Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:26a “That he might sanctify. . .”
Why did Christ give Himself for the Church? To “sanctify” her, to set her apart for His own sacred purposes. “The holy Bridegroom must have a holy bride” (Strauss), and husbands have a key role to play in this process.
As “head of the wife” (EP 5:23), a husband leads. The question is, where does he ultimately lead his family? A husband is to “love” his wife (EP 5:25). What is to be the result of this love? Our text helps us pinpoint the ultimate purpose of a husband’s leadership and love. He is to influence all under his authority to take part in the sanctification Christ desires for His Church.
As leader, a husband is to guide toward Christlikeness. A husband, realizing his wife and children are imperfect, is to help them reach their full spiritual potential. He is to lead by example, his own life being a steady star to guide others aright. When following a husband, family members must be able to look over his shoulder and see Christ down the road ahead in the distance.
As lover, a husband is to woo his family’s affection not only to himself, but also to the Lord. Real love is the great sanctifier of life. Any love which drags a person down or weakens moral fiber is a false love. A true love is one which helps the beloved be set apart in holiness and service to God.
Our text brings us to the heart of what home is all about. First and foremost, it is a spiritual training center. Generally speaking, the battle of faith is won or lost at home. An inherent danger of Sunday Schools, organized youth groups, religious schools, and regular church attendance is that they can sometimes cause parents to become lax about spiritual training at home. This task must be primarily done at home by parents, not elsewhere by proxies.
J.C. Penney’s grandfather was voted out of a Baptist church for advocating Sunday School. Parents felt home was the place for Christian instruction of children. They were wrong, of course, in opposing Sunday School, but right in believing home is the main school for religious training.
All believers are pilgrims, making our way up a difficult slope. Christian husbands, wives, and children are strangers in this world, journeying toward Christlikeness. Heaven is our ultimate destination. Home is to be our way-station, our safe haven along the road, our temporary processing center where we get help as aliens in a foreign land. Aliens desperately need two things, leadership and love. They need guidance, and to know someone cares.
This is the role a husband is to perform for his family. His wife and children are on a pilgrimage and he needs to be the one who gives them the leadership and love they need to continue their journey to Christlikeness.
The husband is responsible for the spiritual growth of his wife and his children. “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath; but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (EP 6:4). The man of the house should always have in view his family’s spiritual development. A husband has awesome power to help or hinder the spiritual life of his family. Studies indicate children are more likely to copy their father’s religious habits than their mother’s. In other words, whether he likes it or not, for better or worse, for good or bad, a husband is the spiritual leader of his home.
It has always been God’s plan for the man to lead in the spiritual affairs of the home. In Abraham’s household, he, not Sarah, was held responsible for spiritual matters. God said of Abraham, “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord” (GN 18:19). Spirituality was not optional in the father of faith’s family. He did not deem the issue of secondary importance, and delegate it to the wife. The matter of spiritual growth was a priority in the life of the family leader.
It was not Mrs. Joshua who said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (JS 24:15). God held Eli, not his wife, responsible for the sins of his wicked sons (1 SM 3:13). Husbands, let us “sanctify” our homes to Christ.
If the husband abdicates his vital role, this does not mean the job is to be left undone. Spiritual training is too vital to forego. The wife must take up the mantle. This is no easy task. A wife who has to circumvent her husband to provide spiritual leadership is fighting an uphill battle. A wife is not to leave her husband, even if he is lost (1 C 7). Never nag or whine, the actions of inferiors and subordinates. Do not chide. Instead, lead a circumspect life. “Wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior” (1 P 3:1-2).
You dear wives who have unbelieving or backslidden husbands, you single mothers who have no husband at all, your task is difficult. You must spend twice as much time alone in prayer, plus twice as much time with your children in spiritual training. Your assignment is formidable, but not impossible. Engage the battle, and with God’s help, fight with all your might.
If both husband and wife abdicate their role as spiritual leaders in the home, then responsibility falls upon the children. Dear teens, even if Mom and Dad do not serve God, you have no excuses for not following the Lord fully.
“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth” (EC 12:1). “Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 TM 4:12).
In the church where I grew up, we had no youth choir, no youth minister, no youth program. A group of us teens banded together and took responsibility for our own spiritual lives. I started preaching at age 15, other teens took on significant church responsibilities. We were never able to develop an “effective” youth program, but did at least understand our accountability before God. Out of that group came two pastors, three pastors’ wives, two deacons, two deacons’ wives, and other godly lay-persons.
My father-in-law, Emerson Huey, at age 12 had just finished his chores one evening when a neighbor-farmer came by on a hay wagon. The Hueys were not believers, and the neighbor, on his way to a General Baptist revival meeting, paused at the Huey’s long enough to see if anyone wanted to go along. Emerson begged to go, and was given permission. A lady preached, and Emerson was saved. He could hardly contain his enthusiasm. After church, rather than waiting for the neighbor, Emerson ran straight across the field, over ditches and fences, to tell his folks. Sadly, they could not have cared less. Emerson was disappointed, but undaunted. Having truly been saved, he began taking his younger siblings to church, sometimes paying them a penny apiece to bribe them to go. One by one they, too, became Christians. Years later, his parents also believed. It can all be traced to one who, even as a child, understood he was responsible before God for the spiritual welfare of his family.
