Other sermons in this series
It’s disturbing, isn’t it? That passage.
Especially if you’re here today and you’re married.
It’s disturbing, by my count, in about five different ways.
Number 1, it’s culturally disturbing. In the way what it says about marriage is so absolutely out of step. With everyone else. Here’s a picture of marriage that’s so far from the kind of marriage being debated today.
Then on top of that it’s morally disturbing. In what it seems to be saying quite plainly in black and white about gender roles. And especially the idea of wives and submission. It’s a passage that breaks all the rules.
Number three, it’s disturbing because on one reading, it’s alleged to be a passage that justifies domestic abuse by men. In the name of male headship.
Then on the other hand, number 4, it’s disturbing, because for wives who actually long for the kind of loving male leadership the passage is actually describing, for wives who think it’s a good thing; their experience of marriage, their experience of having a husband seems to fall so far short of the goal. And so because of this passage they’ll never be satisfied. With the husband they’ve got.
Number 5, it’s disturbing for husbands. Who feel somehow it’s a passage that sets a standard they can never live up to. And so don’t even bother trying. Or else live their lives in guilt. About the husband they fail to be.
Look, I’m sure it’s a passage that’s disturbing in more ways than that. But it’s enough to get us started. And to say that if we can get through the next 25 minutes together and end up still friends it will be quite a win.
The point to start with is where we finished last week. And that is, if you think this stuff is different from the rest of the world, then it’s meant to be.
JEWS AND GENTILES
Last week you might remember if you were here we saw Paul calling on these new Gentile Christians, Christians from a non Jewish background with no experience of God’s views on right and wrong… he’s calling on them to leave behind the way they used to live. For something completely different. A whole new dress code, as he put it, which was fitting for the saints. As the body of Jesus.
And so we saw Paul saying to them, from here on you’re going to be different. Different from the people around you. Different from the guys you went to school with. Different to your friends at work.
Ephesians 4 verse 17, he says, “I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” You’ve got to be different.
And on he goes to spell out the differences. That are going to mark out the people of God. From the people around them. A different honesty. A different integrity. Talking and working and serving for the good of one another. Things he says to put off. And things to put on. So they’ll be distinctive and different from the pagan Gentile world around them.
Which is the same pagan, Gentile world around us. And so this morning we come to maybe the most sensitive – and challenging – and provocative – way to be different of all.
Because Paul says, a key place Christians are going to be different… is in our marriages. And in our families.
And at a time when marriages around us seem to be dissolving at an alarming rate, at a time when marriage vows might as well be honest and just say, “I’ll give it a bit of a go until I have romantic feelings for somebody new…”; at a time when marriage is being debated and redefined to be something that just registers your current romantic attachments; in 21st century Australia, what we’re looking at here is going to be very, very different. Just as it was in first century Ephesus.
When then just as now followers of Jesus were called to be different husbands. To be different wives. To be different kids. Even back then to be different slaves. And I want to recognise as we start that there are categories here you might not fall into. There are categories here that might even be painful to think about. That will remind you of what was. Or what could have been. Or what should have been. And we need to listen gently. But we do need to listen.
DIFFERENT LIKE JESUS
Now before we go any further, can I point out the overarching principle in being different. Because no matter what your own situation, if you’re a Christian, you’re going to be different somehow. And if you miss that, the whole thing just won’t make any sense.
The overarching principle right through from chapter 4 verse 17, the whole way they’re meant to be different from their Gentile mates… is to keep on looking at Jesus. Who’s profoundly different.
Chapter 4 verse 32. We saw it last week. Look again. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Forgive each other. Just as in Christ God forgave you. To the point where those two little words just as get used over and over again. A couple of verses later. Chapter 5 verse 2. “And live a life of love, just as… just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
A life of love. Measured by self sacrifice. Just exactly as Christ loved us. Here’s the difference. Look at Jesus. And do likewise.
And so as we come to the Christian home life, same principle applies. Paul says, the goal is to be different to the world around us in our marriages and families by modelling ourselves on Christ and the church.
