Building Strong Christian Marriages

(A message shared at Harold's and Pam's wedding based on Ephesians 5:22-33)

Many of us, if not all of us, would agree that “When marriage is founded on God’s Word, it is more enjoyable, more fulfilling, even though misunderstandings and mistakes exist.” The trouble is that many marriages – even by couples who are professing Christians – are not governed by God’s Word and the consequences of this are tragic.

What I’ve just read from Ephesians 5 is one of the clearest guidelines and most life-transforming passages in the Bible pertaining to marriage. And marriages founded on the Word of God are strong and healthy, not without problems, of course. And a healthy marriage makes a healthy home.

But you and I know that although we know these things pertaining to marriage, it doesn’t automatically follow that our marriages will turn out healthy and strong. I am aware that many Christian couples here – whether you are living consistently your faith or not – are hurting and are bearing the realities of our sinfulness and imperfections. We still live in this body that continually battles against sin. And so our attempts to build strong marriages are always hindered and many times end up a failure.

But there is hope, right here, in the Word of God. In this section of the book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul focuses on the implications of the Christian faith for the home, which is the basic unit of society. And it begins with marriage. In other words, in this passage, the Lord calls His people to be imitators of God in marriage.

Let us briefly consider two things on how to be imitators of God in marriage. First, we will consider the responsibility of the wife. Then, we will look at the responsibility of the husband.

A. The Responsibility of the Wife (5:22-24)

According to Paul, what is the specific God-given responsibility of the wife? Verse 22 says, “Wives, submit to your husbands.” The word translated "submit" means literally ‘to rank oneself under another person.’ It indicates an attitude of humility and a willingness to follow the leadership of others that manifests itself in outward actions.

Therefore, the passage essentially indicates that the wife is to joyfully and obediently follow the leadership of her husband whose God-given role is that of headship over the family. So Pam, as you enter into this marriage relationship, do not forget that your main responsibility as a wife, according to the Word of God, is to joyfully and obediently follow the leadership of Harold.

Let’s read v. 22 again. Now v. 22 also says submit ‘as to the Lord.’ What does it mean that wives ought to submit to their husbands "as to the Lord"? Well, it simply means that the wife is to willingly submit herself to her husband in the same way that she would submit herself to the Lord Jesus Christ. This means the "Christian wives’ submission to their husbands is one aspect of their obedience to the Lord." For you wives, this submission would include among others:

1) Displaying a heart of commitment and dedication to your marriage and family. Mga asawa, ang inyong pagtahod sa inyong bana molangkob ug 'commitment' ug 'loyalty' sa inyong kaminyuon ug sa inyong pamilya.

2) Secondly, this submission would also include assuming the posture of complete trust in and support of your husband’s leadership. Sa ato pa, mga asawa gikinahanglan ang inyong pagsalig ug pagsuporta o pagpaluyo sa inyong mga bana.

So Pam, you should recognize and respect Harold’s divinely mandated role as leader of the family, just as Paul tells us in v. 23 that the husband is the "head of the wife" in the same way that Christ is the "head of the church." What this means is that the husband-wife relationship follows the pattern of Christ’s relationship to the church, which is His bride. In other words, the church’s relationship with Christ is the model for the wife in her relationship with her husband.

This also means that the leadership of the husband provides stability, authority, protection, provision, and leadership for the family unit. This is patterned, of course, after the headship of Christ, who provides stability, authority, provision and leadership for the church.

Also, this indicates that the scope of the wife’s subjection is comprehensive and it extends to "everything" pertaining to their marriage and family relationship (v.24).

It is also important to note that this passage does not teach that the wife is of lesser worth or value than the husband. The distinction between the husband and the wife is set forth in terms of role, not value. Likewise, this passage does not teach that the husband is more important than Christ. While the husband stands in the role as head of the family, he too is the servant of Christ and is to live and conduct himself as Christ’s servant in the home.

So what is the point of this passage? The marriage relationship is the most beautiful picture of the spiritual relationship between Christ and His church and is, therefore, a sacred and holy institution. In fact Paul expresses this fact in verse 32: "This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and his church." In God’s divine wisdom, He chose marriage as the perfect picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, because marriage is the most intimate human relationship.

Therefore, the wife’s role of submission is the most important thing a woman can do. While this might be controversial to modern ears, it is nevertheless true that the role of wife is a holy and high calling before God. So Pam, I would like to reiterate it, to submit to your husband’s God-given role as the head is a holy and high calling before the Lord. This is your main calling. You should not be afraid to show your submission to Harold for in that way, you also obey the Lord, regardless of how you feel or what problems arise.

