01 4 - Grace Is the Foundation 1
For the past month, I have been preaching sermons based on what God says regarding marriage. While there were numerous things covered, the primary was not to focus just on the things a husband and wife can do to to better their relationship, though that is a great thing and an intended secondary desire for the series. The primary focus is to see how God designed marriage, between one man and one woman for life, to be the very best picture of Christ's relationship with the church.
Yesterday, I dove into a passage of Scripture that is often used when taking Bible studies that focus on marriage. It is also, in my opinion, one of the most misinterpreted and misused verses in Scripture. There's a little word in this passage that seems to cause great concern for many.
Just a few weeks ago, one of the Republican nominees for President, who claims to be a believer, was asked about this verse. It was obviously an entrapment question, but the point was made - most people, unbelievers especially, just don't get what this passage means.
Ephesians 5:21-33 (ESV)
Submitting [or submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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. In the same way husbands should love their 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 Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
The key word that many go to in this passage is submit. That causes some to bristle. Others like it, but for all the wrong reasons and potentially because they don’t understand it. There are some who understand and live it out and can testify to the reality and truth of the command. However, beneath the word “submit” is a greater truth that is revealed in this passage.
In this passage is a greater truth espousing the nature of our God. This is the reality of grace.
While some have read this and even used it in a tyrannical way to set up a hierarchy in marriage that belittles women and misinterprets the roles of the image bearer and God’s greatness, the truth is that apart from grace, biblical submission is not possible.The marriage between a man and woman, being the model chosen by God to illustrate the relationship between Christ and the church, is built upon grace.
Through God’s grace, He pursued His bride – the church. He obtained His church through a costly purchase, by grace. Christ’s church is sustained solely by His grace. We, the church, will be made perfect for Christ by grace.
The reality is that we deserve nothing other than destruction and judgment. Yet, we live. We exist. Our very existence is based upon His grace.
Apart from grace, even if not fully comprehended, man could not and would not forgive. The emphasis of grace is made known in this simple definition – treating people better than they deserve. This is the heart of grace.
It is a central part of what it means to be transformed by the Holy Spirit of God. The reality of who we are in Christ, as redeemed believers, should overwhelm us. It is the biggest deal of all of life.
This grace made known through Christ leads to unmerited forgiveness.
Grace and forgiveness are two lanes on the same highway. Both emanate from the character of God. Both grace and forgiveness are given to the image-bearers and children of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. There is then the expectation that we would also gift others with grace and forgiveness.
Mark 11:26 (ESV)
But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
Yet, there are things beyond forgiveness that come by grace in this relationship called marriage.
Consider the implications of Ephesians 5:25-27 regarding marriage. This is the pursuit of godliness in Christ. These verses take us beyond forgiveness. They will melt away all misinformation regarding submission that confuse so many.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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.
Now, here's a sub-heading that received some attention yesterday when I presented it.
HUSBANDS ARE TO CHANGE THEIR WIVES
This does not mean "get a new wife" or "trade her in for a younger model." The point is to stay married to the same woman, yet lead her to change.
When you contemplate Christ’s relationship to the church, he is intently seeking to change the nature of the bride. He is working to change her into something morally and spiritually beautiful. He seeks this and attains this at a great cost – His life. His love for the church and desire to glorify the Father led him to the cross.
Think of the implications of this relationship as it relates to how a husband thinks and acts with a view of changing his wife. This seems so contradictory to modern thought.
- “You shouldn’t want to change anyone.”
- “What if the wife is godly and the husband needs to change?”
That's a good point and a good question. Yet, the concept of transformation is biblical. This does not presume that the husband is infallible or without need for change. In fact, both husband and wife need to change greatly as they grow mature in the faith.
The deeper, grace-filled implication here is that the husband, who loves like Christ, bears a unique responsibility for the moral and spiritual growth of his wife – which means that over time, God willing, change happens.
This is very shaky ground, I understand this. There is a danger that some men will hear this concept of change and distort what the Word says to create a theology (or a "me-ology") that is based upon his selfishness and sinful desires. The text does not lead there. It leads us to a totally different place.
Consider these things. . .
