Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 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. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 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. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Idolatry and Communion
This weekend we celebrate the Lord’s Table by remembering the saving sacrifice of Christ as we eat the bread and drink of the cup together. As such, it seemed fitting to me to expound on what I said about Jesus Christ from Ephesians 5 at the very end of last week’s sermon.
One of the things clear in 1 John and the rest of the Bible is that Christians aren’t perfect. We aren’t fully sanctified yet. In this life, we still fall to unbelief and sin. The Bible speaks of this as idolatry in our hearts as we find ourselves trusting another “savior,” submitting to another “lord,” or loving another “god.” It is spiritual adultery.
By the end of the sermon last week, I felt like Paul at the end of Romans 7 when he said, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25). So at the end of the sermon last week it took one minute as I paraphrased the work of Christ from Ephesians 5. This weekend, I want to mediate a little longer on this glorious description of the work of Christ.
Focus on the Love of Christ
Let me say clearly that the point of Ephesians 5:22-33 is to call husbands and wives to reflect on Christ’s relationship with us, the church, in relationship to one another. However, my aim is not primarily to reflect on human marriage from this text. Often, when this passage is read, we focus in so quickly on how to live it that I fear we only superficially grasp the love of Christ here described. In fact, verse 32 tells me we would do well to ponder long the love of Christ for his church because his relationship with and his love for the church is the main reality and Christian marriage is the reflection.
My aim in worshipping over this text for the next few minutes is to meditate on the love of Christ for us. I hope for God to birth in you religious affections of love, satisfaction, hope, joy, and faith in him through Christ.
The love of Christ for us can be seen in six verbs describing his saving work for us. My outline is simply the six verbs that describe the love of Christ in Ephesians 5:25-29:
- Loved (v.25)
- Gave himself (v,25)
- Sanctify (v.26)
- Present (v.27)
- Nourishes (v.29)
- Cherishes (v.29)
The first verb, “loved,” describes Christ’s affection for us, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church” (v.25). That sounds odd. It’s past tense. Why is the verb describing Christ’s love in the past tense? Why isn’t it in the present tense? I believe it is in the past tense because Christ has already demonstrated his love for us most powerfully, actually, historically and with great world- and life-changing effect in an act of love that already happened. The reason we are so confident of Christ’s love for us is because he loved us—in past tense. This will get clearer in the second verb.
2. Gave Himself
The second verb, “gave himself,” also in verse 25, describes the manner in which Christ loved us, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The manner in which the love of Christ for us has been expressed is that he “gave himself up.” This giving up of himself is like saying of a fugitive that he gave himself up to the authorities.
Similarly, Christ willingly gave himself up to the soldiers who came to arrest him at the command of the religious leaders in the Garden of Gethsemane, to King Herod’s wicked reign, to Pilate’s people-pleasing judgment, to the soldiers who beat him, mocked him, spit on him and nailed him to the cross, and to death—“No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
Revelation 1:5 links the death of Christ to his love, “[Jesus] loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” And Romans 5:8 links the death of Christ to the love of God, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” So, the first two verbs we have looked at in Ephesians 5 reveal (1) that Christ loved the church and (2) the manner in which he loved us was by dying for us.
“For us”—I used to have trouble with the biblical teaching that focuses the general statements of God’s love for the world into a saving love sovereignly bestowed upon a particular people, a chosen people. It never bothered me in the Old Testament for some reason but only in the New Testament. Verses like this one here, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Does that bother you? One of the verses that helped me not only accept but rejoice in the particular love of Christ was this one.
Here is the teaching. Christ has a particular, special love for his people, his church. In that love, he died for that particular people. Likewise, Husband, love and lay down your life for your wife. Now, I have never been troubled by telling a husband to love his own wife with a particular, special love reserved only for her. If this text were twisted to somehow be equated with the biblical teaching of the general love of God for the world, it would by implication call a husband to love his wife, not with a particular love, but the general love with which he loves all wives.
The reason a husband is called to have a particular, self-sacrificing love for his wife is because Christ has a particular, self-sacrificing love for us, his bride, the church. So, don’t generalize this love of Christ. It is specific. It is personal. If you are a believer, you know what this says? It says, “Christ loved me and died for me.” Bank your life on it. If you are an unbeliever and want to be included in this particular love of Christ, what can you do? If you call on him, if you believe in him, it is evidence that you have received his particular love. Pray, “Jesus, save me.” Call on him.
The third verb, “sanctify,” describes the purpose for which Christ died for us. According to Ephesians 5:26, Christ died for the church in order “that he might sanctify her.” The word translated “sanctify” means to be rendered holy, or to be set apart from the secular and dedicated for God, to be purified from guilt. He is holy and we, apart from his sanctifying work, are unholy and sinful.
