“For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:2-3)
This is not a traditional wedding text. It’s a little fierce, a little over the top. Paul is pretty worked up in this passage. It might also seem a little one-sided for an exhortation to a bride and a groom. It might sound like Joy is about to get sand blasted while Stephen looks on in radiant serenity. But I don’t think so. Let me explain.
Paul as an apostle is playing the part of a matchmaker. But the analogy is also built on his exhortations to husbands and wives in Ephesians. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, even as to the Lord. In 2 Corinthians, the church of Corinth is the bride engaged to Christ. But the faithfulness of the Corinthians has to do with whether they listen to Paul or not, whether they listen to the gospel of Paul or whether they listen to another gospel. In other words, Paul is a stand in for Christ. He represents Christ. And so in that sense, he represents every earthly husband and the Corinthian church may represent every earthly wife.
So what can we learn from Paul’s urgent warning? First, husbands are required by God to imitate Paul’s godly jealousy. Paul immediately thinks of the very first marriage in the history of the world and how the bride was tricked and deceived by the serpent. Not only was Eve tricked, but Adam was either completely absent or he standing there slack-jawed watching the whole thing unfold. In other words, Adam’s initial marital failure wasn’t being overly obsessive or micromanaging his wife’s affairs. His failure was being disengaged, being absent, being complacent, being passive, not paying attention, not taking initiative. And this is especially the case when it finally came down to taking the fruit from his wife. Even if everything up to that point could be explained away: who knew talking dragons were not to be trusted? – at that point, Adam had a clear word from the Lord: You must not eat it. At that point, Adam was required to say no, to lead his wife away from the dragon, away from the tree, to do the hard and messy work of leadership by loving his bride, by saving his bride, by seeking out a solution. Whatever his thinking was, Adam did not do that. He did not lead, He did not take responsibility, He did not get between his wife and the threat. Instead, he took the fruit and ate it. Did he despair? Did he think it was already too late? Was he also overcome by the lure of the fruit? Was he convinced by the subtitly of the serpent? Whatever the thinking was, Adam failed to guard his wife, failed to love her, failed to protect her, failed to continue listening to the Word of God, but instead listened to the voice of his wife and the voice of the serpent. Disobedience is always seems like the easy way out, like we have no other choice, like it’s impossible to avoid. But God says just the opposite: with every temptation there is a way of escape. Obedience is actually always the way out, the way of escape, but it is also the way of love and sacrifice. It doesn’t always feel like the way out.
Stephen, my charge to you is to hover over your wife in love. Be jealous of her with a godly jealousy. Now of course, you could hover like a fly and just be a nuisance. You could hover like a black cloud and bring shadows and rain with you. But my charge is for you to hover like the Spirit of God over creation, hover like the Spirit over Jesus at His baptism. Hover like a gardener diligently seeking out the state of his seeds, his soil, his produce. Hover, like an artist with joy, with care, with excitement. Hover, like a lover full of godly jealousy for your wife. Pay attention to her. Study her. Learn about her. Listen to her. Guard her. Anticipate her needs. Get out in front and sacrifice for her, so that she is safe, so that she is provided for, so that she may be the woman God has created her to be. Do not be like the first Adam who watched from the distance, who despaired when things looked bad, who was overcome by the evil one. Rather, be like Jesus, the Last Adam, who overcame evil with good. Look to Jesus for your own forgiveness, your own peace, and then be courageous for Him and for Joy. Work hard. Stand between your wife and every threat. Do not give in to the serpent. Rather, as the apostle says, resist the devil and he will flee from you, he will flee from your house, from your garden. As you do this, not only are you loving your wife and presenting her to yourself as a lovely bride, but even better than that, you become like a Paul a minister who is being used by Jesus to draw Joy even closer to Him.
Paul also warns that the church in Corinth must not be tricked by false teachers as Eve was deceived and tricked by the serpent. This means that every wife must learn the lesson of the first wife, Eve. You are tempted to fear. You are tempted to worry. You are tempted to wonder if God will keep you safe through this man that He has given you. There are many words out there in the world. Google and Netflix bring many subtle words into our gardens. Some of them agree with the Word of God most of them do not. Most of them ask you questions: Are you really being careful with your money? Do you really have a big enough house? Will God really protect your health? Did God really say that it was wrong to covet another woman’s good looks or her wisdom? The voices creep in. They say it’s fine to be critical of your husband because he isn’t perfect after all. Or it’s fine to worry a little because that’s just natural. Or it’s fine to complain about your clothes or your looks because otherwise what would there be to talk about? But little doubts, little sins, little fears grow into big ones.
Paul urges to the church of Corinth to listen to him, to trust the gospel of Jesus proclaimed by him. And the calling of every wife is to imitate this orientation in her respect for her husband, trusting that her husband is the man that Jesus has chosen to lead her. This does not mean that you trust your husband instead of Jesus or that you follow your husband apart from Christ. Rather, you are to submit to your husband in the Lord. And this means plainly that you are to see Jesus standing behind your husband. In so far as your husband speaks the truth of Jesus, you follow gladly. In so far as your husband lives and leads in the freedom granted in Jesus, whether it’s his love of hunting or old cars or computers or gardens or books, seeing Jesus behind your husband means that you can rest in those unique gifts and interests as particular gifts and interests for you from Jesus without fearing that you’re missing something or off base. Your man is God’s gift to you. But this also means that if your husband were to ask you to sin, you would cheerfully refuse. If he asked you to rob a bank, you would respectfully refuse. If your husband asked you to become a Roman Catholic, you would refuse because Jesus won’t allow you to pray to pictures, talk to dead people, or pretend that the sacrifice of Christ has not cleansed you from all your sins once and for all.
Joy, you are no blind follower. You are an heir of the King of the Universe, a co-heir of the grace of life with Stephen. But do not doubt your King. Do not listen to the voices that promise you life and health and wealth and glory in other places. Listen to the voice of God, meditate on His Word day and night, trust His provision to you through Stephen. As Stephen hovers over you with his love and affection, receive his love and follow him gratefully. My charge to you is to trust your husband as God’s provision and care for you.
And finally, I charge both you to remember that as you are obedient to your callings, as you faithfully love and lead your wife, Stephen, and as you faithfully respect and submit to your husband, Joy, you will stay safe and secure in the simplicity of Christ. You see obedience to Jesus is the good way, the simple way. It’s the corruption of sin and disobedience that brings complications and tangles. But life in Christ is simple. And the center of that simplicity is grace. Grace means that because of the cross of Jesus, there is no sin, no failure, no evil that can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. It’s never too late. You don’t deserve this kind of grace, and it’s absolutely free. You can never get to the bottom of the barrel, and you can never run out. And with that kind of love, you are absolutely safe and all of life is all gift, all grace. That’s the simplicity of Christ. That’s good news. That’s the gospel. And that’s what we crown you with today.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!