When I look around, I cannot help seeing that marriage as an institution and practice is coming under fire, and it makes my heart heavy. Once good marriages are falling apart all around me. People I love dearly are suffering greatly as they watch the life they had longed for slip through their fingers. Marriage partners are leaving and putting self ahead of partner, forgetting or ignoring promises made. Rationalizing behavior they would have once abhorred themselves, and, instead, are setting aside the true purpose of marriage for… something else. If we aren’t careful, we will soon all forget the great mystery of marriage.
“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.”
Women don’t, by and large, care too much for that passage from Ephesians. But mostly, I think it’s because we often see the wrong picture here. The picture is of Christ and his Bride, with Christ as the head of the Bride. It’s the only way the thing works. These words are not an invitation for men to force women to be under their thumb, it’s a line of accountability and responsibility. There can be only one accountable, only one who leads, and God has said whom that is to be. Ladies, I understand your frustrations, but do we really want to question God and His methods? Men, I know its a constant temptation, but do you seriously want to shirk your God ordained responsibility?
When it works according to God’s plan, more of the picture, below, becomes clearer.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for the Church, that Christ might sanctify the Church, having cleansed the Church by the washing of water with the word, so that Christ might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that the Church might be holy and without blemish.”
(The pronouns in these verses from Ephesians 5 were replaced and italicized by me. It was a liberty. I took it.)
The Church (all who have given themselves to Christ, living, in the future, or now asleep in Christ) is portrayed in scripture as the Bride of Christ. In most American weddings, the groom is usually marched in and to the front of the assembly- ahead of the bride- looking all pale and nervous. It is the groom who stands in wait for the bride to enter; when in reality the picture painted in scripture is of the bride who waits for the groom to come. We, the Church/the Bride of Christ, are waiting for Jesus’ triumphant return.
But Paul goes on:
“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.”
There, did you see it? Paul recognizes the profound nature of what he is saying, so he explained it again. He’s speaking of marriage and how a man is to treat his bride… but the mystery, the puzzle he is trying to solve is about so much more. He delicately speaks to the consummation of marriage and then he says that in the same way, Christ will have that same closeness (spiritually) with His bride. (That’s us)
Here’s the problem.
Paul knew that marriage was a big deal. He cautioned strongly those who entered into it, even going so far as to say that it should be avoided unless you couldn’t keep your pants zipped without it. I’m sorry, Paul didn’t even know about zippers back then. But he knew that God gave us marriage as a window into intimacy. Real intimacy. Our enemy knows that if he can muddy those waters, we are sunk. If we can’t understand intimacy with God, how will we achieve it?
“However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
Marriage is about love, respect, and selfless giving. It is forgiveness. It is mercy and grace. It is dying to self in order to promote someone else. Because of our human nature, it is so hard to get right, but it is a picture of the love Jesus has for us and it is vital. It is to be protected above any other human relationship. When lived out well, it shows us the great mystery of God’s love for us. That is the mystery of marriage.