Mrs. Cleaver is Dead—Long Live Mama Mia: Ephesians 5: 18-23

When I was young, our family often watched a television show, “Leave it to Beaver.” [1] It ran from 1957 to 1963. The show depicts the life of Ward and June and Bond and their two sons Wally and Theodore, who was known as the “Beaver.” The show reflected the hopes and dreams of those who lived through the depression and World War II and came home from the war to build modern American families. Ward was the loving and wise father. June was a perfect mother who often gave loving grace to her undeserving son. Wally was the perfect older brother. Beaver was the boy we all actually were—imperfect and often in trouble. Interestingly, by the time the show ended America was already in that great transformation that would occur as a result of birth control, no-fault divorce, and the Vietnam war.

Recently, Kathy and I went to see the sequel to the movie “Mama Mia.”[2]For those of you who haven’t seen the original movie, Mama Miais based is the story of the wedding of a young girl whose mother is a single parent who did not know who her father was. In the sequel, the daughter is now pregnant out of wedlock, separated from her boyfriend. The sequel fills in some of the blanks left by the original and continues the story to a sweet ending.

Leave it to Beaverand Mama Miaillustrate social changes we have endured and the situation we are in today in America and the West. Vast numbers of people have no interest in traditional marriage. Even among conservative Christians, traditional  marriage and family life are waning. In such a situation, some people might think Paul, writing 2000 years ago, has very little to say to us today. Nevertheless, I think we will find that Paul has a lot to say to our situation.

Christian Families in the 21stCentury

Paul social teachings in Ephesiansare interesting. Some scholars take the view that Paul is retreating from this strong doctrine of grace and his strong commitment to equality in Christ. To these people, the Paul of Ephesiansis not the Paul who proclaims in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). I think that these scholars are incorrect. What Paul is doing in Ephesiansis applying the doctrine of Christ to the circumstances of everyday life in the First Century. With this in mind, let us hear what Paul has to say in Ephesians 5:18-23:

18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a]28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Let us pray: Eternal God: As we consider the subject of Christian marriage and family life this morning, let your Holy Spirit come and dwell in all of our hearts, so that we can be transformed into the image of Christ who gave himself for us and for our families. In Jesus Name, Amen.

 Principle 1: Everyone Always Imitate God All the Time.

At one point this week, I was talking to someone on staff about the service and made the comment that at twenty-seven, the week before Kathy and I got married, I could have led a really good Bible study from Ephesians on marriage. I would have been quite confident that I understood the passage and knew what a Christian marriage was like. After forty years of marriage, I’m not quite as certain I know what I am talking about!

Ephesiansis not an easy book. For our purposes, we need to revisit two passages: First Paul begins by reminding the Ephesians that they were saved by grace because of the unimaginable love of God by faith, not because of works (Ephesians 2:8-9). This means, of course, that living out a Christian marriage and family life is primarily a matter of Grace, not of works or obedience to the law or set of rules.

Second, in Chapter 5, Paul by asking the Ephesians to:“… be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). In the end, we all know that most of the problems of life, and most of the problems of marriage and family life, would disappear if we all loved one another as God loves the world and as Christ gave himself up for us on the cross. This pretty simple to understand; it is just impossible to do.

The cross was not easy for Jesus, and the crosses we must bear for our families and loved ones are no less easy. This week, I had the opportunity to share the story of a couple. When young, they were brilliant and good looking. Unfortunately, one of them had a serious, hidden disease. The couple been married now for over fifty years. It has not been an easy marriage. It hasn’t been a fun marriage. It has involved a lot of sacrifice, physical, mental, and emotional. But, it has lasted and blessed many people, including their children.

Principle 2: Everyone Be Submitted in Love to One Another All the Time.

This brings us to the second and the most controversial passage about marriage in the Bible. Paul asks wives to “submit” to their husbands. It’s often missed that, before Paul asks wives to be submitted to husbands, he asks Christians in general to be submitted to one another. He begins by asking everyone to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). This is important. Paul is not saying, “Husbands you don’t have to submit; but wives you must submit.” He’s not even saying, “Husband you have to submit, but wives you have to really, really, really submit”. He is saying, “Wives you should submit as everyone has to submit.”

I think it help to understand a bit about this word, “submit”. The word literally means to “stand under.” A person submits to another person when they yield their own desires to the needs, not demands, of the other. The idea of submission does not mean, “Be stupid” or “Allow others to abuse you.” It means that, in day-to-day life, consider the needs, hopes and dreams of the other to be as important, or even more important, than your own.

