The Mystery of Marriage
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Data shows that 40%-50% of marriages end in divorce. A shocking figure. And although that percentage is slowly declining, it may not mean a positive change. One reason that divorce rates are slowly declining is that marriage rates are declining altogether, with people content to just live together rather than making that big commitment. And given these statistics, given the way the people and media often portray marriage and spouses – marriage being one big struggle and a fight, your spouse being the ol’ ball and chain – it’s no wonder more and more people are shying away from marriage or abandoning it more readily. We are surrounded by this smog of sensuality and self-centeredness. We see premarital pregnancies, troubled marriages, no-fault divorces, overbearing or abusive husbands, discontent wives. We are all living in this smog of polluted marriages with families caught in the crossfire.
It’s no wonder that these verses of Scripture are so difficult to read. It’s no wonder that these verses seem so foreign and even repulsive. But today we are going to study these verses. Today we are going to see how they not only speak to marriage, but also to the beauty of Christ. We are going to come out of the smog, into the pure mountain air and have the Lord himself tell us what marriage is to be – the mysteries of marriage revealed. Afterall, he instituted it.
One thing to keep in mind as we go through these verses is that they are addressed specifically to Christians. Sure, the world is full of sin. Sure, your spouse is not perfect. And yet, here, God is addressing mature believers – those living according to the new life of faith. Here, God commands us to take ownership of your God-given role in your marriage. I know some might say, “Can we really expect this in the world we live in where even Christian husbands and wives are sinful people?” And I say yes! God sets forth the perfect relationship that every marriage should strive for. He calls us to strive for this. And sin is not an excuse to fall short. He expects us to be mature believers, living by faith. He sets forth a way to deal with sin in a marriage and start fresh every day. The mystery of marriage is revealed in Christ.
So, listen up! And, I think it’s really interesting to note that Paul, in a literary way, lays this out in a way that takes the women to one side and talks to them separately about their role in marriage. Then he takes the men aside and talks to them separately about their role in marriage. Because we all know our sinful tendencies, right? Anyone who’s been in any kind of relationship knows that we have the sinful tendency to worry about what the other person is supposed to be doing. Paul combats that by writing in a way that emphasizes not what your spouse should be doing, but what you should be doing.
So, wives, I’m figuratively taking you to the side for a moment. Listen to what your Lord says. “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (Eph 5:22). And right away there’s a word that hangs up a number of people. What is it? “Submit”. And I get it, because how is that word often used today? “Do what I tell you to do.” “I’m the boss, you are the employee.” “Submit to me.” And already there’s a difference. Because this text doesn’t say, “Husbands, make your wives submit to you.” No, it says, “Wives, submit yourselves” (Eph 5:22). It’s a willing and voluntary submitting. Not something that is forced upon you – nor should it be.
Second, this has nothing to do importance, or value, or capability. Though relationships in the smog of the world around us would say that the one submitting is less important, less valuable, or less capable, that’s not what God says. God says, “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28). God also says through the Psalmist, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14). You are all wonderfully made children of God. In fact, the Lord didn’t create Eve for Adam until he realized how valuable a companion would be! God led all the creatures to Adam so that he could name them – animals, birds – whatever Adam called them, that was its name. “But for Adam, no suitable helper was found” (Gen 2:20). A dog, man’s best friend, was not the answer. Nor was a noble steed. God knew, and brought Adam to the same conclusion, that the only valuable partner would be a wonderfully created human like him!
The word “submit” implies only that different roles have been established, not that those roles are based on quality or importance. Take for example, when a truck driver submits to the 14-year-old crossing guard by stopping his truck when the guard raises that stop sign. The truck driver is not showing himself to be weaker, less intelligent, less gifted, less important, or in any way inferior. He is, however, submitting. The driver recognizes that an authority over both of them has established different roles for the good of drivers and pedestrians alike. Submission has to do with roles, not value. Even Jesus, who is equal to God – who is God – submitted to the will of the Heavenly Father when he prayed, “My father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39). It is voluntary. It is not about importance or value.
In fact, it’s about unity. I like the picture you get when you break apart the word “submit” or “submission”. You know what a “sub” is – not the sandwich, the submarine. Subs go under the water. And “mit” or “mission,” well, it’s “mission.” That’s actually what the word, borrowed from Latin, means. “Under a mission.” Wives submitting themselves are demonstrating that they are under the same mission as their husbands. And a husband’s mission, a Christian husband’s mission, is God’s will be done! Since this section is addressed to God-fearing husbands and wives, it takes for granted that the husband will not undertake a mission that is contrary to God’s will or harmful to his wife.
So, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (Eph 5:22). This is God’s mission for you. It’s one you took on voluntarily when you stepped into God’s institution of marriage. It’s regarding roles, not importance or value. And it’s an expression of unity with your husband as you both strive to honor God in your lives and in your marriage.
