Are You Married to Jesus?
A sermon by Coty Pinckney, preached at Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA, 11/30/97
What is Christian marriage? Is it fundamentally different from marriage between non-Christians? We hear words related to marriage, such as headship, submission, and love: What do these terms mean? Are these cultural relics of the 1st century, or are they vital for our understanding and practice of marriage today?
The passage we are now considering, Ephesians 5:22-33, is the most detailed teaching on marriage in the Bible. We will spend the next three weeks considering this passage. Today, we will notice the place of these verses in the context of the entire book, and then focus on the relationship between Christ and the church. For Paul compares human marriage to the marriage of Christ and his church. Since most of us, however, have little understanding of the relationship between Christ and the church, we are unable to draw out the proper implications for us as husbands and wives. So in this series of sermons, we will first gain a deeper understanding of this marriage in heaven, so that we might here have heavenly marriages.
Let us begin by recalling the context of this passage. Most often, Paul's teaching on marriage is considered on its own. But these verses are intimately integrated with all that precedes them in this letter, and our insights into marriage are improved by considering the relationship between these verses and the preceding chapters.
The Context of the Teaching on Christ and the Church
Recall that Paul begins this letter by praising God for the spiritual blessings that we have in Christ:
Furthermore, all of these spiritual blessings, great as the benefits are to us, are to the praise of God's glory; they reveal His character, so that all creation will praise Him.
Given that all this is true, Paul then prays that while we are here on earth, we would know three things:
Paul concludes the first chapter by saying that God:
gave Christ as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
So we have here a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. We, the church, are part of God's eternal plan to sum up all things in Christ; we are his body, intimately related to Him, created to do His will; we are his fullness, glorifying him in what we are becoming.
In chapter 2, Paul notes the astounding nature of this relationship between Christ and the church. There were two powerful barriers that would seem to make such an intimate relationship impossible. The first barrier is our own sinful nature. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, helpless, hopeless. We were by nature objects of God's wrath, deserving his just punishment. The perfectly just God could have no partnership with such sinful creatures.
Chapter 2 verse 4 begins with two powerful words: BUT GOD. We were dead and without hope, BUT GOD made us alive together with Christ, BUT GOD raised us by His grace, BUT GOD seated us with Christ in the heavenlies, and prepared in advance good works for us to do.
In addition to our individual sinfulness, the second barrier is that many of us are Gentiles, and therefore excluded from the promises of God. BUT GOD now has brought us near by the blood of Christ, reconciling both Jew and Gentile into one body through the cross.
In chapter 3, Paul says his particular calling is to reveal the mystery of God's redeeming both Jews and Gentiles. And he prays that we might be strengthened through the Spirit so that Christ might dwell in our hearts, and that we might be able to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.
Thus ends the first half of the book. Why didn't Paul simply stop here? He doesn't stop because Christian doctrine always has logical consequences for Christian believers. Our faith has implications for how we live. So, in chapters four through six, Paul builds on the truths concerning the blessings, privileges, and power which are ours, arguing that if all this is true, we have a glorious calling, and must walk in a manner worthy of that calling.
Consider three implications of this latter section of Ephesians:
First, note that Paul does not here give us a list of moral do's and don'ts, he is not laying down a standard and then saying, "Live this way." Instead, he is basing his commands on the doctrine he has taught in the first part of Ephesians. The New Testament always does this; morality is never divorced from doctrine. These days we often hear someone say, "Oh, I don't believe in the Bible's teaching about Jesus as the Son of God, and all that, but I admire and try to live up to its moral teaching." Nothing could be more antithetical to the biblical position. Indeed, nothing could be more foolish. In all of the New Testament, behavior is a logical consequence of doctrine; morality does not stand alone.
Second, God gives us the power to live lives that are pleasing to him. Christian morality is not a matter of our using our own power to live up to God's commands. Paul has already said in chapter two that on our own we are dead in our trespasses and sins, without hope. Yet God's power has raised us and seated us with Christ, and this same resurrection power is available to us to accomplish His purposes in us. So Paul in this last half of Ephesians reminds us that it is not only logical for us to behave this, but it is also possible for us to behave this way because of the power of God within us.
Third, note that Paul still finds it necessary to give us these commands. Thus, it must be possible for us to be Christians and yet not live in accordance with God's desires. So this process is not automatic; we can be chosen by God and sealed by the Holy Spirit, yet still live lives that are unworthy of our calling. Thus, living lives worthy of our calling is not a simple, one-time event, but a battle which we must fight day by day. God promises that we are saved from the guilt of sin -- that was accomplished on the cross. We are saved from the power of sin -- God has made us alive in Christ, and we are no longer slaves to sin. God also promises that he will make us Christlike, that he will perfect us -- but this does not happen immediately.
This concept is central to our understanding of Christian marriage, so let's delve into it a bit more deeply. Consider Galatians 2:20, which I hope many of you have memorized:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Paul is saying that we who are Christians have been identified with Christ's death, and that we have died to self. But note that we still live in the flesh, we still live in our old, fallen bodies. The habits we have developed, the patterns of reacting to life's circumstances, persist and continue to influence us. Furthermore, although Satan has lost his control of us, he continues to fight against us, as Paul will remind us in Ephesians 6. And Satan still influences the world around us, so that to our eyes it looks as if God is not in control. For all these reasons, we must live by faith -- faith in God's sovereignty, faith in God's power, and faith in God's promises. While we remain in this world, then, we must exercise our will minute by minute and hour by hour, turning our thoughts to God in active dependence on Him. When we fail to live by faith, we stumble, and live lives that are not worthy of our calling.
So, in this last half of Ephesians, Paul finds it necessary to exhort us to behave in a manner consistent with our calling by the power of God within us, through living by faith minute by minute. Let us, then, consider how he organizes these exhortations in chapters 4 and 5. In the first 16 verses of chapter 4, Paul asks the question, "How should we live within the body of Christ? How should we relate to other Christians?" His answer: we should be humble towards each other, we should build each other up, especially via the gifts that the Spirit gives us. This leads us to grow together to maturity.
Beginning in 4:17 Paul turns his attention from our lives as part of the church to our lives as individuals in relationship to others. Here, in effect he is answering the question, "Does the way I live matter?" If it is true that God will forgive whatever sins I commit if I am a child of God, then why not sin? Paul here shows -- as he shows in Romans 6 -- that anyone who asks such a question simply does not understand the fundamental change that takes place when one is saved. The old life is darkness, ignorance, corruption, and slavery. There is no benefit to living that way -- rather, it leads to death. As he says in 5:5, no immoral, impure, or covetous person has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ -- and anyone without such an inheritance has no hope whatsoever, but will be subject to God's wrath. So since you are children of God, act like it! Imitate him! You were once darkness, but now are light! Walk in the light, not in the darkness! Take care, consider the way you walk -- it indicates who you are! This is the will of God.
Beginning in 5:18, Paul emphasizes our need for the Spirit's power in order to accomplish this. We must be filled with the Spirit if we are to live worthy lives. We must let the Spirit control us, let Him fill our minds and thoughts, let him infuse all our relationships with His presence, as he stands alongside us, encouraging us, enabling us to be Christlike. As Paul points out, when we are filled with the Spirit, He will affect our speech ("speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs"), our inner attitudes ("singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father"), and our interactions with others ("submitting to one another in the fear of Christ"). In the next lengthy section, Paul elaborates on what it means to submit to each other in our most intimate relationships.
It is absolutely vital to see that submitting to one another is a result of being filled with the Spirit. Submission is neither natural nor easy. But because we as Christians are a new creation on the inside, because the Holy Spirit lives in us, we CAN live a new life, we CAN put off the old self, we CAN live as children of light, submitting to one another.
Paul highlights three intimate relationships:
He selects these relationships because this is where the rubber meets the road. Most of us can become pretty good at play-acting on Sunday mornings, pretending that we are good Christians. We can do the same in our occasional, casual relationships in civic organizations and recreational leagues. But it is much harder to fool our employers and employees, and it is virtually impossible to fool our wives, husbands, children, and parents. Whatever we are on the inside will come out, at least occasionally, in these close relationships. If Christianity does not have an impact on these most intimate relationships, it is not worth very much. But a relationship with God that will transform these relationships is exactly what so many in this country long for!
