Sunday, September 17, 2006

Matt's Messages - Marriage by Design

“Marriage by Design”
September 17, 2006
Ephesians 5:22-33

We looked at this passage briefly last week. We read it and then focused really on just one word in it: “head.” We were talking about God’s designation of men to lead their families.

Men, have you made any changes this week in your leadership in the home? Have you taken more responsibility? Exercised more godly authority? Apologized for any passivity or tyranny? Remember, change has not happened until change happens. You can agree with everything I said last week, but unless you, by faith, start making some changes, it’s all just words. Don’t just look in the mirror and walk away. We’ll understand better today what it means to be the “head” in our families.

Today, we are returning to the same passage and want to look more closely at the details (all of the rest of the words). This is part of the longest passage in the New Testament on God’s design for the Christian family. We’re just going to look at verses 22 through 33 this morning as they reveal God’s design for Christian marriages.

Remember, God is the architect of this Home Improvement project. He has provided an infallible set of blueprints for us to follow in building our families on the Gospel. They are completely trustworthy in every way, and we ignore them to our peril.

God has been so good to us to reveal His design for marriage. Marriage is a good gift from God, the primary building block of the family, meant to be enjoyed by following His design. Now, this passage does not contain everything that God says about His design for marriage, but does have some fundamental instruction that is vitally important that we get down so that our marriages are healthy.

If you are not married, please listen anyway, because this will help you if God will grant you a spouse some day. Or if God does not give you a husband or a wife, you can pray for the marriages in our church and community to begin to conform more closely to the Master’s design.

Let’s read Ephesians 5:22-33.

[scripture reading, prayer]

These instructions about marriage are a part of a larger context. They flow out of the teaching of the first four chapters of Ephesians on what God has done in saving a people for Himself and how that people–the church–should then live. In chapter 5, the Apostle Paul has been telling the Ephesian church to be very careful how they live: not as “unwise but as wise,” not being drunk with wine but “filled with the Spirit.”

And he says what Spirit-filled believers look like (v.19). They speak to one another spiritually. They find themselves singing about the Lord. They are full of thanksgiving. And they submit to one another in the proper relationships out of fear or reverence for the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, God’s design for marriage is a spiritual thing meant to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Not to be accomplished on our own.

God’s design for marriage includes the transformation of our marriages by God’s Holy Spirit. We can’t do it on our own.

But we are to do it. God has given us these instructions.

He begins with the wife. V.22

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”

The design here is straightforward and simple. WIVES SHOULD SUBMIT TO THEIR HUSBANDS.

To submit means “to place oneself under the authority of another.” To look to another person as your authority, your leader.

And Paul is very specific here. Wives are to place themselves under the authority of their husbands.

Why? V.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.”

Wives should place themselves under the authority and leadership of their husbands because [as we saw last week] God has placed the husband (in every marriage relationship) in the role of “head.” God has ordered the marriage relationship so that it has a leader. And He has decided, in His wisdom, to place the husband as the head of the wife. Last week, we used the image of a foreman on a work site.

Paul has an other image in mind. He says that God has given us a model to see how this is supposed to work. The model is Jesus Christ and His relationship with His church.

Do you see how Paul has it set up here? There is a one-for-one analogy going on here:

Christ is HEAD over the church (His body).
The husband is the HEAD over the wife.

There is an authority structure built into the architecture of God’s design for marriage.

Husbands are given the responsibility of headship, leadership.
Wives are, therefore, given the responsibility of submission, follower-ship.

And wives are to follow the example of the church. V.24

“Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

There is no area of life where a wife is supposed to be unsubmissive and in rebellion against her Head, her husband.

Just as the church follows Jesus, so also wives should follow their husbands, placing themselves under their husbands’ leadership.

Wives should submit to their husbands.

Now, you aren’t going to hear that anywhere else in our culture. In fact, many of you may not have ever been taught this before. But this is the way God has designed marriage to be enjoyed.

When wives are tracking along with God, living under the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit (v.18), then they will joyfully submit to the leadership of their husbands just as the church joyfully places itself under the headship of Jesus.

Now, because of all the confusion about men’s and women’s roles in marriage that is at large in the church and (especially) in our society, I want to clarify again what this submission thing does not mean, so that we can understand more clearly what it does mean.

I have 4 very quick sub-points.

First, the wife’s submission doesn’t mean that she is somehow inferior to the husband in worth or value. Wives are not worth less than husbands.

