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The Mystery of Submission August 23, 2015

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Ephesians 5:22-33

Proper 16

August 23, 2015

 

Focus:  God gave us a Groom, that is, Christ.

Function:  That the hearers submit themselves to the love of Christ.

Structure:  This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel…these are the implications.

 

The Mystery of Submission

 

I want to begin today by calling out all of you Packer fans.  You’ve had a good run, but it’s a new season, and I want to see some respect.  So this season, when the Packers play the Vikings, out of respect for your brothers and sisters in Christ here at St. John’s, I want you to wear purple to church, and if you win, which isn’t too likely, don’t rub it in.

Now all you Vikings fans, I know it’s been a tough few years, but it’s a new season.  To show that you’re good sports about all this, when the Vikings take on the Packers this season, I want you to find a Packer family here at church, and have them over to your house where you’ll eat lunch together and watch the game.  And don’t make fun of them for the silly yellow triangles on their heads, or whenever you see another State Farm discount double check commercial.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on with the sermon.  Ephesians 5.  Admittedly, I love this text.  And part of that is because it ruffles feathers.  This text, more than most, turns people off.

Singles tune it out as soon as Paul begins because he’s just talking about marriage again, and that has nothing to do with them.  Women tune it out because Paul tells them right at the start to submit.  And modern, civilized, egalitarian American ladies want nothing to do with that.  And men either tune out as soon as Paul’s done addressing the women, or once they realize what’s being asked of them.

This is a tough text.  This is a counter-cultural text as much today as it was 2000 years ago.  This text makes us uncomfortable.

So let me tell you why you should still be paying attention.  We have a diverse family here at St. John’s.  Singles of all ages, men and women.  Some have always been that way and like it that way.  Others wish to be married someday.  Some are still hurting and suffering the pains of divorce, and others still are grieving the loss of their spouse.  We have husbands and wives who love each other dearly, and we have husbands and wives who would rather spend most of their time apart.  And yet, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re the church.

To all of you who are single, this text matters to you because of this verse: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”  Wives, every woman, this text matters to you because it helps you to see and truly appreciate the gifts Christ has given to you.  Husbands, all men, this text matters to you because it teaches you what it means to be a leader.  This text matters, for all of us.

Keep the text open, whether you’re in your bulletin or in the Bible, keep it ready.  You’ve got the NIV in front of you, I like to preach from the ESV translation.  And that’s a good thing as noticing differences between them can help you learn more about the Bible.

As we get ready to dig into the text, let’s first notice how Paul gets their attention.  Maybe you caught it, maybe you realized that the start of the sermon today wasn’t just meant to be goofy in honor of the upcoming NFL season, but it was meant to draw your attention.  And more specifically, it was meant to get you familiar with Paul’s technique.

Now, for those of you who’ve been in one of my Bible classes on marriage, or to my pre-marriage counseling sessions, we’ve gone over this.  But I want everyone to see it.  This is a great technique.  The authors of Scripture weren’t fools!  They had the Spirit of God guiding them.

Paul knows his audience, and he plays a trick on them to get them to pay attention.  He speaks first to the women in a male dominant society.   He addresses them and tells them how to live, how they should treat their husbands.  And how do you think the men respond?  What do you think they were doing when they heard “wives, submit to your own husbands,”?  They were listening.  They might even have started cheering, or egging Paul onward.  They were hooked.  Just like you Vikings’ fans when I was telling all of Packerdom to wear your colors on game day.  You loved it.

But then I turned it around.  It’s one level of difficulty to put on a different color shirt, it’s a whole nother level when we start talking about hospitality, about hosting a rival, about cooking them a meal, about being nice to them even if the game goes south.

Paul had the men’s attention, and then he turned it on them.  He tells them what their role in the marriage is to do.  And there’s a lot more responsibility, and it’s a lot harder.  If you don’t see it, don’t buy that Paul knew what he was doing, just keep reading into chapter six, as he pulls the same technique twice more, with children and parents, then slaves and masters.

Anyway, let’s start with Paul’s mystery.  Christ and the church.  So we go back to verse 25, and we look to what Christ did:

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

 

That’s us!  We’re the church, we’re the bride of Christ.  We are the ones who are in need of washing, cleansing.  We’re the ones in need of sanctification.  We’re the ones that need wrinkle removers and cleaning companies so that we might be presented as pure.

We’re not even close.  You and I know it.  If we’re honest with ourselves, we know it.  We know our mistakes, we know our faults, we know when we fail to listen to God and instead put our trust in earthly things, whether it’s a relationship, money, a job, or raising kids.  We all do it.  We all fall short.  There’s not one of us who’s blameless, spotless, and wrinkle-free.

And yet Christ loved us so much that He came for us.  In the midst of our filth, He calls us His bride.  And more than that, He gives up His own life for us.  We didn’t deserve it, we certainly aren’t worth it, but He loved us so much that He gave us everything, even His own blood shed for us on the cross, that we might be forgiven, healed, cleansed, indeed presented before the Father as holy and without blemish.  Christ did that for us.

