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THE CHURCH LIFE
Ephesians 5:22-33
Series:  A Letter of Grace and Life - Part TenNine

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 3, 2020


Before we come to Ephesians 5:22-33, there are two big picture ideas that we need to have in mind while we look at this passage. 

 

First:  As much as we might be tempted to think that the focus of this passage is about marriage, and even though this passage teaches some really helpful things about marriage, the focus of this passage is not about marriage but about the church.

 

Second:  Where this passage fits into Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is hugely important for us to keep in mind in case we might be tempted to think that the focus of this passage is about marriage and not the church.  Because ultimately, this passage is an illustration of our life together as the church.

 

The verse that comes just before today’s passage - is the big idea of what Paul’s illustration is all about.  5:21 says:  “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

 

Paul began Ephesians by writing about who we are in Christ because of God’s grace.  And Paul has been opening up to us what that looks like in the real time of our lives.

 

We should be living what we say we believe which is going to look way different than what’s going on in the world around us.  We’re to live in imitation of God.  Living with God’s kind of love and according to His word and by His wisdom and how we do that by relying on God - not us.


One of the results of our living out what it means to be in Christ, by God’s grace, is that we’re going to be living in submission to each other out of reverence for Christ.

 

Which is easy to say.  Tough to do.

 

Which is why verses 22 to 33 are here.  Paul illustrating what that means and how we can go there together.

 

Because as much as we might be tempted to think that the focus of this passage is about marriage, and even though this passage teaches some really helpful things about marriage, the focus of this passage is not about marriage but about the church.

 

The big picture for us of how we submit to each other out of reverence for Christ.

 

So with all that in mind, let me read for us Ephesians 5:22-33:

 

Wives, submit to your own 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.

 

Husbands, love your wives, as 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.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.

 

For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 

 

This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

 

Let’s unpack Paul’s illustration.

 

Paul begins with wives: “Wives, submit to your own husbands.” 

 

The marriage counselor asks the married couple:  “So, what brings you here today?”

 

Wife:  “He takes everything literally.  I can’t stand it.”

 

Husband:  “My truck.”

 

Let’s be honest, husbands are not always easily submit-able to. 

 

Submission has to do with who we give authority to.  Who we respect.  Who we honor.  Who we follow.  Who we submit ourselves to.

 

The word for submission in the Greek uses the middle voice.  Which is the Greek way of saying it’s voluntary.  A wife is to willingly submit to her husband.  No where does Paul say that a husband is to demand the submission of the wife.

 

The motivation is that the submission is “as to the Lord.”  Meaning that as a wife submits to her husband she is also submitting to the Lord.

 

Paul’s reason why wives should submit comes in verse 23 - “the husband is the head of the wife.”  Which is not what we’d usually hear coming out of our culture today.

 

Let’s be clear.  Submission does not mean inferiority.  Jesus, God the Son, is not inferior to God the Father.  And yet, Jesus willingly submits to the will of the Father.

 

Paul is reaching into the Bible and how God says that God created men and women - equally in His image - created them for the roles of husband and wife and how God has designed all that to work together.  The God appointed leadership role given to the husband.

 

By comparison, the husband is the head of the wife.  And in a similar way Christ is the Head of the Church.  The church which is the Body of Christ that Jesus Himself saved.

 

Point being - verse 24 - as the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

 

Everything here being a phrase that’s not absolute.  We need to read the fine print.  A wife should not submit to her husband in what is against the will of God - what is sinful and harmful and abusive.

 

And yet, submission is not conditioned by submissable.  But it is based on the wife’s submission to the Lord.

 

We’re created with differences that make our God given roles doable and more effective.  Differences that often times make what Paul writes about here to be difficult for us. 

 

Differences that mess with us because - even back in the Garden - those differences were messed up by sin.

 

Each of us comes into marriage with our own whims and wants and wounds and fears and we’re imperfect people messed up by sin and the kind of trust and openness required by submission in marriage doesn’t come easy for us.