Like I said last week, Paul says in Jesus Christ, in the eyes of the Father, God places the same value on men and women (this was radical in Paul’s day!). He says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all ONE in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:280. Husbands and wives are equal in value and worth in Jesus.

Just because I am called by God to lead Heather, does not mean that God values me more than her. Just because she is called to submit to me, does not mean that God thinks she is worth less than me. This has nothing to do with equality. It has to do with our roles and functions in His design for marriage.

Wives, submit. But do not do it out of inferiority. God loves you just as much as He loves your husband.

Remember the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. For all eternity and forever, God the Son (Jesus Christ) has been in submission to God the Father. However God the Father has led, God the Son has followed (read John 5!).

But they are equal in worth and value and glory! Jesus’s submission to the Father doesn’t diminish His glory in any way, in fact, it is a part of His glory!

So wives, submit to your husbands, but don’t think of yourself as inferior. (Same for you, husbands–treasure her as an equal in value in and worth to you!)

Second, the wife’s submission doesn’t mean that every woman is supposed to submit to every man.

This isn’t God’s ordering of society. This is God’s ordering of marriage. V.22 and v.24 make it clear to whom wives are accountable. What does it say? “To your husbands” (v.22). To “their husbands” (v.24).

I’m not the head of every woman I meet. There are cultures on this planet where women are to obey and submit to whatever any man in that culture says. That’s not what Paul is saying here. This is not the Taliban. Wives, submit, but not to every man–to your husband.

Third, the wife’s submission doesn’t mean that she is to blindly obey her husband’s commands. It doesn’t mean that there is never a time for discussion or even dissension.

The wife is not to become an unthinking slave. That is not the quality of the relationship that God has planned. This is two equals [one flesh!] who discuss their married life and discuss their choices and discuss their hopes and dreams and plans and goals and vision for their life together.

And when the discussion is over, the husband needs to take leadership and do what’s best for the family, and the wife needs to lovingly, joyfully submit. That’s the picture, not Hitler running the troops around.

And, there is also a time for dissension in the ranks. That’s when the husband wants the wife to follow him into sin. Wives, don’t follow him there! V.22 says submit to your husbands as to the Lord. As obedience to Jesus, submit to your husbands.

When obedience to Jesus and submission to your husband conflict, follow Jesus every time!

This doesn’t mean that there is never a time for discussion (in fact it calls for lots of discussion!) or even dissension (when the husband wants the wife to sin).

Fourth, and last clarification, the wife’s submission does not mean (listen to this) husbands subject your wives. In the Scriptures, husbands are never called to rule over their wives. Husbands are never called to force their wives to submit to them. Husbands are never called to strong-arm tactics, manipulation, abuse, breaking of the will, or domineering control. What we called “tyranny” last week.

Husbands, listen to me. If I hear that you are throwing your weight around at home, you are going to get a visit from me and the elders. This is not an excuse for abuse.

And when you and your wife are having a disagreement, don’t get this passage out and hold it over your wife’s head. The reason why our culture and many in the church will not accept this as God’s will is because of the failure of Christian husbands to lead their wives as they should! If people could see the beauty of this lived out in Christian couples’ lives, I wouldn’t have to make four clarifications to a simple command like this!

This does not mean husbands subject your wives.

It says, “Wives, submit.” That is a voluntary choice of the wife that God is calling them to. It takes a strong woman to do it. Strong in faith. Strong in the Lord. It means trusting God to provide the best for you through your husband. Like we heard from Marilynn this morning.

And it is not to be wrangled out of you. Does Christ wrangle obedience out of us? That is a distortion of God’s beautiful design for marriage.

Wives should submit to their husbands.

And you know what that means for us men? It means that we must become men worth following!

Our wives can’t wait for us to grow up and become men that are leaders in the home. Become a man worth following!

Okay, let’s review what we’ve seen so far.

Wives are to submit to their heads (their husbands) along the analogy of the church submitting to it’s head (Christ) in everything but not in inferiority, not to every man but to their husband, not to the point of unthinking obedience or sin, and not to be forced but voluntary.

The best illustration of this principle of submission that I can offer to you this morning is my own wife. Heather is my equal (and my superior in most ways). She has her own ideas of life and where we should go and what we should do, but she lovingly, joyfully submits to my leadership. And has, for all of our married life.

I’ve told this story before. When we got married, we had a major blind-spot. We hadn’t talked about children. Can you believe that? I hadn’t even thought about children! She thought that children came along just about the same time you get married. Within a year or so of getting married she expected to be pregnant. We had a train-wreck of values!

