Ephesians 5: Husbands and Wives

In the Orthodox service of Holy Matrimony, we read Ephesians 5:21-33 as the Epistle for the Sacrament:

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. 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, 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.

Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

The reading causes consternation for some because it seems to reflect an antiquated worldview that doesn’t coincide with our ideas of gender equality.  Additionally, by using the language of being subject one to another it raises concerns about abuse.  Some of these concerns result from our English translations of the text, some  from past experience in patriarchal cultures, and some from current societal emphases on the individual as being a more important social unit than any other including the marital union.

If we look at the entirety of Ephesians 5 , we see it is offering instruction in how Christians are to behave in daily life.  As St. Paul is unfolds his instruction he lists these things which are intended for all Christians, both male and female, to maintain in all their relationships:

1]   Speaking to each other in Psalms & hymns (vs 19)
2]   Singing from the heart
3]   Giving thanks always for all things (vs 20)
4]   Being subject to one another (vs 21)

Those four points are St. Paul’s ideal for how we Christians are to relate to any other Christian at any given time.  It is a harmonious view of relationships involving speaking in lyrical verse and singing to each other.

Being subject to one another is just one of four ways we Christians are to relate to each other, and we need to note this is for all Christians and all relationships between Christians.  St. Paul doesn’t say only women are to be subject to men, but each Christian should embrace humility and love which means considering other Christians as better than themselves (Philippians 2:2-8), and so being willing to submit to their judgments and ideas.  This is easy to do if the other is being equally submissive and not trying to lord it over you – something also forbidden Christians in how they relate to each other (Mark 10:42-45).

When St Paul mentions this 4th directive in how to relate to each other, he then seems to go into a bit of an excursus, giving an example of what he means.  We can read the text like this:

Being subject to one another – for example, wives be subject to your own husbands (vs 22)

St Paul doesn’t say at this point that all women Christians are to be subject to all men.  He gives a specific example of what he means that we all should be subject one to another.  Christian wives are subject to their own Christian husbands, he specifies each wife is to be subject to her OWN husband.  Not to all husbands in general, not to all males or men.  All St Paul is doing is giving an example of what he means.  He then goes on in vs. 25 describing  what it means for husbands to also be subject to their wives:  they are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, dying for her rather than lording over her.   Jesus did not lord it over his disciples or anyone else.  He wasn’t abusive at all, but rather laid down His life for the sake of those He loved.
Where people get into trouble with this Ephesians 5 text is when they read it only literally and fail to see that St. Paul’s mind was far from a solely, literal or legal point of view. St. Paul in this very text shows us where his mind really is:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” [Genesis 2:24].  This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church…

Paul takes the law, takes a very literal text from Genesis (2:24) about human marriage and says  this text is really a mystery about Christ and the Church.  He is interpreting Genesis 2:24 in a mystical and spiritual way.  One could easily argue with him and say, “No, it’s not, it’s just about male and female marrying each other.”  But Paul is using Christian exegesis – he is claiming what Jesus Himself claims – Moses wrote about Christ (John 5:39-46; Luke 24:27, 44-45).  Paul sees husbands and wives being subject to each other not as part of human law, but part of the mystery of Christ and how Christ loves us. Christ said we are to love one another as he loves us (John 13:34-35). St. Paul is simply saying the same thing. Paul reinterprets the literal text of the law in a very mystical way.
We also get a sense of marriage as a mystery in the Matrimony service from the Gospel we read, John 2:1-12, which is not a law about marriage, but Christ blessing a marriage – changing water into wine – it is another text about mystery, a mystical understanding of marriage. Marriage is not about law, but about blessings, abundance, grace, a miracle of abundance.  We don’t read in Matrimony a text like Mark 10-5-9 in which marriage is promulgated as a law of God joining two together and humans being forbidden to break the law.  Rather, we read about Christ’s presence at a wedding, and how that in itself created a blessing for the bridal couple, and brought about a great miracle which is the mystery of Christ’s presence in our lives.


