Monday, February 25, 2013

Marriage: A Profound Mystery

Part 31 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to his sermon here.



“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (5:31-32). 


The Mystery of Marriage 

In verse 31, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Then he says, “This mystery is profound” (v. 32a).

The Greek word of “mystery” is mysterion (cf. 1:9; 3:3, 4, 9; 6:19). In Ephesians, “mystery” refers to “the once-hidden plan of God revealed in Jesus Christ” (Peter T. O'Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, p. 433).  (In a mystery novel, there is hidden information that is not revealed until the end of the book.) The Greek word for “profound” is mega, which can also be translated “great.” (We use the word “mega” in English. If something is mega size, it’s very big.)

What is the great mystery about marriage? Look at what Paul writes next: “And I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (v. 32b). In other words, the mystery involves Christ and the church. The union of a husband and wife (“one flesh,” v. 31) is like the union between Christ and the church.

The great mystery of marriage is that it was designed by God to be a picture of the gospel. 

Tim Keller writes, “This is the secret—that the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another. That when God invented marriage, he already had the saving work of Jesus in mind” (The Meaning of Marriage, p. 47).  And according to John Piper, “Marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship to his redeemed people, the church. And therefore, the highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display” (This Momentary Marriage, p. 25).


Living Out the Gospel 

How can you put the relationship between Christ and the church on display in your marriage? There are two ways you can do this.

1. Put your spouse first. 

In Philippians 2:4, Paul writes, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” And then he says the we should have the attitude of Christ—an attitude that leads to service. “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, begin born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (vv. 6-8).

 “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). “Is the purpose of marriage to deny your interests for the good of the family, or is it to assert your interests for the fulfillment of yourself? The Christian teaching does not offer a choice between fulfillment and sacrifice but rather mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice" (The Meaning of Marriage, p. 47).

2. Keep your marriage covenant. 

God designed marriage to be a covenant, not a contract. Marriage is not merely “a bilateral contract between two individuals,” but “a sacred bond between husband and wife before God as a witness” (Andreas Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family, p. 73).  Malachi 2:14 says, “The LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (cf. Prov. 2:17).

Christ has entered into a covenant relationship with the church. He said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). And he promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). “Staying married, therefore, is not mainly about staying in love. It is about keeping covenant. ‘Till death do us part’ or ‘As long as we both shall live’ is a sacred covenant promise—the kind Jesus made with his bride when he died for her” (This Momentary Marriage, p. 25).

As God has shown grace to us, we must show grace to others in all of our relationships--especially marriage.

Monday, February 18, 2013

What the Cross Says About God's Love

Part 4 of the series The Cross: What It Says About God

You can listen to this sermon here.



For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:6-8). 


God Is Love 

If someone were to ask you, “What is love?”, how would you define it? The English word “love” has many different meanings. (For example, “love” can mean “a score of zero in tennis.”) When I was a kid, I occasionally watched the TV show Pee Wee’s Playhouse. On the show, if someone said, “I love that book,” Pee Wee Herman would reply, “If you love it so much, why don’t you marry it?” But, of course, love for a book and love for a person are two very different kinds of love. Love for a book means enthusiasm. But love for a person is something much deeper. (If I say, “I love cheesecake,” Marsha doesn’t get jealous.) 

Love is the giving of oneself for the benefit of others. 

When the NT refers to God’s love, it uses the Greek word agape. Agape love is the highest form of love. In his first epistle, the apostle John twice states that “God is love [agape]” (1 John 4:8, 16). “John is not saying that God is only love (he has numerous other attributes), nor that love is God (a statement for which there is no scriptural support). ‘God is love’ means that God continually gives of himself to others and seeks their benefit” (ESV Study Bible, p. 2435).

In his book The Cross of Christ, John Stott writes, “Just as human beings disclose their character in their actions, so God showed himself to us in the death of his Son” (p. 200). The cross reveals the love of God. If you want to know what love really is, don’t go to a dictionary; go to the cross.


The Revelation of God's Love 

In Romans 5:6-8, the apostle Paul writes, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

What does the cross reveal about God’s love? The cross reveals two truths about God’s love for us.

1. The cross shows that God’s love for us is immeasurably sacrificial. 

The depth of an act of love can be measured by its costliness. “Christ died for us.” The love of God is so great that he gave up his own Son for our salvation. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). On the cross, Christ endured excruciating pain and unimaginable humiliation. But, even worse, because Christ was dying for our sins, he bore the wrath of God (cf. Rom. 5:9). “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

2. The cross shows that God’s love for us is completely undeserved. 

The depth of an act of love can also be measured by how unworthy the object of love is. “Christ died for us.” In these verses, we are described with three words: “weak” (v. 6), “ungodly” (v. 6), and “sinners” (v. 8). Paul says, “One will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die” (v. 7). “A ‘righteous’ person is one we might respect, but a ‘good’ person is one we might love. Rarely will a person give his or her life for someone they merely respect; but occasionally a person dies for the sake of someone they love…” (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 172). But Christ didn’t die for righteous or good people. He died for sinners.


An Illustration of God's Love 

In the book of Hosea, we find an illustration of God’s love for sinners. God told the prophet Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD” (1:2). So Hosea married a woman named Gomer (1:3). Eventually, Gomer became unfaithful to Hosea and left him. (Hosea was probably not the father of Gomer’s second and third children, 1:6-9). But sometime later, God surprisingly said to Hosea, “Go again, love a woman [Gomer] who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods” (3:1).

