22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. 27 He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. 28 In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 since we are members of his body. 31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 32 This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33 CSB)
We’re continuing our series on Holy Things and today we are talking about marriage. Historically, the church has always considered marriage to be holy and is often considered a sacrament or ordinance much like baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
But, what makes marriage a holy thing?
In our passage for today, the Apostle Paul answers that question. For Paul, marriage is holy because it images Christ’s relationship with the church. Or at least, it does if it is done well.
Paul explains quite of few significant truths about the way that husbands and wives relate to each other and then he writes this:
There are really two facets of this passage. On one hand, Paul uses the churches relationship with Jesus to illustrate God’s design for marriage. But, then, he seems to say that it’s a double illustration. Paul also wants you to learn about Christ’s relationship to the church by looking at marriage. He is teaching two principles in parallel. So, for purposes of this discussion it won’t matter if you are single, which can make messages about marriage frustrating, because there’s a lot here for everyone who is a part of the church as well.
So, I have three ways from our passage that holiness is demonstrated: Leading, Sacrificing, Caring.
The first way that holiness is demonstrated is through…
…because leading results in submission.
The Apostle Paul wrote,
I want to begin each section by looking at the Christ and the church motif and then move to marriage.
This passage teaches that Christ is the head of the church and the church is the body of Christ. We can draw that illustration out quite a bit. The head contains the brain. That means that Jesus is responsible for the thinking of the church. The head also contains the mouth. The author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote,
In the church, we don’t speak what we think is true or what we think makes sense, but what Christ says is true.
We don’t speak what we want to be true. We don’t speak what we feel should be true. But, we submit all of our faculties—everything we think, want, and feel—to what Jesus actually said. And, since we don’t hear Jesus speak to us directly, we refer to the record of what Jesus has said, which is in the Bible. As the church, we always turn to the source of truth which is Jesus our head and let Jesus direct our paths. ‘
Further, Jesus is the savior of the body. He sacrificed himself, very literally, dying on the cross, so that we can be reconciled to God. The Apostle Paul tells us that, because of Jesus’s humility in sacrificing himself…
In other words, God made Jesus the head of the body. And as the head, the body must submit to Christ.
I think this illustration of the body makes so much sense. When your heart beats irregularly or something like that, you sense that there is something wrong with your body and you go to the doctor. In the same way, when there is strife in the church, there is something wrong with the body and it needs to get looked at.
You have to imagine what this might be like, but What if one of your legs decided it wasn’t going to listen to your brain, but went off on it’s own to do it’s own thing? What would that do to your body? And what if both legs decided to do so and both went off in different directions? You’d never get anywhere like that. The body must always submit to the head to function properly.
The mind exists to inform the members of the body so that they can function together as one body. The members of the church should be thinking people, but must be thoughtful about scripture so that their thoughts follow Christ’s thoughts. We don’t think on our own, but we have the mind of Christ, the head.
And that’s fine, right? because, Jesus is God. No one is concerned about letting God govern their choices, at least not so long as you believe that God is working for your good; God is on your side. That’s way easier than submitting to your husband.
As a husband, I am painfully aware of the reality that I am not God. I don’t think perfectly. My body doesn’t work perfectly. My emotions don’t always reflect what I know to be good and right. I know that I am not a perfect person.
But, the Apostle Paul said that just like Christ is the head of the church, the husband is the head of the wife. And as scary as that may seem to the wives in the room or the future wives in the room, I think it ought to be scarier to the husbands.
As I read this passage, I’m confronted with the reality that I am being called by the Apostle Paul to lead my wife like Jesus leads the church, so that my wife can submit to me just like the church is supposed to submit to Christ. There’s grace written into this passage for the wife. Looking at the parallel, when the church fails, that’s literally what Jesus died for, so the church is forgiven and moves forward.
But, Jesus never failed, never fails, and never will fail. As the husband, your task is to think and live as much as humanly possible like Jesus. You are to lead your wife in righteousness as much as possible, so that your wife can submit to you without having any fear that you are leading her in a direction contrary to God’s design for her. That’s the goal, to be such a godly man and husband that your wife will want to follow you where God is leading you together.
And that’s how we ought to look at it.
God doesn’t have one plan for you as a husband and one plan for you as a wife. Paul quotes the book of Genesis,
It’s not that you lose everything distinct about you as a man or a woman when you get married, but God’s plans for you as individuals become so intermingled in marriage that the become indistinct. You are one flesh. That means that you have one life direction. And you share one worldview.
