Get With The Program – Ephesians 5 13
The Final Message in the Together Series on Love, Dating, and Marriage.
God has a program for Marriage that works.
There are many words that are losing their meaning or coming to mean something completely different in our modern culture. As a communicator this makes my responsibility of converting truths and principles more difficult because it puts a barrier between the speaker and the listener. There are words that I have to be careful with- words that I have to be sure that we are on the same page about their meaning and application. One of the key words in this passage is one of those words. Submission. Submission carries heavy connotations in the minds of many. It has looked very different in the lives of many, and the application of it in marriage relationships has a spectrum that runs from loving and beautiful to abusive and dark. Because we probably have several different perspectives on what submission means, it will be helpful to start with a clear definition.
John Piper wrote an article on what Submission is not. His article was specifically speaking of a passage in 1 Peter, but the same ideas apply here for Ephesians 5. So I want to share a few of his clarifying statements on what Submission is not so that we can be clear on what submission is before we stumble across it in this passage.
1. Submission is not agreeing on everything. Submission is not agreeing on everything, for instance the Christian faith, because the husband in 1 Peter 3:1–6 is an unbeliever. Submission does not mean you must agree with the opinions of your husbands, even on things as fundamental and serious as the Christian faith. God has made you with a mind. You have to think. You are a person, not a body and not a machine. You’re a thinking being who is able to process whether the gospel is true. And if it’s true, you believe it. If he says, “You can’t believe that,” you humbly and submissively do not submit to that.
2. Submission does not mean an absence of influence. A submissive wife is not a wife with no leadership or influence. Being submissive does not mean that you can not be involved in the decision making process.
3. Submission is not putting the will of the husband before the will of Christ. If the husband is leading the family into sin, the wife has no obligation to follow. If the husband says let’s scam the insurance company, the wife isn’t obligate to follow that poor leadership.
4. Submission does not mean living or acting in fear. Most of the poor perspectives on the idea of submission come from the minority of men who attempt to use scriptures to justify their lack of emotional health.
The basic meaning of submission would be: “recognize and honor the greater responsibility of your husband to supply your protection and sustenance; be disposed to yield to his authority in Christ and be inclined to follow his leadership.” – John Piper
I think that word yield is fundamental. A yield sign is an important but often misunderstood traffic sign. The Yield sign doesn’t mean stop and it doesn’t mean go ahead. A yield sign calls on the driver to when necessary slow down & defer to oncoming or intersecting traffic, & then proceed when safe. That’s what submission in marriage is, it’s when there is an intersection of the two perspectives, when there comes a point where the two people will need to merge their direction or their ideas, it is deferring to let one go ahead of the other. The purpose is the same, to avoid or minimize collisions and crashes.
So now that we have that clear, let’s read this passage and attempt to unravel it so we can better apply it our lives and relationships.
Ephesians 5:15-33 KJV
See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
In a The New Yorker article title “How David Beats Goliath” Malcolm Gladwell wrote the following:
When Vivek Ranadivé decided to coach his daughter Anjali’s basketball team, he settled on two principles. The first was that he would never raise his voice. This was National Junior Basketball—the Little League of basketball. The team was made up mostly of twelve-year-olds, and twelve-year-olds, he knew from experience, did not respond well to shouting. The second principle was more important. Ranadivé was puzzled by the way Americans played basketball. He is from Mumbai. He grew up with cricket and soccer. He would never forget the first time he saw a basketball game. He thought it was mindless. Team A would score and then immediately retreat to its own end of the court. Team B would inbound the ball and dribble it into Team A’s end, where Team A was patiently waiting. Then the process would reverse itself. A basketball court was ninety-four feet long. But most of the time a team defended only about twenty-four feet of that, conceding the other seventy feet. Occasionally, teams would play a full-court press—that is, they would contest their opponent’s attempt to advance the ball up the court. But they would do it for only a few minutes at a time. It was as if there were a kind of conspiracy in the basketball world about the way the game ought to be played, and Ranadivé thought that that conspiracy had the effect of widening the gap between good teams and weak teams. Good teams, after all, had players who were tall and could dribble and shoot well; they could crisply execute their carefully prepared plays in their opponent’s end. Why, then, did weak teams play in a way that made it easy for good teams to do the very things that made them so good? Ranadivé looked at his girls. Morgan and Julia were serious basketball players. But Nicky, Angela, Dani, Holly, Annika, and his own daughter, Anjali, had never played the game before. They weren’t all that tall. They couldn’t shoot. They weren’t particularly adept at dribbling. They were not the sort who played pickup games at the playground every evening. Most of them were, as Ranadivé says, “little blond girls” from Menlo Park and Redwood City, the heart of Silicon Valley. These were the daughters of computer programmers and people with graduate degrees. They worked on science projects, and read books, and went on ski vacations with their parents, and dreamed about growing up to be marine biologists. Ranadivé knew that if they played the conventional way—if they let their opponents dribble the ball up the court without opposition—they would almost certainly lose to the girls for whom basketball was a passion. Ranadivé came to America as a seventeen-year-old, with fifty dollars in his pocket. He was not one to accept losing easily. His second principle, then, was that his team would play a real full-court press, every game, all the time. The team ended up at the national championships. “It was really random,” Anjali Ranadivé said. “I mean, my father had never played basketball before.”
Once Ranadive convinced his girls to play the way he had drawn up, they were invincible. They went to the national championship with a team of girls that hardly played basketball and a coach who never had.
