A marriage is an occasion for congratulations and best wishes. At the close of the ceremony, friends usually step forward and with a hearty clasp of the hand extend to the newly wedded couple their best wishes for a happy, prosperous future. Surely today all of us will look upon it as a pleasant duty congratulating this young bride and groom on the day of their wedding. But would it not be possible for us today to do something better than merely to extend best wishes to this happy couple? Wishes after all are nothing but wishes and even when they are sincere, do not go far toward producing happiness. Experience has shown that many a marriage at which congratulations were profuse has turned out very unhappy. Could we not today give this young couple the key to solve the problem of a happy wedded life? Surely no greater treasure could be given them on this happy occasion.
Thank God, we have such a key for them. It is simply this: Live according to God's word. The Lord in His Word has given us plain directions with regard to the manner in which people ought to live in the wedded state. Our text is a real motto for wedded people and ought to be read and practiced more frequently than it is. I am sure that these words are not unfamiliar to you. You probably learned to commit them to memory in confirmation instruction. They are given under the table of duties in the Small Catechism. St. Paul shows us in these words to the Ephesians that the relation between husband and wife is to be compared with the relation between Christ and the Church. Let us learn from this text:
I. That the husband should love his wife
II. That the wife should be submissive to her husband
How earnestly does not the holy apostle speak to the husband in our text. He admonishes the husband to love his wife even as Christ loved the church. Again he says the husband should love his wife as his own body. And again he says he that loveth his wife, loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.
The proper attitude of the husband toward the wife can then be expressed by one word: Love. But what is love? Many people have entirely misunderstood its true meaning. Let us permit the Word of God, and especially our text, to teach us the nature of true love. We will want to go to God to learn about love. All true love comes from God. He is the Author and Source of all that is truly love. God's whole heart is love. Of course we will never be able to understand the height and depth, the length and breadth of that incomprehensible love of God. The greatest and best gift of His love consists in His only Son whom He sent into the world in order to redeem sinful mankind from death and hell.
The Son God loved the Church. Husbands are taught to love their wives even as Christ loved the Church. If you would know anything about true love, consider the great love of Christ Jesus. His career in this world was all love. It was love for wretched humanity that compelled Him to forsake the throne of His majesty on high and come into this sad world. As He walked about on this earth we see in His conduct nothing but love. It was love for the human race that finally nailed Him to the cross and carried Him to the grave. As our text says: He loved His Church. He loved it so much that He gave Himself for It.
Here then we can learn something about the nature of true love. We learn that true love is unselfish and self-sacrificing. True love is gentle, kind and forbearing. It is forgiving, tender and merciful.
My friend, let this be the nature of your love towards her who today is to become your wife. Henceforth you are to live for yourself no longer, but also for her. You are to find your greatest joy in caring for her even as Christ cared for His Church.
But the apostle also speaks in our text of the wife's submission unto her husband. "Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church."
It is God's arrangement that every institution must have one head. God is a God of order, and good order requires that there must be one whose word is the supreme authority. As an example St. Paul cites the Church. There is only one head in the Church, and that head is Christ. When he speaks, the Church must make haste to obey. She must yield obedience to no other authority besides Christ. Thus also in the institution which we call the home it is God's order that the husband be the head. He is to be the supreme authority. But this authority is to be exercised only in pure love, just as Christ rules over His Church only in pure love.
The Church is here held up by the apostle as an example for all Christian wives. They are indeed not to take the Church, as we so often find it in this world, as their example; for the Church is often anything but obedient to Christ. But the Church as it ought to be, is to be their example. The Church obeying Christ in all things, submitting to His authority, and giving Him due reverence as the head - this is the manner in which the Christian wife is to conduct herself to her husband.
It is sad indeed that such conduct is often lacking, even in wives who call themselves Christian. There is not a little opposition today even to our marriage ceremony which requires of the bride that she promise submission to her husband, even though this form is strictly in accordance with the words of St. Paul in our text. And in so called Christian homes how many wives even boast that they hold the scepter, and that their husbands must submit to them in all things. Such a state of affairs is a transgression to God's order; and it is bound to produce unhappiness, it is bound to wreck the home.
How sad it is that sin ever came into this world to ruin all that God has given for our happiness. It has left the marks of its sadness also on that which is most beautiful and most precious, namely the marriage relation and the home. It has made husbands unloving, selfish, brutal and tyrannical. It has taken away from wives the proper submission and reverence for their husbands. Thus it has blighted with a withering curse the most beautiful flower that has ever blossomed beneath the sun, the marriage state.
Dear friends, in our text St. Paul gives us a picture of the marriage relation in its ideal state. He shows us the husband's fervent love for his wife, doing all in his power to nourish and cherish her as he would himself. He shows us the wife submitting to her husband in all things and showing him reverence. That is the marriage relation as God would have it. This is the secret of happiness in the marriage relation. The more nearly your wedded life will be like this, the greater will be your happiness. God bless and grant you a happy wedded life as the apostle pictures it in our text.