What is the Meaning of Ephesians 5.21

“Submitting to One Another in the Fear of Christ” An Evidence of the Filling of the Holy Spirit

Eph. 5:21-24

INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Ephesians 5.21

Ephesians 5. A handout is coming; get to it in the last 41.09% of the message. We will begin a sub-series this morning on the family.

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The biblical family has long been under attack. Philosophies and ideologies attack the biblical roles of those in the family. Government agencies and various groups push for the normalization of homosexuality. Even the Vatican this week began drafting a paper that said at one point… “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community.” And the Vatican’s paper used to say that same sex couples offer “precious support” to each other. This is a work in progress, and they did release this wording, but they revised it Saturday. They took out those parts and it now says instead “…men and women with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and delicacy.”

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Add that to the lesbian mayor of Houston, Texas demanding the sermons and even text messages of certain pastors in Houston, if they are related to the city’s pro-homosexual ordinance.  And this past week Alaska, Arizona, and Wyoming were added to the majority of states who have legalized gay marriage, along with Canada and 14 other countries in the world, and parts of Mexico and the United Kingdom.

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The biblical family is under attack! TV and books depict parents as not with it and the dads in those shows and books are especially viewed as idiots. Abortion and euthanasia has brought even literal murder into the home. Home schooling is viewed as increasingly negative. Some tax laws, at least in the US, can penalize marriage and government welfare rewards childbirth outside of marriage.  

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Not to mention that divorce is so rampant. Though there are many fallacies in determining the divorce rate, there will always be too many. Although they say now the divorce rate is decreasing, there is a reason for that and it’s not morally impressive. Either couples are waiting too long to get married or they decide to cohabitate instead, skipping marriage altogether. So no matter how you spin it, the biblical family is under attack.

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So what’s the solution? It’s not more government regulations or having the right political party in power … it’s the salvation of lost people and discipling them. One of the areas in which saved people need discipling is the family. And that’s why we are going to spend at least the next few weeks discussing the family from Ephesians 5.

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So we’re in Ephesians chapter 5. Let’s read Ephesians 5:15-33 15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

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From verse 18, the apostle Paul exhorts us to be filled by the Holy Spirit. We must be filled by the Holy Spirit and Paul writes in Colossians 3:16 that we are to be willed with the word of Christ. In Ephesians 5 here, he gives five evidences for being filled by the Holy Spirit. You remember the first three dealt with music and then in verse 20, the fourth one concerned thankfulness.

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And now the fifth and final evidence for being filled by the Holy Spirit is found in Ephesians 5:21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

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So being subject to one another is the final evidence for being filled by the Holy Spirit.

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Explanation of 5:21

Definition

First, what is the definition of that word in verse 21 “be subject?” The feminist movement today doesn’t appreciate this word. Even at weddings, pastors are asked not to mention it!

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The word literally means “to order oneself under a leader.” In the context, the obligation for submitting or subjecting oneself is not given to the authority, but to the one who is to do the submitting. In other words, this is a cooperation. This is not a heavy-handed husband or father or employer who demands a certain response. No, the obligation is not to the authority to receive the submitting. The obligation is to the one who is to submit. He or she is to act willfully and with desire to do so. So that fact relieves the husband, father, or employer from the obligation to command submission. The focus is on the willful desire of the one submitting.

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Now, remember, this is an evidence of being filled by the Holy Spirit. The fifth evidence of being filled by the Holy Spirit is this: being subject. You’ll know a Christian wife, child, or employee who is filled by the Holy Spirit when they are submitting themselves to their proper authority.

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So it is an evidence of Spirit filling.

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TRANS: And our submitting to one another should be done in the fear of Christ. In other words, this is not to be taken lightly. God is at work here. He is at work, desiring to fill you by the Holy Spirit. And when he does that there will be a submitting to proper authorities. And you are to submit in the fear of Christ.

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In the fear of Christ

The common word for fear here can have a different nuance, depending on the context. As you can see, Christ is the one who is to be feared. What does that mean? I like to describe the fear of the Lord or, as here, the fear of Christ, as reverence for His character and afraid of disobedience.

