Today, we are going to continue our study on the topic of marriage and I want to talk specifically about sanctification in the context of marriage. Before we dive into this new aspect of marriage, I want to revisit and tie up some loose ends from my last sermon 2 weeks ago.
After Paul urges all Christians to submit to one another, he talks about gender roles in marriage starting in Eph 5:22.
Women get all hung up with this idea of submission. The first thing I want to ask is, which is harder–is it harder for women to submit, or is it harder for men to do what Christ did and lay down his life for his wife? Which essential means to die. Is it harder to submit or to die? Come on, submission is hard, women, I grant you that, but lay down and die? I vote for die, but then again, I am a man so maybe I am biased.
Sisters, don’t get hung up on this concept of submission. We mustn’t forget that submission is part of what it means to be a Christian. When we first became Christian, we had to submit to the Lord. Before God saved you, you had certain plans, goals, dreams, but all of that, you surrendered at the feet of Jesus when you became a follower of Christ. You never had to submit before to anyone. You were the one who called the shots. You did whatever you wanted to do. Pursued whatever you wanted to pursue. You lived for yourself. But becoming a Christian means you no longer live for yourself, but you live for God and others. A Christian or a Christ follower is someone who continuously lets go of the control over his or her life and tells Jesus, I trust you, I follow you, I submit to you, you can call the shots from now on and I will obey.
Notice that it says that everyone takes turns submitting before one another. Men and women, husbands and wives, ministers and lay persons, parents and children, employers and employees, we are to submit to one another in the fear or reverence of Christ. It would be a gross misinterpretation of this passage to say, women, your job is only to submit or respect your husbands always in every situation and men, your job is to lead and lay down your life for your wives and love sacrificially always in every situation. All of us need to love at times AND respect at other times, submit at times and to sacrifice at times, and we do this before one another regardless of gender or position or spiritual maturity.
Just because I am a man doesn’t give me the right to demand absolute submission and respect from Jackie simply because she is my wife. That would be dictatorship. If I were Jesus and I were perfect and infallible all the time and I never made a mistake, then I could demand absolute submission. Sorry. News flash: I am not Jesus. Just because God has given the spiritual gift and the role to pastor this church doesn’t mean that everyone else in this congregation need to give me 100% trust and submit to my every decision. Even kids have something to teach parents and good bosses listen to feedback from their team because no pastor or parent or manager is omniscient. Even King Solomon, who was one of the wisest persons who ever lived made tons of mistakes.
No one other than Jesus can demand absolute submission so obviously women submitting to their husbands cannot be applied literally in every situation. That’s as ridiculous as saying women never have to lay down their lives and sacrifice for others. All Christians are expected to take up their crosses and deny themselves, right?
Gender roles are not meant to be rigid categories. Love vs. submit. Love vs. respect. Sacrifice vs. submit. We all take turns doing both. A wrong application of this would be to let the husband make every decision, even the small ones. By virtue of being the man of the house, the man ought to have the TV remote in his hand because that is a sacred duty reserved for men and no one else is allowed to touch the remote so the rest of the family has to submit and watch whatever the man wants. Or eat whatever he wants to eat. People who take biblical principles and turn them into rigid categories are missing the point.
Think of gender roles not as rigid categories that are to be followed literally in every circumstance. Think of them as guidelines which provide balance to reel us in from going toward our tendencies. I will get into this next week, but women, post-Fall, have a tendency to want to manipulate and rule over men and so this is a good reminder for women that they need to submit. I’m not a woman so obviously, I can’t speak from personal experience.
But as a guy, I see incredible insight and wisdom in the guideline when God tells husbands to love their wives. Paul is a guy and he knows how men are. We men are simply not good at loving anyone except ourselves. Men are generally passive. Men want to be left alone so that they can watch sports all day in their man cave. Men like hobbies like golf which take them out of the home. If a new gadget is released, men will spend hours reading reviews to determine whether it is worth buying. Men love to work overtime so that they can advance in their careers and so that they don’t have to bother with family issues. But when a man is hungry, he is good at finding food for himself. Or when he has a wart, he is good at researching all the best treatments on Amazon. Men are extremely good at loving themselves. Can I get an Amen?