Think of a mother of small children. Kathy is a normal person. She likes to be around her friends. She likes to go out to lunch. She likes to go to Zumba lessons. She enjoys travel. But, when our children were young, she spent most of her time caring for the needs of our children. It wasn’t that her desires and wants were unimportant or wrong. It was that love motivated her to care for her children. She submitted her personal desires to her children out of love for them.

Years ago, I counseled a young woman who was abused by her husband. Her pastor counseled her to submit to the abuse. Her friends sent her to me. It was one of the few times when I had to tell another person to ignore their pastor’s advice. Submission does not mean behave stupidly or submit to mental or physical abuse. It means Christians are called to consider the needs of others as just as important as our own needs and desires.

Principle 3: Everyone Always Love Like Jesus

This brings me to our final teaching. After Paul teaches wives to submit to their husbands and respect them, he tells husbands to love their wives. But he doesn’t just say love your wives. He doesn’t say be romantically attached to your wife. (Most husbands don’t initially have any problem with romantic attachment.) Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her….” (Ephesians 5:25-27). In Paul’s world, husbands were the absolute rulers of their families. Telling wives and children to respect and obey was not radical advice. It was expected. However, what was completely unexpected was to tell husbands to love their wives, and not just a love them, but to love them enough to go to the cross and suffer and die for them. What was radical about Christians was not that they spoke a lot about love, but that they used a word for love that referred not to attractive love or affectionate love or brotherly or sisterly love, but to self-sacrificing love. Sacrificial love was radical then and is still radical today.

The love that God wants Christians to have for one another, for Christian wives to have for their husbands, and especially for Christian husbands to have for their wives, is a love that does not demand or require submission but gives everything for the sake of the other. This is not an easy love or a natural love, it is a supernatural love. It is the love that creates and makes possible all other loves. It is the love by which God created and sustains the universe, his people, and his church.

Not all marriages are easy. It so happens that Kathy and I do not have a particularly easy marriage. We are very different people. We have different fundamental values. We generally prefer different things. We don’t agree on restaurants, food, clothing, or even lipstick! We have some close friends who agree on everything! We’ve been friends since the day we got married. We are exactly the same age. We have raised our children together. There’ve been times what it would have been easy to look at their marriage and conclude that Kathy and I had made a mistake getting married. Then, several years ago, something happened. All of a sudden, I realized that Kathy and I actually had the better marriage. Despite all of our differences, despite all of our arguments and disagreements, somehow through the events of life, our marriage has been a greater protection and encouragement to personal growth for both of us. I wanted to say this today for a simple reason: to encourage you. Just because a marriage is hard doesn’t mean it’s a bad marriage. Just because your children are difficult to raise, doesn’t mean your family isn’t a good family. Sometimes, God takes the most difficult things and makes them the most beautiful things of all.

Be Willing to Live in a Mystery

Christian marriage will always be a mystery because God is a mystery and God’s love is a mystery. Paul ends this teaching with these words,

 “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:31-33).

One of my favorite books is by British clergy W.H. Vanstone. It is called, Love’s Endeavor, Love’s Expense: The Response of Being to God. [3]This book, written by an ordinary British clergyman, has been the subject of conversation by people from ordinary pastors like me, to counselors, to quantum physicists.  There’s nothing fancy about the book, but it is profound. At the center of the book, Vanstone makes four points:

  1. Love does not set limits;
  2. Love acts for the benefit of the beloved, not for the benefit self; and finally
  3. Love is vulnerable and can always be hurt, betrayed or fail.

Love, in the end, is a great mystery. I want to close with a quote from Vanstone that says it all:

Where the object of love is truly the ‘other’, the activity of love is always precarious. Between the self and the other there always exists, as it were, a gap which the aspirations of love may fail to bridge or transcend. That which love would do or give or express may fail to arrive—through misjudgment, through misunderstanding, or through rejection. Love may be frustrated: its most earnest aspirations may come to nothing: the greatness of what is offered may be wholly disproportionate to the smallness of what, if anything, is achieved. Herein lies the poignancy of love, and its potential tragedy. The activity of love contains no assurance or certainty of completion. The progress of love must always be by tentative and precarious steps: and each step that is taken, whether it succeeds or fails becomes the basis for the next and equally precarious step….

A happy family life is neither a static situation nor a smooth and direct progression: it is an angular process, the endless improvisation of love to correct what it has created. [4]

In the end, both “Leave it to Beaver” and “Mama Mia” promise a happiness that cannot be delivered, not by an historic cultural norm or a commitment to violate those norms in the name of romantic love. Neither a romantic or traditional view of marriage will work. Love is the answer, but it is the self-giving love Christ showed on the cross that works in life and in marriage, not a romantic or legalistic love, but the love through and in which the world was made.


