Sermon by Rev. Daniel L. Sonnenberg | 2013-08-18
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise…18 be filled with the Spirit…21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 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. 25 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. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph. 5:15-33)
Let’s see, things I didn’t learn in school…How to open a bank account, how to balance a checkbook, how to save and spend money wisely, how to rent or buy a house, how to raise children, how to live together in harmony with a wife for 50-75 years. In a fallen world, what do husbands need to understand and to do in order to be wise, spirit-filled leaders in their marriages? Pastors can help. One pastor says of marriage, “There is one cardinal rule, “Don’t leave! Everything else is small stuff.” Another pastor says, “Unless God intervenes, you will treat your spouses the same way your parents treated one another.” Christian books can help. During our engagement, Beth and I read a number of Christian books on the subject. We found some helpful, but some a bit misleading. Mentors are another source. Over the years, we have benefitted from two older couples who have guided us during the difficult times. For the most part, however, good pastors, books and mentors point us back to the Scriptures that teach us to model our marriage after Christ and his church, and to rely on Christ to draw us toward one another.
In a fallen world, many forces seek to pull husbands and their wives apart.
Since the marriage relationship points to Christ and his church, it should not surprise us that the forces opposed to Christ are also opposed to our marriages. The good news is Christ’s work of redemption has restored both our relationship to God and the intimate, interdependent relationship between husbands and wives. In a world where many marriages end in divorce, Christ offers help and hope for Christian husbands.
He does so by calling husbands to embrace the divine order for marriage and to follow the divine example of Christ and his Church.
Embrace the divine order
Embracing the divine order for Christian marriage involves understanding headship. Biblical Headship is an often misunderstood concept these days. Headship is not merely about authority. Headship involves both authority and responsibility.
When God appoints a person to a position of authority, he also assigns particular responsibilities for that person to fulfill. Headship is both authority over and responsibility to or for a particular person or group of persons. Headship roles and responsibilities were established by God from before creation. According to Scripture, God is the head of Christ. Christ is the head of man. Husbands are the head of their wives. Parents are the head of their children. Employers are the head of their employees. Civic leaders are the head of their constituents. However, headship involves taking responsibility for whatever God commits to one’s care. For example, God has granted husbands authority by committing their wives to their care. Therefore, the husband’s responsibility is not to establish or maintain his authority. God has already done that. The husband’s responsibility is to fulfill the responsibilities God has assigned for him to do. Sometimes, Christian husbands get this confused. Newly married husbands sometimes think they must establish or “assert” their authority “over” their wives to show they are in charge. For example, one husband expected his wife to remain silent in social situations so that he would be perceived as the head and spokesperson for the couple. However, this made for a very uncomfortable situation for the hosts who had invited them into their home and wanted to get to know the wife as well as the husband. Other husbands seek to “maintain” their authority over their wives by controlling their every move, purchase, phone call, email or conversation. However, more often than abusing their authority over their wives, husbands tend to neglect their responsibility to their wives. Some husbands, instead of taking care of their wives, expect their wives to take care of themselves. They wrongly assume that because their wives are very capable persons, they need no care. Other husbands, instead of taking care of their wives, are too busy or interested in taking care of themselves. And still other husbands vacillate between neglect and abuse by subjecting their wives to extended periods of silence punctuated by short outbursts of anger. Proper headship under God is neither the abuse of authority nor the neglect of responsibility. It is neither about domination nor passivity. It is about responsible love and service.
Proper headship can be found in the example of Christ as he takes responsibility for the church which God has entrusted to him. He does this through loving service to her.
Follow the divine example
As husbands embrace the divine order for marriage, God enables them second to follow the divine example of Christ and the church. Just as wives are to imitate the submission of the church to Christ, so husbands are to imitate the loving headship of Christ for his church. Husbands are responsible for loving their wives as Christ loved the church. The members of the church, the bride of Christ, pass through three stages in their life’s journey: spiritual birth, sanctification and perfection in glory. Christ as her husband and head, accepts responsibility to care for her through these three stages. Through his loving sacrificial death, He gave his bride a new life, a new family, and a new inheritance. By sending his Spirit, he cleanses her from the past stain of sin and daily renews and purifies her conforming her into his own image. When he returns, Christ will bring about her final glorification, presenting her to himself completely holy and blameless without sin.
