The following is a rough transcript of a sermon I presented to the bride and groom–very good friends of mine who are an interracial couple–along with their wedding party and their guests just prior to our witnessing their vows to love one another until death.
Does marriage really matter?
Many of you have put a lot of sweat and time into making this occasion happen here today. What’s the point? Why all the pageantry? Why the formality? Why the travel from near and far to behold this event; why the expense? Why do you care? Does marriage really matter in the year 2019 when marriages rarely remain intact, and relationships have digressed into come-and-go with no strings attached? Isn’t marriage inconsequential in light of current observations of love and loss?
If you happen to have a Bible or Bible app, turn or swipe your way to Ephesians 5:21-33. We will put our ear to truth and learn why marriage matters.
Wives, give authority to your husbands in every area of life
…submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.Ephesians 5:21-24
What does it mean?
The word submit here–what exactly does it mean? Is it a dehumanizing of one partner under the tyranny of the other? Is it a horrid vestige of male-dominated patriarchy? No, rather it is a voluntary placing of one’s self under the authority of another. It is the self-directed subordination of one’s self to another.
Submission is not exploitation. It is not oppression. Authority is not synonymous with tyranny. Submission does not equal inferiority. It is a giving of authority to another; it is giving respect before it is earned. It is like the student who gives respect to the teacher, or the employee who gives authority to the boss.
This idea of submission of a wife to a husband was not a radical idea back when it was written. However, what was very much radical when it was written was the specific character and example of this submission.
“wives to husbands as to the Lord“
“Wives to husbands as to the Lord.” Did you hear that? Today we hear “submit as to the Lord,” and we recoil at its totality, when the original audience would have gasped at its relational warmth. They would have heard, “Christian wives, your submission to your husband is very different than the subjugation you have witnessed all around you outside Chrisianity. You are not submitting to your husband as a dictator, not as to a superior, but as to your loving Savior.” God has selected the husband to be given unique authority in the same way that Christ is given unique authority of the Church. This means the wife has been uniquely selected to be a cherished help to her husband.
“He is the Savior…”
Christ is Savior of the body, and this causes the church to submit to him. A Savior complex has received a bad rep today. It means when someone believes they can save you when they have no business doing so. And we all know husbands who treat their wives that way. The husband is not the Savior. Jesus is the Savior. Let’s be clear about that. But the author is drawing this parallel in how the wife submits to the husband because the posture of submission for the wife is the same as someone who has been saved by another person. There is affection. There is willingness to follow.
I know we’ve all got patronizing, condescending, or even abusive relationships in our minds right now, as we speak about a posture of submission, but let’s not allow the wrong application of God’s Word detract us from the right application. The wife submitting to the husband looks like this: the music starts playing, the couple walk out on the dance floor, and she says, “Lead us.” He might step on her toes. He might look goofy. But she says, “I’m going to give you the lead as if you have our collective best interests in mind.”
Giving Authority as to a Savior
Women here today, you quite possibly have been taught your whole lives that you either should never submit to anyone or you should submit to all men as second-class citizens. This is poison from Satan intended to mar the precious image of God in over 50% of humanity. And it is his intent to not only make you believe you are inferior and trash and worthless, but also for you to believe that authority is evil and submission is repulsive.
I beg you to reject both the lie of your inferiority and the lie of your superiority. Reject both the lie that you are less than, and the lie that being independent and submitting to no one is achieving true personhood. We are all (men and women) submitters by design; we were created to submit to the glory of a good, good Father and taste the freedom of his sovereign rule. Both men and women are called to submit to his divine rule, and in his grace, God has given us a unique relationship called marriage, in which we get to witness what giving authority away looks like. We look to wives, and we see the Church, and we learn how to be submitters.
Now, we do not look to all women for this portrait, but specifically to married women. The Scriptures do not call all women to submit to all men. They call wives to submit to their own husbands. So, to the bride I say, if you do not believe you are ready to give authority to a husband, stop everything. Do not get married. To the rest of you, if you are dating a guy who you just can’t see yourself giving authority to…don’t marry him.
But if you are already married or you are ready to give authority to someone, here are a few applications.
- Regard your husband’s authority as precious.
- Respect your husband’s decisions.
- Receive your husband’s presence, affection, and gifts.
- Respond to your husband in gratitude.
- Be his greatest help; not his greatest critic.
