“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. The man, you see, is the head of the woman, just as the Messiah, too, is head of the Church. He is himself the savior of the body. But, just as the church is subject to the Messiah, in the same way women should be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as the Messiah loved the church, and gave himself for it, so that he could make it holy, cleansing it by washing it with water through the word. He did this in order to present the church to himself in brilliant splendour, without a single spot or blemish or anything of the kind – that it might be holy and without blame. That’s how husbands ought to love their own wives, just as they love their own bodies. Someone who loves his wife loves himself. After all, nobody ever hates his own flesh: he feeds it and takes care of it, just as the Messiah does with the church, because we are parts of his body. ‘That’s why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two become one flesh.’ The hidden meaning in this saying is very deep; but I am reading it as referring to the Messiah and the Church. Anyway, each one of you must love your wife as you love yourself; and the wife must see that she respects her husband.” – Ephesians 5:22-33
What does marriage have to do with Ephesians?
If you were to sum up the book of Ephesians in one word, what would it be? I know mine: deep. You’ve been in the book for a while and are reaching the end, and I'm certain you would agree with me that “deep” just about sums it up. In chapter 1 you have heavy Biblical and theological teachings like God’s absolute sovereignty in all things, predestination, foreknowledge, adoption, eternal security, and glorification. In chapter 2 you have justification, total depravity, unconditional election, and reconciliation. And chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6 can be summed in a word: sanctification. Sanctification isn’t hard to understand in Ephesians: it is putting into practice everything Paul has written about in chapters 1 & 2. Simply put: what does your life look like when you've been foreknown, predestined, elected, justified and adopted into the family of God through the person and work of Jesus? And, by the way, what it looks like is not squeaky-clean living, otherwise why would Paul even need to write this stuff to Christians? Sanctification is a messy process for messy people: it is you, the sinner, becoming who you already are, a saint, in Jesus Christ. For the most part it's a slow process, but every now and then you may receive a fast, miraculous, breakthrough in one area of your life while in another it could be painfully slow.
I'm not saying that those who don't share this lifestyle have illegitimate marriages, but I am saying that they don’t have the full blessings of marriage.
It is my belief that we just might possibly be in the deepest section of Ephesians. You can be the judge of that - I might be speaking purely subjective here. I can only say that I’ve preached on quite a few different topics before: God’s sovereignty in all things, predestination, miracles and physical healing, election, eternal security, death, and even Hell. But this is my first sermon on the topic of marriage and it almost broke my brain.
No command can be truly followed unless it is first correctly understood.
For many years, the American University, Harvard, used the Apostle Paul as the supreme example of how to formulate an argument. This university studied the Book of Romans not as God’s Word but as a logical, thoughtful, well-presented argument. They found that Paul would very clearly state his major premise early and then everything else would flow from and expound upon the original premise. The whole Book of Romans is an exposition of one verse, found in the first chapter: “I’m not ashamed of the good news; it is God’s power, bringing salvation to everyone who believes – to the Jew first, and also, equally, to the Greek.”
Ever since finding that out I’ve been on the lookout for the major premise. Usually it’s in the first chapter but it seems clear to me that you may find little premises floating about, perhaps a sentence or two, that’ll pop up and say, ‘Here! This is what it’s all about! Start here!’
And I must admit: after a first reading of today's text I wasn’t too sure where to start with this one. I actually believe the first verse of chapter 5 is the starting premise for all of chapter 5, where it states that we “should be imitators of God, like dear children.” That’s an important verse for how understanding marriage.
But then what does Paul do? He starts with the ladiesss! And so here was my dilemma: we are Bible-believing Christians and this is a Bible-believing Church, right? But, whether we like it or not our thinking has been infiltrated by 2000 years of overtaking worldviews and philosophies, particularly the recent liberal and feminist ones, that even I became hesitant to begin where Paul begins. I thought to myself: in this day and age the world is so backwards to what the Bible says, I might have to start my message backwards. I might have to start where Paul ends: more towards the men.
Then I thought: no, the Bible is always right, even in the logic of its order, it is right. You start where Paul starts. So I read on, this time paying more attention to detail, not being superficial, and examining things a little deeper. Then I saw it.
The major premise of this text is verse 1 but the starting point of our journey has to be verses 31 & 32: “'That’s why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two become one flesh.’ The hidden meaning in this saying is very deep; but I am reading it as referring to the Messiah and the Church.”
Men and women who are serious about marriage must understand for themselves the story of Adam & Eve and Christ & the Church
We can’t study all of that; we’ll be here for a week. Men and women who are serious about marriage must understand for themselves the story of Adam & Eve and Christ & the Church. But we’re going to do three things here - this’ll be like an overview of marriage and it is my hope that these three things will display what it means for a wife to be subject to her husband and for a husband to love his wife:
1) We’ll mostly look into the beginning at Adam & Eve, the first bride and groom: where marriage was defined.
2) We’ll partly look into the end: what has happened and will happen with Christ and the Church, the last bride and groom?