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It is a respect for his character and being afraid of disobeying him. That’s why in Romans 3:18, Paul can say that sinful people increase in their sin …why? … because of a lack of this … because of a lack of the fear of God. Similarly, in 2 Corinthians 7:1, we are encouraged to perfect holiness in the fear of God. In 2 Corinthians 5:11, we are told that the fear of the Lord should motivate us in light of us appearing before the judgment seat of Christ. The fear of Christ motivates our righteous living.

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So, there is true fear in this word. We need to be careful to reverence and respect his great holiness as well as be afraid of disobeying him.

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TRANS: And this leads us to the relationships in the following verses.

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A Hinge verse

There are three sets of relationships in the passage that we read: the wife and the husband, the children and the parents, and slaves and masters. And so with each one of these relationships, we can see evidence if someone is filled by the Holy Spirit with the word of Christ and we will know if somebody lives in the fear of Christ.

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A Spirit-filled wife who lives in the fear of Christ will come underneath her husband’s leadership. You know she fears Christ when, no matter what, she respects her husband.

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Now the husband’s response to this is not necessarily called submission, per se. But his response to the filling of the Holy Spirit and his response to the fear of Christ will be one of loving his wife as Christ has loved the church. A Spirit-filled husband who lives in the fear of Christ will love his wife as Christ loved the church.

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The same way with children and parents in chapter 6. If children are filled by the Holy Spirit and are living in the fear of Christ, they will obey their parents in the Lord. And if fathers are filled by the Holy Spirit and if they are living in the fear of Christ they won’t submit like the children do, but their response will be not to provoke their children to anger but to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

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And it works the same way with slaves and masters. And we will apply this to employers and employees. But slaves or employees submit in the sense that they are obedient to their employers. And masters or employers are to be careful to love their employee as themselves, not to threaten, all the while understanding that they have a master in heaven as well.

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So we are to be careful to submit ourselves to one another in the fear of Christ. And there are three groups of people mentioned who are called upon to come underneath the leadership of another. A godly wife is called upon to come underneath the leadership of her husband. Children are called upon to come underneath the leadership of the parents. And slaves are called upon to come underneath the leadership of their masters.

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And with each of those commands there will be a little motivation for help. The motivation for the wife in 5:22 is to come underneath her husband’s leadership as to the Lord and as well to understand, verse 23, that the husband is the head of the wife. That’s her motivation, what she understands.

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For the children, they are to obey their parents for this is right…. Because it’s the “first commandment with a promise that you may live long on the earth.” How’s that for a motivation?

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And for slaves, they are encouraged in their obedience to their earthly masters, as Paul appeals to them to be obedient to those masters as they would to Christ as slaves of Christ, doing this as to the Lord, because of rewards given for whatever good thing each one does.

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So we have a command and a motivation.

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TRANS: But the first one brings us into the marriage relationship: the relationship between the husband and the wife.

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And as we read this this morning, you noticed the illustration Paul used throughout those verses, didn’t you? Paul compared the relationship between a husband and a wife to the relationship between Christ and his church.

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So in a Christian marriage where there is a saved husband and a saved wife, Paul is teaching that husband and wife what a God-honoring marriage looks like. Where there is a saved husband who is filled by the Holy Spirit who is living in the fear of Christ…. That husband will display characteristics towards his wife that look like Jesus.

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Similarly with the wife. In a marriage where there is a saved wife, if that wife is controlled by the Holy Spirit living in the fear of Christ that wife will display characteristics toward her husband that looks like the universal church.

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Someone could look at that marriage and say, “You know what, that looks like how Jesus and the church respond to each other.”

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And I find it interesting, if not instructive, when I look at the amount of literary space given to each one of these relationships. In other words, how much ink is spilled for each of these relationships? The least amount of English words in our NASB is given to masters, 29 English words. Children are next, with 41 words. Wives, you get 57 words. Slaves received 79 words. And husbands and fathers top out the list with a whopping 198 words! That’s nearly as many as the rest of them put together.

