Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 26, 2012
Text: Eph. 5:22-33
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22; ESV). Now, do some deep self-examination. Have you already closed your ears, to say nothing of your heart, to this text? Wives, have you closed your ears and your heart because you hear words of oppression, because you don’t like the idea of giving yourself up to the headship of another, even the one you love the most, he who is one flesh with you? Husbands, have you closed your ears and your heart because you’ve heard what you wanted to hear, because you are turning to your wife to say, “See, I told you so,” because you want to take your place as lord of the household, to be served, to be waited upon, to have your wife bend to your will? To all present, married and unmarried, have you closed your ears and your heart to this text because this phrase, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord,” is a politically incorrect thing to say? How do you suppose our culture hears this text? What assumptions do we all bring to the table in interpreting this? Do we really ever give it a fair shot? Look deep within yourself. What is it about this text that makes you uncomfortable… or too comfortable in your sinful pride? Repent. You and I, shaped by postmodernism and relativism and political correctness as we are, close our ears and hearts to this text before we ever ask what the words actually mean, what the rest of the text says, what the context is in which St. Paul pens these words, and most importantly, what is the will of God for us in our marriages, in our families, in our lives, in our faith. Our Lord has a gracious Word for us in our text this morning. It is a Word for our marriages and families. And it is a Gospel Word for the forgiveness of our sins and our reconciliation to God in Christ. I beg you, beloved, to open your ears and your heart once again to the voice of Christ in His Word. But if not, I pray the Holy Spirit will hammer this Word into your ears and heart, so as to take possession of you for Himself, that you may repent and believe.
Marriage is a precious gift of God. God instituted marriage even before the fall into sin, in the Garden of Eden. It was the first and basic building block of society. In the midst of His creation, which God had declared to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31), God nonetheless found something to be “not good.” “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him” (2:18). Man was created to live in relationship, fellowship, communion with God and with other people. And though this is not the case for everyone (some have the gift and/or the cross of remaining single), as a general rule, man was created for marriage in this life. So God created Eve. He put Adam into a deep sleep and took a rib from his body and formed Eve, another human being, different than Adam, but corresponding to him physically and emotionally and even spiritually. And now ever since then, the children of Adam and Eve have enjoyed the great blessing that is marriage. Man was made for marriage. (And just a little aside: I think it’s more important to be theologically correct than politically correct, so I’ll be using the words “man” and “men” not just for Adam and those of the male gender, but as the universal word for all humans, men and women.) Why did God institute marriage? God gave the gift of marriage for procreation of children, for companionship, and as the proper context (and the only proper context) for His good gift of sex. “Therefore,” God says in His words of institution for marriage, “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24). St. Paul goes right back to this foundational text in Genesis 2 for his discussion of marriage here in Ephesians chapter 5. One flesh. That’s what a husband and wife are. That is what the sexual union accomplishes, which, by the way, makes casual sex an impossibility. That is also what God’s Word accomplishes when a man and woman are pronounced husband and wife in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is why you should wait for your spouse in marriage before you become sexually active. That is why you should be faithful to your spouse and let the marriage bed be undefiled (Heb. 13:4).
