As we continue in John’s gospel this morning we walk through John 6:22-49.
You Are Cleansed, Now Serve
It is easy to be misquoted. Imagine a man who brings in onions and tomatoes from the garden. He sets them in front of his wife. And he says, “these are some really good tomatoes.” And she tells him, “I know you hate my onions. But you don’t have to be so rude about it.” Later on that day his son comes home after a baseball game. He hit a home run and won the game. And when the man’s daughter finds out, she says, “You always notice what he has done. And you never notice what I do.” It is easy to be misquoted. It is easy to have what you say mis-heard and mis-understood. In these words here from Ephesians 5 there is one word that people over the ages have mis-heard and mis-understood. As I read these opening words, see if you can figure out which word that is: “22 Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, 23 for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22–24 HCSB)
What is the word that is so easily misunderstood and misquoted? The word is, “submit.” In these words the Apostle Paul tells the women to submit to their husbands as they submit to Christ. But that word, “submit” is a hard word to hear. For today it carries along with it the idea of hardship and slavery. But that’s not what the word means. For example, when you and another person get to a door, which person goes in first? We all know how this works, don’t we? If both people try to go into the door at the same time someone’s going to get hurt. So, one of the two, defers and yields to the other person. The person who is yielding is no better or worse than the person going in first. And the person going in is no better or worse than the person holding the door. That’s the picture that we have in this word translated as “submit.” It carries with it the idea of someone who is equal in status with someone else who submits to someone else.
And so, in these words Jesus urges wives to submit to their husbands—who as equal people in status with them, they yield to them and let them lead. And here, ladies, is where you find sin out there in the world and in your own lives. It is a sin when women take that leadership role in the home. When this happens, it isn’t too difficult to see how quickly the situation can go bad.
Years ago there was a massive workshop held to teach men to be men and women to be women. And there were married couples who went to it. And in the women’s section they were all gathered in small groups. And one after another, the women complained that their men didn’t act like men. They were weak, wishy-washy and wimpy. And as this went on, there was a Christian lady who spoke up. She said, “Women, what you wanted, you got. You did not want to marry a leader. Instead, you wanted a wimpy, wishy-washy person that you could tell your feelings to, dress and accessorize. You wanted all these things. But what you didn’t want was a man. And now that you have what you wanted you complain about it.” Ladies, do you see the point she was making? God has given that role of leading in the family to your husband. And so very often what I see as a pastor is women who both complain that their husbands are the ones who lead and then they complain in the next breath that their husbands aren’t leading.
That, my sisters in Christ, is a sin. Jesus says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” And with that is the invitation for you to look at what Jesus did for you. Paul tells us: “25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. 27 He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25–27 HCSB)
My sisters in Christ, look at what Jesus did for you. He gave himself up. And we know what that looked like, don’t we? Even though he never committed any sin, he was condemned for your sins of selfishness and rebellion. He died on the cross, paying for your sin. But his love for you was deep and far-reaching. He didn’t just pay for your sins. He also cleansed you of your sins in the waters of baptism. And that’s a beautiful picture if you think about it. Picture a bride on her wedding day. She has this beautiful white dress. Then the ring-bearer who somehow managed to get raspberry jam all over his hands smears the jam all over the bottom of the dress. And, as much as the bride, the maid of honor and the bride’s maids try, they can’t get the stain out. Ladies, you cannot get the stain of your own sin out. It sticks to you like a disease. But that’s what Jesus did in those waters of baptism. He washed you. He cleansed you. But he cleansed you not so that you could get your dress dirty again. He cleansed you not so that you could return again to your sin. He gives you this role to fill: submit to your husbands out of love for your Lord.
It is easy to be misquoted, isn’t it? The word, “submit” can be misquoted. But there is another word that can be misquoted too, isn’t there? And we just read it. The word is “love.” God’s word tells husbands to love their wives. And this word in our modern context is so often misunderstood and misquoted. When people say, “I love you” what they mean is “I have strong emotions toward you.” And that’s a part of love. But that’s not what the word means. The word here describes a self-sacrificing love that does what is best for the other person. It’s the sort of love that a mom has for her newborn child. The child just takes and takes. She loses energy, sleep and all sense of time. And there will be times that she may not even like that child because it is so needy. But she loves that child. And so she takes action and does what it best for her child.
Men, that’s what God calls on you to do for your wives: Show a self-sacrificing love that does what is best for her. And here, brothers, is where we see our sin. On the one hand, we can so easily do everything against our wives. We can give in to the sin of tyranny. In our homes in a very selfish and loveless way we can say, “My way or the highway.” We can lead in such a way that we make it clear that the world revolves around us. But there is the opposite sin and temptation too. If we can do everything bad against our women that God has given us, we can also do nothing good. And so, instead of tyranny we can just be lazy. You can become that guy who comes home from his 9-5 job and then does nothing to help your wife out with her 24-7 job. You don’t show Christian leadership. You don’t show true Christian love. Instead, the one trait and attitude you show is laziness.
Brothers, I urge you to repent of your sins of tyranny and laziness along with me and return to the very same words I shared with the ladies. Return to your baptism. I wear this white robe every Sunday. It’s called an “alb.” The name, “alb” is taken from the latin, “alba.” The word means, “white.” The robe I wear is a reminder of purity and holiness. But this robe gets dirty. Over the years as I distribute the Lord’s Supper wine has splashed and spilled on it. And if you look close enough you will see that despite how much I have tried to get those spots out, I can’t get the job done. It’s the same with our sin. You cannot take away the times you have been a tyrant. I cannot take away the times I have been lazy. But Jesus can and did. He paid for that sin on the cross and died for it. And then he cleansed us of our sins of tyranny and laziness in those waters of baptism. I may not be able to get this robe clean. But Jesus has and will continue to scrub my soul clean in those waters of baptism.
And brothers, with that fact is also an invitation. You are cleansed; now serve. And just as the Lord calls on women to submit, so also the Lord calls on you to show that self-sacrificing love that Jesus showed for his bride, the church. And What does that look like? Paul continues in his words: “28 In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 since we are members of His body. 31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:28–31 HCSB)
There’s a very clever and beautiful comparison Paul is making here. He tells us that since we love our flesh and blood, what do we do for it? We provide for it and take care of it. Then he says, “look what happened when you were married: Two fleshes became one. And now you are one flesh.” And so, if you show true Christian love for your wife, who are you caring for? You are caring for your own flesh since the two are one.
And so, husbands and wives, you are cleansed. Now serve. Wives submit to your husbands. Husbands love your wives. Amen.