So what’s this got to do with marriage? With husband and wife?  Paul tells us this is an analogy.  Paul calls upon this relationship to help us understand our relationship with God.  So he begins with wives, although the order doesn’t really matter.

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

 

Now I’m not going to stand up here and lie to you and say this is easy.  I’m not going to do that because we’re all the bride.  Each and every one of us, as the church, is the bride of Christ, and we’re not blameless.  We struggle to submit to the Lord, to admit that He knows what’s best for us, that He wants what’s best for us.  We hear His commands and sometimes we do them, but other times we question them, and wonder if God really knows what He’s doing.  Sometimes we just plain ignore it.  But nonetheless, this is where Paul points.  That wives follow the leadership of their husband, as husbands follow the leadership of Christ.

And then as I mentioned, it gets harder.  Husbands love your wives, even as Christ does the church.  Ladies, don’t take offense, because we’re all sinners.  But husbands, you are called to lead your family, to lead your wife, to present her in all splendor, without spot or blemish, cleansing her, washing her, sanctifying her.  There’s no going to our buddies and sharing the dirty secrets of our relationship.  When your wife mistakenly says something foolish, you forgive her, and you forget it.  Your coworkers don’t need to know the latest gossip.  Your friends don’t need to see your wife’s flaws.  It’s your job to cover them up.  To present her as nothing less than a precious gift from the Lord.

But more than that.  Husbands, you are called to love your wives just as much as Christ loved the church.  You are called to give yourself up for her.  That means dying for her, if it comes to that.  But in the present it means humility.  It means casting off yourself, your interests, your desires, and instead treasuring your bride.  Doing whatever it takes to care for her, and to prepare her to meet her true groom, Jesus Christ, in Paradise.

You see, the word submit doesn’t mean women don’t matter.  In fact, if we take an honest look at Scripture it’s just the opposite.  Christ gave everything for His bride.  And we see from Genesis 1 that woman was created to be man’s helper.  If a husband lords himself over his wife, refusing to accept her influence, denying her thoughts and emotions, not considering her input in decisions, he’s removing her creative function as God designed her.  He’s calling her worthless, and there’s nothing loving about that.

And in the same manner, when wives desire the role of their husband, the role of leader in the home, when they fight for it, when they oppress him and overtake him, they are removing his created function.  They are calling him worthless, and there’s nothing respectful about that.

Again, singles, I’m hoping you didn’t tune me out, because all of this matters greatly to you.  I need a volunteer couple, I just need one married couple to stand up for a minute or two.  Single brothers and sisters in Christ, you don’t have to want this for yourselves.  In fact, Jesus and Paul both talk in the New Testament about what a blessing singleness can be.

But whether you want it or not, you do need to understand it.  Because this is the analogy that God has chosen to use to help us understand our relationship with Him.  In this relationship, God wants you to see Him.  And you can take part in this.

If you wish to remain single, that’s a good thing.  But you can encourage your friends and community to be faithful in their marriages.  You can encourage them to be good parents.  You can help them raise their children to know the Lord.

If you want to be married someday, you can begin to show this to others.  You can show faithfulness by waiting for marriage as the Lord instructs.  I won’t pretend that’s easy, but it’s faithful.  It’s what God wants for you.  You can pray for your future spouse, even if it’s someone you haven’t met, you can pray that they would know the Lord, and have a strong relationship with Him.  You can learn more about your relationship with God, so that when marriage does come, you’ll be all the more prepared for the role God gives you.

And husbands and wives, I hope you caught that.  If we don’t model this well, we’re preventing people from seeing their Lord and Savior.  If you’re struggling, don’t hide it.  Please, please, please, I’ll beg if I have to.  Come talk to me.  Let’s build your marriage on the rock of Christ.  Let’s build you up so that you can more clearly see Christ and show Him to others.  This matters.  Let couple sit down.

We can’t give up on our spouses.  This is why the Bible speaks this way on divorce.  “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” – Mark 10:9.  We are told this because we are the bride of Christ.  And despite our atrociousness, despite our unfaithfulness, Christ, our groom, never gave up on us.  He constantly gives, constantly calls us back to Himself.

If you’re struggling with divorce and the pain that it has brought into your life, please come talk to me.  Let’s sit down, let’s pour through the Word of God.  Let’s work on healing, and if at all possible, let’s work toward reconciliation and forgiveness.

This is our witness, that we would love and respect one another.  We live in the midst of a culture that is drowning, it has no clue what marriage is about.  God is calling us to be a city on a hill, to be transparent, to be fish in a fishbowl, that others might see us, and they might see Christ in us.

This is why marriage matters.  Because through it, whether it’s our own or someone else’s, we see Christ!  We see love, sacrifice, and service.  We see humility, contentment, and respect.  We see forgiveness, reconciliation, and new life.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, we submit ourselves to Christ, to His authority, to His leadership, to His love, and to His sacrifice.  We are His bride, we are forgiven, and He is presenting us as holy and blameless in the sight of His Father.  There’s never been, and will never again be, a more selfless deed than that.  Our groom has given us life.  Amen.

 

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