I’m always so happy to do this. But you know as a church the value of this work that Dave does and that Paul does when they go elsewhere. You do know, but they won’t tell you how hard it is. And it’s really quite important that the church, the whole church, has a judicial process that’s fair and that’s biblical.
And so to work through these cases you have to master a tremendous amount of information and then master the church rules, the laws of discipline, and understand how the court should proceed. Then you have to go to these meetings and talk with others who may or may not agree with you and your view of how that should be done and work that out. But it’s not just like trying a case in court because it’s the church. So you’re with brothers, and that’s good in some ways, it’s also more difficult, no doubt, in some ways because you have certain ties to them and bond with them.
So it’s really so important. And I’m really grateful for Dave’s service, and I can’t say how grateful I am. It really is important for the church. The life of the church has to be administered in a way that’s honoring to Christ. If it isn’t, then things break down and Christ is dishonored and people’s lives are harmed. So I’m really grateful for that. And what can I say about covenant theology that Paul got to study for a week? We’ll all be benefiting from that for months and weeks, months and months, I’m sure.
Let’s turn our attention to the Word of God. I want to read from Ephesians, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5, and I’m going to read verses 1–2 and then 15–32. So let me pray for us, and then we’ll read.
Our Father, thank you for this Word that is your word to us, and we ask you that you’d give us ears to hear, eyes to behold, Jesus Christ. We ask you, Lord, that we would hear you as you speak because you speak to us personally. You are a holy and saving God, and we worship you. We ask in Jesus’s name, amen.
This is the Word of God: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ has loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Now verse 15:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
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.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 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. 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. “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.
This is the Word of our God.
THE BIBLICAL VIEW OF MARRIAGE
Now what I want us to do this morning is to take a look at the biblical view of our marriages. I want to do that so we can have hope, so that we can live together in a wonderful way, in a hopeful way for marriage. We probably have more pure fun at a wedding than almost any other event, except possibly Monday Night Football. Why? Well, it’s because it’s the joyful beginning of a new life for a man and for a woman together.
But does that joy go on or has it been left in the past? Well, to get the biblical picture we have to look at marriage from three vantage points: first creation and then fall and then redemption in Christ. So what did God intend marriage to be as he created it? What does it become due to sin? And what does the grace of Christ do in restoring and perfecting marriage? This is how the Word of God, how the apostle, explains marriage to the Ephesians because Genesis 2:24, we heard earlier, has been fulfilled by Christ and the Holy Spirit in the life of the church.
So whenever we want to understand God’s view, if we have a biblical worldview, any subject that we want to understand, we have to look at it from these three angles. What did God create it to be, what has sin done to it, and how is it renewed by Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit?
MARRIAGE IN CREATION
So first of all creation. God created marriage. God created Adam and Eve in the beginning with a mandate to fill the earth and subdue it. Woman and man were absolutely equal as God’s image, each with their own contribution to make. And the sexual differentiation of man and woman qualified them—Adam and Eve—to fulfill the cultural task that they were given: to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. So God created marriage, and he established it as a fundamental structure of human life before the fall into sin.
So along with work, the Sabbath day, and the procreation of children, marriage is what we call a creation ordinance. We use that language in the Reformed church to describe these ordinances that are God’s establishment for the whole of life all across the world. And it’s very helpful to get these things in mind because the creation ordinances remain the same wherever we are, under whatever circumstances we find ourselves. This is the way to order life in terms of the ordinances that God established at the beginning.
And of course we’ve all heard that the very first malediction of Scripture (the statement “it is not good”) is the statement, “It’s not good for man to be alone. I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). So friendship, companionship is at the heart of marriage as God gave it to Adam. After God made the woman from the side of the man, we read the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman because she was taken out of a man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:23–24). God created the bride, and he brought her to Adam, and Adam was thrilled. “This at last,” he says, “is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.”
A NEW HOUSEHOLD WITH NEW LOYALTIES AND INTIMACIES
And then the next verse, 24, is Moses’s comment on that first wedding ceremony. And he’s telling Israel that in doing this God was instituting an order of life for the whole of humanity. To leave is to begin a new household with its own authority structure. Of course it doesn’t mean that the man no longer honors his father and mother, but that honor takes on a new character in which the wife takes precedence. “To hold fast” to his wife is sometimes translated to “cleave” to his wife, and cleave is not a reference to sexual union; it’s a reference to the establishment of a bond of commitment.