Youth, it is difficult to be effective for God if Mom and Dad are not on fire for Him. Some of you are being raised by parents lackadaisical about spiritual things. You are brought to church maybe once or twice a month; church is attended only if nothing else gets in the way. Teens, do not be satisfied to accept that as your role model. Be gracious and kind, submit to your parents’ authority, but determine in your heart of hearts that you will rise higher than their standard. Lift your own spiritual expectations to a higher level.
Fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, we are all accountable before God for our actions and for our influence at home. The main focus of our text is on husbands. Husbands, because of our influence, are our wives and children more like Christ? Spiritually, are they better or worse due to us?
Eph. 5:26b “. . .and cleanse it. . .”
Jesus loved the Church before she was worthy of it. “He loved her foul that He might make her fair” (Pulpit Commentary). Our sweet Lord loved us in spite of what we were. He “gave himself” (5:25) for us when we were “enemies” (RM 5:10), “without strength,. . .ungodly” (RM 5:6).
Following Christ’s example, husbands are to unconditionally love the one whom God has bonded to them. One may sarcastically say, “Paul obviously never knew my wife.” True, but God did, and He inspired these words anyway.
In all relationships, as time passes, we begin to find in each other flaws, certain things we dislike and disapprove of. These deficiencies and difficulties can become a way whereby we have opportunity to show how much we truly love. However, if we stand on our dignity and become critical, and start to condemn and quarrel, things can very quickly begin to degenerate, to fall apart.
A spouse may be tempted to ask, “How can I love a husband (wife) like him (her)? Surely I can be excused from this duty.” No, you must love your spouse. God who commands can and will enable.
We are not commanded to love because of what a spouse is or is not. We are commanded to love because it is God’s will for spouses to love one another. Godly love is an act of the will as well as of the heart. When we choose, in God’s strength, to be loving and to practice loving deeds, the object will become attractive and “lovable” to us. Perceived beauty is a by-product of active love.
I caution us, always remember, no one is perfect. Husband, your wife has flaws. Wife, your husband has weaknesses. Young People, your parents are not impeccable. Nevertheless, at home we must all love one another. “Love never fails” (1 C 13:8a). It continues in spite of everything. If our love ever does fail, we had the wrong kind of love, not the New Testament variety.
The love required in family members comes only from being “filled with the Spirit” (5:18). The first “fruit of the Spirit is love” (GL 5:22). Thus, a primary way to know if a family member is filled with the Spirit is by whether or not he or she shows this “fruit” at home by loving the rest of the family.
One proves the infilling of the Spirit not by what one does publicly in church, but by the way one loves privately at home. What we are at home is the real proof of our spirituality. One can fake it at church, but not at home.
Eph. 5:26c “. . .with the washing of water. . .”
This refers to a custom of Paul’s day. A bride was given a ceremonial bath before her wedding. A dirty bride has always been unthinkable. Many cultures have long prepared ladies elaborately for their nuptials. Esther (2:12), before coming to the king, underwent six months of skin treatments, plus six months of bathing in perfumes. Queen Isabella took two baths in her life-time, one before her coronation, one before her wedding (Ferdinand was grateful). This common bridal custom is the basis of YHWH’s pictorial description of how He received Israel as His bride, “Then washed I thee with water” (Ezk. 16:9).
Today, the Lord is busy cleansing His Church in preparation for a grand wedding celebration. Our old sin natures produce evils which require constant attention. God’s sanctifying of us has to be ongoing. Our stream is polluted at the source, but the Spirit patiently cleans, rather than condemns, us. He opts, not to browbeat or berate us, but to wash us, His method being. . .
Eph. 5:26d “. . .by the word,. . .”
God’s cleansing of us is in accord with, and dependent on, His “word.” Scripture convinces us of sin, and makes us see it in a way to hate it. Jesus said, “Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (JN 15:3).
Constant attention to God’s “word” is our best hope of being kept cleansed from the defilements we gather day by day. As a cleansing agent, the Bible searches, humbles, rebukes, corrects, informs, stimulates, refreshes, and comforts. Scripture convinces of sin, and makes us see it in a way to hate it.
Eph. 5:27a “That he might present it,. . .”
This is the climax of Paul’s metaphor based on three marriage customs of his day. He has alluded to the groom’s acquisition of a bride by a dowry; Christ “gave Himself” (5:25). His bride is “the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (AC 20:28). Paul has referred to the preparatory bath of bridal purification; the Spirit’s ongoing work is to “sanctify” (EP 5:26) the Church. Paul now turns to the actual wedding celebration itself.
At “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (RV 19:9), Jesus the heavenly groom will welcome His glorified bride. This future marriage celebration will surely be the most splendid and august event in the history of the Universe, and one of the most electrifying moments of this occasion will be that wonderful moment when the Church is presented in bridal beauty to her groom.
I will never forget that magical moment in my wedding. It is the nuptial image most engraved on my memory. As the organ began the wedding march, the congregation stood, blocking my view. I could not see Ruth until she and her dad rounded the front pew and turned my direction. She was the most beautiful bride–most beautiful sight–I had ever seen. Her lovely smile, her coal-black hair silhouetted by the whitest white veil I ever saw, her lovely form clothed in a gorgeous gown. That instant was “the” moment of my wedding.
This is the very imagery Paul seeks to evoke in our text. The Church is going to be presented to Christ in an unforgettable moment of sheer ecstasy.
In my wedding, Mr. Huey presented Ruth, and I received her. In Heaven, Christ will present, as well as receive, the bride. This is strong symbolism. The Church is the work of Jesus’ grace as well as the object of His choice.
