Godly Marriage Sermon – Ephesians 5:21-33

In this sermon Tim continues our Ephesians series, talking about mutual submission under Christ in Godly marriages and the ultimate call for everyone to love sacrificially because of what Christ did for us!

Sermon preached by Tim Giovanelli on Sunday June 13 2021.


And didn’t Jarrah do a great job last Sunday – so very good and scripturally rich. 

  • What a great  imperative from the scriptures to be ongoingly filled with the Holy Spirit. 
  • I grew up in a great church. But it was one where we really believed in the Father, the Son and the Holy Bible… 
  • Odd for a bible believing church to never mention the Holy Spirit, because the scriptures, and indeed Ephesians is soaked in the language of the Spirit. 
  • Loved that bit in Jarrah’s sermon where he went through the HS verses in Ephesians alone!
  • So of course over the last 20 years it has been wonderful to grow in the charismatic side of the Christian faith. 

Anyhow, we’ve got a big one today as we enter this amazing, but controversial section of Ephesians that is rightfully headed in the NIV – Instructions for Christian Households. 

  • Doesn’t get much more practical than that!
  • Just before I read the first section, on marriage, one of the big mistakes the church made was starting this section at verse 22.
  • That has led to, particularly, women feeling like this is some antiquated, sexist, misogynist teaching that belongs to a different era if you start at verse 22. 
  • Particularly if the section on wives was read without the parallel section for husbands.
  • Rightfully though, the NIV, the Message and most modern bible translations start this new paragraph or section on the household code of Christians in verse 21.
  • You will see why this is important. 

OK – so Ephesians 5:21-33

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

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 her 26 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.

So the Apostle Paul, writing to the church he planted in the city of Ephesus, from jail in Rome

  • Continues his section of the letter that instructs Christians on how to live a life worthy of the gospel in light of the amazing good news they have received.
  • In light of the gospel story that reshapes every part of our story, how then should we live?
  • In our homes, in our work, in our relationships, what will change as a result of being saved and transformed by the glorious gospel?
  • Good question.

So Paul speaks to this in Ephesians 5:21-6:9 in regard to the household code. 

  • What was that?
  • Well in the ancient world, as today, there was a well known code of conduct if you like for how society should function, particularly around three relationships.
  • Husbands and wives, parents and children, slaves and masters. 
  • And that is what we are going to look at the next 3 weeks…

And slightly differently to today, all three of these relationships were basically conducted under the one roof. Marriage, parenting and work. 

  • Though for many, COVID has brought that back together. My brother in Melbourne knows all about that!
  • And in the ancient world, the head of all three sets of relationships was the same person. 
  • Can anyone guess who this was?
  • The Husband/Father/Master. He was boss over his wife, his children and his slaves. 
  • And in general the power dynamic was unbalanced, coercive and toxic. 

You see since the beginning of time, relationships have been twisted. Read Genesis.

  • With the fall, God’s good original intention for relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children and if you like employers and employees got distorted. 
  • We see this all the time. The horrendous toll of domestic abuse, child abuse and staff abuse. 
  • And that is a particular problem as we know here on the Northern Beaches. It is our dark underbelly to life in paradise. 
  • The old unholy trio of abusive power, sex and money rears its ugly head as our selfishness and brokenness plays itself out in the cruellest of ways. 

In the world into which Jesus came, women, children, servants were treated as mere objects to be used.

  • I am sure there were exceptions in the ancient world… wonderful males who cared for and honoured their wives, children and slaves…
  • Afterall, especially in Israel, there was a high ethic on everyone being created in the image of God and having value.
  • That flowed from Genesis 1:27 where we are told “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”
  • So there was meant to be inherent dignity for humanity as created in the image of God flowing from the foundation and ethics of Israel’s creation narrative. 
  • But undoubtedly the ancient world of Jesus time, was a violent and abusive place. 

Aristotle in his essay “Politics” speaks of household management. These 3 sets of relationships it was thought by him, needed to work for society to work. 

  • Good so far…
  • But in most 1st century political visions, the husband, Father, master was the only one viewed as truly human. It is awful.
  • Aristotle for instance did not think women had the same rational capacity as men. And that as beloved Aristotle of Western philosophy. He wrote;
  • “hence by nature there are various classes of rulers, for the free rules the slave, the male the female, the man the child.” 
  • So that was just the way it was… or should I say, is…

So the Greek man expected his wife to raise his children and manage aspects of the household… but faithfulness was out of the question. 

