“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord….Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… –Ephesians 5:22, 25 (ESV).
Love, the thing which ties together two people in what has come to known as a relationship is not inspired by obligation. In fact the death of relationships and the renewed power of the divorce, or ‘looking elsewhere’, is because we have reduced relationships to a mere ‘transaction’.
When asked why the relationship is on the rocks, the wife will say “my husband is not loving”; when asked what is wrong with the marriage, the husband replies, “my wife is not submissive”; even children face the brawl because they are not obedient to their parents. And the cycle of death continues through employees, relatives and neighbours.
This passage (Eph. 5:22-6:9) which is intended to save our relationships then becomes the very thing that kills them. To read these demands as if they are pre-conditions for a smooth relationship renders this entire passage a death sentence. Wives will not submit because the husbands are not loving, the husbands will also not love because the wives are not submitting. You can now see the problem: demands—or law—cannot inspire real heart-felt obedience.
This passage is not about “get”; it’s about “give”. The one verse on which this entire passage hangs like a piece of chicken hanging off a grill stick is Eph. 5:21: “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This is the foundation—the fertile soil in which whatever Paul is saying will grow. This verse echoes the triumphant indicative which grounds the proceeding set of imperatives.
What Paul is trying to communicate is that love in any relationship that seeks to see the light of a new day should always be inspired by gratitude, not obligation. Obligation says, “I will love my wife to the degree that she submits to me”, it also says “I will submit to my husband to the degree that he loves me.” But gratitude says: “Because Christ loved and gave Himself for me, I will love my spouse or anyone without expecting reciprocation.”
True, heartfelt love and acceptance is a “because….therefore…” affair; not an “if…then…” affair. People who expect to give love after the other party has checked off all the boxes on their checklist of demands demonstrate their failure to grasp the gospel. Because at the heart of our longing for love, there is no amount of love from a spouse, children, parent, relative or colleague that will ever fully and finally satisfy our hunger and longing to be loved.
Everyone is guilty of looking to little vanities to do for them what only Jesus can do, this includes looking for love in creepy loveless places. What can satisfy the longing for love is God’s one-way love that comes to us in Jesus. We need something bigger and brighter and infinite to satisfy this longing, and thankfully so, we do have it in Jesus. This is how C.S. Lewis put it: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” This world is too small, its answers too shallow, yet the longings we harbor seem deeper and the questions we ask too hard. The answer therefore has to come from out of this world, in a place far away—above the stars, from Someone bigger and more competent—Jesus Christ.
Christians are people who are fully aware of what they have in Jesus and then go out into the world to give, not get, because in Jesus they have all that they need. They don’t need a return on their investment because in Jesus, God had fully deposited to their account whatever they need and therefore need nothing from anyone.
People who are hell-bent on having their needs met by the other party in the relationship suck life out of it. But the glorious reality of what Christ has done breathes new life in our relationships when we go out to identify and then meet the demands of the other person.
What we need is a fresh encounter with God’s radical one-way love to make us fully aware of what we already have in Jesus, and then point us outside of us to our neighbour, or spouse to identify and meet their needs. Only the gospel will do this.
That is your Lifeline, AMEN.