3) We’ll quickly look into what happened before the beginning, at God Himself: where did marriage come from?
Instead of reading the Genesis story upfront I thought it better to do something a little different: to examine a discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees - a discussion about marriage - which involves the first bride & groom. Contrary to the general view of today, Jesus had very clear teachings on marriage. You can find this in Matthew 19 and Mark 10; I will be reading a harmony of both:
The Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.” And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, wrote you this precept, and permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter. So He said to them, “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it let him accept it.”
Right Marriage is a Gift
First point: marriage is a gift… but not really. It was a gift. It was pleasant. God gave it to us for our good. But sin came and ruined everything, including marriage. Fortunately, God is good. He has not left us alone. In fact, when Adam first sinned, God’s response was not abandonment; He stayed close to us. And because sin is so real in our lives God has needed to give us instruction on how to live. So marriage isn’t necessarily a gift - for some it’s like a curse - but it can be a gift when we follow God’s word. This is what I am calling “right marriage.” And what did Jesus say about this gift of right marriage? All cannot accept it. He goes on to list three types of people who cannot accept this gift. Which leads to my second point.
Right Marriage isn’t for everybody
Jesus is wisdom personified. He had a great way of simplifying the issue: making things black and white. It’s either this way or that way, it’s either this gate or that gate, you’re either wheat or you’re chaff. Well, when it comes to marriage, Jesus, once again, simplifies it: you’re either married or you’re a eunuch. But unlike the other cases where Jesus breaks the issues down positive-negative, both of these lifestyles, marriage and eunuch, can be permissible under the right circumstance.
A Eunuch is usually thought of as a man who has been castrated. But it can be defined in other ways, and I think there are three types of eunuchs being displayed here
The First Eunuch: Right Marriage involves a healthy sex life
Eunuchs who were made so by other men. This is pagan castration. The Jewish people practiced circumcision; they did not practice castration. But if you were to look at many of the non-Western pagan lifestyles of the world you would find a trend of genital mutilation. This is not godly and it will affect right marriage: right marriage involves a healthy sex life. Genital mutilation… probably doesn’t help… in that regard.
There are eunuchs born so from their mother’s womb. I believe this is to do with either impotence or just a person’s natural inclination to not be married, both of which can point to one thing: not having children. Right marriage involves children. My Senior Pastor once mused to me: “I don’t understand these people, Joel, who get married and don’t have kids. I just think, ‘What are you thinking?’ Children are a blessing! You know what I think? I think they’re selfish.” And I actually agree with him. It is Biblically clear that right marriage involves children, it was one of the primary commands for Adam & Eve.
Now you might respond - and it’s a perfectly good response - what about those who only find out that they can’t procreate after getting married? Again, I have to stick to my guns here: adoption. A perfectly good, wholesome, and Biblical choice for the parents, especially in this day and age where we have the horrors of abortion surrounding us. Christians ought to fight against abortion by supporting and displaying the beautiful life-saving provision of adoption. Right marriage involves children.
Eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. This is to do with celibacy. As stated in the previous two: right marriage involves a healthy sex life and children. But this type of eunuch, unlike the other two, is one who is so for righteous reasons. This type of eunuch is like Jesus and the Apostle Paul, who stayed single and was more effective in their ministry, as it was their calling. Right marriage is a right calling. This is a matter of the conscience. If you have been called to live as a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven’s sake you will be gifted in a way that affirms that calling, and your conscience will have told you this… I don't see this option as the majority though as God Himself stated that “it's not good for man to be alone.” But I do fear that perhaps there have been Christians who have ignored this calling, and married instead.
Third point - uh oh - marriage is about the man. Let me quickly explain this before we go deeper: marriage isn’t about the strong man who’s just awesome at everything and knows the way to go while leading a submissive wife by his side. No, no, no. Marriage is, first and foremost, about the weak man: the man who lacks… who’s incomplete. It’s about a man who needs woman, like Adam needed Eve. He was lacking, and God provided. But because man came first, and then Eve, marriage is about the man.
So now that I’ve defined, laid a little groundwork, and made some general statements on marriage, it is here where we can delve more into Ephesians 5 to understand why the Apostle Paul talks about the husband being the head of the wife. And I even think the way Jesus speaks about men and women gives us a glimpse. As a man, I have no clue what it’s like for women to read the Bible. But I had this thought while reading the gospel passage: why do Jesus and the Pharisees always talk about a woman committing adultery, and not the man? After all, the great king David was the one who committed, quite possibly, the most famous act of adultery in the entire Bible - it is not like Jesus didn’t know this. I don’t have any stats here but it seems pretty clear that in the history of adultery both men and women suck. So why? Why only talk about women like they are the ones committing so great a crime? It’s because Jesus is speaking in categorical terms. And in His categories the husband is the head who imitates Him while the woman is the one who imitates the Church. Christ is the head of the Church and He will never commit adultery, while the Church has. To simply imagine a husband who commits adultery is an insult to the name of Jesus - it is an insult to the position of the husband as ‘head.’
