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Apr 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 29, 2015 – Ephesians 5:21-33

The Family’s Unseen Depths

. . . and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives, be subject to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:21-24

Intro: This brief passage requires more background than we usually devote to a text

God’s eternal word enters temporal human cultures (Isa. 40:8)
– not only do cultures come and go, but every culture changes over time
• messages specific to a culture or time can suffer a loss of meaning elsewhere
◦ I doubt anyone here has ever returned an enemy’s stray donkey
◦ but that doesn’t make Exodus 23:4 irrelevant; it makes it require special handling
• changing cultures require dynamic processes of interpretation
◦ we need God’s Spirit to enlighten us to fresh ways of seeing the ancient text
– a common sense way to finding relevant meaning in culturally conditioned texts:

  1. When a commandment is specific to a time or situation, generalize it
    • look behind it –
    what is the guiding principle for this commandment?
    ◦ Paul does this in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10
    (he generalizes “do not muzzle the ox . . .” to humane care for servants)
    • then a specific application will appear for our situation
  2. When a commandment is general, specify it
     look within it – figure out its specific application to our current situation
     “You shall not steal” is a general commandment
    ◦ we have to determine how it applies to modern notions of theft
    ◦ for example, laws regarding copyrights and intellectual property

• Paul wrote to Christian communities in the first century Mediterranean world
◦ his instructions to husbands and wives made perfect sense to his intended audience
◦ but we need to review our interpretation of our current situation in which

  • women have the same education as men
  • women enter the workplace and share careers with men
  • a woman can not only survive but thrive without a husband

Let’s pull out our map again to see how this passage fits into the rest of the letter
– Paul took the Ephesians on a sublime tour of Christian spirituality (Ep. 1:23)
• we find ourselves seated with Christ in heavenly places (Ep. 2:6)
• in chapter 4, Paul began addressing spiritual practice
◦ how we live in the world and heavenly places at the same time
◦ we begin by adopting a lifestyle consistent with our spiritual status (4:1)

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth. (Col. 3:1-2)

– more immediate context of the previous verses, Paul stressed knowing God’s will
• in verse 21, the transition is from speaking to submitting
◦ but the context is still practice and knowing God’s will
• mutual submission is a recognition of “spheres of influence”
◦ all the members have their calling and gifts
◦ we learn to defer to their areas of “expertise”

What is Paul trying to accomplish in this section?
– a wide spread scholarly opinion is that he intended to produce a household code

Historian Peter Brown, “He was concerned to emphasize . . . the continuing validity of all social bonds. The structure of the household as a whole was at stake.” Ephesians “presented the relations of husband and wife as a reflection of the primal solidarity brought back by Christ to the universe and to the church. . . . Adam and Eve provided Christians with an image of unbreakable order . . . . In the church, as in the city, the concord of a married couple was made to bear the heavy weight of expressing the ideal harmony of a whole society.”

• I agree with this assessment, but I also see there is more to it than that
• if we don’t see Paul’s underlying concern, we haven’t just missed an important point,
◦ we’ve missed the big idea around which the whole letter was written
– family living in this world participates in “heavenly places” living at the same time

David Steindl-Rast, “Very few people talk about the asceticism of family life. At least from the perspective of a monk, the asceticism of family life is greater than that of the monastery. That is not something I have invented. St. Bernard of Clarvaux spoke about it already as long ago as the eleventh century: how monks should have the greatest respect for householders, because if they’re serious about living their Christian faith, we have a lot to learn from them. There’s a built-in asceticism in a householder’s life that you can’t avoid. Monks get up at night to pray, but if they decide not to do so, they don’t get up. There’s not built-in absolute necessity to do so. But if your baby cries in the middle of the night, you have to get up; there’s no maybe about it.”

• we’ve got to see Paul’s spiritual vision behind his instructions to families
◦ our physical existence runs parallel to our spiritual existence
◦ overlapping and intersecting
• so in this section Paul talks about Jesus more than about either the wife or husband

We could generalize the principle behind Paul’s specific instructions in this way:

Live with your spouse as you would with Christ
and live toward your spouse as if you were Christ–

Then see how your actions link with the Lord’s

– this is not the last word on Christian marriage nor a panacea for troubled marriages
• in fact, it is much more

How Paul presents this to church and to wives in particular

V. 21, The Ephesians were to continue life together in mutual submission
– cooperation rather than conflict, competition, or domination
• he does not say, “Take control over others”
• that is characteristic of cult leaders
◦ if you want to drive your family away from God, try to drive them to him
◦ forcing, nagging, and unrelenting preaching backfires
– submission is voluntary – we’re given a choice
• this allows us to withdraw our submission
◦ not even Jesus will violate our free will to follow or not follow him (Jn. 6:67)
• the unique view of authority that Jesus passed to his disciples:

