12012 51st Ave NE, Marysville, WA (Meeting at the Seventh Day Adventist Church) Worship services: Every Sunday at 10:00am / 6:00pm (1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday)

Worship for Spouses

*Ephesians 5:22-33
February 26, 2017
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

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The sermon starts at 14:39 in the audio file.

Or, The Relationship of Liturgy to Marriage

At the beginning of every calendar year I preach on the subject of worship. We become like what we behold and in the life of a church her corporate meeting with God on the Lord’s Day inevitably shapes both the assembly and each member in it.

Since the day that the elders decided to focus on marriage for this year’s seminar I knew that I wanted to talk about the relationship between corporate liturgy and marriage. I preached on the subject of kids and worship at the beginning of January, and this morning, in keeping with the theme for the day, my message is about spouses and worship.

One quick qualifier: it often happens that when I identify a target group for a sermon, many who consider themselves to be outside that net wonder (even out loud to me) what this has to do with them. For this morning, if you’re a child, if you’re a single young adult, or if you are older and without a spouse, do you need to listen to or do anything with this? Well, no. Feel free to check out.

I’m being facetious in saying that, for sure. If you are older then you’re responsible to teach the younger. If you’re not yet married, regardless of how close you may be to wedding bells in your mind, you should know why the worship of the church is not optional for the sake of a happy and healthy relationship and family in the future. Some of the things I’m going to say in a bit I never heard from a pastor or parent or Bible college professor. Some of it may be obvious, some of it is likely to be a kick in the pants, and hopefully the man is wearing them.

Walking Down the Liturgy Aisle

Call to Worship

Only one relationship on earth overshadows that between a husband and wife, and that is the relationship between God and worshipper. Because human beings are made in a particular way we must worship someone or something just like a fountain must spurt; fountains spurt by definition and humans worship without fail. If the true God is not worshipped, then it is easy for the object of a man’s worship to become a woman (and visa versa), and this will frustrate, because lateral worship is always futile.

I’ve met with unbelieving couples who desired to be married, and I usually start by asking what attracted one to the other. The list of reasons usually overlaps with a list made by believers, and the list is typically tenable. But then I follow that by asking, What happens when the other person changes? People don’t stay the same in every way when time runs an ordinary course, let alone if there is an accident or other severe providences. I don’t know why people stay together without a fixed, actually glorious, external-to-the-couple standard.

When God made worshippers He made a husband and a wife before He made a priest or pastor or theologian. He made a garden rather than a church for them to meet in. Genesis 1 and 2 put spouses at the center of God’s creative work. In order for them to reflect Him accurately they both need to be able to see the original.

The call to worship steeps all of our horizontal responsibilities and relationships in context. Horizontal is never ultimate, whether it’s going great or going awful, whether it is a joy or a grief. Since God accepts no rivals it is a sin not to treat Him as the highest value. God does not call us to put off our earthy roles when we assemble but He does call us to assemble for the sake of maturing in our various roles.

Confession of Sin

Sin ruins fellowship, both vertical and horizontal. The gospel of salvation offers forgiveness and reconciliation to the humble and repentant. This begins in conversion but must be our conduct every time we sin.

I’ve mentioned this before, but our time of weekly, corporate confession of sin is intended to go beyond Sunday morning and infiltrate all the relationships of the worshipper. Here we learn to be humble before God in order that we may also be humble before others. That may be hardest at home, and there you are. What do you do when you sin, husband? Ask for forgiveness? Acknowledge rather than cover or rationalize or shift blame? What should you anticipate when you seek forgiveness? Your default behaviors should be shaped by our liturgy.

We forgive as Christ Jesus forgave us (Colossians 3:13). He doesn’t hold our wrongs over us, accusing us and digging up our past sins. We learn to seek and to give forgiveness for sin. We see how grace responds.


Not only do men and women change, they should change as Christians. Love should get better, deeper, and stronger, not stale or superficial the longer two people are together. Two spouses growing in image-bearing will know a more significant experience of Trinitarian joyful fellowship.

Consecration—setting apart for dedicated obedience—is what Jesus is doing to His Bride, the Church. This is what husbands are to imitate, as they wash their wives by the water of the word (Ephesians 5:26). You are not limited to hearing the Word during the public gathering, and praise God for Bible ubiquity. There should be reading and listening and (mainly) meditating on the Word all throughout life in the home, but it is no less important when the church meets for the sake of showing how it works.

The sermon any given Sunday does not need to be about marriage for it to affect your marriage. Hear God. Make your requests known to Him. Think on and obey His Word. Offer your best. Consecration is the center of our liturgy. Consecrated Christians will be consecrated spouses.


God’s desire for His people is not mostly that they would have more information about Him but that they would have more intimacy with Him. He does want us to know Him, but the knowing should make the communion sweeter. We do commune in truth, and there is also bread and wine to enjoy together. It is a meal that will reveal if there is true understanding and dependence or if there is still selfishness and distance.

It is worse than awkward to gather at the dinner table if things aren’t right. There is reluctance, even self-defense and avoidance. But we’re learning in worship that God wants more from us than to be isolated information gatherers seated around the same table at the agreed upon time. He wants true sharing, and so should spouses.


The aim of intimacy is both delight and fruitfulness. We enjoy one another, and in that union we are made ready to work. Between God and worshippers that fruitfulness looks like taking dominion and calling others to worship. Between husband and wife that fruitfulness looks like children and raising them to be worshippers. The husband typically goes out from the family, the wife usually stays and cares and adorns the offspring and household. They spend time together to renew their commitment to each other, and then go to work apart from each other as part of and for each other.

All five ingredients of the liturgy are shaping us, and shaping our marriages, even if we don’t consciously connect it to our daily interaction. I would encourage you to think more about how the flow of our liturgy affects your desires for your marriage.

