the more glorious union of Jesus with His church. Jesus has become "one flesh" with His bride—the church. And likewise, we husbands are to use our God-appointed role to nourish and cherish our wife as if she were our own body.
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We've spent a good portion of our time this morning looking at this passage together; but I hope you see that it was worth it. What a stunning example Jesus' love for His church gives us! In response to this picture of the depth of marital unity, Paul writes, "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (v. 32). What a wonderful "mystery"; that is, the depth of self-sacrificial love Jesus has for His church. Who could fully grasp it? Who could see it and not be moved deeply by the wonder of it?
"Nevertheless", Paul writes, "let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband" (vv. 33). And that's where this passage convicts us. It gives us a glimpse of this glorious picture—Jesus' love for His church—and then turns the attention back to us. How well do we measure up to the lofty standard that Jesus sets for us in His relationship to the church? Wives; how well do you do in submitting yourselves to the headship role of your own husbands as to the Lord? Husbands; how well do you do in using your headship role, in reverence toward the Lord, to love your wives as your own selves?
If you feel feel a little convicted right now, know that conviction is going on in the preacher too! I myself am far from where I should be in following Jesus' example toward my own wife. (I told someone yesterday about the passage that I was planning to preach from; and they said they'll be watching to see that it's preached from the parsonage as much as from the pulpit! It wasn't my wife who said that, by the way—although she'd have every right to do so.)
Let me set the matter straight, dear brothers and sisters. This passage isn't just hard to obey. It's humanly impossible. If we were to look at what this passage says—if we were to see that the wives among us were to honor their husbands as the church honors Christ, and that the husbands among us are to love their wives as Christ loves the church—and then run off to try to obey this passage in our own power, we will fail miserably.
And incidentally; the Christian community, as a whole, is failing miserably in this. Did you know that, according to a September 2004 Barna Research Group report, the divorce rate among “born-again” Christians is now at 35%—exactly the same divorce rate as among non-believers?1
The world is looking at us—hoping to see in us that there is some hope to be found in Jesus Christ; and yet, it's not seeing us doing any better than they are. And I wonder; could this be because, when you get right down to it, we don't rely on the resources provided for us in Jesus Christ in our marriages any more than unbelieving people do?
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The fact is that we are not to try to keep to this remarkable standard through our own devices. There are to be three habits—three spiritual practices of life deeply rooted in Jesus Christ Himself—that are to be firmly established in our everyday experience. And we are to bring these three habits with us as we seek to follow Christ's example in our marriage.
These “habits” are hard to spot at first. You have to pay careful attention to see them. But they are found in the verses that surround this picture of Christ and His church. All three of them need to be there. We cannot do without any one of them.
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HABIT #1: FAITHFULLY WALK ACCORDING TO GOD'S SPECIFIC INSTRUCTIONS.
When the Bible speaks of our “walk”, it is referring to our daily activities of practical life. Your “walk” is, you might say, where it is that you put your feet throughout the course of the day. And there must be a fundamental commitment on our part to place our feet in those specific places, in each situation of life, that God says they are to be put.
Look at verse 15-17, and you'll see this. He says,
The idea behind that word “circumspectly” is that of “diligent precision”. The woman or man of God is to see to it that they don't put their feet just any ol' place—that is, that they don't walk “foolishly”. They are be "wise" in their daily steps. They are to look about themselves carefully, and be “precise” in their walk—putting their feet in “wise” places.
The “wisdom” we need for our daily walk is available to us in God's word. We are to read our Bible, learn what true wisdom means in each situation and circumstance, and follow God's instructions—placing our feet “circumspectly”, in accordance with the wisdom He gives through His word.
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Let me share with you how I came to understand this habit with respect to marriage. As a pastor, it used to frustrate me deeply that the Bible seemed to say so little about how we—as believers—are to conduct ourselves in our marriages. The Bible says a lot about what to do in relationships in general; but as my wife has once said, Jesus seems to say more about money than He does about marriage.
I remember one day in particular, when I was reading some of the basic instructions that the Bible gives us for everyday human relationships. I was thinking about a particular couple in our church that was struggling in their marriage; and I found myself wishing that they would simply treat their spouses as some of those general instructions command. I remember thinking about how many of our problems would be solved in marriage if we would just apply those basic relationship principles from the Bible in our marriages. And it suddenly dawned on me that, in reality, the Bible says far greater about marriage than I realized. It dawned on me that everything God says in the Bible about relationships in general was meant to be applied—particularly and especially—in marriage.
Think about it. When it says in the Bible, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4), God means for us to do that in marriage just as much as He means for us to do it everywhere else in life! When the Bible says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29), God means for us to do that in marriage as much as everywhere else! When the Bible says to “put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Col. 3:12-13), God means for this to be done in marriage!
When I began to understand this—that we are to walk consistently in the wisdom of God's specific instructions from His word; and to take this practice with us into the context of our marriage as much as anywhere else—then, suddenly, the whole Bible literally became a divine "instruction manual" for the marriage relationship!
So; the first habit that I'd like to point out to you—a habit that is essential to enjoying marriage as God intends it to be—is this: make it your practice to faithfully and consistently walk in wisdom. Make it your ongoing commitment to walk obediently in accordance with God's specific instructions found in His word.
Do this in all of life; but take this habit with you particularly into your marriage.
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By the way; you won't be able to maintain that habit unless you also maintain the next one. That first habit is what provides us with the specific instructions we need for loving one another in marriage. But this second one is what gives us the power to do so.