You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be the servant of all. (Mk. 10:42-44)

“. . . in the fear [reverence] of Christ”
– “reverence” for Christ promotes reverence for others
• we revere God’s image in them, Christ’s likeness and the true person
• “reverence” recurs at end of chapter

Paul carries the theme of submission into marriage
– “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord”
• last night I mentioned to Barbara that this would be today’s text
◦ then I asked her what she thought of it

“Well,” she began, “I see that I’m to submit to my husband as to Lord, so I’ve learned to skip the middleman.
“I listen to my husband and then to the Lord. The Lord tells me is, ‘You don’t have to do what Chuck says right now. Pray about it, but be open.’
“That’s my approach at that time, because I wouldn’t want to just say ‘No,’ even though that’s what’s in the back of my mind.”

– I think we’ve been misled by Paul’s metaphor, regarding the husband as “head”
• we use it in reference to a “head of state” or “head of a corporation”
◦ that would be the person in charge, the decision-maker, our “boss”
• the Greek word refers to the top, a crown, “head corner [stone]” (Mt. 21:42)
◦ the stone that holds whole thing together
◦ so for some interpreters, “head” is suggestive of unity (cf. Ep. 4:15-16)
– Christ is not only the head of the church, he is “the Savior of the body”
• this is how Jesus, as head of the church, acts on the behalf of others (his body)

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Mk. 10:45)

• the goal is for husband and wife to develop a cooperative relationship
◦ it recovers the original design of partnership and companionship (Gen. 2:18)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:25-27

For this relationship to work, the husband must act as Jesus

Jesus acted in love — how that looked in practice, he “gave Himself up for her”
– love isn’t a romantic feeling, but a way of behaving
• a husband can’t say, “I love my wife” and yet neglect her

Notice how these verses are more a description of Jesus than instruction to husbands
– the husband does not do all this for his wife–e.g., “sanctify” her
• he serves her in other ways – mostly material and ordinary
• but the point is, a husband’s care must reflect the same love and attention as Christ’s
– Jesus prepares us for himself – sanctify is to make holy
• “washing of water with the word,” rhema, a word spoken
◦ a word that has the dynamic of speech, direct and flexible
◦ this is a word Jesus speaks to us when scripture suddenly becomes personal
• our becoming “holy and blameless” is the Lord’s project
◦ so we never need to despair when we see how far we are from it

So husbands ought also to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it . . . Ephesians 5:28-29a

Paul cuts through the husband’s laziness

The care husbands show our wives is nothing less than we show for our own bodies
– the first recorded words of Adam were spoken in poetry to Eve

This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;

She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man. (Gen. 2:23)

• what do we do for ourselves?
◦ if we’re hungry, we eat; if we’re cold, we fetch our coat
◦ it’s pretty simple, really

. . . just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh [see Gen. 2:24]. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:29b-33

These verses move quickly back and forth

Paul jumps from Christ and the church to husbands and wives, then back again
– the intimate union within marriage illustrates a great mystery
• namely, Jesus’ oneness with his church
• the unity and oneness are held together by love and respect
– performing our daily duties to spouse and family members may not feel spiritual
• but we are not concerned with how caring for others makes us feel
◦ we only have to be there, as fully as possible

Conc: I apologize for staying with Ephesians even though today is Palm Sunday

However, the themes of this passage and Palm Sunday are not unrelated
– if all that people could see that day was:

  • a humble Galilean rabbi making his way to the temple
  • descending the Mount of Olives on a (borrowed) donkey
  • greeted by crowds of peasants and country folk
  • many voices cheering, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

would they not be confused, curious, or perhaps offended?
• this “procession of poverty” would have locals asking, “Who is this?” (Mt. 21:10)
◦ why all the excitement over a nobody?
(if he were a somebody, Jerusalem would already know him)
• high-minded religious leaders might take issue with the apparent blasphemy
◦ “Do You hear what these are saying?” they would ask Jesus
◦ “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples,” they would tell him

This is Jesus and this is Christian spirituality
– it’s the extraordinary wrapped in the ordinary
• a glint of spiritual reality, reflected off three-dimensional surfaces
Palm Sunday is about the way Jesus’ majesty shines through human poverty
• it is a flash of truth and a vision of the future
Palm Sunday is about God’s secret work in the world briefly revealed
Palm Sunday is about the hope and healing of all things

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