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Message Notes: Welcome Home – Marriage

Welcome Home

Week 1: Marriage

Pastor Rick Henderson                April 6-7, 2024


We’re calling this series Welcome Home because we’re talking about home life. But it’s not just that. When we gather together and when we talk honestly with each other, it should feel restful, comfortable, and safe.

One time, one of Jesus’ disciples was throwing himself a pity party. He complained about things not being fair and reminded Jesus of all the stuff they gave up to follow him. This is part of Jesus’ response.

MATTHEW 17:29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

Following Jesus comes with the benefit of a larger family, a richer family experience than we could possibly imagine. That’s what church should feel like. And that’s what we want this series to feel like: an honest conversation with people who we know love us and have our backs. We’ll talk about the single life and dating next week. We’ll talk about parenting in week 3. Today, we’re talking about marriage.

I wish that I could stand up here and present myself as a marriage expert. I’m not. The only thing I might be an expert in is my wife. This year we celebrate 25 years of hot, righteous monogamy.

Message Notes: Welcome Home - Marriage

Look at this. We were babies. I can’t believe the real adults actually let us get married.

Early on in our marriage, we were on a road trip. Heather casually told me that she needed a restroom break. What Heather was about to learn was that’s not how I did road trips. My road trip philosophy was built on the idea that we should stop when the car needs to stop. So, with all the confidence of a rookie husband, I said, “Babe, we stop when the car needs to stop.”

She thought I was joking until I intentionally passed the next rest stop. What I haven’t told you is that her parents were in the backseat. They didn’t say a word. Heather, on the other hand, she had some words. The short version of that story is that I now stop whenever anyone asks me to stop. I’ve even stopped at two exits in a row.

Nobody gets married with the goal of creating problems in their marriage. The reality is that we all bring mindsets and ways of thinking to marriage that don’t always help us experience what we truly want. You don’t have to convince me that there are bad behaviors in marriage. There are. But I don’t think bad behaviors and bad habits are the root of the issues we have. How we think is the heart of the matter.

We are all REFLECTING, RESISTING, or REDEEMING our cultural influences.

This includes the broader culture of our country, the culture of our family of origin, and even church and religious culture. The challenge is that this [Reflecting] doesn’t require any awareness or effort. [Resisting and Redeeming], on the other hand, requires lots of awareness and effort. Awareness and effort never happen by accident.

Will you to grab a Bible or use your phone to find Ephesians 5? What we are going to read is an example of the Apostle Paul doing this. In the Greco-Roman world of the first century, there already existed something called household codes. These codes had instructions for husbands, wives, children, and slaves. These were a normal part of Greco-Roman culture.

Surprise, surprise, these household codes privileged men and disadvantaged women. They gave husbands a license to always get their way. What we are about to read follows the pattern of household codes that were already floating around. There is nothing new or unique about the structure or the metaphors we are going to read. Everybody already accepted the metaphor that the husband was the head of the household. And yet, what we are going to read was massively disruptive to their way of thinking. This is an example of the Apostle Paul simultaneously resisting and rejecting cultural influences AND redeeming them all at once.

EPHESIANS 5:21-33 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Have you ever heard of the Mandela Effect? It’s term given to the phenomena of lots of people misremembering the same thing. It got this name because many people were certain that they remembered him dying in prison in the 1980s. He didn’t. He became the President of South Africa in 1994. Whenever a bunch of people wrongly remember something, that’s the Mandela Effect. Do you think you’ve ever been under the Mandela Effect?

Message Notes: Welcome Home - Marriage

If you believe that you remember the first one, you’re not alone. But it’s never been that, it’s always been this.

Message Notes: Welcome Home - Marriage

This one got me. I was convinced the first one was right. I’m certain I remember it. But it’s never been than. It’s always been this. Do I have any Star Wars fans?

Message Notes: Welcome Home - Marriage

If you don’t remember C-3PO having a silver leg—that’s the Mandela Effect. Whenever lots of see something that’s not there, or we don’t see something that is there, that’s the Mandela Effect. Believe it or not, this passage that we just read has a kind of Mandela Effect too.