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And some of you husbands are fathers and employers and so you’ve got 227 words out of 404 total words! That’s 56.19 percent of all the words! And mothers, you are off the hook. You’re only mention is that children are to obey you along with your husband.

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So men if the amount of space is indicative of something in reality, you have the most amount of leadership and therefore, the most responsibility. If your wife is struggling in the areas that we will speak about, it is your responsibility to lovingly lead her through that and help her. And, if your children are struggling or if your wife is struggling to parent the kids, it is your responsibility to lovingly lead them to a biblical practice.

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So let me remind you that to be subject or to submit means to willingly come underneath an authority’s leadership. And remember that this is evidence of being filled by the Holy Spirit and living in the fear of Christ. A wife or a child or an employee who willfully comes underneath the leadership of their God-given authority is filled by the Holy Spirit and is living in the fear of Christ.

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And so the converse is true. Where there is a wife who fails to come underneath the leadership her husband or a husband who fails to lovingly lead his wife, there is no control of the Holy Spirit and there is a failure to live in the fear of Christ. When children willfully disobey their parents and where fathers provoke their children to anger or fail to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, there is no control of the Holy Spirit and there is a failure to live in the fear of Christ. The same it is with slaves and masters.

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So this is not to be taken lightly. Fear Christ!

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Fear Christ

As that hymn goes …. As if singing the words of Christ, ….He could say to us ….

“I gave my life for thee, my precious blood shed

that thou might’st ransom to be and quickened from the dead

I gave, I gave My life for thee, what hast thou given for me?”

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If we have the fear of Christ residing deep in our hearts and we have a great reverence for who he is and we have praised him for his glorious character and made it a habit in our life as we have discussed … to hallow His name … to set apart who he is as holy as we praise him for who he is …. As we do that, the Lord will teach us more of who he is and we will have a deeper reverence for his character.

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If we understand the person of Christ… And the sacrifice of his very person for our sinful selves … And if we come to understand that we will appear before his judgment seat because he said that the father had given to the son all judgment… If we understand who he is and the sacrifice that he has made for our eternal life and that we will give an account of our life …. Okay, wives … do you understand this? …. Come underneath the leadership of your husband… Husbands … do you really fear Christ? Where are you? Are you loving your wife as Christ loved the church? Children…. Knowing of the sacrifice of Christ and knowing the fear of the Lord, will you disobey your parents?

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When there is disrespect for a husband or a lack of love for a wife or disobedience to parents or employers … Shall we not rebuke each other and say, “do you have no fear of God?” We’re not talking about reverence for your parents or your spouse, the passage says fear…fear of Christ!

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Especially since we understand that the Christ, left His Father’s house of light and the glory-circled throne and he left it all for earthly night to be sad, and alone, despised and rejected, for us! Surely, knowing the fear of the Lord, you shall choose to come underneath the leadership of your authority. And you who are in authority shall you not respect your authority, your authority in heaven?

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The sufferings, O wife, of this present time shall not be compared to the glory that shall be revealed to you ….I hope you don’t feel it that way!

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And children, it’s not that bad…. If only you knew the glories of the sacrifice of obedience … as to the Lord! To let go of all … of all those things your parents don’t like for the sake of obedience to your Master …that brings great delight, if you would but ask the Lord for that.

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TRANS: So I appeal to you … To consider Christ this morning. I appeal to you to consider Christ in your marriage. I appeal to you to reverence Christ and to be afraid of disobeying him as it relates to your marriage or to your parents or children, or in the workplace.

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If we are properly empowered by the Holy Spirit that he might control us … and control us with glorious message of redemption in Christ Jesus that we have… If we are controlled in this way and if we live in the fear of Christ… These things that we discuss these coming weeks will become a delight.

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And you will say in your heart, “Oh, anything for my Lord! … Anything for him who has rescued me from the domain of darkness has transferred me into the kingdom of his dear son…. Anything for him who gives the sweetness of his presence …. Anything for him who died for me…. Anything for him who died for me … no sacrifice could be too great.

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TRANS: So as we start these series of messages on the family, let us be careful to fear Christ and be filled by the Holy Spirit and filled up with the word of Christ, his message of redemption.