I think it’s wise for you, as a couple, to pray and search the scriptures and figure out what that direction really is. And then, at the end of the day, it falls on the husband to lead his wife in the right direction.
In conversations that I have had with women, the problem is rarely that the wife doesn’t want to submit to the husband, anyway. It’s usually that the wife can’t submit to the husband for one of two reasons. (1) Either the husband is leading his wife away from Christ for some reason. Or (2) the husband is not leading at all. In either situation, what you usually end up with is a strong and capable woman who takes up the charge to lead her family. Usually she works and manages the household finances and makes decisions for the kids education and all that. Someone has to do that, so I would not be critical of any woman in that situation. There are many single and married moms who have to do that and I think it’s awesome that they do.
But, I will be very critical of men who refuse to lead, or men who refuse to lead their wives as Christ leads the church. If you are a married man or you are a man who hopes one day to be married, then you need to figure out what God’s direction is and you need to be prepared to lead your wife. And frankly, that means you are going to need to know Jesus really, really well.
In other words, knowing Jesus well isn’t just the job of pastors, but it’s your job as a husband. Pursuing a knowledge of Christ through the scriptures needs to be a priority in the life of every man. As a husband, you may not be called to be a pastor, but you can be sure of this, your pursuit of Jesus will reveal to you the direction that God has for you and your wife so that you will know where and how to lead. That means that if you don’t pursue Jesus through the scriptures and you’re content with a superficial knowledge of Jesus and the church, you will never be able to lead your wife well. And then you will probably struggle because you will have a wife who feels she needs to lead you. And that will cause problems in your marriage. But, hear this, your problem isn’t that your wife refuses to submit. Your problem is that you don’t know how to lead.
So, men, it’s time for you to step it up and start daily pursuing Jesus through the Bible, through books about the Bible, through social media channels, through podcasts, through YouTube, and through any number of other ways that you can get to know Jesus and His plan better.
To restate this point, Leading results in Submission. So men, you need to lead.
And then a second way that holiness is demonstrated in your marriage is through…
…because sacrificing leads to purification.
In our text, the Apostle Paul continued,
Again, we will begin by looking at Jesus. It says that Jesus loved the church. And that makes sense, because everyone loves their own body.
And you’re like, “No I don’t.”
But, in a sense you do. Anyone who has ever thought about dieting or exercising knows that loving your body is different than loving the way your body looks, loving the way your body feels, or loving the way your body functions. The church doesn’t always look good. The church doesn’t always feel right. And the church doesn’t always function the way God designed it to function.
Nonetheless, Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for the church to make the church holy, clean, and pure. Do you see, Jesus’s body may not always look good, but he loves us all the same, because he loves his body.
Now, I want you to notice something here, because Paul gives two ways that the church is made holy or purified. He says that Jesus gave himself up for the church. That’s an obvious reference to Jesus’s death. Jesus died so that sinful humans could be made pure. But, then he says that Jesus cleanses the body with washing of water by the word.
This is what we call the already-but-not-yet motif in scripture. If you follow Jesus as Lord and Savior, then you are already considered pure by God. But, you know that you are not yet actually pure and that you still continue to do things that are impure—sinful effects of your broken human state.
So, Jesus continues to purify the church through the Word of God. This is why we preach on Sunday’s. It’s so that you can hear the word of God and changed, purified because of it. This is why we sing songs that are clearly informed by the scriptures. This is why we listen to Christian radio, and Christian podcasts, and read Christian books, and watch Christian movies and documentaries. We want to have as much of the Word of God flowing over us as possible, so that we can be purified by the words of Jesus Christ. I don’t want to be the sinful man that I was, but I want to be like Christ in every way.
You know, people always want to know why Jesus had to die. They ask, Couldn’t Jesus just have forgiven sin without dying?
But, that’s simplistic thinking. If Jesus just forgives sins and does nothing to purify his church, then he leaves us as sinful people. Think about that for a moment. No husband wants a wife who continually commits adultery. The church is not the adulterous bride of Jesus; Jesus is making the church holy, purifying the church, so that the church can be married to Him forever in splendor, without any spot or wrinkle, but holy and blameless.
Part of that is forgiveness, but forgiveness is just the beginning. Jesus sacrificed everything in order to purify the church, not just forgive us. And he continues to do so.
In the letter to the Roman church, the Apostle Paul wrote,
Notice Paul does not say that Jesus will intercede for us or that he already did intercede for us.
He actually says that Jesus intercedes for us right now. It’s a present reality. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father where he rules over his people and he advocates for his church. So, when the world points to the church and calls us hypocrites, instead of hiding our sin, we can apologize, repent, and move forward in righteousness, claiming the promise of scripture that Jesus is making us pure. No one can accuse God’s elect because Christ is purifying us.
