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Marriage: It Refers to Christ and the Church

Aug 26, 2018

Passage: Ephesians 5:22-33

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Pentecost


In the Name of Jesus. Amen. Once upon a time back in the 16th century – about 500 years ago – Luther was performing a wedding and when he got to the prayer at the marriage of Caspar Creuziger and Apollonia Gunterode (Easter 1536), he prayed thusly:

Lord God, who created man and wife and appointed them to the estate of marriage, who furthermore did bless them with the fruits of the body, and thereby did signify the Sacrament of your dear Son, Jesus Christ, and the church, his bride; we entreat your boundless goodness that you would not let this your creation, order, and blessing be frustrated or destroyed, but be preserved among us graciously, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. (Winger, Thomas M., Concordia Commentary: Ephesians, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2015. 622-623)

Notice the part in the middle: “…did signify the Sacrament of your dear Son, Jesus Christ, and the church, his bride…”. “Sacrament” refers to “mystery” in the sense of St. Paul speaking about Christ and the church, and husband and wife where he says at Eph 5:31-32: “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.” And while Lutheran Christians do not call marriage itself a Sacrament as our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brethren do, we do however consider marriage to be sacramental, as signifying the very union between Bridegroom Christ and Bride Church. Marriage is in this way sacramental and this makes marriage extraordinarily holy and good. Let me make it simple: a true Sacrament also conveys forgiveness of sins (like Baptism and Communion). Marriage does not forgive sins, but it directly points to the relationship that does.

It is a great proclamation to the world that Christ has come to us to forgive our sins and to give us everlasting life. How do we know this? Christ has married us; Christ has joined us. We are one with Him and we have personal assurance of this through Holy Baptism and we are reminded of it constantly through the institution of holy marriage!

There are no mincing words: marriage between a husband and wife reveals a mystery (shows what previously was unknown and could never be known without this revelation that we have before us right now from Eph 5): when one marries they enter a union which signifies the union of Christ and His bride the Church.

This is the highest description of marriage. This is what marriage is. This is what marriage conveys. This is what marriage proclaims: The Gospel is that Jesus left His Father (a man shall leave his father and mother), and joined Himself to His wife the Church (and cleave to his wife). He became her head and she became His body (and the two shall become one flesh). This is a profound mystery, but it is here made known for us: marriage shows Christ and the Church.

And this dear Christians is a gospel relationship. The marriage between Christ and the Church is all love, all mercy, and all grace. So, the split second we take this Gospel-union and turn it into a list of dos and don’ts we miss the point; we lose the message, and we contaminate the mystery. This is not what St. Paul is doing.

It is easy though for us to go the wrong way, that Eph 5 is about commands (our sinful nature likes commands, this is the religion of the flesh, this is sinful religion, because then we get to pretend that it’s all about us and our accomplishments and then we can pat ourselves on the back and say look at me what a fine boy or girl am I while we delude and deceive ourselves because in fact we never keep God’s Law as we ought to).

So, in the same way, if we are going to be a good husband or a good wife then we lean towards what we must do, and people want to treat Eph 5 as law. This is one reason why Eph 5 – while handling it not as God intended -- can leave such a sour taste in our mouth. What we hear is a law command given to women about submission and a law command given to men about sacrifice. It is all about giving and giving, and this can seem exhausting and frankly, overwhelming. This only contributes to the negative press marriage gets nowadays. It is a wrong view.

We can’t approach Eph 5:22-33 out of context. Before these words at verse 22: “Wives, submit to your own husbands…,” we have these words at verse 18: “be filled with the Spirit.” This is one very long sentence in the original language. The Holy Spirit leads us to Jesus Christ. We are filled with the joy of being loved by God; the assurance of His grace, the confidence of His gifts, and empowerment of His Sacraments…we are filled with life and love when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, so what we do, we do out of love, not as though any of this were burdensome. Think about being filled with love toward another. What is like to do for such a person that you love? It is no trouble. In fact, not only is it not troublesome, but you want to do it so badly that if you did not do it, you would be unhappy. But to do for someone you love, makes you joyful. It is what you want to do.

And this is how Eph 5 is correctly approached. God in Christ has done everything for us. And in His love for us, we love Him back and we are filled with the Holy Spirit and we want to know how to love God back.

And the LORD in love tells us. He reveals the mystery. If you want to live in marriage as God intends then understand that it always points to Christ and the Church. This is the anchor and foundation for marriage!

If you desire to love God back, being filled with the Spirit, then – wives -- submit. It is a fun word in the original language. The word is hupotasso. Hupo means “under” and tasso means “appoint, order, arrange.” In Scripture, for the Christian to submit is simply to follow God’s order or arrangement. God created us. God saved us in Christ. God loves us. God wants what is best for us. He gives us marriage and then He gives us His order or arrangement so that we would know how to live in marriage. And when we follow it, we are blessed.

