In chapter 5 of Ephesians, where the Apostle Paul has been exploring the implications of the Gospel for every facet of our Christian lives, he lays out the Christian understanding of marriage.
The Christian understanding of marriage is radically different from the understanding of marriage found in both traditional and modern cultures. In Traditional Culture (most of world history, and much of the global population still today) marriage is primarily understood through the lens of societal stability. In Modern Culture (here in the West), marriage is primarily understood through the lens of personal fulfillment.
But the Christian understanding of marriage is radically different from both Traditional and Modern understandings of marriage because it blazes its own unique trail. And there’s no better place to see that in that in Ephesians 5:22-33.
1) The Shape of Christian Marriage: Patterned after Christ’s Covenant Devotion
This passage is the most extensive treatment about marriage in the Bible, and what’s remarkable is how little here is actually about human marriage. Of the 215 words here in English, only 100 are about human marriage. The majority of this passage is about Jesus Christ and His covenant love for his bride, the Church.
The commands to husbands and wives are patterned after Christ and the Church. Paul is saying that marriage points beyond the earthly and physical to the cosmic and spiritual. Marriage is designed to be a mirror that reflects the covenant devotion of Christ Himself. Or better yet, marriage is intended to be a window through which we can glimpse the love of God.
From the very beginning, the unity-in-diversity and self-giving union of marriage was designed to reflect the unity-in-diversity and self-giving union of the Triune God. Theologians describe the interior life of the Triune God with the word perichoresis – the dance of mutual indwelling, self-giving love. The two-in-one dance of human marriage reflects the Three-in-One dance of the Triune God. And finally, marriage reflects the overflow of Christ’s redeeming covenant love for His bride, the Church.
Paul is telling us that for Christians, the primary lens through which we understand marriage isn’t societal stability or personal fulfillment (those are valid but secondary lenses). The primary lens is theological: marriage is about God and the Gospel.
2) The Calling of Christian Marriage: Imitation of Christ through Love and Submission
In light of this soaring theological vision for marriage, Paul now gives husbands and wives some specific callings, woven all throughout the text.
Paul starts with instructions for the husbands. Husbands, God has given you a position of leadership… but it is not for your benefit. You have been given leadership so that you might be first to serve and sacrifice for your wife. Husbands, you will be the first one to stand before God and answer for how you led your wife in loving, sacrificial self-giving.
For wives the calling is to respectfully submit in self-giving love. Respectfully submit in self-giving love just like Jesus submitted Himself to the Father and submitted his own needs to yours, putting you first, in His sacrificial love. Lay down your life in love for him.
In many ways, love and submission are two sides of the same coin. Love says, “You go first.” Submission says, “I’ll go last.” A Christian marriage is one in which both husband and wife everyday seek to outdo one another in sacrificial love.
3) The Purpose of Christian Marriage: Growing in Holiness to Reveal Christ
Spiritual transformation that lies at the very heart of this passage on marriage. Marriage is a vehicle of Christ’s transforming work. It is a pressure-cooker in which Christ is preparing us for Himself. Marriage is less about happiness and more about holiness.
Jesus is in the business of making us like Himself, in order that he might present us to himself as his bride in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing that we might be holy and without blemish. And in Christian marriage you’ve got to catch that vision!
Christian marriage is less about happiness and more about holiness. It’s about shining the Gospel love of Christ to each other and to the world. It’s about helping each other get ready to marry Jesus.
Takeaway: These fragile and momentary marriages are pointing to the ultimate everlasting Marriage.
Marriage isn’t for everyone. Singleness isn’t for everyone. But standing before Jesus, radiant and in splendor is for every one of God’s children. The Bible upholds the value of both singleness and marriage as a means of showcasing the love of Christ as we grow in holiness by the Spirit until the day we fall into His everlasting arms. As marriage displays the covenant-nature of His love, singleness displays the all-sufficiency of His love.