June 8, 2010 David Balzer

Ephesians 5:22-33: The Mystery of Marriage

The MYSTERY of marriage. That’s the title of the talk today. Some people might think it’s about the mystery of men and women UNDERSTANDING each other. The book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus tries to unravel some of that mystery. The idea is that men and women are SO different, it’s like they’re from different planets. (pic)

And it’s TRUE. As a GENERAL rule, Men and Women think and react very differently (pic).

We’re WIRED differently. (pic)

Men analyse, women feel.

Men do, women talk.

We think about each other differently. (pic)

We even SHOP differently. (pic)

In the beginning

In fact, I believe God’s CREATED men and women that way. Back in Gen 2. In the beginning. Adam’s on his own, busy naming all the animals. But God says it’s not GOOD for man to be alone. There’s NO SUITABLE HELPER. And the word for “suitable” is about someone who COMPLEMENTS the man. Perhaps even a counterpart or opposite. Who fills out what he’s missing. Is GOOD at what he’s NOT. Someone who COMPLETES the partnership.

And so God makes WOMAN. To COMPLETE the man.

And just in case you think the idea of “helper” is a second-class sort of citizen to the man, think again. The word is nearly ALWAYS used to describe what GOD does for his people. Like Ps 33:20

20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is OUR HELP and our shield.

So we see that right from the beginning men and women are CREATED differently. God’s got a PLAN in making us different. So it makes sense that until we begin to understand each other, marriage really WILL be a mystery.

And the last three Thursday nights/ at The Marriage Course, we’ve been learning about understanding our spouse better. Learning to UNRAVEL THE MYSTERY. Learning to listen, to communicate. How to understand our differences. Learning how to USE the differences. How to make the PARTNERSHIP something GREATER than the sum of the parts. The way God intended.

But I’m not talking about THAT sort of mystery.

Christ and the church

Instead I’m talking about the mystery of marriage we just read about in Eph 5. Did you notice it there in v32? Towards the end of the passage we just read?

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.

In some way that we’ll get to in a few minutes, husband and wife can be so close, so united, that they’re like ONE FLESH. Two become ONE. That’s a mystery worth investigating.

But not only that: even MORE importantly. The relationship between husband and wife is simply A PICTURE of the sort of relationship Jesus has with his people. The one-ness of marriage reflects the ONE-NESS, the connection, that’s now available between Christ and the church. We’re JOINED to Christ when we trust him. Joined to his victory in life. Victory over sin and .

That’s the mystery.

And that connection. That way of relating day-to-day. Is reflected in the marriage relationship. It’s BASED on it. Takes its CUE from it. And that’s an even GREATER mystery.

Not MYSTERY in the sense of throwing your hands up in the air that it’s too hard. A puzzle that’s tricky to solve. But mystery in the way THE BIBLE uses the word. In the sense of something NOW BEING REVEALED and made obvious that USED TO be hidden.

It’s the relationship between Jesus and his saved people that’s the ORIGINAL. The REALITY. The mould. And marriage is a picture. A parable, A copy of that fundamental connection.

And it’s that mystery that Paul’s REVEALING. As he tells people like the Ephesians about Jesus and how he lives with and in his people. And as he talks about how husbands and wives are to their behaviour on this intimate connection Christ has with his church.

And that’s an important point to remember when it comes to the controversial idea that’s at the start of the passage. “Wives SUBMIT to your husbands.”

Submission and headship

God’s DESIGNED the differences between men and women. He’s designed the pattern of marriage to REFLECT the relationship between the church and Jesus. Let’s read on a bit from v22.

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

The roles of husband and wife in marriage are not arbitrarily assigned. And they’re not REVERSIBLE. And they’re not OPTIONAL. To second-guess God, or to try to IMPROVE on God’s design is to OBSCURE his purpose for marriage. It settles for SECOND BEST. A “LESS THAN COMPLETE” version of the best that God intends.

Which is no different from ANY area of life. Obedience to God’s plans ALWAYS insures life that’s ULTIMATE. That’s according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Whether it’s marriage, or work, or friendships, or study, or money.

And the roles of submission and headship are God’s design for a marriage. And the great mystery that’s being revealed is that they’re roles that are, somehow, rooted in the distinctive roles of Christ and his church.

When we think about marriages, God wants it to say something about his Son and his church. He’s saying (v24), “Wives, find your distinctive role as a wife in COPYING the way the church relates to Christ”.

Then to husbands “Find your distinctive role as a husband in COPYING the way Christ relates to the church. First, v23: 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.

