“The Great Love Story” (John MacDiarmid)

Reference: Ephesians 5 v 21-33

Talk given at Poole High School for Poole Christian Fellowship on 15 October 2017.

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We come now to a key passage on a key relationship for human beings – marriage.

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 Saviour. 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.

Before we pull out the key points of the passage, here are some initial thoughts:

1. When we work systematically through the Bible, we will eventually come up against all the important teachings of Scripture. This means that no preacher can only preach on his particular hobby horse, and every believer will be exposed to the full counsel of God. Today, we come to the subject of marriage.

2. Whenever we have a device, it only works well if we use it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If we ignore the manufacturers’ instructions we do so at our peril. In the Bible we have God’s instruction manual for how relationships work – we ignore it at our peril.

3. I have a long-standing commitment that when I preach on marriage , I will also preach on singleness. As of today 43% of the adults in PCF are non-married. If we include children, 65% of PCF is single! So we have to recall the apostle Paul’s passionate defence of singleness in 1 Corinthians, and also to remember that every married state is only a temporary one. In eternity, we will be in such joyous relationship with our bridegroom, that the joys of human relationships and family life will be a dim and distant memory. Those of us who are single today enjoy a double portion of grace to live as God has ordained in this life, whilst waiting joyfully for the unending pleasures of eternity in the presence of God. So this brings us onto our first main point:

I: The Great Drama

God speaks to us through pictures. Two weeks ago we observed the proclamation of the gospel through the amazing picture of baptism. Next Sunday we will observe the picture that God gives of Jesus’ death through the breaking of bread. Here we have another great picture.
Paul says of marriage:

This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

Paul E. Bilheimer says that at the heart of the universe is Romance. God has spent eternity preparing a bride for His Son. The church, the redeemed community from every generation, tribe and tongue that exists or has ever existed, is the Bride of the Lamb of God, Jesus. Eternity will see the consummation of that relationship, when Jesus and His bride will sit together on the throne in an eternal relationship of love. And the picture of that relationship? Marriage. Those of us who are married get to be participants in a great drama that is lived out in His presence, in the community and before the powers and principalities. It is a drama that prefigures our eternity with God, so it is of vital importance to every human alive. Whenever a husband and wife flow together in God’s love, you can say “see that? – that’s a picture of how Jesus loves His church”. We are either observers or participants in one of the great dramas of this age which points to the eternal love that will exist between Jesus and His Bride, His Church.

II: The Lead role

Every Hollywood blockbuster has a main lead character. The lead role in this drama is none other than Jesus Himself, the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God. And in the drama as told us by Paul, He is One who gives himself for His bride:

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.

Here, the Bridegroom pours himself out for His Bride, giving himself to her, in sacrificial agape love. Picture Jesus leaving the glories of heaven and the eternal joys of Fellowship with His father, picture Him washing the feet of His disciples, and picture him, if you can, fighting in agony on the cross, and recall that this is the Bridegroom giving Himself for His bride.

And in the earthly production of this great drama – who gets to play the role of Jesus? It’s the husband, the bridegroom, the man who gets the unspeakable privilege of being the lover of the bride, the one who daily pours himself out sacrificially for His wife. Men, have we got the message?

So not without reason has it been said that

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church

..is the most challenging exhortation in the Bible. All of us who are married shudder as we realise how we have consistently failed to be the husbands that God wants us to be. Sadly, ladies, you married a sinner! But we have a fountain of forgiveness for our lack and a spring of grace to help us, as we take on that awesome responsibility and seek to be models in this world of the love of Jesus for His church.

III: The Leading lady

Every blockbuster has a leading lady and in this, the drama of all dramas, there is a leading lady who will outshine them all

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”….. One of the seven angels….. came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

What a breathtaking picture of our eternal future! We have an amazing destiny. And in the current earthly production, that role is played by the wife. So every wife plays out every day the role of the beloved one, the one who is on the receiving end of a love that keeps giving, and lays itself down sacrificially for its beloved. I wonder how many of our wives get to experience that! But to the extent that they do, the response is
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
To defer to her husband, to joyfully submit, to respect and honour her husband is the joyful duty of the one who is loved beyond measure.

The theological basis for it is that the man is the head of the wife, in the same way that the Christ is the head of the church. So is it a partnership of equals? – yes, and no. The church will co-reign with Jesus, but always be in submission to Him, much as in the same way the Father and Son are equally God, but for a season the Son submitted His will to that of the Father. This can be a challenge. A sinner submitting to another sinner – but when it gets tough, remember – it’s only a temporary arrangement!

The fact is that the time is coming when the picture will become a reality, when the pale reflection will be fade away and glorious reality of the bride with Jesus will be fulfilled for all time. In that day the joys and frustrations of marriage – whether the joys and frustrations of having lived in it – or the challenges of seeing it not work because of human failure, or the challenges of the single life – all of this will fade from view, when we experience the wedding supper of the Lamb, and enter into a joyful eternity with Him.

As CS Lewis put it:

“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

John MacDiarmid
October 2017