Right here you see that Jesus is not like the unmarried person today looking for the perfect mate. Jesus didn’t fill out the eHarmony questionnaire with 1,000 traits of the perfect match for him. We are sinful and are not his “perfect mate.” Yet in his great love, he loved us anyway and cleanses us from our sins.
Verse 26 continues, “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.” To be cleansed is to be made clean, to be purified morally or to be made spiritually free from sin and to be made spiritually free from guilt. I can think of this in two ways, and I believe there are biblical grounds for both.
First, Christ’s washing us with the word in regeneration, enabling us to believe, be justified and forgiven. Second, Christ’s washing us with the word in sanctification, enabling us to change and become the people God intends for us to be. This third verb reminds us that the purpose for which he gave himself was to sanctify us and cleanse us from sin.
The forth verb, “to present,” describes the purpose for which Christ sanctified and cleansed us. Verse 27, “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.”
The verb “present” literally means “stand alongside.” And in this marriage context it is not hard to grasp the imagery. The reason Christ sanctifies and cleanses us is so that we stand beside him at the wedding. In other words, he cleanses us from our spiritual adultery, our sins and unbelief, so that like a bride on her wedding day, she can stand before her groom holy and blameless.
Note the four explanatory words in verse 27. Christ will present us to himself in splendor. That means in glory, honor, high esteem, good reputation and holy. Christ will present us to himself without spot. That means without moral fault or guilt. Christ will present us to himself holy. That means set apart for Christ alone and uncontaminated by guilt. Christ will present us to himself without blemish. That means faultless, without blame and clean.
The fifth and sixth verbs are slightly different from the other four verbs. These two verbs describe the work of Christ for us stemming out of our union with him. Verses 29-30, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes [fifth verb] and cherishes [sixth verb] it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
What does that mean? As we think of married couples as united and “one flesh” in their union, so also—but even more so—we are “one flesh” with Christ. The point in verse 29 is that we don’t hate our own bodies, but we care for our own bodies. If your body is hungry, you get food. If your hand is in the fire, you pull it out to protect it. If you are threatened, you pull yourself out of harm’s way. Nobody says, “Oops! I just lost a thumb—its no big deal. I have another one.”
Here is the point. In our union with Christ, he cares for us and looks after our needs as if they were his own. The fifth verb “nourishes” means to provide what is needed for sustenance and growth. The opposite would be neglect of need, starvation and thirst. The word “nourishes” means that Jesus provides for the needs of the church, his bride. He provides for you and me.
The sixth and last verb is “cherishes.” It literally means, “to make warm.” Figuratively, it means that Christ has a tender care and special attention to our needs as if they were his own needs. So, from verbs five and six, we can say that out of our union with Christ, not only can we trust him to nourish us by providing for our needs but he does so cherishing us like newlyweds cherish one another. In other words, his care is not without affection. We can trust him to lovingly care for us.
Spiritual Adultery in the Marriage Metaphor
Last weekend, we observed that the Bible likens our sin, idolatry and unbelief to “spiritual adultery” or “spiritual prostitution” in the context of the marriage metaphor; that is not a very pretty picture. I would hate to be misunderstood. Let me clarify. When we observed that the Bible describes as spiritual adulterers, I’m not describing any one particular person; I’m describing myself and I’m describing all of us, if you have grace to see it. My point was not that that was true of one or two of us but that it is true of all of us—you and me! We have sinned against God, described here as Jesus being our husband, and we have run after other things. We have committed spiritual adultery against him.
Unless you see yourself as having committed spiritual adultery against God—this idolatry, this sin—you don’t need this savior; you don’t need this Christ. It reminds of what Jesus said to Peter the night he was betrayed. Jesus was washing his disciples feet and Peter said, “No Jesus, you don’t have to wash my feet.” And Jesus replied, “If I do not wash your feet, you have no part of me” (cf. John 13:1-20). Peter, believers, don’t say that you are not a sinner, that you have not committed spiritual adultery against Christ.
But rather, in the confession of our sin, say, “I need this Jesus! I need him who loved me and gave himself up for me in order to sanctify me. Washing me with the water of his word that I might be without blemish or spot or wrinkle but holy and blameless, as he nourishes and cherishes me as his bride. I need him.” If you’re there, receiving Jesus by faith as described him. Rest in him, trust in him.
The Bible tells me to warn people to not take these elements in an unworthy manner. And in an unworthy manner would be to say to yourself, “I’m not a sinner. I’m not bad. Plenty of people are worse than me. Don’t call me a spiritual adulterer.” If that is not you, you don’t need this Jesus. And if you don’t need this Jesus, you don’t receive him by faith. And if you don’t receive him by faith, don’t take the elements, lest you drink judgment on yourself.