With all the talk about marriage today, we need to rediscover God’s original intent, in light of His greater purpose for all of us. God has created us in His image and His original intent has not changed. And it is in Christ alone that we are brought back, made into His image. If you have received the grace of God in Christ, you have already been sanctified. Only as you have been forgiven can you find your true identity, to be truly forgiven and forgive, and live like Jesus.
God’s purpose for the family is not to satisfy us, but to sanctify us. And marriage is the foundation, the driving relationship that establishes the context for this sanctification process in the home.
Establishing a Solid Foundation – Ephesians 5:21-33
1. The Power for Marriage (5:18) In Ephesians 5:18, Paul says, “be filled with the Spirit”. This is the driving imperative and the rest of Paul’s teaching is linked to being filled with the Spirit. You can’t have a great marriage w/out being filled with the Spirit. This cannot be overstated. What does it mean to be filled with Spirit? It means that you live your life now in view of the Gospel, you are now a new creation- you have a servant’s heart, which relationally means, you have the ability to receive criticism, the ability to give criticism (w/out crushing others), and the ability to forgive and then love, not hold on to it. Spirit-filled means that you’re thinking logically, you know who you are and it drives all that you do. I accept myself because God has accepted me in Christ- not something or someone else. I should be cast off but Jesus has forgiven me, how can I be harsher with this person than Jesus has been with me? The power of marriage is the Gospel! And it is lived out by one who is filled with the Spirit. It’s the fuel that drives the engine, the oil that ends the rub- n unselfishness created only by the Spirit. It’s cause and effect.
Shaunti Feldhahn is a Harvard-trained researcher and author, in her book, “The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce”, details groundbreaking findings from an extensive eight-year study on marriage and divorce. Among other things, her research found: The actual divorce rate has never been close to 50% “The 50% figure came from projections of what researchers thought the divorce rate would become as they watched the divorce numbers rising in the 1970s and early 1980s when states around the nation were passing no-fault divorce laws”, and those who attend church regularly (the ones who have access to the Spirit of God) have a significantly lower divorce rate than those who don’t. “‘The Good News About Marriage’ also reveals the divorce rate among those active in their church is up to 50% lower than among non-churchgoers.” SO, the power of the Spirit makes all the difference.
2. The Posture in Marriage (v. 21) Here, the qualifying participle (of the main verb, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit”) is “submitting” in v. 21. It is mutual submission “out of reverence to Christ”. So in marriage, our greatest concerns are the needs of the other person. This is radical. This of course, involves the need for forgiveness and restoration of the relationship in the case of sin, which is inevitable in all relationships. Christopher Lasch, was an author, professor, who famously labeled us as a “culture of narcissism” explained that most people do not see marriage as two flawed people coming together- but instead as the union of two people who somehow fulfill one another’s needs. Instead, marriage creates a space of stability, love and consolation, a “haven in a heartless world”, Lasch calls it. Paul says, mutuality does not mean sameness in roles. The husband is Head, as Christ is Head of the Church- Husbands are the first servants in the home and bear the ultimate responsibility for the marriage before God. What does this look like? It all comes down to this question: “How can I help?”
3. The Purpose of Marriage (5:22-30) is (what Tim Keller calls), “Gospel re-enactment”. Marriage points to Christ & His Church. Marriage is the union of two good forgivers, growing servants. God takes your selfishness and biases and He forces you to deal w/ them in marriage. For the first time in your life, you can’t run. God will not let you run. Marriage brings light to your selfishness, So in marriage, we find the most powerful potential for change. This is why God’s purpose in marriage is not to satisfy you, but to sanctify you.
Keller points out that the Christian answer to the idea that you will find another to satisfy you- the myth of the right person- is that no two people are compatible. He sites Duke University Ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas, who has famously made this point: “Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.
We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married. But there’s another reason we never find the “right” person. Any two people who enter into marriage are spiritually broken by sin, which among other things means to be self-centered – turned inward for self rather than outward for God and others. Marriage is not designed to bring ultimate satisfaction but sanctification.
4. The Priority of Marriage Paul quotes from Genesis 2:24 – “a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife.” (vv. 31-32). We find here also the exclusivity of marriage. Marriage is not only permanent, sacred, intimate, and mutual; it is also exclusive (Gen. 2:22-25; 1 Cor. 7:2-5). This means that no other human relationship can interfere with the marriage commitment between husband and wife. For this reason, Jesus treated sexual immorality of a married person, including a husband’s lustful thoughts, with utmost seriousness (Matt. 5:28; 19:9). For the same reason, premarital sex is also illegitimate, since it violates the exclusive claims of one’s future spouse.
Sex outside of a loving, committed relationship is sin because it goes against God’s design and your own design. If sex is money then it is a massive devaluation of the currency. It is cleaving, a public commitment, honoring the parents of the individuals. Marriage is not merely a human agreement between two consenting individuals (as in a civil union); it is a relationship before and under God (Gen. 2:22).
5. The Projection of Marriage (vv. 22- 33) Here “projection” is the act of showing, presenting, especially to an audience. Marriage points to something greater than itself. As we love one another like Christ has love us, we point others to Him! (v. 33) Marriage as “Gospel reenactment” points people to God through Christ. In Jesus Christ we’ve been married to God! SO:
The ultimate purpose of marriage is to point to something else (the Gospel) and to Someone else (Jesus). And a watching world sees in a married couple how Christ love us. And guess who has a front row seat of this Gospel reenactment? The children in the home!
God’s purpose for the family is not to satisfy us, but to sanctify us.
There are no “relationship problems” or “marriage problems”- there are only “people problems”. The Bible calls this “sin”. The only relationship that fixes us is the relationship with the One who brings forgiveness and redemption into our brokenness. We are in need of rescue and this is what we all have in common: We cannot rescue ourselves. But being in Christ means that you are now made holy. Don’t miss this. You’ve been “holied”.
If you have never received Christ’s gift of grace, you will never experience the kind of relationships you were designed to have. And you will never be sanctified, made righteous on your own. But in Christ, you are made holy. Made righteous by Jesus. “For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” Hebrews 10:14. If you are in Christ the process of sanctification is not becoming something you’re not, but becoming who you already are in Him.