Well did Isaiah prophesy not only of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, but of all hypocrites in every generation when he said, “This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of His day, pointing out that they forsake the commandments of God to establish human doctrines and human teachings – all while paying lip-service to God’s authority and even twisting God’s word to subvert and overturn God’s will.
And as the saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Just as in Jesus’ day there was a Pharisaical spirit that honored God in speech and not in truth, that same spirit infects the world and even the church today – setting up man-made teachings and traditions that undercut and subvert God’s will as it is clearly revealed in Holy Scripture. And, in many cases, these false teachings relate to the most intimate and universal experiences of humanity.
Consider how man-made traditions and human wisdom have perverted and twisted God’s institution of marriage into something entirely contrary to God’s intention when He established of this holy estate.
We know well the passage quoted by Paul from the second chapter of Genesis, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” But most of our world and even we in the church don’t seriously consider what St. Paul says about this statement. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
Paul here answers the question that has been raging in our society as of late – why is marriage defined as a man united with his wife in a one-flesh union? Why is marriage restricted to one man and one woman united for life? The answer is, “Because . . . Jesus.” Or, more specifically, “Because Jesus and the Church.”
Paul here reveals to all the world that God’s institution of marriage is a testimony and a witnesses to God’s loving and creative nature.
It shows His creative nature – because through this one-flesh union, we creatures participate in the ongoing creation of new life through the begetting of children.
But begetting children and raising them is not the be-all, end-all of marriage. Inherently and of itself marriage is meaningful and of value – even when it is impossible for a couple to conceive. Because the God ordained union of a man and a woman is itself intended to be a reflection of God’s love for humanity and specifically a mirror of Christ’s relationship to the church. Even among those who have no understanding of these realities.
And this is what makes all this talk about the redefinition of marriage such a problem. If marriage were merely a human institution to protect the mutual love of two persons – or – even if marriage were first and foremost about the protection and nurture of children being raised by a those who are married, then there would be no reason to be up in arms about the redefinition of marriage. If human affection and the raising of children were all that stands at the heart of marriage, there is no reason Heather could not have two mommies or two daddies, or any extension or combination that we could imagine.
But human affection and the raising of children are not the heart and center of marriage, and deep down, even if we can’t explain it to others, we know it to be true. There is something more central – and more universal that stands in the background of marriage than the love of two people or the raising of children.
That is to say, marriage is intended by God to reflect His own relationship with humanity. And any redefinition of marriage away from the life-long union of one man and one woman testifies differently about who God is and what His relationship with humanity is.
Over the last decades, and even extending back over the last century or two, our elders have passed down to us the doctrine that marriage is primarily about the “love” and affection two people have for one another. Under this false doctrine, this false teaching, marriage is the ongoing public declaration of the romantic bond forged between two people to be entered into or dissolved based on the existence of that love or its lack.
Talk with just about anyone and they will tell you: the love of husband and wife is a two-way street where the husband pours himself out – speaking the “love language” of his wife – in anticipation that she will reciprocate and return that love and fawn over her man like a dreamy-eyed teen squealing with delight over her heart throb. And except for those old enough to remember something different, marriage is best founded upon this type of love and endures only as long as this type of love endures.
But notice that according to the Holy Spirit marital love is described as a one-way street. And notice how it is purged of our modern erotic and romantic notions.
“Husbands, love your wives,” says the Holy Spirit, “love your wives – as Christ loved the church – and gave himself up for her.”
In creating humanity, God had created another to love – one who is created in His image and yet is different from Himself – one to whom He would unconditionally give himself. He would provide for all human needs – needs of body, mind and spirit. And when Scripture tells us, “it is not good for man to be alone,” it is because, being created in the image of God, the man needed someone to love and care for in the same way. And so God created woman as the one whom the man could love unconditionally. She was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, and taken from him, the woman was in the likeness of man, but she was also clearly different. She was designed and formed to be the recipient of the man’s love and care and concern – just as God created all mankind to be the recipient of His love and care and concern.
And even after humanity spurned God’s care for us – Even after we disobeyed His loving command not to bring harm and evil upon our own heads by eating of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil – God didn’t abandon us. Even though we committed idolatry, a sin portrayed in the Scripture as spiritual adultery, Even though we left the husband who loved us and gave us life and fled into the deceitful arms of another by trusting in the voice of the serpent – God continued to care for us, uphold us, sustain us and sought to redeem and save us from the consequences of our rebellion.
For our rebellion, we deserve death. For our rebellion, humanity deserved to be cut off – God had every right to divorce us and set us aside. But He doesn’t. Instead, God’s Son descends His throne – leaving His father’s presence – entering our world – to be born of a woman. And Jesus of Nazareth left both His heavenly Father as well as his earthly mother in order cleave to His wife, his bride, the Church – loving her – caring for her – serving her by bearing the punishment we deserve for our rebellion and disobedience – to redeem and rescue us.
