I Am Married
Here are some interesting meme’s I’ve seen recently:
“Before you marry a person you should first make them use a computer with slow internet to see who they really are.”
“Marriage lets you annoy one special person for the rest of your life.”
“My husband thinks I’m crazy. But I’m not the one who married me.”
If you have your Bibles, please turn to the last part of Ephesians 5. We’re going to be talking about marriage, because the apostle Paul thought we needed the gospel sprinkled on that odd mystery too. He knew that without the gospel our marriages would end up like this meme:
“Marriage is like a deck of cards. In the beginning all you need is two hearts and a diamond. By the end, you wish you had a club and a spade.”
Yep… I think we need the gospel applied to marriage too.
Ephesians 5: 21–33, ESV
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.
This paragraph is packed with information. What I’m going to do, however, is to fly over the whole of it and call out key ideas. We want to pick up on the wisdom here about What Marriage Is, What Marriage Does, What Marriage Needs, and What Marriage Shows. And you don’t need to be married to get something out of this.
What Marriage Is
I’ve been told that “marriage is a relationship in which one person is always right and the other is the husband.”
But, truthfully, what is marriage? Paul’s answer is to quote the Old Testament: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Older English translations say, “A man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife” (KJV). The biblical idea in this “holding fast” or “cleaving” is “covenant”: a deep, exclusive, permanent, legal and personal, binding commitment.
What that means is that marriage isn’t a declaration of love or warmth or tenderness. Those things are nice, I hope you have them, but they ebb and flow in marriage like the tide. It is commitment, not sentiment, that gets you through the ups and downs of emotions and circumstances.
Many think that this “covenantal commitment” that I’m talking about robs a relationship of the spontaneity needed to keep passion and chemistry fresh. Duty and obligation stifle and ruin marriage. The poet W. H. Auden had another idea. He said: “Any marriage, happy or unhappy, is infinitely more interesting than any romance, however passionate.” Why? Because, he says, marriage is “not the involuntary result of fleeting emotion but the creation of time and will.” What he essential is saying is this: covenant is more interesting than chemistry.
“Well, Pastor, didn’t you think it was interesting and electric when you kissed your wife for the first time? Do you have that electricity now?” It was interesting and electric, and sure the electricity is different now. But do you know why? Because the first time is pretty much—and this is true for everyone—about yourself. I was excited because she was respond to me, affirming me. That electrified my ego.
But love… loving someone is being committed to their happiness and well-being, so much so that you’d cut off your right arm for them. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, NASB).
You can have an electrifying moment without sacrifice. But move a relationship a few yards down the field where difficulties arise, reconciliation is required and sacrifice is necessary. And believe me, you’ll not shift the object of your love away from yourself without covenant—chemistry won’t do it.
And guess what? Covenant will give rise to a much deeper passion, for “it’s not the declaration of present thrill; it’s the binding promise of future love” (Tim Keller).
What Marriage Does
What’s the purpose of marriage? I can tell you, but I don’t think you’re gonna like it.
1. Beautifies People
Dating services say that most folks are looking for someone who will accept them and not change them. This is really a mistaken goal because marriage is inherently about change. If you don’t want to change, then don’t get married.
The person who says, “I want to be married, but I don’t want my life changed,” is really saying: “I want my life enhanced at someone else’s expense—I want romance, companionship, and the dishwasher emptied, but change can say outside.”
Look closely at our passage: “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” (Eph 5:25–27).
Let’s think about this, starting at the beginning: Why did Jesus come into your life? “Well,” folks will say, “Maybe to save me from hell.” There’s truth in that. But a better answer is this: Jesus came into your life to make you beautiful. None of us are as we should be, we’ve all got blemishes. Jesus came to make us beautiful. Now think about that: That means he wants to change us.
Husbands aren’t little saviors. But, ladies, if God gave you a husband, then, according to the logic of this text, he’s given you a partner who he will use to change you. Your spouse is a significant tool in bringing to completion the good work God began in you.
Your spouse is a mirror. Your actions and attitudes and words get reflect, by the actions and attitude and words of your spouse. So… if one pays attention to those reflections, they’ll grow in self-awareness, which means they’ll grow in knowing their need for the grace of the cross, which means they’ll grow in their appreciation and love for Jesus. Do you see how that works?
So marriage is like a rock tumbler. You know how a rock tumbler works, right? You take a some rocks and throw them in the tumbler, throw in some grit powder, and turn the power on. Sometime later those rocks, after rubbing up against each other and getting all the rough edges knocked off, come out of the tumbler looking beautiful and shiny.
If you don’t come into marriage with the right theology, if you don’t proceed with the right theology, then you’ll constantly be asking if you married the right person because you’r not as happy as you thought you would be. But if you’re theology of marriage is sound, then you’ll say: “Jesus is making me beautiful and I accept you into my life as one he’ll use to knock off the rough edges.” That’s a very different perspective on marriage.
2. Bridging the Gender Gap
So, marriage has this beautification purpose. It also has another purpose: bridging the gap between genders.
Understand very clearly this: There is no discrimination or devaluation of women in our passage. God formed us as gendered persons of equal value to complement each other and to relate by the Spirit’s power in ways that correspond to how the Father and Son relate in divine community.
