The Marriage of Life and Faith
Ephesians 5:14 - 6:9
The Marriage of Life and Faith
My grandfather has a collection of about 40 cars;, Holdens, Fords, classics, imports, the whole range.
He’s said to me that when he passes away, he wants my son Jamie to inherit the cars.
But before you think, “Where on earth are the Fopps going to store 40 cars”, these are all scale models, of cars! So I don’t need the world’s largest garage, just a medium sized cupboard!
They’re models, but quite impressive models!
The doors open,
The wheels turn,
There are little model engines, and wiring under the bonnets.
They give you a pretty good idea, of what the real , HQ Monaro, looks like.
Today we find ourselves in part of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus, where he speaks about a scale model.
A scale model, of the relationship between Christ and the church.
Now, if it was up to you to come up with a model, something that represents the relationship between Jesus and the church, I wonder what you might come up with?
What would you think can convey, the necessary elements that ought to be represented?
Well in the middle part of this section, Paul says, “it’s marriage.”
The marriage between a husband and wife is the scale model that both sheds light on, and is understood in the light of, the relationship between Christ and the church.
But Paul doesn’t just launch into talking about marriage, out of nowhere! It’s part of a broader section of teaching, but because the instructions about marriage are so counter-cultural, and so desperately needed, I mean just pause for a second and consider the terrible state of marriage, and sexual relationships, and even marriage within the church, because I think this needs to be front and centre in our minds, and not just for those of us who are married, because of that, we’ll quickly jump into the last of the 3 contrasts that Paul uses to highlight how Christian people ought to be living, and then follow the argument into what he says about marriage.
So let’s jump straight in to verse 15,
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
7 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.,
And the 3rd contrast, Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,
Remember John Stott? “Holiness is not a condition into which we drift”? Living wisely, will require effort Paul says.
His language implies careful study, close attention, thoughtful consideration, and then, only after those things have been done, is a decision made.
So contrast number 3, Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit
It’s an instruction to Christian people, Don’t get drunk. That’s pretty straightforward.
Not on wine,
Not on beer,
Not on cider,
Not on anything!
Don’t lose control by the taking into your body of anything.
Don’t, by what you drink, or consume, lose your ability to be very careful, how you live.
But the contrast, “Not this, but that”, is what sets up everything that follows.
What a Spirit-filled church looks like
It’s not immediately obvious in our NIV Bibles, but this command to the Christians in Ephesus, instead, be filled with the Spirit, is followed by 5 participles, 5 ing words, that explain and unpack what it will look like, for Christian people to be filled with the Spirit.
Verse 18 says that God wants a Spirit-filled church.
And then the 5 participles give us an idea of what a Spirit-filled church will look like.
As I say they’re not all translated as participles in English, but they all flow out of and explain what it means to be filled with the Spirit.
Look at verse 19 with me,
Giving thanks, verse 20,
And then, the one that’s most hidden, verse 21, it’s actually “submitting to one another”
What will it look like for Christian people to be filled with the Spirit?
Well it will mean that they’ll be speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit,
Singing and making music from their hearts to the Lord,
always giving thanks to God the Father for everything,
And submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Now, perhaps we hear the instruction be filled with the Spirit, and we get a picture in our heads, of someone kind of pouring the holy Spirit into us, like liquid from a jug,
And then that level gets drained down by the hardships of life, so I need to be topped up, I need more of the Spirit.
But we should probably understand this sentence “be filled by the Spirit”, which is what Paul’s grammar suggests, and which is maybe what your Bible translation has.
And Paul has already spoken in this letter what he understands Christian people to be filled with.
He’s said that the church shares Christ’s fullness. That was the end of chapter 1. And in chapter 3, we got to eavesdrop on his prayer for the Ephesians, that they may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God
And you might remember, we saw how that means Christ-likeness,
Growing more and more into the people that God would have us be.
So if the best understanding here is that Paul’s speaking about being filled by the Spirit of God, rather than being topped up, with the Spirit, then we probably ought to understand the content of the filling, as the same as what he’s already talked about as being filled with;,
The fullness of God,
And if the Spirit of God fills us to ever-increasing maturity in Christ, then the participles of verses 19 to 20, are the things we will choose to do.