The one who presents a bride represents the many who have influenced, trained, and helped prepare her for this special day. The fact Christ presents the Church pictures the fact that He alone gives her the beauty she has on her wedding day. We can do nothing of ourselves to make ourselves beautiful in the eyes of the Lord. We owe all spiritual beauty to Him. God said of Israel, “Your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you” (Ezekiel 16:14 NASB).
Eph. 5:27b “. . .to himself. . .”
Christ will “present” the Bride, and will also receive her “to himself.” He wants her, He loves her, He longs to receive her. The latter implies some perception of distance at the present time. “Whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord” (2 C 5:6). “We sit together in heavenly places in Christ” (EP 2:6), yet “see through a glass, darkly” (1 C 13:12).
There is now connection and communion, but also distance. He is now with us heart to heart, someday we will be with Him “face to face” (1 C 13:12).
Eph. 5:27c “. . .a glorious church,. . .”
Take heart, weary pilgrims. “Let this bright hope sustain you in the dreary months of waiting and the weary hours of fighting” (Spurgeon). Today the Church is like Esther bathing herself in spices, making herself ready for the king. As a bride, we should want to appear before our groom perfectly beautiful. Let the Lord purge us, and do His holy work of cleansing upon us.
Like any engaged woman, we should be looking forward to the glorious wedding day, and planning for it. It should be the obsession of our lives. We should be excited. There is glory to plan for, the wedding, the reception, the reunion of family. Invitations need to be prepared. Others must be invited.
Eph. 5:27d “. . .not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing;. . .”
At “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (RV 19:9), Christ’s Church, His bride, will be astoundingly beautiful. She will have no “spot,” no stain, blot, wart, or pimple. Her skin will be perfectly free from any visible blemish.
The bride will have no “wrinkle,” the evidence of decay. As years pass, fat disappears from the skin, and the years plow furrows across the brow. In Heaven, these trenches of time shall be gone. Sickness, trouble, strain, and weariness produce premature wrinkles. These wrinkles, and all others caused by mourning (MT 9:15), will be out of place in the bride’s chamber. At the wedding, every “wrinkle,” whatever its cause, will be smoothed out. Skin will be perfect. Cheeks will bear the bloom of youth, brows the calm of tranquility.
No “spot,” “wrinkle,” “or any such thing”–nothing shall mar our beauty. Each trial, sickness, exhaustion, and sin of earth will be but a faint memory. Bearing no trace of our former defilement, the Church will be entirely pleasing to behold. Once Jesus prepares us for the wedding, there will be no way to add to our beauty. Improvement will be impossible. One might as well try to enrich refined gold, paint a lily, perfume a rose, or enhance the “Mona Lisa.”
Eph. 5:27e “. . .but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
No wonder we shall be beautiful! Our character shall be set totally free from sin, the cause of all misery and ugliness. All the grief caused in Adam’s fall will then be at an end. This scenario is what God had in mind for His people when He first predestinated us (EP 1:4). For this wonderful moment we were saved. We are ordained to be the crowning monument to His grace.
Jesus plans for the whole Universe to admire His Bride. “He is proud of her beauty, proud of her appearance, proud of all that pertains to her; and he wants to show her to the family, to all His creatures” (Lloyd-Jones). We will be displayed to all hosts of eternity. Principalities shall behold this marvelous sight. They will scrutinize us, looking in vain for a blemish. Angels will truly be flabbergasted by the sight, for we have blemishes aplenty now.
Christ is totally enamored, utterly fascinated, with His bride. He works with her today, and looks forward to spending all His tomorrows with her. Following Christ’s example, each husband should concentrate fully on his wife.
Husband, focus attention solely on your wife. Become obsessed, single-eyed, toward her. For today and every tomorrow henceforth, be a one-woman man. “The husband does not look at other women, because his bride is the one he has selected, separated, sanctified for himself. That is how Christ looks at the church. That is how a husband should regard his wife” (Lloyd-Jones).
Men, do not cast a longing look at the body of another woman. Billy Graham advises, “Do not take a second look.” When speaking with a lady, look into her eyes, not at her body. She is an equal before God, not a sex object. Never make romantic inuendos toward, sexual jokes about, or flirt with, other women. God give us the resolve of Job, who said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1 NASB).
Eph. 5:28a “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.”
Husbands “ought” to love their wives “so”–as Christ loves His bride. Jesus views the Church, and loves her, as His body. Similarly, a husband is to see himself as a head, with his wife being the body. The two are intimately united. Each must regard the other as part and parcel of one’s own being.
The relationship of husband and wife is not merely an external connection. It is more than two people living together under a marital contract. It is not even enough to think of spouses as partners or friends. Marriage entails all these things, but also involves something deeper, something much more wonderful. It is the fusing of two people into a relationship so close that Paul compares it here to the connection between a head and its adjoining body.
Spouses must view each other, not as persons external to self, but as ones who are part of the other’s own total self. Spouses must have a deep, abiding respect for each other. Neither is to look down on the other. One is head, one is body, each needs the other, neither can exist alone.
Husbands and wives must come to grips with the importance of this truth if they would have the kind of marriage God intends for them. A Christian marriage is based on certain fundamental truths. Romantic passion is good, but not sufficient to stabilize a marriage. Emotional love, like icing on cake, fizz on soda, and whip cream on shortcake, can sustain only briefly.