 

Wives sometimes have feelings of insecurity and fear and often respond by trying to control what’s going on around her.  All of that being an understandable reaction to the actions of her husband.

 

Paul didn’t say that a wife submitting to her husband was easy.

 

Paul writes that a wife is to submit to her own husband as to the Lord. 


And honestly - even though we may understand the need and value of submitting to Christ - because we’re messed up by sin - we struggle with submitting even to Christ.

 

What Paul is describing is a quality of submission that illustrates our voluntary submission to Christ.

 

A choice to have faith in the God who is sovereign and greater and more loving and able to provide security and is trustable even when a wife feels her husband is not.

 

That’s a description of what submission looks like.  Our choice to honor the Lord by trusting Him with everything in our lives.

 

Paul goes on with his illustration - verse 25 - turning to husbands:  Husbands, love your wives,

 

“love” translates the Greek word “agape” meaning unconditional love.

 

Paul’s example of that:  as Christ loved [“agaped”] the church and gave Himself up for her…”

 

That’s “agape” love in real time.  Christ loving the church.

 

The word “to give up” in Greek means being handed over to someone else - especially in some act of treachery.  Judas kisses Jesus and Jesus voluntarily gives Himself up to be arrested.

 

Jesus gave up everything for the Church - by choice.  He set aside all of His Godly attributes - His prerogative to be God - King of kings and Lord of lords - in charge and the head of it all.  Whatever respect was due to Him.  Whatever submission He could have demanded.

 

Jesus gave up all that to be born in the humility of a manger to live and experience life like we do.  Jesus - in the Garden of Gethsemane - praying with blood sweating from His pores - looking ahead to the mockery - the beatings - the crown of thorns - the nails - His death by crucifixion.

 

Jesus’ going to the cross in our place.  Jesus giving Himself up to take care of what distanced us from God.  Love demonstrated in real time.

 

Paul goes on in verse 26 to the purpose of Christ’s sacrificial “agape” love.

 

First:  That He might sanctify her.  [the church - us]

 

To sanctify has the idea of setting something apart for God. 

 

Because Jesus gave Himself up we can be set apart for God.  For God’s service.  For God’s glory.

 

Jesus sanctifies us having cleansed her [the church] by the washing of water - meaning baptism that demonstrates inner cleansing from sin that comes with our repentance and God giving us new life in Christ - with the word - meaning the Gospel that saves us and transforms all of us to be more useful servants of God.

 

Jesus sanctifies us 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.

 

Hold in mind the image of the splendor of a bride on her wedding - having spent hours - days - months in preparation for the moment she stands in white at the head of the aisle - radiant - in splendor - presented for marriage.

 

Paul is fast forwarding to the future day coming at the end of time when the church - when we stand before Jesus - as His bride without the spot or wrinkle - in perfection without the blemish of sin - in holiness and perfection.  In splendor before God’s creation.

 

That coming moment which is made possible because of the sanctifying sacrificial “agape” work of Christ Jesus on the cross and His continuing work in our lives.

 

As a husbands - to sanctify our wives is an invitation to discover and champion the uniqueness of our wives - encouraging her and supporting her and helping her to be all that God has uniquely created her to be.

 

As a husband - to sanctify our wives is to provide for and protect our wives - this incredible woman that God has blessed us with.  To guard her dignity - her character - her reputation - her relationship with God.

 

What Paul’s talking about is a husband taking spiritual leadership in the marriage.  That’s tough.  Uncomfortable.  It exposes us on a deep level.  Definitely sacrificial.


That means that as men we need to go deep in our relationship with God - studying His word - praying - opening ourselves up to God.  How are we going to encourage our wives in their relationship with God if we’re not going there ourselves?

 

Then to share with our wives from what we’re learning - to open up our hearts and discuss with our wives - what will encourage them to grow and become more of who God has created them to be - sanctified - for His purposes. 

 

It means taking initiative and praying with our wives.  Seeking God together.  Developing convictions and actions in our marriages based on prayer and the study of Scripture.

