Redeemer Church Dr. Tim Keller's sermon about Hope for the Family-Read It on Mohter's Day Thinking Of Your Marriage

By Grace

Ephesians 5:21-33 - Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit to your husbands as 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 his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, 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.


This fall we are looking at what Redeemer is called to be in the city. One of the texts that is most crucial on this subject is Jeremiah 29.

In Jeremiah 29, God addresses the Israelites, who have been exiled to Babylon. They don't like the big pagan city; they don't want to be there. God, however, says, "I want you to stay there," and, what's more, "I want you to seek the welfare of the city." He says in Jeremiah 29:5-7, "Build houses and settle down . . . Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."

In other words, living out your family life in the city is something that God says is part and parcel of what it means to seek the welfare of the city. If you want to really seek the welfare of the city, then live your lives out here, and have your children, and raise your family here.

Over the years, when I have talked to people about this, I have discovered right away that we have a problem that in those days they probably didn't have. One of the things we have today in our society, and here in New York, is a deep ambivalence about marriage itself, a lot of confusion about what it is, and a lot of difficulty in even understanding what it means.

We are going to take a look at Ephesians 5:21-33, which is probably the most famous of all the passages in the Bible (but by no means the only one) about marriage.1 Let's look at the three top-level things that we learn about Christian marriage: the premise, the purpose, and the penultimacy.


Notice that I included in the text verse 21, which says, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Even though that is a stand-alone sentence in the English translation, it is actually the last clause of a long sentence that Paul began in verse 18, and it is about the fullness of the Spirit. Let me give you that whole sentence: "Be filled with the Spirit; speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ" (vv. 18-21).

Paul is describing a life, a life of the Spirit. If you are filled with the Spirit, you are going to speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father for everything, and, finally, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Here is what we need to realize: Paul does not change the subject when he gets to marriage. There is no indication; there is no change. Paul doesn't say, "That is enough about the Holy Spirit. Now let's talk about marriage." No, what he is describing, with regard to the relationship of a husband and a wife, is a subheading under the broader heading: This is what life in the Spirit looks like. And if you are filled with the Spirit, this is what your marriage looks like.

Here is why that is really important. For Paul, being "filled with the Spirit" is to have the gospel driven into the very center of your being so that rather than just abstract doctrines, it becomes a living reality that affects your whole life. That is what it means to be filled with the Spirit.

If you say, "Where do you get that definition?" turn to Colossians 3. In verses 16-17, Paul is again talking about this life. He says, "Speak to one another in songs, make melody in your heart to the Lord. Do everything for the glory of God, always have thanks in your heart toward the Father." In other words, the same kind of life. In fact, in the same chapter, he even goes on and talks about husbands and wives and parents and children. But the Spirit isn't even mentioned in Colossians 3. Instead, at the center of it, Paul says, "Let the word of God dwell in you richly" (v. 16). The message of the Word of God, the gospel-have that dwell in you richly, not just understand it or believe it or affirm it. In other words, to be filled with the Spirit and to have the gospel creating enormous joy and awe in the center of your heart is the same thing.

Verse 21 is saying, then, that one of the effects of the gospel is that you serve one another. The gospel erodes the normal self-centeredness of the human heart. For example, one of the things the gospel does is it tells you that you are a lot worse than you think. That is one of the first messages of the gospel. The gospel says you could never clean up your life. There is no way you are going to be saved that way. No amount of self-effort will do it. Nothing less than the death of the Son of God can save you. So you are worse than you think.

The second thing the gospel says is you are much more loved than you think. The Son of God was willing to throw himself into the fiery furnace for you. You are his treasure. And therefore the gospel is more humbling. If you believe the gospel, it is a worldview that humbles you more and affirms you more at the very same time. It removes the self-centeredness because it humbles you, but it also removes the self-neediness because it loves and affirms you.

If the Spirit of God takes that gospel and it is not just abstract doctrine but drives it into the very center of your heart so it is a spiritual reality, do you know what that does? It makes you a person who doesn't need a lot of thanks, doesn't need a lot of strokes, and doesn't need a lot of affirmation. You are so content in who you are in Christ that you become a person who is much more able to give than to receive. You are always putting the needs of other people ahead of your own. You are serving each other.