Leading and Following

The five Cs aren’t the only parts of the liturgy that relate to marriage. Before and throughout all five there is another reality that we ought to recognize and imitate in our homes.

We have repeatedly stated that our assembly worships and that we all worship in each stage, not merely that those up front perform for an audience. The entire church body worships God all along not just when singing. How can that be?

It happens because our service has both masculine and feminine elements. As husbands embody masculinity and as wives embody femininity we can see that there are husband-like and wife-like parts in our liturgy.

God initiates, God calls, God reveals, God listens, God adorns, God gives, God leads. He does this on Sunday morning through representatives, but it is still God doing it. The minister speaks on behalf of God and according to God’s Word. This is the masculine role of strength and determination.

The assembly responds, receives, requests, follows. We do this on Sunday mornings when we hear and sing and pray and participate. This is the feminine role, which is a corporate response. As Christ’s Bride we are in a feminine position.

C.S. Lewis talked about the distinctions between masculine and male and man, as well as feminine and female and woman. A woman may teach a class that includes boys, or mom may lead her sons, and in those times she functions in a masculine role through she can do it as a female. God does say that elders are to be men. His ministers represent Him as masculine, though God is not biologically male.

When we worship, we are learning our places. We bring trouble on ourselves if we ignore, let alone subvert our roles. The church does not decide the direction she should go on her own. The Bride does not tell the Head what He may or may not do. The church does not determine standards for herself or make up her own reality. The church submits.

God’s ministers (pastors/elders/overseers) declare God’s position. They embody, not divinity like Jesus did, but the masculine backbone of Christ for His body.

Husbands are to be like this. Husbands (and fathers) ought to be masculine. They should provide direction and leadership. Where God’s Word speaks to a decision the husband ought to know it and obey it and bring it to bear. In situations where God’s Word is not explicit, he is still to imitate God and provide guidance for his wife. She should not have to constantly wonder what he’s thinking or pry or need to take over.

Many men act in a feminine way, not just those identifying as women. At times men are even less than responsive, they are passive. They leave it up to her. They do not give, they wait and then isolate and then get angry when their wife hasn’t read their thoughts. He never actually said what he wanted, and of course his expectations may be unreasonable as well as un-communicated.

Other men are masculine, but perverted reflections of God in the sense that they do not reveal (themselves, their desires, their plans, etc.) for the sake of intimacy. They do not lead, they boss. They may use a lot of words to isolate themselves rather than seek communion through sharing themselves (as God does), sacrificing themselves (as God does), and joining with.

In the church pastors should be men who are masculine and represent God who leads. C.S. Lewis wrote:

We men make very bad priests. This is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles. He may make a bad male partner in a dance. The cure for that is that men should more diligently attend dancing classes; not that the ballroom should henceforth ignore distinctions of sex and treat all dancers as neutral (quoted in The Lord’s Service, 98).

Women also have an example in the church to follow. They ought to be eager to receive and respond, not be cold and distant and hard to edify. They ought to prepare and plan on following.

Other women have decided to take on the masculine role in their relationship, which is similar to the church dictating to Christ. Either to fill the (perceived) void left by their husband who isn’t talking or who refuses to communicate, or because they chose a man whom them know they could order around, these are inappropriately masculine women. It’s not about looks, it’s about function. When a woman’s husband is gone she must make decisions, but for most spouses in a typical setting, the wife ought to be responding.

Both husbands and wives fail, and, of course, Jesus is a perfect husband to His Bride and no mortal husband can claim the same sort of inherent authority. Your husband isn’t Jesus.

But every believing husband is to act like Jesus and grow up into similar sacrificial love. This is the point in Ephesians 5. Husbands don’t have a divine nature, but they do have the Holy Spirit indwelling them (Ephesians 5:18). Human husbands do have God’s Word (Colossians 3:16). Human husbands do have an example (Ephesians 5:25). So do wives (Ephesians 5:24).

Which brings us back to worship for spouses. Other than watching your own dad and mom, who may not have provided a great example, the place to behold what you are to become is in worship. Personal devotions are great for meditating on the Word. Listening to sermons and podcasts, reading other books are absolutely sources of blessing. But none of those show you how to behave in your roles as male and female. Even if you don’t consciously think about all of this at every moment, you are being shaped by it.


Five Cs call us to be humble, honest, holy, happy, and hard-working. That’s a benefit to every believer in every relationship and responsibility, but no less to the linchpin relationship on earth of husband and wife.

Likewise, our liturgy shows us the way of revealing and responding, of one who shares glory and one who reflects the glory back. The relationship between God and His people, namely Christ and the Church, shows the pattern for husbands and wives.

In That Hideous Strength Jane is upset by the idea that she and her husband are not equal in every way. Ransom laughs in a discussion with her as she realizes that she isn’t like the male by nature, and while it confronts her feminism, she also realizes that it is exactly what she’s been longing for.

Ransom explains that the right sort of feminine submission to the masculine sacrifice is crucial for intimacy. “No one has ever told you that obedience—humility—is an erotic necessity. You are putting equality just where it ought not to be” (146).

The church perhaps misses the intensity of corporate worship because we, like many wives, do not want to submit. We do not want to follow the lead of another, even though He is perfect. May He help us to grow up and mature as we worship Him, as husbands and wives.


Spouses are not the only ones with conflict. Brothers and sisters in Christ can let disagreement turn into despising and condescension and distance. Yet Paul told the Romans that stronger and weaker brothers could serve one another and get along. Jews and Gentiles can love each other. Even Arminians and Calvinists can co-exist. The same is true for men and women, husbands and wives. We can build up our neighbors, including the one we share a bed with. If that seems impossible, remember the God you worship.


May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5–6, ESV)