Summary: Paul describes for us God's plan for marriage.
A four-year-old girl was having a difficult time grasping the concept of marriage. So her father opened his wedding photo album, thinking visual images would help. He pointed out the bride arriving at the church, the wedding ceremony, the recessional, and the reception. “Now do you understand what marriage is?” he asked. “I think so,” his daughter replied. “That’s when Mommy came to work for us, right?”
It’s not just four-year-olds who struggle to understand what marriage is. Many treat marriage as a kind of business partnership with a bit of romance thrown into the mix. So as long as both partners are happy and profitable, the partnership continues otherwise it dissolves. But since marriage is not a man-made invention, we need to turn to God’s Word to find out what marriage is really all about. Our study of Ephesians today will give us a God’s-eye view of marriage. What we’ll learn is that marriage wasn’t just intended as a way to fill the earth with people and to provide them with caring families. Marriage is also meant to illustrate the deep bond that exists between Jesus and his Church. Listen to the words of our text.
The first thing that we learn about marriage is that it is a union between a man and a woman. That needs to be said these days doesn’t it? More and more governments are granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But that isn’t God’s plan for marriage. So when this topic comes up among your friends, I encourage you to share what the Bible says. You don’t have to do this in a preachy sort of way, just calmly and quietly let others know that there are many in the world today who still hold to the traditional definition of marriage. Why? Because you believe that there is a God, and you believe this God speaks to us through the Bible and there he is clear about what marriage is: it’s to be a life-long union between one man and one woman. And why insist on that? Because just as following the user manual for your new electronic gadget will give you the best results, so following God’s plan for marriage will yield the greatest blessings.
But about divorce then? Where does that fit into God’s design for marriage? Well it doesn’t—at least it wasn’t part of God’s original plan. When God brought Adam and Eve together as husband and wife, he intended them to live together forever. Neither were to abandon the marriage because they got tired of the other. Of course that would have never happened had Adam and Eve not sinned. But even after they sinned, God’s will for them was to remain married until God himself ended the marriage by taking one of them home to heaven.
It was only because people started to break the marriage union for trivial reasons that God intervened and allowed for divorce in two cases: marital unfaithfulness and desertion. When one breaks the marriage by being unfaithful or by continually deserting the other, the “innocent” spouse is not bound to remain in that relationship. I should say a lot more about divorce, but it’s better to do that in a Bible class. For now, I just want to impress upon those planning on getting married some day that you should only take that step after much prayerful consideration. Getting married isn’t like signing up for a cell phone plan. You can’t just change providers after a couple of years because you didn’t like the service. When you say “I do,” you are promising to live with and love your spouse through thick and thin until death parts you.
Your chance of maintaining a life-long relationship will greatly increase if you remember how marriage is supposed to work. So listen again to the key verses of our text. “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do 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” (Ephesians 5:22-24).
Now this is where it gets “sticky” for many. What does Paul mean that the wife is to submit to her husband? Many think it means that she must simply obey her husband in all things. What’s interesting, however, is that Paul didn’t use the word “obey” like he did a few verses later when speaking about a child’s relationship to his father, and a slave’s relationship to his master (Ephesians 6:1; 5). Instead he used the word “submit” which means to line yourself up under someone else. “See, there you go, Pastor. Paul is demeaning women! He doesn’t even tell them to ‘Stand by your man,’ but ‘Stand under your man’!”