The loyalty of a covenant, to hold fast, is to maintain loyalty to another person. So later in Scripture the men of Judah followed David steadfastly, and the Scripture says they cleaved to him. So leave and cleave refers to a new situation. Leave means to set up a new household; cleave means a new loyalty. Husband and wife establish a new home with new primary loyalties, no longer now to their parents but to each other.
A little over a year ago, it will be two years this summer, our oldest son was married, and we’re thrilled for him. We love him of course, and we love his wife. She’s fabulous. And they’re very, very happy. But it’s been hard for us, Jackie and me, to adjust to that because his orientation is not to us anymore. His orientation now, quite biblically, is to her. And so we’ve experienced some loss because he’s turned towards her, and he’s done that according to the teaching of Scripture.
“Become one flesh” in this passage refers to the sexual bond, sexual union, so marriage creates a new family with a new authority structure, a new loyalty, and a new deeply intimate relationship including mutual care and sexual fulfillment. The man’s body is no longer his alone but belongs to his wife. The wife’s body is no longer hers alone but belongs to her husband. And that’s Paul’s description later on in Scripture, 1 Corinthians 7, of the sexual gift in marriage, but I think it describes quite perfectly the sexual part of marriage as we were created to be.
MARRIAGE AS A COVENANT
So God calls marriage a covenant. It’s a voluntary mutual commitment that binds each party to the other, sealed with an oath. And so when we go to a wedding it’s not just a party. It’s a solemn commitment. And that’s part of the reason it’s so wonderful. This is one reason that Scripture calls the marriage relationship a picture of God’s covenant with his people. Marriage is an exclusive lifelong relationship like our relationship to God. And our marriages are to image God, just as individually we’re to image God. Each family is created to be a beautiful picture of the unity and the diversity that is in God himself among the three persons in his being.Each family is created to be a beautiful picture of the unity and the diversity that is in God himself among the three persons in his being.
Scripture deals with marriage and covenant as we go through Scripture and look at how the Bible refers to Israel. Israel violated God’s covenant by unbelief and idolatry, and the prophets condemned Israel’s apostasy as adultery. But Scripture also uses the parallel between marriage and God’s covenant in a positive way. Whenever God redeems his people in the Bible marriage imagery appears. And the prophets promised that God would restore his people in mercy.
And so some of the most beautiful passages in the prophets are descriptions of God restoring the people who have turned away from him and whom he has judged, but then he’s bringing them back. Listen to the language in Hosea 2:19–20: “And I will betroth you to me forever,” the Lord says. First he says, “I will allure her into the wilderness and I will speak to her heart.” “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.”
Isaiah 62:5: “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
That’s the commitment of God to his people. That’s the covenant commitment, so beautiful, so powerful, so intimate. And where do we find it fulfilled? When Jesus Christ comes, and they say, “John the Baptist and his disciples, they fast, but you, you drink wine. Why?” He says, “The friends of the Bridegroom can’t fast when the wedding has come.” Why not? Jesus Christ is that bridegroom.
Jesus Christ is the one who came to redeem his people, to reestablish the broken relationship, and our Lord Jesus Christ is doing that, has done that, and continues to do it. That Hosea 2 passage that I just read, “I will betroth you to me in righteousness” is quoted in Romans 9:25 and following, where the people were no people, there they’re are going to be called the children of the living God. So the apostle Paul says to us, that is being fulfilled. It’s being fulfilled in the apostolic ministry; it’s being fulfilled in Jesus Christ and his outpouring of the Holy Spirit in evangelism and the ministry of the church. All this is happening.
Well, you see marriage as God created it is structured by God’s authority as the Lord. And divorce, though it’s regulated and even approved under certain conditions, is always the result of sin. It’s always a twisting of God’s good design. Polygamy is forbidden implicitly and of course out of forbearance we see that Jacob and David had more than one wife. But it really wasn’t that great for him as you can see if you look at the text; it was pretty hard going all the way along. Well, why? Well, because God gave Adam one wife. “One man, one woman, for life” is the regulation that expresses God’s goodness.
God was Adam and Eve’s loving and holy Father. He gave them Torah or law, which can be translated “instruction,” and the wisdom literature of Scripture. Remember we worked our way through the Proverbs as Dr. Coffin taught us. The wisdom literature of Scripture, like the Proverbs and the Song of Songs, explores the beauty of married love as we live in fellowship with each other and with the Creator. It fits who we were created to be before the problems of sin. Marriage reflects the wisdom of God. We need this. We need companionship, we need friendship. Sexual fulfillment between a man and a woman in lifelong commitment is a glorious good thing and meant to picture God throughout the world.