But do you see the perspective? Submission is not a command for what the wife must do for the husband. Submission is rather a loving response back to God for all that He has done for you and lovingly desires to live under His order (when I say “order” I do not mean command, but I mean “design,” or again, God’s arrangement). This is the LORD’s gift of submit to His people. As the Church, we submit to Christ. We follow God’s order, design and arrangement. Christians follow Christ. That’s the order of the Christian life, and to live this way in love is to be blessed. In marriage, the wife submits to her husband out of love for God’s and considers God’s arrangement as the perfect way to live. The Christian wife’s motivation is love God back for all that God has done for her and she willingly and lovingly loves God by submitting to her husband in the design of God-given marriage.

And this has gigantic ramifications. This submission motivated entirely by the Gospel in response to the LORD (while being filled with the Spirit), has nothing to do with whether-or-not a husband deserves this treatment. That question is entirely beside the point. Besides, we already know the answer to that. He doesn’t. But that doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change the Christian wife joyfully responding to Christ. She delights to live in God’s arrangement.

This is to say that the Christian wife, submission is not about her giving and giving and giving, but it is rather the response to her receiving, receiving, receiving. Receiving what? Receiving forgiveness for her sins; receiving life and salvation; receiving the Holy Spirit; receiving God’s unconditional love; receiving the Holy Sacrament this morning…receiving, receiving, receiving, and then she willingly, she lovingly submits…not out of a sense of obligation or drudgery, but in response to the LORD, this is faith, this is love in action. She lives in the design of God. When she submits to her husband, she is submitting to the LORD. When she submits to the LORD, she is submitting to her husband.

“…Christians are subordinate to [Christ] as their Savior with a willing heart, as moved by the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). All proper submission is ultimately submission to God himself, who established the order and stands at its head, and refusal to submit is an attitude that arises from a sinful heart in rebellion against God’s Word (Rom 8:7; 10:3).” (Ibid., 603)

When the husband experiences his wife’s submission to God which translates into her submission to him and experiences as a result, her constantly backing him up, that husband is a strong man, a confident man, a man who becomes in a great position to also respond to God’s order, God’s arrangement in holy marriage.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (verse 25).” This is God’s order and arrangement for husbands in marriage. Husbands, be as Christ to your wife. Live in the mystery here revealed. This is how to be a husband. God is telling us right here.

There is seemingly much more of God’s Word devoted to the husband. Not really. The additional Word is about Christ and the Church, but there is still revelation for the husband in marriage and it is wonderfully put forth at verse 25.

The language is straight-forward: husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved His Church. Husbands say, but how can I do that?! You can because Christ has given, and given, and given, and given, and given to you men of God. He has forgiven your sins, He has given you life, He has given you salvation. He has done all this for you and you are baptized men of God also filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18) which is a continuous state as you daily live in your holy baptism.

And this is what you do: you do as Christ did. Christ “gave himself up for her.” The verb at verse 25 is “to hand over, betray” and is used in the Gospels to describe the LORD’s passion. (ibid, 609) He handed Himself over to die for you. Husbands hand themselves over to die for their wives. “Here Paul emphasizes the voluntary nature of Christ’s self-sacrifice: ‘he gave himself up for her’ without hope of personal reward; this, if anything, is the distinctive characteristic of the ‘love’ called agape…This is what love looks like.” (ibid, 609)

And here again, it has nothing to do with whether a husband thinks that his wife deserves this sort of love. Let’s take all the suspense out and say what we had previously on the husbands: the wives don’t deserve it either. But that’s not the point. That’s not the standard. To live in God’s order husbands to respond to the LORD in faith and in love. And when you do, this is how you love your wives. You do it filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). You do it because the LORD Jesus first loved you. You do it because Christ gave Himself over for you! Now you know how to love your wife. If you love your wife this way, then you love God; if you don’t love your wife this way, then you are rebel and you rebel against the love of God.

1st Peter 3:7 (ESV): “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”


Colossians 3:19 (ESV): “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.”

As the Lutheran Study Bible notes (pg. 2026): “Headship is not tyranny, but pictures one’s leader and source (1 Co 11:3-12).” And, “If we think of the husband as the head of a marriage and the wife as the heart of a marriage (Paul uses ‘body’), we see that one is not more important than the other – neither can survive alone.” And, “The Church’s primary relationship to Christ is defined not as Law (obedience), but as Gospel (receiving). As the Church does not try to save herself, but graciously receives salvation from Christ, so the wife cherishes her husband’s self-sacrifice for her.” And, “In contrast to the culture of the time, the husband is told not to rule his wife but to love her (cf Col 3:19).”

This is the gift of marriage and this is the mystery: it is about Christ and the Church. This is what marriage signifies and this is what every Christian lives out as a member of the Church: A willful submission to Christ our Head that flows from the joy of being loved by God; living under God’s arrangement so that we follow Jesus Christ all the days of our life, in love for we are loved. You are loved Christian and you are married to Jesus.