We see in Ephesians 5 that St. Paul himself reads the text of Genesis 2:24, of  the Torah, of the Law, not literally, but mystically and spiritually.  So why do we imagine that we are to read St Paul only literally?  St Paul himself wanted us to get a mystical or spiritual meaning from the literal text.  If we hear the Ephesians 5 text only in a literal, legalistic way, we are not hearing St. Paul at all.  So rather than our feeling uncomfortable with the literal meaning of the text, we need to really read St. Paul and contemplate how marriage is related to the love that Christ has for his Church or more straightforwardly, how Christ loves us. The couple is to become an example of Christ’s love for them and for all the world.   We read Ephesians 5 at the sacrament of marriage because it tells the newly wed couple how they are to live in relationship to each other.  They are to love each other, and that means denying the self, putting the other ahead of the self, of subjecting one’s own will and desires and wishes to the good of the other.  If the language of being subject to one another hinders you from being Christ like, then find the language and the example of how to be more Christ like in your love for one another.  But there is goodness in Paul’s language, for Paul is describing how Jesus loves us – he subjected Himself to death for our sake (Philippians 2:5-11).
The Christian couple is to be a visible reality of the mystery of Christ’s love for us. Christ came and loves us – but He didn’t love us because we are perfect, sinless, flawless human beings – perfectly lovely and lovable.  He loves us despite our faults, failures, foibles. That is how a Christian couple are to love each other so that marriage is a sign of God’s love in this world. In every marriage, each spouse realizes that the other is not perfect and faultless.  That becomes exactly when each Christian spouse begins to love the other as Christ loves us.   If the spouse is perfectly lovely and lovable, then loving them is just an instinctive reaction and not a choice.  Love truly comes into play only when we realize the faults of the other and choose to love them.  That is how Christ loves us.

One other thought, not from the mystical side of love and marriage.  St. Paul’s comments are to husbands and wives (and do note literally he is not talking to all Men and Women in general but exactly to married husbands and wives).  It is true his comments are not based in a modern assumption that male and female are totally equal or identical in nature. The equality of the genders was not really part of the ancient worldview. But probably even more grating to our ears is Paul’s language that we are to be subject one to another. We do not like the image of subjugation. It rubs us wrong entirely.
Nevertheless, Paul uses it as a way to describe how we are to relate one to another because it was something well understood in his world, and it describes how Christ loves us to the point of dying for us on the cross. So, whereas he addresses being subject to one another to all Christians, men and women, as the normal way for Christians to relate to each other, he also gives specific direction to a wife that the way she will be subject to the husband is the way that the church submits to Christ. All male and female Christians are to submit themselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ. That is also the particular way a wife subjects herself to her husband.  This has nothing to do with abuse because Christ loves the church, he doesn’t abuse her, sexually, physically, emotionally, verbally or in any other way. That is why being subject to Christ can be an image of how a wife should love her husband.