MARRIAGE IN THE FALL
But of course then there is the fall. Since the fall, Adam and Eve destroy the relationship because they break fellowship with God and sin, and we fall in sin in them. But since Adam’s fall, and ours, marriage is still a gift of grace. We know our first parents rebelled against God, and that led to terrible strife between them and between us, too. And when the Lord came to them in Genesis 3, they accuse each other. But despite his wrath God remembered mercy. In the very words that announced the curse of the covenant of works, he also inaugurates the covenant of grace. He cast them out of the garden, but he re-established his covenant relationship with them and continued their marriage.
And yet he made life hard in this world. So when we attend a wedding we laugh and cry, but we also know that there’ll be sorrow ahead as well as joy. In Genesis 3:15-19 God says the future will be one of frustrating labor for man, difficult childbirth for the woman, and strife between the two of them. “Your desire will be for your husband,” he says to Eve, “and he will rule over you.”
Those two terms are used together in the next chapter, in chapter 4. You remember this. After Cain murdered Abel, the Lord urged Cain to repent of his sin and Cain complains. You remember this? When he complains, and we read about this in Genesis 4, he says, it’s too hard on me, and the Lord says in verse 6 to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” That’s exactly the same language as chapter 3. Sin’s desire is to dominate Cain, but Cain must dominate it.
And I think that illuminates the meaning of God’s statement to Eve: You will desire to dominate your husband, but the reality is that he will tyrannize you. See marriage, even among believers, will be twisted. It will be twisted by human rebellion. And so there’s strife and there’s difficulty and sorrow between husbands and wives as a result of our own hearts. And we know this. The closest possible human relationship that we have; it’s the source of so much joy. But it’s also subject to the deepest kind of rebellion against God and so much anguish. We’re so close that we can deeply help one another and likewise deeply harm one another.
MARRIAGE AND REDEMPTION IN EPHESIANS 5
But what about redemption? In this redemption in Christ, he is the one who restores marriage. And I want us to look at this passage now more closely, the one I’ve read in Ephesians 5, and notice both the instruction that Paul gives for the bigger context of the Christian life and then exhortation to husbands and also to wives.
He gives this instruction to believers in Ephesians 5, and he reflects on what’s taken place in the death and resurrection of Christ. The church has come into existence through Christ’s work of reconciling sinners to God as well as to each other. And by faith—think about chapter 2—God has raised them from death and sin to life in union with Jesus Christ. And of course that’s not just an individual thing; it’s not just our relationship to God. When we come into union with Christ, our relationships with each other are healed as well.
Jews and Gentiles are restored to one body through the cross of Jesus Christ. The old man, that human being in union with Adam, that old man has been destroyed by the cross of Christ. So they’re to put it off, and they’ve put on Christ, and they’re to continue to put on the new man (chapter 4) more and more. And chapters 4 and 5 spell out a lot of the implications of this process of union with Christ, of putting off the old and putting on the new. And this is Christ restoring the lives of his people in all their relationships.
WALKING AS A CHRISTIAN
In this section of the letter Paul uses the term “walk” to show the contrast between believers’ lifestyle in Christ and that of outsiders, what they used to be as unbelievers. In 4:17 and 5:2 and 5:8 and 5:15 he uses this at each place. Look at this with me, 4:17: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” And 5:2: “Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” In 5:8: “You are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” And here in 5:15: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.”
Those patterns of the past have to be broken down. They have to be broken down by your decisions, by your choices. You’re alive with Christ, now live it out. That’s what he’s saying. Walk this way. Be careful about it. Make decisions that are pleasing to the Lord.
So our portion of chapter 5 goes like this. In verses 15–21, Paul describes the Christian walk or living for all believers, in verses 22–24, briefly, exhortation to wives, and then verses 25–32, exhortation to husbands.
I know I’m racing along here. It’s sort of a wild ride, I know. I don’t really like that so much. I’d rather take more time, but I can’t take forever. So here we go.
LIVING AS A BELOVED CHILD OF GOD
The Christian living of believers. What does Paul say? Well he says in verses 1 and 2, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
You’re beloved children. This is what you are. Now in the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul works and expounds the doctrine of justification. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, there’s more of an emphasis on the doctrine of adoption. They’re totally coherent because when we’re united with Jesus Christ, when we’re raised from the dead in union with Jesus Christ, in the inner man there is a declaration of our righteousness. But there’s also a declaration of a new familial relationship with God. He’s not our enemy anymore. He’s not against us anymore. We’re beloved children.
