You should preach this text on Sunday. I know, that may seem a bit bold. After all, Isaiah and Mark offer incredibly important texts for our congregations to hear. But you really should preach the Epistle this week. Let me offer at least two reasons:
First, issues surrounding marriage, sexuality, and gender have saturated our current cultural climate. Many of the saints in our congregations are trying to navigate their way through a world where God’s created institutions (such as the Church, marriage between a man and a woman, and the family) are being redefined, or worse, are facing all-out assault. The Biblical view of marriage is constantly called into question, and many are left wondering what God actually has to say about marriage, gender, etc. Because of this, as we read a few weeks ago in this very epistle, it is incumbent upon the pastor to “equip the saints” so they are not “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful scheme” (Ephesians 4:12, 14). This can be an important Sunday to equip our congregations to hold firmly to the beautiful gift of marriage and important truths contained in the Sixth Commandment.
Second, preaching on marriage, and really any institution created by God’s Word, affords us the opportunity to proclaim God’s mercies in a deep and beautiful way. Not only does this passage point us to the importance of marriage in God’s creation (a point which must be focused on in this sermon), but it also demonstrates how a high view of marriage comes from a high view of the Gospel. A good marriage is a “foggy picture” of Christ’s relationship to His beloved church. Our world desperately needs to be reminded of both the foundational importance of marriage and, perhaps more so, of the unfathomable depths of Christ’s love for us. This passage delivers both in a breathtaking, life-giving way.
Our world desperately needs to be reminded of both the foundational importance of marriage and, perhaps more so, of the unfathomable depths of Christ’s love for us.
Throughout the book of Ephesians, Paul has been delivering the saving work of Jesus Christ to us in spades. He has demonstrated how such a gospel unites and sustains the Church. Not only this, but the Gospel has made us into new creatures in Christ Jesus. Baptism has brought us from death to life. The gift of such a new life is given to be lived, not in the old way of this sinful world, but in the new way of Christ Jesus. “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us” (5:2). This walk does not just take place inside the walls of the church. The Gospel’s impact is felt in the home as well. Though in baptism God is no respecter of persons and all are saved in the same way (Galatians 3:27-29), He certainly does not use it to destroy His created order. Rather, He is putting things to rights and raises us to carry out our vocations as new creations in Christ Jesus. Christ’s saving work, then, informs every part of your life. In this reading, Paul demonstrates how this is true in marriage.
Given the cacophony of voices surrounding this topic, it is in the preacher’s best interest to just preach the text straight-up this week. I would suggest employing the text-application structure. The preacher should do what Paul does, address the wives first (5:22-24) and the husbands second (5:25-33). The preacher may want to use 5:33 as the guiding theme: Husbands, love your wives. Wives, respect your husbands. Love and respect are significant potential themes.
However, the preacher must also be sure he does not slip into mere moralism with these instructions. Paul is clear, this text on marriage, and the mystery of marriage itself, is ultimately about Christ and His Church (5:32). So, you might also consider using the account of Adam and Eve as a foil for the story of Christ and the Church. To do this, when you preach the first portion of the text, you can demonstrate how Eve acted opposite these verses by not submitting to God’s design. You could then discuss how the Church so often fails to honor Jesus. Then, in preaching the message for the husbands, you could show how Adam failed as a husband, but Christ is the new Adam who loves His Church, even in her sins, and gives Himself up for her. The Genesis narrative of God’s design for marriage (5:30) and the way Adam and Eve wreaked havoc on the design could carry the sermon to Jesus and His saving work which restores us to God’s created purposes.
Adam failed as a husband, but Christ is the new Adam who loves His Church, even in her sins, and gives Himself up for her
Christ in the Text
Is this text about marriage or Jesus? The answer should be obvious by now: Yes! Paul is showing how a good marriage is a foggy analogy for Christ’s love for His Church, and the Church’s faith in Christ. As mentioned already, it is important and helpful to contrast this relationship of Christ and His Church to that of Adam and Eve, and perhaps, even our own failed, messy, sinful marriages.
Do you recall where Adam was when Eve sinned? Apparently, standing right beside her (Genesis 3:6)! He heard the false teaching of the serpent, he followed Eve when she preached the false gospel to him, and he did not speak the truth to correct either of them. He did not protect Eve nor condemn the serpent. Further, when he realized what had happened, he and his wife tried to cover their nakedness and he hid with his wife in shame (Genesis 3:7-8). When God’s accusations came, Adam blamed God and Eve: “The woman whom you gave to me...” (Genesis 3:12). Eve did not trust the Word of God from her husband, and Adam, after shirking on all his responsibilities, passed the blame.
At this point, it should not be hard to make applications to our relationships, be they marital or otherwise, in the sermon.
“But this is not the way you learned Christ” (Ephesians 4:20)! Jesus, you see, is a different sort of husband altogether. His bride sins against Him, denies His Word, wanders from His truth. She sins daily in thought, word, and deed against Him. And how does He respond? Unlike Adam, who threw Eve under the bus when God came to judge, Christ takes responsibility for His bride’s sins before God’s judgment. “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (5:25). He does not clothe her in ridiculous fig leaves to try and hide her shame and then conceal her among the garden trees. No! He sanctifies 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” (5:26-27). Unlike Adam, who is Eve’s worst devil in accusing her before God, Jesus takes the Church’s blame and washes away her sins with His holiness in baptism. In this way, He forgives each member of His Church (even for their sinful marriages!). The Church then submits to this gracious and dear husband, fully trusting Him to provide, protect, and speak the truth in love.
We, the Church, are those cherished by Christ (5:29). Now, preacher, let this work of Christ give shape to your sermon, and thus, to the marriages in your congregations! Deliver to them a Jesus whose love for His church gives us a beautiful picture of marriage this culture and all its deceitful scheming cannot overcome.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Ephesians 5:22-33.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Ephesians 5:22-33.