Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 22, 2021
By Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2021 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Listen (5-10mb) Download (35-70mb) Reflections
Text: Ephesians 5
Faithful Lord, Source of love, pour down Your grace upon husbands and wives that they may fulfill the vows they have made and reflect Your steadfast love in their lifelong faithfulness to each other. As members with them of the body of Christ, use us to support their life together through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
You say it in your vows, "for better or for worse," but how do you avoid the post-honeymoon pitfalls and build a great marriage? One chapter of the Bible, Ephesians 5, tells how. In the 23 years that I've been a minister, I've performed hundreds of wedding ceremonies and like most ministers, I try to meet with the couples several times before the rehearsal and wedding. My own practice has been to devote one of those sessions to Ephesians 5. The session begins in a predictable way. The couple sits before me, often holding hands, the groom might even put his arm around her. They're so much in love. "In this time together," I begin, "I'd like to do a Bible study with you on Ephesians 5." No reaction from the couple. They may be engaged, but their minds aren't engaged, yet.
"Ephesians 5," I go on to say, "talks about the wife obeying her husband." Now their brains engage. The bride gets uncomfortable; she may even squirm. And while the typical groom doesn't pay a lot of attention to what's going on, this talk about obedience does get his attention. He smiles. Now while he's smiling and she's squirming, let me turn away from the couple and tell you something. I've looked at the forms for marriage from several church bodies. Some talk about obedience or submission by the wife; others don't. Whether present or not, it is in the Bible. Ephesians 5 and 1Peter 3, use the Greek word, "hupotasso," which means "to submit," "to be subject," "to place yourself under another's authority." So it's clearly in the Bible, and we've got to deal with it.
Let's turn back to the squirming bride and the smiling groom, poor guy. He doesn't realize that I'm going to wipe that smile off his face by the time we're done. I ask him to read, beginning at Ephesians 5:21. Once he finds it, he reads these words: "Always thank God the Father for everything in Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Place yourselves under each other's authority out of respect for Christ. Wives, place yourselves under your husband's authority, as you have placed yourselves under the Lord's authority. The husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. It is His body and He is its Savior. As the church is under Christ's authority, so wives are under their husband's authority in everything. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave His life for it. He did this to make the church holy by cleansing it, washing it, using water, along with spoken words. Then He could present it to Himself as a glorious church without any kind of stain or wrinkle, holy and without faults."
Two couples are featured in this passage. The first couple is Jesus Christ and the church. Church here doesn't mean a building; it doesn't mean Roman Catholic or Episcopal or Baptist or Lutheran or any denomination. Here, the word "church" means all those who truly believe that God sent His Son Jesus to save them from their sins.
The second couple in this passage is an earthly husband and wife, which the young man and woman sitting before me soon will be. Now comes an important point. The conduct of the first couple, Christ and the church, provides a model for the conduct of the second couple, the husband and wife. Consider the first couple, Christ and the church. "Husbands," the Bible says, "love your wives as Christ loved the church." How did Christ love the church? The Bible says that He gave His life for it. That means that Jesus loves us sinners so much that He died for us. That's the ultimate expression of love for another. Jesus Himself said in John 15:13, "The greatest love you can show is to give your life for your friends." How does the church respond to Jesus for all that He did, especially for His death on the cross?
We respond in many ways. Most important, we believe that Jesus is our Savior. God's Spirit leads us to confess that Jesus died for our sins, that He rose from the dead to give us abundant life, and that He is with us now, and one day will take us to heaven. But that's not all. We are so awed by the love of Christ that we do good works, or we should be doing good works. We maintain churches, schools, hospitals, counseling centers, retirement communities, and nursing homes. We help our neighbors and our community; we give of our income to help various charities. The list of good things Christians do is endless. These good works are not done to make points with God. They're done out of thanks. We are simply awed that God loved us so much. And so we believe, and we strive to please Him.
Now let's go to the second couple, the soon-to-be bride and groom sitting before me or you listeners who are engaged or already married. How should a husband love his wife? The Bible says, "As Christ loved the church and gave His life for it." An earthly husband probably won't have to die for his wife the way Christ died for us. But a husband can make sacrifices for his wife. I'm smiling to myself because this prospective groom doesn't have a clue how many opportunities to sacrifice his bride will present. I ask him, "What are some of the sacrifices you can make for your wife?" He lists a couple of things, but she quickly adds to his list. Remember how we started? He was smiling, and she was squirming. Now he's starting to squirm, and she's starting to smile.
Next, I speak to her. "None of us is perfect," I say. "I know from my own experience that sacrificial love is easier to talk about than to do. But let's say that your husband really tries by small sacrifices and sometimes big sacrifices; he demonstrates that he loves and honors and cares for you. How will you react?" You know what the brides always tell me? "I love him, too. I'll try to please him." We've arrived at a great teaching moment. That, I tell them, is what the Bible means when it talks about the wife obeying or submitting to her husband. The husband is to love, and honor and care for his bride so much that she willingly responds by loving and pleasing him.
