“The Blessed Marriage That Shares Christ’s Love”

(Ephesians 5:22-33 – Pentecost 14 – August 29, 2021)

Ephesians 5:22-33 – 22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Dear Beloved of God in Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom who gave Himself for us:

When God instituted marriage between a man and woman, He knew what He was doing. As part of His perfect creation, God brought the first man and woman together. He united them as husband and wife for life in the closest relationship on earth, as it says: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (vs. 31; Genesis 2:24). This blessed one-flesh union reflected God’s great wisdom and love, providing for the perfect complementary companionship, sexual fulfillment, and procreation. As the foundation for a godly home and society, God saw His institution of marriage, along with all His created order, and He pronounced it “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Even now in a fallen world, where sin has wreaked havoc on God’s good order, and taken its toll on marriage and every relationship, God still shows the same high regard for His institution of marriage. In fact, here God compares the blessed earthly union of a husband and wife to the heavenly union of Christ and His Bride, the Church. This includes us all as believers. As our heavenly Bridegroom, Christ’s love for us is perfect and all-giving. And as His Holy Bride, united with Him for eternity, His love affects all our temporal relationships, including marriage.

So let us consider: “The Blessed Marriage That Shares Christ’s Love” 1) It begins with God’s loving plan, 2) It is centered in Christ’s self-sacrificial love, and 3) It responds by sharing His love with one another.

1) It begins with God’s loving plan

Imagine what perfect love would have been like in the first marriage, before sin entered the world. It began with God’s loving plan and order for the man as the loving head of his wife, and the woman as the loving helper of her husband. God’s order of creation in marriage continues to this day, as a reflection of the heavenly marriage between Christ and His Church, as it says: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (vs. 22-25).

In a perfect world, Adam did not need to be told to give himself in love for Eve. He did so for pure joy, as a response to God first loving him. God had seen that it was not good for man to be alone and had said: I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Genesis 2:18). Then God created Eve from Adam’s own rib and brought her to him. Imagine Adam’s excitement when he first saw Eve and exclaimed: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my own flesh” (Genesis 2:23). Adam was not tainted with any false images that come with headship in a sinful world. His will was in perfect submission to God’s will. Therefore as the God-given head of his wife, Adam saw himself as a servant leader. As he saw the love God lavished on him every day, he responded by sharing that love. He used all the gifts God gave in life humbly and joyfully to serve the highest good of his wife, to lift her up in honor.

And for Eve’s part, she too lived in thankfulness for all the gifts of love God lavished on her, not the least of which was a husband who so lovingly gave himself for her in humble service. What was her response? She did not need to be told to submit to such a husband, whom she loved and respected. With an untainted will in perfect submission to God’s loving will, it was her only desire to use her God-given role as helper. It was her joy to use all the gifts God gave her in life humbly and joyfully to serve the highest good of her husband.

So the perfect marriage in God’s plan saw the husband as the head who gave himself in love for his wife; and the wife as the helper who responded in loving submission. There was no such thing as competition; there was no thought of superiority and inferiority. They were united as one flesh, working together like the head and heart of a body, inseparably vital to each other.

Imagine how that love would have spread into every relationship in a sinless world – with perfect love in the home between parents and children, brothers and sisters; perfect love in the church between members of Christ’s Body; perfect love in society between rulers and citizens, employers and employees, friends and neighbors. Imagine each in joyful submission to God’s will, responding to His love in humble and loving service for the good of others.

But in a fallen world, we know what sin does to ruin godly love and order. Now, husbands have to be told to love their wives and give their lives for them. The sinful nature and society promote distorted ideas of headship. Men are tempted to lord it over their wives in proud dominance instead of loving servanthood; or to forsake their headship by passing off leadership responsibility to their wives, or neglecting them in self-serving interests.

Likewise, wives have to be told to submit to their husbands and respect them. The sinful nature and society promote distorted ideas of submission, as if it meant inferiority. Women are tempted to usurp their husband’s leadership instead of serving as a loving helper; and throw off their headship by displays of independence, neglecting them in self-serving interests.

Living in a fallen world, we see what sin does to bring division in relationships at every level – in heated power struggles and unforgiving cold wars; in broken marriages and families, in divided societies. When the fallen will is no longer in perfect submission to God’s loving will, the sinful nature uses the good gifts God gives to serve self rather than to serve others in love. The closer the relationship, the more it hurts.

