Ephesians 5:21-33

Rare is the house that has remained untouched by the re-modeler’s hammer, saw, and brush. Remodeling has become a favorite American passtime.

We are much more apt to remodel the place where we live than we are to change the ways we live, however. Few families ever consider the need to remodel their home — the ways they live, the relationships which exist within the walls of that house.
Yet that would prove to be a much more profitable venture than moving a wall, adding a porch, or enlarging the family room.
This sermon is about remodeling your home. It is about changing the ways in which we relate to each other as family: husband to wife; man to woman. It is based upon the premise that families do change, and that those patterns of relating which have served well in the past may not be the best ways to relate in changing circumstances.
This sermon suggests that the biblical model of family is the only adequate model of family relationships in the kind of changing, pressurized environment in which we all struggle to survive as individuals and families.
I
Each of us enters marriage with an idea already in mind of what marriage and family is all about. That idea is our “model,” or pattern, for marriage.
I heard about the wife who constantly referred to her spouse as a model husband, a model father, a model citizen, a model businessman. One of her friends suggested to her one day that no man she had ever known could be so perfect.
The wife responded: “Why, you have completely misunderstood what I have been saying about my husband. I have been describing him perfectly. The dictionary defines a model as ‘an imitation of the real thing.’ Believe me, that describes my husband perfectly.”
At the outset of premarital counseling sessions I attempt to determine a couple’s models of marriage. I usually ask: “Where have you gotten your ideas of marriage: from home, books, movies, magazines, music, school, church?”
Then I ask: “In thinking of an ideal marriage, whose marriage do you envision? What makes that marriage ideal: Identify the elements of that marriage which you would like to bring over to your own.”
Interestingly enough, fewer and fewer engaged couples are indicating a desire to model their marriage after their parents. Sadly, if the truth were known, most parents are not surprised at that. Few parents want their marriages to be like they are either.
One wife said: “I feel like such a hypocrite. If you asked the people in our church to list the 10 most happily married couples they know, our names would probably appear on every list. We’re sociable, we entertain frequently in our home. We do this, that, the other — all the right things we’re supposed to do.
“We play the role — I mean, REALLY play it, but our marriage is miserable. We get along … from a distance. I can never tell him how I really feel about anything. He always gets mad and jumps at me. Or, he clams up for a couple of days. I don’t think we’ve ever had a really close relationship!”
Her husband said: “I don’t really think it’s all that bad. We’ve got a lot going for us: the kids are doing fine, we go to church, my wife is active in the church, God is blessing our business. Our marriage is better off than a lot of other folks’ I know.”
Yet the simple truth is: the marriage is in trouble, and for all practical purposes, this husband and wife are emotionally divorced. They are together, but for all the wrong reasons.
Where did they learn to do marriage that way? Probably from their own parents. We do have a tendency to perpetuate — generation after generation — those same patterns of relating, communicating, and sparring which we saw in our parents. We tend to perpetuate those patterns even when we know that their marriage was less than ideal.
Why? We do so simply because that model of marriage is the one to which we are most exposed.
Where will children learn of marriage if not in the home where they are raised? What other models are available to them?
Television provides an abundance of models. Older shows such as Ozzie and Harriet, My Three Sons, and Father Knows Best portrayed family life in a more favorable light than most modern productions. Family life was more stable. Problems were much more simple. Father was always given the prominent place, even if he was usually seen as something of a klutz.
Ozzie, Fred, and Bob Anderson could never fix anything around the house. Their faculties of reasoning and deduction always seemed lacking. Mother’s primary role appeared to be to keep Father on his pedestal, no matter what.
Yet, such caricatures are not realistic portrayals of life. Everything is more complicated now than in the fifties. Wives and mothers are not nearly so likely to be that dependent upon, or protective of father. Such fiction is an entirely inadequate model for contemporary marriage.
However, the portrayal of marriage in current television programming is no better. Marriage is too often cast in the light of competition between spouses. One is a public defender; her spouse is a police captain. The nature of their professional relationship is adversarial. One is a highly influential attorney; his spouse is a high-powered corporate executive.
Most often, marriage appears to be for convenience sake, not for keeps. The emphasis is upon husbands and wives being friends instead of husbands and wives: working together toward intimacy; co-operating in unity; holding values sacred and instilling them deliberately in their children.
According to modern media, the crucial problems for today’s families deal with cell phone coverage; choosing the right cat food for a finicky cat; avoiding dirty, soapy residue on clean dishes; and whether you should choose Mac or PC.
