Marriage Series: 2) The Power for Marriage

The Power for Marriage

Text: Ephesians 5:18-21


Don’t we just love that word submit? Particularly in our day we can’t think of anything worse than submitting ourselves to someone else. And it’s even worse for wives who according to Paul have to, ‘22 …submit to your husband as to the Lord. (Eph 5:22)’ Of course that would be easier if your husbands ‘25 …loved [you], just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Eph 5:25)’ But husbands don’t love their wives like Jesus loved us. I know I certainly don’t. To be honest if the TV is on and I have to choose between listening to my wife or the TV, I instinctively choose the TV. I don’t know why, I just do. I don’t know what it is for you other ladies, but I guarantee that there are times when you are just dumbfounded by how thick your husband is. Obviously Paul had absolutely no idea what it was like to be married to a man. In fact, Paul had no idea what it was like to be married to a woman, and yet he commands men to love their wives. Doesn’t he know how emotionally unstable women are? The point is: it is incredibly hard to love other people. In fact, it is humanly impossible to love our spouse like Jesus loves us. So why does Paul command us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, when, to put it bluntly, it’s just plain unreasonable? The answer is that not only do we need divine intervention, divine intervention is readily available for those who follow Jesus Christ. Verse 21 is the last clause of the previous sentence that describes a person filled with the Holy Spirit. A person filled with the Holy Spirit submits to others out of reverence for Christ. If you want to know how you can submit to your husband, or your wife, then there’s the answer, be filled with the Holy Spirit. In fact, Paul connects the Spirit-empowered submission of verse 21 with the specific duties of husbands and wives in the rest of chapter 5. Everything Paul says about marriage assumes that the husband and wife are filled with the Holy Spirit. Only if you have learned to serve others by the power of the Holy Spirit will you have the power to face the challenges of marriage. This morning we’re going to look at how the Spirit helps us to achieve a godly marriage.


1) The Power of the Holy Spirit

Firstly, before we look at how the Spirit gives us power for marriage, I want to look at what the Spirit’s power does in a general sense. The first place the New Testament discusses the work of the Spirit at length is in the Gospel of John. On the night before he went to the cross Jesus sits down with his disciples and devotes a considerable chunk of time talking about the Holy Spirit. We tend to think of the Spirit in terms of miraculous powers, or spiritual gifts, but Jesus primarily spoke of the Holy Spirit as ‘the Spirit of Truth’ who would remind his disciples of everything Jesus had said to them (Jn 14:17,26). According to Jesus the Spirit ‘14 …will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. (Jn 16:14)’ That phrase, ‘making known’ refers to a dramatic announcement that captures peoples attention, it’s a proclamation, or an announcement. The Spirit’s job is to reveal the meaning of Jesus’ person and work to people in such a way that the glory of it – its infinite wonder and significance – are understood by both the heart and mind. That’s why earlier in Ephesians Paul prays that, ‘17 …the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know [Jesus] better. (Eph 1:17)’ And later he writes that ‘16 …[God] may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith… 18 …[so that you may] grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. (Eph 3:16-18)’ The Holy Spirit’s ministry is to take truths about Jesus and make them clear to our minds and real to our hearts, so real that they empower and change us from the inside out. The Holy Spirit makes the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done come alive in our lives. And according to Paul the Holy Spirit does that in two ways.


2) The Holy Spirit enables submission

Firstly, the Holy Spirit enables us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Only if you have the ministry of the Spirit in your life will you be fully equipped to face the challenges of life in general. And only if you are filled with the Spirit will you have all you need to serve your spouse in particular. Like we saw last time, marriage is all about mutual submission. Whether we are husband or wife, we are not to live for ourselves but for the other.

a) The General Principle of service

Paul is actually applying to marriage a general principle about the Christian life – namely that people who understand the gospel undergo a radical change in the way they relate to other people. Paul says that followers of Christ should reflect the attitude of Christ, the attitude of humility, considering others better than themselves (Phil 2:1-8). Elsewhere, Paul says we no longer live to please ourselves, but rather, ‘2 Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself… (Rom 15:2-3a)’ In fact, Paul calls us to 13 …serve one another in love. (Gal 5:13c)’ Because of Jesus’ humble self-sacrificing service we are called to be humble self-sacrificing people. And if that is the way all believers are to serve each other, how much more intentionally and intensely should husbands and wives have this attitude towards one another? The reality is marriage is where the rubber really hits the road. You don’t just interact with your spouse you live them, and the question of whose interests are met and whose aren’t, can present itself every few minutes. And when it does you have three options: you can serve the other with joy; you can serve the other begrudgingly, with resentment; or you can selfishly insist on your own way. It’s only when both partners serve one another with joy can marriage thrive.