Now, husbands, I’m figuratively taking you aside for a moment. Listen to what the Lord says to you, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). This word “love,” it’s a tall order. It’s the highest form of love. Higher than sensual love. Higher than friendship’s love. It’s love that is purposefully and deliberately shown. Love that is one sided, unselfish, not expecting anything in return. It continues even if not reciprocated. It’s a love that can even be shown to an enemy.
And if that weren’t a tall enough order, God adds a description to this love. “Love your wives, just as Christ loved the church” (Eph 5:25). Your love for your wife ought to be on the level of Jesus loving the church. In fact, Jesus describes the supreme test of love. He says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). And Jesus met this test. He surrendered himself, gave up his life for the church. And God says, husbands, love your wife in this way.
What does that look like in marriage? I think another section of Scripture lays it out very clearly. It’s actually in a section that deals with all Christians, but how much more so then does it doubly apply to husbands. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Php 2:5-8). Husbands, have the same mindset as Christ. Love your wives as Christ love the church. Even though he was equal with God – and you are not – he didn’t even use this for his own advantage. Rather, he loved the church by taking on the very nature of a servant for her and died for her.
Husbands, love your wife by serving her. Love your wife by sacrificing your own wants, needs, will for her. She is one with you. You chose her to be your wife and share a life with you. It was the conviction that this woman means more to you than anyone else that led you to want her as your wife. God goes on to say, “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church” (Eph 5:28-29). Husbands, you are one body with your wife. Love your body by loving her. Care for your body by caring for her. Do what’s best for your body, your marriage, even if it means sacrificing yourself for her sake. In love, husbands, do all you can for your wife, even to the extreme extent of being willing to give up your own life if by doing so you can save your wife.
Now that we’ve addressed both husbands and wives, how would you rate yourself in your marriage? Not your spouse, the focus is on you. Have you been perfect in your marriage? I think it’s fair to say that none of us has. We all give into our selfish, sinful thoughts at times. We all have expected and demanded what my spouse should be doing for me, rather than focusing on what I can do for my spouse. That’s why spouses get ugly toward each other. That’s why marriages struggle. But the mystery of a Christian marriage is that it does not give up. It perseveres through the tough times. It does not break. And no, it’s not because Christian husbands are better in and of themselves. It’s not because Christian wives are better in and of themselves. Rather, it’s because both Christian husband and Christian wife turn to Christ – Christ who establishes the love in a marriage, Christ who forgives sin in a marriage, Christ who modeled a perfect marriage to his bride, the church.
Interwoven in this section about marriage is also a beautiful description of what Christ did for you, the church, his bride. Sometimes the two threads are so closely tied, that it’s hard to distinguish at times whether God is talking about marriage or Christ. And rightly so. Because just as Christ is a model for Christian marriages. Christian marriages also model Christ to the world.
“The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior” (Eph 5:23). And what did Christ, the head, do for his body as its Savior? “Love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:25-27). He is the Savior of the church. He sacrificed his life to save the church. He has proven his unconditional love for us and will never ask us to do anything that is not in our best interest. This gives us reason to willingly submit to him. And as we do, we don’t at all resent his headship. We appreciate it. We willingly submit to him as our perfect Lord and God-given head. And while Christ, the head, receives worship, honor, love and obedience from his body, the church, he gives his church infinitely more than we have ever given him. He saved you, the church, from sin and damnation by dying on the cross. His blood was the price he paid to make you his own. We gladly submit to him. And this submitting is not a demeaning thing – rather it brings great blessing. As a result of what Christ did for you, his church, you are so completely holy that even the all-seeing eye of God can find nothing in you to hold against you. You are radiant, without stain or wrinkle, or any other blemish. Holy and blameless. Amazing love!
Husbands, you are forgiven. Wives, you are forgiven. Let each and every day begin with the reminder that you have been cleansed by the washing with water through the word – baptism. Your spouse has been cleansed too. Forgive one another. You are united in this marriage as one body, and just as the body has different parts for different roles all working together for the good of the body, so too you as husband and wife have different, God-given roles for the good of your marriage.
So go with the mystery of what Christ has done for you – a mystery revealed by God through the scriptures. You have been made perfect! Go and live faithfully in your marriages to reveal this mystery of Christ to the world. When Christ is the model, the husband’s attitude will not be, “How can I better rule my wife?” but, “How can I better love, serve and give up myself for my wife?” It won’t always be easy. There will be times when loving your wife will be as hard as loving your enemy. And there will be times when you will not want to sacrifice for the good of your wife. But God says the perfect role for you is to love. And while no husband has ever done as much for his wife as Christ has done for the church, when Christ and the church are the model, the wife’s attitude will be, “How can I faithfully honor God by honoring and respecting my husband?” It won’t always be easy. He won’t always be perfect. He is sinful. He will make mistakes. But God says the perfect role for your is to submit yourself. Taking ownership of these God-given roles is the only way to cut through the smog of this world’s view of marriage and reveal the mysteries of a Christian marriage. A marriage that reveals the mystery of Christ and his church.