Just as Christ cares for his bride, Christian husbands love and serve their wives as they pass through three similar stages. His responsibility in this process begins when he promises, “I take you to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish, till death do us part…” Many husbands begin well, but on the wedding day are mostly unaware of our own weaknesses, the strength of the forces against us, or the resources available to us in Christ. Some husbands are like the new husband in the recent Midas commercial. The new bride says happily as the couple settles into the car in their tux and wedding gown, “This is the beginning of the rest of our lives!” When the car won’t start she asks her new husband if he has “the Midas touch.” But when he sadly shakes his head no, she rolls her eyes and laments, “This is the beginning of the rest of our lives.” I did something similar to that groom on our wedding day as we ran out to the car under a hail of birdseed from well-wishers. Because we had borrowed a friend’s nice new Camaro and I was overly concerned about keeping the car from getting filled with the stuff, I closed the door before Beth had gotten all the way into the car, thus slamming her head in the door. She survived but the next few photographs were more tearful than joyful because of the pain. The fact is, I was more concerned about the new car than I was my new wife! Not my best moment, but it illustrates that husbands like me have a lot to learn.
Husbands should not only be willing to lay down their lives, but actually do so as Christ did. Husbands, God may require you to lay down your personal dreams or ambitions at some point for her sake. If you are just entering into marriage, are you willing to make sacrifices in your career choice and career path along the way to tangibly demonstrate your love for your wives? Some men have given up what might have been the most productive years of their career in order to care for an ailing or dying wife.
The next step of this process is normally the longest one. Husbands are to love and serve their wives by participating in their sanctification or spiritual growth or personal growth in Christ throughout their life-time. Christ does this with his bride by “cleans[ing] her by the washing of water with the word. Husbands, understand how important the word of God is to your relationship. Read it together. Talk about it together. Pray about it together. Base your decisions on it together. Find a church that reads it, preaches it, prays it and lives it, and stay there. Encourage her with it, especially when she is struggling. As you know, most wives don’t want to be fixed with quick answers. They want their husbands first to listen, second to understand, and finally to respond thoughtfully, lovingly, graciously, and hopefully based on God’s word. That is what helps them to grow spiritually and personally, to become more and more like the beautiful bride of Christ.
This process is completed only when Christ presents her to himself holy and blameless at the time of her death. A husband’s goal, however long they are married, should be to help prepare her to be joyfully and fearlessly wedded to her Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.
Another way of looking at this is to say husbands should love their wives as their own bodies even as Christ loves his body the church. This is the same argument from a creation perspective. God created woman for man in the garden. Thus in marriage husbands and wives become “one flesh.” She is part of his body and he is part of her body. Everyone takes care of his own body, feeding it, washing it, grooming it. Husbands should take care of their wives because they share the same body. Husbands should imitate Christ here as well. See how Christ especially nourishes and cherishes his own body by the means of grace. The means of grace are the outward means of spiritual life and growth given regularly to the church: the public reading and preaching of the Word of God, the public administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and corporate prayer. See also how Christ’s providence oversees every event of her life. See how Christ causes all things to work together for her good. See how Christ causes her to faithfully persevere to the end. Husbands, in addition to caring for your wives’ spiritual lives, this reminds you of your responsibility for her physical and emotional provision. Most husbands are clear on their responsibility to protect and provide. Consider a few more simple examples of nourishing and cherishing her. When you go to the refrigerator to get something to eat, you might ask your wife, “Can I get you something?” It tells her that you care not only about your own physical nourishment, but hers also. Or when you stop at a convenience store on a trip or on the way home, you might pick up something for your wife you know she will like. It tells her you were thinking not only about yourself but her as well. Husbands, how do you walk wisely, being filled with the Spirit in a fallen world? By submitting yourselves to God’s order for relationships and by following the example of Christ for his bride. Catch a fresh vision of Christ lovingly serving the church God has entrusted to his care through all the stages of her life. And so lovingly serve your wife from your wedding day to your parting day. Meditate regularly on Christ’s feeding and valuing his bride through daily provision and the means of grace. Let it enable you to nourish and cherish your wife as your own body in the everyday aspects of life. Husbands, keep the excellence of Christ in full view. Always depend on the empowering of Christ. When we are weak he is strong.