b) The Problem of Self-centeredness

But as we saw last time, the problem is we are by nature self-centered. Selfishness wrecks havoc in many marriages, and it is an ever present problem in every marriage. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul describes what love is and what it isn’t, and he says in verse 5, ‘5 …it is not self-seeking… (1 Cor 13:5b)’ In fact, in that passage self-centeredness is the opposite of love. Rather than being patient, self-centeredness makes us impatient, it’s all about what we want and the fact that we want it now. Self-centeredness makes us irritable, it makes us ungracious and unkind, and envious and unforgiving. Self-centeredness is a major problem. I’d like to read you a quote from the little blue book Don’t for Husbands, it says, ‘Don’t allow yourself to become selfish. It is so easy, because wives are mostly ready to give way. Watch yourself, and if you find that you always tend to appropriate the most comfortable chair, or the warmest corner, or the most interesting book, just check the habit. (Don’t for Husbands, p12).’

c) The Problem of Woundedness

It’s so easy to say just check the habit, and we’re going to look at how the Spirit helps us deal with this issue of self-centeredness in a moment, but first I want to look at another problem, the problem of woundedness. Because we are broken sinful people living in a broken and sinful world, many of us come to marriage with serious wounds in our lives. We enter into relationships with baggage. Some of that baggage can be huge, and sometimes it’s quite obvious, but sometimes it’s not so obvious and often we are completely unaware of how the hurts from our past influence how we relate with people in the present. For example, I used to relate to Alice, not based on how Alice treats me, but how I expected her to treat me because that’s how my ex treated me. When the inevitable conflicts occur our baggage, the things from our past, prevent us from doing the normal, day to day work of repentance and forgiveness and showing grace that is crucial to building a healthy marriage. The problem is that woundedness makes us selfish. You become absorbed by your own pain. Even when people point out your selfish behavior, you make excuses like, ‘well maybe I am, but you don’t understand what I went through, or what it’s like!’ There are two ways to treat this condition. In our culture if someone is self-absorbed and messed up we reason it’s because they lack self-esteem, so we tell them to look after themselves, to put themselves first, to do something that makes them feel better about themselves. That approach assumes that self-centeredness isn’t natural, but the result of mistreatment. The Christian approach, however assumes that at the very core of our human condition we are basically selfish people. Self-centeredness isn’t caused by the mistreatment by others, it’s only magnified and shaped by it. Telling wounded people to look out for number one might help them feel better about themselves, but it also will set them up for failure in marriage.

d) Confronting our Self-centeredness

So how do we confront our self-centeredness? Well that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. The Holy Spirit does four things in our lives that help us overcome our natural tendency towards self-centeredness.

i) He convicts us of our self-centeredness

Firstly, the Holy Spirit convicts us of our self-centeredness. According to Paul the effect of the gospel is striking. He writes, ‘15 …[Christ] died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Cor 5:15)’ The essence of sin, according to the Bible, is living for ourselves, rather than for God and others. Which is why Jesus can sum up the enter law, the entirety of God’s will for our lives, as being to love and live for God rather than ourselves, and to love and put the needs of others ahead our own (Mt 22:37-40). What the Spirit does is remind us that we tend to live for ourselves, but because of Jesus, because of his self-sacrificing death, we should live for ourselves no longer, but rather we should live for Jesus who died for us.

When we get married we think our spouses are wonderful, but very quickly we learn three things. Firstly, you begin to find out just how selfish they really are. Secondly, you realize they have come to same conclusion about you and begin to tell you how selfish you are. And thirdly, because we tend to minimize our self-centeredness, you conclude that your spouse’s selfishness is more of an issue than your own. Often we come to some sort of truce. We longer talk about certain things that you dislike about your spouse, as long as they stop talking to you about certain other things. And such couples can seem happily married, but their relationship has stagnated, they have settled for something less than true intimacy. The alternative is to see your own selfishness as the fundamental problem and to treat it more seriously than you do your spouses. Instead of making excuses for selfishness, you need to let the Spirit convict you of it. If both of you commit to confronting your own self-centeredness you lay the foundation for a truly great marriage. And even if only one of you commits to doing so your prospects are still pretty good. It might take some time, but the change in your attitude and behavior will begin to soften your partner. The Spirit convicts us of our self-centeredness.

