Our Relationship to God Helps Us Submit
A sermon based on Ephesians 5:21-31
Sunday, October 14, 2012 – Pentecost 20B
William Shakespeare once wrote, "He is half part of a blessed man, left to be finished by such as she; and she, a fair divided excellence, whose fullness of perfection lies in him."
Man and woman were created for each other. Human beings were created to have relationships with one another. Whether you're married or single, young or old, everyone here has relationships other people, and some, no doubt, are of the opposite sex.
This morning, God speaks to us about those relationships. He points out how we are to act in our relationships, especially with those of the opposite sex.
Now of all the relationship advice offered by friends and counselors, magazines and talk-show hosts, none compares to the guidance which God gives in his Word! After all, who can better define the roles of men and women, than he who created them in the first place?
And yet, like all the others, this doctrine of Scripture–the roles of men and women that God has given to each—has been greatly misunderstood, abused, and often flat out rejected.
This morning as we take a look at both roles, as we hear Paul pull aside first wives, then husbands and speak to each separately, we see how these God-given roles are not a burden, but a blessing. We see how our relationship with God affects our relationships with others. We see how it's really a joy to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ and to fill each other up with the Holy Spirit. Listen now to God's instruction through Paul in Ephesians 5:21-31…
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 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 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 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."
I. Submitting Because Jesus Did (23,25-27,30)
Wives, submit to your husbands…in everything? Husbands, love your wives in the same way Christ loved the church?… give yourself up for her? That's easier said than done. It's not always going to be easy to submit to one another. It's not always going to be easy to be loving toward each other. Why not? Because of sin.
Because of sin, we are all deep down pretty selfish. We look to serve ourselves, not others and to get what's in our best interest, not someone else's. We listen to that voice that says, "Submission? Sacrifice? No thanks! That's not for me! I'm going to stand up for myself, get what I'm entitled to, push hard and manipulate others to get my own way."
For that reason, women, there are times that you fail to submit to the men in your lives. You insist on getting your own way and don't listen to them at all. You fail to submit as God wants you to, and in doing so, you fail to submit to God.
Because of sin, men, you aren't perfect either. You fail to be loving to the women in your lives. At times, you're more interested in the game on TV or your own relaxation than in how her day went. You look to have your needs met before hers. You fail to be loving, and in doing so, you fail to love God.
For saying, "I'll submit to you after you submit to me," and for saying, "I'll be loving to you once you're loving to me," for all the sins we've committed, for all the sins we will commit, we deserve hell. That's the cold, hard truth. We don't deserve to have any loving relationships, least of all a loving relationship with God. We deserve to be punished for our selfish attitudes that choose to serve ourselves rather than each other, that choose to serve ourselves rather than God.
But friends, there's good news. You do have a relationship with God. Not because of how loving you've been to him or because of how well you've submitted to him. But because of how loving and submitting he's been to you. Because of what he did for you, you won't go to the hell that you deserve. Listen again to what he did…
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
In most of the relationships we have, at least the ones we volunteer, there's a certain attraction. There's a reason you married the spouse you did. You were attracted to your husband or wife. There's a reason you have the friends you choose. You enjoy their company.
But friends, Jesus loved you when you were unlovable. When you were corrupt sinners looking to no one's interests but your own, he gave himself up for you. He died on the cross, taking your sins on himself, suffering the hell that you deserved. And in that act of dying on the cross, he made you sinless and holy and clean, without stain or wrinkle.
Imagine if after you got ready for church this morning and were all dressed up, you went to the kitchen for some breakfast and spilled a huge glob of jam on your shirt or blouse. Would you still wear it to church? Maybe. But I'm guessing most of you would find that article of clothing unacceptable to wear and would go back and change.
Friends, that's how we are by nature in our sin. God won't accept us into heaven stained in our sins—we're unacceptable. But Christ's blood, shed on the cross, is the best stain remover there is. He makes us clean by the washing waters of Baptism, he makes us holy through the message of the cross. He takes away every stain, every wrinkle, every blemish and makes you holy, blameless, and acceptable to God. And having made you clean, he made you his own…
Paul quotes Genesis 2, when he writes, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." And he continues in verse 32, beyond our text, to apply this verse to the relationship we have with Christ: "This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church." Just as husband and wife unite to become one flesh, Christ has become one with us, his church. He has married himself to you, promises to forgive you, to strengthen you and one day soon, take you to the eternal honeymoon of heaven.