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And what I plan to do is to spend some extra time in these verses and other verses. We’re not going to rush through this.

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But to understand the family, we need to understand how God begins a family. To understand what a husband is and what a wife is, we first need to understand what a marriage is. In other words, how did they become husband and wife? What exactly is this relationship that they are him?

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And some of you may remember that on a family night, we asked the question, “what is a marriage?” And for the sake of recording this for future counseling purposes, I’d like to go over this sheet again. What we said was that marriage is a God-instituted, one-flesh union between one man and one woman made by a covenant until death.

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If a married couple fails to understand what a marriage even is, what would you say the likelihood of that marriage struggling is? Very. So …

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First, Marriage is a God-instituted one-flesh union

Let’s turn back to Genesis chapter 2:18. Here, we have the foundation for marriage, all the way back to the beginning of creation. And you remember that God formed Adam from the dust of the ground. And then the Lord says what he does in verse 18 Genesis 2:18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”

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I like what the New English Translation does with this verse …see if you can catch the difference… “The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”

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The difference is, of course, instead of helper, we have companion. A companion who corresponds to him, is the wording. Our version reads that the helper is suitable for him. And the reason for translating this “a companion for him who corresponds to him” is to convey the nuance of the Hebrew word for “companion” or “helper.” The English word “helper” carries the idea of someone who is in a subordinate role. However the Hebrew word underlying that word “helper” is also used to refer to God. God is described as our helper … Psalm 54:4 Behold, God is my helper;

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And that word helper is the same word in Genesis 2:18 translated helper in our Bibles. And so this word can carry a different nuance in different contexts. So here it may carry that idea of a “companion” or an “indispensable companion.”

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And this indispensable companion corresponds to him. In other words, physically, emotionally, spiritually …. There is a correspondence, or an opposite counterpart.

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The way a husband is physically emotionally and spiritually, his counterpart is found in his wife. In other words, if the husband has something lacking, the wife, by God’s design, makes up for that. She is his indispensable companion. She is an indispensable companion who completes him. And this is God’s design. There is physical, emotional, and spiritual companionship. There is a completing aspect to marriage.

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There is the physical side. There is the emotional side … The emotional connection of true friendship and encouragement and strengthening. There is the spiritual companionship and fellowship over godly things.

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So this all carries with it our understanding of a one-flesh union. Let’s read on in Genesis 2:19-24 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.[or a companion who corresponds to him] 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” 24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

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So when Adam says in verse 23 that the woman is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, she is literally that…. Because she was literally taken from him. And Adam names her woman because she was taken out of man. In every woman, there is a ‘wo’ and a ‘man’ a ‘woman’! So, because of this wording, you could understand “woman” as “taken from man.” I think in the Hebrew, it is also instructive, “she shall be called Ishsha …that’s woman … because she was taken out of Ish.

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And then in verse 24 is our major point Genesis 2:24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

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So what we have here is God making an indispensable companion for man to be his physical, emotional, spiritual counterpart. She is one who corresponds to him, completing him where he is incomplete. So God made the woman from man and then gave the woman back to the man…. And so now they are “one flesh.” And God doing that literally in Adam and Eve is helpful for us because God sees it as a one flesh union today as well, as we will see. In this historical picture, as we study Adam and Eve and how God made them, we understand how closely knit a husband and a wife are to be. It is a one flesh union.

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This verse is not only true in the book of Genesis, but it’s also in Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7-8, and Ephesians 5:31. So it occurs before and after the fall and in the Old and New Testaments. This is true for as long as God continues the institution of marriage.

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So we can see then, this principle that marriage is God-instituted. Genesis 2:22 says that God made the woman and that He himself brought her to the man. God instituted marriage. It is His institution. And so it is impossible for man to change it.[1]

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It is a one flesh union. It is a unity from two. It is a unity of the entire person, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And it is this way for companionship and completing.

