Ephesians 5:21-33

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
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 Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
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, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, 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 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband
(Ephesians 5:21-33 NIV)

Rosie and Jethro have chosen a passage of scripture today that is considered by some to be controversial. Many people have been shocked by a recent national survey that revealed 28% of Australians believe ‘women prefer a man to be in charge of the relationship’, and 19% believe ‘Men should take control in relationships and be the head of the household.’ Each of these figures has risen over the last 4 years – even if only by 1% each.

I don’t know a lot about analysing statistics, but that to me sounds like a minority – that more Aussies than not would disagree with the idea of male leadership, especially in a marriage relationship.

So many – maybe including you here today – may not sit comfortably with this Bible reading that speaks of a wife submitting to her husband. And it is no small submitting. It is ‘as you do to the Lord’ – in other words, in the same way in which she would submit to Jesus Christ. The writer, St. Paul, fleshes this out by saying that a husband is the head of his wife in a similar way in which Christ is head of the church.

We do not have much – if any – wiggle room here. We do not really have any other choice but to say either, ‘This is true, and a husband is the head of the relationship,’ or, ‘This is false, and we must discount everything else that this passage says.’

Our problem though, is that we do not really understand what ‘headship’ means, and what it looks like in practice. Because our experience in this world, sadly, of those in authority, is of failure, abuse of power, corruption and violence, we immediately are suspicious of any suggestion that authority is good – not just a necessary inconvenience. And we may especially feel uncomfortable with the idea that authority can be worked out based on gender. How dare someone stereotype men as ‘leaders’ and women as ‘submitters’?

However, if we look more closely at this passage, and seek to understand what is being said here, what we see is actually something rather beautiful.

Firstly, we should note that the passage begins with a call to ,’Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’ This call is given to every person who considers themselves a follower of Jesus, and comes from an attitude of thanksgiving – just before he says this, Paul encourages his readers to be, ‘…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Ephesians 5:20)

An attitude that sees every good thing I have as a generous, no-strings-attached gift from God will result in thankfulness; and an attitude of thankfulness will overflow into an attitude of generosity and humbleness towards others. So, it is a natural thing to expect that someone who has received from God, will likewise seek to give to, not take from, others.

So, both husbands and wives are called to submit to one another. It’s simply that their submitting looks a bit different.

Jesus once said to his Disciples, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ A Christian’s obedience to Jesus does not flow out of a fear of punishment, a threat of violence, or a slavish following of the rules, but out of Love. The relationship comes first, and is followed by the actions. No real relationship can be built just on doing good things. If we love a person, and desire the best for them, and want them to be honoured, then we will be willing – and joyfully so – to follow their desires, and do what they ask, and submit to their leading.

The Church – the collection of those who follow Jesus and know Him as their saviour – knows of the extreme love that Jesus has shown by going to the cross, taking their sin, and reconciling them to God the Father. And their response is a to love him in return, with a joyful, glad and willing submission, because they know that in doing so they find their true freedom and identity. This passage is simply calling wives to seek the same in their relationship with their husbands: a response of love that says, ‘I am willing to put my ambition second to yours.’

But notice that is is essentially the same as what husbands are called to do. In verse 25 husbands are to submit to their wives in a way that reflects what Jesus did for those He came to save.  Jesus – God in the flesh – did not aggrandise himself or seek to control, manipulate or dominate. Instead he lived in humility, loving and serving those around Him, and eventually making the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus put our own needs before His own, by going to the cross and taking upon Himself not only the punishment we deserve, but knowing in his very being all of the pain and isolation and anguish that we know because of our sin. Why did he do this? Well it says here in verse 26: to make us holy – that is, set apart especially for God, with a special purpose for existing; to cleanse us – that is, to remove all our guilt and shame and all that makes us ‘dirty’; and to present us to himself – that is, with the ultimate goal of a perfect, unbreakable relationship with Himself.

So the standard to which husbands are called is just as great, and often just as difficult, as that to which wives are called. And together, a husband and a wife are called to something much greater and nobler than simply having a partnership or raising a family: they are to be a reflection, an audio-visual display of the relationship between Jesus Christ and all who know and trust Him.

Jethro and Rosie stand before us today, and in doing so are giving us permission to watch them closely – not just today, but for the rest of their life together – and to see in their love and commitment, in their promises of faithfulness and cherishing, in their willing sharing of themselves with one another, a picture of the relationship with God that has been made possible by Jesus.

Paul makes a very profound observation towards the end of this passage. He reflects on the union of a husband and wife and says, ‘This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.’ (Ephesians 5:32). He is saying that human marriage – the beginning of which we are witnessing today – is meant to be simply a reflection of the true marriage – that between Jesus and the church.

God has written into the fabric of our humanity a parable that tells us of a much greater story than the story of a man and woman committing to be faithful for life. This story is of God Himself making a commitment – a promise to be faithful – to this human race whom He has created. This is a commitment that has been sealed in blood, and is the most reliable, trustworthy, securing commitment we will ever experience.

In this world, human marriages can and do fail. Husbands and wives will fail to love as they should, and will regularly break one or more of the promises they make at their wedding. But the promise of commitment that God makes to us in Jesus Christ is one that will never fail, because He will never fail.

So we are called by God – and Rosie and Jethro have agreed by inviting us here – to see in this wedding and the marriage to follow something far beyond just a new family being formed. We are called to see the story behind the story, and to answer God’s call to come, be loved by Christ, be washed and made holy, and to know and love Him as He has loved us.

Jethro and Rosie, this will happen in two ways as we, your family and friends observe your marriage.

Firstly, in the good times. When you find that your partnership flows easily, and submitting to and loving one another is natural; when you display to us, and to the children that God may bless you with, a faithfulness, devotion and commitment that says, ‘I made a promise, I will stand by that promise no matter what.’ In doing so, you will remind us that God is faithful, and worthy of our love, trust and obedience.

Secondly, when the tough times come. And they will come. Because one thing is for sure, you stand before one another today as sinners, saved by grace. And that means there will be times when the partnership is difficult, when you do not see eye to eye, when people may say, ‘I felt a bit of tension between Rosie and Jethro tonight.’ There will be times when you realise that you, or they, have let each other down, and may even be tempted to think, ‘They promised something at our wedding, but I don’t see them keeping to that promise.’

It is in those times that you can still communicate something to us and your family about God: that He is the God of all grace. That when we lose faith, he remains faithful. When we fail to keep our promises, he remains firm on His. That no matter how far or how badly we fall, there is never any second guessing abut whether He will forgive, heal, and restore.

You have been saved by grace, but you also live by grace. This wedding day is a gift of God’s grace to you, and your marriage will be by grace. As you live in that grace, forgiving, persevering, restoring one another, and giving glory to God in that, you will faithfully be presenting Jesus to us all. We all look forward to taking this journey with you.

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