Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 April 17, 2016
“Men, the Onus Is on Us”
Text: Ephesians 5:21-33
Let’s begin our message, for which you’ve all been waiting for weeks or months, by imagining a middle-school spring dance. Note the protagonists, a seventh-grade girl and a seventh-grade boy, each standing awkwardly on opposite sides of the gym. The emcee announces the beginning of the last dance, a slow number, and the music begins. Our girl, thirteen two months ago and two or three inches taller than our boy, who was thirteen last week, stands shyly near the punch bowl. Our boy notices our girl.
She doesn’t look like the girl who stands at first base during gym class and routinely saves his bacon by catching his errant throws from shortstop. She doesn’t look like the girl who pounds his glove hand with the throw to second to start the double play. She looks, well, like a girl—and, on this night, as he sees her from sixty feet in a mid-calf floral dress and slight heel, he finds himself walking toward her.
Our girl doesn’t see our boy until he’s three feet from her. She notices immediately two things: first, his dark-brown hair, usually tousled apparently beyond repair, tonight smoothed and perfectly parted on the left side, and, second, his tie perfectly knotted at his throat. She surmises—correctly, we might add, that his mama combed his hair and his daddy tied his tie. These things matter little, though. To her, he looks a little less boyish this night—and that’s not all bad.
He’s not sure how, but the words tumble out asking her to dance. He uses, not her playground nickname, but her given name in his question. For her part, she accepts in kind—using his given name in place of his playground nickname. This established, both parties are unsure what to do next. The boy sees a spot of bare floor eight feet from where they stand. He walks to it, and she follows about a step behind. They stop and face each other, and, once again, they don’t know what to do next.
The boy, however, has studied all night. He watches what the other boys and girls do—and he aims to follow suit. He reaches out to our girl and places his hands on her back just around her sides well above her waist—and his arms are nearly straight. The girl responds by placing her wrists just on top of his shoulders and by letting her fingers dangle just down his back. Our boy, just this instant, considers his situation and concludes, to his surprise, that this is not the worst thing that ever happened to him.
So far, so good—but our young couple is not yet dancing. Our boy has studied this too. To him, the case appears to be similar to NASCAR. He merely needs to make left turns throughout the dance. Even better, he need not move from his spot. All he need do, according to his careful observation, is to sway back and forth from foot to foot and occasionally to turn slightly left. Our girl, for her part, manages to follow our boy’s lead—and that fairly well. Our boy leads well, but not perfectly—he steps on her left foot once, but not too hard, and after a too-stiff left pivot she stumbles over her right heel and nearly falls. No worries, though—he has her just close enough to prevent a fall.
Four minutes after the initial question, the young people find themselves having survived the dance. He thanks her, she thanks him in turn, and they walk off the floor—but not to the door—together.
The moral of this story, beloved, is this: Somebody must lead. We see this applied in the relationships noted in this section of Ephesians—a section commonly called the household code (5:21-6:9, see also Colossians 3:18-4:1, 1 Peter 2:18-3:7). Today we apply it to the relationship between husbands and wives—a relationship ideally reflecting the relationship between Christ and His Church (5:21-33). Next week, God willing, we shall see what God says to us about the parent/child relationship (6:1-4). In two weeks, God again willing, we shall see what God says to us about the servant/master relationship (6:5-9).
As we seek God’s will for right relations within Christian marriage, we must recall what we learned at the middle-school dance—someone has to lead. The preponderance of the Scriptural evidence will show, men, that the onus is on us. We do not shoulder the entire load in this, men, but we do shoulder most of it. Let us hear, then, what God says to us from His Word concerning this crucial arena of our lives.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Certainly in today’s text, and in some sense in all three of these texts from the household code, we have an overarching principle, namely, mutual submission to one another out of reverence for Christ (5:21). The husband and the wife, then, each submit to Christ—and that independent of their relationship to each other. This submission to Christ, then, informs the submissions between husband and wife. The wife’s submission to her husband is explicit in our text today, but the husband is called also to submit in some sense to his wife—and that both implicitly and perhaps more extensively.