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Application

Just a note of application here. It is within the union of two sinners where conflict happens. And if the husband and the wife fail to understand that God has designed their marriage for the purpose of not only companionship, but also of completing … If a married couple fails to understand that God has designed their marriage to complete them as individuals, the man will become angry and the woman will feel quite hopeless. In other words, why did God give me the wife that he did? Because I am in need of the way she completes me. She completes me emotionally and spiritually, physically. And if I am lacking in a particular area and she can supply something in that area, I can either receives God’s design and receive His completing of me through my wife, or I could make it a cause for distress in our marriage.

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That’s why, on another family night, we went over that handout “Conflicts when Completing.” And we will go over that handout in this series as well.

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TRANS: So marriage is a God-instituted one-flesh union. And just to fill out the definition of marriage, marriage is only between one man and one woman.

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Marriage is only between one man and one woman

This is the way it was since the beginning, as we read it already Genesis 2:23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.”

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Ish and Ishsha … man and woman together in union. That is true in the Old Testament. And it is reaffirmed by Jesus in the New Testament Mark 10:6-8 6 “But from the beginning of creation, God MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE. 7 “FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, 8 AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.

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Marriage has been and always will be between one man and one woman, no matter what man does to God’s definition of marriage. God does not bring together in marriage anyone except one man and one woman.

For any other institution, whether it be an actual church or a government … for them to redefine marriage is a perversion of God’s purposes for man. Same-sex marriage is not true marriage in God’s sight.

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TRANS: So, marriage is a God-instituted one-flesh union between one man and one woman. And now thirdly, marriage is established by a covenant.

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Marriage is establish by a covenant

In Malachi 2:13-14, the Lord is condemning hypocritical worship. And it is hypocritical in this passage because men are going to the Temple and presenting their offerings and the Lord pictures them as covering the altar of the Lord with tears and with weeping and groaning because the Lord no longer has regard to their offering nor does he accept it from their hand.

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And they want to know why! And the Lord tells them it is because that He Himself has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth. In this case, the husband was unfaithful to his wife though she is …. And here it is …though she is “his companion and wife by covenant.” And so marriage is instituted by a covenant. This gives us the idea of marriage vows.

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And so a marriage covenant, or wedding vows, is a contract of faithfulness between a husband and wife. Marriage is established by a covenant.

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Marriage is a God-instituted, one-flesh union between one man and one woman made by a covenant… until death.

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Marriage lasts until death

God’s design is that that marriage covenant is in effect until death. Mark 10:9 “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

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God is bringing people together today for marriage. He still does that. God joins one man and one woman together, Jesus said it. And man is commanded here not to separate it. And because it is a command, there is a possibility of breaking that command. When that command is broken, true separation has occurred. Man disobeyed what God had joined together; man separated it. It is not God’s design. God’s design is that marriage lasts until death.

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And we know marriage ends in death and doesn’t continue on into heaven, because Jesus says in Mark 12:25 “For when [God’s people] rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

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And Romans 7:1-3 also teaches us that marriage ends in death. Romans 7:1-3 1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? 2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3 So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.

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As you heard from verse two, the married woman is only bound by law to her husband while her husband is living. But if he dies, then she is released from the law concerning the husband. In other words, she is no longer married to him. The marriage covenant is now dissolved and she is free to marry another man.

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And finally …

Purposes for Marriage

These are no surprise, based on our discussion. There are two purposes for marriage.

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Companionship: Physical, emotional, and spiritual companionship, or friendship. There is a friendship in all three areas.

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And the second purpose for marriage is …

Completion: Physical, emotional, and spiritual completion. This is a supplying what is lacking.  Completion is designed to happen between a husband and wife in these three areas. Some men are not complete apart from a companion who completes, because of what is lacking in him. God can use His Word, His will, and the man’s wife to spiritually complete him.

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CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Ephesians 5.21

Marriage is a God-instituted, one-flesh union between one man and one woman made by a covenant until death.

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So as we study these biblical roles, let us be reminded that we should do so under the control of the Holy Spirit who fills us with the word of Christ. Diligently pursue godliness in your role as a wife, or a husband, a child, or a parent filled by the Holy Spirit living in the fear of Christ.

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  1. Interesting thought: divorced lost person who was married to same gender; gets saved, then wants to remarry opposite gender…ok?

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