Look at how often Paul has to appeal to husbands to love. Verse 25 – husbands, love your wives. Then again in v28, husbands, love your wives as your own bodies. He appeals to their self-love. I know you are not good at loving others, but you are really good at loving yourself. Now love your wife in the same way that you love yourself. Then, he throws in some encouragement–he who loves his wife loves himself. Happy wife means happy life. If your wife is happy because you are loving her, don’t you know, you are loving yourself because your life will be better? Guys are dense. We are slow learners so in v29, Paul spells what love for your wife looks like.
29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it…
Step 1: provide for your wife the same way that you are really good at providing for your needs. This part comes somewhat more naturally for most guys. We see ourselves as the financial provider. Step 2 is harder. Step 2: care for your wife the same way that you care for yourself. Now that is harder. I can provide for my wife and give her money so that she can get out of my hair, but that’s not enough. If you love her, care for her. Then, one final time in v33, again, Paul says, love your wife as yourself and wives respect your husband. These are guidelines which go against the grain of our normal tendencies as guys and girls. Again, these are not rigid categories.
I like what Pastor Tim Keller has to say about gender roles. He describes husbands as having tie breaking authority. There will be times, not frequently, but there will be times when a significant decision needs to be made but you are in a deadlock. You are essentially in a tie. What do you do? You need someone to break the tie. Based on this passage, the husband is to break the tie and the wife is to support his decision. In our 13 year marriage, I think I have exercised this kind of tie breaking authority twice that I can remember. First, what to do after completing our mission work in Tokyo and most recently my decision to be ordained. The decision was hard to make in the moment and it was hard especially for Jackie to support my decision, but looking back, I think Jackie can testify that both times, it was the right decision. This illustrates a spiritual principle. Since God is the one who established this authority structure, when we follow HIS design and do things HIS way, He blesses.
In the past 2 sermons, the Holy Spirit has been an important theme. Even before we can talk about biblical marriage, we have to talk about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us to submit to one another, the Holy Spirit helps husbands to lay down their lives and the Holy Spirit helps wives to submit. As we relate to each other in these ways with help from the Holy Spirit, we are being sanctified. From the moment that salvation comes to an individual, the process of sanctification begins. Salvation occurs when a person is born again, born of the Spirit. Blind eyes are opened. Hardened hearts are softened. Spiritual chains of bondage and oppression are broken. Spiritual life is breathed into dead corpses. This is salvation. But this is only the beginning of the story. True salvation always leads to sanctification. Assuming the Holy Spirit remains present in a believer’s life, verse 27 describes the goal of sanctification and this principle applies to all believers whether you are married or single.
27 He [Christ] did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless.
On your wedding day, the bride is dressed in radiant white. Imagine a scenario where the bride-to-be was fully dressed in her wedding dress, but on the way to the wedding ceremony, she was hungry and decided to stop by at In N Out. Sounds far fetched because I don’t think brides are thinking much about food on their wedding day, but work with me, it could happen. And while taking a bite into that juicy double double, a wad of grilled onions covered with their magic sauce mixed with ketchup fell onto her lap and stained her wedding dress. On a normal day, it would be no big deal. But on your wedding day, this would be a serious emergency. The wedding dress has to be radiant white. Have you ever seen a wedding dress that is not white? The tux can be whatever color–black, gray, navy blue, brown, but the wedding dress has to be radiant white. There can be no stain, no wrinkle, no blemish. Only radiant white is acceptable for the bride.
According to Eph 5, this radiant dress that we see on the outside is supposed to be a type, a foreshadowing of what our hearts are eventually going to be on the inside. As we are sanctified, our hearts are restored to our pre-fallen state, made new, we are born into a new creation and we become increasingly like Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes initially to save a person. But anyone who has been Christian for a while can acknowledge that none of us are zapped into Christ’s likeness in an instant the moment we accept Christ. We are all works in progress. We have a long way to go before you and I are like Christ. This is why we need the Spirit continuously. We need to be filled day by day, moment by moment, with the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Christ.
If you are not filled with the Holy Spirit, stop whatever you are doing because this is where you need to struggle. Don’t get bogged down by the rest of the chapter about marriage or the next chapter about parenting or employer-employee relationships. Focus on coming to God in prayer and asking to be filled with the Spirit. You might have decent relationships if you have a natural personality that is friendly or gentle and you are non-judgmental, but you won’t have spiritual relationships until you are filled with the Spirit.