Text: Ephesians 5:22-33
[Wedding of John and Mary Smith; groom is an army veteran; names have been changed]
One of the few things that my hometown of San Jose and the Smith’s hometown of Evansville have in common is that they were once the home of military contractors. San Jose had a huge FMC plant that, among other things, built the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Evansville had huge plants, now idle or gone, that built dozens of different machines and ordnance for World War II, most notably the LST ships and the P-47 Thunderbolt.
When you look at military vehicles or equipment, you can tell that they are built to last, compare to their civilian equivalents. Some jeeps from World War II are still running today, far outlasting the original government specs. In any decent size town, you can find Army Surplus stores with stuff going back sixty years that is still usable. The LST on display in Evansville is still running, nearly seventy years after its maiden voyage. All that stuff is “army tough,” built to last!
John and Mary, today you are entering into a very common institution called “marriage.” Every culture in history has marriage, as is obvious. The difference between the common form of marriage and what you are entering is that yours is a specifically “Christian” marriage. The difference between the two is that Christian marriage is “army tough,” it is built to last.
Christian marriage is not “army tough” just because you have a pastor or priest marry you, or the congregation of witnesses praying for you. Christian marriage is built to last, because Jesus made it that way. In debates with the Jewish rabbis, who would allow a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all, Jesus said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).
Those last words are originally the words of Jesus, not the apostles, the church, or your pastor or priest. Jesus restored God’s original plan for marriage, which the Jewish rabbis had obscured. Jesus made marriage “army tough,” built to last. And the Christian church has supported Jesus words, for the most part, up until recent times.
Now you may rightly wonder how a Christian marriage can be “army tough,” built to last, when it doesn’t look any different from any other marriage. The government doesn’t have a special license for Christian marriages. The laws that govern marriages and the courts don’t recognize Christian marriage as being different. So what makes Christian marriage different?
The answer is in our sermon text today. Through the Holy Spirit and the Apostle Paul, Jesus gave to Christians their “marching orders” for marriage. If both husband and wife follow their orders for marriage in Ephesians 5:22-33, then their marriage will be “army tough,” built to last, and I guarantee you that marriage will last. If one or both members of the marriage ignore or fail to follow their marching orders, that marriage will be weak and may not survive the trials and tribulations of life.
What does Ephesians 5 say? It tells the wife to submit to her husband in everything. Not just when she feels like it or just in those things she chooses, but everything! Verse 23 says that the husband is the head of the house just like Christ is the head of the church. Since Christians submit to Christ in everything, wives should submit to their husbands in everything. This does not mean that the husband makes every little decision for his wife, which would be impossible, but that in all important decisions that affect both of them, or their family, she defers to his final judgment. This is how God ordered marriage in the Garden of Eden, and how Jesus orders marriage among his children in the Christian church today.
Mary, this submission business would be awfully nasty if it stood alone. But you are marrying a Christian man. He knows Jesus and he knows Jesus’ marching orders to him. So give him a chance to follow his orders before you “write off” this whole idea and Jesus’ orders to you.
John, Jesus tells husbands in verse 25, “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” People often think that this just refers to Jesus dying on the cross. So the gallant young Christian man getting married will say to his bride, “I will gladly die for you—I will take the bullet for you!” And he probably would, if necessary.
But Christians know that Jesus’ “giving himself up” refers to the entire process of his humiliation. Jesus stepped down from his throne in heaven, and became an infant to poor folks, the son of a carpenter, with nothing distinguished about him, then became an itinerant rabbi with constant friction and heartache for three years, finally to be arrested, tortured, shamed, and crucified. In other words, Jesus spent his whole life for the church “giving himself up,” so that we could hear the Gospel and be saved.
So when Jesus tells husbands to “love your wives as Christ loved the church” it is a whole life thing. It is the biggest challenge you will ever face in your life, John, to love Mary like Jesus loves the church, no matter what happens. I know you can do it, because you are tough, you are “army tough.” And you have the good examples of your father’s lasting love for your mom and your Grandpa Smith’s lasting love for your Grandma Smith.
And there’s more, John. Verse 18, Jesus says through Paul that “husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.” Before a man has a wife, there is probably nothing he loves more than his own body. He feeds it regularly, cleans it, grooms it, clothes it, and gives it all sorts of physical comforts and pleasures. He also avoids as much pain and discomfort as possible.
A Christian husband will thus make sure his wife has good food to eat, nice clothes, physical comforts and pleasures, and that he protects her from as much pain and discomfort as possible. As a husband of twenty-plus years, John, I can tell you that this is a 24 hours a day, seven days a week job. But you know, “nourishing and cherishing your wife,” as verse 29 says, is not really a difficult thing, most of the time. And the more you work at it, the easier it gets.
Will your marriage be “army tough,” built to last? It will be, if you follow Jesus’ orders in Ephesians 5:22-33 and if you forgive each other as Jesus has forgiven you. You have the added benefit that these people are gathered today to help you make it through thick and thin. May our Lord grant you his grace and Holy Spirit to fulfill what we can’t by our own reason or strength. In Jesus’ name. Amen.