To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
As I read the three Scripture lessons appointed for today, did you hear anything that made you upset? Anything confuse you? Anything make you uncomfortable? We heard things like, It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him…Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…What God has joined together, let man not separate…Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. All three of our Scripture lessons turn our attention to God’s gifts of marriage and family, and how we function within those relationships as redeemed children of God. The reason we may not like to hear what God has to say about marriage and children is because there are plenty of people out there in the world and right here in this room who have been burned before by a relationship gone bad – a husband who didn’t love you like Christ loved the church; a wife who didn’t want to be your companion but your boss; a child who, despite your best and loving efforts, went off the deep end, and now you’re wondering if they’ll ever come back. With those kinds of hurts all around us, it’s no surprise that when people hear what God has to say about marriage and family, they don’t want to touch it with a ten foot stick.
I don’t think I’m telling any secrets when I say the blessings of marriage and the gift of children have both been taking a serious hit in recent decades. God’s gift of marriage is viewed as an antiquated practice that’s wildly impractical for two thinking people who want independence. But God said, It is not good for the man to be alone. There’s an even better blessing I’ve got in store. God’s gift of children is seen as an inconvenience to my career aspirations or world travel plans. But Jesus took the children in his arms and blessed them. People in 2018 hear words like submit and love, and they envision a home where the man is domineering and lazy and the woman is a prisoner in her own home. To that, Paul says, This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.
As we seek to reflect God’s design and Christ’s love in our families, we’ll have to come to grips with the fact that Christianity is wildly out of step with the world around us. So the statistics don’t really surprise us anymore, do they? A staggering number of couples think so little of God’s gift of marriage, that they simply live together without bothering to ever get married. And if they ever marry, statistically speaking, some researchers report that close to 50% of marriages end in divorce. Something’s not right here. About 30% of America’s children live in single parent homes. What happened? But this isn’t a new phenomenon. Maybe with surveys and stats, we can quantify the issue a little better and put a numerical focus on it, but this issue isn’t anything new. Do you know how I know? Because sin is nothing new. Ever since sin entered the world, the devil has loved nothing more than to tear apart what God has joined together and to make people think a blessing from God is really a burden – and that’s been happening since the fall into sin. The lessons we have for this Sunday focus our attention on God’s design for marriage and family in 2018 just as surely as he expressed those same truths in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of creation; in 30 AD when Jesus walked the earth; and in 60 AD when Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians.
That’s where we turn our attention today. Paul starts out by saying, Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. This is the starting point for any relationship as a blood bought child of God. It’s really nothing different than what Jesus said in the gospel lesson a couple Sundays ago, If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all. The Christian church is the only place where thoughts of ‘being first’ and ‘asserting my rights’ are seen to be the self-centered lies they are. And any of this can only make sense in Christ. That’s what Paul says, Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. Modern listeners scoff at such an “old fashioned” sounding thought – wives submitting to their husbands! A few months ago, I saw a picture that took the internet by storm. It was a snapshot from a 1950’s home economics textbook under a section entitled, Tips to look after your husband. It offered future wives advice like this: Have dinner ready when your husband comes home from work. Take 15 minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, drier, dishwasher or vacuum. Don’t greet him with problems or complaints. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair. Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner…and on and on it goes. Is that what the Apostle Paul is talking about? Is God’s design for marriage just a rerun of the Brady Bunch or a living picture of June and Ward Cleaver? As I read through that list and saw all the angry comments beneath it from modern readers, I thought to myself – what husband wouldn’t want to do that for his wife, as well (I mean, minus the ribbon in the hair and make-up on the face)? Why wouldn’t I want to love and serve and do everything I could to make my wife happy?
Paul said, wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord. If you hear those words as a husband or a wife and think of domestic slavery, you’re hearing them wrong. The word “submit” has become a six-lettered four letter word in a lot of people’s minds, but it shouldn’t be. It’s a beautiful concept. Submit…as to the Lord…As the church submits to Christ. Submitting isn’t a negative thing – it’s lining up your will with the will of another. Submitting isn’t a weakness thing, it’s a love thing. Do you know how I know? Do you know who carried out the greatest submission of all? Jesus. Jesus submitted to his Father’s will. See him praying and sweating drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane as he says, Father… not my will, but yours be done. Do you see the starting point for this relationship? Why would the church submit to Christ? Because he’s shown her such incomprehensible and undeserved love, I couldn’t think of doing anything else. I’ve got no problem lining my will up with someone like that – someone who has my best interest at heart, someone who loves me. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the women were a constant in Jesus’ ministry. Have you ever noticed that? They were always around – listening, learning, and helping. They were the among the last at the cross of Jesus and the first at his empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Have you ever asked yourself, “Why?” They’d never known a man like this – one who never nagged or patronized, the perfect opposite of a chauvinist. Jesus was the one who could correct them without condescension and praise them without being pedantic. He’s one who listened and cared and loved. Submission is not a weakness thing, it’s a love thing.