Obviously, modern television is out of touch with where families are and what marriage is all about! By the same token, many of the traditional models of marriage have proven to be just as empty.
In our efforts to protect traditional views for tradition’s sake only, we have too willingly debated the roles and functions within marriage almost to the total neglect of concern over right relationships in marriage and family.
Entirely too little attention is being focused upon need for love, trust, intimacy, forgiveness, patience, listening, and understanding, while too much discussion has been offered on “who’s in charge?”
The necessity of two incomes to support our lifestyles, the prevalance of day care centers, the development of incredibly efficient household appliances, and conveniences all around have certainly intensified the debate.
It is interesting that the Bible never gives a job description for any responsibility it defines. In the cases of pastor, teacher, husband, or wife, the Bible only sets forth the qualifications, requirements, goals, and purposes for the persons assuming those responsibilities. Precisely how the responsibility is to be fulfilled, however, is left open to the “free will” of the parties involved.
For instance, the qualifications of pastors and deacons are set forth in 1 Timothy 3. In Ephesians 4, the aim of the pastoral ministry is expressed as “building up the body of Christ.”
Yet, nowhere are specific assignments given. I understand that to mean that a pastor does what needs to be done — in different settings and under varying conditions — in order to build up the church.
In Genesis 2Genesis 3, the qualifications of husbands and wives are set forth. He is to leave his father and mother in order that he may be completely devoted to his wife. She is to be his helper.
The aim of marriage is clearly to provide a context in which the man and woman can be fruitful and multiply. They are also to be equal partners in the dominion over the earth.
Yet nowhere are specific assignments given to the husband and the wife. I understand that to mean that a husband and wife do what has to be done in order to fulfill the goals and purposes of marriage. In that light, there is no place for the “who’s boss at our house” debate since both are living for God and not for themselves.
Not long ago, a husband said: “If I am in charge, I expect my word to be final.” By that, he meant that everyone in his family did as he told them to do. His words, “I am in charge,” stuck with me — perhaps because I am not in charge, in that sense, in my home.
That man is a business executive. I have talked with him about his career. He believes that every employee’s first loyalty is to the company. If something needs to be done, the employee takes care of it, whether or not it is her assigned responsibility. The company philosophy is that every employee is equally responsible for the success of the company.
However, at home he is a different man. His “I am in charge” attitude translates into a definitive line of demarcation, based largely upon seniority and sex. He does what the man is supposed to do, and his wife does what the wife is expected to do. To cross those assigned lines is absolutely unthinkable!
Tell me, what happened to his sense of equal responsibility thast he strictly enforces at his office? Every member of the family should sense an equal responsibility with every other member for the success of that family.
Each does what must be done, each does what he or she does best, whether or not that represents a traditional assignment. For the sake of the family, I will do what I can do, and I will give my spouse the freedom to do what she can do for the benefit and well-being of our family.
The Bible does not spell out specific assignments as being masculine or feminine, patriarchal or matriarchal in nature. The Bible, instead, emphasizes relationship — not role and function — above everything else.
II
That is the only model, I believe, which can ever stand the stress of time and avoid the staleness of a non-growing marriage.
Paul made it clear that in the Christian community (i.e., Christian church, Christian home, etc.), “there is neither male nor female … for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). It is difficult to conceive of a more definitive statement of equality.
The statement should not be taken to mean that Paul denied or argued for the obliteration of the obvious differences between male and female as physical, emotional, or spiritual persons. But, he did affirm the equal worth of males and females as persons. Both come equally to Christ and both equally put on Christ in their act of faith and subsequent baptism.
Paul went further. He commanded husbands: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Tradition only required that he provide adequately for his wife, but the New Testament demanded love as an essential ingredient to the husband-wife relationship.
Most wives continue to verify Paul’s basic premise: love is the essential stuff of a marriage. Where husbands are totally devoted to providing adequately (or more) for their wife and children, and are totally devoid of love, the marriage has already failed.
The word “love” is the strongest word Paul could use. It is the same word which describes God’s gift to the world of his only Son so He could redeem the world. It is the same word which describes the essential nature of the relationship between Christ and his church, which is the new model for the marriage relationship.
What that means for the husband is this: He Values his wife as a person of equal worth with himself. Some years ago, a family sociologist suggested that the greatest problem with most contemporary marriages is that they are designed for only one and one-half persons. In his estimation, many wives are not generally accepted as whole persons. In the Christian marriage, however, the wife is equally loved by her Creator.
