A Spirit-filled Marriage Means Less “Me” and More “We.”

Posted: August 13, 2012 in Ephesians

It’s been the coolest thing here in Crozet, jumping full-speed into the book of Ephesians that Walt has been preaching through on Sundays. As we both share the conviction that God’s Word is indeed God’s Word, and that it makes most sense preached from the beginning of each book through the end of that book, what we’re doing as we lead together is that each of us will pick up where the other leaves off from the previous sermon. Walking through Scripture this way gives us all a unified understanding of what the writer is saying, so let me very quickly catch you up to speed before I pick up Paul’s line of thought in Ephesians chapter five.

Paul here is addressing the Christ-followers in Ephesus, a wealthy port city in Asia that was under the rule of the Roman Empire. Paul’s writing this letter while under house arrest in 62 AD, about 30 years after the resurrection of Christ and Paul’s conversion shortly thereafter.

If you’re unfamiliar with the letter of Ephesians, Paul neatly divides this letter into two halves- what has been done for us in Christ, and how we are to live in response to this grace. You might could say it’s the gospel behind the scenes and the gospel on stage. I love how Matt Chandler phrases it in his book The Explicit Gospel; we see the gospel from the air and from the ground.

We see in the first part of this book how we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the universe. Before this earth was even formed, God chose of his own grace to save for himself a people, a bride whom He would give to His Son. He predestined us for adoption as sons, to be redeemed through the sacrificial death of His Son who died in the place not just of me, not just of the believers in Life Journey Church, but for anyone and everyone who will trust Him as their only means of salvation. And we see that even this faith in Christ is impossible apart from an act of grace from God, that it’s not simply something that we generate of our own will. Apart from grace, our only will is to do evil. We were dead in our sins, yet quickened, or made alive, in Christ.

Paul, writing in light of the glorious grace of God’s Gospel, then transitions into what could be called the do’s and dont’s, though now we can see the “done” of the cross. He urges us as we move into chapter five to “be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Not children walking in fear. Not children trying to earn the approval of their father by their actions, but as beloved children. Our acceptance has already been secured!

As we follow the God that we love in return, we will begin to see our lives become ever increasingly like Christ’s. We don’t make ourselves look like Jesus to gain His acceptance- we chase after him and begin to look like him. Let me give you an example of this. After the blizzard of ’87 hit, I remember following my dad outside in the snowfall. I thought the best way (really, the only way) to do this was by walking where he walked, but as you can imagine there was quite a difference between his stride and my own! As I tried my best to put my feet into the holes left by his steps, I found myself being stretched and uncomfortable, going way slower than what he had. But here’s the thing- as I was trying to imitate my dad, to walk where he walked, I found myself putting footprints over his own in a way I could never do had I tried walking my own way.

In that same way, Paul tells us that as we imitate God our lives will begin to show a difference from who we were to who God is shaping us to be. We will walk in love. We will walk as children of light. We will walk in wisdom, making the most of the time given to us by God. Instead of wasting our time, whether by foolish habits or drunken stupors, Paul encourages us to be filled, or controlled, or led, by the Spirit, and as we do that Paul says that we will, among other things, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Submission does not mean “I’ll massage your ego if you massage mine.” Nor does it mean “I’ll submit to you if there’s some way in which I can benefit from it.” The word here submission, or to submit, is from the Greek hypotasso, which is a military term that means “to arrange troop divisions in a military fashion under the command of a leader.” When I was promoted to Staff Sergeant in the Army Reserves, one of my new responsibilities was to lead our platoon in formation. It was the neatest thing, being able to yell “Fall in!” and seeing the soldiers scurrying into their place within the formation. But here’s the thing…not everyone in a uniform is going to get the same result. You don’t submit to the authority of just anyone, but rather to someone with genuine authority. Just as I was able to have my platoon fall into place under my authority, I myself in turn submitted to the commanding authority of my company First Sergeant and Commander.

So when Paul says “submitting yourself to one another out of reverence for Christ,” what he is saying is “place yourself under subjection to each other according to the order and authority established by God.” As we are to “render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar,” we’re also to render unto each other that which we’re called to, not begrudgingly or out of sheer obligation, but out of reverence, love, and appreciation to the One who died for us.

