Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s tough to find anything worth watching on TV nowadays. Most of the time, Anna and I just keep the TV off, but every now and again, we’ll stumble upon a show worth watching. We recently found a comedy that we like, that’s not wildly inappropriate, and that’s actually doing some pretty creative things. One of the reasons I like it is that aside from the normal jokes in an episode, they’ll also set up a bunch of jokes that you don’t get the punchline for right away. Instead, they’ll save the punchline for four or five episodes down the road, or even a season or two later.
As creative as this is in today’s world of television, it’s pretty old-hat when it comes to the Bible. In today’s reading from Ephesians, Paul gets to deliver a punchline that’s been in the works for thousands of years. “ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” What is marriage all about? Why do we have it? What is it supposed to look like? What can we do with it? What can’t we do with it? What’s the point? It’s been around since day 6, so you’d think we’d have figured it all out by now. But no, we need the constant reminder of not only what our marriages are supposed to look like, but also why they’re supposed to be that way.
Paul takes us back to the book of Genesis to remind us of the setup. God has almost finished His work of creation and has placed Adam in the Garden of Eden. Before any of the other work could get started, before the day was to end, God had one goal in mind: to find Adam a partner, a “helper fit for him.” But after going through literally all of creation, they were left empty-handed. “There was not found a helper fit for him.” So—you know the story—God causes a deep sleep to come on Adam, does some quick surgery, takes a rib, and uses that rib to form Eve. And the first words out of Adam’s mouth are a poetic song in praise of his wife, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” And then, we get this comment, added into the story by Moses at God’s command, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
And that’s all we get. That’s marriage. Does that answer all your questions? It may answer some, but we’ve definitely got a long way to go. In fact, they had a long way to go in the Bible too. Not only didn’t they know the big picture, even what they did know, they ignored.
Just a few generations down the road, we hear about marriage gone wrong. One of Cain’s descendants, a man named Lamech, takes two wives. That statement is presented pretty neutrally in the text, but hear what Lamech has to say to his wives, and you’ll pretty quickly be able to guess whether it’s a good or a bad thing, “hear my voice, you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain's revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech's is seventy-sevenfold.” The twisting of marriage is tied to violence, anger, pride, and even murder. But it still doesn’t answer our questions.
Even the major figures in the Old Testament don’t seem to help us out all that much. Abraham sleeps with his wife’s servant, and even goes around telling people his wife is just his sister. Jacob, his grandson, does the exact same thing, but doubles it. He has two wives and sleeps with both of their servants. King David sleeps with another man’s wife and ends up murdering the guy to try to get away with it. King Solomon is pictured as the worst of the worst in this regard. He ends up marrying 1,000 women, with 700 of them just for political purposes. Marriage is not about sleeping with as many people as possible. Marriage is not about lording your status over one another. Marriage is about Christ. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
Before you start feeling too sorry about the people in the Old Testament not getting it, you have to remember—they had lots of hints along the way. The sixth commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” should have been a clue. Solomon should have listened to his own words in the Song of Solomon, where he describes the rightful, loving relationship between a husband and wife. Maybe listen to the prophets Hosea, Isaiah, or Ezekiel, who each use the language of marriage to point us to God’s love for His people.
Marriage is not about you. Marriage is about Christ. You’re in on it, you play a role in it, but it’s still not about you. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. He sanctified her, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word. He presented the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, so that she would be holy and without blemish. Christ nourishes and cherishes us, the church, because we are members of his body.” Christ suffered all, even death, rather than to give up His Bride, the Church. Jesus gave all that He had so that we, His Bride, might be made clean and whole and presentable. And so we follow Him. He is the head and Savior of the Church, and we submit to Him. If the Church stopped submitting to Christ, it would no longer be the Church. And in fact, we’re seeing that happening before our eyes in people and entire denominations falling away from Him. Marriage is about Christ.
This means that we all have work to do, first and foremost as Christians. Whether you are married or not, if you are a member of the Church, you are with the rest of us, married to Christ. So submit to Him. Follow where He leads. Listen to what He has to say. This means reading your Bibles, doing devotions, coming to Church, sticking around for Bible Study, living out your faith not just on Sunday morning, but each and every day of the week. It means going to work and glorifying God by being the best teacher, the best engineer, the best farmer, the best stay-at-home parent you can be. In all things, we submit to Christ because He knows best and He is our Leader, our Savior, our Lover, our Lord.
This also means that for those of you who are married, you’d better step up your game. I know I need to. Husbands, you’re supposed to treat your wife like Christ does the Church. You’re meant to love her more than yourself. You’re meant to sacrifice your own comfort, your own convenience, your own pleasure so that she is cared for. You’re meant to even die to take care of her. It’s not that she’s weak or can’t take care of herself, but that you have a role to play. You are called to love her as Christ loves the Church. Mourn with her; celebrate with her; weep with her; laugh with her, even when you don’t feel like it.
Wives, you’ve actually got what, in many ways, is the easier role to play. But it’s still going to take some work. Submit to your husband. Don’t listen to what the world tells you that word means, listen to Scripture. It doesn’t mean you have to stay at home all day, fuss around in the kitchen, and fetch your husband’s pipe and slippers. Instead, it means that in the sight of God, your husband will be held responsible for the choices you make as a family. Give all the input you want, talk about things together, make the choices you think is best. But know that the weight is on your husband’s shoulders. So care for him. Respect him. Support and help him in any and every way you can, just as the Church does for Christ.
Because we’re not done with marriage. The rest of the world might treat marriage as a joke, but Paul calls it something else. Marriage is a profound mystery. It was there before humanity’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden. It’s survived every assault and attack to this day. And when John saw a vision of the end of the world, it was of a marriage:
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
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;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure’—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb… These are the true words of God.’ ”
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell