“God’s Good Order of–and in–Marriage” (Ephesians 5:22-33)
You know, it’s really kind of stupid when we think we know better than our Creator. I mean, think about it: Doesn’t it make sense that the God who created us would know what is best for us? Yet somehow we think we’re smarter than he is. Pretty stupid, really. That’s the case with a lot of things in life, but especially do we direct our attention today to the matter of marriage. In the face of a world that has lost its mind and thrown marriage to the winds, and has even spread that insanity into the church, today, in contrast to that madness, we want to hear what the Bible has to say about “God’s Good Order of–and in–Marriage.”
“God’s Good Order of–and in–Marriage.” By that I mean, first of all, “God’s Good Order of Marriage,” marriage itself as a gift from God, instituted by God to be normal and normative for all time. And secondly, “God’s Good Order in Marriage,” that is, within marriage God has established a certain order and arrangement between husband and wife, and that is a good thing.
Our text today is Ephesians 5:22-33, as we continue our eight-part series on the Epistle to the Ephesians. And it’s really quite a coincidence that this particular reading should come up on this particular Sunday. This passage deals specifically with marriage, and just these past few days, for us as Lutherans in America, and for our own congregation in Bonne Terre, the whole matter of marriage has been very much on our minds.
The part about our congregation in Bonne Terre is easy enough: We had a wedding here yesterday, and at our little church that doesn’t happen too often. The part about us as Lutherans in America–well, maybe you saw the headlines this past week. They usually said something like “Lutherans move toward more open view on gays” or “Lutherans vote to allow gays and lesbians to serve as clergy.” Of course, when the news media say, “Lutherans,” what they usually mean is, not us in the Missouri Synod, but rather the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the ELCA, which might be better renamed, the “Extremely Liberal Church in America.”
And yes, it’s true. Meeting in Minneapolis, the ELCA convention voted on Wednesday to approve of what is basically homosexual marriage, or to use their politically-correct phraseology, “lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships.” Interestingly, that same afternoon, a tornado roared through downtown Minneapolis and damaged the convention center where they were meeting and tore the steeple off the big ELCA church across the street. Maybe God was trying to send them a message, I don’t know. What I do know is that the ELCA has not been listening to the message God definitely has sent them in his word, the Holy Scriptures, for a long, long time. The vote Wednesday on endorsing homosexuality simply follows in a long pattern. And then the vote on Friday to allow homosexual clergy came as no surprise.
Like I say, it’s pretty stupid when we think we know better than our Creator. And our text today in Ephesians makes it very clear what our Creator has established for all time as his good order for human sexuality, and that is, marriage–the marriage of one man and one woman, and none other. That is what marriage is; that is what God has established. Note that our text talks about husbands and wives, not husbands and husbands or wives and wives. And this good order of male and female was established at Creation. Paul quotes the verse from Genesis 2 about God instituting marriage between a man and woman: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So one man, one woman, one marriage; that’s what marriage is, that’s what God has established, and there is no other. “Homosexual marriage” is an oxymoron, and it’s pretty foolish of the ELCA or anyone else to think it exists, much less to approve of it.
“God’s Good Order of Marriage,” marriage itself as a gift from God, normal and normative for all time. Another way in which people now think they are smarter than God is when they bypass marriage altogether. Instead of getting married, which is what they should do, some people have no shame now and they just move in together and shack up. What used to be disgraceful is now widely accepted. Living together outside of marriage is commonplace. It is also, still, a sin, despite what society may say. It’s funny: These days the homosexuals want to get married, and the heterosexuals don’t! Funny and sad at the same time.
Well, at this point, most of us here could be clucking our tongues and saying to ourselves, “Well, I’m glad I’m not involved in homosexuality or cohabitation. I don’t even approve of those things.” And that’s good. But maybe we don’t escape the mirror of God’s Law if we start to talk about divorce, or indulging in pornography, or any other way of violating God’s good order of marriage, whether in thought, word, or deed. There are many ways in which we sinners, all of us here, think we know better than our Creator.