That’s how far the love of Jesus goes for you. He forgives and then works to make you holy.
And that’s the degree to which husbands are called to love their wives. Now, I should preface by saying this: a husband does not purify his wife. The husband and the wife must individually be purified through Jesus Christ. There is an ancient heresy that says women can’t even be saved if they aren’t married and there are only about 500 places in scripture to go to to know that is a lie.
Husbands cannot make their wives holy.
But husbands can sacrifice for their wives like Jesus sacrificed for us. And this is funny to me, because I know lots of guys who wouldn’t hesitate to take a bullet for their wives, and yet, also won’t give up the remote control. I don’t doubt that those men love their wives, but love is only perceived when it’s practiced.
The reality is, most men will never have to take a bullet for their wives. So, if your sacrifice is demonstrated in your willingness to do the big things that rarely, if ever, occur, then your wife will not sense your love towards her. The reality is, it’s the daily sacrifices that you make for your wife that will really be significant.
And the remote control is not really what I’m talking about. That’s superficial. Your wife doesn’t care that much about the remote. From my perspective as a husband, here’s the big three things that I bet your wife needs to see you sacrifice in order to perceive your love on a regular basis: loyalty, time, and finances.
If I ever have to hear another husband joke with his wife about cheating on her ever again, I’m going to lose my mind. Don’t say, “She knows I’m kidding.” You’re dead wrong. She doesn’t know you’re kidding. All she knows is you’re probably kidding, and that’s a huge difference so don’t joke about that.
And if you’re one of those couples that has loyalty banked on contingencies, like, “I’m loyal as long as she doesn’t _________, but if she does, I’m out!” Don’t have contingencies. Agree on unconditional loyalty. Agree to be one flesh. God has joined you together and let man never separate what God has joined. I realize that may not always be possible and divorce happens, but you are setting yourself up for failure if you go into a marriage with contingencies.
What you actually need to do as a husband is to find ways to communicate your loyalty to your wife. Keep your location sharing on, on your phone. You don’t have to even tell her you do that. Just do it and if she ever checks, then she’ll know you aren’t hiding anything. Don’t ever clear your browser history. If you don’t ever visit a questionable website, then you have no reason to clear it.
Make sure she knows the password to your phone and make sure your phone displays a notification on the lock screen when you get messages.
When she sees a text from a buddy at work and asks, “How’s Bill?,” that’s not an invasion of privacy; she’s your wife and you’re one flesh. All those sorts of things communicate that you have nothing to hide.
And if you have to spend a night away for work or some other reason, find reasons to call your wife during the evening or other times when she could possibly be concerned. Watch some Netflix in the evening over Skype or something. There are a million ways to communicate your loyalty without even saying anything about it and you ought to do so.
A second thought is your finances and I’ll say more about this later. But, she knows you love her because your spending habits are sacrificial. You are spending for her good, the kids good, the good of other people, above and beyond your spending for yourself. You sacrifice your wants for her good.
And a third thought is to show your love through your time. And that applies the same as finances. Make sure that your time is more for her, more for the kids, more for other people, and less personal time for yourself. Maybe that’s where she cares about the remote control; she might just want control of the power button. Your time communicates to your wife that you love her, so sacrifice your time for her.
So, love her sacrificially. And then I want to talk about the second half of this. Jesus defends the church when we sin and shields us from accusations.
A husband ought to be a shield for his wife, to protect her from criticism from the outside.
I have news for you, husbands, your wives our sinners—not like you are, but still sinners. They aren’t yet perfect either. How do you deal with that?
Well, first I can say this: NEVER should a husband publicize the sins of his wife. NEVER is in all-caps in my notes. That’s how strongly I believe this. Unless you are seeing a counselor and there is a confidentiality agreement, and the sins of your wife are pertinent to the discussion, you should never say a word outside your closed, bedroom doors. You don’t talk about sinful behaviors in public, not even with your kids, never. It’s just not OK.
And then if someone slanders or gossips about your wife, I believe you are to take up the sword—metaphorically, of course. But, you should take any appropriate and legal action to defend the purity of your wife just like Christ defends the purity of His church against the accusations of the devil.
You know, I’m a pretty cool-headed individual most of the time. But, there are two things that make my blood boil. The first is to say something wrong about the scriptures, especially if it’s something that effects sound doctrine or the purity of the church. But, even worse than that, if you mess with my family, especially my wife, and we’re going to have major problems. I work hard to make sure that those problems are dealt with righteously and I’m not always successful, and I’m thankful for the grace of God in those situations. But, far be it from me that anyone accuse me of not defending the honor of my wife as Christ defends the honor of His church.