- The husband is to be like Christ. This does not mean that the husband is like Christ in every way. Men are finite. We are not omnipotent. We are not God. We are sinful. We mess up royally at times. Christ was not and is not. Therefore, we dare not presume that we are infallible, nor should we misuse this passage for our own selfish desires.
- The conformity referenced here is to Christ, not the husband. “Sanctify her” so that he may present her to himself “in splendor.” “Holy”. These implications are for the husband's desire for his wife. Our desires are to be measured not by our standards, but by God’s.
- The love is so pure, so deep, so real that the husband should be willing to die for her, as Christ did for the church. This is incredibly radical.
Husbands – if you’re pursuing this verse by lording over your wife, you are totally missing the point. You are running the risk of leading your wife not to purity and conformity to Christ, but to sin.
If a husband is loving his wife this deeply, her heart is changed. His desire is for this will be expressed to his wife not as humiliation, but as servanthood. Christ the Son of God, God the Son, came as a servant – the suffering servant and led his bride to newness. So, too, are husbands to do this for their wives.
WIVES ARE TO CHANGE THEIR HUSBANDS
Again, this does not mean that wives are to "trade up" or leave one husband for a new one. This falls under the same guideline of staying married to one many for life.
The husband’s headship is not identical to Christ’s – it is like it.
Therefore, the wife’s submission to the husband is not identical to her submission to Christ – it is like it.
The analogy of submitting to one’s husband as to the Lord only works if the wife is first submitted to the Lordship of Christ. Then, and only then, will she be in a place to submit to her husband without committing idolatry.
The wife will see the need for change in her husband. She will see this as she is drawn closer to the Lord. Transformation and change (into the man of God He desires) should occur while she still respects her husband as her head – leader, protector, provider.
Some implications. . .
- Prayer for Change. A wife relates to her husband the way the church should relate to Christ. The church prays to Christ—or to God the Father through Christ. When the church prays to her husband, she asks Him to do things a certain way. If we (the church - the bride) are sick, we ask him for healing. If we are hungry, we ask for our daily bread. If we are lost, we ask for direction, etc. Since we believe in the absolute sovereignty of Christ to govern all things, this means that we look at the present situation that he has ordained, and we ask him to change it. (This statement was made by John Piper in a message on marriage.) It’s just an analogy and taken too far, it falls apart in that the church doesn’t pray to Christ to change His imperfections. He has none. It is a request for change of circumstances or situations. In this way, wives will ask husbands for change in ways he is living and doing things.
- Every husband needs to change. None of us have arrived. None are without sin. The message of the Gospel to the heart of men has been muted for generations and the very best thing a man can do for his wife is to become the authentic, real man God has created him to be. This means change. Big change.
- A good sister will confront in love. This is not a license to nag, but as a sister in Christ – which a wife is to her saved husband, there are instructions in Galatians 6:1 and Matthew 18:15 to confront sin in love and with peace.
Marriage is the perfect picture of grace – Christ loving His church – a man loving his wife. The church loving her bridegroom – bride loving her husband. We get so caught up in the minutia and the reasoning of why things aren’t what they should be. . .and yet. . .we refuse to change.
Saying “I’ll do better” isn’t enough.
Saying “I’ll change” isn’t enough.
It begins with your understanding of Christ’s love for His church. Does your marriage model this?
God looked to us, lost and separated from Him by our sin and sent Jesus (the bridegroom) to die and be crushed for our sin. He looked to us and said “It’s worth it.” You’re worth it. So is your marriage.
Credit where credit is due: In preparation for this series on marriage, I read the Scripture first (the best practice,) praying that God would direct this series. I then researched other pastors and marriage experts who have covered this topic. Knowing that there is "nothing new under the sun" I was praying that God would solidify the direction of this series. Books and videos by speakers and authors such as Dr. Les & Dr. Leslie Parrott, Gary & Barb Rosberg, Dennis Rainey, and Dr. Gary Chapman were used. John Piper presented some very clear truths that resonated with me regarding this series. So, while 99.9% of the time everything I write comes directly from my head (scary, I know) much of the direction here in this final message was inspired by Piper's messages. I pray that this series has struck a nerve (a spiritual nerve) among the people of First Baptist Church. Praying that our marriages will be grace saturated and God-honoring.