And notice in the first half of verse 19, that the direction of this speaking, psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, is horizontal It’s speaking to one another.
There’s a focus here on our corporate gathering, but I’m sure it’s not limited to that.
But let’s make sure we get this. In our songs, our hymns, the songs that we sing that are inspired and prompted by the Spirit of God, we’re actually speaking to each other.
Maybe when we sing in a few moments, we should all turn around and sing, looking into the eyes of those around us. That might be a little weird, but do you see Paul’s point?
When we sing, the first thing he wants us to remember, is that we’re speaking to each other.
Our corporate singing on Sundays is not primarily about me getting into the zone with God, It’s about me speaking to you,
And you speaking to me.
A spirit-filled church, is one where the members speak to each other, in their singing.
In a spirit-filled church, the members are looking at each other.
Their concern is for the building up of others, to maturity and fullness in Christ.
In a spirit-filled church, the members turn up on Sundays, concerned for others, rather than themselves.
That’s not of course, to say that we don’t direct our singing to God at all. The next 2 participles make that clear, Singing and making music from your heart to the Lord.
Your heart, your whole being.
In a spirit-filled church, your whole self is involved in singing to God.
Notice that Paul doesn’t impose a quality standard, on those who ought to be singing to God.
In a spirit-filled church, those who are great singers, and those who consider themselves terrible singers, sing their praises to God, acknowledging who he is and what he’s done for us in Christ.
Which naturally leads us on to note that in a spirit-filled church, people will always be giving thanks.
The more we’re filled to maturity in Christ, the more we realise just how much we have to be thankful for.
And the 5th participle that characterises a spirit-filled church, is that we will be submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
And while Paul goes on to outline some particular expressions of submission in the relationships that are listed there, the fact that this is one of the 5 implications, the working out of being filled by the Spirit is enough to suggest that in a spirit-filled church, all the members will be characterised by an attitude of submission.
I read this week about King Richard the Lion Heart, appearing before the Holy Roman Emperor, and the king said, “I am born of a rank which recognises no superior but God.” And maybe that’s OK for a mediaeval king, but that attitude has no place in the spirit-filled church.
So let me say something quickly about children and slaves, before we get to wives and husbands.
Chapter 6 verse 1, children obey your parents in the Lord,
Here we see that the instruction in 5:21, that Christian people ought to be submitting to one another, doesn’t mean, every Christian person, submitting to every other Christian person.
Sometimes people have tried to say, “When wives are to submit, that’s no different to everyone being told to submit, there’s no difference between husbands and wives.
But clearly Paul doesn’t think that parents need to submit to their children. This isn’t every one to everyone else, rather it’s about, Christian people submitting in these divinely ordered relationships.
And secondly, with regard to slavery, I know that some people worry that it seems like Paul is affirming slavery. But a helpful question might be “well do we think Paul affirms persecution?”
He gives instructions to slaves here, just as he gives instructions to Christians who are facing persecution. And yet I don’t think we’d say that in doing that, Paul’s affirming persecution as a good thing. He’s simply recognising the reality of the situation they’re in, and saying “here’s how you live a Spirit-filled life, in the midst of this situation.”
What a spirit-filled marriage looks like
So marriage, what does a Spirit-filled marriage look like?
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.
So now we’re right back to where we started, with my grandfather’s cars.
A spirit-filled marriage, is one where those involved recognise that the marriage is a scale model, a representation of something else, that is, the relationship between Christ and the church.
Let me read the next little bit, from verse 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.
As a marriage celebrant, in each wedding ceremony that I perform, I am required to state the definition of marriage according to law in Australia. And perhaps that legal definition of marriage will change, when Parliament resumes later this year, here we see, God’s definition of marriage will not change.
If you know your Old Testament you might have noticed that down in verse 31, Paul quotes from Genesis, to remind us of God’s definition of marriage, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh
Marriage is a relationship between one man, and one woman.
It is public, the man will leave his father and mother.
