Marriage and Church

Ephesians 5:28-33


Audio Version

Brian Peterson, in the October 1994 edition of the magazine New Man, says this: “Divorced couples in Albuquerque, New Mexico, can take advantage of a new business in town. The company is called Freedom Rings: Jewelry for the Divorced. Founded by jeweler and divorcee Lynn Peters, the company makes custom jewelry out of wedding rings. Each customer at Freedom Rings pays a fee, and the ring-smashing ceremony begins–complete with champagne and music. Just before the smashing the M.C. says, “We will now release any remaining ties to your past by transforming your ring–which represents the past–into a token of your new beginning. Now take the hammer. Stop for a moment to consider the transformation that is about to begin your new life. Ready? With this swing let freedom ring!” She then uses a four-pound sledgehammer to whack her emblem of love and fidelity into a shapeless piece of metal. And the ceremony ends. The fact that women are pounding their wedding rings into pendants and men are grinding theirs into golf ball markers doesn’t surprise me. We’ve all heard the divorce statistics. But let’s focus on the women for a moment: How many American women stop short of divorce, but would love to make a clean break from their marriage if it were convenient? How many Christian women feel the same way?” Why do they often feel this way? Last week we saw that men are the heads of the household, and are therefore ultimately responsible for the direction that the marriage takes. It is not as if women do not contribute to that direction. But if the marriage goes in a bad direction, the husband is ultimately responsible. I think that one reason that explains why a lot of women want to get out of their relationship is that the husband has not truly loved his wife as he loves himself. Instead, he loves himself more than his wife. Oftentimes, men are selfish. I know that I am guilty of this sin quite often, and so I am certainly preaching to myself today, even as I hope there is something for everyone.

The first part of this passage, consisting of verses 28-31 tells us something about husbands cherishing their wives. We have two examples laid out for us. The first is a husband’s own self-interest. Husbands, how well do you take care of yourself? You should do at least that well in caring for your wife. How much do you want food when you’re hungry? We should be at least that eager to tend to our wives’ emotional needs. In other words, husbands, we nourish and cherish ourselves. That is a measure, an example for how we are to love our wives. How eager are we to buy something for ourselves? We should be that eager to buy something for our wives. Do we want time to go do something we like? Then we should make time to go do something our wives want to do. This should be voluntary, and not in a grudging manner. We should not be selfish. Therein lies Paul’s genius. He uses our own selfishness to take any excuse for not loving our wives. Notice that Paul goes on to say that husband and wife are one flesh. So, selfishness is really a contradiction to marriage. How can one be selfish when husband and wife are one flesh? It makes no sense. So, the first example of how husbands are to love their wives is the example of how husbands take care of themselves.

The second example for husbands is that of Christ Himself. Christ nourishes and cherishes His Bride, the church. How does Christ do that? Well, He gave us the Word. From that manna we are to eat every day. But He also gives us the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. In that Sacrament He feeds us out of His fullness. Christ Himself is our food in this sense. It is a spiritual sense. The Holy Spirit is present in us, providing us with intimate fellowship with Christ.

Verse 30 tells us why Jesus is so keen on feeding us. We are His body. John Calvin once said that it is one of the highest honors that Christ has ever bestowed upon the church that He does not reckon Himself complete without His church. Of course, Jesus doesn’t need us. But He acts as though He does need us. So, if we are the members of His body, and He is the Head, then he feeds and cares for us. Dan Bernard once said, “Remember putting your face above a headless frame painted to represent a muscle man or a clown? Many of us have had our pictures taken this way, and the photos are humorous because the head doesn’t fit the body. If we could picture Christ as the head of our local body of believers, would the world laugh at the misfit? Or would they stand in awe of a human body so closely related to a divine head?” Let me put it this way: if you were an arm or a leg, would you like it if the body decided that your body tissue really didn’t need to be fed anymore? Wouldn’t you feel useless, like dead weight in the body of Christ? You need to keep your blood vessels open, your nerves going, your muscles exercised. In other words, you need to be connected to the body of Christ, feeding on what the entire body eats. When your body receives some nourishment, the blood vessels take those nutrients everywhere they need to be. But an arm the decides to cut itself off from the rest of the body will not receive that nutrition. Most importantly, the body without the Head is completely dead. Oftentimes, however, the church does not fit the Head. Some doctrinal or practical problem is in the way. How do we, as a church fit our Head, Jesus Christ? This is a very important question that I challenge us all to ask this week. How well does our church fit our Head, Jesus Christ?

Paul finishes this important instruction by telling us about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and what the ultimate significance of that marriage was. The ultimate significance of marriage is that it is (or should be!) a picture of Christ’s relationship to His church. Paul tells us that it is not easy. He says that the mystery is profound. However, by the word “mystery” here, Paul is not telling us that it is mysterious. The word “mystery” means something that was before concealed, but is now revealed. When God created Adam and Eve, He did not reveal just exactly what that marriage was going to mean later on. We see glimmerings here and there. However, the full light of it is not found until the New Testament. Have you ever wondered why it is that Jesus never married during His lifetime? The reason is that He is married to His Bride, the church! Of course, Israel was the church in the Old Testament. So Jesus was not “available” when He was alive to any other woman except the church only. That fact is what Paul is explaining here.

One final thing that we need to see out of this text. Loving our spouse is an example of what the second table of the law is all about. You will remember that the first table of the law consists of the first four commandments, which can be summarized as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.” The second table of the law is that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our spouses are, in a sense, our neighbors. Oftentimes we forget. We think that our spouses do not need to come into the picture when it comes to the law. However, the seventh commandment is all about marriage. We are not only to avoid those things that tend towards disharmony in marriage, but we are actively to pursue those things that help our marriages become stronger. And by “our marriages” I mean both our marriages: our marriages with our spouses, and our marriage with Jesus Christ, as we are the church. So, in reality, marriage is a picture of the entire law: as we are married to Christ, we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. As we are married to our spouses, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Obviously, then, this passage does not apply only to husbands, for those of us who are married to Christ include men and women. That is why Paul ends the chapter the way he does. Like any good teacher, he summarizes what he just said: husbands are to love their wives, and wives are to respect their husbands. We want to put out of business those jewelry experts who bang wedding rings into something unrecognizable. We want to see divorce disappear. Then we need to heed what Paul says here.

One last thing is vital: this passage shows us just how much Christ loves us. He loved us as He loved Himself, even going to the cross to save us. If some of us are not married to Christ, then we need to look at Christ’s love. What Bridegroom could we love more than Christ? His love is so amazing, so divine, that it demands our souls, our lives, our all.

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