Do you remember the Father saying something about a beloved child anywhere in the New Testament? You remember? When Jesus went into the water in the Jordan to be baptized, what did the Father say to him? “This is my beloved son, with him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). That’s what Paul has in view here. You have been united with Jesus Christ and because of that, you are a beloved child of God. Walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us.
And how does he describe it? A wonderful, beautiful, pleasing sacrifice to God:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph. 5:15–21)
Beloved children, no longer exposed to God’s judgment, but dearly beloved. Since that’s a given, he says, walk it out. That love led Christ to offer himself as a sacrifice, and now we must imitate him in that love for one another. That’s what Paul says. We must imitate that love in our lives. And of course this is true for the whole church but especially for husband and wife. Paul wants us to live thoughtfully and wisely, differently from the world. In verse 18, he writes this, “Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.” So what the Lord requires of us he enables us to do by his personal presence, by the presence of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
BEING FILLED BY THE SPIRIT
We’re already dear children. We already have the Spirit in our hearts. Paul prayed, “According to the riches of his glory that God might grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Eph. 3:16). And so every believer has Jesus Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit, dwelling in his heart. This is the same thing as having the Holy Spirit; having Christ in our heart is the same thing.
And in 5:18 when he says, “Be filled with the Spirit,” he’s giving a command that refers to an ongoing reality. I’m sure you’ve heard this, but in the original language Paul uses the tense that makes it clear that the action commanded is to recur or to be continuing. So “Be filled with the Spirit” means keep on being filled with the Spirit. It’s not a one and done. It’s something not in the past; it’s something that continues. So we could say it like this, “Keep on being filled with the Spirit” or “Continually seek a fuller outworking of the Holy Spirit’s lordship in your lives.” This is to be a constant reality.
But of course, it’s in the passive, “be filled,” and so it’s something that we have to receive from God, more and more, over and over, and we’re dependent on the Lord for it. Of course we are. We’re dependent on the Lord in everything in our Christian lives. Jesus says to the disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And don’t we know that’s true.
Well, this fullness of the Spirit has a certain profile. And Paul explains that profile in verses 19–21. Paul is a profiler! All the verbs here in 19–21 are participles, so look at them: speaking, singing, giving thanks, submitting. And that means that each one of them depends for its meaning on the main verb. And the main verb is in verse 18: be filled. So in other words, these things show what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit continually. What is the Spirit-filled Christian like? Well, read it along with me: be filled singing to Christ. Be filled giving thanks to the Father. Be filled submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ. So to put it in a word, the Lord is the focus of our lives, giving us strength in his own presence with us.
Now let’s look at the parts. In verse 19, he says we’re to praise together. He says we’re to speak and/or sing—those are different ways of describing the same thing—we’re to speak and/or sing both to each other and to the Lord with joy in our hearts. So Christian husband and wife, filled with the Spirit, sing praises together. We speak to each other and sing to each other and to the Lord. What are we to sing? We’re to sing God’s Word. In the parallel letter, Colossians, Paul writes in the same section of the structure of Colossians, Colossians 3, Paul writes this in 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell among you richly, speaking and admonishing one another with all wisdom.”
The word of Christ of course for us is the Bible. So put Ephesians and Colossians next to each other, and what do we see? Well, to be filled with the Spirit is to let the Scripture dwell among us richly in our own homes worshipping together. Reading, speaking, believing, singing the Word of the Lord together. Praying together and praising Christ together. We call it family worship. And sometimes perhaps we think family worship, oh what a great burden this is. And how can I lead it? And I’ll tell you candidly it’s been to me something I’ve felt unequal to, the task of leading my family in family worship over many, many years.
But I don’t say that as a counsel of despair. I say it in a different way. Beloved, this is the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is how the Spirit manifests and shows his presence in our lives: when the Word of God dwells among us and when we’re filled with praise. You don’t have to preach a sermon to your family in order to edify, dads or moms. You don’t have to pray eloquently or sing with great abilities or whatever to sing with joy in your heart or to build others up in your own family. No. This is the life of the presence of the Spirit in us and in our homes.
A WHOLE LIFE OF THANKSGIVING
In verse 20 he says we’re to have a whole life of thanksgiving. So Christians filled with the Spirit will not only sing hymns to Christ, but also be filled with thanks. In verse 20: give thanks constantly for everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. And you see how wide Paul’s vision is here. He’s talking about a whole style of life that has thanksgiving in it. It’s not a generally optimistic outlook. It’s a recognition that we’re in Christ and that God is our Father and that therefore all that he sends us in this life he sends us to mature us and to bring glory to his own name.
