Husbands and Wives
by Jack Wald | February 5th, 2017

Ephesians 5:18-33

Marriage is not easy and you can see this by looking up quotes about marriage. There are some sweet and wise quotes. Martin Luther: “Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.” Mignon McLaughlin:  “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” And there are many more cynical quotes about marriage. Eddie Cantor: “A wedding is a funeral where you smell your own flowers.” Rita Rudner: “I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.” Henny Youngman: “Do you know what it means to come home at night to a woman who’ll give you a little love, a little affection, a little tenderness? It means you’re in the wrong house, that’s what it means.” Katherine Hepburn: “If you want to sacrifice the admiration of many men for the criticism of one, go ahead, get married.”

Marriage is not easy. Tim Keller begins his book on marriage with this:

 I’m tired of listening to sentimental talks on marriage. At weddings, in church, and in Sunday School, much of what I’ve heard on the subject has as much depth as a [greeting] card. While marriage is many things, it is anything but sentimental. Marriage is glorious but hard. It’s a burning joy and strength, and yet it is also blood, sweat, and tears, humbling defeats and exhausting victories. No marriage I know more than a few weeks old could be described as a fairy tale come true. Therefore, it is not surprising that the only phrase in Paul’s famous discourse on marriage in Ephesians 5 that many couples can relate to is verse 32 “A man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery…” Sometimes you fall into bed, after a long, hard day of trying to understand each other, and you can only sigh: “This is all a profound mystery!” At times, your marriage seems to be an unsolvable puzzle, a maze in which you feel lost.

Less than a quarter of our congregation is married which means there are a lot of unrealistic expectations of what marriage is like. Brides and grooms enter marriage with very idealistic views of how marriage will be. To brides and grooms, marriage is like a fairy tale, but those who are married know that fairy tales have a different ending than the ones we read in books. Those who have been married for more than a few years know that this photo of Snow White and Prince Charming is the reality of marriage.

All relationships are difficult. We have friends who get offended or who offend us. We have difficulty with people at work or school. There are people we get along with easily and others who easily irritate us. But in friendships we can move away without major disruption.

Marriage is a much more difficult relationship for a couple reasons. First, there is greater intimacy in marriage. I am not talking just of sexual intimacy. I am talking more about emotional intimacy. We are more vulnerable in marriage relationships. Our spouse knows us better than anyone else. Our spouse knows what we hide from other people. Our spouse knows our weaknesses as well as our strengths.

This gives our spouse power over us and because we are humans, our human nature sometimes asserts itself and we use that power against our spouse. Because we are so well known and so vulnerable, what our spouse says to us has a deeper effect on us than what someone else might say to us. In a marriage relationship the husband and wife have the power to build up as no one else can, and they have the power to tear down as no one else can.

There is an Art Garfunkel song, All I Know, with this lyric
I bruise you
You bruise me
We both bruise too easily

The second difficulty in marriage relationships is that the man and woman are bound together in a legal commitment to each other that cannot be easily broken. If a friend offends me, I can delete his number from my telephone, delete his email from my electronic devises, and I am free of him. But when my wife offends me, I am stuck. I cannot get away without paying a great cost.

As a follower of Jesus the marriage commitment is much stronger because divorce is not an option. I have to stay in the marriage and work out the differences in us. I am forced to work out the difficulties in the relationship.

I remember very well one night in our 4th or 5th year of marriage. Annie and I had an argument and I left the bedroom to go to the guest room – just a mattress on the floor. As I lay there I began to brainstorm and think through my options. I could divorce her, but that would mean I would be separated from my two daughters and not live with them in the same house. I could kill Annie, but then I would go to prison and my girls would lose both their parents. I could kill myself, but then my girls would live knowing their father had killed himself. The only viable option, and at the time the one that seemed least pleasant, was to go back to Annie and say I was sorry.

This morning, as we make our way through Ephesians, we come to Paul’s comments on the married relationship of husband and wife. Tim Keller preached from this passage in Ephesians over nine Sundays. We will move on after this one Sunday. So it is obvious I will not exhaust the truth in what Paul has to say about the marriage relationship. I encourage you to listen to the Tim Keller sermons. You can find them on his church website. Keller Marriage Sermons I encourage you to read his book about marriage. I don’t have to tell you that Keller’s books are worth reading. He presents great truth that will benefit those who are married or those who will one day be married.

