Sermon Notes

Ephesians 5:21-33 May 14, 2000
Walking Wisely: Defining Marriage

A 60 year-old couple was celebrating their 40 years of marriage. During the celebration a fairy appeared! "Because you have been such a loving couple all those years, I would like to give you each one wish." The wife quickly chimed in, "I want to travel around the world." The fairy waved her wand and, POOF! She had the tickets in her hand. Next, it was the husband's turn. He paused for a moment, then said shyly, "Well, I'd like to have a wife 30 years younger than me." The fairy picked up her wand and, POOF! He was 90...

When it comes to marriage, expectations, dreams and desires vary with each couple. Everyone has the perfect picture etched into his or her mind of the perfect spouse, but we all marry imperfect people. The choice we have then is to either destroy the image or destroy the other person. One person has aptly summarized the differences in men and women when it comes to marriage as the following:

A woman marries a man expecting he will change, but he doesn't. A man marries a woman expecting that she won't change and she does.

Ephesians 5 is the classic text on marriage. It is the longest, most popular, and most debated passage on marriage found in Scripture. For some verse 22 is enough to get the steam pumping so that they don’t want to read further. For others, they find this text to support their perceptions as to the way the world should be ordered. We are going to examine this passage over the next few weeks and I hope that no matter what reaction you have had to this passage, you will be challenged to rethink your perceptions. But in order to challenge, we need to get at the foundation of this passage. The most basic issue is not what does "submit" mean in verse 22 or "love" in verse 25. These are the applications which Paul is drawing out from the definition of marriage. Therefore, it is important we look at the foundation before we get to the application. When we do that, I think some of the confusion over this passage will dissipate.

21. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.

23. 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.

24. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

26. to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,

27. and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
28. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
29. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--

30. for we are members of his body.

31. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."
32. This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church.

33. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

As we spend the next few weeks on this issue, some may conclude that this does not apply to them. But, whether you are married or not, the nature of marriage affects each and every one of us. For some, the issue of marriage is painful either due to the festering wounds of our parent’s marriage or the open sores of our own. While sociologists may debate the health of the institution of marriage in America at the dawn of a new millennium, marriage is a trans-generational, trans-cultural element of human society. The function of marriage may differ over time, but the need for stability in relationships will always remain. As humans, we are social beings, craving partnership with others.

Notice when Paul seeks to ground our understanding of marriage he goes to creation itself for the definition. By quoting from Genesis 2:24, we are directed to what God intended prior to the Fall, before sin warped what was created as good. In order to understand all that is said here about marriage, we must first see that marriage is rooted in the creation, that marriage reflects the covenant and that those who are married are complementary to one another.

Marriage is rooted in the creation - verse 31a "leave his father and mother..."

When we read in Genesis of Adam’s creation, there is a peculiar phrase in 2:18. Prior to the entrance of sin, while all was perfect in the garden, God pronounces that there is something not good in paradise. God says that it is not good for man to be alone. There was imperfection in utopia. As Adam was created in the image of God, there was an inherent need for community. The Triune God possessed this for all eternity as the oneness of God is understood only in the community of the three persons of the Godhead. The same was true for Adam, too.

In order to drive home the need for Adam not to be alone, he is given the task of naming the animals. This is more than just saying: "horsey, doggie, kitty cat..." rather naming implies a knowledge of, relating to that which is named. In that process there was not one other aspect of God’s creation that could fill the void, a void that even perfect fellowship with God could not fill. The T-shirt: "The more I get to know men the more I love my dog" may elicit a smile, but it is not the way God intended us to live.

So God takes from Adam to create that which is most suited to Adam. While animals are described as being created immediately and not organically connected, when it comes to humanity the origin is distinctively different. Adam, created from the dust of the ground is given life by the breath of God and Eve is created from Adam. There is an intrinsic, organic unity here between the two, so much so that when Adam sees her for the first time, the Hebrew describes an awestruck response: "Wow!" Seeing the inherent connection between man and woman, there is none of that sense, expressed at the outset of the sermon: "Women, I’ll never understand them!"

It is there Moses gives us an editorial comment which is the clearest definition of marriage in the Bible. It is interesting that it is applied here to the creation of Adam and Eve, for they had no father and mother. But what took place in the garden, outside of the sin, in the perfection of creation, is the defining moment for marriage.

Marriage is still rooted in creation. Men, you and I did not come from the dust of the ground, even if our families were dirt poor growing up. Ladies, not a one of you were formed from the rib. Each and every one of us, though, were created by God through very human means of parents. This is true of each person, throughout the world in all times. Marriage flows from creation.

From this we understand that marriage is the first and foundational institution.

All other aspects of society are but extensions from the home. Government is nothing but the enlargement of the parental structure on a grand scale. Education is the formalization of home instruction. Health care flows from the nurturing parents. But marriage is the primordial cell of the body politic, closely intertwined with the welfare of the species.

