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Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.
What do people think of marriage anymore? Judging from the careless attitude with which many jump in and out of it, the answer might be, “Not much.” It seems like there is always some movie star or celebrity getting married and then getting divorced shortly afterward. This kind of behavior is not just confined to the rich and famous. A glance at the local newspaper’s divorce notices reveals that there are many marriages which do not even see their first anniversary.
As Christians, we take a higher view of marriage because we recognize that it is not a social institution created by men, but it is something which God designed in the earliest days of the world’s history for our blessing and benefit.
Nevertheless, in Christian marriages too there can be times of trouble and tension because we are all sinners. Christians too can be tempted to divorce for ungodly reasons. We who are married need to be reminded again of the Lord’s plan for husbands and wives, and those who are unmarried can also benefit from learning what God says about the marriage relationship—not only because you might be married one day, but because the marriage relationship is also a reflection of the relationship Jesus has with all believers.
This portion of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians contains important MARRIAGE COUNSEL FROM GOD—direct words from Him on the subject.
These words, however, are a stumbling block for some. The Bible says: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church…” [vv.22-23] At the mere mention of this there are some women who roll their eyes and turn away from everything else God says about marriage, thinking, “What's up with that! I’m sure not going to play ‘second fiddle’ in my house!”
Unfortunately, in our American culture, when we hear that word “submit,” we have a knee-jerk reaction that thinks inferiority or slavery. We think that someone who submits to somebody else must naturally be less important or less valuable. But this is clearly not what the Lord has in mind, for He makes no statement whatever about the relative worth or importance of the spouses to one another.
No, this is a matter of roles in marriage. Marriage is a team effort and you can’t have everyone playing the same part. One Christian writer has pictured this in terms of a baseball game. The husband is the catcher and the wife is the pitcher. Both are on the same side and have the same goal—to win. Yet it is the catcher who decides what pitch will be thrown and gives the signal, the pitcher submits to the catcher’s decision and lets the ball fly toward the plate. This is the way it works best out on the field. Now, that doesn’t mean there won’t ever be differences of opinion about the catcher’s choice of pitch. Sometimes there will even be a conference on the mound! But the catcher and pitcher both have their jobs—that’s teamwork.
In marriage there must be teamwork between husband and wife. They are each given their roles. For the wife, it is a submissive role. She is to recognize that God has given her husband the responsibility of leading the family and she supports him in his effort to do that. That doesn’t mean there won’t be “conferences on the mound.” It doesn’t mean that the wife has “no say” in family matters—in fact she has quite a lot—but she recognizes that ultimately it is the husband who must answer to God for leading the household and she does not despise his God-given role, ignore his leadership, or treat it carelessly.
Notice wives, that the Apostle is talking to you as Christians. These verses about submission are not spoken to your husbands as if they are to go out and enforce this submission upon you. The role of the wife in marriage is a role that she willingly takes out of love for God who designed marriage. When thought of in this way, it is not a difficulty or hardship. The apostle explains this when he says, “…just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything…”[v.24] Notice the grand comparison: “As the church submits to Christ.” The Bible holds up the relationship between Christ and His believers—the Church—as the model for the marriage relationship.
Is it hard to submit to Jesus Christ, our Head? Do we grumble and complain that we have been placed in an “unfair” position because the Son of God has been given a leadership role and we a submissive role? No! Rather we see and recognize the great blessings that come from that arrangement as it stands. We, as members of the body of believers, are blessed beyond measure because Christ is our Head.
Likewise in marriage, God intends the role of the wife to be a blessing both to her and to the family as a whole. Her husband needs her support! She ought not view herself as a second-class citizen of the family. Her role is for the good of the team so that things can go as they are supposed to go on the field.
Now, to husbands the apostle also gives great responsibility. Husbands have been given the leadership role in the family, that is true, but you are also expected not to abuse or misuse that leadership. To husbands God says: “Love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” [v.25]
Again, a parallel is drawn between the relationship between Christ and His believers and the relationship between husbands and wives. In this case, it is Jesus’ example of self-sacrificing love that is held up as the standard for Christian husbands. The Lord showed His great love for mankind by laying down His life on Calvary’s cross.
There at the cross is where we see love in action. Jesus, who was innocent of all crimes, allowed Himself to become the scapegoat for the world’s guilt. He offered Himself as the Lamb of sacrifice for our own salvation, so that by His offering we might stand without any wrinkle or shadow of sin in God’s eyes. Christ gave Himself in order to forgive us our trespasses, to sanctify and cleanse us, and by Baptism grant to us a washing that would prepare us for eternal life. He wanted us to be held up as holy and spotless, without stain or blemish—so He put His own life on the line to make that happen—to present us to God His Father as a glorious Church.
When Scripture says “Husbands, love your wives,” it is this kind of love which God has in mind! It is not the kind of love that you “fall in and out of.” It is a love of understanding, purpose, and action. It is a love in which the husband understands the needs of his spouse and is sensitive to her. It is a love that lives for the purpose of protecting and sustaining her. It is a love that is willing to go out and even lay down its life for the loved one. This is the kind of love Jesus had for us. This is the kind of love the Lord expects from husbands. There is no room in this kind of love for selfishness or harshness, for careless or thoughtless actions and words.
The husband’s role in the home and family is one of leadership, but that leadership must be characterized by love—just as Christ loved the church!
In politics, when someone is elected to office, the assumption is that the new leader will simply have his way and do whatever he wants. We tend to think and act as though leadership is all about what the leader wants. If the Democrats get elected, they think, “Now we get what we want. Now things will be as we say.” If the Republicans are elected, they act the same way. But a good leader does not simply say, “My way or the highway.” He needs to look to others for support. He needs to listen to the words of others. In love, he needs to do what is best for those whom he has been called to govern—not what is best for his own personal life or welfare. He forsakes himself so that others may benefit.
It is that way for the husband in the home. The Lord calls upon him to be a wise and thoughtful leader, doing in love what is best for the family. A Christian husband will not lord his position over his wife and children like a tyrant who is only concerned about getting his way, for this would not reflect the self-sacrificing love that Jesus has shown us. He is called upon to consider the needs of everyone in the house and do his best to carry out his role in the family with a gentle and loving hand.
The roles of husband and wife in marriage as God has ordained them really do fit together—no big surprise considering the Designer! The roles as God desires them complement one another, balance each other, and work together for the good of the family. The wife is called upon to submit herself to her husband as the head of the house just as she submits herself in love to her Lord Jesus. At the same time, the husband is called upon not to abuse his role, but to show the same self-sacrificing love to his wife that Jesus showed to all of us on the cross. This is the teamwork of marriage.
The fall into sin fouled up the marriage relationship. Prior to the Serpent’s deception in the Garden, Adam and Eve did not struggle in their God-given roles. Everything was ideal, lovely, blessed, and perfect. But now, by reason of sin, wives are tempted to seek to rule over their husbands and husbands are tempted to dominate and trample upon their wives with unloving actions.
Even our Christian marriages are littered with our failures to live our marriages the way God intends, the way that reflects the relationship He has with us as believers. But lest we give up in despair and frustration, let’s all remember again that cross of Christ. For on that cross our Lord was more than just an example of unselfish love, on that cross He forgave us all. Husbands and wives—all are forgiven by Jesus’ blood. In that forgiveness we can “bear with one another in love,” start each new day with a clean slate, and by that forgiveness we are also given the strength and desire to follow His Word and will. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Sermon written by Pastor David P. Schaller and provided through the CLC’s “Ministry by Mail”. For more, go to www.lutheransermons.org