Paul then gives three examples of such orders, or institutions: the covenant bond of marriage, the family, and the workplace. Today I’m covering the first one as we’ve now landed on one of the hottest theological potatoes currently being tossed around in Christian circles- that is, the idea of egalitarianism and complementarianism.

Simply put, Egalitarianism is the idea that both men and women, across the board, share equal roles. Neither gender is superior to the other, and both are perfectly suited to fill any role they chose. Absolutely nothing is gender-specific. The opposing idea, that of complementarianism, holds that there are roles given to both men and women that will never overlap. This does not mean that one is better than the other or of a higher esteem in God’s eyes. It simply asserts that in some areas of life, not all, God has created specific roles for men and specific roles for women. These roles complement each other, like that of a broom and dustpan. Together they fulfill each other, they help the other to achieve their maximal potential.

Complementarianism is not en vogue these days because of the implied submission of one role to the other, yet Paul said that as we walk in love, filled by the spirit, that we will in turn submit to each other in the roles that God has given us. Specifically, husbands and wives are called to submit, yet in different ways.

Paul says in verse 22, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

Now, I have to unpack that simple phrase. It does not mean wives, let yourselves be trampled over by your over-bearing and unloving husband. It does not mean wives, become the physical, emotional, or even sexual slave your husband forces you to be, meeting his every selfish and perhaps hateful need. It does not mean wives, lose your identity and live in the shadow of your husband because you count for nothing. None of these negative ideas of submission come remotely close to what God had designed marriage to look like. Let me explain what this looks like:

For starters, Paul isn’t addressing a woman/man dynamic, but rather a wives/husbands thing, which we willingly agree to enter into. Paul says that for the woman who has chosen to join themselves to a man in a covenant promise of marriage before God, she is to submit, not to men in general, or to husbands in particular, but singularly and exclusively to her own husband. He is hers. She shares him with no one. So even in this phrase we see that husbands do not own their wife as a piece of property, but that as they have pledged their lives to one another, they now belong, in a sense, to each other.

Wives, submit yourselves to the authority, leadership, and governance of your husband, as to the Lord. Not as your husband may sinfully demand, not in the meeting of unbiblical and unrealistic requirements, but insomuch as your husband leads as God would lead, you are to submit to him your husband as you would God.

Why should wives submit to their husbands? Paul seemingly anticipates you asking, as he explains in verses 23-24. “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

Here emerges a parallel in Paul’s thinking. He draws a comparison between the way Christ is the head of the church and the way that men are the head of their wives. What does this mean? It means this: Christ, as head of the Church and as its Savior, provides for, nourishes, protects, leads, defends, and guides His people. In the same way, husbands are called to provide for their wives, to protect them, to lead them spiritually, to defend their honor, to guide them in their journey through life. As we husbands are to our wives as Christ is to the church, so are wives to be to their husbands as the church is to Christ: submissive, loving, and obedient.

Think of it this way- if husbands lead their wives the way we are called to, nothing but good can benefit from the wives submission as that obedience simply leads them closer to the joy that God has prepared for them.
This is one of the things that we need to keep in our minds as we explore the so called rules and commands in Scripture. After all, if we have been made alive in Christ, if we are new creations, if we are eternally forgiven and covered by the righteousness of Christ, why are there still do’s and don’ts? They’re there to enhance our joy. To showcase God’s kindness as He protects us from harm. It’s the same reason we establish rules for our own children. I don’t get after Gracelyn for chewing the computer cords simply because I don’t care for bite marks on them- I reprimand her because if she actually chews through one, she’s in for quite the shocking experience! In that same way, if we follow the guidelines that God has given us, they will only benefit us, increase our joy, and evoke even more worship from us towards the God we serve.

Now here’s the other side of the equation: wives aren’t simply called to action- husbands are called as well.

Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

Thank carefully about what Paul is saying here. This love that Christ has for his bride transcends anything we can fathom. Who were we prior to His grace? We were wicked at our very core. We were enslaved by our sinful desires. We were perverted in our way of thinking. We were unable and unwilling to change ourselves. We were separated from God and not looking for Him. At all. We were completely unable to please God, unable to respond positively to the Gospel which we thought foolish, and yet Paul tells us in Romans that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

While we were sinners. When we hated Jesus and denied His truth, when we elevated ourselves above him, he died for us, so that now as we are justified by grace through faith, God does not see us as sinners. He does not see us as imperfect, flawed, fallen creatures. Through what Christ has done for us, the Father now sees only the beauty and righteousness of His Son as it’s been imputed to us, who never did anything to deserve it.

In that same way, husbands are called to love their wives. I love how John Gill says it: “This love consists in a strong and cordial affection for them; in a real delight and pleasure in them; in showing respect, and doing honour to them; in seeking their contentment, satisfaction, and pleasure; in a quiet, constant, and comfortable dwelling with them; in providing all things necessary for them; in protecting them from all injuries and abuses; in concealing their faults, and covering their infirmities; in entertaining the best opinion of their persons and actions; and in endeavouring to promote their spiritual good and welfare: this love ought to be hearty and sincere, and not feigned and selfish; it should be shown in private, as well as in public: it should be chaste and single, constant and perpetual; it should exceed that which is bore to neighbours, or even to parents, and should be equal to that a man bears to himself…
Husbands, this means overlooking your wife’s faults, those pet peeves which get under your skin. It means refusing to hold their mistakes against them. It means setting the spiritual example for them and lovingly guiding them along with you as you both grow closer to God.

As Paul continues in verse 28, love them as you love your own body. No one here is starving themselves or walking around shoeless or naked. In the same way in which we naturally consider and pursue our own well-being, so also we should be caring for our wives, meeting their needs, loving them even when they don’t meet our every condition.

So why should wives submit to their husbands? Why are husbands to love their wives unconditionally? Because marriage is an institution enacted by God, to his glory, that calls for actions and attitudes on both sides of the equation in our own demonstration of the relationship between Christ and His bride.

Paul takes it way back to Genesis 2:24 as he reminds us, ““Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Paul says referencing this, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

Do you see that? Thousands of years before the birth of Christ, before sin even entered the world, God created this idea of marriage as a picture of the covenant relationship we would have with Jesus. Every day that we live as husbands and wives we are to be reminded in our actions of the Gospel and our submission to Christ as our loving and protecting Savior, which is why each of us are to “love our wife as ourself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

Guys, it’s not about us. It never was. It never will be, and I think this is one of the primary reasons for failed marriages, relationships, and even friendships. Too often we focus exclusively on ourselves and our needs, and as we selfishly pursue our own wants we neglect the needs of the other person. As this week’s Journey Marker reminds us, “A Spirit-filled Marriage Means Less of ‘Me’ and More of ‘We’.”

So what do we do if we’re not submitting to our husbands? What can we do if we’re not loving our wives as Christ loves His bride? I want to be careful how I answer this, because the last thing I want to do is create a checklist, an artificial set of “do this” and “don’t do that.” At the same time, though, Paul clearly commands us to act. So perhaps the easiest and most immediate step we can take is this one- ask God to reveal to you the ways in which you can submit to your husband. Ask Him to reveal to you the areas of submission in which you most need His grace in. Husbands, think of the areas of your own lives where you are continually putting your own wants over those of your wife. Think of the places where your actions are selfish and unloving. Are you trying to love your wife sacrificially, to lead her spiritually, to nurture and protect her?

Perhaps it’s worse. Maybe as you’re reading this you lack any desire for such a change. For you, the immediate application is praying that God would give you the desire to want to change.

But let’s zoom out a little bit and remember that Paul says that loving our wife, submitting to our husband, these are actions that will come from being filled by the Spirit, and that this filling of the Spirit comes by way of our imitation of God, and that this imitation of God is going to be our worship in response to His grace as we continue to live in the reality of the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus came to this earth to bear the sins of His people, that He died and was buried, and the He rose the third day and now extends forgiveness to all who will receive Him as Savior. Are you living in this reality?

Perhaps you’re reading this and you’ve been wrestling with God for some time now, and it’s time for you to submit yourself before a holy and righteous God as you ask His forgiveness and receive His salvation. How will you respond?


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