Pentecost 14, August 26, 2018
Dearly Beloved . . .
Text: Ephesians 5:22–33
“Meahwidge.” (Princess Bride)
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the presence of God…” You have heard these words before, yes? That is how we pastor types usually begin a wedding. We are gathered here today to consider God’s Word. In the Epistle reading today, in our sermon text, God speaks to us about marriage.
There is perhaps no set of verses in the Scriptures on the topic of marriage as informative and clarifying as these words. There is also perhaps no set of verses on the topic of marriage as dismissed and considered as countercultural to our times as these words. This makes me think about last Sunday’s Gospel, where there were many who said, “‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this?’” (Jn 6:60–61). With open ears and open hearts, hear clearly and hold firmly to what God teaches us about marriage.
The first thing we learn from God’s Word about marriage is that marriage has been instituted by God. God is the author and designer of marriage (Gen 2:20–24). It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, the first husband and wife. Congress did not institute marriage. The Supreme Court did not institute marriage. No president or king did that. God did. God invented marriage, if you will.
Despite what human courts may decide, the Lord God says that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman. For us who are married, it is supposed to be “until death parts us,” although the Bible does allow for divorce in cases of adultery (infidelity), abandonment or abuse. According to the Bible, marriage is not simply the functional arrangement between two persons—who may or may not love each other, who might just be looking for a tax break or who marry to resolve immigration issues. And the Bible also says that men and women have no authority to refashion marriage into any other shape or form. For example, some couples may tell you they have an “open marriage.” Marriage is something that God has given us, like His Word and His Sacraments, and we are not supposed to change or mess with the things God gives us. OK?
God gives marriage for these reasons (The Bible, LSB, p 275):
(1) For “the mutual companionship, help, and support” of the husband and wife.
(2) So that husband and wife may “find delight in one another.”
(3) For “the procreation of children.”
Therefore, the first big thing I am trying to get across to you all today is that since God is the author and designer of marriage, it can’t be redefined by humans. Marriage is what it is because God created it. It is what God says it is.
Now that we have these preliminaries discussed, we can turn to the Epistle reading for today. You know, the first part of this reading is probably the one piece of Scripture that is most often quoted, out of context, by men. “Woman…submit! Bring me a beer!” Right? And every man that has tried to pull this little Biblical “stunt” has probably never read on to what Paul says to husbands.
This text is about marriage. It is also about Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church. You will not get these verses, you will not understand what God is telling us here, unless you understand the foundation of these verses and what compels Paul to direct wives and husbands to live toward each other as he does. As I said this is about marriage, but there is also something else going on here. We are supposed to give of ourselves, to be selfless, not selfish, like Jesus was for us, for the church!
Allow me to illustrate.
Most of us are familiar with the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. The story is of French origin, written by novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and first published in 1740. The tale has gone through several renditions and has been adapted for movies, television, and theater several dozen times. Disney has given us a cartoon and a live action version of the same musical. Yay!
You’ll remember that it’s the story of a young lady named Beauty whose life and family circumstances brought her to cross paths with a beastly dude who lived in a distant castle. He was actually a handsome prince but was cursed and given a hideous appearance. As the story goes, Beauty came to dwell for a time in the castle of the Beast. As she did, she grew to know him and at length to love him. In the Beast’s most desperate hour, the kiss (or in one version, the tear) of Beauty’s love touched him, and he was suddenly and gloriously transformed. The curse was lifted, and the Beast appeared handsome, restored.
There can be a bit of truth in fairy tales. There’s a bit of truth here when we think of our relationship with Jesus Christ. But reverse the roles! Jesus Christ is the beauty; and we’re the beast (Eph 5:25–27).
Jesus is the noble, glorious, compassionate one. We are the ones stained by sin, defective, wrinkled, ugly. Because we are the idolaters, the cursers and swearers, the folks who skip church, who don’t honor our parents and authorities and who hate, lust, steal, lie and covet. When God looks at us there is clearly nothing good here, and yet He . . . loves . . . us! “For God so loved the world…” Right?
This is precisely how Paul describes it. This is how Christ loved us! “He gave himself up” for us, the Church, to suffer our shame, and to save our lives. He did this in order that He could set the Church—us—apart as special and wash us clean (v 26)! He could present the Church—us—to Himself a glorious Church. That’s how he sees us (v 27)! Picture Jesus standing beside us, the church proudly: “I’m not ashamed to call (them) mine!” Picture Him standing beside His Bride, the Church, as our advocate. Because Jesus died and rose for us, He sees us as holy and without a spot of sin.
That’s the Gospel! That’s Christ for you! And Paul said we husbands should love our wives as Jesus loved the church. That’s why husbands should love their wives that way; it’s how Jesus loved us, men! He suffered, died for us.
Marriage is not about getting the upper hand and keeping it. It is not about who is in charge and who rules the roost. I can tell you who does that…it is Jesus! Not us husbands. Not wives. Jesus is in charge! OK?
And He showed us what to do. I read in a commentary that maybe God set up marriage knowing what Jesus was going to do for us on the cross and rising again. People often think it is the other way around, but it is not. God knew we were going to sin. God knew Jesus, His Son, was going to rescue us before He even said, “Let there be light.” So maybe He set up marriage in a way that would point us to Him.
Marriage is not about who is in charge. We husbands are supposed to be selfless, giving, like Jesus was when He died for all of us. Wives are supposed to be selfless, giving, like Jesus was when He died for all of us. Jesus doesn’t keep score of our sins. He doesn’t give up on us, He doesn’t dump us if we don’t put the toilet seat in the right place, or snore too much, or stay out too late with our friends, or spend too much money at the mall, or fill a closet with shoes. (This is hardly a comprehensive list, you know what your spouse does that drives you aarrgh!) Marriage is not about keeping score. It is not about what we can get. It is about what we can give.
For all of us husbands and wives, present and future, we are to be selfless and giving to our spouses as Jesus was for the Church. We do this not because it is deserved, we do it because it’s living out the Gospel and honoring Jesus Christ.
Dearly beloved, married or not, this text is about you. It tells us of Jesus loves us in a such a way that we cannot comprehend. He laid down His life for us and picked it up again on Easter. Therefore, moved by His love and in deepest gratitude to Him, we all can honor His institution of marriage, wives and husbands, by living the Gospel toward one another as we are told to do, and all, married or not, we can live selflessly, “givingly,” by encouraging each other to live as Jesus wants us to, and by honoring marriage in what we say, think, and do.
In Jesus’ Name.