Down through the years the relationships that exist in marriage and the family have always been the subject of a fair amount of humor. I have jotted down some of the one-liners that I have seen at one time or another. The old comedian George Burns, for example, said "I was married by a judge; I should have asked for a jury." Rodney Dangerfield, the fellow who never got any respect, said "My wife and I were happy for 20 years; then we met." Henny Youngman said "The secret of a happy marriage is ... still a secret."
I have an idea that one of the reasons that particular relationship has found its way into our "grins" at one time or another is because we all understand how powerfully our marriages affect all of the rest of our lives. We kind of joke about it because it is so powerful that there is convicting truth to any point we raise about it that it, and it makes us a little nervous. One of the ways we handle that is to joke about it. We realize that we haven't learned yet how to put into practice all of the instructions that we know we ought to be using about our families. We haven't yet lived up to what we find in passages like Matt just read to us in how to treat our husbands and our wives, and how to allow the atmosphere that God wants to exists to rule in our households and in our family relationships.
This particular text from Ephesians 5 is one of the great passages in scripture or anywhere else, of course, on this theme. What it has to say is not a secret. Sometimes we act as if it is. What it calls for is the use of loving behavior in the family by people who belong to the Lord. This morning we would like to explore that theme from this passage. We will not touch on every point that could be made here, but still we will learn a lot about how it is that we are to go about loving each other at home.
I believe that we ought to start by noticing the assumptions that this whole teaching is based on. The assumptions that undergird this passage are really, in some ways, more important and more powerful than the instructions Paul stresses. I believe if the assumptions exist in our underlying attitudes, then the instructions are going to come almost naturally. The assumptions that are here are two-fold, and they are what so often we miss in our American society today.
The first assumption that breathes through this whole passage is the idea of God's creation. Paul touches on this in several phrases down through the passage, and then quotes directly from Genesis 2 when he comes down to verse 31. But all though it there is the idea that marriage can exist because of God's own idea and because of God's own creation. The story is told, as you recall, in Genesis 2 of how God in his wisdom planned for man and woman to be partners, to be companions. He wanted the man that he had made to have a suitable helper, a partner, someone who corresponded to him in his life. For him to have a pet would not do. So as someone said, God made the only thing he ever made that wasn't made out of dirt, and that was the woman.
You will not find this in scripture, but some fellow has suggested that it went something like this: "God said to Adam, 'Adam, there is no creature found in everything I have made who is a suitable partner to you, so I am going to make woman.' And Adam said, 'Why?' And God said, 'Because she will walk beside you. She will rub your back. She will look into your eyes. She will prepare meals a lot better than you can. She will be the queen of your home.' Adam said, 'How much will it cost me?' God said, 'It will cost you an arm and a leg.'" And so this story goes that Adam responded, "What can I get for a rib?"
That is not how it happened! The Bible says that God knew that there had to be a human being to stand beside Adam, and that he made one as some of our wedding ceremonies say, "taken from his side," to show that it was not someone to rule over him, not someone for him to walk over, not someone for him to merely use, but someone to stand beside him, someone for him to have his arm around to be his companion and his mate, and someone into whose eyes he could look and they could correspond to each other. I heard Bro. G.P. Holt make the point one time as he talked about how God made them male and female. Bro. Holt said he made Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve. That point is needing to be heard in our society today, isn't it?
The thought is that marriage and family is based on the fact of God's creative work in making man and woman for each other. Verse 31 is the basic Bible teaching on marriage. Jesus used it when he addressed questions about marriage (Mk. 10:7). What God had in mind from the beginning was that a man and a woman be joined together in marriage and not separated.
The second assumption that underlies this whole passage is that the relationship that exists between a husband and his wife is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and his church. Marriage is not a model for Christ and his church; it is a reflection of, or an echo of, the ultimate reality that God had in mind. And if you think about this, we are going from eternity to eternity. We are going from creation to heaven. The one assumption starts with what God made in the beginning. The other assumption is based on what will take place at the end when the Lord presents the church to himself in all of his glory. Paul stresses that the relationship between a husband and his wife should reflecft the relationship that exists between Christ and his church. Those two assumptions are really the focal points of this passage and the basis of what the passage teaches about loving in the home and the family and in marriage.