It is permanent, the husband will be united to his wife,
And it is a permanent physical, sexual union, the two will become , one flesh
Marriage is a permanent, public, physical union, between one man, and one woman.
Marriage is not, two men,
Or two men, and three women,
It is not, a string of brief encounters, with members of the opposite sex,
It is not one long term relationship with someone who I love very much, followed by another long term relationship with someone I love very much, followed by another long term relationship, and so on.
Marriage is not, a boyfriend and girlfriend, trying to take hold of the physical aspect of marriage, without the public or permanent aspects of the relationship.
This is the definition of marriage that Jesus himself quotes, when asked about sexuality and marriage.
I keep finding things on the Internet where people say, ‘Jesus never spoke about gay marriage, or about human sexuality.”
He absolutely did.
He re-stated unequivocally, God’s original intention for marriage, God’s definition of marriage.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be quite so surprised that people on the Internet could be wrong! But there you go!
The Apostle Paul,
God’s original statement about marriage,
We discover here, why they all line up, because marriage is a symbol of the relationship between Christ and the church.
The 2 men,
Or 2 men and 3 women,
Or the string of brief sexual encounters,
Those relationships cannot be marriage, because they cannot be a representation of Christ and the church.
My grandfather’s cars. What are they? They’re a scale model of something else.
The various elements of the model, even with their flaws and imperfections, still reflect the various elements of the real thing.
The spirit-filled marriage is a scale model, a representation of the relationship between Christ and the church.
Which is why, if you’ve just been thinking, “Oh, I’m not married, I can tune out”, you need to tune back in!
Marriages teaches us about Christ and the church.
And of course some who aren’t married, may one day be married, and so it would seem extremely important for you, to understand what marriage is.
Others of us may not get married, and yet in community here, can support and encourage those who are married.
So what does it look like?
Well, in a spirit-filled marriage, the wife will submit to her husband.
The truth about submission
Verse 22, Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord
Or 24, Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
To submit simply means to “arrange under”, and for a wife to submit to her husband, is for her to set herself under his leadership, the standard of which is pictured in, well, quite striking terms in these verses, isn’t it?
Now, this might be affronting to us.
If we’re new to Christian things, this might sound like an echo from a previous age, that you thought we had long since moved past.
How can we, in the 21st century, say that a wife ought to submit to her husband?
I heard just this week, of a church pastor, who preached on this passage, and found himself written up in the local newspaper, which was outraged that he had taught these words.
So let’s clear up, perhaps a few points of confusion.
Submission does not mean, a person is of less worth, than another.
This very language of submission, is used to describe Jesus submitting to his heavenly Father. And we know, that the eternal son of God, is not of less worth than the Father.
The moment we attach distinction in value, to this idea of submission, we have torn apart the very fabric of the godhead.
If we believe submission implies lower value, our understanding of God himself is fatally flawed.
This language is also how Jesus’ submission to his earthly parents is described in the Bible.
Jesus wasn’t of less worth than Mary and Joseph,
Jesus didn’t have less glory than Mary and Joseph. In fact we’d probably say quite the opposite wouldn’t we?
The Bible is certainly clear, that men and women are created equal before God,
That together they share in the image of God,
That they are equal in value,
That men and women are both equally stained by sin,
And both equally need forgiveness.
It was significantly Jesus, and the Christian message that acknowledged the supremely high value of women, in a culture where they were often seen as not very valuable possessions.
That high view is not going to be contradicted here.
Also, for a wife to submit to her husband, categorically doesn’t mean that permission is given for abuse, of any kind.
We hear every now and then, of husbands who claim these verses as justification for treating their wives appallingly.
But clearly, the expectation of husbands in this section, precludes that. And we’ll see that in some more detail in a moment.
Paul’s language makes it clear that this is voluntary submission of a wife, to her husband’s leadership, out of reverence for Christ, and in a way that points to the submission of the church, to Jesus.
Do you see that submission isn’t for the husband’s sake?
A wife doesn’t submit to her husband’s leadership to make his life easier.