Let’s cut to the chase. At verse 31 and 32. As a reminder that the big principle in being different, will be that we’re going to keep looking at Jesus. And how he relates to us.
THE MARRIAGE MADE IN HEAVEN
People often talk about marriages that are made in heaven.
Sort of like the movie “Sleepless in Seattle” and you’ve got your Tom Hanks and your Meg Ryan and you just know from the dreamy look in their eyes right from the start that they’re made for each another.
Romantic idea. But hidden in the familiar words in verse 31 and 32 there’s a key to the whole passage. And a marriage that really was made in heaven.
It’s a direct quote from Genesis 2 verse 24. And the weird thing is it’s not primarily about marriage and it’s not primarily romantic.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” But here’s the crunch. “This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about… Christ and the church.”
The thing Paul’s most excited about – the essence of the message that drives his every though. Is the message of the one who left behind the glories of his father in heaven. And became one flesh. With us.
And in some small ways, says Paul, we get to mirror that. In our marriages.
The way a man leaves the comforts of life at home; and becomes one flesh with his wife. Paul says I’m talking about Christ. And the church. The heavenly home he left behind. To join himself with us in humanity. To sacrifice his life for us on the cross.
Paul says don’t misunderstand me. I’m talking about that. The marriage between Christ and his church.
CHRIST AND THE CHURCH
Which looks like what exactly? That’s what Paul’s unpacking from verse 23.
Verse 23. Christ is the head of the church. His body. Of which he is the saviour.
Now Paul’s been using the image of the church as a body with many parts since back in chapter 4. United. Together. Growing, connected. Christ, he says, is the head of it. Because he’s the saviour of it.
And so, verse 24, we gladly submit to that. We gladly put ourselves under what we call the Lordship, the headship, of the one who’s saved us. The saved church submits to Christ. Because, verse 25, Christ, he loved his church, and gave himself up forus.
And he did all that to zero our debt. To wipe our slate clean when it comes to our debt before God. By his sacrifice, we’re washed clean; we’re stain free. We’re permanent press wrinkle free, holy and blameless. Because he took all the blame. And left us with none of it.
Get the picture? Verse 25…
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, verse 25, “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.”
Now I don’t know what sort of church it is you most want to be part of. I reckon it’s great to be part of a church that’s heading somewhere.
So where are we heading? What’s the goal for our church that’s pulling you forward? There are all sorts of ways people want to measure a church. Do you want to be part of a church with great music? Not a bad thing I guess. Do you want to be part of a church with a good kids‘program? That’s important. Maybe you want to be part of a bigger church; Or maybe perhaps a smaller more intimate church? What’s your dream church? And how are you going to measure it?
The goal Jesus has for us, the reason Jesus died for us… is to make us a radiant church. Beautiful.
That moment at a wedding when everyone draws breath as the bride walks down the aisle and the groom’s eyes widen and you’re noticing the bodice and the beautiful brocade and the embroidery and the … and you can hear the clicks as jaws drop at the radical transformation of this girl who used to look so ordinary.
I reckon it’s a great goal to be part of a church like that. To be part of a church submissive to it’s Lord Jesus who gave himself for us. To be part of a church where if your friend at work says, “what’s your church like?” the first word that comes into your mind is well we’re not quite there yet, but we’re going to be radiant.” Because ultimately, that’s what Jesus died for.
OUR MODEL FOR MARRIAGE
Now the question is, how can a human marriage. Like one of ours. Reflect that? How can a marriage be a tiny little scale model of what that kind of love looks like? How can a Christian marriage be different… in a way that says something to the world about the marriage of the crucified bridegroom. And the purified wife.
I mean, if you’re married, the times when your patience is frayed, when you can’t agree, when you’re both over-tired from work, when you can’t afford the holiday, when his job pulls this way and your job pulls that way, when the kids are noisy, when you’re so frustrated that he just won’t squeeze the toothpaste tube from the bottom and pick up his socks off the floor that you could scream. How does the day to day reality of our marriages paint any sort of picture of the gospel?