 

Husbands are to give themselves up for their wives so that their wives may fulfill the purposes for which God has created them.

 

Husbands, that’s our example.  How we should love our wives.  Sacrificial headship.  Our being willing to give up everything for our wives.  It is a brutal example because of how far short of that we fall.

 

Paul goes on - verse 28:  In the same way husbands should love - agape - their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself. 

 

A man should love His wife as He loves Himself.  The word “should” in the Greek is emphatic - compulsive - an obligation that requires fulfillment.  To love our wives is a compulsion.  It’s as integral to our being as loving ourselves. 

 

Verse 29:  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.   

 

To nourish is to do the things necessary to keep our bodies going:  food - sleep - even exercise.  To cherish means to keep warm - put on clothing - a warm coat on a cold day.  Food and clothing - the basics.

 

We do that for ourselves.  At the very least because we have this compulsion inside to stay alive.

 

But - honestly - for most of us it goes way beyond that.  We’re pretty self-loving.  We provide a whole lot of things for ourselves - creature comforts and foods that go way beyond mere self-preservation. 

 

Paul is illustrating the Church.  Jesus who nourishes and cherishes us because we are His body.  Nourishing and cherishing isn’t about us.  But about following the example of Jesus and loving our wives.

 

Verse 31 - Paul quotes from Genesis:  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”    

 

Are we together on the illustration?  Leave and cleave.  Leave what is familiar to us and be exclusively devoted to our wives because we’re created by God to be one.

 

“Shall” meaning it’s not optional.  It’s obeying God.  Meaning God is all in with us to make it happen.  But we got to choose to go there with God.

 

Men - our wives need us to follow the example of Jesus.

 

If we will “agape” unconditionally sacrifice ourselves for our wives they will feel more relationally secure which will encourage our wives to honor and respect us more which will grow us closer to being the one flesh that God desires us to be.

 

Result being that we are going to grow in submission to each other out of reverence for Christ.

 

Verse 32 brings us back to why Paul’s illustration is here.

 

Because as much as we might be tempted to think that the focus of this passage is about marriage, and even though this passage teaches some really helpful things about marriage, the focus of this passage is not about marriage but about the church.

 

This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 

 

Paul begins with a profound mystery.  A mystery in Scripture is what God knows and we only get clued into because God clues us in.

 

The mystery begins in Genesis.  After the fall - when God pronounces His curse upon the earth - God speaks to the serpent - to Satan - God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman - Eve - and between your offspring - your descendants - and her offspring - her descendants; He shall bruise you on the head and you shall bruise his heel.”  (Genesis 3:15)

 

There’s going to be warfare between Satan and His minions and God’s people.  But God’s people will be victorious.  (Romans 16:20)  How - we’re not told.  It’s a mystery. 

 

God goes on through Scripture - with the Passover Lamb and the whole Old Covenant sacrificial system - clues to help us understand the mystery - glimpses of what He’s doing in history.

 

Isaiah - inspired by God - Isaiah writes:  “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows… He was wounded for our transgressions…  with his stripes we are healed… the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  (Isaiah 53:4-6)

 

Those are clues.

 

Ezekiel writes of God’s people [Israel]  “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them.  And I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them.  And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”  (Ezekiel 11:19,20)

 

More clues.


Joel writing of the day when God delivers His people - Joel writes, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”  (Joel 2:28,29)

 

There’s a mystery that flows through Scripture - flows through history - that is so profound - that when God reveals what He has been doing - it is jaw dropping - over the top - beyond the scope of what we can wrap our minds around.

 

But when we see Jesus - God Himself dwelling with us - dying for us - the mystery is revealed.  When we trust Jesus as the Savior - when we experience Pentecost - the coming of the Spirit - that mystery is revealed to us - personally.

 

Jesus described that realization when He prayed to the Father - concerning the Church, “that they may all be one; just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:21) 

 

The mystery is Christ and the Church.  The oneness of God with His people who are One together in Christ.

