Part 31 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians
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“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 (5:31-32).
The Mystery of Marriage
In verse 31, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Then he says, “This mystery is profound” (v. 32a).
The Greek word of “mystery” is mysterion (cf. 1:9; 3:3, 4, 9; 6:19). In Ephesians, “mystery” refers to “the once-hidden plan of God revealed in Jesus Christ” (Peter T. O'Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, p. 433). (In a mystery novel, there is hidden information that is not revealed until the end of the book.) The Greek word for “profound” is mega, which can also be translated “great.” (We use the word “mega” in English. If something is mega size, it’s very big.)
What is the great mystery about marriage? Look at what Paul writes next: “And I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (v. 32b). In other words, the mystery involves Christ and the church. The union of a husband and wife (“one flesh,” v. 31) is like the union between Christ and the church.
The great mystery of marriage is that it was designed by God to be a picture of the gospel.
Tim Keller writes, “This is the secret—that the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another. That when God invented marriage, he already had the saving work of Jesus in mind” (The Meaning of Marriage, p. 47). And according to John Piper, “Marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship to his redeemed people, the church. And therefore, the highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display” (This Momentary Marriage, p. 25).
Living Out the Gospel
How can you put the relationship between Christ and the church on display in your marriage? There are two ways you can do this.
1. Put your spouse first.
In Philippians 2:4, Paul writes, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” And then he says the we should have the attitude of Christ—an attitude that leads to service. “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, begin born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (vv. 6-8).
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). “Is the purpose of marriage to deny your interests for the good of the family, or is it to assert your interests for the fulfillment of yourself? The Christian teaching does not offer a choice between fulfillment and sacrifice but rather mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice" (The Meaning of Marriage, p. 47).
2. Keep your marriage covenant.
God designed marriage to be a covenant, not a contract. Marriage is not merely “a bilateral contract between two individuals,” but “a sacred bond between husband and wife before God as a witness” (Andreas Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family, p. 73). Malachi 2:14 says, “The LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (cf. Prov. 2:17).
Christ has entered into a covenant relationship with the church. He said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). And he promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). “Staying married, therefore, is not mainly about staying in love. It is about keeping covenant. ‘Till death do us part’ or ‘As long as we both shall live’ is a sacred covenant promise—the kind Jesus made with his bride when he died for her” (This Momentary Marriage, p. 25).
As God has shown grace to us, we must show grace to others in all of our relationships--especially marriage.