This morning I am going to begin just a short series of articles on marriage. Having read several books on marriage in the past few months, I found myself really intrigued by what Paul says about the topic in his letter to the Ephesians. I’ve since had the opportunity to study it and wanted to share what I’ve learned along the way.
I am going to cheat a little bit at the start of this series by going to the end of the story before the beginning. There are a couple of members of my family who do this if they are reading a tense or scary novel–they will flip to the end, figure out how things conclude, and then go back and read the middle. Once they know that everything works out well, they can go back and read the rest without getting too wound up. I am going to do that here because any discussion of biblical marriage involves some scary words and ideas like submission and headship and leadership. This makes it very tense for a lot of us, so we’re going to go to the end of the story and see that it all turns out okay. Then we’ll go back to the rest of it.
Here is where we will begin:
“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 (Ephesians 5:31,32).
As he comes to the end of his teaching on marriage, Paul springs a giant surprise. He says that marriage is a mystery, that there is a hidden meaning in it and that until now this meaning has been hidden. The surprise is that marriage is a type or a picture or a display. Marriage is meant to be a portrait of something else. To show this he goes to the Old Testament, to the very first marriage of the very first man and woman. Let me give you some context.
God had created Adam and then allowed Adam to live by himself for a time so he could come to this understanding that in all of creation there was not a helper that was suitable to him. All the animals God had created paraded in front of Adam. Adam gave them names but saw that they were all very different from him. It’s not that he was lonely and pining away, but that God had him see that there was nothing or no one who was equal to him, no one who could help him carry out his God-given mandate. Adam had received his mandate from God, that he was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. But he knew that he could only do that with the help of something or someone that was like him.
Then God said, “It is not good for this man to be alone.” He caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep and he took one of his ribs and he fashioned a woman from it. He presented this woman to Adam in the first-ever wedding ceremony and the man immediately broke into a song of praise. Now he saw his helper, the one who would complement him and complete him and he sang out:
This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.
And then we read these words: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Now here, thousands of years later in this letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul returns to these words and says this: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Just like that, Paul gives a whole new meaning to marriage, a whole new purpose. He says that for all this time the joining of husband and wife in marriage has actually been a mystery, that it has been pointing to something else, something greater. Only now after the death and resurrection of Jesus are we able to see what it has been pointing to. The mystery is that the marriage relationship is a portrait of the relationship of Christ to his church. This relationship is the ultimate marriage, the real marriage.
This means that your marriage is a portrait of the marriage of Christ to his church, which in turn means that marriage is all about the gospel. This is true whether you know it or not, whether you are a Christian or not. Marriage is not ultimately about relational fulfillment or sexual fulfillment or procreation. All of those things are tied up in it, but the ultimate purpose of marriage is to serve as a portrait of the real marriage. The question is, is your marriage a good portrait or a bad one? Is it an accurate one or a distorted one? Is it a masterpiece or is it kitsch?
The Wedding Portrait
Let me illustrate in this way. I want you to picture an artist who has been called by the king and told to come to his wedding. This artist has been given the task of painting the official wedding portrait of the bride and groom. So he gets there early, he sets up his easel, he gets out his paints and begins to mix them, to make the colors he will need. He prepares his canvas and brushes. When the bride and groom come, he sits for a long time and just looks at them and studies them. And then he begins to put paint on canvas. At first it is just lines and blobs, but as he keeps working, the people begin to take shape, the groom in his fine suit and the bride in her dress. And as he works, hour after hour, the portrait gets better and sharper and more accurate and more beautiful. First you can see the outline of their heads, then the shape of their faces, and then the expressions in their eyes. And when at last that artist is finished, he has painted a masterpiece, a stunning portrait of the bride and groom.
The relationship of Christ and the church, the gospel, is all about the marriage of a bride and groom; we, Christians, are the bride and Christ is the groom. This union of Christ and the church is the real marriage and our marriages are to serve as that portrait, that image of the ultimate reality.
So here is the happy ending to the story: Our marriages get to be a portrait of Christ and the church. What a privilege! Marriage is a display of the gospel. This means that whatever we do in marriage is meant to bring glory to Christ, and that is the happiest ending of all. Now that we know that, we can read those scary words like submission and headship and see that it is all going to work out really, really well.
That is where I will leave it today. Tomorrow we’ll begin to answer this question: How can we make our marriages an accurate portrait of the real marriage?
Before I wrap this up, let me ask you, Do you actually think of your marriage in these terms? When you have those introspective moments and are thinking about being a better husband or a better wife, do you think about Christ and the church? Is that foundational to your thinking about marriage?
If this reality of marriage as a portrait was so fundamental to Paul’s theology of marriage, then you need to begin thinking in those terms as well. Once you do that you begin to see that marriage isn’t ultimately about your happiness or the fulfilling of your needs. Your task in marriage is not ultimately to please your spouse or to find your own sense of satisfaction in your spouse. Fulfillment cannot ultimately come from your husband or wife. Rather, the joy and success of your marriage comes from understanding and embracing that higher purpose.