“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” With these words Paul begins the sixth chapter in his letter to the Ephesians. Now, since we are focusing on Christian education this Sunday because we are starting up with Sunday School again, those words from Paul are very fitting for a sermon text. But before you get all excited that Pastor is going to whip your kids into shape, notice in your sermon guide that the sermon text is not from Ephesians 6. It’s from Ephesians 5.
If we really want to teach children obedience, then we need to start with the parents, like Paul does, as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit. They say children learn from their parents—so how could you expect to see obedience and submission from children if you don’t first see it in the parents?
Submission is a dirty word today, especially when we are talking about marriage—but it doesn’t need to be. The problem we have is that we think of the person who submits as being less important. But that isn’t the case with Christ, who submitted to the Father’s will in his suffering and death. “Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me, yet not as I will, but as you will,” he prayed in the garden.
You are not an inferior person if you have to submit to someone else. The smartest people are not necessarily the ones who have the authority.
Let me give you an example. You have seen crossing guards at schools, right? That crossing guard might be fourteen years old, but when he holds up the sign, people stop for him. Bill Gates might be driving past that school, but he stops when the 14-year old crossing guard holds up the sign. He submits, but not because he is less important or not as intelligent. The crossing guard simply has the authority.
Submission doesn’t need to be a dirty word among us; God actually intends it to be a beautiful thing. Paul says that love and submission in a marriage is a model of Christ’s love for us, and our submission to him.. A model is a miniature version of the real thing—like a model car or a model airplane. Wives, be models of Christian submission. Submit to your husbands as to the Lord, Paul says. Husbands, be models of Christ’s love in your leadership. Love your wives like Christ loved the Church; and that means you will let go of your own interests and submit yourself to the things that are good for her and good for your relationship. Already some of you are thinking, “Impossible.” You have seen sin make husbands into selfish, unloving rulers of the house, and you can’t stand the thought of submission. You have seen sin make wives be disrespectful, impatient, and easily angered; and you can’t stand the thought of letting go of everything to love her. Today I am asking you to stop thinking about your spouse’s sins. Think about your own sins, and about Christ’s love. Then, consider how you should model that love of Christ for your children, for your spouse, and for all of us.
Those of you who are single or widows, think about how you can show the same kind of Christian love and submission to everyone, whenever you are dealing with people. Pay attention to the first verse—Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
1. Your real life marriage
God wants marriage to be a perfect copy of the relationship that Christ has with us. It’s a beautiful thing that Christ loved us so much that he would leave the comforts of heaven to suffer and die for us. His great love for us makes it so easy for us to agree that we should submit to his will in our lives—after all, he only wants the best for us. At least, it should be easy for us to submit to Christ’s will. In real life, sin makes everything difficult. And in real life, it is very difficult to model Christ’s love in your marriage.
Wives, how do you measure up to what Paul wrote? “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” Doesn’t that hurt our modern, enlightened American ears? I’ve heard women come up with some pretty good reasons why Paul’s words shouldn’t count for them. My husband is selfish. He doesn’t make very good decisions. He is lazy. But Paul has one very good reason why you should submit to him—your husband is like Christ to you. Christ your Lord has given you this man to be your head; though he may be a foolish, selfish, and lazy head. Christ your Lord will care for you no matter what your husband decides to do. As you submit to your Lord then, you must also submit to your husband. By the way, that also means respecting him. You aren’t supposed to cut him down with harsh words that make him feel worthless or stupid. Paul adds that you must do this in everything—and those words don’t leave any room for exceptions or conditions. God wants unconditional respect and submission for your husband.
Husbands, how do you measure up? “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy.” Here come the reasons why you can’t, and you think they are good ones. She is so critical of me. She is so bossy. She is so needy. Once again, though, Paul has a very good reason for you to love her. You are like Christ to her, because Christ your Lord has placed you over her as the head in your family. Christ, as our head, loved us and gave himself up for us—so you should do the same for your wives. Now, I’m sure all of you would give your life for your wife, but would you give your Sunday afternoon football time for her too? Would you give up your pride when she criticizes you, and respond gently? You should.
Here is what all of us get to learn from this—in the imperfect, sinful marriage, we learn about Christ’s love for the sinful church. You see, the wife who struggles to respect her husband and submit to him is actually a fairly good model of what the church is like. When we hear what God wants from us, and resist his commands with all of our best excuses, we are all worse than the wife who can’t submit to her husband. We have such difficulty submitting to Christ, though he is always good and loving, and always wants the best for us.
Before we knew him or loved him in the least, Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. Knowing that we would have such great difficulty submitting to his good will for us even after we have come to know him and love him, Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. And all of those marriages that have failed so horribly to model Christ’s love—Christ gave himself up for them too. For all the divorced families, the dysfunctional families, the nagging wives, and abusive husbands—Christ loved us as his unlovable wife. We are an imperfect, often rebellious church, but Christ has loved us and he has stayed with us. Through baptism he has washed us so that we are holy in his sight. He has stayed with us, showing his love on us through his Word, through the daily remembrance of Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, so that we grow in our ability to submit to his holy will.
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
Let me tell you what that would look like if you were to perfectly copy Christ in your marriage.
2. Your ideal marriage
The ideal husband, who perfeclty models Christ, will love his sinful, nagging, disrespectful, unlovable wife, and he will object to me calling her unlovable. He will say that she is perfect, beautiful, and entirely lovable. Any faults of hers he has forgiven and covered over.
The ideal husband is tuned into his wifes needs. He is always there for her. He is always helpful. He will give up anything to be with her. He doesn’t see her as needy, because he lives to give her everything. When she is critical, he doesn’t strike back with his words. He responds quietly and lovingly. He makes it easy for her to respect him and submit to him, because he is the perfectly loving husband. Just like Christ continually wins us over with his love so that we willingly follow him, the perfect husband continually pours out his love for his wife so that she will willingly follow his lead. He forgives her and tells her that she is perfect, and he makes it easy for her be the perfect, submissive, respectful wife God wants her to be. The perfect husband is like Christ to his wife. This is the most important point of this sermon: In that perfect husband, we all see how Christ is to us.
Children, when your father is gentle and loving toward your mother, you are seeing what Christ is like. Christ is gentle and loving to you. When you see your mother following what your father says, you know that you should do the same—obey your parents, and obey God.
You wives aren’t going to get off the hook entirely, now. You have heard that your Lord loves you and forgives your faults. The best obedience you can give your Lord is to submit to your husband and respect him, adn forgive his faults. In an ideal marraige, you should make it easy for your husband to be like Christ. Help and support him in this role, as God intended. Don’t be critical, don’t be bossy, don’t cut him down with your words. It will be much easier for him to love and care for you when you aren’t pushing him away with your disrespect. I know he may be a selfish fool. Be a respectful, submissive wife, and you will create an environment where he can grow as a Christian husband. Your respect for him, more than anything, will win his love and concern for you.
This Sunday we begin Sunday school, and that’s a great way to teach your children to know Jesus. But don’t stop there. They say children learn best from their parents, and especially from what they see their parents doing. You parents have an opportunity to teach your children to know Christ’s love by example—especially you fathers. I know that’s a lot of responsibility and pressure, but isn’t that what being a man is all about? Take the responsibility, and handle the pressure for your family! Show them what Christ’s selfless love looks like in your selfless, unconditional love for your wife. Wives aren’t off the hook either, though—make it easy for your husband to love you by showing him your loving, respectful submission to his authority. Husbands and wives, consider how Christ has loved you, and strive for that ideal. Show Christ in your marriage. Amen.