WHAT THIS TEXT DOES NOT SAY:

  • The husband is the head of the family.
  • The husband is the head of the house.
  • The husband is the spiritual head of anyone.
  • The wife is to obey her husband.
  • The husband is the leader his wife.
  • The husband is a servant leader.

Believe it or not, none of these are ever said anywhere in the entire Bible. If this is bending your brain right now, that’s what people call the Mandela Effect. What does the text actually say?

EPHESIANS 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

I know I don’t sound like it, but I’m from the South. If ever there is a Southern translation of the Bible, this verse will read, “All y’all submit to all y’all.” Would you write this down?

EVERYONE is supposed to submit. NO ONE is supposed to make others submit.

Did you know that there are no verses in the Bible that tell us that we are supposed to make someone else submit? It’s a fool’s errand to try to force someone to submit. Submission is voluntary. If it isn’t voluntary, it’s oppression or subjugation, but it isn’t submission. It’s only submission if it’s voluntary.

I think it’s a shame that submit is treated like a bad word. It’s such a wonderful thing. Before we define what is, let me be clear about what it isn’t.

SUBMISSION IS NOT:

  • Participating in what you believe is morally wrong
  • Always agreeing with what you chose to participate in
  • Enabling your own abuse
  • Enabling the abuse of others
  • A tool to get what you want from someone
  • Gender-based
  • Obedience
  • Automatic

So then, what is submission?

SUBMISSION: I voluntarily choose your lead or your need over my agenda

No one is immune from the command to submit. Everyone is included in the command to submit. And if that rattles your cage a little bit, that’s OK. We’re all friends and family here. One of the things that I want us all to grab hold of and truly embrace is that no one was more submissive than Jesus.

EPHESIANS 5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

If you’re wondering, why is this is this so important? Can’t we just drop this archaic idea of submission and just move forward? Believe it or not, whether you’re religious or not, traditionalist or not, it’s just not possible to talk about relationships without also talking about submission. Here’s why.

Everybody puts somebody’s needs FIRST.

That’s true for married people. That’s true for single people. Regardless of your relationship status, this statement is true for you. Now, for anyone who says, “Well, in a relationship, the needs should be equal.” All the people who’ve been married longer than 5 minutes are saying, “Isn’t that sweet? Bless your heart.” As nice as that sounds, that’s just not how it works. Someone’s needs are always going to come first. Everybody puts somebody’s needs FIRST. The question is: Do you tend to put your needs first or do you put the other person’s needs first?

One of my favorite ways to think about marriage is this.

Message Notes: Welcome Home - Marriage

For your marriage to work, you and your spouse have to be joined together and work together. Submission in marriage is a race to the backseat. It’s a lifestyle and disposition of putting the other person first, ahead of yourself.

In the gospel, submission has nothing to do with rank, status, power, or authority. It’s 100% an expression of love. In this case, love that is expressed for Jesus and our spouses in how we place ourselves beneath them. This joining together, Paul uses the metaphor head and body, it’s supposed to make it easier for other people to see the gospel.

EPHESIANS 5:32-33 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Christian marriages get to be living METAPHORS of heaven meeting earth.

The million-dollar question is, how do we do this.

EPHESIANS 5:24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Ladies, this is what that means for you. From the day you say I do to the day that one of you is buried, there isn’t a single moment in which you place yourself first, above, or in front of your husband. I know that offends and freaks out lots of people. All I can say is that you’re right, that would be oppressive and hopelessly misogynistic if it wasn’t for the next line.

EPHESIANS 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

Men, you give up your privileges, advantages, and agenda in the same way Jesus did. From the day you say “I do” to the day one of you is buried, there isn’t a single moment in which you place yourself first, above, or in front of your wife.

I don’t know if we have the capacity to appreciate and understand how profoundly revolutionary and scandalous this was. In the Greco-Roman mindset, the people at the top in the hierarchy only received love from those below them. Husbands were at the top and the wives were below in the org chart. There was zero expectation for love to flow down. It only flowed up. Aristotle wrote about and talked about this mindset.

