"Man and Wife, Christ and Church" - Second Sunday after Epiphany - January 16, 2022
[Read Ephesians 5:22-33] Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 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. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Man and Wife, Christ and Church
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 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.
Man and wife, Christ and Church. Brothers and sisters, here’s a question: How many images of yourself do you think are out there? Sometimes a son is said to be a “spitting image” of his father. And there are many other images of you – photographs, pictures, maybe a painting or a self-portrait.
And how many images are there of your relationships – family photos, pictures with friends – pictures of your marriage, husband and wife. Many images flooding your photo albums, junk drawers, and facebook.
Now, how many images of God are there? How many images of God, the Lord – how many images of His relationship, His marriage?
The Lord filled the world with His image – He made man in His image. God made an image of Himself that was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.
And God created marriage. The union of the man and his wife. In today’s reading from Holy Scripture, God’s Word, in Ephesians chapter five, we are told that marriage – the union of man and wife – is the image of the Lord’s “marriage”, His union with His “bride”, the Church. God has flooded the world with this image.
The union of Jesus the Lord and His Church is said to be a marriage – it’s a one flesh union – He is the head; the Church is His body. Man’s marriage is an image of His. The man, the husband, is an image of Christ in the marriage. And you, a wife, you are an image of the Church in that marriage.
An image is worth a thousand words. Your whole marriage, Christian man and wife, is the image the Lord has given to the world – the image of His love for His Bride, the Church, and the Church’s love for Him.
You husbands, this is a tall order to live up to. You wives, this is a tall order to live up to. To do it, you must listen to what God’s Word says here in today’s reading and not to the contrary opinion of your human nature which screams so loudly against this Word of God.
Wives, you know what Scripture is, that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” [2 Timothy 3:16] and is God’s Word. Today’s reading here from the New Testament is God’s Word; it says nothing other to you than what it clearly and plainly says: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” – “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” – “let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
This doesn’t say to submit to and respect a worthy man, a man who measures up, a man who has earned it – it says to respect and submit to the man who is your husband. You know your vows – “for better or for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or in health”- you’ve vowed to keep the Word of God about being a wife in all situations.
What will give you happiness? Keeping the Word of God, or making everything go your way with you in charge? True happiness comes as a gift from God, not from our circumstances. Keep God’s Word.
Of course, we struggle with this English word “submit”. It’s not a word we use nicely – but the Bible is using it in a good way here. The word here for “submit” doesn’t mean being timid or passive or letting someone walk on you. God hasn’t commanded that.
The word “submit” used here is like this: You play on a sports team and you recognize the team captain as team captain. You’re both players on the same team – in that regard you are equals – but the players with the most joy on any team are those who rally behind their captain and willingly follow his leadership. But the player who’s always saying, “No, I should be captain, not that person” – that’s the sinful pride of our human nature.
In regard to what you are, you are equals. And the husband isn’t the coach and you the player – that would be parent & child, not husband & wife. But your husband is head, team captain, just as Jesus is the head of His body, the Church – which is a blessing to you.
Without keeping this Word of God about marriage, your marriage ceases to be an image of the Lord and His marriage. You mar the picture – husband or wife – when you don’t keep these words.
“But what if my husband is a loser, a slouch?” Did your husband command these word, or did your Savior? Keep the command of the Lord even if your spouse doesn’t, because the Lord is Savior who loves you, cherishes you, and commands you. The Lord is no slouch. He knows well what to command and has.
Now, husbands, what are you to be so that you are like the Lord and an image of Him as husband? Should you be domineering, a master over a servant, self-serving? The Lord did not give you a wife so you can put your feet up. The Lord gave you a wife so you can learn to love and serve as He does.
Jesus said of Himself, “Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” [Matthew 20:28]. Now today’s reading, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies… just as Christ does the church.”
Husbands, you are called to give your life up, to give your life to the task of winning a blessed life for your wife and children. You are called to spend your life on her physical and especially spiritual welfare – to nourish and cherish her.
Husbands, do you do this by abdicating your throne? By giving your place and responsibility of headship to another? By sitting in the background, just giving her her way to make her happy (is that love?), and not exercising any leadership? Of course not.
It is difficult – there are hurdles – but the way of being a true husband is to carry out the headship and leadership of Christ – to give yourself up to the responsibility of being team captain for her sake and their sake.
God has never given us the right to decide to do things another way. We are to trust His way. Husbands, you are to trust that you really are to serve as head of your wife. Wives, you are to trust that you really are to respect your husband’s place as head. Trust God’s Word. He gave the Scriptures for your benefit.
“But what if my bride is no good to me, disrespectful, unhelpful, unsupportive?” Brothers, what has Jesus done for His Bride, this den of poor miserable sinners, His Church? He forgave; and He redeemed and made us His at the cost of His life. He has kept us and cared for us, sinners though we be. Your wife is not as bad to you as we, the Church, have been to the Lord. He loves us still. Wives, there’s a similar message for you: Your husband is forgivable and is forgiven in the Lord.
“What if my marriage is already broken, I’m a divorcee?” You are still living and breathing – you can still show the love of Christ and godly respect in the ways that are still possible. And that goodness toward the other still shows something to this world about God’s goodness.
Here are the real questions for us: “What do I do about the fact that I’ve been such a sinner of a husband?” “What do I do about the fact that I’ve been such a sinner of a wife?” You do nothing. The Lord has done it. He is Savior. His marriage saves you.
Jesus made you His, not by your works, not by your marriage, but by washing you clean of your sin in the waters of Holy Baptism: “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her – gave Himself up to death on her behalf – that He might sanctify her (make her holy), having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (Baptism), so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
You are guilty. Jesus’ self-offering, His death on the cross, His shed blood, applied to you in Baptism – this makes the guilty sinner clean – daily and richly, fully. His mercies are new every morning – He doesn’t see your spots and wrinkles. He’s made you beautiful to Him.
Jesus has presented to Himself sinners washed clean and made holy to Him in splendor by His shed blood and the washing of water with the Word. That’s His marriage to His Church, to us, His congregation. Since He has done such a great thing for us, let us fill each day with the image of His self-sacrificing love and the Church’s godly respect through our marriages and in our individual lives. Amen.