Now we are ready to delve deeper into the topic of marriage. Paul gives an interesting insight regarding marriage in v4. It’s an odd verse.
4 The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.
If you think the Bible is sexist, think again. Both parties–husband and wife–belong to one another, even physically. This is radical given the cultural context in which the Bible was written. This gives us a clue into the radical nature of Christian marriage. This attitude is one of self-giving rather than self-taking. Not what I can get out of this marriage relationship, but what I can give.
Paul develops this idea much more in the classic text when it comes to marriage. Please turn with me to Eph 5:15. We won’t cover v22-33, which talk more specifically about marriage. That section contains some explosive topics like gender roles. I will cross that bridge and fall on that grenade when we get to Ephesians, which in my estimation, at the rate that we are going, it won’t be until 2014. I should be ready by then, I hope.
To give you an introduction to marriage, I want to cover just v15-21.
Read Eph 5:15-21.
This section is critical to understanding the relationship between husbands and wives as well as the following chapter, the relationship between parents and children and slaves and masters. The verse that connects everything together is the final verse we read. v21–
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Submit is a strong word. It is military term. When you join the military, you are submitting in the sense that you lose a tremendous amount of freedom. You lose control over your schedule, what to eat, when to eat, when to take a holiday. Why? Because you have to defer and let go of your rights for the sake of the whole so that the military unit can function as one, in concert, unified. In marriage, each party is to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Sounds very much like the church, doesn’t it? It is no wonder that Paul says in v32–
32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
In the classic text about marriage, although this entire section is about marriage, interestingly, that’s not the end. Marriage is actually a pointer to the profound mystery of Christ and the church. Marriage and church are inextricably linked. They mirror one another. In order for there to be unity in a marriage, there has to be this kind of submitting to one another. In the same way, in order for there to be unity in the body of Christ, there has to be this kind of submission.
And therein lies the difficulty. This is why marriages break apart. This is why churches break apart. Sinners don’t like to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. It is humanly impossible to submit through our efforts. It has to be Spirit generated.
I learned one thing this past Christmas. We had 17 people under 1 roof for over a week. That included 8 children. 8 children. And that includes 1 Elijah. I learned that the ability to defer for the sake of another, the ability to deny my desires so that someone else’s desires can be fulfilled, the ability to serve another’s needs and put their need above my own, I learned that these things are not instinctive. As sinners, we want to take care of ourselves. We want our needs met. We want others to serve us. We want others to defer so that we can get our way. We want others to understand our point of view while we ignore theirs. I learned that it is impossible to submit to another person, whether it’s your wife, or your child, or your relative, or your brother or sister in Christ unless we are filled by the Spirit.
v15-20, the section prior to v21 about submitting to one another, this section is all about being filled by the Holy Spirit. What’s the connection? The connection is–a Spirit-generated selflessness is the foundation of any marriage, and in fact, any relationship.
That is why v15-21 are supposed to be read in conjunction with the rest of the chapter about marriage and continuing into chapter 6. The chief problem in any marriage is self-centeredness. If a marriage is struggling, you can bet that at the core, there is selfishness going on somewhere. Selfishness is the main cancer in any bad marriage.
There are some in the conservative Reformed theological camp who stress male headship and female submission. If the chief problem in any marriage is self-centeredness, then stressing gender roles before addressing the problem of self-centeredness may actually encourage selfishness. Do you see that?