The role of the woman, then, is to manifest the type of submission to her husband that will resemble the church’s submission to Jesus Christ. Thus, our Lord Jesus Christ is most honored when the wife truly submits to her husband, “as to the Lord.”

B. The Responsibility of the Husband (5: 25-33)

Now, if the wife’s responsibility is captured by the word “submit”, the husband’s responsibility is centered on the word "love" (v. 25). Briefly let’s note some features of this love in the text:

1) This love is totally unselfish being patterned after Christ’s self-emptying life for unworthy sinners, like you and me (v.25). Christ knew that He was giving up His life for sinners, not for righteous people. When Christ showed His love to us, He sees nothing good in us. In fact, He sees us as sinners – helpless sinners, unworthy sinners. Yet He unselfishly gave Himself up for us. Aside from being unselfish…

2) This love is constant and is not subject to changing times or circumstances. This kind of love, in other words, is faithful. So Harold, your love to Pamela must remain – even if she loses her beauty and appeal. Even if at times she fails to submit to you. Your love, like Christ, is to be constant.

So our question here is: How did Christ love the Church? To what extent did He love His bride? Note the phrase in v. 25 "just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her." This kind of love indicates: First of all, a self-sacrificing love (v.25), which finds its ultimate expression upon the cross – "[Christ] gave himself up for her." In other words, Jesus paid the debt that the Church could not pay. And what was the debt? Sin. And what was the payment? Death. All of us have sinned. We ought to pay for our sin. But we cannot pay for our sin. Only the perfect sacrifice of Christ is the acceptable payment to God.

And Christ willingly and sacrificially died on behalf of His bride, bearing upon Himself the consequences of His bride’s sins. Christ paid for the debt that we cannot pay, so that in Him, and by faith in Him, we can joyfully live in eternal union with Him, just like being married with Him forever.

Likewise, the husband must love his wife enough to be willing to die for her. But practically speaking, husbands, do you patiently bear the consequences of your wife’s foolish acts and failures? Do you ‘sacrifice’ for her? Do you die to your pride just to take responsibility of your wife’s troubles?

Second, this kind of love is an up building love (v. 26). What do we mean? This love have the wife’s best interest in mind with particular attention given to her spiritual needs and Christian development – "to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word" (v.26). The husband should display his love for his wife by constantly building her up and encouraging her in her walk with Christ.

That’s how Christ relates with His church. He works for our improvement, our welfare, our holiness. Christ protects and preserves the Church until the day that she will be fully united with Him in the new heaven and the new earth. So in a very real sense, Harold, as the designated "head" of your wife, you are personally responsible for the spiritual well-being of Pamela and, God willing, your children. So would you commit yourself to help Pam to grow spiritually? Would you pray for her and with her? Would you teach her and set as an example for her what it means to be a true follower of Jesus Christ?

Third, this kind of love is an affectionate love (v. 29). Affectionate love "feeds" or “nourishes” and "cares for" the wife. This love keeps her warm. Again, this feature is perfectly displayed in Christ’s love for His bride. Note the interesting way that Paul illustrates his point in v.29.

So husbandly love should be passionate, tender, fulfilling, practical, and attentive at all times. So Harold, and all the husbands here, would you be caring and tender to your wife? Would you seek to be close and be one with your wife by being gentle and affectionate with her?

To us husbands, we are called to the solemn task of providing the family with a living example of authentic love. It should be obvious by now that if husbands truly love their wives just as Christ loves the Church, wives would have no problem submitting to their husbands.

I think you would agree that at those times when the husband mirrors the loving leadership of Christ, the wife’s submission will positively enrich her womanhood. Thus, ‘each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband’ (v.33). This is how we live godly lives and become ‘imitators of God’ in marriage.

But you and I know that this ideal in marriage and home is not easily achieved. Certainly the basic hindrance to the achievement of healthy and strong Christian marriages is our sinfulness. We talked about this in our counseling sessions.

So if you desire to build and experience a strong and healthy marriages and family, you need to come to Jesus Christ. Not just now, but always. Christ alone breaks down barriers. He alone reconciles you and me with God. He alone reconciles us with one another. He alone cleanses us from our sin. He alone gives us the Holy Spirit who produces in us the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Christ alone gives you, Pam, the Holy Spirit, who enables you to submit to and respect Harold ‘as to the Lord’. And He alone gives you, Harold, the Holy Spirit, who enables you to truly love Pam just as Christ loves the Church.

When both husband and wife faithfully fulfill their responsibilities in marriage according to God’s Word, marriage may not be perfect, yet it would be more enjoyable. It would be more satisfying and God glorifying! God bless you and your marriage, Harold and Pam!

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