Marriage is a mystery.
Not in the “men don’t understand women” or vice versa kind of way. No, marriage is a mystery full of so much more spiritual meaning than we often attribute to it.
Some tidily summarize marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman. Others add more spiritual profundity by defining it as a lifelong commitment between two people who love God more than each other, and in doing so, love one another more profoundly than they could any other way. I personally think that’s a beautiful summary of marriage. But then there is what Paul says.
The Profound Mystery of Marriage
In Ephesians 5, the Apostle says about marriage: “This is a profound mystery” (Eph 5:32a). What does he mean by that?
In this section of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul has been saying a great deal about what it looks like to “live as children of light.” He covers multiple examples of what we should avoid, what we are to pursue, and how we are to display Christ to a watching world. And then he gets to the topic of marriage and blows everybody’s mind.
First, Paul tells husbands and wives to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v21). This sounds all well and good, but then he does something amazing. He begins to talk about husbands and wives as living illustrations of Christ and the church. Husbands, Paul writes, are to illustrate Christ’s relationship to the church in how they love their wives (v. 25). Wives are to illustrate the church’s relationship to Christ in how they love their husbands (v. 24). And this, Paul writes, is a “profound mystery.” Now, it can be tempting to stop here and say “Well, if it’s a mystery to Paul, it’s a mystery to me” and continue with our day. Instead, let’s camp on that word mystery for a bit before we move on.
A Closer Look at Mystery in the Bible
All sorts of things in the spiritual realm are mysteries:
- God’s existence inside and outside of time – how does that work?
- Man’s free will and the sovereignty of God – how do those go together?
- God simultaneously existing and working as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – hard to sum that up in a couple of sentences.
All of these have elements of mystery to them. And while they can’t be fully comprehended by us, they can certainly be apprehended. Allow me to explain further. You see, we don’t fully understand how God exists in and out of time (comprehend), but we can clearly see from Scripture that He does so (apprehend). We can’t fully explain how God’s sovereignty and man’s free will go hand-in-hand, but the Bible makes it clear that they do. No man can explain the full inner workings of the Trinity, but we know from Scripture that God is clearly three Persons in One Being.
Marriage falls into this mystery category as well. While we can’t fully comprehend how God set up marriage to represent the love between Him and His people, we can apprehend what Scripture makes clear is required of us. In fact, to clarify that our responsibility as spouses is not part of the mystery, Paul adds verse 33: “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Let’s finish up by unpacking this final verse.
Shining the Gospel as Husbands: Love Your Wives as Yourselves
Keep in mind that Paul has already outlined how husbands are to illustrate Christ’s love for the church in how they love their wives. Only then does he add, “love your wives as yourselves.” So, husbands are to first meditate upon how Jesus loves His bride. Meditate upon His patience, His mercy, His grace, His gentleness, His understanding, His time, His full attention, His at-all-costs love, His willingness to sacrifice all for her. Those characteristics are to be your characteristics as a husband – it is from that starting point that you then love your wife as yourself. When people see that – you loving your bride as Jesus loves His – they see an aspect of the gospel message.
Shining the Gospel as Wives: Respect Your Husband
Much like what was said about husbands, this respect is qualified. Paul has already anchored this in the fact that wives are to be living illustrations of the church’s relationship to Christ. It is through this lens that wives are to respect their husbands. Because the husband has made it his priority to love his wife as Christ loves His bride, the wife is free to joyfully love him as the church loves Christ. She joyfully pursues him, makes him a priority, holds him in high regard, and submits to his leadership. When people see that – a wife’s open and authentic adoration for her husband – they see an aspect of the gospel message.
Joining the Halves
When both husband and wife join together in harmony as described in Ephesians 5, what the world sees is the full beauty of the gospel message. A message that boldly proclaims how Christ loves and how His people are to respond. When people see the gospel at work in your marriage, they will likely be much more prepared to hear the gospel message come from your mouth. And isn’t the gospel what we’re all here for?
Copyright © 2021 Brock Anderson of Evantell, used with permission.