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 her26 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.
According to the 2011 Statistical Abstract of the United States published by the US Census Bureau, in 1997, there were 2,244,000 marriages and 1,135,000 divorces. So out of the total number of marriages that occurred, there were half the number of divorces recorded. (I quoted the 1997 number since that was the last date the divorce numbers were available.) Those are only the number of divorces. If we are going to consider the number of couples who are separated or are having marital problems, I think we can safely assume that the institution of marriage in the United States is in trouble. There are a lot of Desperate Marriages.
A reason for this is that society had bastardized the meaning and intent of the institution. Marriage has turned into something very different from what the Lord had created it to be. Let us just look at some ways marriage deviates from its original design.
Ephesians 5:21-33 (NIV)
Instructions for Christian Households
Marriage is established by God
Marriage is a legal contract
Marriage is between man and woman
Marriage is between any ‘sex’
Sex is within the bounds of marriage
Sex can happen outside of marriage
Marriage’s foundation is God
Marriage’s foundation is love
Partners have distinct roles and responsibilities
Marriage is egalitarian
In order for us to understand how marriage got so messed up, let us first see why and how the Lord created marriage. The first time the Lord brought two people together to have a fateful bond between each other was when He created Eve out of Adam’s ribs in Genesis 2.
“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
This was the first marriage and it was between the first two people God created. It happened so that the man will have a suitable helper to accomplish the work the Lord has given this first man. I do not see how naming the birds and other animals as difficult work but in any case, Adam cannot do it alone so God created a suitable helper: a woman. God could have easily created another man since God already had the blueprint, but he intentionally designed and created an entirely new being, the woman. No matter what anyone says, nothing is most complimentary for a marriage relationship than a union between a man and a woman. The fact that the woman was created from the man’s rib is a further testament to this. For man, the woman is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Case in point and a very obvious reason, conception can only happen between a man and a woman. Others have to work around the natural impediments just to have children as part of their family.
I want to point out an additional but equally important fact shown by the same verses in Genesis. The marriage was God’s doing. It was God who brought them together and made them ‘one flesh.’ It was God who recognized that in order for man to accomplish his purpose and realize his true worth, the man needs a suitable partner. In a marriage, it is therefore not the husband, nor the wife, nor the minister as the main actor. It is God!
Also, it is a popular belief that we are the ones who choose our partners. But the truth is, it is the Lord’s work and leading that we find the husband or wife who is suitable for us. God may have used your friend or an event or even the Internet for you to meet, but it is his providential act that brought you two together.
You may ask, why are there marriages that work even when the spouses do not know God? John Piper, in the book This Momentary Marriage, where you will find a lot of what I will share to you today, mentioned two points about this. First, we do not really know what is happening in a marriage. It may seem that all is fine and dandy from the outside but there may be issues internally that we do not see. Second, the Lord’s grace overflows even to non- believers. But even if marriages can be harmonious without God, the certainty that we will
20bBut for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said,
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
have a fulfilling and fruitful marriage will increase to one hundred percent if we are following God’s prescriptions in our relationships.
In the New Testament, the institution of marriage took on an additional meaning, an additional intent. Before we delve deeper into this topic, let me just address the people who are not or will not be in a marriage relationship. In the same way as it is the Lord who works on putting two people together in a marriage, it is also the Lord who makes a way for your blessed singleness. And there would be many reasons for that. One is you will have more time and less distraction to accomplish the purpose the Lord has assigned you in this life. Again, do not lose the fact that it is the Lord who chose that you will not be in a marriage relationship and you are equally given a purpose or a mission just like married people.
The verses we will be looking at are from the book of Ephesians, a letter the apostle Paul had written during his first imprisonment. He wrote it to exhort the members of the church in Ephesus to have unity and reconciliation using God’s redeeming grace through Christ.
On the fifth chapter we will find his guidance to the Christian households, specifically to husbands and wives. On verses 23 and 24, we see him liken marriage with the relationship between Christ and His people, Jesus being the groom and the church having the role of the bride. He even emphasized it on verse 33, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
What is this profound mystery? It is none other than the good news Paul, and we, confidently share to the world. The Messiah, who had been anticipated by the Jews for a very long time, had finally arrived and accomplished the prophecy of redeeming his people from the ‘law’ - man’s rightful punishments due to sin.
What Paul was trying to convey here is that marriage between a husband and wife should now be treated by Christians as a model of the relationship between Christ and his church. It is now the responsibility of Christian couples to look at marriage as sacred as the relationship we have with Christ. I like how John Piper puts it:
“The shadow of covenant-keeping between husband and wife gives way to the reality of covenant-keeping between Christ and his glorified church. Nothing is lost. The music of every pleasure is transposed into an infinitely higher key.”
