The Grace of God Changes our Marriages: Ephesians 5:21-33

God’s grace comes, not just as a ticket to heaven, but as a way to make all things new. That certainly includes forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and a righteous standing before God, who has become our heavenly Father. But God’s grace also changes our personal relationships, and Paul details three of those relationships toward the end of his letter to the Ephesians: marriage, parent and child, and bond-servant and master. Today, we’ll examine how God’s grace changes our marriage.

“Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. 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.”–5:21-24

You may have wondered why verse 21 wasn’t included in the previous two posts, as part of the section usually titled “Walk in Love.” This is one of those times where dividing what is meant to be read as a letter into sections hurts. Verse 21 precedes the subsequent section by bringing the reader’s mind to the topic of submission.

As a church, we submit to others. We won’t fully understand or appreciate God’s commands regarding submission in marriage, to our parents or to authorities until we understand the truth that as believers, we submit in humility to everyone, out of reverence for Christ, who submitted Himself to the point of death on a cross.

The million-dollar question that’s always asked when these passages are discussed is: What is “submission?” What does that mean; what does that look like in my life?

To submit means recognizing that I am not my own. If we belong to Christ, we belong to the body, which means my life is not simply lived for own sake, but for the sake of others. I have a role to play, and it does not revolve around me, but around the Lord and other people.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45 says. We follow our Savior’s lead, realizing that we work for others, not the other way around.

That character trait must be understood before it is applied to specific situations. So what does it look like in marriage?

For the wife, it means loving submission to her husband. This is not a simple acquiescence to whatever her husband asks, but an attitude of love, trust and respect that seeks to help her husband lead the family. As a believing woman, she submits to God’s will for her life, and, in doing so, submits to her husband and his leadership. Wives submit to their husband because they submit to the Lord.

Does that mean, as some unfortunately take it to mean, that “a woman’s place is in the home?” Or that women ought not speak in the presence of men? Or that a woman should never speak her mind? By no means! Paul is not advocating that women silently go along with their husband down ungodly paths, or that women never contribute to the home or to society as a whole. As the son of a hard-working woman, who worked tirelessly to raise me by herself while working a demanding, full-time job, I’m proud of women who get up early and stay up late to help lead their families. The subject of whether or not a woman should stay at home isn’t discussed anywhere in this passage, and as such, isn’t really up for debate from this text. A woman’s submission to her husband should exist regardless of what job she holds or who brings in more money, just as a husband’s love should exist regardless of those conditions as well. Submission doesn’t mean silence. Submission means respect; submission means trust and, for the wife, submission means respecting her husband’s authority while seeking to humbly offer wisdom and input into important family decisions.

Now, for the husband:

“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 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.”–5:25-33

Notice how much more Paul says to men here. The role of a husband is not to dominate the marriage and rule with an iron fist, but, like Christ, to sacrificially love, serve and lead his wife and children.

Submission, for the husband, means considering his wife’s needs before his own. Ungodly husbands do this, so how much more so should godly men? Sacrificial love, for Christ, meant bearing a cross to take away our sin. Sacrificial love, for husbands, means seeing your wife’s needs and meeting them. Sacrificial love means we’re more concerned with how our family is doing than we are with the score of the ball game. Sacrificial love means coming home, and instead of expecting our wives to take care of everything, actively seeking ways to love our wives and make them more like Jesus.

Marriage, according to Paul, should be a lifelong growth in holiness. As great as it is to experience life together, the goal of marriage, as is the goal of everything else in the Christian’s life, is to glorify God by becoming more like Christ and fulfilling God’s will for our lives.

I know I struggle with making everything in my life about me. It’s very subtle, because it plays out in how I spend my time, how much time I spend talking to others, and what I expect out of other people. I can be extraordinarily selfish. And if that doesn’t get killed by God’s grace, it will ruin my marriage. So, by God’s grace, I seek to kill that so that I can love my wife in a Christlike way that will honor God and sanctify us.

If I expect my wife to submit to me, I ought to be a man worthy of that trust and submission. See the beautiful picture Paul describes: A man loves his wife more than he loves himself. He sacrifices daily to meet her needs and lead her closer to Christ. The wife lovingly trusts her husband and allows him to lead her and seeks to help him fulfill God’s plan for their lives. This is a wonderful picture of the gospel.

