2008-05-04am Ephesians 5:22-33 Because He First Loved Us …
This is such a key passage that we can’t possibly do it justice in one sermon. I’ve broken it up into two parts.
Today’s sermon, the first part, builds on the foundation laid a couple of weeks ago when we looked at verse 21.
Today, we’re going to look at the mystery aspect of this passage, what this passage is telling us about our relationship with God through Christ. That is what will then inform us, prepare us for the second sermon, how husbands and wives, then parents and children, then workers and employers are to relate to each other.
Now, make no mistake, Paul is clearly using marriage as an illustration, an analogy, if you will, of the mysterious, intimate relationship Christians have with Christ. Jesus himself used this imagery. He described the church as his bride. After all, in telling the parable of the wedding banquet, He was describing His relationship with the church.
But we have to ask ourselves, what came first, the marriage relationship or the relationship between Christ and Christians? Which relationship sets the pattern?
It is clear that the individual Christian’s relationship with Christ is the pattern on which a marriage relationship is based on.
But oftentimes we look at it the other way around. We say that the Christian relationship to Christ is like a marriage. But the problem then is that if a marriage is not perfect, then the relationship with Christ will not be perfect either. If marriage sets the standard for our relationship with Christ, it will be lacking, because of the shortcomings in marriage. Now, we’ve all witnessed excellent marriages. But even though they might be great examples, they still are less than what the church’s relationship is with Christ.
No, it is from our relationship with Christ that we learn how to have relationships as husband and wife.
So what is our relationship to Christ like?
Well, it is like marriage. It is not marriage. But it is like a marriage, this is a mystery, it’s a helpful analogy, true, but like all analogies, it falls apart if you push it to extreme levels. So, we’re going to highlight some parallels today between marriage relationships and our relationship with Christ.
First, how do relationships progress to marriage?
Usually, one person sees something in another person that is admirable, attractive, and approaches him or her. Then a relationship starts. With us, Christ approached us first. We’re like the prom queen, who thinks she’s all that, who doesn’t give a second glance to the ugliest guy in the class.
To us, before conversion, Jesus Christ appears ugly. It says in Isaiah, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him’ (Isaiah 53:2). So, until Christ came to us, we completely disregarded Him. If you wonder why the world rejects Christ, it is because the world is unable to see Jesus the way we see Jesus, the way He really is.
Now, when Jesus came to us, we were not the beautiful, handsome people we thought we were. We were like the really, really bad singers during the audition stage of American Idol. You know, the ones who were absolutely horrid, who were told in no uncertain terms that they had no talent. Some of those people left saying that the judges were totally wrong, they didn’t know what they were thinking, and they couldn’t see real talent when it was right in front of them.
Our attitudes, the attitudes of most people in the world, are like that. We think we’re good enough. Most people, if you say to them, “Hey, suppose for a minute that we’re right and there is going to be a judgement, what are you going to say to God?” Most people will say, “I’m a pretty good guy. God will take me. I’m good enough, I might not be an American idol, but I’m better than those murderers and rapists.”
Now, it says in Romans 3, that no one is righteous, not even one. So, no one is good enough to escape eternal death, not even one. Unless we receive righteousness, we’re already condemned. In order to receive everlasting life, in order to pass God’s judgement, we need perfect righteousness.
Now, we strongly affirm the doctrine of total depravity. Total depravity simply states what is said in Romans 3. No one, apart from Christ, is perfectly righteous, no one has the righteousness to pass God’s judgement.
But so often, when we think of total depravity, we lump in with it total worthlessness, or maybe that’s just me. Total depravity does not mean we are totally worthless!
Make no mistake, we’re created in God’s image in the first place! We have value to God, He created us! But as to our righteousness, as to living up to God’s justice, we were nothing more than rebels, enemies of God. But Jesus saw the value underneath our rebellion. Jesus came to us and began the relationship with us. He opened our eyes in three ways, first He showed us who we really were apart from Him, His enemies, who we are in Him, His bride, and who He is our saviour, our groom.
So, having initiated the relationship with us, we respond.
Did you catch that? Christ initiates the relationship with us. I don’t know what you’re experiences are like. But you can go to church all your life and not realise what Christ has done for you. You could hear sermon after sermon, hear the same thing over and over again, and not realise the truth of what is being said. Then, suddenly, one day, you’re heart responds. It sinks into your mind. Your eyes are opened! You can really see Christ! You look around you, and you realise that this is a personal experience. The people are behaving just as they always do. You want to shout out the good news! You know Jesus; you want to ask the others why they haven’t seen what you’ve seen. You want to ask Jesus why you haven’t really seen Him before!
But Jesus moves on his own time. Jesus tugs at our hearts! The Holy Spirit works, he moves, he causes us to respond.
Why? Because Jesus is the head of the church. The church is his body, he’s the Saviour! Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for her.
That’s total love. Jesus completely disregarded himself in order to give himself up, in order to save us, the church, His body!
Why did he do this? He did it to make the church holy, to set her apart. He died in order to make a pure, holy, righteous bride for himself.
As long as sin separated us from God, as long as we were enemies, as long as we rebelled against God, we could not be Christ’s bride.
