Perhaps you have never thought of marriage as a mystery, even though you might sometimes make humorous (or not so humorous) jabs about not being able to understand your spouse. “I’ll never understand you!” is not an uncommon phrase in most homes. But marriage itself is not a mystery, even if you think your spouse is. The institution itself is as common as a potato. After all, since time on earth began, people have been “marrying and giving in marriage.” Even though it is under assault since the beginning of the sexual revolution, and aberrations are visible to all, it is well-established and will be so until time is no more.
Does the Apostle Paul takes issue with what I just expressed? Speaking of marriage, he said, “This mystery is profound.” Though it is not mysterious in one sense, according to him, the very institution of marriage is indeed a mystery in another sense. But we will have to see what that really means. Read below what he wrote in this familiar passage about marriage found in Ephesians 5:22-33.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word [i.e. the gospel message], 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. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “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.”
A “mystery” in the New Testament is a truth once hidden that is now revealed. What was hidden was that the ancient covenant of marriage, which began with Adam and Eve, was designed to picture something that would not be understood until much, much later, when Christ appeared on earth. At this point something unknown became clear. The marriage relationship is to be a living picture of the relationship between Christ and His beloved Bride, the Church.
Paul wants his readers to not miss the point of this social institution. Christ is the husband, the Church of authentic believers is his betrothed. In Jewish marriage, the betrothal relationship may last a year or longer while the groom prepared the new room for his bride in his father’s home. Then the groom comes to receive his wife. At that time the couple is joined in an intimate and permanent love relationship as long as they live. Nothing could better picture the relationship of believers to Christ than marriage. It explains why loving submission and sacrificial authority is so important. It preaches the truth about Christ and the Church!
It is not that human marriage is the foundational institution and the believer’s union with Christ imitates it, but visa versa. Paul means that all marriages, the institution itself, refer to Christ and the Church. It is there for that purpose. You can even talk with an unbeliever or a Christian with a difficult marriage and say, “Your marriage has an intended purpose even if you think it has none; it is to picture Christ and his Bride, the church. What does your marriage show? It may be a good and true picture or a distorted and ugly one, but God brought you together to live out for all to see what the relationship between Christ and his Bride is all about. Do you know that?”
Your hope for living out your purpose in marriage successfully has everything to do with rightly relating by faith to Christ yourself and being part of his true church, then carrying over what you experience into your marriage as faithfully as possibly. And this is for the purpose of reflecting vividly to the world what the eternal love relationship truly is.
Every day we can live this message through our marriages — to our children, our neighbors, our church, our world — as the submissive bride of Christ looking forward to our future life together at the consummation of our marriage, when Christ returns for his beloved Bride.
Regain the purpose of marriage. Live out the beautiful drama of the eternal relationship.
Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14)