Now husbands, if you’re sitting there thinking, “I hope my wife is listening to this!” Listen to what Paul says about you. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. You’re the head of the family, Paul says. Does headship look like misogyny? Does headship mean getting waited on hand and foot? Does headship mean never listening to your spouse, never serving, and always ending each conversation with “It’s my way or the highway!” No, headship looks like Christ. And what does that look like? Submission to his Father’s will; having every thought in his mind be completely focused on what is best for his bride, the church; not only being willing, but actually laying down his own life for his bride. What does headship mean? It means service. It means always looking to the needs of your bride. It means sacrifice – just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. At most, a husband could die for his wife once. But that’s not necessarily the kind of love Paul is talking about – a once in a lifetime, jump in front of a bullet kind of heroism. You could only physically give yourself up once in a lifetime, but every single day you can live with a sacrificial love. Every day, you can live with a love that dies to yourself and your desires so that you can put her first. That’s the love that Christ showed to us, and that’s the love we get to reflect to those around us.
Maybe you’re married, maybe you’re not. If you think I’ve forgotten the single people, I haven’t – and neither has Paul. His words still ring true – submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Whether you’re a husband or a wife, a single person, or a parent – here’s the point: You get to play the role of Jesus to all those in your life. Because of Christ, the only two words in your interpersonal relationship vocabulary get to be “You first,” and it has nothing to do with weakness and everything to do with love. Husbands, love your wives and sacrifice everything for her well-being. Wives, submit to your husbands, not from weakness, but from your position of strength and security in Christ. Children, as Paul says, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Single person, love your neighbor as yourself…submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. To the world around us, it sounds old fashioned, if not regressive. To the believer it sounds wonderful. But it doesn’t always happen, does it? Why not? Because sin gets in the way. Heads become chauvinists. Helpers become resentful. Children run rebellious. Do you see how easily that can happen? Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord…but the one who put a ring on my finger is not Jesus – and he proves it all too frequently! Husbands, love your wives…but she’s not especially lovable right now! Children, obey your parents…but I know what’s best for me! Single person, love your neighbor as yourself…submit to one another - but then I’ll just get walked on! Too many people see lousy human execution and want to claim a faulty divine design – so I’ll just do my own thing. And with every resentment and rebellion, we proudly blaze our own trail away from God and toward destruction.
Remember, all of this only makes sense and is possible in Christ. Dear Christian family, submit, love, and obey. Submit, love, and obey, not because of who your husband is or who your wife is or who your parents are. Submit, love, and obey because of who your Jesus is. He’s the one who loved [you] and gave himself up for [you], to make [you] holy, cleansing [you] by the washing with water through the word, and to present [you] to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Do you see the only way any of this makes any sense is in Christ? How can I love like that? Because you have been loved with an everlasting love, and Jesus’ blood has washed every chauvinistic stain from your record. How can I submit? Because you have one who submitted to his Father’s will to endure Calvary’s cross, going to hell and back, to make you his own. How can I obey, even when it’s hard? Because Jesus obeyed every one of his Father’s laws perfectly, and then gave that perfect holiness to you as your robe of righteousness before God.
The world of 2018 might balk at what God says about marriage and family – just as surely as the world of 30 AD and 60 AD had a problem with it. But that’s OK, because by the Spirit’s grace we know Christ, and Christ’s love has changed us. He has taken our hard hearts of stone and replaced them with hearts that live and beat by his Spirit – hearts that have been set free from sin and want nothing more than to reflect such an awesome, selfless, self-sacrificing love to everyone whom God has placed in our lives. Dear Christian, you get to be Christ to everyone in your life – by submitting, loving, and obeying. Not because you’ll save yourself, but because you have been saved by Jesus who submitted, loved, and obeyed perfectly in your place, and has set you free to reflect his love to the world around you.
The peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.