God’s concept of how marriage should work seems pretty crazy to our culture, but maybe our culture kind of stinks at marriage…
There are many stats about the state of marriage, and there are also stats that show that the difference between divorce rates between unbelievers and evangelicals is very small. However, if you look at the divorce rate between people who are active in their faith, that isn’t the case. In the book The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, Harvard-trained social researcher, Shanti Feldhahn compiles stats and conducts some research of her own on marriage, and specifically, what makes for a happy marriage. She says that, 53% of Very Happy Couples agree with the statement, “God is at the center of our marriage” (compared to only 7% of Struggling Couples). On pg. 178 of her book she writes,
“Highly happy couples tend to put God at the center of their marriage and focus on Him, rather than on their marriage or spouse, for fulfillment and happiness.”
Dr. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project finds that “active conservative protestants” who attend church regularly are actually 35% less likely to divorce than those who have no religious preferences. ”
No matter what the conventional wisdom of our culture is, God’s way just works. When we get with God’s program, we win. When we follow his path, we go to wonderful places.
This morning I invite you to exit off the highway of current marriage trends, to merge with your spouse onto the path that God has laid out. There are two main points I want to make from this text.
For two lives to merge, there must be a common direction.
It’s basically impossible to merge with someone who going in the opposite direction- merging is bring two cars into the same lane going the same direction. For many marriages, the merging of lives doesn’t work because the lives are headed in absolutely different directions.
I heard of a counsellor who would have new couples or engaged couples to draw a picture of what they thought their lives would look like in 10 years. There would be times that one spouse would draw two people on a boat and the other would draw a family of five with a dog standing next to a house. The couples clearly were headed in different directions. It was going to be very difficult or even impossible to merge their lives until they settled on a shared direction for their lives.
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he wrote to them about the destination that God had for all of them. He speaks to that in this passage verse 26 & 27 He says that Christ loved the church and gave himself for it so that:
26That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
Christ loved the church and had a plan or a destination in mind for her from the very beginning. God has had a plan for your spouse from the very beginning- God has had a plan for your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your husband, your wife to be sanctified, washed, and glorified. That’s what God wants for everyone of us- That’s what He desires for all of us- He knows that it is what will make us most happy and fulfilled and it is what will bring Him the most glory. That’s the program God has for us, that our marriages will serve His greater purpose of washing, sanctification, and glorification. Getting with the program in your marriage, in your relationship is accepting that God’s destination is the very best destination for your relationship. Marriage is best when it is part of God’s plan for your redemption and restoration.
The first half of this chapter is about following Christ, being wise and using time for the very best purpose of redemption and avoiding the sins that have entrapped so many. Paul is saying, I’m begging you to follow Christ and allow Him to work out your redemption, to continue His work in your life. Marriage is a fundamental part of that, as are relationships within the church, with your children, all of which this passage covers or gets to in chapter 6. So, in your relationship, the very best purpose that you can serve is to be a part of God’s plan for the other person’s life. Your greatest responsibility in a relationship is to fulfill your role in God’s plan to sanctify the other person.
Now that doesn’t mean you need to fulfill God’s role in the marriage, that’s not what God has asked you to do. God hasn’t asked you to be the Holy Spirit for your spouse. We’d like to serve in that capacity. Hey, you know I think God would be more pleased if you stopped leaving your socks on the floor… Hey I think God would be more pleased if you didn’t make that meatloaf any more… Some of you have tried to be the Holy Spirit in your marriage, some of you have allowed God to sanctify your spouse in spite of you. You’ve given God ample opportunities to teach your spouse patience because you are so difficult to live with. That’s not what the purpose is. The purpose is that we would lead one another, influence one another, encourage one another toward a stronger walk with Christ. The context of this passage is that the leader in this should be the husband… That leads me to the 2nd principle.
For two lives to merge, there must be submission & passion.
We’ve all been in the situation where you come to a four way stop just slightly before the other person, but for some reason they see it differently so when start to go, the other person does to, so then you both stop and there’s the awkward gesturing to get someone to go ahead. This passage is about making it clear who is to have the right of way in the marriage, who is to step out first. This passage is about who should take the lead and who should defer to other.
God has established that the man is to be the Spiritual Leader in the home. That the man should step out first. This passage isn’t saying that the man should always get his way, but rather that the wife give her the husband the opportunity to lead. We’ve also probably all been in the situation where the person who does have the right of way will not go, so you do what you are supposed to do and they don’t move, so you are just stuck, trying to get them to go ahead and maybe you go ahead because they won’t.
Guys, some women take charge because they don’t want you to lead, but many women take the lead because we won’t. There is no submission because there is no passion. There is no desire to lead. Men, we are called to love our wives like Christ loved the church, gave himself for her, and leads her toward sanctification. That was the demonstration of his love, sacrificial leadership. Men are called to sacrificially love and lead their families. Men, we are called to be spiritual leaders in our homes, but our wives have to be because we won’t step out. There are wives that would love to merge and follow, but you’ve stopped short and won’t budge.
There is a new phenomena that I’ve been experiencing. The light turns green and no one moves because they’re all looking down at their phones. They’re distracted from the road ahead of them. It’s been my experience that the car in front finally looks up and starts going with just enough time for them to get through but not the rest of us… Men, you don’t want to lookup so late that you’ve missed the opportunity to lead your family in the path that God has laid out for you. For many of us, we are not only missing the opportunity to lead our marriages, we are missing our opportunity to lead our families.
I attended 3 funerals this week. All for men who were taken to young. I heard at every one of those funerals, you just never know.. I spoke to a friend whose daughter just started drivers ed, he said you turn around and they’re all grown up. Men, we’ve got a limited window of time to lead our families. Let’s make the most of the time.