And again in verse 25: Husbands, love your wives, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH and gave himself up for her

The story of Gen 2 is that God made marriages THAT WAY TO BEGIN WITH. Eve the SUITABLE HELPER for Adam. Filling in the gaps, underneath the headship of Adam.

But then in Gen 3, when sin entered the world. When Eve listened to the animal instead of ruling over it. And Adam followed his wife, rather than following God. The whole original design for marriage, for CREATION, was turned on its head. And since that time the consequences of sin are seen in upside down distortions of marriage.

Sin ruined marriage NOT because it brought headship and submission into existence, but because it TWISTED God’s design of headship and submission.

Man’s humble, loving, serving headship became hostile domination in some men / and lazy indifference (following) in others.

Some husbands spend too much time focusing on DEMANDING THEIR RIGHTS. And too little time concerned with FULFILLING THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES. Too much time feeling sorry for themselves. And too little time looking to meet the needs of their family.

Too much time selfishly boosting their ego at work, with the excuse they’re providing for their family. And too little time on the gentle nurturing and support of their kids. Too much time on the active pursuit of THEIR hobbies, sports, and escapes, and too little time on the active discipline and rearing of their kids, or in spiritual leadership of the family.

And sin twisted woman’s intelligent, willing submission into manipulative flattery in some women/ and brazen insubordination in others.

Some wives spend too much time criticizing their husbands, even just in thought. And too little time looking for the positives, the commendable. Too much thought spent on how to get around her husband to achieve what she wants instead, and too little thought on how to change her attitude to be content where God’s put her.

Too much emotion wrapped up in nurturing the kids, in satisfying her emotional needs in raising the family, rather than doing the hard work of communicating needs, of listening, of submitting to their husband. Of looking for those needs in the beautiful way God’s designed: a godly husband leading a godly wife connected as one flesh.

Sin didn’t CREATE headship and submission; it ruined them and distorted them and made them ugly and destructive.

(pause) Now if this is true, and there are hints of these attitudes in EACH of us. Then we should expect that with the coming of Jesus he’s going to REDEEM things. Fix things up. We should anticipate that he’s not going to bring a DISMANTLING of the original, created order of loving headship and willing submission. Instead he’s going to RECOVER it.

And that’s just what we find in Ephesians 5:21–33. Wives, let your fallen submission be redeemed by ING it after God’s intention for the church as she serves Jesus! Husbands, let your fallen headship be redeemed by ING it after God’s intention for Christ as he sacrificially serves the church!

What that means is that headship is not a RIGHT TO COMMAND AND CONTROL. That’s FALLEN headship. And submission is not slavish or coerced or cowering. That’s not the way Christ wants the church to respond to his leadership.

Christ has REDEEMED you from that. He’s redeemed your marriage. He’s given you the power to be putting it back together. To make progress in restoring it in the direction of his original intention.

Husbands, he’s redeemed you to love your wives like Christ: to lay down your life for your wife in servant leadership. That’s your RESPONSIBILITY.

And wives, Christ has redeemed you so that you can offer your submission to your husband that’s free and willing and glad and refining and strengthening. That’s YOUR responsibility.


But you might be thinking, hang on a minute, Dave. That might be easy for SOME marriages. But you don’t know my husband. He ALWAYS gets it wrong. He’s lazy, he doesn’t lead. He’s selfish. Surely God doesn’t expect me to submit to a man like that!

Or perhaps you think “You don’t know my wife” There’s no affection, it’s just orders. No complements, just criticism. Surely God doesn’t expect me to love her like Christ. That’s not possible!

And so it’s easy to add CONDITIONS to God’s COMMANDS. Sub-clauses. “If God just changed my SPOUSE, that would make it easier for me to do MY bit. If he can just lead a bit BETTER, or do things MY way, then I’ll submit. If she can just be a bit more lovable, then it’ll be easier for me to LOVE her.

I’ll change, as long as she changes FIRST!

But that’s not the way marriage works. It’s not the way the Christian LIFE works. The Bible talks very little about RIGHTS. And a whole lot about RESPONSIBILITIES. And it’s no different here. It’s about RESPONSIBILITIES, NOT RIGHTS. It doesn’t say. “Wives, you have the right to be loved like Christ. If you don’t get it, stand up for it.”

And it doesn’t say, “Husbands, you have the right to have your wife submit to you. If she doesn’t OFFER it, DEMAND it. Enforce it.”