The Relationship Between Christ and the Church
Paul, then proceeds to tell us what it means for wives and husbands to submit to each other in the fear of Christ. In the section addressed to husbands and wives, he draws an explicit analogy, saying that the relationship of husbands to wives is similar to the relationship between Christ and his bride, the church. Recall four earlier verses that refer to this relationship:
1:22 And [God] has put all things under [Christ's] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
4: 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
Now consider our present text:
22 Wives, [be subject] to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself [being] the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives [ought to be] to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also 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 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also [does] the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE; AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and [let] the wife [see to it] that she respect her husband.
Let me draw your attention to four principles which together define the relationship of Christ to the church: unity, love, headship, and perfection. Today we will consider how these principles relate to Christ and the church. In the next two weeks, we will consider how these same principles apply to husbands and wives.
(1) The Unity of Christ and the Church
We have already pointed out how we are the body of Christ, and thus organically linked to him. The quotation above from Ephesians 4 makes this clear. But we can go further. In God's plan, Christ is incomplete without the church!
"But hold it, Coty," you say. "How can the second person of the Godhead lack anything?" Look with me again at 5:31-32:
FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE; AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
Verse 31 is a quotation from Genesis 2, after the first marriage between Adam and Eve. Adam -- created by the perfect God -- was incomplete without Eve. In all creation there was no helpmeet suitable for him. So God fashioned Eve out of Adam's rib, so that together Adam and Eve would become one perfect, complete flesh.
Paul is saying that, while the mystery is great, the same holds true for Christ and the church. We are so intimately one with Christ that he is made complete through us, the church. Recall that 1:23 says we are his fullness. What does this mean? Consider 1 John 4:17:
love is perfected with us . . . because as He is, so also are we in this world.
God is love -- but that love is perfected, or made complete, with us. We are so united with Christ that we represent him in this world, that we complete his love in the world.
Furthermore, Christ chose to assume the role of mediator between God and man, and thus to unite us with him. In this role as mediator, He is not complete until all of those called according to his plan are joined with him. So we, the church, are essentially one with Him.
(2) The Love of Christ for the Church
In 5:25, Paul writes:
Husbands love your wives just as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself
Love is one of the most misunderstood words in American culture. When we say, "I love you," we may mean, "You make me feel tingly all over," or "I want to have sex with you," or "I enjoy being around you," or "I want you to feel wanted." But Christ's love for the church is not a feeling. This love is giving, sacrificing, selfless. This love is a love that shows itself in action.
How did Christ act out His love? Verse 1:7 says, "we have redemption through his blood," while 2:13 says we Gentiles are "brought near by the blood of Christ." His love extended to all the way to the shedding of his blood for us -- and the shedding of his blood for us when there was nothing attractive about us. As Paul says in Romans 5:8,
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
So the love of Christ for the church is a self-sacrificing love that acts.
You recall that God had Hosea act out such a love in his own life and marriage. His wife, Gomer, was guilty of brazen adultery, even to the point of selling herself as a prostitute. But God tells Hosea to go down to the slave market and to buy her -- to buy the woman who was properly his, and had rejected him -- he tells Hosea to redeem her and to take her back as his wife. This is the type of love Christ has for the church.
(3) The Headship of Christ Over the Church
In addition to telling us that Christ and the church are one, and that Christ loves the church sacrificially, this passages reiterates 1:22 in telling us that Christ is the head of the church. The idea of headship is intimately related to the unity and love we have already discussed. In particular, note that Christ as head is not an external authority telling the church what to do, but Christ is one with the church -- indeed, the one whose love brought the church into being. Headship is an organic notion -- the head is part of the body, just as much as the foot or the arm.
Just so, submission to the head is a result of confidence in the unity and love we have discussed. We as the church submit to Christ because we know he has our good at heart, even when following him means acting in a way that seems to make little sense. We know that he who died for us when we were without hope loves us with an undying love, and so we express our love to him by being obedient to his headship.
