Sunday, June 10, 2012
Sermon: Ephesians 5: 21-33 Love and Marriage
I have a confession to make. This might be the most difficult sermon to preach of my nine and a bit months here so far. You see, we’re looking today at marriage, and some of you might be sitting thinking to yourself - what does he know - he’s only been married for almost four years, compared to our twenty, thirty, fifty years together.
It would be much easier for me to skip this section and move on to something a bit easier to talk about - the armour of God in chapter 6. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves! You see, the sermon isn’t a chance for you to catch up on some sleep; but at the same time, it isn’t for me to stand up and rant on for fifteen minutes on a subject of my choosing.
We gather to hear God’s word read and proclaimed - it’s God setting the agenda, not me. It’s the reason we take books of the Bible and work through them from start to finish - right now, we’re working through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and marriage is the next topic he addresses. So you’re not just getting what I think of marriage - rather together we want to hear what God thinks of marriage, and what that will mean for our relationships.
The first thing to note is that God thinks marriage is a good idea. We saw that in our first reading from Genesis 2. God is the first matchmaker, forming Adam and then Eve, and bringing them together. Before the fall, before sin came into the world, marriage existed - one man, one woman, coming together to form one flesh, a permanent, public, life-long commitment.
When we were clearing out granny’s house, we came across old wedding photos. The black and white photos of granny and granda McMurray, looking radiant on their wedding day. It’s as if Paul pulls out the wedding picture of our first parents, Adam and Eve, and then he says that marriage itself - every marriage from Adam and Eve down to today - marriage is a like a signpost pointing towards the wedding banquet, the big wedding.
Not just the wedding of the year; not even the wedding of the century or millennium, but THE royal wedding. Look with me at verse 32. ‘This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.’ Marriage has always been a signpost pointing to the great wedding feast in heaven when Christ and the church are united forever.
We’ve received a couple of wedding invitations for the summer - friends getting married. As they do that, it’s like the trailer for the film; a foretaste of the real thing. Their weddings will be like a picture of Jesus and the church. But so will their ongoing marriages. So many couples invest so much in their wedding day without really thinking about what comes next - the ongoing commitment in all the years that follow until death us do part.
So what will it mean for our marriages to point towards the union of Christ and his church? What should it look like if our marriage is a picture of Christ and the church? It’s like so many pictures (at least the ones I take) - so often it’s out of focus; it’s a bit blurry; it doesn’t really show it in all its glory. We need to focus again on the original, so that we can copy the pattern.
Firstly, Paul addresses the wives. ‘Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.’ In other versions the word used is submit - to ‘obey’ your husband. Now it might be that you immediately raise all sorts of objections; you might think that we’re just out to get you and control you; that it’s a power game; or that Paul hated women. But remember the pattern - ‘For the husband is head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour.’
Christ is the head of the church - he leads it, and rules over it. In the same way, Paul says, the husband is to be the head in the household - not to dominate or to be a tyrant, but simply in order to provide a lead. (I remember hearing one woman say that her husband was the head of the household and then mutter under her breath that she was the neck that moved the head!).
It’s not easy to submit, but before the women start a revolution, let’s see what Paul says to the husbands. Now at first sight it might seem as if the men get off lightly - ‘husbands, love your wives.’ And the women might be thinking, well, is that it? We have to submit and they just have to love? But look at the standard of love they have to live up to. Remember again the pattern that our marriages follow, as they point to the royal wedding:
‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.’ Now how did Christ love the church? Did he issue commands and demands all day and just be waited on hand and foot? Not at all - he came not to be served but to serve; he loved the church so much that he ‘gave himself up for her.’
Rather than men having it easy, they are called to die for their wives, to give themselves for her. To provide and nourish and tenderly care for her. It’s not that the husband’s will is there to be obeyed, no matter what the wife thinks. Rather, the husband is to pattern himself on the Lord Jesus, leading by serving and giving himself in love for his wife. Men, are you?
Wouldn’t it be so much easier to submit to a loving, giving serving type of husband? Just as the church submits to her loving, giving, serving (and saving) Lord. Marriage is another place for our salvation to be worked out; it’s one of the venues for practical Christianity - real life, and not just theory.
In so many marriages, the wife would never think of submitting because it wouldn’t be safe to - her husband would immediately take advantage. When two sinful and selfish people come together in marriage, there are going to be ructions - always trying to gain the upper hand and control the other. It’s like the out of focus photo - you might just be able to make out that it’s a bride and groom, but that’s about all. As Christians, though, doing marriage in the way Paul describes here; each giving themselves to the other; putting the other first; together looking outward to love and serve; in this marriage the focus on the camera is corrected, the picture becomes clearer, sharper - the picture of the union of Jesus and his bride the church. That royal wedding that will continue throughout eternity which will never come to an end.
For those in marriage, the application should be clear - how does your life together point to our salvation? Are there things you need to work on?
But for those who aren’t currently married, you might be thinking, well, that was a waste of coming to church. That wasn’t for me at all. But perhaps you’ll be married some day - how are you preparing even now, maybe even before you have met your husband or wife to be. Are you cultivating these habits of giving and serving; or just being selfish? Perhaps you give thanks for your own marriage which has finished - how can you be helping others in their marriage? Could you be praying for the young couples preparing for weddings? A listening ear for problems?
Married or not, each of us are invited to the great Royal wedding, not just as spectators, not even just as guests, but as part of the bride. The King has proposed, the wedding date is set. Our earthly marriages are pictures (albeit imperfect) of that great wedding. As we gather at the Lord’s table, we have the foretaste of the great feast. Will you accept? Will you say I do?
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 10th June 2012.