Christ lovingly humbles Himself, serves us, meets our need of forgiveness and salvation, and now calls us to humbly and lovingly submit to Him, listening to Him, following His lead as we live lives that glorify Him. Marriage is a picture of the gospel. Believe the gospel, let it sink into the depths of your heart, and let your marriage be changed by it.

Lord, may we seek to honor you in our marriages. May we be godly husbands who lead our wives, and may we be godly wives who submit to our husbands. May we glorify you in all things, and may we let the gospel and your grace change everything about us and our lives.

God bless,

Neal E.

The Grace of God Makes Us Obedient (part 2): Ephesians 5:15-20

I usually separate Sunday and Wednesday posts, but this week, I couldn’t fit everything from Ephesians into Sunday’s post, so I’ll do that here. I lost track of my days, and so now, it’s Wednesday Wisdom on Thursdays. My apologies. If you haven’t read Sunday’s post, go back and do that before reading this.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”–5:15-16

Paul has just described how the church is called to be obedient because of God’s grace, as they seek to imitate Christ. He’s talked about how the church is “light,” and how as Christians, we are to call others into the “light” of Christ.

So what could keep the church from accomplishing God’s mission of disciple-making and holy living? The same thing that keeps many people from accomplishing their goals: laziness and foolish living.

You don’t have to do a whole lot to understand what Paul is saying in verses 15 and 16: Times are evil. People are evil (look back at verses 5 and 6). The gospel must go forward. Don’t waste time.

But yet, wasting time is so easy. This is a really hard verse for me to read, because I’m really good at wasting time. Whether it be Netflix, Facebook or some other form of entertainment, I’m really good at procrastinating. I don’t accomplish as much as I want to, in any area of my life, at times because of it. It is one of the sins I’m struggling to put off, but by God’s grace I will grow in.

So how do we not waste the time?

“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing, and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”–5:17-20

First, don’t be foolish. Simply put, grow up, be mature follow the will of God. That means getting a job that betters the world, getting into the Word every day, praying for not just your needs but others, and seeking to be more and more like Jesus everyday as you live to make Him known, whether in the ministry or in the secular world (or in both, for my many bi-vocational friends).

What it means to be serious is that for those aspects of our lives that make a difference, whether in this world and most definitely in eternity, we are “sober-minded.” We are ready to roll up our sleeves and do whatever is necessary to fulfill our God-given roles on this Earth. It means always being ready to do and to be whatever God has called you to do and to be.

Next, be filled with the Spirit. We have the Spirit if we are in Christ, but Paul commands the church to walk by the Spirit. The Spirit leads and guides us, and if we are controlled by something other than the Spirit, wine, in this example, we cannot follow the will of God and make the best use of time.

While drinking alcohol is certainly not sinful, it is sinful to allow alcohol, or anything else, to rule over us, as Jesus alone is our Lord. Alcohol presents different complications than the possible idols of food and sports because of its ability to control us and inhibit our ability to think, function and follow Christ if we drink too much. I won’t ever tell anyone of a legal drinking age what to do in this area, but it requires cautious behavior on the part of the Christian who chooses to drink alcohol, because we are set apart, called to live differently than the world. That means if and when we drink, we do so with thankfulness to God and with a mind set, not on being drunk, but on, as in all things, honoring Him.

We also make the best use of time when we worship the Lord with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul says those who are filled with the Spirit address each other in worship. We are so grateful for what Christ has done and is doing in our lives, we cannot but speak of Him. While I enjoy my church family back in Birmingham, and will love my church family here in Arkansas, for many different reasons, ultimately, I love them because they are fellow followers of Jesus. I would not identify with them otherwise. We are brought together by Christ, and that commonality of faith, of struggle, of worship, is what binds us together.

Lastly, we make the best use of time when we are thanking God. Paul told the church thankfulness keeps us from sexual immorality, something discussed Sunday. Thankfulness keeps us from sexual immorality and other sins because it focuses our minds and our hearts on God. Likewise, when we are focused on God, we will not be so lazy with our time. We will remember Him, and we will seek to honor Him in all we do.

Lord, may we make the best use of time. May we repent when we fail, and may we always seek to do your will.

God bless,

Neal E.