So, now, on the basis of this one flesh union, St. Paul has something to say about Christian marriages. Back to the most controversial words first. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (v. 22). This has absolutely nothing to do with the inferiority or superiority of one gender or the other. This has absolutely nothing to do with talents or abilities, nor is it about oppression. This is a word for Christian wives. Christian wives willingly submit to their husbands as to the Lord. No one can force you to do this. The word is submit, not obey (as some translations have it). To submit means to willingly place yourself under the authority of another. Why would a wife do this? Before we answer that, we have to complete the picture. Husbands, open your ears and your heart. Here is a word for you, and it’s actually a harder word than that given to wives. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25). How did Christ give Himself up for the Church? He died for her. He was crucified for her. Husbands, die to yourself so that you can live for your wife. And if you have to, die for her, in her place, for her sake. Give up your life for her. That’s what love is. The Greek word is agape, self-sacrificing love as defined by our Lord’s sacrificing of Himself on the cross for us. That is what it means to be the head of your wife and family. It means you die. It means you give yourself totally for your wife’s sake, do everything you do for her and for your family, sacrifice your own preferences to hers, hold her as precious, as God’s own gift to you, as one flesh with you. Love her as your own body (v. 28), for in marriage, that is what she is. Now, that you are the head of the wife doesn’t mean you are her boss. You are not to be a tyrant. That would not be love. It means that you are to protect her, provide for her, and be the spiritual leader of your household. You are to raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. You are to bring your family to Church and Sunday School. Would you rather do something else? Tough. Be a man. Die to yourself. Give yourself up. Give your wife and family what they need, God’s holy Word and Sacraments. Give it whether they want it or not, because you’re the head of the family, and you’re called to do that. Teach the Catechism. Lead family devotions. Take out the trash. Mow the lawn. Do the dishes. Change the diapers. Get up every morning and go to work. For your wife. For your family. Die, if necessary. That is your vocation. That your wife is to submit to you does not mean that she should bring you a beer and potato chips every night and wait on you hand and foot. It means that she should receive and accept your self-sacrifice for her, which is your calling in the Lord.
A husband’s vocation is to give. A wife’s vocation is to receive. God has called you to your vocation. And here we should say something about the holy ministry, although this is not the main point of this particular passage. This is why only men are to be pastors. It has nothing to do with discrimination or whether women are capable of the task. It is because men are to give, and women are to receive. And they are to do this willingly. Because in this way (and here is the main point of the text) a Christian husband and wife become a living picture, an icon, of Christ and His bride, the Church. Why does a wife submit to her husband? Why is a husband to love his wife as Christ loves the Church? Because they become a witness to the world of what Christ has done for the Church.
And here is the gracious Word of the Lord for all of us, married or unmarried, in this text. “This is mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (v. 32). All along this has been about the Church as the bride of Christ. She comes to Him, you come to Him, with the stains of sin and unfaithfulness and the stench of death. What does He do? He dies for you. For the forgiveness of all your sins. For your unfaithfulness and sexual impurity. Wives, for your failure to submit to your husband and be the living picture of the Church submitting to Christ. Husbands, for your failure to love your wife and give yourself up for her. Single people, for your failure to live in chastity in thought, word, and deed. All of us, for our willingness to listen to and heed the teachings of the unbelieving world rather than the teaching of Christ. He dies for you. For all your sins. He shed His blood on the cross for all your sins, as a loving Bridegroom should do for His bride. And now He is risen and lives for His bride, the Church, for you. He makes you holy, washing you and cleansing you by the washing of water with the Word, which is to say, Baptism (v. 26). He washes you that He might present you to Himself in splendor, as a bride adorned in a glorious white gown for her wedding day, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that you may be holy and without blemish (v. 27). And He makes you one flesh with Himself. As husband and wife are one flesh, you, the holy Church are the body of Christ. Christ is the head. He teaches His Church from His Word, and she receives the teaching. He protects her, and she is defended against all her enemies. He provides for her, body and soul, as He gives us each day our daily bread and sets a feast before us on the holy altar. We do not teach Him. He teaches us. We live by His Word. We gladly submit to Him, because of all that He has done and continues to do for us. And we live as He would have us live, husbands sacrificially loving their wives, wives respecting their husbands (v. 33), all trying to discern what is pleasing to the Lord, that we might live and increase in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another.
Well, I hope your ears and heart have been open to this Word. It’s not politically correct, but it’s also not what it first appears to our sinful flesh. It is a higher calling than the world’s view of gender relations and marriage. It is a call to give up ourselves for the sake of the other, wives submitting, husbands dying, husbands giving, wives receiving. All to be a picture of Christ and the Church, a gracious Word for all people regardless of marital status. Jesus Christ gave Himself into death for you. And He is risen and lives for you. Such is the love of your Bridegroom Christ, for you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.