And so it’s not enough just to feel thankful, we have to give thanks. And give thanks to the Father through Jesus Christ together. Beloved, do you know how edifying it is to hear your wife give thanks for this or that that the Lord’s done to answer a prayer in her life? And do you know how wonderful it is for kids to hear their parents pray: “Father in heaven thank you for the contentment that you’ve given us in this situation that we’re facing”? Now it’s very simple, isn’t it? It’s really not brain surgery. It’s very, very simple and very, I don’t want to say it, it’s normal. This is normal Christianity. This praise, this worship, an expression of thanks in prayer in our lives.
We could say that hidden gratitude is like winking in the dark. See, if all you ever do is ask God for things, then you’re missing the joy of God’s goodness to you. So in plenty and in want, as we say, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, we’re to learn to recognize the love of our Father in all things in our lives and to give thanks.
SUBMITTING TO ONE ANOTHER
In verse 21 he writes, “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This as much as anything marks the lives of those who are filled with the Spirit. They have a readiness to defer to the needs and concerns of others. And of course what this means is that it restores our relationships. See, by the Spirit we’re not competing anymore for first place. This was brought to mind recently as I thought about this: years ago living with Christians in a house in Charlottesville before marriage, my friend Mike had asked me to clean up the bathroom sink after I used it, and I said, “OK, I will.” And he was so shocked that I responded to him that way, that it was a great mirror for me because I didn’t realize how hard it must’ve been to live with me because I never had responded to him that way before. And he’d had the courage to say to me, “Would you please clean up after yourself?” Well, I think I was growing as a Christian, so when he said, “Will you?” and I said, “OK, I will.” And I remember the look on his face.
Well, I was growing. And see, when you’re filled with the Spirit, you don’t have to get your own way. And believers whose lives have been filled with the Spirit will be marked by submission in their relationships in the home, wives to husbands as the church does to Christ, children to parents, employees to employers. A Christian marriage will mirror the relationship between Christ and the church.
Now let me say here that I’ve seen authority in marriage abused. But remember, and your pastor will teach you this, if he hasn’t taught it to you in Latin he probably will in the next sermon, the abuse of something is not a reason to reject the proper use of it. The abuse of authority is not a reason to reject the proper use of it. And Paul is certainly not authorizing any kind of tyranny, the tyranny of a husband over a wife. Remember tyranny is the result of the curse. It’s not the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
PAUL’S INSTRUCTION TO WIVES
Well, how does Paul exhort 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” (Eph. 5:22–24). So God calls the wife to submit to her own husband and in no sense does that imply inferiority. Paul uses exactly the same verb to refer to Christ’s submission to the authority of the Father (1 Cor. 15:28). Christ is equal to the Father in the Trinitarian life. He’s equal in power and in authority, but he submitted himself to the Father’s purpose. And that submission brought salvation to you and me. Jesus did that out of his love for the Father.
God gives women gifts and wisdom, and the wife is united to Christ just as the husband. The wife is being renewed in the image of God just as her husband, and so wife and husband have equal dignity because both are being recreated in the image of Christ. The motivation for the wife to submit to her husband is in these words at the end of verse 22: “as to the Lord.” See it’s part of the way that she shows her submission to Christ; she does it out of love for Christ.
And verse 23 gives the reason, because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. And head here means authority or ruler in each of its uses in the letter. Earlier Paul uses this word kephale in this way to describe Christ. Christ has been exalted as Lord over the cosmos, especially over the powers of the cosmos. Ephesians 1:21–22: “Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.” Likewise in 4:15, Paul uses the same word to describe Christ: “Speaking the truth in love, we’re to grow up in every way into him who is the head . . . from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:15–17). So the idea here is that “head” expresses nourishment. Christ’s nourishment and care for the church, as well as his authority over it.
So the use of these terms does not set up any sort of stereotype. There isn’t any stereotype here of masculine behavior or feminine behavior. This is going to vary between homes and in terms of culture. Does the man handle the finances or the woman? Scripture doesn’t specify. Does the woman do the yard work? Scripture doesn’t specify. See what Paul is saying is that the husband’s headship is established in relation to Christ’s headship. “The husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is head of the church.” So wives, the Lord is saying to you, submit to your own husband’s leadership as to the Lord Christ.
