Russell Moore speaks on Ephesians 5:15-33
Series: Summer Preaching Series 2013
There was a time in Western culture when you would spend time getting to know a person, wondering if you could to live together as man and wife, if you could wake up listening to their voice and seeing their face every morning. But once a marriage took place, there was a sense of freedom from all that evaluation. When you’re married you make due with things that irritate you and work together to make a life.
But often, that’s not what happens. The auditioning continues to go on. Often people are thinking if the relationship gets to a particular point they can always bail and walk away. When that is in the back of the mind, the permanence of the marriage is in jeopardy.
There’s also something about the other sex that is mysterious. Part of what marriage does is bring those two very different realities together into one as you spend an entire life getting to know what it means to serve and live with the other. This hits right at the core of what the Scripture is saying to a church in Ephesus.
The church in Ephesus understood something about the tensions between men and women and the mystery of human sexuality. It was a church in a seaport city, built around goddess worship. There was a temple to Artemis, the goddess of fertility, power, money, wealth and success. The entire community was built around worshipping this goddess and ultimately the power of human sexuality.
In the middle of the city, Paul was writing a letter about what it meant to live together as the body of Christ. To live together as a congregation during evil times, to recognize there’s spiritual warfare going on that must be discerned. As the body of Christ we are to sing, encourage, admonish and teach one another. Then he talked about what that means as men and women and for the body of Christ to recognize the mystery of marriage.
One of the problems we have with passages like this in our contemporary Christian circles is we assume Ephesians 5 is for married people on how to have a godly marriage. We assume this is the practical application part of Ephesians as opposed to the other parts that are deep and doctrinal. Neither is true.
Ephesians is written to the entire body of Christ. There is no person, regardless of how single and for how long, who is abstracted and unaffected by marriage and human sexuality. Every human person comes into existence because of the dynamic between a man and a woman. Every human person is living out a life, whether married or not, in the tension and dynamic between what it means to be a man or a woman. More over, every member of the body of Christ is responsible for holding accountable everybody else within the body of Christ, including those marriages. So Ephesians 5 is speaking to that single fifteen-year-old boy and to the eighty-seven year old widow as much as it is speaking to the newly married couple within the congregation.
Paul wanted to explain why being a man or woman and the union between them is so critically important. He was not saying that Christ and the Church is an illustration of marriage. It’s the opposite. Marriage and the differentiation between man and woman point you to the Gospel.
There is a reason why human beings don’t subdivide like ameba, why the first question that comes to mind when somebody is pregnant is if it’s a boy or girl.
It’s to show us an imbedded picture of the Gospel, which is why this matters to everyone. It’s the mystery of Christ, which is the Gospel.
Paul starts by talking about the mystery of Christ and womanhood.
21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. Ephesians 5:21-22 (ESV)
Some hold their breath and shift around in their chairs when they read this, because the language seems demeaning and harsh. What makes us so uncomfortable is sin, no one likes to submit to anyone in our fallen state. But another reason is because we don’t understand what the Scripture is saying here.
“Wives submit yourselves to your husbands,” is not an anti-woman statement. It’s a message of radical female empowerment. Paul is writing to women as joint heirs with Christ and as members of the body of Christ during an era when women were often viewed simply as extensions or property of their husbands. Paul does not say, “Husbands, see to it that your wives are submitting.” Rather, he says, “Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands.”
He is not only calling for submission to follow the leadership of a husband, but he is also ending and limiting submission. One of the major problems we have, even among Christian women, is not that women are not submissive enough, it’s that too many are too submissive.
In the larger culture outside of us women are submitting themselves to men. In every society there is a kind of predatory patriarchy that believes a woman is to be judged by her sexual attractiveness and availability to men. You can see it in everything from the pornography industry to roadside restaurants that hire waitresses based upon physical characteristics. Scripture never calls on women to submit to men, in general. It says, “Wives submit to your own husbands as unto the Lord.”
A woman that submits herself only to her own husband, or a single woman committing to only submit to her future husband, is a woman who is refusing to submit to men in general. She refuses to live her life based upon what men generally think beauty is. She refuses to live her life defining herself by men to whom she is not convenantally accountable. She holds herself back, she is skeptical of every other claim of leadership, except for the one that unites himself with her in a life long permanent covenant. It’s not girlfriends submitting to their boyfriends. It’s not women submitting to their partners. It is wives submit yourselves to your own husbands.