ii) He reminds us of the Gospel

The second thing that the Holy Spirit does is remind us of the Gospel. The whole point of the gospel is that we are so lost and flawed, so sinful, that Jesus had to die for us, but also that we are so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for us. And because of Jesus’ selfless act of love we are fully accepted by God our Father, not because we deserve it, but because of his mercy and grace. The Spirit’s work is to remind us that we are indeed self-centered sinners, as well as the fact that we are completely and totally loved by the Father. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit, to remind us of the truth of the Gospel.

iii) He applies Christ’s love to our hearts

But more than just remind us of the gospel, the Spirit applies Christ’s love to our hearts. It’s not enough to just know the gospel, we need to live it out. We need the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with God’s love for us so that it overflows out of our lives. It’s only when we are filled with the Spirit that we can be humble and gracious with others even when you are not getting the satisfaction you want out of the relationship. If your identity and your happiness is only found in your spouse then when they fail you it doesn’t just hurt it destroys. But when your identity and your happiness is found in your relationship with Jesus Christ then when your spouse fails you , it still hurts, but it doesn’t affect your ability to continue to love them. Knowing God’s love for us in Jesus means we don’t need to earn our self-worth through incessant service. It means we don’t mind when we’re deprived of some comfort, compliment or reward. We don’t have to keep records and accounts anymore, we can freely give and freely receive. Without the help of the Spirit, without continually refilling your soul’s tank with the glory and love of Jesus, submission to the interests of the other is virtually impossible without eventually becoming resentful. Just like you can only afford to be generous if you have some money, so you can only be generous to your spouse if you have some love to give. That’s why Paul tells us to be filled with the Spirit, because it’s out of the fullness of the Spirit that we are able to see our self-centeredness, to know our value in Christ, and to love out of Christ’s love for us.

iv) He empowers us to submit to others

Finally, it’s out of the fullness of the Spirit that we can submit to others. To have a truly godly marriage requires a Spirit-created ability to serve, to take yourself out of the center and put the needs of your spouse before your own. As the Spirit reminds of us the gospel and applies it to our heart, it weakens our self-centeredness and makes us more like Jesus, more humble self-sacrificing people. In fact the deep happiness that marriage can bring, lies on the far side of sacrificial service. You only discover your own happiness when each of you puts the happiness of the other before your own. That sounds counter-intuitive. ‘If I put the happiness of my spouse ahead of my own needs – what do I get out of it?’ The answer, is happiness, the joy that comes from giving joy. I found this quote, in the little red book of Don’t for Wives, ‘Don’t expect your husband to make you happy while you are simply a passive agent. Do your best to make him happy and you will find happiness yourself. (Don’t for Wives, p12)’ The truth is we were created to worship and live for God’s glory, not our own. We were made to serve God and others. Which paradoxically means that if we try and put our own happiness ahead of obedience to God, we violate our nature and become, ultimately, miserable. Jesus puts it like this, ‘25 …whoever loses his life for me will find it. (Mt 16:25b)’ Basically, what Jesus is saying is that if you seek happiness more than you seek me, you will have neither, but if you seek to serve me more than serving your own happiness, you will have both. And Paul applies that same principle to marriage. If you seek to serve, or submit, to your spouse rather than your own happiness, you will find a new and deeper happiness. That’s what the Spirit does in our lives, he helps us confront our self-centeredness, he reminds us of the gospel, he applies Christ’s love to our hearts and he empowers us to live a life of submissive service to others. It’s only through the Holy Spirit that you can lovingly submit to your spouse over the long haul.