Copyright 2018, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1]See, Leave it to Beaver July 26, 2018). This particular sermon is an update of one that I preached many years ago. I could not find the original, and I am glad for that. Most young people today do not even know what Leave It To Beaver refers to!!

[2]See, Mama Mia (Downloaded July 26, 2018) and Mama Mia: Here We Go Again July 26, 2018). Both movies are quite cute and the music and dancing is great.

[3]W. H. Vanstone. Love’s Endeavor, Love’s Expense: The Response of Being to the Love of God(London. ENG: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1977). This is a book I recommend to everyone. It’s not easy, but it’s transforming.

[4]Id at 46-47.

Walking in the Way of Wise Love

Twice this past year, I followed on Facebook as friends walked what is called the “Camino the Santiago,” or “Way of St. James,”  in Spain.  One of them went to high school at the same time I did. The other is a Presbyterian pastor in Huntsville, Alabama. Ever since I saw the movie, The Way, I’ve loved the Camino and wanted to walk it. [1] For centuries, Christian pilgrims have walked, among other routes, from southern France, across the Pyrenees into Spain, and on to the city of Compostela, in which the Apostle St. James is reputed to be buried.

Along one of the routes there is an old Roman road that winds down the side of a mountain to a ravine where it crosses an old Roman bridge. Then, the road winds up the other side of the mountain. Over centuries, thousands of people, including hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims, have walked that narrow path on their way to the grave of St. James. Centuries of pilgrim have worn the path deep into dirt and stone.

Our lives are a kind of pilgrimage from birth to death, and the paths we choose to take in life profoundly impact who we become by the end of the journey.

The Path of Wise Love

The apostle Paul was a learned rabbi and member of the Jewish ruling council before his conversion. He studied under the Rabbi Gamaliel, and was familiar with the Old Testament—as familiar as any human being could possibly be. He was familiar with the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. He was intimately aware of the way in which the notion of human life as a journey in which we human beings must choose the path we will take—the path of wisdom or the path of foolishness, the path of righteousness or the path of wickedness, the path of life or the path of death, the path of light or the path of darkness (see, Proverbs 1:20-22; 27,32;2:7; 12-13; 4:18-19; 9:13-18). [2]

This is important because in today’s text Paul uses this same imagery to talk about the Christian life. Our text is from Ephesians 5 beginning with verse 1. Hear the word of God as it comes to us from the Apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians:

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them;  for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light  (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.  But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,  for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:1-21).

Let us Pray: God of Light in Whom there is no darkness, come now and enlighten us and show us your ways. Allow us to know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly. In Jesus Name, Amen.

It is All About Wisdom and Love

This sermon could be summed up in a single quote from today’s text: Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:1-2). In the end, the Christian life is about following Jesus and developing a way of life patterned on the life of Jesus. If we can be more or less pattern our lives after Jesus, if we can walk through life the way Jesus walked through life, then we are equipped disciples.

Christian life can be overwhelming. We go to church we after week, we hear sermon after sermon, we go to Bible study after Bible study, we read passages after passage, we have quiet time after quiet time—we learn all this information. We learn about all the wonderful things Jesus did and all the wonderful things Paul did and all the wonderful things the great heroes of the faith in the Old Testament did, and we think to ourselves, “Its hopeless!”

In First John, there are two descriptions of God: First, “God is light and in him there is no darkness” (John 1:6). Second, “Anyone who does not love does not know God for God is love” (I John 4:8). In the end, the fundamental principles of Christian life are simple: Live wisely and unselfishly love one another along the way. The problems of human life are complex. The consequences of bad decisions can be enormous. The solution, it turns out, is not all that difficult to understand. It is just incredibly hard to do! We just have love as Jesus loved and be wise. Jesus was loving, but he was also wise. He was wise in what he said, in what he did, and in who he trusted. [3]

Love and Purity: Two Sides of the Same Coin

In recent years, it’s been interesting to watch Christian pastors dance around the subject of moral purity. It’s easy to preach about Grace. It’s more difficult to preach about our Response to what God has done in our lives. It is the founding principle of Christian life that God loves us unconditionally and saves us by faith and not as a result of anything we do (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is not the same as saying God doesn’t care what we do. Jesus, when he was on earth, constantly critiqued the silly rules of the Pharisees. But, he never indicated for a second that the moral law did not matter. In fact, he said things like, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).[4]

When we say Christians should live wisely and love one another and other people, we are not saying that His love is something different from His wisdom or that morality is separated from Faith, or anything of the sort. Just as God is both wisdom and love at the same time, so also the Christian life is a wise life of moral purity and grace. Love and purity, faith and morality, are two sides of the same coin. If we are filled with the Spirit of God, which is the Spirit of Jesus, then in our day-to-day lives, we will live as God wants us to live, which is as Jesus lived. God is love and God is light, and there is no ultimate discontinuity between the two.

