Let us pray: Dear Savior, in a day and age when every person is their own island and each is answerable only to themselves, the very idea of surrendering our pride and ourselves to anyone—including You—seems anathema. So, show us today the beauty and freedom we will have when we do so in Your Church and in our marriages. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD OF THE CHURCH
TEXT: Ephesians 5: 21-31
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
Today we have before us perhaps the most politically incorrect passage in all of Scripture. It’s a text that modern society hates. Why? Because it uses that terrible word: submit! The whole idea of submission, or willingly submerging your own ego, your wants, your needs, your ideas, and the implementation of them to another human being, or even to God, is a huge affront to human beings. After all, we’re the “I” society. We always look out for # 1. If someone else benefits from that, O.K. If, not, too bad. To our modern ears submission is nothing short of self-denial. And since we live in an age where self-affirmation is paramount, people naturally hate the word and everything connected to it.
But, Christianity is about self-denial. “If anyone would follow me, he must deny himself and take up his cross.” That’s what Jesus says. That’s because such self-denial is true love in action. Such self-denial is admitting your failings and trusting in God’s Son to fix them. So, when St. Paul writes here: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” how is that any different than Jesus saying: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself?”
As I said, true, Godly submission is love in action. It is born of Christ willingly submitting to the cross and death in order to save us.—This was the Son submitting to the Holy Father’s gracious will, wasn’t it? So, Christians are expected to mirror Christ. He expects us to follow in His footsteps, especially in Church relationships and in the marriage relationship. That’s because the Church, or God’s believers, is His Bride.
Ephesians 5 is used in the Christian marriage service and incorporated in the wedding vows. That’s because it lays out so beautifully God’s plan for that marriage. (So, no, I’m not in favor of people writing their own wedding vows—God’s stand the test of time and He’s wiser than we are!) That being said, I’ve had more than one bride who didn’t like the use of that word: “submit” in her vows. Sometimes it’s because of personal reasons, sometimes it’s because friends in attendance won’t understand it and get their back up. So, as a careful Pastor, I’ve occasionally changed it to: “reverently honor.” The meaning is the same and carries no baggage. Likewise, I’ve also pointed out that both spouses are to: “Reverently honor one another—out of reverence for Christ.” And if someone still objects, well, I don’t think they should be married yet—especially in God’s Church!
So, we read: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
Just as Christ was not and is not a cruel, harsh dictator, but a loving Savior of our souls, wives should view their husbands in the same way. He loves you. He wants to spend the rest of his life with you. He wants to honor you and cherish you and do whatever is best for you. That’s why he agreed to marry you and you to marry him. So, what’s wrong in agreeing to honor Him back? This loving submission isn’t about him “getting his own way all the time.” It isn’t about him “being the boss” and making demands upon you. It isn’t about him being controlling over you. It’s about honoring him as best you can and recognizing his self-sacrifices for you. That’s what we do in church every week. And that’s what we should do in our homes, as well.
I’ve always said that more responsibility for all this submission is placed on the man than on the woman. Why? Listen to Paul’s next words: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
Just as Christ willingly gave up His life to save His Bride, us, so husbands should we willing to do the exact same thing! That’s commitment! Just as He willingly took up His cross to save our precious souls, so husbands should we willing to bear all types of pain and suffering to protect their wives. As Christians, regardless of our sex, we are all wives when it comes to our husband, Jesus Christ. And through His almighty Word of forgiveness and the washing of baptism which directly applies that forgiveness to us, He has reverently honored each of us with His very best!
So, now the practical application to marriage: “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body.” Thus, ultimate responsibility in a Christian marriage rests with the man and not the woman. He has much more “submission” laid upon him than upon his wife. And every married man sitting here today should do everything he possibly can to make sure he submits to God’s will and reverently honors his wife in every aspect of life. That’s following in Jesus’ footsteps.
Do any of us measure up to these high ideals? No. Whether we’re married, or not, our faith relationship with Christ and our spousal relationships hit rough patches where, one or both spouses, let their “me-ism” overwhelm their “together-ism.” That’s the nature of sin and that’s why we all repent of our sins daily. That being said, the alternative of going through life alone, without God’s Son in your corner, and in many cases going it alone without the total commitment of your heart’s desire—your spouse—is a dark void of loneliness, isn’t it? And God said to Himself when He originally created Eve: “It is not good that man should be alone.” And so we conclude with Jesus’ own definition of marriage: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Amen