There must be bedrock, foundational truth to which love can fall, but then go no lower. Thinking properly about the relationship provides a marriage the safety net it needs. There have to be Biblical truths which prop up the relationship. The romance and emotion bounce up and down on this bedrock, oft rising higher, but never falling lower.
When hard times come, and stresses and strains of life come, relationships based on feelings and impulses fall through, for they lack solid foundation. Things degenerate, passion wanes, resulting in panic, and divorce court.
The Christian seeks to avoid these reactions by holding to Biblical underpinnings. Divorce is not considered as an option. If confronted with the possibility, one may hire a lawyer for personal protection, but asks the attorney to stall, to postpone, to buy as much time as possible. Seek counselling at the first sign of trouble. If necessary, use a legal separation to buy time.
A Christian must make every effort to save the marriage. Why? Because we understand the husband is head, the wife is body, and the removal of a head from a body is a decapitation. Our word “divorce” is based on two Latin words meaning “apart to turn.” Head and body cannot do this. You cannot detach head from body without harm, even death. Similarly a husband and wife cannot detach themselves from each other without serious damage.
This explains why divorce is extremely nasty. It is unnatural. Divorce is like a death, but you never bury the dead. Divorce supposedly ends a marriage, but is never truly finalized, especially where children are involved. Divorce leaves devastation in its wake. My heart absolutely breaks for the many in our congregation who bear the deep, scarring, wounds of divorce.
To avoid turning apart, let both husband and wife accept the Biblical foundation for marriage. Husband, wife is your body. Wife, husband is your head. Do not abuse each other. Be thoughtful and careful. Abuse often begins in the innocent looking seed-bed of neglect. Mickey Mantle, my boyhood sports hero, injured his leg at age 19. Doctors told him to undergo therapy, but he disregarded them. This neglect caused years of pain and shortened his career.
Husbands and wives, do not neglect each other. Do not take each other for granted. Spouses, come home. Your house is not a dormitory where you return only to sleep. It is not right to get married and then go on living as if you are single. Find work to do together, exercise to do together, recreation to do together, volunteer service to do together, church work to do together. You belong together for you are knit together by God as head and body.
Eph. 5:28b “He that loveth his wife loveth himself.”
A man’s best self-interest lies in the direction of tender consideration toward his wife. Head and body (5:28a) constitute one solitary unit, a single self. The same is true of husband and wife. The two are fused into one.
Once married, individualistic thinking must end. This very oneness is often the one trait of marriage most strongly denied. Pre-nuptial agreements, separate bank accounts, separate vacations, etc., are becoming all too common.
For a marriage to be all God intends it to be, husband and wife must accept as their basic premise that they two have become one. At the moment of marriage, a person goes from being a single, a one, to being a half.
The essence of our text is conveyed in our popular phrase, “my better half.” The very word “half” carries a world of meaning. A marriage deals not with two separate entities, but with two halves of a one. Neither spouse must think singly or individually. Each loves, not someone else, but the rest of self.
Each spouse is only a half, and all that is done of necessity involves the other half. Each of his desires is only half a desire. Each of her intentions is only half an intention. His decision is only half a decision. Her choice is only half a choice. One must never cease to think or decide in terms of the other.
The thoughts and desires of each must henceforth include the other’s. One must never again think of his or her own self in isolation or in detachment. To do so is to violate a fundamental principle of marriage. Physical and sexual break-ups come usually only after this intellectual and understanding level breaks down. To think of one’s self in isolation is to break the marriage.
Years ago I knew a husband who began bonding with a woman at work. She became his emotional soul-mate. The wife, concerned about this, discussed it with me. Fortunately, their story had a happy ending, and also helped me better understand the ramifications of such situations. I discussed their situation with Ruth. I, being a male who thinks primarily in physical terms, said at least he did not go to bed with the other woman. Ruth replied, it might be easier for a wife to know that in a moment of weakness a woman had replaced her in his bed rather than to know that a woman had replaced her in his heart.
I remind us again, do not discuss marital difficulties with anyone of the opposite sex. This can cause emotional bonding to begin. The sentiments that begin to develop with a confidant of the opposite sex are the very feelings you need to be developing with your spouse. You are to be knit together as one.
Eph. 5:29a “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh;. . .”
To hate one’s wife is as irrational as hating one’s “own flesh.” A man “cannot divorce himself from himself” (Lloyd-Jones), and must never seek to separate from his wife in any way–emotionally, spiritually, or physically.
What a man does for his “own flesh” he does for himself. Similarly, in caring for his wife, a husband cares for himself. When a husband deems his wife as his own self, his love for her is made stronger. Spouses are to love one another, first of all, as a duty, but when they see each other as extensions of their own personality, the love is no longer merely a duty, but part of one’s nature. The love becomes natural when the other is viewed as part of self.
To love one’s “own flesh” is natural. Self-preservation dictates such a course. Selfishness is Satan’s unhealthy counterfeit for a God-given self-love which is healthy. We have to value our own bodies, for without them life would be impossible. They are also the only vehicles through which we can fulfill God’s will for our lives. We can express proper spirituality only through our bodies. The same is true in our marriages. We cannot be right spiritually unless we are rightly relating to our spouse.
Eph. 5:29b “. . .but nourisheth. . .”