THAT is what love does. THAT is how love behaves. Christ does not woo us to Himself. He does not buy us flowers and candies and seek to win us over so that we make a decision to return His love so that we may live happily ever after.
While we still hated and scorned and despised Him, He loved us – going to the cross to suffer the death we deserve for our sinful pride and arrogance – and our rejection of His loving care and concern for our well being.
THAT is love. Love is action that seeks the well being of the other person – even when it costs us our own life. Husbands – love your wives – even as Christ loved the Church.
Husbands are to love their wives, not in order to receive love back from them – in this fallen world, that may not happen. But husbands are to love their wives because in marriage God has united a husband to his wife in order that the husband would show in a real and tangible way how it is that God loves humanity.
And deep down, humanity has known this. This is why even in cultures where Christianity has not been influential, we still find embedded in the psyche this idea of marriage – this idea of the proper expression of a man’s love for a women is in a monogomous relationship with man the holding the role of provider and protector. Not because of some misplaced notion of male superiority. Not because of some perverse notion of patriarchal domination. But because it is this relationship that gives witness and testimony to God’s love for humanity and Christ’s love for His Church. It is a real-world witness to the protection, provision, and even salvation of Christ for His bride the Church. “A man shall leave His Father and His mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound,” and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St. Paul declares, “it refers to Christ and the church.”
Thus, Paul’s call for husbands to love their wives is not simply a call to emulate Christ in obedience, but a call for husbands to be a public witness to the love of Christ for His Church. To give testimony to the lengths our God has gone to rescue us from sin, death and hell . . . giving up his own life – his own physical well being – his own happiness – in order to love, serve and protect the one He had chosen as His bride.
And yet we in the church criticize and nit pick Christ’s love for us as an ungrateful and haughty wife would domineer her husband.
Just as God told Eve that she would desire to exult herself over the God-given headship of Adam in the family, humanity and even the Church has sought to dictate the means by which God would deal with us and demand our due as His equal.
Insisting that the means of God’s Word taught in it’s truth and purity and the means of Baptism and the Holy Supper are insufficient to create and sustain believers, the modern church has sought to be woo’d and entertained, to have their fancy tickled with eye-candy and the sweet sound of nothings whispered into our ears. This is what has given rise to all manner of havoc within the church.
We have taken the truth that all sinners are welcomed to be forgiven and changed and made new through Christ’s death and resurrection, and demanded that Christ accept me as I am, warts and all, and not change my heart or mind. Many churchbodies have abandoned their first husband who set the example of a man leaving His father and mother and being united to his wife – and have given into the deceitful lies of of one who would drawn them away from Christ and accepted that marriage can be between two men and two women. So many in the church are no different than the hypocritcal pharisees whom Jesus rebukes in our Gospel lesson. They pay lip-service to “our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” but all to often, they refuse His lordship, His headship, and even go so far as to insist that we need no saving because He should love us just the way we are.
But Christ is and always will be the head over the church. Therefore, the true church is the church which submits itself to receive His forgiveness and the salvation through the means He established. The true church listens to the Word of her Lord, and submits to it’s commands and demands, with full confidence that He is the one who truly loves her and has selflessly given all for her. The true Church of God knows that Christ has sacrificed Himself so that we would be free from sin and it’s allure and the true Christian seeks to live out that reality by remaining free from sin in our daily lives. For as a good husband, Christ Jesus loves His bride, the Church, and promises to nourish and cherish it hence forth and forever more.
And as the true church of God submits to her bridegroom, Christ. So also, in human marriage, women reflect the reality of how the true church submits to Christ through their acceptance of the proper care and love given by their husband.
And in this way, a true and proper marriage testifies to the world the reality spoken of by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and His Church.”
Now, indeed, much could be said about the reality that we are and remain sinners in a sinful world. We can’t ignore the fact that one or both spouses may may show the hardness of their sinful heart – by being a husband who does not properly love his wife – or by being a haughty and arrogant wife who does not respect her husband. These things are bound to happen in a fallen and sinful world. But these sinful, human realities, do not overturn the divine reality of marriage as God has instituted it to be.
Likewise, we could talk endlessly about the many cultural traditions regarding marriage that have been handed down through the generations – things like
divorce and remarriage, premarital sex, extra-marital affairs, not-to-mention homosexual unions and other perversions of His gift of marriage – and we could show how these things supplant the Word of God in favor of the teachings of haughty and arrogant mankind and how they proclaim a false view of God rather than serving as a witness to the true Gospel of God’s love and care for humanity.
But it seems far better to first ground ourselves in a proper understanding of God’s intention and institution that we call marriage – realizing that the profound mystery that is this one-flesh union of husband and wife proclaims to the world the very real relationship of Christ Jesus for His bride, the Holy Christian Church.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS – AMEN.
And may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and keep your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN.