When I was a kid, one of my hobbies was building model airplanes. I’m sure you remember those little boxes of plastic parts you’d buy at a hobby shop or toy store. Your job was to paint them, glue them, and make them into something that bore a resemblance to an airplane. I must have made hundreds of them through the course of my childhood before, inevitably, blowing them all up with firecrackers.
A few weeks ago I was speaking at an event in Hawaii and was able to visit Pearl Harbor, one of Oahu’s must-see spots. Part of the attraction there is the Pacific Aviation Museum, and as I walked through the exhibits, I came to an interesting realization: I was able to identify almost all of the planes. Why? Because years ago I had built those models. Though there isn’t a whole lot of resemblance between a $50 million fighter jet and a little hollow piece of plastic glued together by a ten-year-old, there is still enough that I could make the connection. The model helped me identify the real thing.
I was thinking about Pearl Harbor and model airplanes when studying Ephesians 5. It is in chapter five that the apostle Paul springs a little surprise on us by telling us that marriage contains a mystery, a deeper meaning that has been hidden until after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it [marriage] refers to Christ and the church.” The marriage relationship with its loving leadership and joyful submission, with its indissoluble union and close intimacy—all of this is a miniature model of the way Christ and his church relate to one another. The ultimate meaning of marriage is the union of Christ and the church.
Think about the little model of an airplane; then consider the actual plane. Both are actual objects, but one is miniature, while the other is full-scale. One is a model or a representation, while the other is the real thing. Marriage is the miniature or the model while Christ and his church are full-scale, the real thing. This leads to an important application that pertains especially to those who are not married. When we understand the meaning of marriage, we realize that even if you never marry or are no longer married, you are not missing out on something that is essential to the human experience. If marriage had no meaning beyond itself, perhaps you would be missing out on something essential. But because marriage points to something else, you simply are not.
Perhaps it’s helpful to think about it in this way. Every year millions of people come to Toronto to see the city and one of the sites everyone wants to see is the C.N. Tower. It is, after all, a unique and uniquely incredible building. But I suspect that no one who stands and gazes at the C.N. Tower finds himself thinking, “Well, I feel like I’ll really be missing out until a see a little child’s plastic model of it as well.” That would be ridiculous. Even if a child with unusual talent built a model that was especially amazing, it would still pale in comparison to the real thing. It would only ever be the representation, the miniature. And in the same way, so is marriage. It is the miniature, the model.
So here is something to consider: If you are unmarried, you are not missing out on what’s ultimate and, therefore, on what’s essential. It’s no tragedy to miss out on the model. The only tragedy would be to miss out on the real thing. The only tragedy would be for you to miss having that real, living, and ultimate relationship with Jesus Christ.