Ultimately, wives, you teach the Church how to regard Christ in the way you regard your husbands.
Your giving authority to your husband sings a different song to the universe. There is a different narrative. You see, your husband isn’t really the target of your submission. The King Eternal, the Holy One, the Sovereign over all Creation is the only one truly worthy of our submission, and when you give authority to your husband, you are painting a portrait for our minds to grasp and our hearts to embrace of a much greater submission we are all welcomed to enjoy to the one who created our souls.
Husbands, give up your lives for your wives before they deserve it.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body.Ephesians 5:25–30
“Love Your Wives”
Gentlemen, the text says “love your wives.” It does not say, “lead your wives.” The command is not to govern your wives, not to be the authority or boss of your wives, not to exercise your headship, and certainly not to “make sure your wives submit.” No, your charge is to love her. And that’s intimidating, isn’t it? What exactly does it mean to love? Unfortunately many of us in these loveless times genuinely have no clue. So the author answers that question for us: “love your wives just as Christ loved the church”.
Now we’re getting somewhere. We have a pattern to follow. We have a visual representation of love to follow to know what it means to love another. How did Jesus love his Bride, the Church?
“He Gave Up His Life For Her”
“He gave up his life for her.” Christ took the initiative in handing himself over to death. He went to the cross as the willing victim, and this action on behalf of his people was the supreme demonstration of his love for them. He was slaughtered on her behalf. He took upon himself all her guilt. This is what it means to truly be a savior. He laid down his life for her.
What’s more, there was a reason why he loved her before she deserved it, and it was this: “to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead she will be holy and without fault.”
Why did he give up his life for her? Was it because the Church was gorgeous? Was it because the Church was helpful? Was it because the Church was kind? Was it because the Church was good, affirming, and a great submitter to authority and approved of him and respected him and thought much of him, her husband?
No, he gave up his life for her because she was none of those things, and he was committed to her future splendor. Men, the pattern of husband love is Christ love. Christ loved the church as if she were holy before she was holy.
We know this as the good news or the Gospel.
Truth is, we are not inherently born Kings and Queens. We come into this world loving our selves more than others, and we live as if God is under our authority instead of the other way around.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.1 Corinthians 6:9-10
But God’s love is the kind of uninvited guest that breaks in and disrupts things with his own agenda.
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.1 Corinthians 6:11
Titus 3:5-7 paints a vivid picture of this arrangement before you or I had anything to say or do in the matter.
He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.Titus 3:5-7
The good news is that anyone who belongs to God right now got there because of God’s merit and not their own. God pre-emptively loves. God pre-emptively saves before you deserve it.
This passage of Christ washing and cleansing his bride is shining a light on another wedding ceremony that occurs in Ezekiel 16.
In Ezekiel, God tells his covenant people Israel, about how he married them. He uses a story. He says I was out taking a stroll one day when I came upon a discarded infant baby girl with her umbilical cord still intact, wallowing in her blood and mess. And Israel, that was you. You had not been cared for. You had been discarded in the trash. You had not been cleaned up. You hadn’t been wrapped in a baby blanket. You were thrown out into a vacant lot and left there, dirty and unwashed—a newborn nobody wanted. And then I came by.
I saw you all miserable and bloody. Yes, I said to you, lying there helpless and filthy, “Live!”
And this is the Gospel. God looks at us in our helpless state, chasing our pride, arrogance, lust, envy, and all manner of sins while we try to save ourselves, and he looks at us and says, “My son is going to die so that you might live.”
But God doesn’t stop there in his story. He says, I watched you grow up. I took away your nakedness, your vulnerability, your fragility, your exposure. I took care of you. I dressed you. I protected you. And I entered a marriage covenant with you and promised eternal love for you.
I gave my word. You became mine. I washed from you all your blood, and I anointed you with perfume. I dressed you in splendor and majesty. I clothed you in extravagance. I adorned you with jewelry and diamonds.
You were absolutely stunning. You were a queen! (see Ezekiel 16:1–14, The Message)
Catch that! God makes queens out of the discarded.
And I need you to know, that no matter how much you try to scrub the sins of your past off with doing good things or attending church or being a model citizen, your bloody mess will never be removed until it’s washed away permanently by God when you submit to the cleansing power of Jesus Christ. You must submit to his authority and love him, or you will never be clean.
This is what we call in Christian circles “getting saved.” It’s a definite moment when you confess to God that you really do have no hope in being free from sin apart from his radical transformation of you from the inside out. And that’s when you get washed clean.