For it would be ludicrous if one were to accuse God because he does not return love in the same way as he is loved, or for a subject to make this accusation against a ruler; for it is the part of a ruler to be loved, not to love or else to love in another way. –Aristotle

The Greco-Roman culture was a network of hierarchies. People at the top received love, deference, and submission from those below them. It was considered virtuous and manly to impose your will on the people below you. It was virtuous to impose your agenda on the people below you. It was virtuous and manly to take from them whatever you wanted. That’s how the world worked. It was institutionalized and protected by law.

This is how they would have heard these words…

  • So you’re saying that we are supposed to permanently give up our legally protected advantages for the sake of our wives? Yes.
  • So you’re saying that we are supposed to give up our privileged position for the sake of our wives? Yes.
  • So you’re saying that everything we feel entitled to, we’re supposed to extend that same advantage to our wives. Yes.
  • So you’re saying that we’re supposed to serve what’s in our wives best interest? Yes.
  • So you’re saying that we’re supposed to stop seeing ourselves in the higher position and instead place ourselves in the lower position? Yes.
  • So you’re saying that we’re supposed to pivot to a lifestyle of saying no to ourselves and saying yes to our wives preferences and needs? Yes.

How do you apply the gospel to home life in a society that is built on a network of hierarchies? You do it like this. Anyone who wants to pound the table that this passage doesn’t explicitly say that husbands are to submit—you are right. But what exactly does this sound like to you? Men, as you be with Jesus, and become like Jesus, you will put into practice the way of Jesus. No one, and I mean no one, was more submissive than Jesus.

EPHESIANS 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

This is what the husband is to do, and in the next two verses he describes what Jesus does for the church.

EPHESIANS 5:26-27 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

The lowest slave in the house washed other people’s bodies. It was the lowest slave who literally bathed someone. It was the lowest slave who washed someone’s feet. Anyone who is a husband or hopes to be one someday, we need to see that Jesus occupied the lowest position. We follow his lead by making that our lifestyle in how we relate to our wives.

EPHESIANS 5:28-30 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body.

This instruction to husbands and wives is built on a head and body metaphor. Is that about authority or is it about something else? If we think that a wife’s submission is in response to her husband’s headship it’s because we’re connecting the wrong things to each other. There are three couplings, or three sets of pairs laid out in this passage.

3 SETS:

  • Submission and Sacrifice

The wife submits following the example of Jesus. The husband sacrifices and serves following the example of Jesus.

  • Love and Respect

The husband loves and the wife respects. If you read 1 Peter 3, he flips it. The wife loves her husband, and the husband is to respect his wife.

  • Head and Body

Jesus is the head, and the church is his body. The husband is the head, and the wife is his body. Absolutely, Jesus is the authority and our leader. That doesn’t mean this metaphor of head and body is about leadership or authority. Jesus is also God. Husbands, we aren’t gods. Jesus is also worthy of worship. Husbands, it doesn’t matter if we finally load the dishwasher the right way; we aren’t worthy of worship. Please hear me. We are just mistaken if we stretch the metaphor beyond what the writer intended. Paul makes the metaphor clear.

EPHESIANS 5:31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Whenever Christians get fixated on authority, it almost always comes at the expense of unity. Jesus prayed for our unity just before going to the cross. He carefully designed marriage to be about unity, picturing how we are united with him.

The head and body metaphor isn’t about AUTHORITY. It’s about UNITY.

Head and body is about unity. Paul took the cultural idea that the husband was the head of the household and simultaneously rejected it and redeemed it. He reversed their expectations. He contradicted their habits, mindset, and lifestyles. The husband is not the head of the house or family; he is the head of his wife, who is his body. The two are to become one. That was God’s plan all along. It was broken by sin but was redeemed by Jesus. Michelle Lee Barnewell is a scholar who wrote a brilliant book titled, Neither Complementarian Nor Egalitarian. She writes.