While comedians find the institution of marriage familiar fodder for their routines, the benefits of marriage are illustrated by Linda Waite of the University of Chicago whose research has shown the enormous benefits to marriage. A 48 year old married woman has an 87% change of living to 65, while a woman who is divorced only a 67%. Those married are twice as likely to say they are very happy than those who are single and almost three times to respond that way than those who are divorced.

We are created by God through our parents. Yet with marriage there is a fundamental change in the make-up of those two people who leave father and mother. What does Moses mean by leaving? Our minds often go immediately to those who become married but are still tied to Momma’s apron strings.

It certainly can be a problem when a spouse has difficulty establishing his or her own home due to natural affection for parents. A wife can be come frustrated with her husband because he is not the kind of man her father was. Her father was successful; he’s struggling. Her father was handy with a hammer and paint brush but her husband can barely seem to cut the grass well. A husband fondly recalls his mother’s domestic skills but his new bride can barely boil water.

But there is another kind of "not leaving" that is equally a problem. For some, leaving mother and father means setting aside their frustration and hatred of their parents. So many problems a new couple, or even a couple married for years, may face are the problems, dysfunctions, sin patterns of their childhood upbringing.

You can’t be a new unit if the old patterns established growing up dictate how you interact. Leaving father and mother is not just moving out of the house, it is more than not running home every time there is a problem and looking to Daddy to make everything better. Leaving involves being aware of the tendency to cling to the negative model set for you by sinful, fallen parents.

You needn’t be married long before you find yourself channeling the spirit of your mother or father, even when you vow it won’t happen. This is not something you can rid yourself by walking down the aisle. Yet it is vital for you to be aware of those frustrations you have with your parents, or your in-laws, and not allow them to become a part of your marriage.

Marriage refelects the Covenant - verse 31b " united to his wife..."

While marriage is rooted in the creation, it also reflects the Covenant. We see this in the next word used: "united." This word is more than the plain vanilla "joined." The word means to glue, to create a bond. In English the old KJV term "cleave" says it well. The large butcher knife in our kitchen is a cleaver, a split in a rock is called a cleft. The idea is that rocks are meant to be together and it takes a powerful instrument to cut through meat and bone. To cleave implies a union that is powerful.

The Hebrew word used here not only of marriage, but also of the union between us and God. It is a technical term for the Covenant, especially how we are to cling to the God who saved us. Deuternomy 11:22-23

This uniting in a covenant is illustrated by the terms of the Covenant itself.

The word "covenant" in Hebrew means to rip or tear. The way in which a covenant was established in the Old Testament was in cutting in two an animal and walking in between the severed halves, thus making a very solemn oath, saying: "May I be cut in two if I do not obey." To cut a covenant focuses on the negative implications of disobedience, united on the positive.

I’ve suggested to couples wanting to get married about incorporating butchered animals, but they all opt for the rings. Yet, there lingers in the marriage ceremony today this covenantal element. Rather than the split animal, having the two sides of the family, sitting on opposite sides, behind the one they are related to, is a form of this. It is saying to the bride and groom: "We’re watching you!"

This uniting in a covenant is one born out of a decision, the will. To unite is a choice. When it comes to marriage, that seems to go without saying. Nobody marries contrary to their own choice. Yet in so many marriages that fail, the reasons given are much more emotional than volitional. The problem is, we don’t understand the nature of love in light of the Covenant.

We will look at this more when we discuss the love commanded of husbands toward their wives, but suffice it for now, the union described here is one based on love that is other-centered, not self-centered. For so many people, love is measured by what you receive from the other, biblical love, however, is seen in what we give.

The trouble we all face with this kind of love is the pain we often feel. The reason we do not want to unite, to make a covenant, a binding agreement with another is that we will get hurt in the end.

CS Lewis wrote: "Love anything and your heart will certainly be wronged and probably broken. But if you don’t want your heart to be broken, don’t love another, lock up your heart in a casket of selfishness, don’t make yourself vulnerable to anyone. But in that casket, dark and motionless, it will change. Your heart will never be broken, it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable. The only place safe from the tragedy is Hell where nobody gives their heart to anybody.

Biblical love is action oriented. It is not a feeling. In our modern world, love is a ditch; you fall into it; it is a virus; you catch it. But that love is an action, a choice and not a feeling is seen in how we are commanded to not only love our spouse, but to love our enemy. Let’s face it at times the lines of demarcation are rather blurred. But to love your enemy is not about feeling, it is about serving. It is to take a risk and put their needs before your own.

But such a step is frightening for many to take. It is no surprise, though, that as we define love on feeling rather than action, on getting rather than giving, that the idea of a marriage covenant falls by the wayside.