Well, let’s try it out. If the model is Christ and the church, guys, if you’re a husband or you one day want to be – keep your eye on the bridegroom; and girls if you’re a wife or have any desire to be, keep your eye on the bride. Because that’s the parallel. Men; at this point looking at the example of the Lord Jesus, and ladies; sorry, he’s being gender specific here; you’ll be role playing the church.
SUBMIT TO ONE ANOTHER
But the point is if we’re all committed to being like Jesus in the first place, there’s not as much difference as you think.
Which is the very clear when you start in verse 21. If you’re a grammar nerd, it’s interesting that in the original Greek verse 22 doesn’t even have its own verb. It carries over from verse 21. Which says this. And you’ll notice again, Christ is the motivationand the model. “Submit to one another -everyone – out of reverence for Christ.” The verb is submit. A submission that’s all about devoting yourself to the best interests of the other.
It’s a submission that’s maybe going to look different depending who you are. But in every case it’s going to be driven by your reverence for Christ.
WIVES TO YOUR HUSBANDS
So marriages. Keep reading. With the warning from this point that if you’re married, the golden rule for a passage like this one is that wives need to listen especially carefully to the bit for wives. And husbands need to listen to the bit for husbands. And not the other way around so you can criticise each other on the way home in the car.
Now remember. Verse 21 and 22 run together as a unit. And literally say “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives to your husbands as to the Lord.”
It’s a bizarre thought. Think of your husband … as if he’s the Lord Jesus. I know, it’s radical. And I guess you’re sitting there thinking, well, it’d be a whole lot easier if he was a bit more like the Lord.
And I know if you’ve got to live with a guy anything like the one my wife lives with, there are plenty of ways he’s falling short. But there’s a word for the guys in a moment. And it doesn’t say submit in proportion to how much he’s succeeding in being likeJesus.
Just suspend your scepticism a bit longer and see what he says. Verse 22.
22Wives, submit to your husbands as 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 Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
There it is in black and white; God’s model for Christian wives, it’s about imitating the way the church yields to Christ; that’s how the wife submits to the husband.
Which of course since all the way back in Genesis chapter 3 is exactly the opposite of what comes naturally. And is going to make Christian marriages profoundly different… to anything else in the world. Wives with a glad and willing and respectfulsubmission to their husbands. When it’s so much easier to belittle and berate and to nag and to ignore or just be completely independent. And let me tell you when you’re doing any of those things, I can say on behalf of the husbands here that you’re probably completely justified. And anything better than that is just grace on your part.
It’s a big ask. And the ways it plays out are going to be incredibly challenging. Especially with a disappointing husband.
But look, there’s a bigger ask for husbands. Because if the passage starts with the fact we’re all to sumbit ourselves to one another with Jesus in mind, the way the husband does that is even more radical.
So here’s how to husband. And how not to.
At first verse 23 sounds terrific, doesn’t it?
“For the husband is the head of the wife… ”
Did you hear that, darling? Get my slippers.
But the sentence doesn’t stop there does it? “… for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the saviour.”
And if you want to know what that sort of headship looks like, what it means that he’s our saviour go to verse 25. And follow the just as rule again. Because there it is. Here’s what Christ’s headship looks like. A loving headship. That’s completelysacrificial.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
When did Jesus ever say, bring me slippers, cook me dinner, work all day and clean the house at night. He says the son of man didn’t come to be served but to serve.
And so Christianity turns everything upside down. And this model for marriage only ever works if we get that.
Giving yourself up for her. With a purpose. See, the sentence goes on in verses 26 and 27; talks about the goal Jesus has of how his church will look on the last day.
HEADSHIP AND HUSBANDING
He’s given himself up for us, to make us holy.
He’s given himself up for us to make us clean. So as we hear the word of the gospel, as baptised into the faith, he’s making us a radiantly forgiven bride. Stainless, spotless, blameless. That’s his work.
And husbands. We’re called to love our wives like our own bodies, verse 28; in that same way. And obviously, make sure we don’t get in the way of the great goal of Jesus to keep working in her to see her finally spotless.