HABIT #2: CONSISTANTLY YIELD TO THE ENABLING INFLUENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
When Jesus ascended to the Father, He didn't leave us all alone on earth to figure out how to live the lives He wants us to live. He sent the Holy Spirit—the second Person of the Trinity—to take up residence in us, to guide us, and to empower us to live for Christ.
The Holy Spirit is not Someone that we must plead for God to give us. He has already graciously taken up residence in everyone who has trusted Jesus Christ for salvation. But it's not enough that we simply know that He indwells us. We must also personally, actively, and continually yield ourselves to His enabling influence. We must consistently, progressively, habitually be “filled” with the Holy Spirit in order to live the kind of life God wants us to live.
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We have a command in this passage. "[B]e filled with the Holy Spirit." But what does it mean to be “filled” with the Spirit?
I think the idea of what it means to obey this command is best illustrated by what this passage also commands us not to do. We are told, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation”—that is, wild, reckless, debauched behavior.
Have you ever watched someone who is drunk? Alcohol brings its influence to bear on everything they do. When they say something horrible to someone else, a friend will try to smooth it over by saying, “Well, don't mind him. That was just the alcohol talking.” Or when they get pulled over for driving with a certain blood-alcohol level, they are charged with the crime of “driving while under the influence”. When someone is drunk, they are allowing themselves to be influenced, in a prevailing and pervasive way, by alcohol.
Paul is being very intentional in warning us not to be drunk with wine in this passage. He means for it to illustrate what to do instead. Instead of being influenced in a prevailing and pervasive way by a chemical, we are to submit ourselves instead to the prevailing and pervasive influence of the Holy Spirit. We are to allow Him to rule over, and bring His influence upon, every area of our lives.
And look at how, as a result, the Spirit makes us delightful and joyful people. He manifests Himself in us by causing us to speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We sing and make melody in our hearts to the Lord. We give thanks to Him, at all times, for everything. He even produces in us that spirit of mutual submission that is to characterize a truly Christian marriage.
Think of that passage that describes "the fruit of the Spirit." Galatians 5:22-23 says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control . . ." Think of what a joy it would be to be married to someone who is overwhelmingly characterized by these things! And the Holy Spirit produces an endless supply of them in us—sufficient for each situation's need.
So; here's a second essential habit: Consistently yield to the indwelling and empowering influence of the Holy Spirit. Let Him rule over your actions and attitudes in a prevailing and pervasive way in your marriage.
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That first habit—to walk in the wisdom of God's word—provides us with the things we are to do in marriage. The second habit—to be yielded to the influence of the Holy Spirit—provides us with the power. And finally, the third habit provides us with the motivation.
HABIT #3: GROW IN A PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST'S LOVE FOR THE CHURCH.
I see this in the way that Paul repeatedly points to Jesus and His relationship with the church as the model for marital love: "For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body" (v. 23); "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her" (v. 25); "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (v. 32).
Again, let me share with you how this personally came to impact me. I remember reading this remarkable passage on marriage several years ago—and being frustrated by it. I wondered how I could possibly do such a thing? How could I—a redeemed, but very fallible man—possibly love my wife as Christ loved the church? It seemed like an utterly unachievable goal—a ladder to the heavens that I could never, with my feeble little arms and legs, possibly hope to climb.
It might be that, because I was so frustrated by what I thought was an impossible task, I shifted my thinking. Instead of concentrating on what it was I was being called upon to do, I concentrated on what Jesus did for me. For whatever reason, I flipped things over and rejoiced first in Jesus' love for His church—of which I was a part. Today, I'm sure that it was the Holy Spirit coming to my aid.
I just sat and relished in the love of Jesus for me that I found described in this passage. I thought about how He loved Me so much that He willingly laid down His life for me. I thought about how He gave Himself to sanctify me and purify me for Himself—how He gives me everything I need to be pleasing in His sight. I thought about how His love fulfills me; and how He delights in that experience of my fulfillment. I thought about how He is working—even today—to prepare me for glory; so that I will stand before Him faultless and blameless with great joy, and will share in His eternal glory forever. I thought about how He has pledged to share all of His inheritance with me; and that He has so committed Himself to me that He will never feel that He Himself is complete without me in heaven with Him!
And as the deep love of Jesus for me began to increasingly grip my soul—and as I was, frankly, becoming overwhelmed by His love—I found that this passage no longer presented a burden to me. I turned my thoughts to my own bride; and I found that I couldn't look at her the same way anymore. If Jesus would so love me, then how could I respond in any other way than to so love her? As 1 John 4:11 says, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." I was motivated!
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I believe that one of the most important habits we can cultivate in our spiritual lives is to progressively grow in an appreciation of the love of Jesus for us—to, if I may put it this way, become a diligent student of that love; so that, as Paul says, we "may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:18-19).
That is vital. But all of these habits are vital. And I have great hope for any marriage that calls itself "Christian" in which both the husband and wife (1) walk consistently according to the wisdom of God's word; (2) yield themselves faithfully to the influence of the indwelling Holy Spirit; (3) and grow in a deep understanding and appreciation of the love that the Lord Jesus has for His people.
The spiritual flavor of our marriages will, in the end, depend on the spiritual habits of the people in them. May these three spiritual habits become our own habits in everyday life. And as a result, may the Lord Jesus prove to the world, through our marriages, that He is real.
1Barna Group report from September 8, 2004; "Among married born again Christians, 35% have experienced a divorce. That figure is identical to the outcome among married adults who are not born again: 35%" (http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=170).
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