(preached June 22, 2008 at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC)
Today, I invite you to reflect with me for a few moments on the topic of marriage. And perhaps we can begin by hearing what kids think about marriage. When asked the question, What exactly is marriage? Eric, age 6 replied: “Marriage is when you get to keep your girl and don’t have to give her back to her parents.”
How does a person decide whom to marry? Kelly, age 9 said: “You flip a nickel, and heads means you stay with him and tails means you try the next one.” When is it okay to kiss someone? Kally, age 9 says: “You should never kiss a girl unless you have enough bucks to buy her a ring and her own VCR, ‘cause she’ll want to have videos of the wedding.”
And what are some surefire ways to make a person fall in love with you? Camille, age 9 tells us: “Shake your hips and hope for the best.”
Marriage is important to all of us, whether we are married or not, because healthy marriages are the foundation for healthy families and healthy families are the basis for a healthy society. Second, marriage is important to all of us because the same principles that make for a healthy relationship in a marriage, make for a healthy relationship outside of marriage with our other family members and our friends. And third, marriage is important for all of us because marriage, the most intimate of human relationships, is the word picture that God uses to describe his relationship with us. Marriage matters, whether we are married or not. And because marriage matters, then it also matters what you and I think about marriage. So what are some of your thoughts about marriage?
When I was single, I had some great ideas about marriage. I thought marriage was a 50/50 proposition. I’ll do my 50% and if my wife does her 50% then we will meet in the middle and everything will work out fine. Another idea I had before I was married was this: that even though my fiancée Susan was graduating from university to become a teacher, I thought that she should stay home after our wedding day and that we should start our family right away. And during our extensive premarriage counselling sessions, I was told by the counsellor that I needed to decide if I wanted to have my ideas about marriage or if I wanted to marry Susan.
God also has some ideas about marriage. And because he made us and because he knows all things, God’s ideas for marriage are much better than ours. And in our second lesson today, God calls husbands and wives to respond to Jesus’ selfless, sacrificial love for them with a selfless, sacrificial love for each other. 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21 That is the kind of love that is needed to make a marriage work. That is the kind of love that is needed to make a marriage thrive and be strong. God calls husbands and wives to mutually submit to one another. And for a picture of what mutual submission looks like in a marriage, God points us to the relationship that Jesus has with the Christian Church. And God calls husbands to model one side of that relationship and he calls wives to model the other.
God calls wives to relate to their husbands like the Church relates to Jesus. This passage tells us, 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 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 Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24) Just as we voluntarily give in to Jesus and give him our honor, love and respect, so also wives are to voluntarily give in to their husbands and give them their honor, love and respect. Now this sounds outrageous to our 21st Century ears, but I think that the problem is that we tend to stop reading the Bible at this point and we think that the Bible is giving husbands justification to rule over and dominate their wives. This understanding does violence to the intended meaning of this passage of Scripture because it continues with a description of how husbands are to submit to their wives.
It says, 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, people have never hated their own bodies, but they feed and care for them, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 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.” 32 (Ephesians 5:25-32)
A husband is to relate to his wife in the same way that Jesus Christ relates to the Church. And how did Jesus relate to the Church? He loves her so much that he willingly gave up his life for her, dying the most excruciating death possible so that she might become cleansed and transformed into his holy, pure, beautiful and radiant bride. That is how husbands are to submit to their wives. They are to love them and give up their lives for them.
So where do we go from here? Our tendency is to fall back on some quid pro quo kind of negotiating as we move towards mutually submitting to each other. For example we might say, “Oh, I will move from 50% submission to 60% submission if I can see that you are doing the same in your submission to me.” Or maybe you have a spouse who is not willing to reciprocate with any submission of their own towards you. What do you do then? Remember what Jesus has done for you. He willingly laid down his life for you. No one took it from him. None of us asked Jesus to do that for us. None of us deserve having Jesus do that for us. Jesus voluntarily laid down his life for you because he loves you. His death paid the penalty for all the things that we have done wrong in all of our relationships, all of the times when we have been stubborn and self-centred and hurtful towards others. Jesus forgives us, he cleanses us, he purifies us, he heals us, and he transforms us. As he fills us with his love, he changes us from a people who always ask, “What’s in it for me?” into a people who ask, “How can I help this other person? How can I serve this other person? How can I give up my life for my wife? How can I submit to my husband and respect him? And just as Jesus acted first with no guarantee of a reciprocal response from us, so with Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we are able to act first in our submission to our spouse, with no guarantee of a receiving submission in response from them.
The marriage that I have with Susan is not a perfect marriage, but it is a very good marriage. And the reason that I am so blessed to enjoy such a wonderful marriage is due, first of all, of course, to God. And secondly, it is because of Susan. In the early years of our marriage, Susan and I would have a lot of arguments, and there was even a time when she was seriously considering leaving me. But as Susan studied this passage of Scripture from Ephesians, she realized that God was calling her to submit to me. It was not something that she wanted to do. It went totally against her nature and all that she had been taught as she grew up. And yet the harsh reality of God’s Word was before her, confronting her. And so with the help of the Holy Spirit, she made an intentional, dedicated effort to submit to her husband, not because I was such a great person, but because Jesus is such a great Saviour. And because Susan did the difficult thing that Jesus was calling her to do, it transformed our marriage, and it transformed me. And I began to grow in my understanding of what God was calling me to do as a husband to Susan. I began to ask myself if I really would be willing to die for Susan and I knew that God was calling me to answer with an unconditional “Yes!” And because I so quickly and easily get off-track, I need to ask myself that question every day. God has richly blessed Susan and me in our marriage relationship, and one of the ways that he has blessed us is to help both of us to grow in the way that we mutually submit to each other. And our marriage keeps getting better and better as a result.
And so I would like to challenge those of you who are married to submit to your spouse in the way that God is calling you to do. It goes against our nature, and it goes against what the world tells us. But submission is essential to God’s plan for marriage and submission was how Jesus lived and loved. And it was through being submissive that Jesus saved us. Jesus loves you. Jesus is with you and he will keep you safe forever with him. And so let us submit our lives to Jesus and let us follow him in submitting our lives to others. Amen.