Ephesians 5:22-33, "22 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. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her26 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 their own body, but they feed and care for their body, 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.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband."
Every week I pray the same thing for my wife and I. I pray that our marriage would be a picture of the Gospel. I know it is a lofty goal, perhaps unattainable, but I pray it because of the words in Ephesians 5:22-33. In this passage Paul describes the relationship between Jesus and the church and uses the analogy of a husband and wife. In doing so, he offers an understandable picture of how much Jesus loves us and how we ought to respond to that love. While we have a long way to go, I can say that at least in one way I see parallel between Jesus' relationship to the church and my relationship to my wife.
When I was a youth pastor there was a running joke that I started all my good stories with "I was dating this girl..." Young love is passionate and emotional. It leaves us with stories and broken hearts; it makes country music make sense. This is the type of love our society glorifies, but for me it isn't the type of love that makes Paul's metaphor in Ephesians 5:22-33 come to life.
I preached on the church as the bride of Christ several years ago. Then, my wife and I had been married four years and had been relatively unscathed by tragedy. Since that sermon, my wife and I have lived through two miscarriages, lost loved ones, and dealt with the death of a dog we loved like a child, struggled to pay bills, had surgery, given birth (her not me), and much more. We have held each other in sorrow; we've wept together. Through these hardships, I now see the metaphor of the church as the bride of Christ in a newer, and perhaps better, light.
In the early days of my marriage I felt more emotion (good and bad) about my relationship to my wife, but the love I have for her now is far greater. Our 10 years together, and all that it has brought, have created incredible unity between us - a unity that goes beyond what I could ever have expected. She's become a part of me.
It may sound strange, but the unity is similar to the way I feel about family I grew up with. When I was born, they were there. I don't know life before them and I dread life without them. Outside of my relationship with God there is no greater influence on why I am the way I am. My oldest stories are their stories too.
I've come to a place where I can hardly remember life before my wife. She's a huge part of why I am who I am. Often I start to tell a story that seem like they took place before we were married only to realize she was with me. Those "Once I was dating a girl..." stories have faded in my memory. I dread my life without her.
Many enter into a relationship with Jesus with great passion and emotion, but never move to a place where there is true depth of relationship and unity. Our goal should be a relationship where our lives are lost in his, we can hardly remember life before him and dread the thought of life without him.
What does it take to develop this type of unity? In part exactly what Paul talks about in this passage: Submission.
Submission is kind of a dirty word in our society. When I preached on this passage in the past I went to great lengths to point out that Paul doesn't call us to submit someone else. My beloved dog, mentioned above, was a fairly submissive dog. Part of the reason for this was that I had submitted him from the time time when he was a pup. When he was just eight pounds I would hold him on the palm of my hands with his belly to the sky and stair into his eyes. Eventually, he would yield, turning his eyes in submission. As he got older, and much bigger (92 pounds at his heaviest), I submitted him by grabbing him under his shoulders and lifting him off his front legs. Again, he would eventually submit. We submit dogs; we don't submit people.
Sadly, this passage has been used by men to do just that. It has been quoted as a reason for forcing wives/women to do what men want. This creates a negative connotation with the word (and the passage). But submission that is chosen, not forced, is not inherently bad. Nobody faults a football player for running the play a coach calls or a soldier for listening to his commander. These are forms of submission that are good. Submission can be beautiful when it isn't forced.
I should mention here that the most basic meaning of the word that translates to "submit" is "to put under." The idea is one of making another person more important than yourself. Paul is calling us to make Jesus more important than us. Wh should we do this? Because he loves us. Verse 25 says, "...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." He made us more important than Him and we should make Him more important than us. This is a key component of a good marriage.
When two people do their best over the course of many years to value their spouse more than they value themselves it creates incredible depth and unity. My wife is better at this than I am. This summer I mentioned to her that I was thinking of quitting one of my softball teams. She knows how much I love playing and encouraged me to stay on the team even though it would mean watching both kids alone on Sunday afternoons. This type of submission is beautiful and produces deeper love and grater unity.
If we want a relationship with Jesus that goes beyond our initial passion and emotion, we must submit. If we will, our lives will be lost in his and it will be hard to imagine life without him.