CHOOSE to do it. Independent of what your partner does. Choose it not necessarily because your husband or wife DESERVES it. But because you’re serving Christ. The whole section is introduced with that idea. Eph 5:21 Submit to one another OUT OF REVERENCE FOR CHRIST. Wives submit to husbands AS TO THE LORD. Husbands submit in the way Christ submitted to the church. In giving himself UP for her. Sacrificial leadership.

If Christ had waited until we DESERVED his sacrificial leadership, it would never have happened. If you’ve been SHOWN grace, then SHOW it.

Responsibilities, not rights. God’s speaking to husbands about husbands. And to wives about wives. That might seem obvious, but what it means is that you have a duty to CHANGE YOURSELF FIRST. That’s all you’re responsible for. You can’t MAKE anyone else do ANYTHING. That’s GOD’s job to change people. YOUR job is simply to change YOURSELF.

A 60 year-old was celebrating 40 years of marriage. During the celebration an angel appeared! “Because you’ve been such a loving all those years, I’d like to give you each one wish.” The wife quickly chimed in, “I want to travel around the world.” The next moment she had the tickets in her hand.

Then 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 angel, without a moment’s hesitation, waved his hand in the ’s direction, and, POOF! The husband was 90!

God’s design for marriage/ is you work on CHANGING YOURSELF, not the other person. 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.

Someone’s summarized the differences in men and women when it comes to marriage:

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.

The problem of submitting?

The idea of submission has got a bad reputation out there in the world. Non-Christians reckon it makes Christians look out-of-date, chauvinistic, patriarchal, repressive. And there’s plenty of Christians who AGREE.

But I don’t think it’s understanding the idea PROPERLY. I reckon, if we understand it properly, most Christian women wouldn’t have a problem submitting to a husband leading like Christ leads the church.

Who has the harder job? Wives, who are to submit to the husbands as the church submits to Christ? Or husbands who are to LOVINGLY LEAD their wives, as Christ sacrificially loved the church?

I honestly think it’s not that most Christian women have a problem submitting, but that Most Christian men have a problem leading. Taking the spiritual lead.

Men, YOU set the example about what’s important. If getting your family to church MATTERS / then take the lead in that. Don’t sit back and read the paper, while your wife dresses the kids. That’s not leading.

Does it matter that your family prays together. Don’t wait until they ASK for you to pray. Set the example. Drag the Bible out even when they groan. Say grace in restaurants even when your kids say you’re embarrassing them.

Does it MATTER that your family supports the missionary, or gives a generous amount to Christian ministry? Show some leadership by working out how to fit it into the budget. Work out what YOU can do without.

Put yourself LAST. Serve your family as a leader. Do without so they can have the things that matter most. Give up what YOU want to do with your time because you can help your family to achieve THEIR potential. Be willing to be seen as weak,

That’s leading your family, like Christ leads his church. Leadership like that your wife will have NO TROUBLE submitting to.


And one final word about ONE-ness.

Does this all seem too hard? Beyond your ability to change? Too many bridges burned? Too many words you regret? Will it take too much swallowed pride to fix? Does it just seem easier to put up with a grey, make-do marriage? Continue to sweep conflicts under the rug? Easier than rocking the boat, and making some tough decisions?

God’s design for husbands and wives is to become ONE FLESH. Two becoming ONE. A picture of the ONE-NESS Christ has with the church.

It’s that ONE-NESS that’s the KEY. Christ LIVES IN YOU. His Spirit has made you a new person. He has the power to change you. Change your attitudes, and desires, and priorities. Change YOUR MARRIAGE.

It’s that ONE-NESS between Christ and you that’s all the way through this letter of Ephesians. Back in ch 4. The church is CALLED THE BODY OF CHRIST.

And then, down in v15. The PURPOSE of church.

15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Growing into Christ. That’s where strength to change our marriages comes from. Becoming ONE with Christ enables us to become ONE with our partners, and better reflect that one-ness between Christ and the church.

Or jump ahead to Ch 5 v18. Same idea of one-ness again.

18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,

Allow the Spirit of Christ to live in you. To become ONE with you. As you listen and obey and follow his lead. Welcome and foster the Spirit in you.

Or again, jump over today’s passage to Ch 6 v10. The armour of God. Put on the armour that comes when Christ lives in you. Use his arsenal in the battles you face. All available because you’re ONE with Christ.

That’s the profound mystery that makes it possible for us to live as married who are ONE FLESH. Serving and leading as God intended.

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