As for the husband, St. Paul says FOUR times that the way in which the husband subjects himself to his wife is LOVE.  He repeats this Four times in 5 verses, we get the sense that he is being a parent – how many times do I have to tell you husbands to love your wives?  Maybe in his mind, the husbands are slow learners because he keeps repeating the instruction.  On the other hand, when Paul told the wives to be subject to their husbands he adds only one direction – respect your husband. He doesn’t repeat this instruction to the women, apparently he thought the wives learned in one lesson.
There is another lesson here about marriage. St. Paul treats men and women not as entirely equal or identical in characteristics.  We would do well to remember that marriage is often not about equality, because once spouses begin measuring the behavior of each other in equal terms, the marriage is in trouble.  Many marital counselors point out that when spouses start counting rights and wrongs and who does more for whom, that marriage is headed in a wrong direction.   You cannot be constantly measuring whether you are doing more than your spouse in everything, nor keeping a record of rights and wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).   And certainly a sign that a marriage has problems is when one or both spouses keeps a ledger accounting for everything they do and measuring it against everything the other does or fails to do. Such exact measuring is not love. Love means you keep doing what you need to do and you don’t do it just to get an equal amount in return (Luke 6:35). Hopefully in a marriage, both spouses are meeting the needs of the other, but at any one time in any marriage one spouse may have to contribute more to the marriage than the other to make the marriage succeed. Those imbalances are a normal part of love. So if St Paul gives us words that seem to indicate there is inequality in marriage, on a certain level he is correct. If you are caught up only in measuring what is fair, your marriage will not be based in love, but will become a system of debts and slavery. Instead, true love means at times giving or receiving more than one’s spouse.   We get this sense in another context where St Paul says:
I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. ” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14)   For St Paul equality isn’t a matter of people being equal in everything, but rather equality for him means in love one who has more shares with the one has less – that is what makes us equals.  He doesn’t think there is a gender equality, but he certainly believes that two people can mutually love and support each other in a complimentary fashion and this creates equality.


A final point based upon all else that has been said:  don’t forget about the Scriptures because you think they have antiquated ideas.   Indeed they were written long ago in a very different cultural milieu, and some of their assumptions are not our assumptions about life.   Nevertheless, the Scriptures still speak to us about the mystery of God’s love and we can find God’s love for us in them if we ourselves move beyond just looking to the Scriptures for laws and rules and regulations and read them as St Paul read them – to reveal the mystery of Christ to us.  We read Ephesians 5 at our service of Holy matrimony because this chapter speaks to us about the mystery of God’s relation to us and how we are to relate one to another as Christians.

Keeping Christmas: Being Bad or Good

Sermon notes 12/3/2017 – preparing for Christmas

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Focus on one idea from the Gospel lesson:  Luke 18:18-27
Jesus tells the rich ruler: “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the rich man heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich

While we tend to assume that the rich man became sorrowful because he was being asked to give up his wealth, but his grief arises immediately after Jesus tells the rich man to follow Him.

All of us who are at the Liturgy have received the invitation from Christ to follow Him.  This is for us the very meaning of Christmas, it is time for us to follow Christ.  And just like with the rich man, it is possible that the thought of following Him might cause us grief because we too might not want to have to give anything up.  Jesus said we cannot serve God and mammon/money, yet many American Christians think that we can.  We want prosperity in this world – at no spiritual cost – AND we want the Kingdom of God in the afterlife.  We imagine we can pursue all that this world has to offer now, and then, only much later in life should we think about the Kingdom of God, because we will in any case still inherit the Kingdom no matter how we lived on earth.  But the rich man in today’s Gospel realized he had to choose between the two and he wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice.

We can think about St. Paul’s comments in Ephesians 5:1-21 to get a sense of what St. Paul thought following Christ meant.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

St. Paul uses the phrase “to walk” several times in this passage.  To follow Christ is to walk with Him.  We are to walk in love, walk in light and walk in wisdom.  We are to imitate Christ who taught us:  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34-35)

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Christmas means to imitate Christ.

But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

According to historians, there were pagans in the First Century who really admired the Jews and the Christians for their morality, especially their sexual morality.  There was plenty of sexual freedom in the Roman Empire, especially for those who had money.   They could have whatever sex they could afford.  And yet, some were attracted to the restraint and purity of Jews and Christians.  Sexual freedom and license did not give the philosophers the ideal human.    Some Hellenic Philosophers called for sexual restraint as a way to a more spiritual life.  These folk were attracted to Christianity.   Sexual license did not lead to human fulfillment.   People admired the Christians because their morality was stricter than societal norms.  People didn’t say: “Look at those Christians, they sin more than we do, let’s join them.”  Rather, they looked at the Christians and noted their self restraint and willingness to sacrifice and deny the self, and they were attracted to the self denial and self giving.  They saw the Christians who were willing to die for the faith, to die in order to preserve their moral purity.  AND Christianity grew.