This is how the words to wives in Ephesians 5 are fulfilled. "Wives, place yourselves under your husband's authority as you have placed yourselves under the Lord's authority. The husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. It is His body and He is its Savior. As the church is under Christ's authority, so wives are under their husband's authority in everything."
The Christian wife relates to her husband just as the church relates to Christ. Ephesians 5 does not teach that women are inferior to men. Christian husbands and wives are equal in God's sight. 1 Peter 3:7 says, "They are joint heirs of the grace of life." Our passage is about the complementary relationship between a husband and wife. Ephesians 5 does not teach the husband to demand obedience from his wife. Her submission is to be voluntary, not coerced. There is no biblical basis for him to order his wife around as if she were a slave. Ephesians 5 does not make the husband the boss of everything around the house. It does teach him to be the greatest servant around the house. His sacrificial service should have no ulterior motive. "Love seeks not its own," (1 Corinthians 13:4). Finally, Ephesians 5 does not teach that the wife is the only one who should submit.
Mark, what was the very first verse you read? Ephesians 5:21. "Place yourselves under each other's authority out of respect for Christ."
So I say to the bride: "This turns out to be a pretty good deal for you, doesn't it?" Hundreds of brides have told me, yes. And to the groom I say, "This really puts a burden on you to be a truly loving husband, doesn't it?" His smile is totally gone. We got into his head. All the misrepresentations of what it means to submit, all the false notions that modern society promotes about the roles of men and husbands. The Word of God has cut through all of that. When the session is over and the couple leaves the office, Ephesians 5 isn't done. It's still in my mind and I hope in theirs when the long-awaited ceremony is performed.
The church bell rings and bridal party slowly and decorously takes its place at the front of the church. The groom takes his place also near the front. Oh, he's handsome, tuxedo and all, but he's not the center of attention. The eyes of the crowd are really waiting for the bride. Isn't that symbolic? Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom did not come for His own glory, but for the sake of His bride, the church, for your sake and mine. Mark 10 says, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many."
Now the long-awaited moment, the bride slowly walks down the aisle. I see this beautiful bride as a symbol of the church. She symbolizes all of us for whom our Savior died. She comes to the groom, and he takes her arm in his and leads her to the altar. Just so our Savior leads us through faith to the Father, the Heavenly Bridegroom, leading His bride, the church, into the presence of God.
As all this happens, the words of Ephesians 5 go through my mind. "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church, and gave His life for it." He did this to make the church holy by cleansing it, washing it, using water along with spoken words. Then he could present it to Himself as a glorious church without any kind of stain or wrinkle, holy and without faults. The bride and groom, now before the altar, the ceremony continues, Scriptures are read, solos are sung, an address is given.
Now the vows: "Will you have this woman to be your wife? To live with her and holy marriage, according to the Word of God? Will you love her, comfort her, honor her and keep her in sickness and in health and forsaking all others, be husband to her as long as you both shall live?" Notice what wasn't said. It didn't say, "Will you meet her halfway? Will you enter a 50-50 relationship? Will you be husband to her as long as she satisfies you? Will you be husband to her as long as you feel like you're in love?" None of that was said. The groom makes an unconditional commitment. Oh yes. Notice too, that the groom speaks first. He's the first to declare publicly his commitment to her. Doesn't that reflect Christ's initiative in loving the church? He loved you and me before we had a heart to love Him and a mouth to confess Him.
The groom's commitment publicly spoken: the bride responds. "Will you have this man to be your husband? To live with him in holy marriage, according to the Word of God? Will you love him, comfort him, honor him, obey him, and keep him in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be wife to him as long as you both shall live?" And she willingly says, "I will."
More vows are spoken, rings exchanged. And then the pastor says words like this: "Now that"—and he names the bride and groom—"have consented together in holy marriage, have given themselves to each other by their solemn pledges and have declared the same before God and these witnesses, I pronounce them to be husband and wife in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. What God has joined together, let no one put asunder." After some prayers and a blessing, they're off, off to a reception, off to their honeymoon. And then off to the reality of married life be that for better or for worse. Will they avoid the post-honeymoon pitfalls? What God has joined together we pray His sacrificial love to keep together.
Lord, when You came as welcome guests to Cana's wedding feast, the bridal pair, divinely blessed, found all their joy increased. Now give your presence from above that these, by vowing true, may show their pledges like the love between the church and You. Amen.
Reflections for August 22, 2021
Title: Ephesians 5
Mike Zeigler: Today I get to visit with Mr. Eric Gates. He's a regional director for Lutheran Hour Ministries. Eric, thanks for being here.
Eric Gates: Thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Mike Zeigler: So Eric, as I understand your role. You help expand Lutheran Hour Ministries outreach around the world, which means you've traveled all over, to many different places, to include Africa, which is the continent that you specialize in, right?
Eric Gates: The area in which I serve here at LHM is the Africa and Middle East region.