2) It is centered in Christ’s self-sacrificial love

Therefore, we can be thankful that when it comes to our relationship to Christ as His Bride, His Church, it does not depend on how well we have submitted to God’s will or given our lives for each other. Instead, it is centered in Christ’s self-sacrificial love for us, His redeeming love by which He has won us back to Himself. As it says: “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her… that He might present her to Himself a glorious church” (vs. 26-27).

As Head over all things to the Church (Ephesians 1:22), Christ’s love for us is perfect. It is that Agape love that willingly gives and does all for the beloved, even when we do not deserve it. Consider how completely He gave Himself for us in life and death.

First of all, as the eternal Son of God He laid aside His heavenly glory and humbled Himself as the Son of Man. And though He is equal to His Father as God, yet as our Savior, He submitted Himself in everything to the will His Father. Though He is Head and Lord of all, He took on the role as Servant of all. For us, He subjected Himself to all God-given law and order, showing perfect love and honor in every relationship – as the obedient Son in the home, as the respectful member in God’s house, as the honorable citizen who gave to Caesar what was Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Jesus gave Himself every day in humble service to His neighbor, fulfilling all righteousness for us.

Then in submission to His Father’s will, He humbled Himself to the point of death. On the cross, Jesus paid for every way we have sinned by serving our own will rather than the will of God. He paid for every way we have sinned by serving ourselves rather than loving and serving those He has put around us.

So as our loving Head, we see how Christ used His position in humble and loving service; He held nothing back but gave Himself entirely for us, so He could lift us up in highest honor as His own Bride, as it says: “that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (vs. 26-27). In the waters of Baptism, Christ personally cleansed us of all sin, pronouncing His Word of forgiveness over us. He clothed us in His own perfect life of love and service. That is how He presents us to Himself as members of His glorious Church, His beautiful Bride, absolutely holy and without a single blemish in His sight!

As our loving Head, Christ continues to give Himself for us. As the heavenly Bridegroom, the Head of the Church, He is a loving servant Leader to us. As members of His own Body, He nourishes and cares for us. In Word and Sacrament, He gives Himself, His life and salvation to us. He faithfully provides and protects us, so nothing can separate us from His eternal love!

3) It responds by sharing His love with one another

As we see how He so lovingly gives Himself for us, what is our response as His Holy Bride? “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We humbly submit to the will of Him who always has our highest good in mind. We look to His leading, His ordering of our life, in His Word. We receive the nourishment and care He gives in Word and Sacrament to strengthen our faith. We bring all our needs to Him in prayer, including our marriage and other relationships. As we do so, He empowers us to respond by joyfully sharing His love with one another.

As husbands, the more we take to heart Christ’s self-giving love for us, the more joy it will give us to reflect His headship – to love our wife as our own flesh, to give ourselves in serving her highest needs; and as Christ does for His Church, to treat her as glorious even when she is less than perfect. By reflecting the love of Christ, who first gave Himself for us, we truly lift up our wife in the highest honor, as Christ does His church.

And wives, the more you take to heart Christ’s self-giving love for you, the more joy it will give you to reflect the Church’s submission – to submit in love to your husband, to be his helper and care for him; and to treat him with respect and honor as your head, even when he is less than perfect. It is your reflection of submission and respect, above all, for your Savior who loved you and gave Himself for you.

And that love which begins with Gods plan, and is centered in Christ’s self-sacrificial love, will continue to grow. As parents bring their children up in the faith, those children know the love of God in Christ, who gave His all to win their forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. And then they can share that love of Christ in their own marriages, and in every relationship God gives – becoming a blessing to others in the home, in the church, and in society.

As members of Christ’s Church, we all are part of that most blessed marriage that shares His love. Whether currently united in earthly marriage or single, we are united with our heavenly Bridegroom. We share in His love, now and forever. As our faithful Bridegroom, He is caring for us as members of His own Body each and every day with a love that will endure “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” And even when death parts, Christ’s love for us will endure; and as His Holy Bride, we will share His love for all eternity in that heavenly marriage feast He is preparing for us.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.