In researching the sermon this week, I found the following quote from George McDonald, who had a great impact on C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein:

Love loves into purity. Love has always in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds. Where loveliness is incomplete … it spends itself to make more lovely that it may love the more; it strives for perfection. [5]

There is no greater gift we can give our society than to simply live out our Christian faith as best we can in our ordinary, day-to-day lives and try to resist the pressures of our society to follow our natural desires for position, power, pleasure and plenty to their ultimate end.

Walking the Walk

This gets us back to the central metaphor of today’s text. Paul urges us to walk as Children of God, to walk in the Love of God, to walk in the Light of God, and to pay close attention to our walk. As I mentioned at the beginning, in the Old Testament life is often analogized to a journey, and we have to choose the path we will take.

One of my favorite poems is by the American poet Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. [6]

It makes al the difference what path we take in life. The earliest name for the Christian movement was “the people of the Way” (Acts 9:2; 11:26). In the Old Testament, those who followed the way of the Law, the Prophets, and the Wisdom writers, followed the way of Moses.

In the new Testament, those who followed Jesus and lived according to his teachings were followers of the Way of Christ. This new way was not a way of obedience to rules, though there is a moral law and there are are rules; it is a way of life patterned after the One who lived and died for our sins and to restore and renew his followers in the image of God. [7]

The One Great Sign

Jesus encouraged his followers to love one another as the sign that their preaching and Way of Life were true and right when he told them to “love one another,” and in the same passage told them that the way the world would know that his teachings were true and right would be because of the love his disciples have for one another (John 14:33-35).

In the first two centuries of the Christian movement, many segments of Roman society, including many of the aristocracy and ruling class, were hostile to Christianity. Nevertheless, Roman society took notice of the fact that Christians loved each other with a sacrificial love unknown them. The Christian apologist Tertullian reported that the Romans would proclaim, “Those Christians, how they love one another.” [8]

Our society will also take notice if we love each other as Christ first loved us, and reach out into our world to share that same wise love with others as we experience it in our own lives.

This gets us to the conclusion of our text today, where Paul tells us that truth and morality blend into songs of beauty and health. He urges is to sing  songs and hymns and spiritual songs making melody with our hearts–for the heart is the seat of our goodness and of our search for truth (Ephesians 5:19-20). It is out of a heart transformed by love that such songs emerge.

Today, we are going to close with an old praise chorus, “They will Know We are Christians by our Love” because it states the basic truth of Christian faith and the best way we can reach out as we are sent into the world. [9]

The first line and chorus goes like this:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
And we pray that all unity, may one day be restored.

And they’ll know we are Christians,
By our love, by our love.
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love


Copyright 2018, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] The Way, dir. writ. prod. Emilio Estavez, starring Martin Sheen (2010). In the summer of 2015, I waked a one week version of the Camino, during which I saw the old Roman road mentioned.

[2] This section is based on G. Christopher Scruggs, Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ Followers (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014).

[3] In Matthew and Luke Jesus says,  “one greater than Solomon” is among them (Matthew 12: 42; Luke 11:31). In John, we are told that Jesus did not trust himself to certain people because he “knew what was in them” (John 2:25). Jesus was no fool. In fact, he embodied a wisdom greater than human wisdom (I Cor. 1:18-25).

[4]  In John, Jesus says: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19; see also John 14.) In John 13:23-24, Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”

[5] George McDonald, (Downloaded July 14, 2018).

[6] Robert Frost, “The Road not Taken” from Collected Poems of Robert Frost (Dover Publications, 1997). Every person should own a copy of his poetry.

[7] This is the One of whom John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” John 1:1-5).

[8] See, History of the Christian Church, “Love without Condition” ( downloaded July 12, 2018); Tertullian, Against Heresies Chapter 39 (, downloaded July 12, 2018).

[9] Peter Stoltes, They Will Know We Are Christians By our Love” (1966, Lorenze Corp). Stoltes wrote the hymn “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love” while a parish priest at St. Brendan’s on the South Side of Chicago. At the time, he led a youth choir and was looking for an appropriate song for a series of ecumenical, interracial events. When he couldn’t find such a song, he wrote the now-famous hymn in a single day.