Loving the wife as Christ loved the church also means that the husband will demonstrate sacrificial love for her — giving himself up for her as Christ gave up His life for the church. What that means is that the husband must demonstrate his love for his wife. He cannot simply depend upon her to intuitively know that he loves her.
He also is to express caring love for his wife (Ephesians 5:28-30). Paul told the husband that his love for his wife is to be similar to the love he has for his own body. He is to care as much for her as He does for himself.
Another passage which illustrates this relationship is 1 Corinthians 7:3-5. According to Paul, the husband has needs and rights assumed in the marriage covenant which the wife is to honor by giving herself to him sexually. That is an idea which is widely held and accepted in our male-dominated society.
However, Paul goes beyond that and suggests that the husband needs to be concerned about his wife’s needs and rights also. They are equally responsible for meeting each other’s needs. Each exists for the other.
Finally, his concern that the husband love his wife means that he must also develop the art of understanding (1 Peter 3:7). Some have suggested that the words “weaker sex” in this passage refer to the female’s spiritual and emotional weakness as well as physical. Such an interpretation is based upon Eve’s succumbing to the temptation of the serpent in the Garden.
However, the same word is used in other places in the New Testament and only describes physical weakness (see Matthew 26:41). Nowhere does the Bible teach feminine inferiority based upon the sin of the woman in the Garden.
The passage in I Peter is simply a warning to the husband against taking advantage of his wife’s physical weakness in order to dominate her. She is to be respected as an equal partner in the grace of life, even though she is physically weaker. Her weakness, however, does not make her inferior. She is to be given the highest worth or value in her husband’s life because of who she is and because of equal partnership in God’s grace.
It must also be kept in mind that Paul had just as much to say about the wife’s responsibility to her husband. In the New Testament period, the man had legal authority over his wife. She had no choice but to accept that authority. Women were regarded as minors by the law, and thus, a woman’s person and property were always controlled by a male guardian.
Thus, the husband’s authority over the wife was a legal fact before any of the New Testament was ever written. Just as the New Testament reflected the civil establishment of slavery, it also reflected the context of a male-dominated society.
Therefore, its teaching about the husband’s dominance over the wife is cast in an entirely different light. Male authority was not established by some scriptural mandate, but by the legal codes of that era.
In Ephesians, Paul set forth a new interpretation of authority and required that the Christian wife develop a new and better attitude toward her Christian husband, given the legal requirements of that day.
The demand that she respect her husband (Ephesians 5:33) is much more understandable in light of her legal obligation to submit to his authority. When authority is established and demanded without ever having been earned, it is natural that resentment and resistance build within the submissive party. However, Paul tried to help the Christian wife avoid that attitude of resistance, resentment, and bitterness.
Christ’s headship over the church was expressed in love. That is the model of the husband’s authority. He is not to be the wife’s “lord”; that would usurp the place of Christ in her life. He is, however, to model Christ’s love for the church in his devotion to his wife. That is the basis and model of the husband’s authority.
His relationship to his wife is not one of dominance, but responsible and loving leadership in the family. When the husband is lovingly responsible, the wife will respect him and voluntarily yield to him in love. (It is important that you keep this interpretation in its original cultural context.) He proves himself worthy of her trust, and in return, she gives herself.
Beyond that, the wife is also to love her husband (Titus 2:4-5). It may seem strange that both spouses have been urged to love each other. In our time, the most common reason people give for marrying is their love for each other.
That was not so in Paul’s day. Marriages were still arranged, to a large extent, by the parents of the couples. In those cases, neither marriage partner may have had any involvement in the choice of their mate.
Yet, the passage is certainly applicable today. Both respect and love are essential to the healthy wife to husband relationship. Yet, in increasing numbers of marriages, those elements are missing. But without the proper relationship of a man to his wife — one in which he truly loves her, cares for her, gives himself to her, without domination –she will not love and respect him in return.
Good marriage is a two-way commitment. The only appropriate model for a Christian marriage is the relationship of Jesus Christ to His bride, the church. The popular model of marriage based upon a military chain of command is simply not biblical.
If you are serious about remodeling your marriage, you must begin with an understanding of the relationship of Christ to His church. Any strong family is based upon a healthy relationship between husband and wife.
Is your home all that you dreamed, wanted, and worked for it to be? What was your model for marriage as you started this venture? The Bible says the model of a Christian marriage is the relationship of Christ to His people. In that light, do you need to remodel your marriage?
Do you sincerely care for your marriage as much as Christ cares for His church? Frankly, to get things back on track, your marriage must become the thing you want in life, not just one of many things.
Will you and your wife dare make that kind of commitment to each other in this place today?

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