”Nourisheth” refers to upbringing, to the careful, continuous care needed at each level of human development. Through every stage of life, we provide for our “own flesh” nourishment: food, clothing, shelter. A husband must do the same for his wife. As provider, he is to pay careful attention to her needs.
A husband must do this through all of life. “Nourisheth,” being present tense, denotes something ongoing. A wife’s needs are continuous, new daily. Husband, never tire of promoting her welfare and comfort. Care for her physical needs, advance her cause, protect her from harm, and nurse her when hurt.
Eph. 5:29c “. . .and cherisheth it,. . .”
“Nourisheth” could be abused, misinterpreted to sanction doing only the minimum to get by, to eke out a bare existence. Thus, Paul adds “cherisheth,” which denotes bounteous and elaborate care. The Greek word, literally meaning “to keep warm,” conveys the thought of value, of something that matters.
“Cherisheth” is a word which should characterize every relationship in a family. Often the very people we know best we take most for granted. Many children say of parents (and vice versa), “They treat everyone else more kindly than they do me. I wish they would be as good to me as they are to others.”
Our Master’s words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (AC 20:35), apply at home as well as at the church. The Golden Rule, “As you want men to treat you, treat them in the same way” (LK 6:31 NASB), applies to families as well as to churches. Family members must cherish one another.
Husbands, our wives have a deep seated need to be cherished by us. Recently, wives in our church anonymously wrote concerns for me to discuss in a lecture. Here is a sample of their writings: “How do you get your husband away from the TV? What can you do if your husband will not pray with you? Why is it that husbands as a rule fail to voice compliments that wives need to hear? We like to be listened to attentively.” All these are a plea to be valued.
A husband is not to regard his wife as a glorified servant who cooks, cleans house, raises children. Likewise, a wife is not to regard her husband as the hired hand which brings in a paycheck. Neither is to view the other as a casual acquaintance, but as the person who is to be cherished above all others.
To say, “I cherish you,” is to say, “You count. I value you. You are esteemed, important to me.” These beautiful words have to be confirmed by caring about what matters to the one cherished. In dividing life into its separate departments, do not fail to take interest in each other’s concerns.
A husband should show interest in his wife’s hopes, fears, joys, troubles, and daily routines. A wife should show interest in her husband’s dreams, achievements, and disappointments. We tend to become so self-absorbed and forgetful that we often need to be reminded of our duty to cherish the one who should be dearer to us than any other.
The meaning of “cherisheth” is conveyed in our custom of wearing a wedding ring on the left hand. Since the heartbeat is strongest on the left side of the chest, the ancients believed the heart itself was situated to the left. They placed the wedding ring on the hand they deemed nearest the heart, thereby symbolizing that the giver held the ring’s recipient near and dear to the heart, and cherished him or her more than anyone else on earth. At our weddings, we made a promise to our spouse, “to love and to cherish.” Fulfill the vow.
Eph. 5:29d “. . .even as the Lord the church:”
Jesus is ever the true ideal for marital devotion. “We go not to belted knights or tales of chivalry for our ideas about devotion to our wives, but to the foot of the cross, that we may see in Jesus our perfect example!” (Edgar).
Paul was relentless in his pursuit of excellence. He would not cheat his readers by letting them be content with second best. The Apostle’s challenge to spouses was absolute. Love like Jesus! Be satisfied with nothing else.
Eph. 5:30 “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his
In these verse, Paul is speaking primarily about the family, but cannot resist the temptation to take every opportunity the subject avails him to draw a comparison which calls attention to Jesus. In verse 31 the Apostle will quote Genesis 2:24. Here in verse 30 he alludes to what happened immediately prior to Genesis 2:24. The incident (GN 2:21-23) causes Paul to think of Jesus.
God pierced the side of Adam, and took from it Adam’s bride. Eve, before being presented to Adam, was taken out of Adam. She was an extension of Adam, a member “of his body” in the sense of being derived from him. She would not have existed without him. The woman owed her natural life to the man, and the Church, Christ’s bride, owes her being to Jesus. The Church would not exist without Him. Believers are utterly dependent upon Christ, “we are members of his body,” deriving our very life from Him. Jesus is our source.
“No bride fit for the King of Heaven could spring from the earth” (Pulpit Comm.). A royal bride needed royal beginnings. Thus, Christ partook of our physical nature, thereby enabling us to partake of His divine nature. Christ’s bride is the product of His earthly existence. Had it not been for the body of Christ (HB 10:5), the Church would not exist.
Even as Eve came from the opened side of Adam, from a place near his heart, so figuratively the Church springs from the wounded side of Jesus. When the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side, “forthwith came there out blood and water” (JN 19:34). Life essence flowed from His side. In this fluid demonstration of love, the Church, Christ’s bride, was being wrought.
In the beginning, God knew the side of His Son would later be pierced. Thus, He took woman from man’s pierced side to remind us forever that when we think of Christ’s spear wound, and contemplate His great love for the Church, we should also think of how much we spouses should love one another.
Eph. 5:31a “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother,”
Paul now quotes Genesis 2:24, the foundational premise of marriage. “Leave” brings us face to face with a frequent source of marital tension, in-law trouble. My friend, Wally Jones, pastor emeritus of Fee Fee Baptist Church in St. Louis County, avoids the phrase “in-law,” using instead “in-loves.” He speaks of his daugter-in-love, mother-in-love, etc. This is a lovely ideal in which words hopefully bespeak reality. Sadly, in-laws often are not in-loves.
