Ephesians 5:21-33Theme: Marriage.This week’s lessons teach us that when the institution of marriage crumbles, society crumbles. LessonIf this battle is to be won, it is going to have to be done by a change in attitude as we see ourselves as Christians, not here primarily to satisfy ourselves or be happy or fulfilled, but rather to be obedient servants of Jesus Christ. Fortunately, in our time there are a number of evangelical writers who are being raised up by God to oppose this trend. And I mention them for you – Elisabeth Elliot, who has expressed herself in a little book called What God Has Joined; J. Carl Laney, who has written an excellent study of the text called The Divorce Myth; Ed Wheat, a doctor who originally wrote Intended for Pleasure, and has followed that up by an excellent book called Love Life for Every Married Couple; Mike Mason, who has written The Mystery of Marriage; and Mary Pride, an original feminist who was converted, and has now written a book called The Way Home: Beyond Feminism and Back to Reality. What these writers are declaring on a sound biblical basis is that the only way out of the divorce malaise back to happy, permanent marriages is by a couple’s open acknowledgment in advance to one another and before others that marriage is an irrevocable covenant and is, therefore, “until death do us part.” It’s only on that basis, an irrevocable commitment in advance, that healing really does take place.
Ed Wheat in his book has a whole chapter on this entitled “How to Save Your Marriage Alone.” He means by that if the other person doesn’t want to save it, one can do it alone. And he says, “It is by living an obedient, biblical life in spite of the disobedience of the other person.” Mike Mason has written this: “Marriages which are dependent on romantic love fall apart or at best are in for a stormy time of it. Marriages which consistently look back to their vows, to those wild promises made before God, and which trust him to make sense out of them, find a continual source of strength and renewal.” You see, he means you should not just look to how you feel at the moment, but to what you declared “in the presence of God and these witnesses.”
I’m sure it’s obvious to you that this is the way Paul approaches marriage in this important passage in Ephesians. There were undoubtedly problems among the marriages of the Ephesians of his day, as there are among ours. These were people who were converted out of paganism. They undoubtedly came to him with problems. But when Paul gives his commandments to them, he does not make them contingent upon the response of the other person. He does not say, “Wives, submit to your husbands if they’re worth submitting to in your judgment.” He does not say, “Husbands, love your wives if they are worthy of your love in your opinion.” On the contrary, these commands are absolutes – submit, love, care for, respect. And the reason given is simple obedience to Jesus Christ, upon which our own conduct within the marriage is to be patterned. Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. And husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. The only thing that will ultimately make marriage work between two sinful persons, which we all are, is this kind of unconditional commitment. It’s the only thing that will preserve this first and most foundational of all human institutions.
But you know, teaching like this runs against our culture, as all biblical teaching does. It runs against the tenor of our own hearts and thinking. And even when Christian people acknowledge that this is God’s teaching, there is still the tendency to make excuses and say, “It just can’t be done in my case. A lesser standard must prevail.” I think of two excuses that are made. The first is the excuse that says, “Well, I believe everything that it says, but I just can’t do it.” You see, this is what we tell ourselves when we’re psychologically defeated and when we’re feeling sorry for ourselves. Sometimes we shift the blame. We push it off on God. We say, “I can’t do it, and God made me this way. God obviously intends a high standard for some people. But God just didn’t give me the wherewithal to do it.” But, you know, in the Bible, obedience is never conditioned upon our human ability to perform what’s commanded. It’s simply commanded. And when we, by the grace of God, take that step, knowing ourselves unable to do it, it is then that we find Christ to be the great enabler of unable people.
What will lead to a turnaround in the sinful trend toward divorce among Christians?
How can a marriage be saved even by just one spouse?
What is the primary reason for submitting to God’s commandments in our relationships?
What enables us to live out God’s commandments in our relationships? What is the first thing we must do?