Now with those assumptions fixed in our minds, let's notice three guidelines that are here about how husbands and wives are to love each other. The passage says first that we are to love like Christ loves - that we are to be people who love as selflessly as the Lord loves the church. The biggest problem in family life has always been how to overcome selfishness. Marriage exists partly as a means of conquering the abject selfishness in which human beings would tend to look on other human beings as merely objects to use for our own individual satisfaction. A cartoon showed a young man and a young woman. They looked really young. They got married. Before very long they began to have trouble, and they sought out a counselor. The picture of the two at the counselor showed the wife holding a teddy bear. They are both sitting before the counselor, and the young man is talking. And the young man says, "Doctor, I think I know what our problem is." The doctor says, "And what's that?" He says, "She keeps taking the teddy bear away from me!" That is the level of maturity that is often shown in our selfish treatment of each other. It is what "I want" and what "I get" that forms the level of the thinking that dominates in our families too often.
That's why Paul in this passage uses Jesus' love for the church as a model for unselfish love. To the husband Paul says, "You love as Christ loved the church." Notice that Jesus becomes the point of reference from which behavior in the family moves and operates. Husbands, love as Christ loves the church. How is that? He gave himself up for her. The husband's task in loving selflessly is to be someone who will submit what he wants to what his wife needs. He sacrifices himself. It would be a lot easier if the husband could just go out and give his life - have someone take it from him in behalf of his wife - but instead, God calls us to be living sacrifices and to be loving unselfishly in the little things of everyday life.
Which one of us has learned to do that perfectly? What a job that is! What a task that is! To love as Jesus loved the church? How did he do that? He loved the church before the church was the church. He loved by giving himself up even before the church was what he wanted it to be. Husbands, that says to us that we have to love our wives sacrificially and selflessly even before they are all that they should be. And the Lord loved the church even as the church was experiencing the weaknesses of trying to grow and to mature. If he loves the church here at North National, he still loves the church when it is not perfect because we are not. We are people. This is not saying, then, that whenever she gets to be what she ought to be and when she treats you like she ought to treat you, then you love her and give yourself up for her. No, it is tougher than that.
On the other hand, he says to the wives, "Submit yourself to your husband as the church does to Christ." The theme that is stressed in that statement is the "as to the Lord" idea. Notice very carefully in verse 22: "Wives submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord." The idea is not that the husband is the Lord. The idea is that she does what she does what she does as if she were doing it for her Lord. The husband is not even the main point in this statement that Paul makes. He is saying to Christian wives, "Keep your attention on the Lord. Focus on the Lord." And then verse 24 says, "As the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit in everything to their husbands."
The unselfishness that is called for here may be expressed in different ways in the two genders, but it is the same unselfishness, the same point - as the Lord - for both husband and wife. Love that way. It is voluntary and responsible. Throughout this passage that type of love is stressed. And it has to be seen that this is a love of decision, a love of choice, a love of commitment, a love that acts like it should act regardless of what the other person does. Throughout the passage, Paul focuses not on the rights of individuals within marriage but the responsibilities. It could be that is where we get off track. Very easily our rights become the key issue. To a Christian, it is suppose to be "my responsibilities" to the Lord that is the focus. That is the first instruction - love as Jesus loved.
Secondly, Paul stresses in this passage, love with the highest purpose there is. It is a higher purpose than merely satisfying our own selves and our own longings. Paul says that Jesus gave himself up for the church that he might sanctify her, that he then might present the church to himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle, and then that she might be holy and without blemish. These are the purposes of the love it takes to build a marriage. All of the phrases that are used there are really phrases that are familiar from sacrificial customs in the Old Testament. The thought is that in marriage and in our family life, we are offering up something to the Lord. We are working toward a higher goal than just being roommates and just surviving everyday life. Our goal is to meet these three guidelines that Paul mentions here. First, to be set apart, to be pure, to belong to God. Secondly, to work toward that time when we will be with the Lord in glory without spot or wrinkle. And third, that we might be holy in the here and now.
If our love in our families was directed toward that type of a high purpose, if we were reaching for that ultimate goal, what a difference it would make in us, wouldn't it? We would rise above the temptation to think that it is all about my individual happiness. And if we go through a stage in our lives, and all of us will, where we are dealing with the routines (you can't pay a mortgage and raise kids without going through a stage like that sometime), then you begin to think, "Wait a minute. I am not happy right now. Therefore, this one that I have used, I will now cast aside." That is a sad way to look at life. Paul is saying, "Let's reach higher than that. Have a purpose like Jesus had with the church in your families. Think of purity and belonging to the Lord. Think of the goal of glory. Think of holiness in everyday life. And love like that."
