Pentecost 13, August 22, 2021
This is a sermon text that whenever I preach on it, the elbows start flying. Now maybe you are not a big sports or basketball person, but there are a lot of sports, like hoops, where an elbow is a weapon. I had my glasses busted by a fat kid in an 8th grade basketball game at St. Paul’s, Grafton. He hit me right here. And if by some chance he is listening to this on the internet, I am still waiting for an apology! But whenever I preach this text, the elbows start flying between spouses. I read, “Wives, submit to your husbands…” and the guys start going, “See? You need to do what I say.” And then I get to “Husbands, love your wives…” and then the elbows start flying back, ‘See? You need to listen to me.” Paul gives us a practical approach to Holy Spirit filled Christian marriages and all relationships. Today we are reminded that we all should be “Submitting to One Another.”
Now we need to be clear here. When Paul says to wives here today to submit, that does not mean us husbands get to sit in our La-Z-Boy chairs and say, “Woman, bring me a root beer!” It also means that when it says husbands love your wives, that means you ladies aren’t supposed to order us husbands to go to the mall when football is on. Paul is telling us something else. The word “submit” here does not mean simply to be dominated over or to blindly obey; rather, it carries the idea of “yielding to” or “deferring to someone out of respect,” as is indicated in the previous verse where we are all to be, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).
When folks are having problems in their relationships, it usually turns out that their approach to the relationship is what can they GET. And that right there is a problem. I think the Bible clearly states that true fulfillment in our lives does not come from taking, but in giving. And for those of you who are not married, this stuff I am talking about today is not just true only for marriage relationships, it also applies to friendships, our relationships with parents and family, and also with the folks in the Church.
Satan tries to convince us all the time that we are to think only of ourselves. He wants our priorities to be personal, not communal, not part of a team. Our first, sinful instinct is to think, “What can I get?” instead of “What can I give?” or “How can I help?”
The contentment of living in a true Christian relationship comes through the giving of ourselves and submitting ourselves to each other. When we do that, then “we” becomes more important than “me.” The best, most special gift that we can give to someone is not an iPad Pro, or a Corvette, or a 10-foot 4K HDTV. The best gift we can give to someone is ourselves. This is the best gift and when we do it, we deepen our relationships. Submission was part of God’s plan from the very beginning. Verse 31 in our text quotes Gen 2:24, and both Adam and Eve were to serve God in Eden. But sin corrupted marriage, as it corrupted everything else, and sin separated all of us from God.
Now this idea of submission is not very popular in our society today. There are ladies who do not want to hear the word submit here, but Paul said “submit” as we do to Jesus. I have known many husbands who love the “Wives submit yourselves to your husbands…” part of our text today, but then they ignore what follows about husbands loving their wives as Jesus loves the church, a church He died for. Christian submissiveness, giving before taking, is not a popular idea in our culture today. Satan has been very successful in convincing people that selfishness can be disguised as independence.
Do you remember the old Loony Tunes Cartoons with the Goofy Gophers, Mac and Tosh? They were the ones who were always so unfailingly polite to each other, saying “Indubitably. After you.” “Oh no, after you.” “Oh no, I insist, after you.” This is how God wants us to be in our relationships. Trying to “out kind” each other.
I think we can all agree there is not enough kindness out there. I think we have all seen marriages where there was not enough kindness. And that can lead to divorces. And when kindness is lacking, it can lead to some weird reasons people have gotten a divorce:
One woman found out her husband had her in his contacts list as Guantanamo and sued for divorce.
Another woman sued for divorce because her husband snored too much.
And one more…a couple’s parrot kept saying, “Divorce.” “Be Patient.” And the wife assumed the parrot heard her husband saying those words on the phone to his mistress and sued him for divorce.
But I do not believe there is a recorded instance of two people getting divorced because they were both too nice to each another.
We need to be kind. We need to be nice. We need to be forgiving. In a Lutheran Hour devotion some years ago we were told the story of Antonio, who fell in love with Rosa in 1933. They were married the following year. Together they had five children and 77 years. Understand, not all of those years were good. During the war, in 1944, Rosa had an affair, which she kept secret for more than 60 years.
Sixty years wasn’t long enough. While Antonio and Rosa were clearing out their apartment in Rome, he came across a dust-covered pile of letters she had received from this other guy. Furious, Antonio moved out and filed for divorce. Rosa did not contest the suit filed by her 99-year-old husband. They were married in 1934 and got divorced in 2011. Antonio, after all those years, found it impossible to forgive Rosa. And maybe you have a hard time forgiving someone as well.
How can we fulfill God’s design of loving submission? Well, I think you know the answer: the ability to do this comes from Jesus Christ. Jesus is the perfect, divine model. Paul says in verse 25 “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church…” Instead of asserting His privileges as the Son of God, He freely subjected Himself to the Law, took our sins upon Himself, and even gave Himself over to a horrible death on a cross. Our text: “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy….” We are not alone, isolated. We belong to Him, and as such, we are not to think just of ourselves and our own interests. We are now free to love and give of ourselves as Jesus gave of Himself.
Jesus brings forgiveness and puts a forgiving spirit in us. He frees us to see beyond ourselves, to be selfless. He equips us to love as He loves. And we can now, with Jesus in our hearts, demonstrate that love to our spouses, our friends, our neighbors.
Another “put others first” story is told of the captain of a ship who looked into the dark night and saw faint lights in the distance. Immediately he told his signalman to send a message, “Alter your course 10 degrees south.” A message came back: “Alter your course 10 degrees north.” The captain was mad. So he sent a second message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south–I am a captain!” Soon another message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north–I am seaman third class Jones.” Immediately the captain sent a third message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south–I am a battleship.” Then the reply came “Alter your course 10 degrees north–I am a lighthouse.”
In the midst of our dark times, all sorts of voices are shouting orders into the night, telling us to look out for “#1”. One voice says something quite the opposite. But the voice happens to be the Light of the World, and we ignore that voice of Jesus at our peril.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we can demonstrate the love we have for our spouses, our families and our friends. Our relationships will be more fulfilling and satisfying when we think first to give of ourselves, of submitting ourselves, instead of just thinking of what we can get from the other person.
Jesus has blessed us with His love and forgiveness, won for us by His death on the cross and His resurrection. He has blessed us with the chance to share His love, to share our love. May our Heavenly Father each grant us the wisdom and the willingness to do so for the sake of His Son, Jesus, and for the sake of our families and friends.
In the Name of Jesus.