What Hosea did for Gomer, God did for Israel; what Gomer did to Hosea, Israel did to God. And we could also say, what Hosea did for Gomer, God did for us; what Gomer did to Hosea, we did to God. Sin is like sexual unfaithfulness. The more a husband or wife loves their spouse, the more deeply they are hurt when unfaithfulness happens. God loves us more than we can imagine, and we can’t comprehend how deeply he is hurt by our sin. Yet he is willing to forgive us. And not only that, but he gave his Son to die in our place in order to bring about reconciliation (cf. Rom. 5:10-11).


God Will Not Disappoint Us

There are no guarantees of happiness with human love. A woman who is engaged to be married might never get married. Her fiancĂ© might have second thoughts. That has to be one of the biggest disappointments a person could experience. Like a bride-to-be awaiting her wedding day, we are waiting for the day when we will see Jesus face to face and experience the glory of heaven. This is our hope. And Paul says, “Hope does not put us to shame” (v. 5a). The NASB reads, “Hope does not disappoint.” God will keep his word.

But how can we be sure God won’t disappoint us?

If God has already given his Son to die for us, we can be sure that God will also make sure that our hope will be fulfilled. 

God loves us and he will not disappoint us. We have objective evidence of God’s love: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). We also have subjective evidence of God’s love: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (v. 5b). “The believer’s hope is not to be equated with unfounded optimism. On the contrary, it is the blessed assurance of our future destiny and is based on God’s love, which is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit and objectively demonstrated to us by the death of Christ” (ESV Study Bible, p. 1752). The word of God and the Spirit of God are constantly telling us, “God loves you.”

When you have doubts about God’s promises, remind yourself of the cross. Meditate on those words “Christ died for us.” He loves you with an incomprehensible love. He will not disappoint you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Marriage Roles

Part 30 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should 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, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband (Eph. 5:22-33).


The Roles of Husbands and Wives 

Husbands and wives are equal (Gal. 3:28; 1 Peter 3:7) but different. God has given husbands and wives unique roles within marriage.

1. A wife is to humbly allow her husband to lead. 

To wives, Paul writes, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (v. 22; cf. Col. 3:18). John Piper defines biblical submission for the wife as “the divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts” (What's the Difference?, p. 66).

“Instead of telling wives to ‘obey’ (Gk. hypakouo), as was typical in Roman households, Paul appeals to [wives] to ‘submit’ (Gk. hypotasso), based on his conviction that men have a God-given leadership role in the family.” Paul writes in Colossians 3:18, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (ESV Study Bible, p. 2299). It’s important to see that much of what Paul says to husbands and wives went against the culture of his day.

In verses 22-24, Paul gives several instructions concerning a wife’s submission. First, wives are to submit voluntarily. The NIV says, “Wives, submit yourselves.” Second, wives are to “submit to [their] own husbands” (v. 22), not to every man. Third, wives are to submit “as to the Lord” (v. 22). This means that “as [a wife] submits to her husband she also submits to her Lord” (Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 738). It does not mean that a wife’s submission to her husband is the same as her submission to Christ. Unlike Christ, husbands are fallible. A husband should welcome his wife’s point of view. Fourth, wives are to “submit in everything to their husbands” (v. 24). “In everything” probably means “in every area of life.” It does not mean that a wife should allow her husband to cause her spiritual or physical harm.

2. A husband is to lovingly lead his wife as a servant.

To husbands, Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25; cf. Col. 3:19). Piper defines biblical headship for the husband as “the divine calling to take primary responsibility for Christlike, servant-leadership, protection and provision in the home” (What's the Difference?, p. 66). In the area of headship, husbands can make one of two kinds of errors: errors of aggressiveness and errors of passivity (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 467).

On many occasions, Jesus taught that leaders are to be servants. He said, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; Phil. 2:5-8). A husband is to be a leader who loves and serves his wife. A husband is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25; cf. John 10:11). The love of Christ is a love that is not dependant on merit. A husband is to love his wife whether or not he feels she is deserving. The love of Christ is also sacrificial. His love was demonstrated by his death on the cross. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one that this, that somebody lay down is life for his friends” (John 15:13). A husband is to demonstrate his love for his wife by his actions—even laying down his life if necessary.

A husband is also to love his wife “as himself” (v. 33). Paul writes “that husbands should 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, just as Christ does the church” (vv. 28-29). A husband and wife are “one flesh” (v. 31; cf. Gen. 2:24). A husband not only hurts his wife but also himself when he does not love his wife. 


Objections to Headship and Submission 

There are many objections to the teaching of headship and submission within marriage.

Objection #1: The mutual submission of 5:21 rules out a husband’s headship. 

The context defines what Paul means by “submitting to one another.” “The apostle is not speaking of mutual submission in the sense of a reciprocal subordination, but submission to those who are in authority over them” (Peter T. O'Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, p. 404). Also, the expression “to one another” does not always indicate a fully reciprocal relationship in the NT (cf. Rev. 6:4; Gal. 6:2).

Objection #2: The Greek word kephale (v. 23) should be translated “source,” not “head.”

Kephale is also used by Paul in 1:22 and 4:15. The word “clearly refers to a husband’s authority over his wife and cannot mean ‘source,’ as some have argued. In fact, there is no sense in which husbands are the source of their wives either physically or spiritually. In addition, in over 50 examples of kephale in ancient Greek literature, with the idea ‘person A is the head of person(s) B,’ person A has authority over person(s) B in every case” (ESV Study Bible, p. 2271-72).


A Joyful Struggle 

Because of sin, husbands and wives naturally struggle for control. Scripture can even be used as a weapon. Husbands, don’t say, “The Bible says I’m the head, so do what I say.” Wives, don’t say, “The Bible says you’re supposed to love me, so do what I want.” Don’t twist Scripture to get your own way.

A Spirit-filled husband and wife will seek to put each other first.