A spirit-filled wife will submit to her husband because of her submission first and foremost to Christ,
Because she will recognise that God has established distinct roles in marriage, as he seeks to represent here and now, something of the relationship between Christ and the church;,
The dependent submission,
The loving headship,
The faithfulness that Christ displayed for the church.
That’s what God wants people to see in marriage.
Now, submission doesn’t mean that the wife doesn’t have any of her own ideas, or opinions,
That she doesn’t speak up,
That a Christian wife is a silent, subjugated doormat!
Sometimes couples from here ask me to preach on this passage at their wedding, and so far it’s been quite easy to explain what submission is and isn’t at our TMB weddings, because very clearly, the women getting married, are not silent, subjugated doormats!
Everyone can see that,
But also, everyone can see that these women are open to the work of the Spirit of God, as he transforms them more and more into Christ-likeness and all the fullness of God.
When we see a spirit-filled wife, we see a woman who longs to be, verse 27, holy and blameless, longs to grow towards that goal,
She uses her gifts to affirm her husband’s leadership and to follow it through.
The truth about headship.
But let’s have a look at the other half of the picture.
You might have heard some people say that the word head there in verse 23, doesn’t mean head as in leadership, or authority, but they say it means “source”. The husband is the source of the wife, man was created first, all that kind of thing.
And that sits more easily with our culture, the problem is, in all of its thousands of uses in ancient literature, the word never means source.
Clearly Christ is pictured as the head of the church , verse 23, with authority over it,
The parallel relationship is that in a spirit-filled marriage, the husband exercises authority and leadership over his wife.
Now, if that seems like just about too much for our 21st century ears to handle, let’s have a look at exactly what the headship of a spirit-filled husband is like.
And there are 2 particular things I think we should notice about it.
The goal of Spirit-filled headship: “to make her holy”
The first is the goal of this headship;, the wife’s maturity and holiness.
Let me read from verse 25, to make sure we grasp this, because Paul flips back and forth between the scale model and the real deal!
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.
OK, so the goal of Christ’s headship of the church is holiness and blamelessness. For sin to be less and less.
For every day that passes, the bride to be more like Christ.
That’s the goal of Christ’s headship in the church.
And that’s exactly the same kind of headship that you, Christian husband, spirit-filled husband, or potential husband, should be expecting to provide to your wife.
See there, in verse 28, there’s absolutely no escaping it, the parallel is exactly drawn, 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.
In which same way? Well obviously in the same way as Christ loved the church, with the goal of presenting her holy and blameless
The goal of your headship and leadership in your family, is your wife’s holiness, and standing before Christ.
You are to be utterly committed to her total well-being, especially holiness,
Her spiritual well-being,
Her standing before your Father in heaven.
That’s the goal.
The other thing to notice, is the cost, of Spirit filled headship.
The cost of Spirit-filled headship: death
Verse 25 again, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church , and gave himself up for her,
For a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church, is to bring his will, his mind, his body, his whole being to bear,
And no cost is too great,
This kind of headship, husbands, might even cost your life.
You and I, husbands, are called upon to lead our wives, with the kind of love that is willing to die, for her holiness and maturity.
Spirit-filled headship is costly.
But the model is undeniable.
And so if you want to know, what kind of a husband should I be,
Don’t look at the world around us,
Don’t just try and copy what’s popular in marriages at the moment.
Look to Christ, whose love for and headship of the church led him to lay down his life, for our holiness, and so that we could be blameless before God.
That’s the model.
Your marriage, is to speak to the world, of Christ’s love for his people, whom he calls his bride.
Your love for your wife, is to paint people a picture, of Jesus’ sacrificial love for humanity.
God wants you to demonstrate the self-giving love of Jesus.
God’s goal for your marriage is to demonstrate the quality of relationship of the church’s union with Christ, who says “I know everything about you,
I love you unconditionally,
I died for your holiness.”
If someone was to peer in your loungeroom window, day after day, after day, that would be weird! but they should be able to grasp something of Christ’s sacrificial love for his church through your love for your wife.
Well, how might we go about putting all this into practice?