And you know what? It was hard for her, but after much discussion and much sharing and prayer, she submitted to my leadership in this issue. She waited and waited (five years in fact) until I felt that God had readied us for children.

And God has blessed her submission and our marriage. Ask her about it. It wasn’t easy. She was tempted to go around me. She was tempted to go off of contraception without telling me. But she trusted that God had given her me as her Head. And even against some of her deepest desires, she trusted Him to give her the best through me.

Wives, that is a big deal. I know. Submit as to the Lord.

Can I ask you how are you doing in submission?

Last week, I asked the guys how they are leading. Now, I’m asking you, how are you doing at following?

I’ve seen two major mistakes that most women make.

One is taking over and trying to lead yourself.

And the other is just plain old rebellion.

Some ladies are too passive, as well. But I don’t see that one as often as I see women trying to take on the leadership role themselves or bucking the leadership that their husbands are providing.

How are you doing at submission?

Is there an area in your marriage that you need to seek forgiveness for? Is there an area where you need to lay down your rights and joyfully follow your husband’s lead?

Maybe you are not married to a Christian and that makes it difficult, at times. In three weeks, we’ll talk more about spiritually single marriages. But I’m sure that there are many many areas in which you can submit to your nonChristian husband as to the Lord. How are you doing at that?

Ladies, is there an area where you need to respectfully ask for your husband to step up to leading for you?

Is there an area that you have kept to yourself and haven’t even let him into? Much less given him headship over it?

What does your husband think? Is he happy with your submission?

What do your Christian girlfriends think? Do they have suggestions as to which areas you could improve on?

I doubt you are perfectly submitting. Where do you need the most work?

Here’s God’s design, wives: Submit to your husbands as to the Lord in everything.

Now men, Paul spent only 3 verses explaining the design for the wife, then he takes 8 verses to tell us what we are supposed to do. I don’t know if that’s because what He has to say to us is harder or if He thinks we won’t pay attention and need it spelled out more clearly! V.25

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...”


Wives are to follow the church’s example. Husbands are to follow Jesus’ example.

Love them, guys! Love them! And love them like Jesus loved all of us and gave Himself up for us.

On the inside of Heather’s wedding ring, I had engraved these words (from v.25), “As Christ Loved the Church.”

That’s my commitment to her. She wears it every day of her married life. “As Christ Loved the Church.” That’s my calling as her Christian husband.

Sacrificial love. Jesus DIED for us! Men, are you ready to die for your wife?

Jesus poured out His life for the church. Husbands, are you pouring out your life for your wife?

That’s just as hard a calling, maybe harder, than the call to submit.

Wives are called to lay down their rights.

Husbands are called to lay down their lives!

“Lay down your life for your wife.”

And I’m not talking about a one million dollar, one-time, cash pay-out of your life. I’m talking about a one fifty cent piece payment each hour that you live!

Husbands, God is calling you to lay down your life for your wife.

Put their needs before yours. Protect them. Romance them. Buy them what they need. Work to provide for your family. Listen to them. Share their pains and their griefs and their sorrows. Pray for them. Pray with them! Lead them in the Lord. Give up sleep and sport and comfort for their good.

Love them!

Again, this is what it means to be the “head.” And Jesus is our example.

What Jesus did for His church is what we need to do for our wives.

He sacrificially gave His all for His bride. And He did it for a beautiful purpose. V.26.

“ 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.”

Jesus saw our pitiful condition, and He pulled us out of the gutter of depravity and washed us, cleansed us with the gospel of forgiveness through His blood and then He dressed us in the clothes of His righteousness and prepared us for eternal marriage with Him in heaven–a radiant bride. Imagine that day, when we are perfected by His work on the Cross applied through the Holy Spirit and presented to Him as gloriously holy and blameless without any imperfection at the great Wedding Supper of the Lamb!

He did everything it took for us to be holy!

Husbands, are you doing everything you can for your wife’s good?

Jesus did everything it will take to make us gloriously holy in His sight!

That’s our model, guys! That’s who we have to follow as our example of husbanding.

God is calling us to lay down our lives for our wives!

He spells this out further in v.28.

“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 his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church–for we are members of his body.”

I don’t know about you, but I love my flesh. I eat. I drink. I clothe myself. I take care of my body’s needs.

Jesus loves His body. He provides the Bible for food. He provides His grace for our nourishment. He cares for our every need!

Husbands are to love their wives the same way. This kind of sacrificial love that we are called to is a caring love, a nurturing love, a cherishing love.

Husbands, are you caring and nurturing and cherishing your wife like you would your own body?