My focus will be much more limited. I want to focus on the core of why it is we struggle in marital relationships and that is, not surprisingly, our difficulty in submitting one to another.

When you read Ephesians 5 and Paul’s comments about the marital relationship, or when you read any passage of scripture, remember that you need to read in context. We get into great trouble when we read a passage of scripture out of context. We can make it say what we want it to say rather than hear what was intended for us to hear.

When people talk about Paul’s comments on the marital relationship, they begin with verse 22 and go to verse 33. And then there is a contentious argument about what this relationship looks like.

Paul writes,
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.

“The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” What does this mean? This is how one article in Christianity Today begins the discussion.
Depending on who you ask, you might get wildly different answers to these questions. Some focus on the liberty both men and women find in Christ, stressing equality as well as mutual love and respect in marriage. Others emphasize God-ordained, gender-tied functions of leadership and submission, highlighting distinct but equally valuable roles for husbands and wives. Toss into the mix extreme views that relegate women to quiet-subservient-little-mouse status or exaggerated stereotypes of bra-burning, husband-dominating feminists, and you’ve got quite a mess to wade through!

There are some extreme positions taken. Some say that women are inferior to men and need to be led in everything: home, church, the workplace, and society. Others say there is no difference between men and women. But those that make a biblical argument offer two positions. Complementarian and egalitarian. Don’t be intimated by these words.

Let me quote from one of the articles I read.
In the complementarian view, men and women are both of equal, intrinsic value before God— and are also both of equal value and importance within the marriage. However, they are understood to have different, complementary roles or functions, with the husband serving as the spiritual leader in the family.
    An egalitarian view of marriage, on the other hand, focuses on equality within marriage without distinct roles based on gender. Both the husband and wife lead the family collaboratively, stressing mutual submission to each other.

One view says that men and women are equal before God, but in this life they have different roles. The man is the spiritual leader in the family and the wife complements what he does. The wife follows the leading of the husband and supports him with her own gifts.

The other view says that men and women are equal before God and in this life they each use their gifts to lead the family together. They make mutual decisions. They submit to each other.

This is not where I want to focus the sermon. I do not think a discussion about which view of the husband/wife relationship is the correct one will be helpful or profitable. I do not want to add to the debate about which view is the proper biblical one. I want to look at the husband/wife relationship from a much more fundamental perspective.

We need to read this passage about the husband/wife relationship in context. It must be read in view of the call for mutual submission in verse 21 and also in view of what Paul says about being filled with the Spirit. This is why the scripture reading today begins with verse 18 and not verse 21 or 22.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,

In verses 15-18 Paul has a list of what to do and what not to do that summarizes what he has written in chapters four and five. He begins with “Be very careful, then, how you live” and then lays out some contrasting behaviors.

Don’t be unwise – be wise.
Do not be foolish – understand what the Lord’s will is.
Do not get drunk on wine – be filled with the Spirit.

How does Paul mean for us to understand this last contrast, between getting drunk on wine and being filled with the Spirit?

What happens when someone gets drunk? Paul says it leads to debauchery which is defined as “excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures.” One glass of wine can be a good complement to a good meal. Maybe two glasses. But then a line is crossed and the ability to use restraint begins to disappear. I am no longer in control. I am no longer asking myself if this is a good idea or not. People who get drunk do things they would never do if they were sober.

As a young pastor I visited men in prison who were there because they did something they did not want to do and did not intend to do, but committed their crime because they were drunk or stoned.

Paul uses this image of getting drunk to describe being led by our sinful human desires. In Galatians 5:19–26 Paul lists behaviors that come from our flesh and then the fruit that comes from being led by the Spirit.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

This is what Paul means when he writes:
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.

Then he goes on to talk about the fruit that comes from being filled with the Spirit.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

If you have to choose how to live, from which of these lists of behaviors do you want to choose?