And this isn’t, by the way, because your wife is helpless and can’t defend herself. It’s not that at all. Your wife might be twice as tough as you are. You do this because your wife is precious, so precious that you will protect her at all costs.
And finally, wives, please, be humble enough to let your husband sacrifice for you. There’s a proverb that says,
True honor is when someone else lifts you up, not when you lift yourself up. If you defend yourself, you might gain the respect of some. But, if your husband believes you are worth defending, then you are far more worthy of honor.
So, husbands, holiness is demonstrated in your leading and in your sacrificing, but also in your…
…because caring results in provision.
The Apostle Paul said,
Here we see that Jesus cares for the church as his own body. And the result is that the church has everything that it needs. Jesus said,
And he said,
Jesus cares for his church and thus the church has everything that it needs. Religions have come and gone throughout history, but the church perseveres, because of Christ’s provision.
And thus, the husband is supposed to care for his wife so that his wife is always provided for. We talked about how your finances and time should be sacrificial and certainly that applies here, that your time and money reflect a care for the physical needs of your wife.
But also, the way you spend your money and the way you spend your time also reflect a care for the emotional needs of your wife.
You know, I can take Jami to dinner and a movie every couple of weeks and call that a date night. That might provide food, which is physical, and a break from the normal routine of life which is mental. But, that will only be meaningful for her on an emotional level ever so often. That you prioritize is not ultimately as significant as how you prioritize.
Here’s what I mean by that. Dinner and a movie is easy.
But, I happen to know that Jami would feel far more cared for if I took her to Thai food and then to an intellectually stimulating move than if I take her to in-n-out and a super hero movie. She also is more impressed if it was all my idea, because that communicates that I care enough about her to think about what she really wants and needs, not just what I want.
And sometimes it’s just practical things that count. Most wives will take care of the needs of their husband and kids and then if there is any time and money left they will take care of themselves. If time and money are scarce, as they usually are, then that means your wife might not be provided for as much as you think. Care for your wife, husband. Watch out for her to make sure that she has time and money to take care of herself.
As we close, I feel like I need to address a conflict. This way of thinking flies in the face of the culture. It’s so different. The culture teaches that women should be strong and independent. They should never submit to a man. A strong woman doesn’t need a man to sacrifice for her. A woman in our culture can’t even count on a man to care for her, none less provide for her.
In some ways it shouldn’t surprise you that the Bible seems to contradict the world. But, in this case I don’t think it does. You know, you would have to hang out at my house for a long time before you witnessed a situation that was clear evidence that Jami submits to me as the head of our family. Mind you, it’s not that she doesn’t submit. But, as a husband, if you do it right, leadership in a biblical sense doesn’t look like anything like leadership in the world.
In the household, the husband doesn’t lord his headship over his wife and force her to be submissive. Think how Jesus led. Sure, ever so often he laid down the law and kicked over tables. But, most of the time, Jesus led by serving, by washing the feet of the disciples, by hanging out with the lowly, and eating with sinners.
It’s kind of a pet peeve of mine that some husbands will be insistent about stupid things that don’t matter. It’s like an insecurity, I guess. Some men need to flex their muscles every now and then to make sure their wives know who’s in charge—or maybe just to remind themselves. But, men, please don’t do that. It doesn’t lead to anywhere good.
And husbands and wives both need to recognize that men have abused women for a long time and they have often times done so in the name of biblical truth, claiming that this is what the Bible teaches. But, it’s not. Men do not own their wives. They care for them as their own bodies. This passage is the classic passage in scripture on marriage and it’s all about how the husband should be a servant leader of his wife, loving her, caring for her, providing for her, not ruling her or lording power over her.
So, as we close today and I ask you to take a…
…I just want you to encourage you. You can take out your next step card at this time.
You can have a great marriage. And if you think your marriage is already great, — awesome! — you can have a better marriage, still. Husbands do that by leading, sacrificing, and caring for their wives. And wives do that through submission to their husbands or as Paul says,
Wives, your next step is to identify a way that you should submit to or respect your husband. And husbands, your next step is to find a way to lead better, something you need to sacrifice, or some way that you should be caring for you wife and then do that.
And for everyone here, I would just encourage you to reflect on your relationship with Christ. What do you need to do to be submissive to Christ? Just as a wife submits to a loving husband, we as the church must be in submission to Christ.
Let me pray for you as you commit to a next step this week.