And that is especially the case if we start to talk now about “God’s Good Order in Marriage,” within marriage, the ordering God has established between husband and wife. Now the divine searchlight may hit closer to home. Ever since conflict and selfishness entered into the very first marriage, that of Adam and Eve–ever since then, husbands and wives have been vying for control and rebelling against how God has made us. I mean this specifically in regard to the apostle’s instructions to us Christians here in Ephesians 5: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord,” and “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
We really don’t want to hear this. And I’m not just talking about the wives. Question: Which is harder, a) for the wife to voluntarily submit herself to her husband’s headship, or b) for the husband to love his wife wholly and unreservedly and to willingly lay down his life for her? Answer: c) Both callings are equally unappealing to our old, selfish, sinful nature, and really impossible to do apart from Christ.
For notice, Paul here is writing to Christians, and he puts these instructions for marriage in their context of our connection to Christ: Wives, submit to your own husbands, “as to the Lord,” and Husbands, love your wives, “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” There it is, there is what makes these instructions for marriage doable: namely, our connection to Christ, and the new spirit we have as his people.
Does the church submit to Christ? Yes, gladly, willingly. We know our Lord will not abuse us or mistreat us. In the same way, and in the same spirit, Christian wives here are called to submit to their husbands, as their loving, God-ordained head. Likewise, did Christ love the church and give himself up for her? Oh, yes. Was there anything lacking in our Lord’s love for us? No, nothing. In the same way, and in the same spirit, Christian husbands are to love and give themselves up for their wives.
When both parties are doing what they are called to do here in our text, the wives looking to their husbands to take the lead, the husbands exercising their headship with Christ-like love and self-sacrifice, then marriage is a beautiful thing. Marriage serves as a picture, right in our homes, of the intimate relationship between Christ and his church. On the other hand, when wives are rebelling against their husbands and disrespecting their leadership, and when husbands are domineering and distant, self-centered and self-serving, that is when marriage turns sour.
Oh, what foolish people we are! Why do we resist and think we know better than the God who created us? Thank God, the same God who created us is also the one who has saved us–saved us from all our foolishness and sin and selfishness and self-chosen ways. And here is where our text goes into high gear. Listen to the beautiful gospel, sweet to our ears: “Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” Christ Jesus is our Savior. He saves us from our sins; he saves us from ourselves. Christ has saved us and redeemed us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. Christ our Savior loves us so much he makes the church his body, so intimately connected are we to our head.
This is beautiful, sweet gospel here: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Christ loved us so much that he gave himself up for us by laying down his life. He willingly went to the cross to pay the price that sets us free. All our disregard for God’s good order, all our disorder and disobedience–all of which earns God’s justifiable wrath–this Christ took on himself and bore in deep humility when he suffered and died for us on the cross. Here is your salvation, my friends, here is your Savior! There is none other. This is the Savior you need and you have, Christ the crucified! Trust in him, and you will not be put to shame.
More good news: 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.” Here is purity for the present and hope for the future. Christ cleansed us by the washing of water with the word. This is your baptism, the water of Holy Baptism washing over you in connection with the spoken word of God’s holy name. Christ cleansed you in that water, washing away your sins. And you can find continual cleansing in that washing, time and time again. Whenever your sins accuse you, return to your baptism and find full and free forgiveness there and a fresh start to get going again.
And here is hope for your future too. Christ is going to present his church to himself in splendor on the Last Day. Like a radiant, beautiful bride, all dressed in white, so the church will be–so will we be–as we enter into the joys of heaven. Then we will be with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in uninterrupted bliss forever. The honeymoon will never end.
Dear friends, it is a profound mystery, but in some small way, the marriage of Christian husband and wife is a picture of the marriage of Christ and his church. And so we ask for God’s help–and we know he will give it–in preserving, defending, and living out “God’s Good Order of–and in–Marriage.”