Putting it into practice
Well, notice that Paul doesn’t go into any detail, of what form this will take in every relationship. In one marriage a wife submission might mean following a pattern for home prayer, and Bible reading, and discipleship that her husband proposes, but in another marriage, it might not look like that.
What he does give us are the principles, and those of us who are married, are expected to do that careful considering of verse 15, to work out what form these principles will take in our relationship.
So let’s think broadly, and I’ll mention a few possible specifics as we go.
Husbands, this kind of costly love and servant-leadership means, you don’t wait for your wife to start acting in a particular way before you start laying down your life for her holiness.
Christ died for you while you were living as his enemy!
There’s your model.
Get to it!
I think that if we take these instructions seriously, it will quite possibly mean that husbands, we’ll develop habits of seeking reconciliation and offering forgiveness first, when there’s been some kind of dispute or argument.
How could we claim to be loving like Christ, if we don’t freely offer forgiveness?
Notice Paul doesn’t say husbands exercise headship, extract submission,
For her holiness.
And wives, notice, Paul doesn’t say, “submit to your husbands, if in your judgment, they deserve your submission”
Our reason for exercising our distinctive role as husbands and wives is not the behaviour or standard of our spouse, but the pattern of Christ and the church.
A husband’s headship, a wife’s submission, isn’t just doing what the culture thinks is “masculine”, or “feminine”, but we understand these roles in the light of Christ’s headship of the church, and in turn they point to the relationship of Christ and the church.
So husbands, if my wife’s holiness, her growth in Christ-likeness is my goal, if I see the way Christ laid down his life to that end for the church, that’s going to shape, well, all of my week isn’t it?
Again, let me not be overly prescriptive, but think about your working hours,
Think about the time you spend with your mates,
The time you invest in your hobbies,
The pattern of behaviour you set in terms of getting your family to church,
Do you create opportunities for your wife to grow in holiness?
Is her total well-being and especially her spiritual well-being, the primary focus of your marriage?
Do you die to yourself, and your desires and preferences, more and more, in order to serve your wife?
Is she more holy,
More blameless, because of your love for her in the past week, month, year, or have you, dropped the ball?
And wives, what a privilege it is, to submit to this kind of headship!
The spirit-filled husband has your holiness, your eternal standing before God as the primary goal of his marriage.
What a joy, to submit to someone, who will lay down his life so that you can become more and more who God wants you to be,
So that week by week you can become more like Christ whom you both serve together.
And of course submitting means no lording it over,
No quid pro quo,
No applying gentle, subtle pressure, to make him see things my way.
The spirit-filled wife will submit to her husband’s leadership in spiritual growth and development. As her husband seeks to lead in prayer, in spiritual disciplines, in providing moral and spiritual leadership, the spirit-filled wife will submit to that leadership.
Just as the church looks to Christ for what we might call beneficial rule,
For his generous presence,
For his leadership and provision,
Just as the church receives from Christ what is necessary for growth and maturity,
Jesus calls on you, spirit-filled wives, to seek those things from your husband.
The church isn’t stifled by submitting to Christ’s headship, so a wife won’t be stifled by submitting to the headship of her spirit-filled husband.
There may be times when a wife needs to point out sin to her husband. That is not at odds with submission.
Some are married to husbands who aren’t Christians, who aren’t seeking their wife’s holiness, and yet because we know what God longs to achieve and communicate through marriage, this attitude of submission is still held out as your goal, though it will look different, as you submit, out of reverence for Christ.
Numbers of us here are married.
And maybe we hear these words, that not only do we understand marriage by looking at Christ and the church, but also that our marriages are to represent something of that to the world, and we think, actually my marriage hasn’t been reflecting what it ought to, to the world around me;
Committed, faithful, other person centred union.
But today, if we’ve heard God’s voice, we can respond.
Maybe we sit down with our husband, our wife, today, this week, to work out what this looks like for us, in our marriage.
Maybe we pray together, or pray that if we become married, that throughout our married life, people will see more and more, the profound mystery made known, Christ and the church,
Maybe we pray that God will be honoured, through Spirit-filled marriages.