This sermon, based on Ephesians 5:21-33, is really part 3 of the marriage sermons. These started October 10 with our first look at Genesis 2:18-25. On October 17, we looked at Genesis 2 again, this time noting how Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19. As we turn to Ephesians 5, one of the first things to notice is that Paul also quotes Genesis 2:24. What do you make of that? I make that mean that Genesis 2:24 is very important.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.Genesis 2:24
Not only is this statement, a sort of meta-comment about marriage within an otherwise detailed narrative about the man and the woman, but it’s also echoed by our Savior and by the primary author of the rest of the New Testament. If we want to know something about marriage, we should not only look at Genesis 2:24, but also at the passages where it’s quoted. That’s why we dug into Ephesians 5.
As we unpacked this passage, I was quick to highlight the logic of Paul’s argument: his instructions for men and women are based on the “profound mystery” of Christ and the church. In other words, there’s a relationship between Christ/church and husband/wife. And as was mentioned in the sermon, he makes that connect because God continually uses marriage as the metaphor between God and God’s people:
- Mark 2:18-20 (Mt 9:14-17 & Lk 5:33-38) — Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom
- John 3:27-30 — John refers to Jesus as the bridegroom, himself as an attendant, and God’s people as the bride
- Matthew 25:1-13 — This parable compares disciples to bridesmaids and God as the bridegroom
- Old Testament — many references to God and God’s people as husband/wife
- The Covenants — starting in Genesis 15, where the Abrahamic covenant is marked by the splitting of animals, which was a wedding tradition, God’s promises are expressed in marital terms. Repeatedly, we see God saying, “You will be my people and I will be your God.” (e.g., Ex. 6:7, Zech. 8:8, Jer. 30:22). Not to mention all the times we hear of God being “jealous.”
- Song of Songs — the mutual delight and intimacy of a husband and wife reflects the delight of God in his people and the people in their God.
- The Prophets — they frequently use marital language to describe God’s relationship with his people; he is the groom, and they are the (often wayward, adulterous) bride. This is most vivid in Hosea, but can be seen in many other prophets.
- New Testament
- Ephesians 5:21-33 — as we’re covering here
- Revelation 19, 21, & 22 — The Bible ends with a wedding feast in which the bridegroom (God in Jesus) is finally united with his bride (God’s people).
Is that a prominent theme or what??!! I’d encourage you to dwell on that for a while. Most pastors & theologians think the prominence of that theme has massive implications for the way we think about marriage and sexuality.
The sermon on October 24, started drawing out some of those implications by looking at the specific instructions for wives and husbands. Both are to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). I highlighted that this verb, “be subject to” is a word that means more fully “to have a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” We carry this attitude not only because Christ-followers ought to have this attitude (reflecting Philippians 2, Mark 10:41-45, & others), but also because the great mystery of marriage is that it reflects the cosmic holiness of Christ and Church. That’s huge!
Wives are then instructed to be subject to their husbands by trusting their leadership and trusting that they have their best in mind. Of course, wives can trust God in that way, can they trust their husband in the same way? … that’s where Paul swoops in with some weighty instructions for husbands: love your wife the way that Christ loves the church. Woh. That’s heavy. That’s not classic patriarchal, male subjection and domination. Instead, that’s cruciformity and compassion. That’s not toxic masculinity that leads to abuse, exploitation, or oppression. Instead, it’s leadership that leads with love. Why? Because the church became Christ’s bride, not by being dragged off unwillingly by force, not by being domineered and controlled, but because he gave himself totally and utterly for her.
This is no passive patriarch receiving service and sandwiches while he distributes orders from above. No, this husband is a lover, and that love is costly, attentive, and tender.Rachel Gilson
In the sermon, I played out some of the reasons this is so countercultural. I’m sure you could draw out more. For now, I want to finish this post by mentioning the primary implication I drew from this passage: Marriage is about discipleship (i.e., it is a lesson in dying to self). I brought this to the fore by highlighting various marriage traditions/liturgies from around the Christian world. For instance, married couples in the Eastern Orthodox tradition receive crowns on their wedding day, for two reasons: Just as Adam and Eve were given stewardship over the earth as God’s vice-regents, so the wedding crowns signify the married couple’s inheritance of that original blessing. But crowns are also given to martyrs, and they use these crowns to remind the couple of the mutual surrender of life, the reciprocal death to self that makes lasting love possible.
I also provided examples from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and a quote from Martin Luther. The point is: marriage is less about the pursuit of happiness and more about a training ground for holiness. That’s a radically countercultural message. Neither I nor Paul share it so as to call people into drudgery, but rather, to call them into God’s design—which has the potential to provide profound and mysterious contentment and purpose in this world.
Questions for Further Reflection
(1) As always, if you are in a small group, it’s best to start with a recollection of what was said. Take some time and revisit the passage and the message. Can you restate the passage in your own words? Can you repeat what Drew highlighted?
(2) What does the theme of “Christ as bridegroom” and “people as bride” mean to you? Did you realize it was such a prominent theme in the scriptures? In your Christian life, how much attention has been given to the theme? What implications does it have?
(3) If you are married, how have you experienced marriage as a call to die to self? What has helped you fulfill that call? What has been an obstacle to the fulfillment of that call?
(4) I didn’t talk very much about v. 33, but it would good for you to do so. The profound part of v.33 is that it seems to address our varying needs because husbands are instructed to love their wives while wives are instructed to respect their husbands—i.e., different instructions for different spouses. It seems as though we are hardwired for different needs, and we are commanded (the verbs are in the imperative) to meet those needs. How is this playing out in your marriage (if you have a marriage)? How can you do better?