7th Sunday after Pentecost July 28, 2019

On Christian Marriage

The “S” Word

Ephesians 5:21-33

Scripture Readings

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
1 Peter 3:1-9


10, 473, 625, 52

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (NIV)

If you take a look at the top of your written copy of this sermon you will notice that the theme of today’s sermon is The “S” Word. After listening to our sermon text can you guess what that “S” word is? (No it’s not that “S” word!) The “S” Word that is the focus of our study of this text this morning is the word Submit. To our society, and to the ears of our own sinful flesh, this word “submit” might as well be a “four letter word,” a foul “cuss word” that makes people shake their head in shame! By nature we don’t like to hear this word, and we certainly don’t like to do it! However, Paul begins this section of Ephesians with this general directive to all Christians: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)

What exactly does Paul mean when he tells us to do this? Well, to submit means to willingly subject yourself and your will under someone else. This is, of course, something that we don’t often like to do willingly. But look again at that first verse of our text and notice what is the reason, the motivation for “submitting to one another”? It is “out of reverence (respect, honor) for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21) As in all aspects of life, it is this Gospel message, the salvation of our souls through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, that is the basis and the motivating force behind our willingness and ability to “submit to one another” properly. Jesus Christ and His great love for us is what inspires our love for Him and others. After stating this general principle, Paul then goes into specifics as to whom and how we are to “submit to one another.”

The first group Paul gives instructions to is Husbands and Wives. If you were to read on into the next chapter of Ephesians (6:1-9) you would see that God, through the Apostle Paul, goes on to give instructions to parents and children and to masters and their servants. Today, however, we’ll be focusing on God’s Words to husbands and wives.

In order for a marriage to function properly, both husbands and wives must understand their roles of submission properly. Wait a minute? Did pastor just say that they are supposed to understand their roles of submission? I thought God only tells wives to submit to their husbands. Remember Paul’s over-all directive to all Christians? Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21) This is not to say that husbands and wives have not been given different roles. They have. It’s been said that a marriage is a “team.” That is true, and like every team each “player” has a role, each role is important, and each player must execute their role properly if the team is going to do well.

For example, a pitcher and a catcher in baseball have very important, but different roles. The catcher is the one who calls the pitches, but the pitcher is the one who throws the pitch (fastball, curveball, change-up, etc.), the catcher is the one who catches the pitch. The pitcher can “shake-off” the catcher’s sign sometimes and occasionally there needs to be a conference at the mound to make sure both the pitcher and catcher are on the same page as to what is the best thing to do in a particular situation.

It is a matter of assigned roles, a designed order of things. That is the essence of “teamwork.” Husbands and wives have been given different assigned roles by God. God has called husbands to the role of “headship” (leadership) and wives to the role of “helper.” But both husbands and wives are called upon to be mutually submissive—in different ways—but both “out of reverence for Christ.”

Being “submissive” also does not imply inferiority. The Bible tells us that Jesus willingly “submitted” Himself to His Father’s will (Luke 22:42) and willingly made Himself subject to His own creation (Philippians 2:5-8) in order to live & die to save us all. Obviously there is no inferiority on the part of Christ—not to His Father, and certainly not to His creation! Yet He willingly “submitted” Himself.

In our text Paul speaks to wives first. “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22-24) The unmistakable message here—no matter what society or the prevailing minds of our culture say, no matter what our own minds might think—is that wives are to be submissive to their husbands—willingly, whole-heartedly, and joyfully—even as they submit themselves to the Lord. Their submission is to be a submission of trust. They submit their will and desires to their husbands, and to the Lord, trusting that God will bless their willing submission to His will—and trusting that God will also move the heart of her husband to fulfill His role properly as well.

Although Paul wrote these words specifically for wives, every man in this church this morning—husband or not—must pay close attention and come to a full understanding of the kind of trust the woman is called upon to have in marriage. Her submission of trust leaves her in a very vulnerable position. By willingly submitting herself and her will to her husband, she is placing herself and her well-being in his hands. As shameful as it is that our society has by-and-large blatantly opposed Christ’s directive to wives, it is just as shameful and un-manly for men to try and turn these instructions to wives into their instructions to make their wives submit to them.

Husbands, and prospective husbands, now listen to Christ’s instructions to you through Paul. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:25,28) The type of submission that Christ is calling husbands to in this verse is a submission of love. Men, your example and motivation for fulfilling this submission is Christ Himself! His love is an unconditional, self-sacrificing, one-way love that was so deep and so committed that He willingly gave up His life for us—and He did so in the most humiliating and painful way possible: On that horrible, yet wonderful, cross on Good Friday. His love is in no way tyrannical, abusive, or self-serving.

Husbands, stop for a moment and examine your marriage. Do you find in your past days and years together that you have perfectly embodied this type of love for your wife? Maybe this is the first time in a while that you’ve taken the time to stop and think about what Christ has called you to do for her, instead of focusing on her short-comings. He calls you to have a love that is unconditional, a love of your will, not just of your emotions.

Just so it doesn’t sound like we’re picking on husbands here this morning, wives stop and ask yourselves the same question: “Have I been fulfilling my God-given role in the marriage by submitting myself to my husband and honoring, respecting, and obeying him as the head of my household?” You see, one key to fulfilling your role as husband or wife is to focus on fulfilling your role in the marriage. What can I do to show my respect and submission to my husband better? What can I do to show my love and care for my wife better? When both parties focus on fulfilling their own roles, then the marriage works like the unit it was intended to be: two becoming one, both persons needs being met, and selfishness being eliminated! This is all done with the full knowledge that our submission of trust and our submission of love are done out of submission, love, and trust in Christ Jesus our Savior.

Keep in mind, above all, no matter what our own opinions may be, no matter what our own experience may tell us (whether good or bad—or none at all!), these are the words of our Lord Himself. He knows men and women better than anyone, because He created them (Genesis 1:27)! He knows marriage better than anyone, because He instituted it (Genesis 2:24)! He has given us His instructions this morning because He loves us, and wants our marriages, our relationships, and every aspect of our lives to be blessed by following His perfect plan—His plan of submission. May He give each one of us willing hearts and willing spirits to “submit” ourselves first to Him, and then “to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Amen.

—Pastor Luke Bernthal

St. Stephen Lutheran Church
Mt. View and Hayward, CA

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