Midweek Lent 4 – Ephesians 5:22-33
You probably heard 2 key words in our reading from Ephesians: submit and die.
Now those are indeed key words. Wives are called upon to submit to their husbands, and husbands are called upon to willingly lay down their lives for their wives.
Now when we hear those words, there is an immediate knee jerk reaction – wives hear the word submission and they reject it; saying that it is an old 19th century word; a word for a different generation; not a word that independent women would use to describe themselves in the world today.
Likewise, when husbands hear the word die, they too are prone to reject it. After all, how many people are you willing to die for? And why would he die for someone who refuses to submit?
Now we could go along and make clear that the words submit and die are not truly what our modern ears think they hear, but instead that they are pictures of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and how that relates to how husbands and wives ought to relate to one another.
But there are 2 other words in our text that we often overlook; perhaps because they are at the very end of the text, and by the time we get to them, most have heard enough to either boil their blood, or make their point.
But humor me as we take a moment to examine those other 2 words: which are love and respect.
They sound simple enough, and one could seemingly ignore them in regards to the overall relationship between husbands and wives, instead focusing on submit and die; but ignoring them would be to the detriment of the relationship between husband and wife.
These words are equally important in the day to day relationship between husbands and wives; primarily because they are yet another example of how men and women are different from each other, and how that difference reflects itself in marriage.
Men naturally give respect to others; they naturally honor those who are around them, and so in turn men desire respect more than they do love, and as a result, men do not naturally show love in a relationship but rather respect.
On the other hand, women naturally show love, they naturally express this love to those around them, and in turn women desire to receive love more so then they do respect; and as a result, women do not naturally show respect in a relationship but rather love.
Why does this matter? Because men desire respect, but in a relationship they do not naturally receive it. And women desire love, but in a relationship they do not naturally receive it.
What is the result when this happens?
Men who do not receive respect will soon find themselves useless, and will not be willing to lay down their lives for those who disrespect them. Women who are not loved will soon find themselves prisoners, and will not be willing to submit to someone who does not love them.
It’s easy to point to submit and say that is an old fashion word, for old fashion times; and it’s easy to point to die and say that is such an extreme word that such a situation would never possibly come up.
But love and respect are words that do fit our vocabulary, and when they are lacking, statistics show that both husband and wife are miserable; but when they are present, husband and wife are happy. And so the words love and respect can be just as easily applied to marriage today as they were when St. Paul wrote them.
Wives, respect your husbands, speak well of them to friends and peers, follow his lead; and in turn, your husband will show you the love you desire. A love that will even go so far as to willingly lay down its life for you if called upon.
Husbands, love your wives, listen to their words, provide for their needs, sacrifice for her; and in turn your wife will show you the respect you desire. A respect that will even go so far as to willingly submit to you.
This is by no means an easy task, no matter the words chosen. Husbands may soon find themselves feeling disrespected and will not show love; which in turn will cause wives to demand love, but not show respect.
And so we take comfort in the one who has perfectly modeled this relationship for us.
Christ loves His bride the Church; He showers the Church with gifts in the Word and in the sacraments and in the forgiveness of sins; He has promised to take the Church to His side and to live and reign for all eternity together. Christ loves the Church so much, that when not even called upon, He came to earth, and suffered humiliation and death so that the Church, so that you, might be spared the full brunt of punishment that was assigned to you.
And what is the result?
The Church is to respect Christ. The Church is to look to Christ and fear, love and trust in Him above all things. The Church is to know the power and authority of the one who claimed it for Himself, and the Church is to trust that Christ will never call upon the Church, never call upon you, to do anything that would cause undo pain or suffering. And so the Church submits to the will of Christ, the Church willingly places itself under the role and authority of Christ, knowing that He is willing to die for the Church.
And so husbands and wives, forgive each other when one runs afoul in showing love or in showing respect. That is the true model presented for us. Forgive fully and completely just as Christ forgives you. A husband who forgives will receive respect, a wife who forgives will be loved.
And together, be a model of love and respect; be a model of forgiveness, be a model of Christ and the Church.