The covenant between a husband and wife is the covenant between Christ and his church magnified! What does this mean? For one thing, we have to look at marriage as something more than a contract. Christ, through his grace bought us with his blood so that once we are with him, nothing can take us away. In the same way, marriage should be a covenant until death. ‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.’ As John Piper said, “we experience God’s grace (our horizontal relationship) and we should bend it vertically towards our spouse.” Let us use Colossians 3:12-14 for practical applications.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
These are some virtues needed by both partners to save marriages from desperation. It especially highlights forgiveness since we are still sinful beings. The grace Christ has bestowed upon us, we should in turn bestow on our partners. Just like Christ, we should forgive, foregoing of the debt owed us as consequence of the sins of our partners.
The verses also instruct us to bear with each other. This is different from forgiveness since sin is not involved. Our partner might just have behaviors or habits that are annoying or not we prefer or expect.
This does not mean that we have a license to sin or keep on being annoying since we expect our spouse to hold on to the instructions regarding forgiveness and forbearance. I believe that implicit to the instructions in the verses is for us to undergo change if needed. The text says to bind all these virtues with love. Love is the motivation that inspires us to develop these good behaviors. The same way as change is the outward manifestation of our love for Christ, change is also a result of our love for our spouses.
Marriage being a representation of the covenant between Christ and the church also means that it is the Christian couple’s duty to make their marriage a testimony to non-believers. How will non-believers be drawn to Christ if they see that loving Christ has no effect on an institution the Lord himself considers as important? We also do not even have to look far for who we impact. Our children will know how we take our love for the Lord seriously by what they perceive with how much we truly love our spouses.
The roles of husband and wife in the bible have always been controversial for those outside the faith. But if we look at it from the point of view of a marriage being a model of Christ’s covenant with the church, then it will all make sense.
Let us look at the role of the husbands first. We see in our text that the husband ‘is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church.’ Husbands are also commanded to ‘love their wives just like Christ loved the church.’ So husbands are to take on the role of Christ in the relationship. What does Christ do for the church? Here are some of them:
Christ initiates and maintains the love relationship with the church. Husbands therefore should ensure that he does not cause the deterioration of the relationship but instead work on keeping the bonds strong all the time.
Christ sacrificed and died for the church. Husbands should go the extra mile to help his wife and ensure her safety and well-being. His wife and family’s needs are paramount basis for his decisions and actions.
Christ trains and teaches the church. Husbands should be the spiritual head of the family ensuring that all members’ spiritual needs are met. Leaning towards a husband’s decision on matters that cannot be mutually decided makes sense since he should be more knowledgeable with God’s preferences.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, Christ is doing a lot for the church. And because of this, submission to Christ should not be a burden for us but more of a privilege. We know that everything Christ does is for our own good. As a return, because of our love for Christ, we have no qualms in obeying his commands. Applying this analogy to the marriage relationship, the wife is directed to submit to the husband. If the wife knows that the husband loves her so much (just like Christ loves the church), the husband puts the wife’s needs above his (just like Christ sacrificed for the church), and the husband’s goal is to ensure that the family is always in the best circumstance as possible (just like Christ’s desire for us), then going along with the husband’s plans and guidelines should be no issue for the wife.
This does not give a license for the husband to be abusive. Christ does not take advantage of his position even if being God, it is in his power and prerogative to make us do anything he wants or do anything to us as he desires. This also does not mean that the husband is the only decision-maker. In our prayers, we petition God and communicate with him our opinions and desires. In the same way, the husband and wife should consider each other’s opinions and desires when making a decision.
If we look at verse 21, we see that it is not only the wife that submits. It says that the husband and wife should submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. The husbands are also directed to submit. So basically, the husband’s responsibility is the same as the wife’s plus more.
C. Synergy in Relationship
Verse 31 mentioned that the husband and wife “will become one flesh.” This means the couple in a marriage relationship should have one mind, one heart and one purpose. In all our earthly relationships, marriage should be the most intimate of all. 1 Corinthians 7:4 says:
The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same
way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.
This of course includes sex which should only be in the purview of marriage. Premarital
sex, adultery and prostitution are therefore betrayals of this ‘one flesh’, ‘one body’ concept. But
beyond sex, this verse also indicates that the husband and wife should share everything. There
is no more yours or mine but everything is ours. The husband and wife should also care about
the partner’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health just like they take care of their own.
The husband and wife should have the same plans, goals and aspiration. There shall be
no separate or hidden agenda from each other. We should not take this the wrong way.
Marriage is not to limit a person’s horizon or opportunities. It’s even the opposite. The couple
will be building on each other’s strengths and supporting each other on their weaknesses. They
will introduce each other to experiences and knowledge that will not be available as separate
individuals. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says:
9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
As one body, married couples are stronger and more capable than if each of them are
working separately. That means they would be able to accomplish more for God, thereby giving
him more glory.
Let us not minimize the worth and meaning of marriage similar to how the world around
us are doing. This is the reason why a lot of marriages today are failing. Let us treat it as how
the Lord designed it to be. A model of the covenant love relationship between Christ and the
church. In this way, we will be a good testimony for Christ and our marriages will be strong
enough to accomplish great things for the Lord’s glory.