The Story of God & His People: Part III
A few years ago I was preaching a family wedding, and as I always do, I read from our text this morning in my homily. During dinner an older woman who has known my family for years approached me and told me that she enjoyed the homily, and then proceeded to tell me how much she didn’t enjoy the homily. She said, “You know the passage doesn’t just say that wives must submit to husbands, but that we ought to submit to one another.” When I tried to further explain how I interpret the Bible here she became increasingly upset with my answer and ended up walking away.
This woman is not the only one who is offended at what the Bible says in Ephesians 5.22-33. Our culture in general is appalled by a phrase like wives submit to your own husbands. Some of it is rebellious, we don’t want to believe and obey God’s Word. But some of the sentiment is warranted. There’s a long history of men abusing women and using passages like Ephesians 5 to defend themselves. How do we think about pericopes like this text in a #metoo climate? What is the middle ground between abusing people and abusing God’s Word?
I think the best way for us to do that this morning would be to work backward in the text. First we’ll see in verse 32 the mystery explained; second in verses 25-31 we’ll see the mystery lived out by husbands; and finally in verse 22-24 we’ll see the mystery lived out by wives.
The Mystery Explained
This is week 3 of our 4-week series on the story of God and his people. The first week we saw that God created his people to be in a marriage relationship with him. His intention was displayed not only in the marriage between heaven and earth in Eden, but most vividly in the marriage between Adam and Eve. But something went wrong. Adam was unfaithful to the covenant – he, and all of humanity with him, committed spiritual adultery against God. Last week we looked at Hosea 3 as a recapitulation of what happened in Genesis 3. Gomer (a type of God’s people) was unfaithful to Hosea (a type of God). Like Hosea redeems his unfaithful wife, Jesus is the true and better Hosea who has come to redeem his bride.
That’s what we see in Ephesians 5.32. Paul says, [t]his mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. If you were to transliterate the Greek text it would say, “this mystery is mega.” What does Paul mean when he’s calling the gospel a mystery? He’s saying that this is something that has been true forever, though it was hidden. The life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ has been God the Father’s plan before the foundation of the world. God created Adam knowing that he was going to sin and before he said, “let there be light,” he planned for Christ to be the light that shines in the darkness.
B.B. Warfield said that the gospel in the OT is like a treasure in a dimly lit room. You can’t always see it, but you catch glimpses. When God sacrifices an animal to cover Adam’s nakedness, when the ark protects Noah from God’s wrath in the flood, when God calls Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on the alter, we catch a glimpse of the gospel. When David rules over Israel in victory, when Hosea buys Gomer back, when Haggai calls the exiles to rebuild the temple, you see shadows of the gospel.
And then, as John proclaims, the light shines in the darkness; the Word became flesh. The Lord Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven where he currently sits at the right hand of the Father Almighty. The mystery was revealed! That which has always been true, is now on display for the world to see.
So when Paul says that marriage reveals the mystery, he’s not just saying, “hey guys, I thought of a good analogy. The gospel is kind of like marriage. The husband is like Christ and the wife is like the church.” It’s not merely an illustration. He’s saying marriage was a God ordained picture of the gospel from the beginning. When God created Eve for Adam, he was preaching the gospel to his people. God was providentially creating a covenant relationship that would be an existential image his good news. It’s a living, breathing picture that has been enlisted by every culture in every nation in the history of the world.
The Mystery Lived by Husbands
Because marriage is a providential picture of the gospel, this means that the roles of husband and wife aren’t arbitrary. God created us to function a certain way in marriage because it is a mirror of the kingdom of God – God’s people in God’s place under God’s blessing and rule. Notice Paul gives us 3 ways that husbands image Christ in their marriage: (1) love through self-sacrifice; (2) love through cherishing; and (3) love through holding fast.
First husbands must love their wives self-sacrificially as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. As the Nicene Creed puts it, Jesus was sacrificed “for us and our salvation.” This is the blueprint for how we view our vocation as husbands. We are the ones who get down and wash feet. Do you know why the Bible calls us to love through sacrifice? Because it sanctifies her. Look at verses 27-28: that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. The sacrifice of Christ makes his people holy. To a lesser degree, the self-sacrifice of a husband will spur his wife on to Christian faithfulness. She will blossom into the image bearer that God created her to be when she is loved in this way. In this way marriage has a sacramental quality. It’s not a sacrament, capital S, there’s only 2 of those – baptism and communion - but it is sacramential. It is a means of grace for wives to thrive.