What an awesome relationship we have with Jesus! We get his love in spite of our sins. We get forgiveness, being made spotless and clean. We get heaven itself when we deserve hell. And we don't have to do a thing for it! We don't have to submit to God perfectly, or love him perfectly, because Jesus did those things perfectly for us and gave us his perfection.
But now, with a perfect relationship with Jesus, entirely by his effort and entirely at his expense, we can't help but thank him and let our gratitude motivate us to strive with all our hearts to do what's pleasing to him. We let that gratitude drive us to follow Christ's example, and submit like Jesus did, "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ…" And through Paul God gives us some specific ways to do that as we say "Thank You" to Jesus for our relationship with him…
II. Submitting Like Jesus Did (21-25,28-29,31)
Now because of our natural inclination to be more concerned with "What my spouse should be doing" rather than "what I should be doing," In a literary way, Paul pulls women aside and speaks just to them, saying "Here's your role. You worry about this." Then he does the same for men, pulling them aside as well.
Since Paul addresses wives first, so so will I… women, listen to how you can thank Jesus for the relationship you have with him… 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… the wife must respect her husband.
Women, it won't always be easy to submit to men, to fall in line with their leadership, to give up what you know is best in order to do what they think is best. But women, in thanksgiving to God, submit. What will it matter 100 years from now if you give up your rights? It won't! You've got a place reserved for you in heaven! Forgive the men in your lives for their less than perfect leadership with the same forgiveness that Christ gave you and submit to them anyway.
Now, don't get me wrong, ladies. Submission does not mean that you become slaves. In fact, submission doesn't deal with positions of superiority or inferiority. It deals with order.
You see, the Greek word translated "submit" is a military term. No Paul isn't making reference to the "Battle of the Sexes" or to the civil war that can be common among husbands and wives. But the term was used of soldiers lining up in military formation, of getting into the proper order.
Think of it this way: The forty-year old truck driver submits to the fourteen year old crossing guard when he tells him to stop the vehicle. He submits, not because he is weaker, less intelligent, or inferior in any way. But, for good order, for the good of drivers and pedestrians alike, he submits.
Women, in Christ you can do the same. Yield your right of way. Give up your right to talk about your day when your men don't want to. Give up your right to relax after a hard day's work to talk when they do. Submit to them as if submitting to Jesus himself (for you know it's pleasing to him if you do). Submit to them, not because you have to, but because you want to out of love for your Savior as your act of worship to him. And when you do, ladies, you'll make the job of loving you much easier for the men in your life…
Now men, the ladies certainly has a big job of submitting to us in everything, don't they? But don't get too excited. We're not off the hook. God tells us how we can show him our gratitude for the full and free forgiveness and the heaven he's given us. And as men, our job is just as big as the women's, maybe bigger. Paul says, 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
Men, we're given a big task, to love the women in our lives with the same selfless love that Jesus has shown to each of us. And it won't always be easy. When all you want to do is relax in front of the TV after a hard day's work and all they want to do is talk about their day, it might be tough to love them selflessly. But remember how Christ loved you selflessly and love them in the same way. What will it matter 100 years from now if you give up your rights? It won't. You've got a place reserved in heaven! Forgive the women in your lives for their less than perfect submission and love them with the same love that Christ gave you.
And how did Christ love you? How will you love women? With a self-sacrificial love. Christ gave up his glory to suffer hell for us. Christ gave us his life that we might live. Men, give up your rights to serve others in love. As leaders, don't base your decisions on what's in your best interest, but what's in their best interest. Sacrifice yourself for your women. Give up your right to peace and quiet when they want to talk. Give up your right to spend money on your hobby when they want to shop. Give up your right to hang out with the guys every now and then to love your woman in the way Christ loved you—with a sacrificial love. Love them, not because you have to, but because you want to out of love for your Savior as your act of worship to him. And when you do, men, you'll make the job of submitting to you a whole lot easier for the women in your life.
Dear friends, today, through the Word of God you are reminded of the special relationship that Jesus has with you, not because you deserve it, not because you're so lovable, but because of his perfect grace and love for you. Let his love and service to you then motivate you to love and serve each other, submitting to one another, in thanksgiving. Let his love and service to you, serve as your model as you strive to give him thanks.
Friends, it's my prayer that as you leave here today you would be so filled with the Holy Spirit, that you can't be full of yourselves. I pray that you will leave here with a renewed commitment to be the husband or wife, the man or woman that God has made you. That you will leave here to go home and to work and to play eager to submit to each other, not because you must, but because you want to in thanks to Jesus for the relationship you have with him. In his name, dear friends, amen.