Now look, don’t over think this. Don’t say it’s too hard. Because the first point to notice is that it’s not actually your job as a husband to be Jesus. He’s the one. Who makes her spotless. Not you!
Your job’s just to remind her of that.
To encourage her in perseverance. To help her press on in the faith. So you’ll say on the last day stuff like, I got the kids ready for church to make it easy for her. I made sure we kept going to growth group even when we didn’t feel like it. And she’ll probably be there saying, what do you want, A medal or something?
But then you’ll say, I listened to her doubts and fears in the dark of the night and I urged her to keep trusting Jesus. I changed my Saturday morning plans so she could get along to the women’s grow conference. Again, another medal worthy performance!
But you’ll say as you introduce her to Jesus, I actually did my best to share her burdens; and I loved her faithfully, and I sacrificed myself for her. To present her even more spotless and beautiful on the last day than she was on our wedding day.
Paul says, just as Christ gave himself up for us, verse 28, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”
Christ and the church. The husband and the wife. A care for the one you’re one flesh with that’s modelled on the husband from heaven who hung on a cross.
Which means of course it’s an absolute travesty of this passage to see the way it’s so often misused.
By grumpy men as a means of abusing their wives. Sanctifying their selfishness.
Thinking that headship means control. And so you control her spending, you control who she spends time with, you manipulate her emotionally, you abuse her physically. And you claim all of that… is loving her. As Christ loved his church and gave himself up for us.
Can you see the problem with that?
In a survey in 2012, 17% of Australian women said they’d experienced abuse at the hands of a partner at least once since they turned 18. If you extrapolate that Australia wide, that’s one and a half million women. And for 132,000 of them, it’s ongoing. Reporting abuse in the past 12 months.
Spread that to include emotional abuse… 2.1 million women. 200,000 Australian women, right now.
And there are men who’ll try to justify that. By appealing to what they’d call biblical ideas of headship.
Friends, that’s not on. There is a kind of church culture that justifies that way of thinking. And I want to make sure MPC is not that kind of church.
Not by ignoring Paul’s words in Ephesians 5. But by taking them far more seriously.
Judy Bodmer wrote a book called when love dies – How to save a hopeless marriage. And she tells the story of her marriage with Larry. And she says,
It’s easy to read what the Bible says about mutual submission… and push it places it was never meant to go. So, it doesn’t mean Larry has to look after the money. And decide everything without me.
Larry had to learn. And rethink. And learn what the seeming contradiction of self sacrificial headship actually looks like. When you do it like Jesus. And the book talks about how that gradually happened.
At the same time, Judy says, she had to learn… “She says, I had to realise it’s not up to me to change my husband. Or nag him to grow in his faith. It’s up to him.”
So how is it with you? How are you going at making your marriage different? In a way that advertises Jesus to the rest of the world?
Look, Paul goes on with stuff about parents and kids. How to be a Jesus like mum or dad. He talks about slaves and masters. With the revolutionary idea that workers need to work as if they’re working for Jesus. Revolutionary. Different. But today we’re just going to leave it with the challenge of our marriages.
I’m not sure we’ve resolved any of the five big issues you might have had with Ephesians 5. But if you’re struggling with this stuff, be aware you can talk about it. Speak to me, speak to Louise, speak to Kim. Start the conversation.
And as far as you can, be gracious. And keep in mind marriages are hard because all of us are married to sinners. Don’t. Please don’t get in the car and head home and turn the blow torch on one another. Why won’t you submit to me more? Why won’t you lead me more?
But let’s each of us who’s married head into the week with fresh encouragement from what Paul sets out as a gentle and encouraging passage; a beautiful picture, of Christ and his people; it would be wrong to leave here today feeling beaten. Or somehow a failure. Instead of excited. About the prospect of one day together all of us meeting Jesus spotless and radiant.
Who do you think you are? That’s you! Which is why every day of the week we’ll commit to being different. By becoming day by day more and more like Jesus in our relationships at home.