Let’s start with the wife’s duty. Her chief duty in marriage, according to Paul’s Spirit-led summary statement, is to respect her husband (5:33). After all, he has responsibility before God to lead your home a certain way—and the bulk of this exposition will show him and you how. Therefore, in view of this, yield whenever possible to his leadership—without being or becoming his doormat. He is not to be a tyrant, and you are not to be a doormat. Also, esteem him highly whenever possible. I know that this is delightful at times, but I also know that the other times come—and esteeming him highly is much harder then. Esteem him as highly as possible at all times—and this will glorify God and, I believe, will somehow prove a blessing to you. Further, when children are present in the home, speak well of him in their ears whenever possible. The presence of a Godly, faithful father in the home cannot be over-appreciated—though this fact certainly is under-reported by mainstream research and mainstream media. Therefore, mothers and sisters in Christ, honor your children’s father whenever possible. Your children will rise and call you blessed (Proverbs 31:28).
Do all of this in view of doing it primarily unto Christ. Cry out to Him for help, and He gladly will supply it. Your task in being conformed to His will in this text may be relatively easy or relatively hard—I cannot say. Yet the One unto Whom you render such attempts at obedience will empower them.
Now, men, our chief duty as husbands, according to this text, is to love our wives (5:33). The word that the Spirit moves Paul to use for love is the Greek word agapao [agapaw]). This is a word loaded with meaning; let’s unpack some of it and apply it toward loving our wives. This love is the love that the members of the Godhead have for each other. This love is the love that our triune God has for His redeemed. This love is the love enjoined on us toward others in Christ’s Body, the Church. Note a succinct statement of such love from God, through Paul, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Christian households: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Now, men, let’s apply what we have heard to our marriages. We can summarize what agape love is in marriage with two words. First, we love our wives sacrificially. Christ loves us this way—even to His death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8)—and, though we cannot imitate Christ in like degree, we can by His power imitate Him in like manner. We, for example, can give away certain of our preferences in favor of hers. We can do other things, though they be painful and self-denying for us, that redound to her great blessing. Second, we love our wives with longsuffering. Brothers and fathers, let us not kid ourselves—no matter how long we suffer with our wives in certain matters, they suffer longer and deeper with us. Let us be patient with her in all things, where we can. No matter if we must be patient while she shops, or if we must be patient over a more substantive matter, let us be patient with her—as Christ is with us.
Here are some more practical helps for loving our wives well. First, listen carefully to her, especially when you differ concerning a matter. God may well be speaking through your help-meet. Second, cherish her. Be glad before God that He gave her to you—and not to another—and try to show her your affection for her in ways that will show her she is loved. Third, lead, whenever possible, through serving her—and not by fiat. A crushed wife, whatever else she may be, is not a happy wife—and if she be unhappy, likely we are or shall be unhappy too. Fourth, speak well of her to your children. It is good for our children, and it blesses her too. Indirectly, of course, such a course of action blesses us also.
Much of this passage makes analogy between that mystical union existing between Christ and His Church (5:32) and marriage between a man and a woman. Therefore, men, because the onus is on us, Who Christ is for the Church, in totality, let us be for our wives in miniature. Because the onus is on us, men, what Christ does for the Church, in totality, let us do for our wives in miniature. Then, and perhaps only then, do our wives have comfort and feel peace in our protection, our provision, and our servant-leadership. When our wives feel comfort and peace in our husbandry, then she more willingly yields that respect and submission enjoined upon her here in God’s Word. Men, let us not make it harder for our wives to obey Jesus in this area, but, rather, let us make it easier for her. Let us each, then, wives toward our husbands and husbands toward our wives, comply with this text by the powerful grace of God. Yet, men, never forget, the onus is on us. Yet also, by the power of God, we can deliver—to the glory of God and the good of so many, chiefly our wives.