Text: Ephesians 5:22-33
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God loves marriage. God created marriage. In fact, it’s of utmost importance to recall that God created marriage to be the life-long commitment between one man and one woman even before the fall into sin. This means that it existed before sin existed in the world. You’ll remember that on the sixth day of creation, after God had created Adam and after Adam had named each of the animals that God created, no suitable helper was found for Adam. For this reason Eve, the first woman was created. God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone. He needed a helper suitable for him. So woman was created by God from the side of the man to be that helper suitable for man. Immediately after the creation of the first woman, Adam and Eve were united in marriage and given the command to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.” So marriage solves two problems for man. First, he was lonely and he finds a helper and companion in the woman. Second, in order to “be fruitful and multiply,” he needs woman. Marriage is for companionship and for procreation. The high honor that God has for marriage and his love for its institution is shown by the fact that Jesus chooses a wedding to be the setting for his first miracle.
St. Paul makes it clear that there is more to marriage than meets the eye, though. Yes, anyone can see how wonderful God’s gift of marriage can be for all involved. Husbands and wives benefit from each other’s mutual companionship and support. Children benefit from the love and care of their fathers and mothers. Fathers and mothers benefit from the honor and love shown them by their children throughout their lives. Society as a whole benefits from the godly children raised by godly parents.
More than that, though, St. Paul shows us how marriage is an illustration of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is his bride. Just as the woman was created from the side of the man at creation, so the Church is created from the side of Christ. When Christ was crucified and died for the sins of the world, the soldiers came and pierced his side to ensure that he was dead. When they pierced his side, blood and water flowed out. This was the birth, the creation of the bride of Christ, the Church. For it is in the water of Holy Baptism that we are re-born and placed into the holy ark that is the holy Christian Church. It is his blood that covers over our sin. It is his blood that fills the chalice from which we drink at the Lord’s Supper that sustains our faith. The water and blood that flow from the side of the crucified Jesus are the means by which the Church is created and sustained.
Now look at how the two relate to one another. Christ, the bridegroom, is the perfect husband for his Church. As a bride is adorned in white as she comes to the altar to be united to her husband in a one flesh union, Jesus has his wife, the Church, presented in white. Is the bride of Christ perfect? Is that why she wears white? Certainly not. We know full well that we, the Church, Christ’s bride, are filled with sin. There is no true redeemable quality in us. We are not faithful to Christ, our bridegroom even in the slightest. But Jesus covers over the sin of his bride. She may not be perfect, but she is presented as perfect because her garments have been washed and have been made white in the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
How does the bride of Christ react to that which is done for her by her perfect bridegroom, Jesus? She submits to him. That is, she puts herself under the authority of Jesus and learns to look to him for all that is good. She recognizes that this Jesus has died for her and is her head. Therefore, she reverently submits to him. This relationship between Christ and the Church is what the relationship between husband and wife ought to look like among us, the people of God. This reading from Ephesians 5 makes that clear.
There is no doubt that God’s institution of marriage has fallen on hard times in our world. This is not new. In fact, there was already a breakdown in marriage between Adam and Eve. Look at what happened in Genesis chapter three. The wily serpent approaches Eve and tempts her to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She eats and gives some to her husband who was with her and he also ate. What should have happened? Adam should have stepped in and kept the conversation between Eve and the serpent from ever happening. He was the head of his wife. He should have done anything and everything not only to keep Eve from eating of the tree from which God had told them not to eat. He should have not even allowed the conversation between Eve and the serpent to happen. After the fall, things get worse. Did Adam defend his wife and take responsibility for her actions? No. He should have. Her failure was his fault. He should have kept it from happening. Instead, though, he shifts the blame to his wife. That was wrong, but Eve did no better. Instead of owning up to her sin, she shifts the blame to the serpent. The relationship between Adam and Eve fails to show what God intended marriage to look like as instead of mutual love and submission, there is selfish ambition.
St. Paul’s words to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 show that this is exactly what it is that causes marriages to falter or fail. The problem is that wives don’t submit to their husbands and that husbands do not love their wives as they love themselves. Every single time that a marriage fails, one or both of these things has happened. Marriage is designed by God to take the husband’s and wife’s energy and affection and focus it outside of themselves and onto their spouse.
This is completely against everything that the world tells us about marriage. The world tells us that marriage is all about what’s best for the individual. First, the world tells us that we should delay marriage until we’re older. The reason for this, according to the world, is that we need time for ourselves. We need to establish our career first and enjoy life alone before getting married. It’s completely focused on self rather than on someone else. That’s not just against God’s design for marriage; it’s against God’s design for how Christians ought to live.
The world also teaches us that marriage isn’t necessarily a life-long commitment. This is in spite of the vows that almost every person who’s ever gotten married takes when they get married. It’s as if there’s an asterisk next to the wedding vow that says we’ll remain married as long as we’re still in love. Or we’ll remain married as long as we never argue with each other. Or we’ll remain married as long as we’re happy. The moment that we’re no longer happy, in love, or argue it’s time to call it quits. This is the message of the world. Marriage according to the world has nothing to do with wives submitting to husbands or husbands laying down their lives for their spouses. Instead, it’s all about what’s in it for me.
This selfish line of thinking is what has also led to perversions of God’s plan for marriage such as so-called same-sex marriage. The idea behind this is that marriage is all about whom I love. While this might satisfy the companionship portion of marriage in a twisted way, it makes the procreation part of God’s design for marriage impossible.
We Christians must not look to the world for guidance when it comes to marriage and what it ought to look like. We’ll get all the wrong answers that way. Let us instead look to God’s institution of marriage as a life-long commitment between one man and one woman. Any other quantity or combination of persons is evil. Likewise, let us follow St. Paul and look to the relationship between Christ and the Church. Husbands, see the example that Christ has left for you. Your wife is not perfect, but it is your role as a husband to present her to the world in that way. It is your duty to protect her at every turn from whatever misfortune might come to her. This is what Jesus did for the Church. He even suffered death for his bride. Husbands, you must be willing to do the same. You are the head of your wife. This doesn’t mean that you get to rule over them in a domineering fashion. It means that you love them just as Christ loved the Church. Wives, submit to your husbands. Put yourselves under their authority. Do this not out of fear, but recognizing that God has given you your husband to be head over you for your good. He has given you your husband as one who is willing to lay down his very life for your good. This is how marriage looks according to God’s Word.
There is a word here for the unmarried as well. Those who are not married can also uphold and esteem the sanctity of marriage. They can look to it and extol it as a blessing from God rather than a burden that steals away freedom. They can support and encourage the married to be faithful to their marriage vows. They can encourage the young to do the same.
God loves marriage. God created marriage. Let us all celebrate the blessings that God has given and continues to bring through this institution.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.