Christ cares for you today and every day again. And so help your husband, help him to provide for you. Help him to nourish you. There’s nothing mindless about this. There’s nothing abject about it. Submitting to your husband does not mean that you are to suppress your own gifts or your own views or your insight. You have too much to contribute to do that. And of course at times, it will be costly because at times your husband will fail. But both of you have to forgive each other as God in Christ has forgiven you, says the passage. See what riches God has given you, both of you: his love, his Son, his Word, his Spirit.
So we see something very important here. A husband and wife may not function as autonomous individuals who happen to live under one roof. It’s not acceptable to the Lord. It’s not the pattern. It’s not what the Holy Spirit is doing. It’s not that way. We’re not alone anymore, and we’re not to be alone. We are one flesh. And Paul of course quotes Genesis 2:24 in verse 31 about God instituting marriage in creation. So the leadership of the husband and the submission of the wife are to demonstrate this glorious oneness that Christ’s redemption is bringing about in the church and in the whole cosmos.The leadership of the husband and the submission of the wife are to demonstrate this glorious oneness that Christ’s redemption is bringing about in the church and in the whole cosmos.
PAUL’S INSTRUCTION TO HUSBANDS
Think about it this way: Christ does not dominate. Christ does not tyrannize. He does not suppress the church. He loves the church. He gifts her. He beautifies her. He makes her radiant. He develops all the beauties of believers so that we shine. We shine with creativity and grace.
That’s what Paul wants husbands to do in the home. And of course it takes the strength of the Holy Spirit for a woman to submit willingly to her husband’s leadership. So clearly then the Word of God is not advocating any sort of power relationship. It’s not bound by first-century culture or any culture. Rather Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). That’s the mark.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ gave himself up for the church that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:25-26). So the counterpart of the wife’s submission is the husband’s duty to love his wife. Exhortations like this are very rare outside the New Testament. This would be very surprising to first-century people, men, to read this, but notice it here, Paul doesn’t exhort husbands to rule their wives. He’s not giving them freedom to show who’s boss. He never says, “Be the head.” No. That’s a given. Rather he exhorts love as Christ loved the church. Christ’s authority is exercised in loving and self-giving sacrifice for the church. The husband’s authority is exercised in exactly the same way for his wife and the character of that love is in these words “as Christ gave himself for her.” So whatever the cost to you, my friend, your love to your wife must be that kind of love.
And you say to yourself, “I can’t do that. I don’t want to do that.” But you know what? That’s right. You need the strength of the filling of the Holy Spirit to enable you to give to your wife in that way. And the goal of Christ’s service, his love for the church, is just “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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” (Eph. 5:26-27). How her face will shine with love for Christ on that day.
We go to a wedding after wedding and every single bride’s face is so radiant. It’s so beautiful. Well that’s what the church will look like when we see Jesus Christ when he’s raised us from the dead. The glory of God will shine in the beauty of translucent glory of the face shining in love for our husband. And when we appear before the judgment seat, we’ll appear holy and blameless because of the cross and because of the ministry of the exalted Christ. Christ is making the church spotlessly beautiful, as Revelation 21 says, “Having the glory of God.” And that’s the goal of husbands for their wives.
“In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies,” Paul says. “He who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph. 5:28). The obligation of husbands to love stems from the fact that their wives are already one body with them, just as we are one body with Christ. And of course this is not an appeal to selfishness, just the opposite. Christ himself is the model. The church is his body. We are one with him, and so he cares and nurtures us.
PAUL’S FINAL EXHORTATIONS
Well Paul concludes with this final exhortation to husbands and then to wives. Verse 33: “Now let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see to it that she respects her husband.” Each husband and wife must do this as a free and responsible person. So just as he began at verse 22 saying all must submit to each other out of reverence for Christ, so he concludes. It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s really beautiful, isn’t it? It’s so beautiful, what the Lord gives. He who loves his own wife loves himself. The two will become one flesh. God built this into creation. This intimacy of marriage, a relationship with all its own complexities and beauties that picture something even more beautiful, which is the union of Christ with his church. Beloved, as members of the body be filled with the Spirit. And let’s let our marriages mirror so that others can see something of the radiance of Christ’s love for the church.
Let’s pray together.
Our Father we thank you for the wonder of redemption, the wonder of the power of the Holy Spirit in giving life because of what you gave for us as you gave your Son. Lord, we confess to you that we just have a little glimpse of this and a little glimpse of what we can be and what we ought to be. We pray, Lord, by your power, our church and the whole of your church, might shine with beauty because of the filling and presence of the Spirit. And let our homes be wonderful, joyful places where Jesus Christ is lifted up and where we love one another. And we ask in Jesus’s name, amen.