 

Jews and Greeks and Swedes and Russians and Chinese and Ethiopians - people from every people group on the planet - from every background and every strata and layer of society.  Broken down - beat up - messed up and hung up - wounded and wearied and weighed down - diseased and damaged - stressed out and anxious - without hope and living in fear - stumbling in darkness - bound and separated from God by our sin…


And yet because of Jesus Christ - His sacrificial “agape” work on the cross - all of us in Christ sinners saved by God’s grace - one body - Christ’s body - His church - one in Him.

 

Called by God to live lives of purpose and meaning - forgiven and redeemed - to live in wholeness and fullness of life - being prepared together to stand in splendor before creation - the bride of Christ - to live forever in the presence of God Himself.

 

Profound doesn’t even come close.  Jaw dropping astounding… maybe.  Silence and awe… for sure.  Reverence… yes.  For Christ.

 

Before Christ - with all that He has done for us - the mystery revealed.  What a privilege to submit to each other.  In total trust of God.  Sacrificially loving each other - giving ourselves up for each other - as members of one another.

 

Verse 33:  However - meaning don’t lose touch with this illustration still being a really important teaching about marriage - let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

 

Processing all that...

 

A number of years ago I was on the Island of Kauai - laying out on the beach - enjoying just being away from everything.  When I noticed that there were hundreds of little sand crabs all over the beach.

 

When the water would go back out - they would pop out of their holes and go running around looking for food - each one doing its best to avoid making any contact with the other one.  Then when the next wave came back in they would rush back into their holes and wait for the water to go out again.

 

So often church is like that.  Individuals rushing around trying to get their needs met - avoiding unnecessary contact - trying to endure the circumstances of life - waves crashing over us.  Where the emphasis is on what serves me rather than individual and mutual submission to Jesus.

 

None of that is part of a healthy marriage.  None of that is part of a healthy church.

 

If we move from church to church to church when our comfort zone gets challenged - how is God ever suppose to use us to help each other to grow - to mature - to change - using us in each other’s lives - to be accountable to each other for the things He desires to produce in us and through us?

 

If we’re subjectable only to our selves - the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I, we’ll never be the church Jesus desires us to be.  How will we ever prevail against the gates of hell?  Let alone reach the greater Merced metroplex with the Gospel?

 

One of things that I hope we’re learning in these days of separation - this viral wave that’s washed over us - hopefully we’re feeling our need to be physically together - in worship and prayer and study and service - together - submitting to each other - committed to each other - as the body of Christ.


I can imagine you all sitting out there watching this in different places around your house.  Some of you could have taken a little extra time getting ready this morning.

 

I can imagine you where you’re at.  And I can still see you here.  The Nickersons are back over there.  The Roses are over there.  Michael is back there.  Karol and Linda over there near Laura.  The Ramirez’s and Swensons are over here.  I can see all of you.

 

But you’re not here.  You’re where you are and I’m here.  And that’s just wrong.  Oneness and submission doesn’t happen in isolation.  And neither does growth and wholeness and witness to the glory of God.

 

As great as watching some great Bible teacher online or on TV - as great as that is.  Or, worshiping along with some great artist.  As great as that might be.  That’s not God’s design for His church.

 

Imagine a wedding where no one is physically where anyone else is.  Even the bride and groom are separated from each other - web gathering from different locations.  That’s just messed up.

 

There is something crucial about showing up.  Vows of commitment made in community.  Affirmation and support coming from community.  Presence is powerful.  A profound tool in God’s hands.

 

Oneness with the almighty holy God of creation and the reality of that relationship is a little hard to get our minds around.  But oneness in marriage is a little easier.  It’s more visible - more a part of where we live our lives.


Marriage - done God’s way - allows us to experience a oneness that helps us to understand more of what God desires in our relationship with Him and with each other.  What life in the Church should be like.

 

There is so much profound potential in that for us.  A mystery yet to be revealed as we commit ourselves to each other what God can do in us and through us.

 

 

 

 

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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®  (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.