Kristin LIn Sigrid Undset’s wonderful trilogy, Kristin Lavransdatter (for which she won the Nobel Prize), the young Kristin leads a sheltered Christian lifestyle in rural 14th Century Norway.  As a teenager she wants to break tradition and choose her own path in life.  She is sent to a convent where, wanting to justify her own (mis-)behavior, she ceases to see the Gospel as establishing a norm of behavior and instead begins to compare herself to the sinners living around her.  She is able to justify more and more of her own misbehavior by comparing herself to others (“I’m not as bad as some…”) while ceasing to compare herself to Christ, the Virgin or the Saints.  As her standard of comparison falls, so does her own morality.   She feels ever more justified in judging others while justifying herself, losing completely any foundation for moral thinking.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (John 8:12)

St. Paul teaches us to follow Christ, means to follow a standard in moral behavior, especially sexual behavior.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them, for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.

St. Paul teaches that being a Christian means not only seeing the Light, but becoming the Light.  Jesus said to His disciples: “You are the light of the world…”  (Matthew 5:14).

St. Paul doesn’t say, “once you were in darkness…”  but rather “once you were darkness“.  Being a Christian means moving away from darkness in any and all of its forms, and moving into the Light and all its manifestations.  To follow Christ is not merely to see the Light, but to participate in it, to become the light.

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To follow Christ is a transformation from darkness to light, to live the morally pure life.

Therefore it is said, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.

Christ is going to give us light – we can receive it from Him.  First we have to awaken.  It is not the Light which awakens us, but rather once we spiritually and morally wake up, only then can we receive the Light.

The days are evil – St. Paul writes this in the 1st Century.  Believers have always felt this way about the world we are trying to navigate through.  Evil times are not something new.  The world is not becoming evil, evil has been with us since the beginning of Christianity.  But we are not to despair because of this, but rather are to make “the most of the time“!

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.

Folly is a sin.   We need to be mindful of that.

Drunkenness may be socially acceptable and popular entertainment, it may be the most common way to deal with stress or to celebrate success.  It is not approved behavior for the Christian.

Christmas means walking with Christ, which means walking in the Light, being the Light, instead of cursing the darkness.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”   (John 1:5)

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And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  (John 3:19)

I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.  (John 12:46)

Thinking About What Is True

St. Paul can write to the Philippians,

‘Whatever is true,

whatever is honorable,

whatever is just,

whatever is pure,

whatever is lovely,

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whatever is gracious,

if there is any excellence,

if there is anything worthy of praise,

think about these things’

(Phil. 4:8).

Because in thinking about these things, Paul says, our minds are on Jesus Christ. In the next chapter of the same letter he says, ‘Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light, for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true’ (Eph. 5:8-9, emphasis added).

Conversely,

anywhere there is deceit or distortion of truth;

where there is a degree of denial on however a deep a level;

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where we are dishonest- out of convenience or out of the need for power or gratification or out of misinformation or ignorance – or if we are ‘living a lie’;

there is a distance from Christ himself.”

(Peter Bouteneff, Sweeter Than Honey, p 33)

 

 

Marriage Imagery: Adam, Christ and the Church

AdamEveForest“If we turn to the second creation account, in the second chapter of Genesis, we can now see new depth in its narrative. Taken from the side of the man is the woman, who is led to the man as his bride, with these words:

For this reason shall a man leave his father and mother and join himself to his wife’ (Gen. 2:24).

Intriguingly, these words have scarcely, if ever, been practiced in human history: in most cultures, from the earliest times into modern times, it is the bride who is brought into the husband’s home and family, and bears his name.

