The Second Sunday after Epiphany| January 15, 2012| Rev. Rolf Preus| Ephesians 5:23-27
“Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church, and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:23-27
Jesus manifested his glory as God in the flesh. He first revealed his glory by doing his first miracle at a wedding celebration. Thus God’s glory is joined to marriage. God loves and blesses marriage. It is good for us to listen to what God has to say about marriage. This is so whether we are married or not. Marriage is for the benefit of all.
We live at a time when marriage has fallen into disrepute. Millions of unmarried men and women cohabitate as if living together as one flesh without first getting married is perfectly acceptable. Sexual relations outside of marriage are no longer condemned as fornication. Instead, condemning fornication as a sin against God is taken as a joke, as sexual sin has become the accepted norm for human conduct. There is no shame anymore. Same sex sexual relationships are celebrated as a positive good. For the first time in history, people are actually promoting the oxymoron of “same sex marriage” as a civil and legal right. We need to turn to God’s word for clarity in a time of confusion.
When the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” He was talking about the husbands here today. When Moses records that God brought the woman to the man he was talking about the wives here today. It is of us here and now that Moses was referring when he wrote, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” It was of our marriages that our Lord Jesus said, “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh.”
When we read of the marriage of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis we are reading an historical account. This is no myth or legend. It is history. But it is more than an account of what happened then and there. It describes what happens here and now. The same God who joined Adam and Eve as one in Paradise joins one man to one woman in our day as well. True, we’re not living in Paradise. We are sinners living in a sinful world. But when God joins you together as husband and wife he is doing what he did when he joined Adam and Eve together in the beginning.
Marriage is not a sacrament. Christ did not give to his church on earth the authority to join a man and a woman as husband and wife. God instituted marriage before he established his church. Marriage came before sin entered into the world and before God promised to send a Savior from sin. But our Lord Jesus does sanctify marriage. He gives his life for his church. He washes her clean of all her sins in Holy Baptism. He joins himself to her in an unbreakable bond. Jesus doesn’t believe in divorce and he is incapable of unfaithfulness. His devotion to his bride is total. He presents her to himself “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”
Men and women love each other for a variety of reasons. The poets and singers can tell us all about it. But for a Christian, the greatest bond that can exist between husband and wife is that they share the same Christian faith. What is most highly prized by the one is the same thing prized by the other. When you are married to someone who shares with you the confession of the true Christian faith you are married to someone who shares with you the most precious possession a man or a woman can have in this life.
What binds husbands and wives together is the truth of how Christ has made his bride holy, spotless, glorious, and without any flaw. This truth not only saves our souls, but it sanctifies us in both body and soul within the marriage bond.
If you know the true gospel you understand marriage. You cannot truly understand marriage if you don’t know Christ and his love for his church. With the world everything is a deal. False teachers turn the gospel into a deal and Christ into the dealmaker. The dealmaker Jesus says, “If you make me the Lord of your life, I’ll become your Savior and establish a personal relationship with you. So if you submit to me with all sincerity you’ll be able to depend on me to keep my end of the bargain.” Or Jesus is portrayed as the motivational leader who provides tried and true religious principles for successful relationships. This Jesus says, “I’ve got ten easy to follow rules for the husband and the wife to facilitate a harmonious relationship.” So plug this Jesus into your life and watch your problems fade away.
But the real Jesus doesn’t make deals. He lays down his life. He doesn’t lay upon us new rules to which we must submit. He dies for his church. He takes her sins and guilt upon himself and covers it all by his blood. He takes away her shame and provides her with divine dignity in its place – the dignity of being regarded and treated as a beautiful and glorious bride in whom not even the God of perfect justice can see a single fault.
The submission of the church to Christ is that of simple faith. She submits to being served by him. She entrusts herself to his care. She confesses her confidence that his suffering and death take away her sin and guilt and that his washing washes her clean and makes her holy. She follows him as her head, knowing that his love for her is the divine purpose in everything he does.
There is no greater privilege in life than the responsibility that God gives a man to love and provide for his Christian wife. It is frightening for many men because they start out not knowing what they’re doing and then after they’ve been married for some time they learn that they still don’t know for sure what their doing. But you don’t need to have your whole life mapped out to know that you serve your Lord Jesus by serving your wife. Jesus accepts your offering of love, not because of its intrinsic purity, but because you offer it in his name. When you treat your wife with tenderness and patience, forgiving her faults and placing her needs before your own wants you are imitating your Lord Jesus. This is a holy offering to God. It’s holy because God sanctifies it for the sake of Jesus in whose name you do it.
Wives, when a man has the respect of his wife he is truly a wealthy man. God enables a woman to make her husband rich, even if neither one has much money. The submission a Christian woman offers to her Christian husband is not the craven “let me be your doormat” kind of submission that our godless culture imagines it to be. It is rather a concrete way of expressing your faith in Jesus. You submit to your husband as to Jesus, that is, just as your Lord Jesus serves you and saves you by serving you, you look to your husband with confidence that he can be trusted. You give him the respect that you want to show to Jesus. You take his name, even as you have Christ’s name, and are a member of God’s family. Just as the church entrusts her future to Christ with full confidence, you confidently entrust your future to your husband.
Jesus gives his life for his church. His church submits to his gracious care. This is more than a pattern for husbands as husbands and wives as wives. It is the pattern for us as Christians.
The church belongs to Christ. She is holy. Listen to how Luther describes this church in the words of the Large Catechism:
I believe that there is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, even Christ, called together by the Holy Ghost in one faith, one mind, and understanding, with manifold gifts, yet agreeing in love, without sects or schisms. I am also a part and member of the same, a sharer and joint owner of all the goods it possesses, brought to it and incorporated into it by the Holy Ghost by having heard and continuing to hear the Word of God, which is the beginning of entering it.
As husband and wife hear God’s word together, receive the same gifts together – forgiveness of sins, life, peace, freedom from guilt, and eternal salvation – God keeps them united spiritually as Christians who enjoy the mystical union with Christ and His church.
God blesses marriage with children. God blesses children with marriage. The two go together. Fidelity within the marital bond is the greatest gift that fathers and mothers can show to their children. The Fourth Commandment that teaches children to honor their father and mother is served by the Sixth Commandment that teaches husbands and wives to be faithful to one another. A solid marriage makes for a healthy family.
It was for us that God instituted marriage. He did so in Paradise. After we fell into sin, Jesus sanctified our marriage. He sanctified it by his life, doing his first miracle at a wedding. He sanctified it by His death, giving up his life for his bride on the cross and taking away her sin. He sanctifies it through Holy Baptism as he washes us clean so that no fault can be found in us. Our marriage was made in Paradise and God sanctifies it here on earth where we live. Amen