Mike Zeigler: All right. And you've specifically, I want to talk to you about the country of Cameroon, which is in central West Africa. Do you remember the first time you visited Cameroon?
Eric Gates: I sure do remember the first time. It was really unique. Cameroon is a really bustling country, crowded in the coastal cities, in the rural areas it's very agricultural based. Just huge diversity of people and places. From beaches to mountains, volcanoes and deserts. It's one of the most diverse countries in the entire African continent. The first time I traveled to Cameroon was about 12 years ago, and I remember it was a little bit of a difficult journey. When I first landed in Douala, that's the main urban port for the country, I had to transfer from the airport to a bus station. Then take about a three and a half hour bus ride, crowded bus ride, to where our ministry is there.
Mike Zeigler: Were there any animals on the bus?
Eric Gates: There were, the bus makes a lot of stops. People come on and off with chickens. There were goats tied to the top.
Mike Zeigler: Wow.
Eric Gates: It was a very local experience.
Mike Zeigler: Yeah.
Eric Gates: But we got to Yaoundé where our ministry center is located. Wonderful journey.
Mike Zeigler: Lutheran Hour Ministries works with a partner organization in our church body called the Lutheran Women's Missionary League. And as I understand, three years ago, the Lutheran Women's Missionary League sponsored a mission grant to help us with our outreach there. What has that grant done for the people who live there in Cameroon?
Eric Gates: That grant has really been incredible. It's allowed us to continue and expand what we call the "Divine Sewing School," which is really a holistic vocational training program for young women, at-risk women, in Yaoundé and in neighboring areas. Cameroon has a lot of issues going on right now in the country. There's terrorism in the north, famine and political instability in the east, even civil unrest in the west. So our ministry is able to reach young women who have kind of fled those areas for the relative safety of Yaoundé. Our program recruits the women, and enlists them in a 12- to 24-month long vocational training project, where they learn everything from dyeing cloth, to making patterns, to cutting out the cloth, sewing complete dresses.
Mike Zeigler: So you said a year, or even two years, in this program. So they get to know each other very well.
Eric Gates: That's right. In fact, that's one of the purposes of the extended length of it. We don't get to reach an enormous number of women, but the women that we do reach, we put into a group of similar women and a cohort, and they really become friends and family. It gives us time and a lot of opportunities in-person to counsel and really witness to them about God's love for them.
Mike Zeigler: So there's a practical, marketable skill that they're learning: sewing, but then also the relationships that they're developing. And then I hear you say that there's a learning about God and His Word classes part, as well.
Eric Gates: Definitely. The women meet at our office, at our ministry center location, three to four times a week. So we're in proximity with them daily. We have two young women that help manage the program for us. Our director's also involved. So the women are really... it's more than just sewing classes, it's really spiritual education and kind of this development of camaraderie among these women.
Mike Zeigler: You and I had talked about this earlier. You had told me a little bit about this one woman, Messina, I think her name was, is that right?
Eric Gates: Yes.
Mike Zeigler: Tell us that story. I love this story.
Eric Gates: So do I. It's amazing. One of the first women I met in that program, when we first inaugurated it back in 2012, was Messina. She was a young mother herself at the time, really did well in the classes, became really engaged. She really came to know and learn how much God really loved her and wanted to guide her life. So she completed the class and then used those skills to actually open a small sewing shop in downtown Yaoundé.
Mike Zeigler: I've seen video clips of that. It's a really bustling shop right there in the open-air market.
Eric Gates: It is. She actually took a shipping container and modified it, opened up the ends and made a little store inside that.
Mike Zeigler: That's great.
Eric Gates: The amazing thing is that Messina, she just loves the program so much that now she's actually back as a part-time instructor for the new students. And she's hired, to date, nine women who have graduated from the sewing class to work in her shop.
Mike Zeigler: So Eric, tell us why Lutheran Hour Ministries is so committed to equipping Christians, as you've mentioned, through this sewing school, to equipping the people who live there to reach out with God's love, in Jesus, to the people around them.
Eric Gates: Our philosophy really is that it's local Christians, that through training and through empowerment, are really best equipped to share God's Word with their neighbors. Over the past several years, we've enrolled hundreds of people in Cameroon in evangelism training seminars, for example. And I think it's been incredible how during the pandemic over this last year where a lot of our activities have been forced to close temporarily or (be) suspended, these volunteers that we've equipped over the last decade, these volunteers were able to carry on ministry in their communities. So despite the headquarters being under lockdown, the ministry carried on across nearly the whole country.
Mike Zeigler: So similar to how it works here, research shows that people are more receptive to the Good News of Jesus as it comes from someone they know and work with, or live around. Same thing in Cameron.
Eric Gates: When that person really shares how their life has changed through God's love and presence in their life, I think that's the strongest witness that we can make locally.
Mike Zeigler: Thanks for joining us, Eric.
Eric Gates: Thank you so much.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Lord, Help Us Ever to Retain" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)