My brother Tommy married his lovely fiance Lauren last Saturday. I had the privilege of officiating their wedding. This is the wedding homily I preached at their ceremony on Ephesians 5:21-33.
The apostle Paul is speaking to the church in Ephesus, exhorting them to “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:1-2). This passage gives specific instructions for husbands and wives to imitate God as his children through the lens of submission. Yes, both husbands and wives submit to one another out of reverence for the Lord Jesus Christ. How is this so? Paul says look at the relationship between Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride.
Three brief points to remember:
- Remember who designed marriage, namely God. We live in a culture that is currently confused about what marriage is supposed to look like. If marriage was not God’s idea, if he did not design and institute it, then ultimately it is a human construct that we are free to redesign, reimagine, and reform according to our preferences. But marriage is God’s idea. Beginning in the Garden of Eden, he has given men and women marriage for the common benefit of husband and wife, for the nurture and protection of their children, to foster stability in the family, to model loving sacrificial commitment between lovers before a world that only values these things as long as it gets to make (and change) the rules. This is what “traditional” marriage proponents argue. But amazingly the Bible goes beyond tradition. God’s design for marriage is that it display before a watching world the beautiful relationship between Jesus and his bride—the Church. Tommy and Lauren, this should make all the difference for the choices you make in your marriage, the roles you play in your marriage, and the way you lovingly submit to one another in your marriage. Why? Because in just a little while you will no longer be Tommy Sandifer and Lauren Phillips, single guy and single girl, attached only to your family of origin, and free to live life without considering the desires of a spouse. You are about to become a husband-wife unit—one flesh in the sight of God. Last week I saw a guy wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a bride and groom on a video screen, and the caption read “Game Over.” I’m here to tell you that is true! Your single lives are over. The rules of this game are different, and you’ll get into a lot of trouble if you play the game like “married singles.” But God’s “game of marriage” you are about to begin has the potential to bring you much happiness if you play by the rules—because God knows best how men are to be husbands and women are to be wives. Remember who designed marriage.
- Remember how you should submit to one another. Paul teaches that both husbands and wives must submit to one another in love, but this submission is expressed differently by husbands and wives. Lauren, it is God’s design for you as Tommy’s wife to show him love by respecting him. As of this day, Tommy is your “man,” your “head,” the person whom you look to here on earth before all others to lead, guide, protect, provide, nurture, and love you. The Scriptures instruct you as Tommy’s wife to relate to him as God’s people (the Church) relate to her Lord. Now, this is usually the point when wives start to grumble (“But he can’t tell me what to do!”) and husbands start to gloat (“Wow, she has to do what I say!”). But that is not the way submission in marriage works according to God’s design. Tommy, it is God’s design for you as Lauren’s husband to love her by sacrificing yourself for her. You are to give your life for Lauren as Jesus gave his life (even to death!) for his bride! As Lauren’s husband your high calling is to build her up so that when death parts the two of you, she is even more beautiful and radiant as a child of God than you find her today. Paul instructs the husband to nourish his wife physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally with the same attention and effort that he gives to himself. Tommy, I charge you before God to nurture, cherish, and love Lauren as you would your own body. There is truth in the saying that she is “your better half.” Love her this way, and you will fulfill your responsibility of submitting to your wife. Remember how you should submit to one another.
- Remember why you got married. Every bride and groom has a wonderfully unique story of how they arrived at their wedding day. Your story has come full circle since that day you first met at a wedding of mutual friends! That didn’t happen by accident—God orchestrated that date with destiny, your blossoming love for each other, then Tommy’s move from Los Angeles back to his hometown, the jobs you both landed here in Virginia, the purchase of your first home together, everything. Tommy, today God has orchestrated you leaving your father and mother to be joined to you, Lauren, whose father (and mother) have given you away in marriage to you, Tommy. Today your new life together will begin. Today we pray that your hopes and dreams for lasting, committed love, children, and blessing in this life will begin to come to fruition. I encourage you to rehearse and remember together your unique story of God’s guiding hand on your life. But most of all I hope you remember Christ at the center of your story. Paul says that a husband and wife, especially those who confess Jesus as Lord, ought to shape their relationship to reveal the mystery of the cosmic marriage. It is true that human marriage can and does work across the spectrum of religions, philosophies, cultures, and times because God gave marriage to humanity, not just Christians. But only Christian husbands and wives are equipped by the Holy Spirit to manifest in their marriages the profound mystery of love between Christ and the Church. Christian marriage is not easy. When the problems of life arrive (and they most certainly will because marriage is a crucible for sinners), seek help from God, your family, your friends, your church. Tommy and Lauren, out of your reverence and mutual love for Jesus Christ, rely on God’s grace to diligently pursue a marriage that will make Jesus and the Church beautifully attractive to everyone watching you. God has prepared you to join your lives together in marriage for this purpose. Remember why you got married.