Scripture reveals infinite wisdom by dealing with this volatile issue. At the creation, husband-wife was the first relationship. Ever since, though, parent-child has come first in time. In the beginning God gave this admonition (GN 2:24) to help prepare us for what can be a stressful shift in relationships.
The less important relationship of parent/child occurs first to prepare us for the more important relationship of husband/wife. Before undertaking life’s premier assignment, we undergo years of watching role models, of training in submission, duty, and kindness. We do not enter the ultimate role lightly.
For twenty or more years, the parent/child relationship develops. Certain habits are formed. Then comes a wedding. All of a sudden, everything changes. Things are drastically different. The transition from dependent to spouse, subject to patron, ward to guardian, is no minor thing. Except for the conversion experience, a wedding marks the most momentous transition in life.
To “leave” is a vital part of the marriage process, and how it is handled dramatically affects a marriage. In-laws can be a blessing or a burden. This is true of parents-in-law and of children-in-law. Sometimes the problem is parents, other times the trouble is the children. Thus, I speak a word to both.
First, a word to parents. Moms and Dads, since Scripture says our children are to “leave” when they marry, let them. We cannot hold them back and seek to stop them. They are, in the vast majority of cases, going to “leave,” and we need to start thinking this way, and planning on it, from the time our children are born. In preschool years, emphasize love and discipline; in childhood years, train and teach; in teen years, emphasize a move in the direction of friendship. Keep this ever as your goal, to develop your children into your intimate, bosom-buddy, friends. By the time of marriage, parent and child should be best pals, and their friendship ought to continue for a lifetime.
We parents must work toward being friends, compatible equals, with our children, for once they marry, we no longer have legitimate authority over them. Once a son marries, he is no longer subservient, he is a head. Once a daughter marries, she is no longer subject to her parents, she is now a queen in her own domain. This new head and new queen must be treated by their parents with a dignity that corresponds to the new status. No more lectures, no more talking down, no more scolding–henceforth, only advice, straightforward talk, and love strong enough to let them learn from their own mistakes.
In marriage a new family is begun, and parents no longer have authority over the child. Parents, help financially if you want, but do so without seeking to exercise control. My parents and in-laws have often helped Ruth and me, and still do on occasion, but never seek to domineer or to come between us.
Now a word to children. Once you marry, you must think of yourself primarily as husband or wife, not as child. Sometimes newlyweds have to help their parents come to grips with this new understanding. You may have to assert and safeguard your new status, and defend it against any interference. Whatever straightforward negotiations are needed, let me caution the younger generation always to use tact and true Christian love in dealing with parents.
We outgrow the admonition, “Obey your parents” (EP 6:1), but never get too old for the command, “Honor thy father and thy mother” (EX 20:12). Before marriage, our closest bond is with parents. They support and sustain us, and we owe them a huge obligation forevermore.
Marriage does not set aside the other duties of life, including our responsibilities toward parents. The same God who commands us to love spouses also told us to honor our parents. Thus, both duties can be done adequately. They are not mutually exclusive. It is all a question of degree.
At marriage the highest loyalty turns toward the spouse, but duty to parents does not cease. We are not to become harsh and unkind to parents, nor are we to isolate ourselves from them. “Hide not thyself from thine own flesh” (Isaiah 58:7). It is not right to cut off all ties. Parents are always to be loved and cared for, and should be among our closes acquaintances. If we have the type of marriage God wants us to have, we will come to love each other’s parents almost as much as we do our own. This has certainly been the case for Ruth and me. We need a relationship with parents which allows us to feel free to request their help financially at times, ask their opinions, seek their counsel, profit from their years of experience, borrow from their wisdom.
After marriage, the new husband and wife are not what they were. The parents are not what they were. All is different, and everyone involved must work hard to make the transition a smooth one. Friends handle it best.
Eph. 5:31b “. . .and shall be joined unto his wife,. . .”
Paul did not base his ideas about marriage on some new concept, nor did he seek a new and innovative way to have a good marriage. By quoting Genesis 2:24, the foundational premise of marriage, he directed people back to the commencement, to the bona fide, original principles of matrimony. The adage, “to understand anything, know its beginnings,” is especially true of marriage.
Paul’s thinking on the subject was clouded and affected by Genesis 1-3. Our Lord Himself did not seek to give a new teaching on marriage. He also chose to direct attention back to the original pair (MT 19:1-12; MK 10:1-12).
In analyzing marriage, we need neither a new guru nor faddish truths based on anthropological analyses and social studies. The historical development of marriage has not been a progression from worse to better views. For wedlock, the best plan came first. People fell from a perfect standard, and need to be recalled to it. We need to rediscover the old, proven method.
Included in the foundational premise of marriage is the admonition that a husband “shall be joined unto his wife.” “Joined” means glued, cemented, and emphasizes the permanence of marriage. For the bond between a husband and wife to be like Christ’s union with His Church, it must be unbreakable.
A well-glued board breaks in the wood before breaking in the glued joint. Similarly, death should come to the individual before his or her “joined” marriage bond is broken. Only death should dissolve the union. The bond ought to end only because one of the parties is no longer there to be knit to.
In this context, Jesus said, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (MT 19:6b NASB). Divorce destroys what God ordained to be unbreakable. Thus, be not surprised at the devastating effects of divorce.
