It was a stirring speech – we heard it a few moments ago. Joshua recited all that God had done for his people. When it looked like Pharaoh had them trapped at the Red Sea, God divided the sea, had them cross through on dry ground, and then had the sea come crashing down on Pharaoh’s pursuing army. God led them in the desert, providing manna and quail and water from a rock. It was God who knocked down the walls of Jericho for them and gave them victory after victory so that they were “now living in houses they did not build and eating from farms and vineyards they did not plant.”
As Joshua ended this speech of victory and success from the hand of God, he did so by asking the people to make a choice. “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” Will you serve this God who has answered your prayers, provided for your needs, given you victory over your enemies and kept his promises; or will you serve some other god or gods? Joshua gave his own answer to that choice and his answer is still posted on plaques in many Christian homes. “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!”
Today, Paul is our Joshua. Like the Israelite people who followed and walked with Joshua, we have spent time following and walking with Paul this summer. Yet, now our summer journey with Paul is coming to an end, but before we part ways with him we hear an echo of Joshua, “Choose whom you will serve.” Paul, in these last moments with us, wants to know. He wants to know if we will serve the one who saved us and is leading us to that promised land of heaven. And he wants to know if we will submit to Jesus and fulfill the roles that he has given us in life, and he specifically focuses on two roles for us this morning: the role of a husband and the role of a wife – Paul wants to talk about marriage.
But now notice something, in the eleven verses before us from Ephesians chapter five, Paul refers to Jesus in nine of them, either directly or using a pronoun. This is Paul’s foundation for everything that he says, it’s Jesus, and that foundation is revealed right away in verse 21 as Paul says this, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” We will talk about the word “submit” in a moment, but let’s first focus on Paul’s call to submit out of reverence for Christ. There’s a strong message here for all of us, it’s a message of respect.
A deep respect for Jesus, who he is and what he has done, is what motivates a believer to look at any role God gives us and to say, “Yes, I will serve my God in this way. In faith and love for Jesus, I will carry it out.” Reverence for Christ then is the bar, the goal post, that God sets before us today as he encourages us to “Submit to one another.”
Now let’s look at that word submit. You think of submitting and you might think what? Weakness. Inferiority. Blind obedience or even the idea of being of lesser value and worth compared to someone else. We don’t like the idea of submitting to someone. I’m free! I’m my own boss! No one tells me what to do! But, here, as Paul tells us to submit, it’s a request. You subject yourself willingly to someone else, to one another. This doesn’t mean you are of lesser value, but it is a sign of order. You submit to someone who is over you. You choose to be least, to be humble, to set aside your selfish ambition and your conceit so as to serve one another. Why? Again, out of reverence for Christ.
Let’s take a closer look at Christ, at Jesus. Watch love do what love does. Jesus never insisted on being free. He bound himself. He committed himself. He tied heavy burdens, our sin, on his own back, for our sakes. He kept the breathtakingly brave promise he made before time began…to come for us. Our every failure to love killed him on that cross, and yet he looked at you and me individually and cried out, you, you are forgiven. Here is love. Here is submission. Do you hear the echo? “Choose whom you will serve.”
God holds out Christ before us as an example of love and submission as he shares with us his desire for marriage. And for those of you who are unmarried, widowed, or don’t desire to be married, what a reminder for you of what you have the opportunity to do. You can hold out Christ as an example to that friend, that co-worker, or that sibling who is looking to get married or already in a marriage. Which is what Paul does now as he takes us aside and shows us the roles of marriage. And he starts with the wife, with the woman, he says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” Paul pretty much just takes what he says in verse 21 and repeats it for us, but now he makes it specific to the women and, again, notice the motivation. By willingly submitting to your husband you are showing reverence, you are submitting to the Lord’s will. Paul goes on, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” Right here we see God’s order for marriage. The husband is to be the head.
Now, imagine if you will, me going outside this building, this church, and I start to tell women at the nearest Costco that this is God’s will for marriage, that wives are to submit, and husbands are the head. You’d probably see me on YouTube surrounded by 100 women all looking for their chance to give me a good stomping. It would probably be titled “Young pastor, learns who is boss.” – it would be a hit!
But even in this building there might be some uncomfortableness with Paul’s words. Wives, women, how does it feel to be told to submit to a man, your husband, because he is the head? It probably irks you to think that this is what your role in a marriage looks like, “I’m to submit to this guy because that’s God’s order for things.” Yes, but hold on, look what Paul says about this head, the husband, verse 23 again, “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.” What do we see at the end of the verse? That the husband is to be so closely united to his wife and so deeply concerned for her and her welfare like that of Christ and the church, the church which is us, people he purchased with his own blood!
This is where Paul turns to the husbands, to the men, and he says, “Here is how you fulfill your role in a marriage.” “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy…without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Men, if you’re a husband or hoping to be one you are called to love. To love like Christ loved his church, like he loved you and me. That’s what God asks of the husband as the head. He is to show a selfless sacrificial love so that there is no burden for the wife whom God calls to submit.
Christlike love and leadership leaves absolutely no room for a husband to be a dictator in the marriage. He is concerned about his wife and her needs. He puts her first and appreciates everything she contributes to the marriage. And if it helps us to think about it in a different way God gives us a more, I’ll call it, selfish way to look at the husband’s role. He is to look at his wife as if he were looking at himself.
Paul writes, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies…After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church” Too often men and women when they enter a marriage the thought is “what can my spouse do for me.” Paul flips this thought on its head as he tells husbands everywhere that me is her. A husband and a wife are one flesh, we see that in the last verse of this section as God points us back to Genesis and says, “the two will become one flesh.” Men, we take care of our bodies, we feed and clothe them, well now that body includes your spouse, your wife. What makes her happy makes you happy, her sorrow is your sorrow. There is no distinction between you two. You are one, united before God, united in Christ.
Doesn’t that change everything? Marriage is not a me/you thing. It’s an us thing. Prof. Armin J. Panning described it in this way. He asks us to think of baseball and in particular a pitcher and a catcher on the same team. Both are important positions on the team, the catcher, like the husband, is the head. He lets the pitcher, the wife, know what pitches should be thrown and usually the pitcher submits knowing that the pitch called isn’t something done selfishly but for the team. But guess what? The pitcher if she thinks the pitch called isn’t a good idea can signal that to the catcher and the catcher will almost always do what? Give the pitcher a different option. Both are on the same team working together using the roles given to them to do what will bring them the most success. That is God’s desire for marriage.
But what about when it gets hard? What do I do when my wife is always angry at me or challenging my every decision and motive? What do I do when my husband doesn’t listen, is selfish, or won’t take my feelings or concerns into account? Marriage has been called an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person, which shows us both the beauty and the difficulty of the relationship. A husband or a wife can decide in those moments of difficulty that the simplest easiest thing to do is to leave or to repay in kind, but, today, we hear something else, an echo, “Choose whom you will serve.”
Then we see the beauty of this imperfect person, whom we call husband, or whom we call wife. This is a sinner just like me. A person who needs a Savior. Then we realize what marriage is, a picture of the greatest love story ever told. The story of a Savior who gave himself up for his church, and a church that calls Jesus its head. And each day that story is lived out as a husband loves and a wife submits and together they learn to forgive while saying, as Joshua once did, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!” May we all encourage husbands and wives to fulfill their roles out of love and reverence for him who first loved us. Amen
 Paustian pg 80