Ephesians 5v22-33 (RUCU Cells, Week8)
Paul continnues his great exposition of the universe under Christ and the church in Christ. He's still talking about living worthy of the call to be in Christ together... about wisdom which is being Spirit-filled – wrapped up in God. Now he focusses on two inseparable themes - Christ and the Church, and Marriage. Clearly marriage is not exclusively for Christians, but there is such a thing as 'Christian Marriage' – that fulfills the true intent of the Genesis 2 mandate for marriage. In teaching us about this – and then about family and work – he fills in the details of God's big Jesus plan. Some how I think this bit of God's word isn't going to go down well in our culture (as if any of it ever really does...)
22-24 To wives and the church
25-31 To husbands and the church
32 This is really about Christ and the church
33 But it's also about marriage
The message to wives is simple to understand but perhaps hard to stomach for some. The ministry of being a wife is marked by submission to her husband. The church practices mutual submission (21) under Christ, but here is a particular submission by wives to husbands (and not vice-versa) Wives are to submit to husbands and the model is their existing submission to Jesus.
The cry returns – 'my husband is no messiah', but the command stands. Living worthy of the Lord involves humility and patiences (4v2), calling wives to this special submission which is in all things (24) – in 'everything'. This isn't oppression – just look at the description of the noble wive in Proverbs 31v10-31. She is glorious, honouring and respecting (33) her husband. With a godliness that is beautiful. The filling of the Spirit is needed to live this, and it is a wonderful ministry for a woman to embrace. In our culture this beautiful display of the relationship of Christ to the church is sadly lacking. Women are expected not to submit but instead to overthrow their husbands – reminiscent of The Fall. A godly wife who mimics the submission of the church to Christ in her marriage is greatly to be sought after. It is a calling women should pursue – adding submission to husband to the existing submission to Jesus. As a Christian woman looks for a husband this needs to be in the criteria. Shuds once suggested that we should ask whether someone is sexy, single, suitable and saved.... and a girl needs to add to that 'am I prepared to submit to this man'.
Husbands have a high call too. If the wife protests that her husband is no messiah, he agrees! Yet he must love like Christ loves. Sacrificially. That means it costs. 21st Century culture can't compute sacrificce, the concept that there might be something I want but am not therefore entitled too. Some comfort, ambition, opportunity... yet like Christ did, sacrificed.
"We must consider marriage in terms of the doctrine of the atonement." -
- Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in the Spirit
Marriage is not about ethics – it's about the cross. Christian men who don't have clarity about the cross will make bad husbands. Further, Christ's love was for a purpose. He 'loved' to sanctify by his word (4v12-13 to show the church in splendour. Why? Because just as husbands and wives are in union so Christ and the church.
"We must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us" - John Calvin, Institutes 3.1.1.
Christ and the church are one – 1v23, the church is the body of Jesus. And this isn't a new idea – Paul roots it in Genesis 2. When God invented marriage he had the church in mind. The church is in union with Christ as a husband is with his wife. The key lesson here, v32, is of Christ and the church as one – but this also shows in marriage, v33.
Paul says it's a mystery that is profound. That doesn't make it mysterious - rather Biblical mysteries are things God has hidden and then revealed. I.e. The secret of marriage was there in Genesis 2, but only here do we get it's meaning revealed in the gospel.
Men may feel the calling is too high, but it is to be embraced by the Spirit's power as a wonderful opportunity to know and display of Christ to the world. Men are to lead and teach their wife – this is love. Christ changes the church by 'washing with the word' and likewise a husband teaches his wife. It's popular today to react against historic chauvinism with feminism. This line tries to either flatten the difference between husband and wife, by robbing the husband of his role as loving leader, and disuading the wife from submission. The impact on Christ and the Church is disastrous. It goes further in some cases and we find women leading their weak husbands. Consequently a church where it rather than Christ ruling, we rule.
Christ calls godly women to be wives in submission to their husbands. And he calls men to be Christian husbands – loving leaders who teach their wives the gospel – and so reveal what Jesus does for the church. A Church where men are afraid to lead and where women dominate is out of step with Jesus – it'll be ugly, speaking of a church that rules her Saviour.
Sometimes women take over because men wont step forward. Instead women should encourage men to be loving leaders who speak God's word. That's not to say women have no place – they absolutely do have a place, not least being godly wives (a much higher calling than it's creditted with today!) – the church needs every part to be active so the body works rightly (4v16). Being a wife is a great calling for a woman to have within the church - modelling in their marriage the relationship that the whole church is called to have with Christ. What a ministry!
Christian Marriage is there as a ministry for a man and a woman to embrace (Paul isn't trying to put us off it) – we should consider whether, by the grace of God, it's something we're prepared to enter into. We'll never do it perfectly, but God wants Christian Marriages to show off the glory of Jesus and his church so he will give us enough grace.
Related thoughts on submission from Piper via JT
Marriage: Pursuing Conformity to Christ in the Covenant (Piper on this passage on Feb 25th)
Wayne Grudem on a husbands sacrificial leadership, at cost to himself - like with Jesus