Paul also says the reversal seen in the love of the husband relates to the one flesh unity of Genesis 2:24…In Genesis the one flesh unity was Adam’s primary imperative in his relationship with Eve, and he was unable to fulfill it. Now under the new covenant, the husband’s ability to love his wife as Christ loves the church enables him to ‘cleave’ to his wife and be ‘one flesh’ with her in all its fullness. –Michelle Lee Barnewall

If what I’m sharing feels new or wrong or like you need time to process, take all the time you need to process. This is not a Rick-tatorship. You are allowed to disagree with me. If you are absolutely convinced that the headship and body metaphor is about authority, by all means, hold on to that. Believe that and pass it on to others. But if you do, I will ask you just one thing. Can you find any verse in the entire Bible, Old Testament, or New Testament that says the husband is the authority of his wife and that he should lead his wife? If you are convinced that’s what the Bible says, I only request that you come up with one verse that says that.

If you accept my challenge, instead of finding a verse that says a husband is the authority, you are going to find examples that contradict that the husband is the authority and that he has the tie-breaker vote and whenever there is a clash of opinions, the wife is supposed to defer to him. Instead of finding that you will find this.

1 CORINTHIANS 7:3-5 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consentand for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.

This chapter is the longest set of instructions for husbands and wives that the Apostle Paul wrote. He’s the same guy who wrote Ephesians 5. He says that a husband is not the authority of his own body. He’s yielded it to his wife’s authority. And the wife has done the same, yielding authority of her body to him. And with this incredibly personal and intimate application of decision-making together, he tells them to decide by mutual consent. Do you remember earlier when I said that Christian marriages get to be living metaphors of heaven meeting earth? That’s exactly what this is.

I know some of you are asking this question, are you saying that husbands don’t ever lead? No. I’m not saying that at all. Before I answer that, remember my favorite way to picture a marriage.

Message Notes: Welcome Home - Marriage

In the past twenty-something years, I’ve observed that women deeply value and appreciate a man who takes the initiative and who goes first. Any good endeavor in life requires good and healthy leadership.

It’s also been my experience that men benefit from sitting here following their wives’ lead. Is there any man in here who doesn’t have a truckload of stories about how listening to our wives and following their lead saved us from ourselves? Happy and healthy marriages are ones where both spouses are quick to defer to the other, and both spouses rotate, taking the lead to serve each other and the family.

Would it surprise you to know that marriages where the husband is the only one who sits in the front, marriages where the husband always has the tie-breaking vote, are marriages that report lower rates of satisfaction relationally and sexually? Those marriages have a divorce rate that’s 7 times higher than that of couples who make decisions by mutual consent.

If you don’t know who the Gottmans are, they have over 50 years of research. No one has done more study into marital stability than them. This is what they discovered.

Statistically speaking, when a man is not willing to share power with his partner, there is an 81% chance that his marriage will self-destruct…We did find that the happiest, most stable marriages in the long run were those in which the husband did not resist sharing power and decision-making with the wife. When the couple disagreed, these husbands actively searched for common ground rather than insisting on getting their way. –John Gottman

Do you know what that sounds like to me? That sounds like they spend 50 years, researching thousands of couples to come to the exact same conclusion as the Apostle Paul in the first century. Jesus is genius. His design is good and you can trust it. What if this became our mindset?

BOTTOM LINE: If you want a marriage that LASTS, put yourself LAST.

One day your entire marriage is just going to be a story that other people tell. It’ll be the story that your kids tell. What kind of story do you want them to tell? What do you hope they remember? I’ll tell you what I hope my kids remember.

I hope they remember me slapping their mom on the behind when I walked past her. I hope they remember that we were so into each other that we made it weird sometimes. It’s OK, parents, make it weird. I want them to remember that we were friends and that we delighted in each other. I want them to remember that no one was a bigger champion of their mom than me, and no one was a bigger champion of me than their mom. And above all of that, I hope that they can say that Heather and I made it easier for them to see Jesus and get the gospel by the way we loved, served, respected, and submitted to each other.

PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.