The notion that divorce is liberating is a lie. Liberalizing divorce laws hurts women and children worst, but also impacts men adversely. The risk for outpatient or inpatient psychiatric care is ten times greater for men, five times for women, who are divorced or separated. Suicide and alcohol abuse are higher among the divorced than the married. The divorced are more likely than the married to miss work days due to sickness, to suffer stress, tension, stomach upset, fatigue, headaches, nervousness, nightmares, insomnia. (See Focus on the Family magazine, September 1994, “Believe Well, Live Well,” pp. 2-4.) Jonathan Pond writes in his book, 1001 Ways to Cut Your Expenses, “The single worst thing you can do to your financial health is to get divorced” (p. 129).
As we accurately view its devastation, we better understand why the Lord says, “I hate divorce” (ML 2:16 NASB). God forgives, but still opposes, divorce. As long as we live in an imperfect society, we will need divorce laws due to people’s “hardness of heart” (MT 19:8 NASB). Divorce may be allowed, but it is not part of God’s divine purpose. Do all you can to avoid it.
Eph. 5:31c “. . .and they two shall be one flesh.”
This phrase highlights the unity of marriage. Husband and wife should share a oneness of mind, heart, and purpose which finds physical expression in the sexual union, as the word “flesh” implies. Sexual intimacy is “the act of marriage.” Western Culture by and large acknowledges the significance of this physical expression of marriage. Until sexually consummated, a marriage can be annulled, dissolved as if it never took place.
Our text sets the limit for sexual activity. “Two” means two, not three, four, five, or more. Thus, polygamy and promiscuity are disallowed. In the sexual realm, the “two” are to show absolute fidelity to one another.
Be ever on guard for the tell-tale signs of an impending affair. John Howell, Professor of Christian Ethics at Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, urges people (Word and Way, May 19, 1994, page 6) to be alert to five signals which indicate one is treading a dangerous path. First, thoughts of the other person dominate your conscious awareness. Fleeting thoughts are normal; constant contemplation is dangerous. Second, sexual fantasies about the other person become more enticing. Always fantasize solely about your spouse.
Third, planning for ways to be alone with the other person. Fourth, comparing the other person with one’s spouse in more favorable ways.
Fifth, confusing “falling in love” with the desire for sexual fulfillment. No matter what our culture says, romance is never a justifiable reason for committing adultery. To think otherwise is to adopt an adult version of the justification teenagers often offer for premarital sex: “If you love me, you will.”
The bottom line is, do not commit adultery in our thoughts, our imagination, our schedule, our comparisons, or our bedroom. Adultery is rarely committed instantaneously. It usually develops by degrees. Being usually a process, not an isolated event, adultery can be halted long before “the act” itself. This is one reason adultery is so hard on a marriage. The wounded party knows the adultery had to develop, and be kept secret, over an extended period.
Eph. 5:32a “This is a great mystery:. . .”
“Great” translates “megas,” which means big or grand. “Mystery” refers not to something cryptic and hard to understand, but to a truth once hidden and now revealed. It refers to a fact people would have never figured out on their own. It would have forever remained unknown, had it not been revealed.
In our text, the “mystery” is that the first human relationship, husband/wife, was ordained by God to serve as earth’s best and highest picture of the marvelous relationship between Christ and His Church. This truth is “great,” one of grandeur and importance, of profound significance.
As far back as Eden, God built into creation a picture of Jesus’ relationship to His bride. Through all history, marriage has had a significance beyond its surface appearance. It was prefiguring something profound. God placed the concept of marriage into the human psyche in every part of the globe in order to help all peoples better understand the union between Christ and the Church.
In the beginning, God understood our frailty. He is divine, we are flesh. He is infinite, we are finite. Sympathetic to our weakness, God built into His creation obvious pictures, illustrations, and examples which would help us better understand deeper, spiritual truths. One reason the wind blows is to picture the movements of the Holy Spirit (JN 3:8). Plants sprouting in the Spring portray Christ’s resurrection. Thorns remind of sin’s misery (GN 3:18-19). The sunrise reminds us “the dayspring from on high hath visited us” (LK 1:78), Messiah’s coming drove darkness away. Another “symbol in nature” is marriage, which was given the high honor of picturing Christ and His Church.
This reminds us, the institution of marriage is sacred, given not by government or society, but by God Himself in Eden. Marriage is a standing joke among comedians and entertainers of our day. Berating it always raises a laugh. I reject this cynicism. These sermons on the family have contained no demeaning jokes and no belittling. In my private life, and in this pulpit, I refuse to make derogatory jokes about marriage. To a society which often rips, claws, and demeans marriage, we say, “Hands off! Defile not this holy thing.”
Parents, be sensitive to this. Do not tell children demeaning things about marriage. Do not poison the well by building cynicism into their outlook. Convey to them the Christian ideal of marriage. It is the loftiest conception of the relationship. Despite our society’s cynicism about marriage, the Christian home is our best hope to have paradise restored. Every Christian home is to be a sanctuary in which the beauty of the Lord is reflected. Heed the plain teaching of Scripture, “Let marriage be held in honor among all” (HB 13:4).
Eph. 5:32b “. . .but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
Paul has spoken highly of marriage, not only of the physical, human relation, but also used it to direct our thoughts to the higher relation between Christ and His Church. This loftier analogy lifts marriage to a dizzying height, and gives marriage its most profound significance. Marriage is made sacred by the fact it symbolizes the union between Christ and His Bride, the Church.