Now, what does a head do? Let me suggest three ideas:
First, the head decides on goals.
Second, the head coordinates all action so as to accomplish its goals. Without a head, the different parts of the body would not work towards a common purpose. But when every part submits to the guidance of the head, the body can work effectively to accomplish its mission.
Finally, the head looks out for the good of the entire body. There may be times when an action in the short run will hurt one part of the body. But the head knows this pain is worth it so that the whole body might grow.
The next and final principle draws this idea out:
(4) The Perfection of the Church Through Christ
Consider some of the words Paul uses in our text describing the impact of Christ on the church:
The purpose of headship is the completion, the perfection of the church. Christ is one with the church, and loves the church so much that he is determined to make it all it should be.
Consider again the story of Hosea. When Hosea remarries Gomer, bringing her back into a right relationship with him, would he be satisfied to change her position from prostitute to wife? No! Not if he loves her! He wants her to fulfill her potential, to become all that God intended her to be -- and, furthermore, he wants them together, in their essential unity, to become what they together might be.
Just so, Jesus does not stop with changing our position before him. We were full of sin and unable to enter God's presence because of his holiness. But we as believers are covered by the blood of Jesus, so that our position has changed. Jesus saves us from the consequences of our sin, from eternal damnation. But he has determined to do so much more! He has determined to perfect us, to fulfill our potential, to make us what we were intended to be, to make us together with him into his fullness, glorifying himself in the process.
The difference between changing our position and perfecting us is similar to the difference between the roles of doctor and coach. My doctor is concerned with disease. He identifies the disease that plagues me, and then attempts to cure it. But being cured of a disease and fulfilling my potential are two very different things! I can be healthy in the sense that there is no disease present in my body, yet still be fat, lazy, and out of shape. In that case, my body would be falling far short of its potential.
My coach, or physical trainer, on the other hand, has the goal of making me the best athlete possible. My coach will look at me and see all I am capable of attaining, then set forth a plan whereby I can achieve my potential. He will make me work hard, he will cause me pain, he may yell at me occasionally, but my coach -- if he is good -- does all this so that I, together with my teammates, can fulfill our potential.
Similarly, Christ is not satisfied with healing our disease, with keeping us from hell. Instead, he perfects us individually and corporately.
How does Christ perfect the church? One way is through the leadership gifts we talked about several months ago. Recall 4:11-13:
11 And He gave some [as] apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] evangelists, and some [as] pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
The leadership gifts result in our maturing, in our growing up to be what Christ intends. Similarly, God works all things together for our good, using trials, using difficulties, using each other so that we are whipped into shape, so that we attain the perfection that he desires.
And the final result of our perfection is his being glorified! Recall 3:10 where Paul writes that his own ministry was intended:
so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
The perfected church displays God's wisdom to all spiritual beings! God is proud of the church, and displays her beauty to others; Christ shows who he is by the perfection of his wife.
Were you awake at 6:30 to 7:00 this morning? The sunrise was particularly magnificent as deep reds changed to pink with increasing brilliance. The sunrise displays the beauty of its creator. Just so, we as the church are being perfected so that all creation will see us -- holy and blameless, perfect and complete -- and sing praises to God.
The perfected church bringing praise to God is pictured in Revelation 19:
6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 7 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; 8 to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure"-- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 9 And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."
Can you imagine this scene? The huge multitude of all the created order will sing praises to God because of us! We are his bride, clothed in the very deeds done we have done through his grace. The perfect savior marries the perfect bride -- and we, together, are that bride.
So Christ our Savior and Husband is one with us. We are organically linked to him. He loves us with an active, sacrificial love. He who is one with us is also our head, directing us, helping all parts of his body to work together for His glory, and He directs all things together so that we might become his perfect creation. He nourishes us, providing all that we need to join him at the marriage supper, proclaiming his glory, perfect in every way.
Christians, this is your destiny! This is who we are in Christ!
Amen and amen.
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 11/30/97.
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