3) The Holy Spirit enables fear

The Second thing that the Spirit enables us to do is to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. The Greek text literally says we are to submit to one another out of fear of Christ. The word ‘fear’ is so misleading, which is why the NIV chose to translate it as reverence, but I think reverence is too weak to convey what Paul means by the word fear. So let’s do a quick word study of ‘fear’ in the Bible. The concept of ‘fearing the Lord’ is very common in the Old Testament. To ‘fear the Lord’ is seen in a very positive light. Proverbs 28:14 says, ‘14 Blessed is the man who always fears the Lord. (Prov 28:14)’ The Psalmist writes, ‘4 But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. (Ps 130:4)’ And Isaiah writes about the Messiah that, ‘3 …he will delight in the fear of the Lord. (Isa 11:3)’

Obviously to fear God doesn’t mean to be scared of God, rather fear in the Bible means to be overwhelmed by something. In a negative sense it describes being overwhelmed by terror, but in a positive sense it describes being overwhelmed by wonder at the greatness and love of God. In fact, the more we come to understand God’s greatness and his great love for us in Jesus Christ, the more we humble ourselves before him out of amazement at his glory and majesty. To fear the Lord describes our overwhelming awe at God’s greatness.

But the fear of the Lord is also intensely practical. Paul talks about how ‘14 …Christ’s love compels us… (2 Cor5:14a)’ and that’s what lies at the heart of fearing the Lord, we are compelled by him and his love for us. We are motivated by Jesus, and that’s what makes all the difference in marriage. We aren’t motivated by our desire for success, or achievement. We aren’t motivated to prove ourselves to our parents or our peers. We aren’t motivated by anger at those who have hurt us, or to fill some deep need within ourselves. Rather as followers of Christ we are motivated by Christ’s love for us. If anything else becomes a greater controlling influence then the reality of God’s love for you in Jesus then you will not be able to serve others unselfishly. Only out of the fear of the Lord Jesus are we set free to serve others. That’s what the Spirit does in our lives. Paul writes, ‘1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… 5 [This] hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Rom 5:1,5)’ The Holy Spirit applies God’s salvation to our lives. Our hope is no longer in anything else except the fact that we have peace with God, that we have been justified through faith in Christ. We come into marriage with all sorts of fears and needs, and if we look to our spouse to fill the God-sized vacuum in our hearts, we take from our spouse, rather than lovingly serve them. Until God has the proper place in your life, until you fear the Lord, your spouse will never be able to love, or respect, or support you enough. This Spirit-created unselfishness is crucial if we are going to have a god-honouring marriage. It’s this amazement at the sacrifice and love of Jesus which motivates us to love and serve our spouse and put them before ourselves.


4) Being Filled with the Holy Spirit

The question is how can we be filled with the Spirit, rather than being filled with our self? How can we grow in the fear of the Lord, so we are not controlled by other fears? Well, firstly, it is possible. Paul commands us to ‘18 …be filled with the Spirit. (Eph 5:18b)’ He wouldn’t have commanded it if it wasn’t possible. And the Psalmist says, ‘11 …I will teach you the fear of the Lord. (Ps 34:11b)’ The truth is: we open ourselves up to the Spirit when we immerse ourselves in the things of the Spirit. We grow in the fear of the Lord when we grow in our knowledge of the Lord. Basically, we need to do two things:

a) Pray to God

Firstly, we need to pray God. Jesus says, ‘13 …your Father in heaven [will] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. (Lk 11:13b)’ And Paul says, ‘17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit… so that you may know him better. (Eph 1:17)’ If you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit you need to ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit. If you want to grow in the fear of the lord, you need to ask God to give you the Spirit who will help you grow in the knowledge of God.

b) Immerse ourselves in God’s Word

Secondly, we need to immerse ourselves in God’s Word. If we want to grow in our understanding of Jesus we need to dive deeply into Jesus’ teaching and his life and what he achieved for us on the cross. And that’s more than just reading the Bible every day, it’s about talking with other Christ-followers, one on one and in small groups, it’s gathering together every week to hear God’s word preached, it’s finding every opportunity to make the Word a part of who we are and how we think. And that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of ‘letting the word of Christ dwell in you richly,’ as Paul puts it in Colossians 3:16.


It’s possible to feel madly in love with someone, and it’s just an attraction to someone who can meet your needs and address your insecurities and fears. In that kind of relationship you will demand and control instead of serve and give. The only way to avoid sacrificing your partner’s joy and freedom on the altar of your need is to turn to the ultimate lover of your soul. Jesus voluntarily sacrificed himself on the cross, he selflessly gave up his life, he submitted himself to the Father’s will, in order to serve you. And through the Holy Spirit you can know just how unworthy you are of God’s love, as well as just how much God loves you. My prayer is that you will be filled with the Holy Spirit that you can love others as Jesus loved you, that you can submit to your spouse out of wonder and thanks for what Christ has done for you. Amen.

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