When was the last time you checked on your wife to see what she needed?

I regularly try to ask myself these questions:

Does she need more attention? More of my time?
Does she need help around the house?
Does she need new clothes?
Does she need to feel more protected and secure?
Does she need to hear it from me today that she is the only one?
Does she need a break?
Does she need a date night?
Does she need time away from the kids?
Does she need a shoulder to cry on?
Does she need tenderness and understanding?

Guess whose responsibilities those are? Hers? Well, they’re her needs!

They are mine.

“Just as Christ loved the church.”

Jesus knows our needs. I need to know what my wife needs and then I need to give of myself to make certain that she has it.

Husbands, this is how God has designed the gift of marriage to be enjoyed. You are supposed to lead and to love. And to love sacrificially, meeting your wife’s needs.

Two nights ago, my wife was having a spiritual struggle in prayer. And it was bed-time. I was really tired and fighting a head-cold. I wanted to go to sleep.

But she was really struggling. I think it was, at least in part, demonic attack.

What should I have done?

I got up and prayed with her and counseled with her until she was able to rest on Christ and go to sleep herself. Then I went to bed.

Did that require sacrifice? Absolutely. But it was a joyful one for me to make as I followed by Savior’s example of leading with love.

Now, wives, you can make this easier for us by being women that are love-able. Sharing your needs, doing what you can to meet them yourselves, pursuing your own holiness and faith in Christ. But whether or not you are love-able, we, husbands are called to love you sacrificially. The church was not very love-able until Jesus gave His life for us.

Husbands, love your wives sacrificially, nourishing and caring for them. Just as Christ loved the church, lay down your life for your wife.

Now, I’ve got to point out that this was incredibly shocking in the first century.

Wives submitting to their husbands was not, though this is submitting as to the Lord.

But for Paul to go into all of this detail about husbands needing to sacrificially love their wives was virtually unheard of in the ancient world.

This called for a total transformation by the Holy Spirit of the institution of marriage from what was the norm in the culture.

But, in reality, it was a restoration of God’s design for marriage from the beginning.

That’s Paul’s point in verse 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.’ [That’s Genesis 2:24, we’re back to Genesis again!] This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
Genesis 2:24 is the most important passage in the Bible for defining what marriage is. Leave, cleave, and become one-flesh. That’s what marriage is.

And Paul says, that this marriage thing is a “mystery.”

Now, remember, a “mystery” in the Scriptures is not a detective story. A mystery in the Bible is something that was once hidden but is now revealed.

And the mystery of marriage is that it has always been a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church–even before anyone knew who Christ was!

Paul is saying that when God designed marriage and gave it to the first couple in Genesis chapter 2, He had Jesus in mind! Jesus was hidden at the time within the leaving, cleaving, one-flesh marriage bond–but He was there! He was there!

God has designed marriage–from the beginning–not just as a good idea or even just as a good gift to humankind, but as a picture for all to see of what kind of an intimate love relationship Jesus wants and has with His people, the body, the church. That’s the mystery of marriage. And Paul says that it is profound, or great, magnificent! He says (v.32), “I am talking about Christ and the church.”

Listen! There is a lot more at stake in our Christian marriages than our happiness.
There is also the picture of Christ’s relationship with His people at stake!

That’s why God hates divorce! Because it isn’t just about you and him or you and her. It’s about what are you picturing about Christ and His church! Divorce smears mud on the breath-taking picture God is painting with your marriage!

A wife’s glad submission to her husbands is supposed to mirror for the watching world the glorious trustworthiness of Christ Headship!

A husband’s sacrificial, need-meeting love for his wives is supposed to mirror for the watching world the glorious agape love that Jesus had for us to die in our place!

From the very beginning marriage has existed to paint a picture for the world of Jesus’ relationship with His people.

Our marriages are a part of that picture. Our marriages are a canvas that the Master Artist wants to bring to life with the glorious paint of submission and sacrifice.

And the whole point of it is to direct people’s attention past us to our Savior!

There is so much at stake here, brothers and sisters! And it is worth all of the heart-ache and hard work of submission and sacrifice! Because Jesus will get the glory!

That’s why Paul comes back in v.33 and sums it all up again.

“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

Husbands, love your wife as yourself! To what lengths will you go for yourself? Go the distance for you wife! Meet her needs in love!

Wives, respectfully submit to your husbands. Give them the respect and reverence due them as your Head and follow their lead.

And, mysteriously, as we do this, we will show the world the glory of Jesus!

We need to build our marriages on God’s design.