According to the US census, the number of couples living together without a covenant, without a public declaration of their intent to serve one another, has increased tenfold in the last 30 years. But while some see this as a trial marriage, 40% of those who live together never marry and those that do eventually marry have a 50% higher rate of divorce as opposed to those couples who do not live together first, according to the University of Wisconsin's National Survey of Families and Households. Thus, out of 100 cohabiting couples, 40 break up before the wedding, but of the 60 who do marry, 45 will divorce within ten years. That leaves only 15 intact couples after a decade.

The problem is not just for those who refuse to be united in marriage, but for those who take it far to lightly. An example would be Glynn Wolfe, who recently died alone in Los Angeles at the age of 88.

No one came to claim his body; the city paid to have him buried in an unmarked grave. This is sad, but not unusual. It happens all too often in large cities where people tend to live disenfranchised lives. Glynn's situation was unique, though, because he was no ordinary man. He held a world record. The Guinness Book listed him as the Most Married Man, with 29 marriages to his credit. This means 29 times he was asked, "Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife... forsaking all others do you pledge yourself only to her, so long as you both shall live?" 29 times Glynn Wolf said, "I do," but it never quite worked out that way.

He died leaving behind children, grand-children, great grand-children, a number of living ex-wives, and innumerable ex-in-laws--and still, he died alone. He spent his entire adult life looking for something he apparently never found--and he died alone. Glynn Wolf is an extreme example of how people spend their lives drifting in and out of marriages, in and out of relationships, only to find themselves isolated and alone. Even worse, there are others who spend their lives married to the same person and still end up feeling isolated and alone.

Marriage is Complementary in structure - verse 31c "...and the two will become one flesh."

This is an important aspect in understanding the nature of marriage and how the relationship is structured. Paul, in quoting from Genesis 2, draws together the idea of one flesh, one body. Once we understand this, the commands in the opening verses of Ephesians 5 become more understandable. The head-body picture is not one of superiority, but of unity. We’ll look at that another Sunday.

Pragmatic Americans want to know how marriage works, they want to know who does what and when. We don’t have time for the "why.’

This is where we most often fail, in grappling with the idea of an organic unity in marriage. Our culture plays up the fact that men are from Mars and women are from Venus; we emphasize the differences without recognizing the that it is those differences which are designed to fit together into a whole which is greater than its parts.

When God pronounced that there was not a suitable helper for Adam, what is meant that there was no one who corresponded to him. In the formation of Eve, taking from Adam and returning to Adam, we see the complementary function in marriage. There is not an equivalence but there is an equality. Our differences do go beyond gender.

What is the goal of marriage here - oneness.

The union which is celebrated in marriage is a oneness that can best be described as a completion. This completion is not just physical, not just sexual, although it is celebrated in that context. It is what we can best describe as simply: friendship.

Friendship makes marriage a success. Despite what therapists and others have said about learning communication skills and conflict solving, these are not the keys to a successful marriage according to a landmark study just released. A University of Washington study says the key to a lasting marriage is a simple concept with a profound impact: friendship. "Couples who last, know each other intimately -- they are well versed in each other's likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness in big and little ways, day in and day out." (Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman USA TODAY 4-27-99)

The oneness of marriage, the one body image comes only when parents are left, when commitment is made. The reason Scripture is adamant about no sex out side of marriage is that in order to become so vulnerable to another, there is an emotional, spiritual vulnerability which must take place. You can’t have one without the other. You don’t get naked physically until you are naked spiritually and socially before them. Until you have bound yourself to another you have not become vulnerable to them. You haven’t stripped, become emotionally naked before them. Are you willing to be that vulnerable before them?

Marriage is Cross-centered - verse 32 "This is a profound mystery..."

Paul then summarizes his discussion on marriage that this is a profound mystery. This verse helps understand the whole, but at first it seems like Paul throws his hands in the air, unable to make heads or tails out of it all. But we need to remember that the word mystery is not used in that way here.

Mystery here does not mean it is too hard to figure out. Rather, the way it is used throughout this letter is understand that with the coming of Christ that which could not be understood has not been understood. Christ serves as the means of elucidating marriage. Marriage is explained more fully by Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Marriage is a crystal goblet which refracts the beam of the glorious life in heaven.

We will come back to this. But it is important we see the interchangeable nature of marriage and our union with Christ. Only as we allow that truth to settle into our bones will we begin to see marriage differently.

How we live out our marriages says much about how we view our connection to Christ. The oneness between the Church and Christ is lived out each day in our homes. This raises a question: how are we doing? Probably not very well. But the good news is that our Father has provided for us the means to live not only with our spouse, but with one another in the Church. Verse 29 tells us that Christ feeds and nourishes the Church and He does so here at this table.

As we come to the table at this time, we need to see that perfect love the Son had for us, the complete union which we have because of His commitment. In Christ, we have the Son who left His Father, the perfect and unbreakable union between He, our head and us, His bride. The oneness we have now means that we will forever be His body.

Sermon Notes