And that means that in our families we have got to love in a way that helps each other toward our goals. Husbands, are you listening to this? There is something badly wrong when in our families husbands are not engaged in leading the wife and the family toward belonging to God and glory with the Lord and holiness in personal conduct and behavior. If your wife is going to have to get to heaven in spite of you and not because of you, you need to reevaluate where you are. The same for wives. Of all the help that wives give to that husband she shares her life with, helping him get to heaven, helping him be what God wants him to be, helping him become what he can become in the Lord's service, that would be a high goal and an important one. Love like Jesus loved. Love for the highest purpose.
And third, this passage says, Love like you love yourself. I like this story of an older couple I read about. They were celebrating their 55th anniversary. And the gentleman had tried to think of a way to honor his sweet wife and to treat her with the respect that he would want to be treated with. And he even came up with a little statement that he read at the celebration their children conducted for them. His dear wife by this time was somewhat hard of hearing. He read her the statement, "Honey, after 55 years (his voice quivered and a tear was in his eye), I have found you tried and true," it said. Everybody was so moved by it and they clapped for him. His wife said, "What did you say?" He read it again, "After 55 years, I have found you tried and true." She, having trouble with her hearing, said "Listen, after 55 years, I'm tired of you, too!" Loving means to love as we love ourselves.
In this passage it says that just as members of the body of Christ are members of his body, that in marriage husbands and wives have a unique oneness. They are not merely business partners. Their lives so mold together that it becomes difficult to think of or to image one without the other. "Bill" becomes to all of my family "Bill and Kay." "Gene" becomes "Gene and Shelia." That is the idea that is here in this text. Therefore, the passage says that in order to love like this, we are to love as we love ourselves, our own bodies (v. 28). And in practical application, that means that to hate would be to hate ourselves. It would be a form of emotional and spiritual suicide to treat our own bodies as if they were the enemy.
Instead, it says we are to nourish and cherish each other, to care for and to keep each other (to feed and to keep each other warm, literally). It is interesting that these are the same terms Paul uses to talk about how parents are to raise their children. In Ephesians 6:4 and I Thess. 2:7, he uses these terms of parents and their children. And I take it that what it is saying is that in our marriages we are to "baby" each other. It is going to be required because sometimes we will act like babies. That is not what I am saying. But we are to undertake to show the same kind of care and concern and warmth and attention to each other that we would show to our little ones. Have you ever seen a parent using the baby talk to talk to that little child? I wonder if that is where "honey" and "sweetheart" and "darling" came from in our talk with each other? The same type of tender affection is crucially important and is extremely necessary in building the home that is what God wants it to be.
Paul says in verse 33 that the way this works is that each one is to love his wife as himself, and that a wife should see that she respects her husband. What we are working for in using that instruction is a situation in which there is security and self-worth in our relationship with each other in our families - where we understand that someone is going to love us no matter what, and where we can see that we are worth something and we contribute something to that marriage and family relationship.
Two assumptions - marriage is based on God's act of creation in which the man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife and the two becomes one flesh, and family life is to reflect the fact that the Lord is going to present the church to himself in glory. And with those assumptions in mind, we should love each other as Jesus loved the church, for the highest possible purposes, and as we love ourselves.
Paul, even in saying that about family life, cannot turn his attention away from the importance of the Lord's church. He says that what he has been talking about may be, and indeed is, a great mystery (v. 32), but it is only a reflection of the relationship which exists between Christ and the church. I want for us to think of our families today, but I want for us to think of our spiritual family, too. Are we responding to the Lord's love? Are we living with him and for him? Is our ultimate goal heaven? Today anyone present could be a member of the body of Christ because when you, because of faith, repent of sin, confess that name of Jesus before others and are baptized into him, he will add you to his body, he will make you a member of his body, and then he will love you like we have been studying. Maybe you are here today and need to do that. Maybe you are someone who needs prayer in some way or another. Maybe you are a faithful Christian who wants to work and worship with the congregation here. To help us meet our obligation to you, you could let us know about that. If we can help you in some way, won't you come while we stand and sing together?