  • There is a quote in which a powerful Greek man around the time of Jesus talks about having his wife for bearing him legitimate children and prostitutes to meet his needs. 
  • So the household codes was wives subjugated (that is under dominion or control) to their husbands, children subjugated to their parents and servants subjugated to their masters.
  • It was just the way it was… it all flowed one direction. 

And then… Jesus!

  • Then Jesus Christ enters the scene. The Word made flesh, dwelling amongst us. Coming in grace and truth. 
  • Trampling over every social boundary. With women, with sinners, with outcasts, with children.
  • And the only ethic the world had ever known that celebrated power and sex and rigid classes is abolished as he comes to seek and save the lost and serve and not be served. 
  • And so it is in John 15 that the most powerful man to ever live says to his disciples “I no longer call you servants. I have called you friends.”
  • Let that sink in….
  • And on the cross he undermines the powers that be, not by fighting them but by submitting to them, even to death on a cross as a common criminal. 
  • And what looks like a loss becomes a victory in the resurrection!

I was reading an article on how the cross reshaped civilization in a Methodist journal this week. 

  • (And you wonder what joys I get up to during the week…). 
  • Anyhow, the author said;
  • “The power of the cross led to a broad transformation of values in which meekness, lowliness and humility were no longer despised but now celebrated, yes celebrated!”
  • You see up until this point in human history theology mirrored a lot of anthropology. 
  • We created gods in our own image. We still do today. 
  • No real mystery that the gods of Ephesus were into sex, power and control. Because the people of Ephesus were into sex, power and control
  • And then along comes the cruciform God in Christ.

One of my favourite passages is in 1 Corinthians where it talks about the gospel being foolishness to the Greeks and weakness to the Jews… 

  • But to us being saved by God, it is the power and wisdom of God. 
  • And so slowly but surely a new dynamic called grace enters the world, and the Kingdom of God advances as his Spirit filled believers follow the way of Jesus.
  • We see his kingdom come as we serve the poor, empty ourselves of power and stand on the side of the abused and oppressed. 
  • Can you see what is going to happen to the Household code of the ancient world?
  • The Spirit of Jesus Christ begins to fill his people… and so into the Jewish and Greek and Roman world… it all gets turned upside down. 

So, it becomes so important as we explore the dynamics between husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves. 

  • That everything that is written is to be read as exhortations to Spirit filled, Christ following believers whose primary lens is verse 21.
  • “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
  • That is the revolution. That is the kicker. That is the new dynamic. That is how we read the rest of this text. 
  • Not just wives submit to husbands, children submit to parents, slaves submit to masters.
  • To everyone, there is a new ethic, a new way of relating… to all of us, verse 21 “submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.”

So following out of last week’s imperative to be ongoingly filled with the Holy Spirit a new relational dynamic is established. 

  • Be subject to one another. Willingly. Both ways… And why?
  • Because being filled with the Spirit goes to the root of relational dynamics…
  • Be filled with the Spirit… is be filled with the life of Jesus… 
  • Without the Spirit at work we fight each other, we control each other, we are selfish with one another.
  • But filled with the life of Jesus, we now find a new way of relating to each other… the way Jesus related to you and I. 
  • Matthew 20:28… Jesus says, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”

So some things on this passage… which may I say, I believe presents the most challenging and yet glorious picture of Christian relationships, particularly in marriage. 

  • And if you are not married yet, you may well be one day. 
  • And my hope for you, my hope for everyone is that our marriages will indeed mirror the relationship Jesus has with the church. 
  • Right? Verse 25 “husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

So 5 quick things…

Firstly, as we have been noting, it all flows out of verse 21 which is an exhortation to mutual submission in all of our relationships. 

  • To submit means to willingly yield oneself in the service of another. 
  • A concept totally at odds with our world that says self love and personal gain are the highest qualities to ascribe to. 
  • So marriage should at its heart be about unconditional love, putting the other ahead of ourselves, and if you like a race to out serve one another. 
  • Imagine that applied to cleaning the home, or cooking meals or listening to one another. 

Secondly, the notion of a husband’s headship over the family, from this passage only has to do with one thing. 

  • And that is service – the giving of your own life for the good of the other. And we are shown that Jesus is the obvious example us husbands are to follow.
  • It is Christ like willingness to suffer for the good of the family, loving them like you would love your own body or own life. 
  • Submission can only be understood in this context. It would be submitting to a husband who lays down his life for his family. 