The woman has been created to picture God’s covenant purposes in a people and church that follow willingly after her husband Christ, but does not follow after Baal. She does not follow after any other bridegroom or voice, but submits herself only and simply to Him.
In too many situations in our culture and the church we have women who are intimidated and bullied by the male gaze and expectation in a way the Scripture says is not picturing the union between Christ and the Church.
He then talks about the mystery of Christ as it relates to manhood.
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. Ephesians 5:23 (ESV)
This also causes a great deal of discomfort. When most of us hear ‘head’, we think in corporate terms, a CEO over a company. We assume submission and headship are about saying, “Woman get me my coffee.” It’s actually about the opposite. It’s not about self-interest, privilege or priority. The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.
In terms of the cross, headship is a pouring out of one self. Christ washes His church with pure water in order to present her to the Father and He poured Himself out on the cross, to the point of death.
Leadership is a weight of responsibility. It’s not for the gratification of self. It’s about asking what is in the best interests of the woman and children God has given to you. Then asking how you can bear the cross on your own back to get you all there. It’s not about bossing, domineering and binding prerogative and privilege, but seeking out the best interest and pouring yourself into it. This doesn’t just start with the marriage vows.
Many of you are single men. Some are called to a life of chastity, but God is calling many of you to marry. Male headship does not start when you meet your future wife or when you take the vows. It starts when you begin to build in your life the practices and habits which crucify self-interest in order to be the kind of man who can put yourself out in cross-bearing leadership.
It’s the single young man who crucifies his flesh by keeping himself away from internet pornography, fighting for his bride and marriage, even if he doesn’t know what she looks like yet.
It’s the man who gives himself over to the study of Scripture and the cultivation of a life of prayer and humility before God, preparing himself to lead a family, a household and a bride.
Male headship is the sacrificial giving of self.
Headship is seen when a man is so organically united with his bride that there isn’t a division of interests between them. If you’re one flesh, you’re one flesh. No one hates his own flesh, but feeds himself and cares for himself.
When a man gives himself over for his wife, he is simply caring for his own flesh, his own interests, and his own body. You don’t domineer your body or tyrannize your body. You care for and sustain your own body.
God has called the man within the household to lead not by giving out orders and instructions that help prop up the way he wants to go, but to lead by discerning what is in her best interests. How can I bless her? How can I serve her? How can I lead our family and pour myself out while I do that.
Leadership points to the kingship of Christ, which is not about prerogative and privilege, but about servant hood and sacrifice.
Mystery of Christ
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. Ephesians 5:31-32 (ESV)
In every culture there is something about the sexual drive and urge that is universal and more powerful than an act of the will. There are all sorts of civilizations in human history that have died out, because of starvation, disease, war. But not one has ever died out because people forgot to have sex.
There is a mysterious sort of awakening, a powerful drive God has embedded in us for two to become one. When the man takes the woman as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, they become one flesh, committed in covenant with one another. It’s a picture of the Gospel itself.
That’s why this is so critically important and your pornography addiction is a problem. It’s not just the awful consequences that are happening to you psychologically or the exploitation of the trafficked people being used to feed the industry. It’s because in this there is another gospel being proclaimed.
That’s the reason why sex outside the marital union is such an issue in Scripture. It’s not simply because it has consequences for people. It’s because there is something happening spiritually that is communicating a gospel where a christ is using his church in order to satisfy himself, rather than giving himself in a permanent covenant to his church.
That’s why the divorce culture is so devastating. Not just because it hurts people. It’s because God has embedded pictures all around us of the union of Christ and His Church. These are living, breathing gospel tracts we are seeing ripped apart. Pictures of a christ who walks away from his church or a church who walks away from her christ.
The mystery is seeing what it means to be man, or woman and how the union of the two together is about the Gospel.
Some of you who have lived through some awful things, come from broken and unsafe homes. Some of you have had men or women in your life who have hurt you deeply; some have given yourself over submissively to people who have abused you. Some of you are in marriages where you’re living more as roommates. These are Gospel issues.
The Gospel of Christ says to you, “I don’t love you because of what you do for me. I’ve poured myself out with my own blood and I will never leave you.” This changes the way you see what it means to be a man or a woman or to be in a marriage.
When the Scripture says, “the Church comes down from heaven adorned as a bride before her husband,” that church isn’t abandoned, abused or used. That church is received with joy and life and blessedness.
That’s the mystery of Christ and the church.