It is also sacramental for husbands themselves. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. This is the 2nd way that we are to love our wives, by cherishing them. Paul says that we ought to nourish and cherish them as we do our own bodies. This is the golden rule applied to marriage. Notice in verse 28 it says he who loves his wife loves himself. I like how the Message puts it, it says, they’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage. Sacrificing for and cherishing our wives sanctifies husbands.
How do we nourish and cherish our wives? As we would our own bodies. Provide for, protect, and care for her as you would yourself. Now that doesn’t mean, “ok we’re always going to eat what I want to eat, spend what I want to spend, wear what I want to wear, because, you know, as you would yourself.” It does mean cherish her like you would want to be cherished. You would want your opinion, preferences, and taste to not only be considered, but to be valued.
And then in verse 31 Paul quotes from a passage that we read 2 weeks ago. He cites Genesis 2.24, therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. The third way that we love our wives is to leave the bachelor life and hold fast to our bride. We are now 1 person. Life is not mine, but ours. Because Jesus holds fast to us. He brings us into new life and there he is with us always.
The Mystery Lived by Wives
And now we come to how the mystery is lived out by wives. Look again at 22-24. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. The first note worth making is that wives are called to submit to their own husbands. The Scripture doesn’t say all women submit to all men. So it’s not like I’m walking in to the office like “Patty, make me a sandwich. The Bible says you’ve got to submit.” The call is for wives to submit to their own husbands and logically; they’re not to submit to other men. They’re not to sexually submit to other men. They’re not to emotionally submit to other men. The relationship of Christ and the church exclusively belongs to the covenant of marriage.
So what does it mean that wives are to submit to their own husbands? The answer is in verse 24, as the church submits to Christ. What it doesn’t mean is that she gets no opinion. It doesn’t mean that she has no value. It doesn’t mean she’s a doormat. It does mean that she rests in the love that her husband shows her. As he self-sacrifices for her, as he nourishes and cherishes her, as he holds fast to her, she rests in his love. Submission here is not a ball and chain, but it is sweet freedom. Like a fish in water, submission in marriage is not restraint, it’s life and vitality. It’s the freedom that she was created to enjoy. When there’s a tough, life altering decision that has to be made by her husband, she can give input and influence, but at the end of the day she can rest in his leadership and trust that he’ll answer to the Lord for his care of her.
Some of you here may be thinking, “that’s all well and good, but you don’t know my husband. He’s not a Christian, or he’s a bum, or worse, he’s mean or abusive.” Let me try and speak to that situation now. Ephesians 5 is not a God-sanctioned pass at abuse. The implication behind the submission of a wife is the Christ-like love of her husband. If you have a husband that’s not leading in a godly way, then you do your best, but ultimately you submit to the true husband Jesus. If you’re being led in sin or mistreated then your ultimate allegiance is not to your earthly husband, but your heavenly husband.
Maybe you’re here this morning and you’re not a Christian, but this message is making sense to you for the first time. You hadn’t even realized that your own marriage was preaching the gospel to you, but now you see it. Let me encourage you, you’re not here by accident this morning. God has brought you here to hear me speak these words. You need Christ. You were created to be in relationship with him. Repent of your sin and trust in the good news of Jesus. He died for sinners. He paid the debt that you owe to a holy God. If you’ll take him by faith this morning, you will be saved. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and you will be saved.
Our family friend who didn’t like my homily at the wedding surely thought that I was being chauvinistic. But I think she’s missing the beauty of Ephesians 5.22-33. When you consider the story of God and his people. When you consider that Jesus is the true and better bridegroom. When you consider that God’s people are Gomer, standing naked and ashamed in spiritual adultery, when you consider that Christ gave himself up for us, how can that not fuel husbands to want to give themselves up for their wives? How can wives not want to submit to the joy and freedom of being loved, cherished, and held on to?
May we be reminded this morning that our marriages, the mundane, daily grind of work, laundry, dinner, practice, church, Netflix, the small acts of love and respect, are actually more important than whatever’s going on in the Situation Room of the White House. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.