Thirdly, and I find this interesting, the application of mutual submission and service to one another is addressed differently to husbands and wives. 

  • The Christian historian and biblical scholar John Dickson has written on this. He notes; 
  • The wife is told simply to submit to her spouse. However, this does not mean that wives are free not to love their husbands, any more than it means husbands are free not to submit to their wives. 
  • The import of these commands is as follows: While all believers are to express the virtues of love and submission toward one another, 
  • Husbands in their relationships with their wives are to pay special attention to the attitude of love and service.
  • And wives in their relationships with their husbands are to pay special attention to the attitude of submission.

Now I am not going to talk about why wives are told to give special attention to the attitude of submission in a mutually submissive marriage. 

  • But I’ll address the husband bit as I have a bit of experience in that one. 
  • Did I ever tell you about the time I bought a men’s jacket for Victoria’s birthday?
  • Naturally, I know for me, what I need to work on is being less selfish and more loving to Victoria’s needs. 
  • I’ll let Victoria and others speak to the wives part, but I know here Paul is spot on for me. 
  • As I try to live a life worthy of the gospel, in my marriage, my challenge is to be less selfish and to love Victoria in sacrificial ways (verse 25) like Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Ok, Fourthly, we need to work this out in our relationships with care, wisdom and prayerfully with God. 

  • Again Dickson; “Husbands and wives should reflect on this model as they consider together their responsibilities in the marriage. 
  • Moreover, it is noteworthy that the submission-commands of Ephesians 5 is addressed directly to wives, not husbands. It says, “Wives, submit to your husbands.” 
  • Nowhere do we find, “Husbands, ensure that your wives submit to you.” 
  • He says; “I take it, therefore, that it is not for the husband to work out the application of this command. It is entirely for the wife to hear God’s word and seek to apply it as she sees fit. 
  • Husbands have their own domain: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). 
  • That is quite enough to worry about.”

That is good. Much of the abuse of this passage through history has been where toxic husbands have demanded their wives submit to their leadership. 

  • Is there a place for male leadership within marriage? I would suggest yes. Particularly in caring and loving our families as we would want to be led and cared for ourselves says the passage. 
  • But ultimately, deal with your own side first and foremost. 

When a lot of marriages break down, what we sadly often see is each partner trying to change their spouse. Shifting the blame entirely onto the other.

  • Making it out as though they are blameless and their partner is a narcissist. Gosh I hear that a lot. 
  • Now occasionally that may be the case. But fundamentally what the bible speaks to… is you. Start with you. Seek the Spirit to change you!
  • Love and serve and submit to one another. Model your marriage on how Christ loved the church and laid down his life for it. 
  • Be willing to make the changes you need to make. And then see what the state of the marriage is. 

Ok, fifthly and finally, onto the positive! What an opportunity we have to experience marriage and love, redeemed to be the way the creator made it!

  • There is nothing as good as a healthy Christian marriage. 
  • Wedding yesterday – Purpose of marriage: trust and security in which true love can grow
  • Vows: our way of saying “I’m not going anywhere”
  • Sermon reminder about love as the circuit breaker. Downward spirals and virtuous upward spirals. 

Tip: Surround yourself with people whose marriages you admire and listen loudest to the voices that uphold marriage, that fight for marriage and that call marriages higher!

  • I doubt you will find any perfect one… but there are things in common that apply to marriages that thrive!
  • An unwavering commitment to faithfulness and serving one another
  • Carving out time to have fun and listen to one another.
  • A genuine desire to create a common life. 

At weddings I often tell the story of a man called Robert McQuilkin, the thing he always wanted to do, was to become a principle of a college. 

  • And eventually he did, and he thrived, then his wife Muriel got Alzheimer’s disease. 
  • And her health degenerated to the point where he couldn’t look after her and be principle of the college. At the age of 59 he decided to give up his position. 
  • His colleagues couldn’t believe it, they were saying things to him like, “what are you doing? She doesn’t even know who you are.”
  • He said, “She might not know who I am, but I know who she is. She’s the women that I made a promise to, until death us do part. She is such a delight for me…
  • “I don’t have to care for her, I get to care for her.”
  • That is Christian marriage. That is leadership within a marriage. That is service!

Published by timgiovanelli

My wife Victoria and I are planting a new church in Manly, NSW

Leave a Reply