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,

We are to speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spriit.
We are to sing and make music from our heart to the Lord
We are to always give thanks to the Lord
We are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

This is the context in which we approach the three relationships that follow. The three relationships are illustrations of how we submit to one another. And that submission is made possible by the filling of the Spirit.

Paul begins by speaking to wives.
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.

And then Paul addresses husbands.
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.

What do most people focus on when they read these verses? If you pay attention to the debate about the proper biblical understanding of husband/wife relationships, the focus is on “the husband is the head of the wife and should submit to their husbands in everything.”

The discussion focuses on who is in charge, who leads. When a decision is to be made and the husband and wife disagree, who makes the final decision? The discussion is about power and control. Who has the power and who is in control?

In the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the daughter, Toula, wants to go to school and her dad refuses to allow her to do this. She complains to her mother. “Ma, Dad is so stubborn. What he says goes. ‘Ah, the man is the head of the house!’” Her mother responds, “Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.”

A friend who is fluent in Arabic was at a gathering of women in her city for some celebration. At the end, one woman got up and went around the room praying for each woman. As she prayed, other women called out with things to be prayed for. For each woman she prayed for victory over her husband. When she came to my friend, who she did not know, she began to pray for victory over her husband and the neighbor of my friend who had invited her to the celebration called out, “You don’t have to pray that for her.”

There is a power struggle that takes place in marriages and so when we read Paul’s words about husband/wife relationships, we can easily miss the point Paul is making.

Remember what I said last week when I talked about submission from verse 21? Submission is voluntary. When submission is demanded and enforced, it is not submission. It is oppression. A wife or husband cannot insist that their spouse submit to them.

Since Paul tells us wives should submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ, and since Paul tells us husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church – let me remind you how Jesus operates in his side of the relationship with us.

Does Jesus demand that we submit? Never. In fact, when Paul was describing the rebelliousness of men and women, he writes about how God does exactly the opposite.
(Romans 1:24)
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

God did not demand submission and when the rebelliousness reached the point of no return, he released his hold on them. He no longer restrained them. He set them free to suffer at the hand of their own sinful choices.

We are free to disobey and when we disobey, we suffer the consequences. But even then, God is waiting for any sign we will return. And when he sees us returning, like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, he runs to greet us and welcome us home.

God loves us and loves us and loves us. He grieves for us when we reject him, when we refuse to submit to him, when we make our own choices and move away from him. And he continues to love us and love us and love us.

That is the model for us of how to submit. When a wife does not submit to her husband the husband is called to do what God does for us, he is to love her, encourage her, love her. When a husband does not submit to his wife the wife is called to love her husband, seek his good, love him.

This is why I have no patience for the discussions about whether the husband makes the decisions or whether decisions are made mutually. That is not a discussion of submission; it is a discussion of power.

If a husband is loving his wife as Christ loves the church and if a wife is loving her husband as she loves Christ, if husband and wife are living in a relationship of mutual submission, I think it would be impossible to see if they have an egalitarian or complementarian relationship. It would be impossible to analyze the relationship and see who is in charge, who makes the decisions. In a mutually submissive relationship, the husband is treated with respect and the wife is loved. Decisions are made out of consideration for the needs of the other person in the relationship. Each person is serving the other and power and control are nowhere to be seen.

Here is what you can do if you are married. If you will one day be married, file this away.

1. Submission is voluntary. A husband or a wife cannot demand that the other submit. If you want your wife to submit, love her, serve her, sacrifice for her. If you want your husband to submit, love him, serve him, sacrifice for him.

As I mentioned last week, this is incredibly difficult to do and you and I will fail as we try to do this. But this is the path we are called to walk in a marriage relationship.

In preaching on submission last week and then the husband/wife relationship this week I have been very conscious about how I relate to Annie. I have tried to be on my best behavior. Last week we drove up to Ifrane to see the snow, just for three or four hours, and then drove home. It was wonderful. When it was time to come home, we talked about which way to come home. Annie wanted to return the way we came. I wanted to go by way of Azrou since I have not been there for quiet a while. We each shared what we wanted to do and Annie said again she wanted to go back the way we came and then I said, “OK, we’ll go back the way we came.”