We see this very same thing demonstrated for us in Hosea’s life. God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute. She, by her actions, did not appreciate the constraints of being married to Hosea. No, Gomer, for that was her name, left him, turned away from his love, slept with other men, had children with them, and spurned her husband’s love.
But what did Hosea do then? Did he file for divorce? Did he turn his back on her? Did he appeal to the Jewish laws that would have allowed him to righteously get rid of her? He could have had her stoned to death; after all, she’s the adulterer.
But no, Hosea followed God and remained faithful to his unfaithful wife. Eventually Hosea went out, found his wife, paid for her release, paid for her restoration, bought back his bride, and restored their relationship. Because of Hosea’s love and faithfulness, she became faithful also.
Through Hosea and Gomer, God disciplined Israel. He was telling them, bluntly, that Israel had abandoned her husband, God the Father. But God also demonstrated His love, for He was also demonstrating, through Hosea, His faithfulness. Even though they were unfaithful, God’s faithfulness was good enough for both of them.
Now, in Christ, God uses the same analogy. Christ loves us, He died for us. He has turned us back to Him, and He is the one who is making us pure and holy, without spot or blemish. He gives us His righteousness. The two become one. Christ’s righteousness becomes ours.
Christ cleanses us through the water of baptism, and through the preaching of the Word. Just as Hosea had to pay in order to get Homer back, Christ had to pay with his life, in order to return us to Him!
But being back is only the first part. Being saved, being united with Christ is the first part. The relationship grows, we become more pure in this life! We’re baptised, we’re taught God’s Word.
You see, when we hear God’s Word preached, when we read the Bible at church and at home, we learn more about God and his amazing love for us!
The ongoing work of Christ in our lives is called sanctification. Jesus having cleansed, us forgiven us, restored us, knows that we still struggle. Like Gomer, we still have desires for things other than God.
But once we’ve met Christ, once we’ve encountered Him, I mean truly encountered Him, then our desires will be more and more for God. As John Piper says, “God is most glorified when we find our greatest satisfaction in him.”
What this means then is we find our greatest joy, our greatest satisfaction in life when we submit to Christ! Christ is the head of the church. It isn’t the pastor, it isn’t the elders, it isn’t the deacons, it is Christ. We submit to Christ, in the same way that the body submits to, or is under the head.
The head controls the body. The brain is here. The will is here. The body has to do what the mind tells it to do.
That’s the same with us. With Christ as our head, we have to do what Christ wants us to do!
Now, Jesus loves us. He really does. Of course He loves us, He died for us, He died for me, and He died for you.
Do you really think that after going through all that suffering and pain, Jesus would call us to do something that would make us despair?
Jesus, who deprived himself of all things, who left heaven in order to come to earth, in order to wash us and purify us, in order to present us to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, holy and blameless, that same Jesus has what’s best in mind for us.
Jesus wants us to live up to our full potential, our full potential in Him, with His Holy Spirit living inside us. Jesus loves us so that we can love. Jesus wants us to be a faithful church, obedient, submissive.
But don’t be confused. Submission isn’t weak. Submission isn’t being used and abused. Submission is loving and being loved.
What we do when we submit is this; we recognise God’s love for us in Christ. We see that love, feel that love, and we respond to it.
We respond by coming under it, submission: sub meaning under and mission meaning to go forth. So, really, in submission, we do precisely what which Christ expects us to do. We do it because we want to do it. We desire to love God, to serve Him, to live for Him. He becomes our hearts desire.
By a show of hands, who takes out the garbage? If you both do it, raise your hands. Who likes taking out the garbage, doing the dishes, changing diapers, working long hours? Who wouldn’t rather simply be on vacation? Who wouldn’t want servants to do everything for them?
But we don’t sit around waiting for someone else to do those things at home, do we? We do them because we love our families; we do them because we want to take care of one another!
That’s what God created us to do! He created us to be in submission to Him, and to be in submission to one another. Jesus summarised the Law in the essence of this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbour as yourself.
So here’s the scoop. We know Christ. We confess Christ. We can only do that by the Holy Spirit. But isn’t there more to it than that? If good deeds don’t get us into heaven, why do them?
We do them because of our love for God in Christ. We do them because God first loved us. Doing things, going to church, helping others, telling people about Jesus, the true Jesus, not the pop culture Jesus, all those things are expressions of love for God.
Let’s take going to church as an example. For some people, going to church is the greatest use of their time, ever. For others, going to church is about as fun as taking out the garbage. For some it is a total joy. For others, it is long, boring and stuffy. Okay, maybe it’s total joy for me, and like taking out the garbage for the rest of you.
But don’t you see? We do church, forgiveness, put up, and be patient with people out of, as an expression of, our love for God in Christ! In doing these acts of love, we reflect, we return God’s love to Him, and His name is praised. Are there people here for the wrong reasons? You bet. But you know what’s great? Only God knows our hearts!
So, let us also show love, just as we do in relationships, by giving the benefit of the doubt. Let us, as the author of Hebrews calls us, keep on meeting together, and when we meet, let us encourage one another! God loves you! He’s called you! He has a plan for you! Believe it! Live it! Love Him, because you can! Through Him in you! Amen.