So let’s talk about this position. I’ve noticed that when people talk about the husband being the head of the wife it’s like a synonym for a husband who leads the wife. That is completely secondary. It doesn’t take much to see the primary way for a husband to be head over his wife. Ephesians 5 says it simply: love your wives. That is the chief objective, the chief command, for the head of the wife - everything else flows from that. But it goes on further: love your wives like Christ loves the Church. And then it continues on in a way that displays how Christ loves the Church - giving a direct, and clear, example to how husbands must love their wives.
How does Christ love the Church?
1) He loves the Church. One of my favourite passages about God’s love for His people is found in Deuteronomy 7: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you…” He loves the Church because He loves the Church. And if that ain’t a picture of romantic love I don’t know what is. When a man loves a woman, number 1, he’s chosen her out of a bunch of other woman and, number 2, he did so solely because he’s setting his love on her. Romantic love is a picture of God’s love. You would’ve read this in Ephesians chapter 1: “In love He predestined” you for salvation into His family. God didn’t choose you so He could love you; He loved you and had to choose you. There’s no logic to this: it’s love! Husbands, love your wives, because you love your wives, and have chosen her.
2) Jesus gave Himself for the Church. How did He give Himself? The very same way God gave Eve to Adam; He broke Adam in two in order to make him one. Jesus Christ, on the cross, was pierced, his body broke, and until the last day His open body shall stay presented to the world, saying: “Come! Come to me!” And the Church is made up of all those who’ve responded to that call - who enter into His broken body. And when the final resurrection happens upon the return of Jesus, He will be stitched up and the Church will be saved in Him; Jesus Christ is the new creation where humanity will continue to live, while those who ignore the call will perish, outside His body, in eternal death. The Church will be restored, the new world lives on in Him, which leads us to the next way Jesus loves the Church…
We look over the sin because of our love. Love covers a multitude of sin.
God has put His grace on you, and the Bible calls that a gift. Now, a gift is a gift. There is one rule when it comes to gifts: you don’t pay for it and you don’t pay it back. But there is one natural response to a gift and it could be misunderstood as paying the person back - you love the giver more. Naturally. And, to bring it closer to our theme of justification, you grow in trust towards the giver or - to put it more “Biblically” - you grow in faith. Faith is a great theme of the Bible. The Apostle Paul says that Abraham believed God (had faith) and it was counted to Him as righteousness - he was declared righteous. Well, what does being “declared righteous” mean? Again, Adam & Eve can help here. One of the first acts of God, when dealing with these two upon their first sin, was clothing their shame with the skin of an innocent animal. Surely anyone who knows the gospel can pick up what is happening! One of the greatest gifts that abound from the cross of Jesus is the taking away of our shame by the clothing of Jesus’ righteousness. And how do we get that righteousness? Going back to Abraham, we get it by believing God. Not believing in God, but believing God - what He says. This has often been called The Great Exchange: we give our sin to God and He gives us His own righteousness.
If ever a guy or girl is going to make it in a relationship they must come to grips with the reality of when the other person is declaring over them “you're all right to me,” they are, in fact, all right.
God’s justifying love for you is the foundation of right marriage.
I hope men are closer to seeing the definition of husband as head more clearly. I think we are too nonchalant about the position - like we have an idea of it and that’s good enough. It is not good enough. Having an idea of what is right is one thing… preparing yourself to do what is right is another. It’s actually hard. Especially when the one right thing that men ought to do in preparation for being head is to be like Jesus… that’s hard. He is the head of the Church, and like dear children we must imitate Him. Prepare for marriage by imitating Jesus. Prepare for being head of the household by imitating Jesus now. Study the gospels to see what kind of man He is. You will find that Jesus exceled the most in two areas where we often fail the most: devotional time in the Bible and prayer. He was so awesome in this. So, men, do we read our Bible often, our whole Bible, Old Testament and New, and do we pray often? If the answer is no and no I have some terrible news for us; we will fail to be the head of our wives that we could be; the head who imitates Christ. To state it simply: if you aren’t making it your goal to imitate Christ now, what makes you think that you’ll be this amazing husband when the chief objective of the husband is to imitate Christ?
When the husband is obedient in imitating Christ well, the wife can be obedient in imitating the Church well.
Just to conclude, where did all this come from? Titus chapter 1 gives a glimpse - amazingly, it gives us a glimpse of God before the beginning of time. It says, “God, who never lies, promised this before the ages began.” And my question to you is simple: promised? To whom? It wasn’t you. It wasn’t me. We weren’t there before th ages began! This is God the Father promising His Son a Bride. You exist, this whole universe exists, because God is getting married. That’s it. This Bride has caused the Son a lot of trouble: she has fallen into sin, the Son has rescued her from that, and the great dragon constantly attacks Her, but the Son will finally come to slay him. As one pastor put it: Kill the dragon, get the girl. The whole story of existence is a story of marriage, and when it is displayed rightly it brings glory and honour to God; we cannot afford to get wrong that which is so deeply ingrained into the story of the universe. May God have us tremble before marriage.