A Christian home is earth’s most hallowed institution. Marriage is not a sacrament, but neither is it merely a civil arrangement for political convenience. God honors those who honor this symbol which pictures Christ’s relationship with His Church. This divine blessing bestowed on marriage makes it hard to overstate the importance of family. God has placed priority on it.
A home is the “first great frontier of human existence” (Mackay). Children’s emotions, personalities, fears, and prejudices are well on their way to being complete before school-age. A happy, functional home is the most important factor for growing children into normal, contributing adults in society.
Abraham Lincoln said, “The strength of a nation lies in the homes of its people.” God has ordained that countries can prosperously endure only as long as its constituents are raised in healthy formative situations. God hereby honors marriage, the institution which pictures Christ’s union with His Bride.
History verifies, no nation lasts long with weak families. Rome was noted for paternal authority; as this waned, Rome declined. Athens valued the home; Sparta did not; Athens flourished, Sparta floundered. China and Israel are two of Earth’s oldest societies not by accident. Both emphasize family.
Homes are society’s basic building blocks. They brace and bolster a nation. Paul “regarded the family, and not the individual, as the unit of society. The individualist and the socialist are the sworn enemies of the family. The former considers marriage as a contract between two parties, to be ended at any time by mutual agreement. The latter regards the state as supreme in its authority over all individuals, and as the rightful custodian of all children; the socialist is determined to destroy both the family and the church” (Eerdman).
Home is society’s first and foundational institution. All other worthy institutions, in one way or another, are built upon it. Schools evolved from the earliest education center, the home, where parents taught children to eat, walk, speak, work, and relate to the world around them. Health care facilities emerged from the original hospital, the home, where families nursed sick loved ones. Government evolved from the original body politic, the home, where parents legislated, judged, and policed the behavior of their children. “Patriotism is the love of home upon a grander scale” (Woods). Churches are closely knit units based on the original pattern, the home, where family members love one another. Heaven itself is a family expanded even more.
As homes go, the nation goes. Widespread social, moral, and legal woes are usually, at their root, a problem of the home. Governments reflect, more than determine, social ills. The hope of America is for churches to win families, to help spouses realize the sacredness and inherent value of their tasks.
Eph. 5:33a “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his
wife even as himself;. . .”
The “mystery” (5:32a) is wonderful. Comparing marriage to Christ and His Church (5:32b) is beautiful. Marriage is sacred. “Nevertheless,” do not get lost in the abstract and lose sight of the practical. Keep your head in the clouds, your feet on the ground. Paul, knowing the last word should be a practical one, comes down from theological postulating to give a summary of duties.
The husband, as head, is not to abuse his position. He is to love his wife as being part and parcel of himself. Paul’s directive here is blunt and to the point. “Every one of you in particular”–all husbands, no exceptions. “So love his wife”–not someone else’s wife. “As himself”–nothing less tolerated.
Eph. 5:33b “. . .and the wife see that she reverence her husband.”
A daughter, upon marriage, must transfer to her husband the respect and honor she has rendered unto her parents. The groom may in ways be personally deficient in comparison to her, but is to be respected for the position he fills. In a new family unit, a wife is to acknowledge her husband’s headship, to accept his role as picturing Jesus in the Christ/Church relationship.
A word of caution–one thing is sure; a wife reverences her husband more easily when not afraid of being taken advantage of or trodden on. Where there is little warmth and love from the husband, there is generally little reverence from the wife, and where there is little reverence, expect little submission.
In admonishing the wife to “reverence her husband,” Paul spoke to a real-life problem. We often talk about how men in the ancient world swapped wives and treated them like cattle. We less often discuss what the backlash effect of all this abuse must have been. Can you imagine how wives spoke in private of their husbands? Cynicism and bitterness surely reigned supreme.
In our own culture, verbal husband-bashing is all too common among women in the workplace and the marketplace. Christian wives, lead the way in stopping this. Berating one’s husband is a serious matter. Michal’s acid sarcasm toward her husband, King David, caused God to order a barren womb for her (2 SM 6:16-23). Sarah, on the other hand, revered Abraham and received the applause of Scripture (1 P 3:5-6). Wives, take your example from the wife in Canticles, who spoke respectfully to, and about, her husband.
Marriage, high and holy, should be treated in deed and in word as sacred. Home is a precious gift from the Lord. What matters most is family, not country, not work, not recreation. None of us will ask to be buried next to a political figure, a work associate, or a recreational partner. We will choose to be laid to rest near family. The site of one’s tombstone speaks volumes about one’s ultimate understanding and appreciation for the importance of the hearthstone. Sadly, we often grow older before we cherish family adequately.
Our homes are to be valued at every stage of life. In this regard, the last three weeks have been significant for me. My son has wed, my daughter has undergone major surgery. My in-laws were with us, and spent much time reminiscing with Ruth about when John and Becky were preschoolers. It was a painful experience for me, because I could remember almost nothing of what they talked about. When John and Becky were preschoolers, I was in my twenties, a young preacher out to carve my niche in a profession. Work was my obsession. Disobedient to God, I worked seven days a week. I did not start taking one day a week off for rest and family until we moved to St. Louis in 1979. By then, John was five, Becky three. I missed my children’s earliest years.
Young couples, don’t repeat my mistake. Some day you will wake up to realize the sacredness, the eternal value, of your home. Listen to us older ones. Believe it now, and treat your marriage and family with the dignity it deserves.