Modern America won’t like what I’m going to say next, but modern America also has a horrible track record with 45–50% of marriages failing. I’m going to suggest, then, we listen closely to the Bible for a moment—there might be something to it.
Here’s a biblical the principle: “Wives, let your husbands be the head in the marriage.” Now, headship doesn’t mean dominance; it means leadership. And this statement has nothing to do with leadership in the church or in society; it’s confined to the marriage relationship.
Let me paraphrase this principle like this… the Bible is saying… “Wives, if you want to get in touch with your own gender, and have your husbands get in touch with theirs, then, when you can’t agree on something, let your husband have the final say.” The truly feminine woman is relational: “[s]he invites movement towards her and embraces the movement she receives” (Larry Crabb, Fully Alive, 44).
Don’t thrown anything at me just yet, because there is something here for the husbands too…
Did you notice our passage has one verse for the wife, but the rest are directed at the husband? That’s to make sure husbands know there’s no room for big heads or dominance. Husbands, you’re to lead in a very specific way: you’re to lead like Jesus. You’re to love your wives and give yourself up for them—self-sacrifice (Eph 5:25). Husbands, you lead by putting your wive’s needs before your own. You don’t lead by trying to please yourself at your wife’s expense. You lead by seeking to mirror God’s penetrating and powerful love by moving deeply into your wive’s should with life-changing impact (Larry Crabb, Fully Alive, 62).
Both spouses are surrendering something here to make the marriage work. Wives are surrendering the final say, inviting movement towards themselves; husbands are surrendering their selfishness, moving with a gospel power and holy passion to relate well.
I’ve never come across a wife who has said, “Nah, I don’t want that.” Rather, they say, “If my husband led me like that, then I’d follow.” Husbands, are you listening? The truly masculine man is one who is on a path of learning to love better—to give love.
The Bible gives us this principle and then goes silent, leaving couples to work out the details with their personalities, temperaments, culture, and time. I like how one pastor explained this, he said: “Liberals don’t like the principle of male headship. Conservatives want to bring in all of their cultural details. The Bible doesn’t go either direction” (Tim Keller). He’s right!
What Marriage Needs
We started our text today in verse 22, but back in verse 21 Ephesians reads: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” How does that occur?
Well, if you can remember, as few weeks back I spoke about being filled with the Holy Spirit. I said being filled had everything to to with owning the times in which the Spirit blows the whistle on you. Not making a excuses for sin, but bringing it to the cross of Jesus. As you realize his blood covers your particular blemish, that it too has also been atoned for, then you’ll experience viscerally the joy of Christ.
In marriage, forgiveness is possible when each spouse is regularly experiencing the Holy Spirit like this.
So let’s retrace things… Paul was moving along in chapter 5 taking about walking as children of the light, having your soul sloshing with God’s love, and then—Poww!—suddenly he writes: “Wives submit to you husbands, and husbands love your wives self-sacrificially.” Why the radical change of subject?
Well, there’s no radical change. Paul is saying, “You know all of the walking as children of the light stuff? Well let’s get it out of the clouds and down to earth. He’s saying, “Marriage doesn’t work unless you know which garbage can is yours and you’re taking it to Jesus for removal. As that happens your heart gets softened and filled with a capacity to pour forgiveness and grace on your spouse.” One pastor calls this “love philanthropy.”
Do you know that Bill Gates has made so much money that he retired from Microsoft and he’s working full-time to give his money away to charity. When you realize how God has loved you, you get to be a love philanthropist.
Every marriage goes through times when one spouse isn’t what he or she ought to be. But if you’ve made your spouse the center of you happiness, in those difficult times, you’ll say something like: “You’re not who you should be, therefore, I’m can’t be who I should be,” and withdraw occurs. But if Jesus is your portion and prize (Psa 16:5; 73:26), then in those rough patches when your spouse is selfish or critical, you’ll still have the capacity to be a love philanthropist.
This is what walking as children of light within the confines or marriage is like. Sometimes—and there are no guarantees—when you’re a love philanthropist from your side of the equation, the Spirit of God uses it to reach your spouse’s heart.
What Marriage Shows
When you’re filled with the Holy Spirit and driven by the gospel like this, your marriage becomes a reflection of the mystery between Jesus and his bride, the church.
In the Book of Revelation, John writes: “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” (Rev 19:6–8).
The lamb here is Jesus and the bride is the church. Jesus is the perfect husband. He exercised perfect headship. He died for the church; he died to forgive her sins. That’s spousal love.
Our marriages get to be a picture of what God is like. We get to recreate the story of the gospel in our marriage and point at Jesus’ covenant relationship with the church.
We were created to be the image of God on earth; reflections of the ultimate reality of God. Our marriages are penultimate, his is ultimate. Our love is penultimate, his love is ultimate.
Often our marriages aren’t good reflections. Yet, as the book of Revelation said, “His Bride has made herself ready … clothe[d] herself with fine linen, bright and pure” (Rev 19:8). In other words, Jesus’ self-sacrifice love, his shed blood, has sanctified us. His love has made us beautiful and bridged the gap between us.
I’ll leave you with this thought…
Marriage is a profound mystery, not because it is sometimes hard and sometimes rewarding in its own regard. It is a profound mystery because is helps us grasp the truth of the gospel, even as the gospel gives us power to be married well.