What does that have to do with marriage? Oh my goodness! It has everything to do with marriage! Here is what Paul is saying (we are very close to the premise). Paul is saying when two people are filled with the Spirit-when two people are filled with the gospel, and the gospel has really reshaped the way in which they think about themselves-and they get married, here is a case study of what it might look like, and then he gives a case study of what a husband and wife do.

Some of you have probably already noticed that it is a controversial case study; in our culture what Paul says is very controversial. He says, first of all, if two Spirit-filled people get married, the wife should grant the husband leadership in the marriage. And then he says that the husband should respond by taking up Jesus' model of leadership, which is to die for the other person rather than abuse them or exploit them or even displease them.

What does that mean? Do you see what is going on here? Some of you are going to want me to defend that. And do you know what? There is not time. I know somebody is going to say, "What a lame excuse!" but I have other points to make. However, I can tell you this: that when my wife and I entered into marriage in 1975, we looked at this passage, and if you know me or Kathy, you know that neither her temperament nor my temperament is inclined in any way to this model. Neither of us liked or felt temperamentally adapted to what the text was calling us to give. But we submitted to it. And over the years by doing that, and it did take years, we got in touch with things in our character that we never knew were there and never would have found otherwise, which have been incredibly important to our growth.

That is all I am going to say by way of defense. However, I want to point out two things in the text regarding this idea of the wife giving the husband leadership in the marriage that are almost never pointed out, but they are very important.

First, do you see the premise? The premise of the wife giving the husband leadership is that both people are filled with the Spirit and with the gospel. That is why I stuck verse 21 in there. Or, not to put too fine a point on it, Paul is saying, "Women, don't you dare trust a man with your life. Don't you dare marry a man and give a man this kind of trust unless his male ego has been permanently reshaped by the gospel of the cross. Don't trust yourself to a man unless he is filled with the Spirit. Don't trust a man unless he says to you, 'I am willing to sacrifice; I am willing to die; I am willing to give anything in order to have you thrive. And I want to hear from you what you think that is.'" Nothing less than that. You know how they used to say constantly to kids on TV, "Boys and girls, don't do this at home. We are going to do it here in the studio, but don't do this at home"? When Kathy, my wife, talks about this passage, she says Paul is actually saying, "Only do this at home"-only when you have two Spirit-filled people should you give yourselves to each other like this.

There is a second thing that is not usually pointed out here. What does this leadership actually look like concretely? I want you to know, not only is it not here in this text, but I have looked through the Bible and details are not given. People ask, "What does it mean?" Does it mean the husband makes all the decisions? No, it doesn't say that in the Bible. Does it mean the husband handles the money? No, it doesn't say that. Where are the details? The Bible is a book given to us to authoritatively guide us, regardless of what century we live in, regardless of what culture we live in. And therefore, the Bible says two Spirit-filled people entering into marriage-each (because of what the gospel has done) seeking tooutdo the other person in service, each one saying "What you need to thrive is more important than my emotional fulfillment"-those two people are going to fight over pleasing the other person, and those two people have to work out for themselves in agreement what that means. The Bible doesn't say it has got to be like this and this.

By the way, women, if you have a man who says, "This is the way my father and my mother related, and this is the way it is going to be for us," that is not a man whose male ego has been reshaped by the cross. Do you know why? When the Bible doesn't give you those details and you say, "The way in which it worked in my family, that is the way it is going to be," you are lifting your family pattern up to the level of Scripture. That is not honoring biblical authority. Your opinion is negotiable! Scripture is not. The Scripture says this is the principle of leadership, but you have to work it out. That means you work it out together. How do you work it out? By each trying to outdo the other person in serving and pleasing. The premise of Christian marriage is the fullness of the Spirit and the reality of the gospel in the center of your heart. Read more at Liberti Church Center City.



Dr. Tim Keller, Redeemer Church, marriage, Mother's Day, husband, wife