Not surprisingly, then, this passage was taken by the Apostle Paul as referring to Christ and the Church, the Son who leaves his Father’s side in heaven to join his spouse (Eph. 5:31-2). Tertullian develops this insight, saying: ‘As Adam was a figure of Christ, Adam’s sleep provided a shadow of the death of Christ, who was to sleep a mortal slumber, that from the wound inflicted on his side might be figured the true Mother of the living, the Church.’  The Church which came from the side of the crucified Christ – pouring out as the blood and water when he pierced (cf. Jn 19:34)  – is foreshadowed by the formation of Eve from the side of Adam when he was asleep, the sleep which foreshadowed Christ’s own sleep in death.” (John Behr, Becoming Human, pp 86-87)

Marriage, Not Monasticism, is the Mystical Image of the Church

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While it is true that monastic piety and asceticism has dominated the Orthodox spiritual life for many centuries, setting standards and norms for all the faithful in terms of prayer, fasting, confession and the liturgical life, it is interesting that St. Paul the Apostle upholds marriage, not monasticism as the mystical image of the Church.   St. Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians first quotes Genesis 2:24 to which he gives it a Christological meaning.

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church…  (Ephesians 5:32-33)

Genesis 2:24 read literally in its context makes perfect sense in giving a divine meaning to the marriage of one man and one woman. A man grows up and leaves his parents home and takes a woman to be his wife in fulfillment of God’s plan for humanity.   Despite this apparently plain meaning of the text, St. Paul reads the text as having  a much more profound meaning when it is read as a prophecy fulfilled by Jesus Christ.  His comment comes almost unexpectedly as he is talking about Christian marriage and how it should reflect Christ’s own love for and authority in the Church.   The Christian husband is to love his wife in the same way that Christ loved the Church.   Here St. Paul is imbuing a Christ-like love on Christian marriage and how the husband is to reflect that self sacrificial love which Christ had for the Church. Here are St. Paul’s words and the context in which he makes his Christocentric interpretation of the Genesis text:

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. 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, 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. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.  “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.   (Ephesians 5:21-33)

In the writings of certain Patristic authors and in numerous Orthodox liturgical hymns, there is mention of the idea that just as Eve is taken from the side of Adam, so too the Church emerges from the pierced side of Christ, the new Adam, as he sleeps on the cross.  Even in the original iconographic tradition of the Church Christ is portrayed on the cross not in twisted agony, but at rest, as Adam was when God took Eve from his side.

St. Paul sees the reference to marriage in Genesis 2:24 as mystically speaking about Christ and the Church.   Christ became one flesh with humanity in the incarnation, uniting divinity to humanity.  Marriage as a divine and sanctifying institution is a mystical image of the Church.   It is an image not found in monasticism, where the ‘mono’ alone pursues what is needed for salvation.

So while many Orthodox today look to monasticism as an ideal of the Christian life, it is marriage which is the mystical image of the Church according to St. Paul.    In our marriages husbands can love their wives as Christ loved the Church.  In marriage husbands can incarnate not carnal love, but God’s love for humanity.   Marriage has that ability to transform natural human love into the image of Christ’s love for the Church.  Christian husbands can practice that self-denying love which took Christ to the cross where in co-suffering love he gave his life for the Church.   It is a mystery this divine love. Husbands in obedience to Christ, love their wives as Christ loved the Church.  Christian wives in obedience to Christ subject themselves to their husband’s Christ-like love.  Both husband and wife are thus to be be subject both to Christ and to one another (Ephesians 5:21).   St. Paul says this is a mystery, which to this day is how Orthodoxy understands true marriage.

St Gregory Palamas (d. 1359) writes:

“The love associated with the married state seems somehow superior to other forms of love.  ‘For this cause’, it says, ‘shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh’ (Matt 19:5).  “This is a great mystery’, says the divine Paul, ‘but I speak concerning Christ and the church’ (Eph 5:32).”  (THE HOMILIES, p 464)

Palamas thought the love associated with the married state is a superior form of love.  It is the love and the state that every married Orthodox ought to be striving for.