Did I submit? Not really. What I did is shut down and keep score – one more time in which I gave in to Annie. What I said inside was not, “I love you and since this will make you feel safe, we will do it this way.” What I said inside was, “OK, dammit, we’ll do what you want to do.”

I quoted Richard Foster last week.
 In submission we are at last free to value other people.  Their dreams and plans become important to us.  We have entered into a new, wonderful, glorious freedom – the freedom to give up our own rights for the good of others.  For the first time we can love people unconditionally.  We have given up the right to demand that they return our love.  No longer do we feel that we have to be treated in a certain way.  We rejoice in their successes.  We feel genuine sorrow in their failures.  It is of little consequence that our plans are frustrated if their plans succeed.  We discover that it is far better to serve our neighbor than to have our own way.

This is where I want to go. This is the relationship with Annie I want to have. I am somewhere along the way, but still have a long way to go to get to this point.

2. This brings me to being filled with the Spirit. If we want to live in relationship as husband and wife the way God wants us to live, we need to be filled with the Spirit. We have to know we are deeply loved by God, that we are God’s beloved daughter or God’s beloved son. We have to know that no matter what happens in other relationships, we are deeply loved. When we experience that deep love, then we can love others without getting anything in return.

This is why we read our Bible. This is why we spend time with God in silence and reflection. This is why we meet with others who can encourage us and pray for us. This is why we come to worship together at church. This is why we pray.

These things are not religious duties or obligations, they are our lifeline to our relationship with Jesus.

To use the image Jesus used, we need to abide in Christ as a vine remains attached to the branch. We need the life of Jesus in us. We need to be filled with the Spirit.

3. This allows us not to worry about who is in charge. This allows us to love our spouse as we are loved by God. This allows us to forgive. This allows us to extend grace and mercy. This allows us not to take offence. The way we treat our spouse is dependent on the life we life in the Spirit.

4. This allows us to submit even when our spouse does not submit to us. When we love our spouse as Christ loves us, our love will transform our spouse. When we submit, the power of God will work though us to bring healing and love to our spouse. Tim Keller talks about marriage as God’s tool for our sanctification. God uses marriage to transform us, to make us more holy. Keller points out that God has other tools he uses for people who are not married, but marriage is a powerful tool God uses to transform us, to save us.

5. I have to add one more thing. Since we live in a world where people are abused, I need to talk about what to do when you are being abused, physically or emotionally, in a relationship.

Richard Foster in talking about the discipline of submission writes, “The limits of the Discipline of submission are the points at which it becomes destructive. It then becomes a denial of the law of love as taught by Jesus and is an affront to genuine biblical submission.”

If you are in a relationship where you are being abused, get away from that relationship. Go to a place where you are safe. You are not bound by the Bible to stay in the relationship and continue to be abused. Talk to me. Talk with someone you trust. Get help. Get counseling. Do not remain in a relationship that is destructive. I am not saying you should get a divorce. I am saying you need to get away to a safe place.

Our biggest problem in living a life with Christ is that we want to have a rule book to know what to do and what not to do. So we look at the rule book and try to figure out who is in charge. We look at the rule book to see how we are to relate to each other. We look at the rule book to see how much to give. We look at the rule book to see what religious obligations we have to satisfy.

I am not dismissing doctrine. Paul wrote to Timothy, (1 Timothy 4:16)
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

It is important to know how God wants us to live as we make our way through this world. But the Bible is not primarily a rule book. It is a love letter. To read the Bible and come up with a list of rules is to have an empty spiritual life, a life of legalistic dos and don’ts.

We are loved by God. Because he loves us he is patient with us. Because he loves us he bends towards us and gives us second-chance after second-chance even when we resist him and rebel against him.

In our relationships, all our relationships, not just the husband/wife relationship, we are called to love as God loves us.

It is not a bad idea to go home this morning, if you are married, and determine to be a better husband, a better wife. But it is best to go home and determine to draw closer to God in an intimate relationship of love so you will be able to love your spouse as you are loved by God.