Giving Up Life Before It Is Deserved
Men, you quite possibly have been taught your whole lives that you should only love, and lay down your life for a woman who will respect you. You’ve been taught that when she stops respecting, you should stop loving. This is poison from Satan intended to mar the precious image of God. And it is his intent to make you believe that running from hardship in marriage is an option. I beg you to reject the lie that calls you to only safe love. Make it your aim to love her and live for her and die for her before she deserves it, before she responds with respect, before she is a queen.
So to the groom I say, if you do not believe you are ready to give up your life like that to a wife, stop everything. Do not get married. If you are dating a woman who you just can’t see yourself give up your life for…don’t marry her.
But if you are already married or you are ready to give up your life for someone, here are a few applications.
- Sacrifice your own interests for the welfare of your wife!
- Whole-heartedly nurture and tenderly care for her.
- Say to yourself, “She will be loved.”
Cause your wife to know God more because she knows your undying, never-ending, never-walk-away, never giving up love.
Husbands and wives, give us all a taste of the restoration of the universe through your marriage
‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.Ephesians 5:31-33
What Does It Mean?
“the two shall become one flesh…profound mystery” A mystery in this author’s writing always refers to something that has been right in front of your face for a long time, and then all of a sudden, it hits you like a load of bricks what it really is all about.
Like that moment when you realize the animated movie Zootopia isn’t just about bunnies and foxes, but white supremacy, racism, and gender equality in the workforce.
You sit up, and go, “Wow! That was a mystery until I finally got it!”
Here the author is quoting Genesis, the first book of the Bible, that had been written some 1200-1600 years before in the Late Bronze Age. Everyone was familiar with the statement “a man shall leave mom and dad and hold fast to his wife.”
But we are learning here in Ephesians that this two becoming one is the eye-opening aha! of the ages because it points to something cosmic, something global, something colossal.
What exactly is so important about marriage? Why exactly are we gathered here today to have this ceremony?
There is something here that’s been before your eyes for as long as humanity has existed, and we many times think it’s as trivial as butterflies or the birds and the bees.
The Mystery Revealed
Let me open your eyes to the revealing of what is really going on here when a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh.
When wives give authority to husbands and husbands give up their lives before their wives deserve it, they give us all a taste of the impending restoration of the broken universe. They show us the power of God in making two divided, separated people one.
See, the unity and harmony of the cosmos, has suffered a considerable dislocation, even a rupture, when sin entered the world, and this dislocation requires restoration.
There must be a reconciliation of all things to God and to one another.
This was commenced at the cross when Jesus died and rose again and will be consummated when Jesus returns. But people, we need stories, we need picture books of this coming reality, and this current reality.
We have a picture book here today. The power and might of God to restore a broken universe is being illustrated here today at this wedding ceremony.
The mission of Jesus to the earth is to ‘bring all things together in unity’ under his authority and love. God “set forth in Christ a plan to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:9–10).
The very existence of the church, made up of formerly irreconcilable people, is to be a reminder that the authority of evil spiritual powers has been decisively broken, and their final defeat is imminent.
The very existence of this marriage we are about to celebrate, made up of two people who have sinned and will sin against one another, yet loving and respecting one another, is to be a reminder that the authority of evil spiritual power has been broken, and will be defeated.
Their wedding covenant is a preview of the reversal of Babel. The reversal of people disassociating with one another because they can’t understand one another or work together replaced by an all nations worship team around the throne room of the galaxies.
The two becoming one paints a picture of future reality – all things becoming one under Christ.
God has done the impossible. He has brought together the absolutely irreconcilable and united them in one body, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus places his authority over all things, and all divisions flee in the face of him. Demonic forces like white supremacy and ethnocentrism wilt in the face of Jesus as he draws all people to himself and creates one new humanity. Pride, envy, hatred, they all die at Jesus’ feet.
You see, in these times, more than ever, we need to see glimpses of all things being brought under King Jesus.
We need to see glimpses of hope, that covenants do remain, that broken things will be mended, that hostility and hatred will not be the last word, that separations and broken promises are not the final word, that walls and wars and wreckage are not the final word in God’s world.
Marriage matters because by wives giving authority to their husbands and husbands giving up their lives for their wives before they deserve it, they give us all a taste of the restoration of all things, and the beginning of forever.