Let me say at the outset that I am deeply indebted to former seminary professor and pastor David J. Engelsma for my thoughts on marriage. Over the years I have read widely the marriage material but arguably no one has done as good a job as Engelsma to crystallize the fact that marriage is in reality a great mystery as per Ephesians 5:31,32.
For the apostle Paul, inspired to write by God the Holy Spirit, the marriage of a man to a woman is a wonderful thing, because every Christian marriage symbolically sets forth to a watching world the relationship that should exist and does exist between Christ and the Church.
Perhaps you who are married have never considered your marriage in this light before but here it is. As a Christian you live out the drama that exists between Christ and the Church.
To support his arguments of how men and women should act within the framework of marriage, Paul quotes almost verbatim Genesis 2:24. The passage reads, “Therefore, shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.”
These words were not spoken by man (Adam) but by God Himself as He, through Moses, wrote His own divine commentary on the marriage institution (note Genesis 2:23 for the words of Adam). This is confirmed by Matthew 19:4,5. God would have men and women do three things.
First, people who would know a successful marriage must leave father and mother. This is not easy to do because the bonding between a parent and child is perhaps the greatest natural bonding of all human relationships. Still, there must come a time when parents release their children to become the responsible adults God would have them be.
Leaving parents may or may not be a reference to geographical location. Usually it is, but we all know of people who leave geographically but emotionally are still very much attached to the apron strings, so to speak. To leave means a measure of personal independence and autonomy whereby a new family is established.
Second, God commands couples to cleave to each other. Paul uses the word “joined” in Ephesians 5:31 which literally means “to be glued to someone,” or “to stick closely to someone.” Husbands and wives should be the best of friends above all others. Between friends there are no secrets. Between friends there is a delight in each others presence. Between friends there is a sweet sharing together.
Third, couples are commanded to become one flesh. In Genesis, the word “two” does not appear, though it is certainly implied. Paul takes what is implied and makes it explicit by stating, “and they two shall become one flesh.”
The term “one flesh” means much more than sexual union, although that is certainly part of Paul is saying. It speaks of a total unity of body and soul. Here in lies the great mystery, because the process of how two separate entities become one is not fully understood yet we know that it does happen.
We know there is a mystical blending of personalities evidenced by the object despair and misery of those who get divorced for whatever reason. We know there is a mystical blending of personalities evidenced by the pain of the widower or widow. Their grief cannot be described. As David Engelsma puts it so well, “How does one describe what it is to die in part, but still to go on living?”
Marriage then becomes a fitting symbol to express the relationship between Christ and the Church. Observe several things.
First, the Church is declared to be the wife of Christ. Like Eve, the Church was not made first but second. She was made for Adam. Likewise, Christ existed before the Church. The Church exists for Him.
Second, as the woman had her origin from the man so the Church has her origin from Christ. The act of creating the woman from man was a violent and bloody act and caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. In like manner, the Church came from the bloody and violent treatment of Christ which caused Him to go into a deep sleep even death for three days and three nights.
Third, as the man and the woman were united as one so Christ the Head and the Church the body are united as one.
Fourth, as the man and woman enjoy fellowship with each other, so the Church can enjoy delightful fellowship with the Lord as He is obeyed.
For the Christian married couple, the standard of judgment is this: “Husbands, did you love your wife today as Christ loved the Church?” And, “Wives, did you honor and obey your husband even as the Church is to honor and obey the Lord?”
Here is a revolutionary concept for married couples to meditate over. Our marriages transcend ourselves. Note that a Christian marriage becomes several things.
First, it becomes a tool for evangelism. All marriages exist as a divine institution, but Christian marriages exist in particular to reflect a great mystery to the unbelieving community. People should be saying, “You have a good marriage. Why is that?” And the opportunity is given to witness.
Second, a Christian marriage helps to build solid churches. A church is only as stable and as strong as the families in its congregation. When the family life disintegrates, the local church shall feel its deep effects. It has been said that the family which prays together stays together.
I would suggest the same is true for the local church. That is why I ask you to sit together. That is why I ask you to hug each other. That is why I ask you to speak kindly of each other and seek to serve instead of being served. The one large family reflects the individual smaller family units and they must be strong.
Third, a Christian marriage is the best way to fulfill God’s divine plan to be fruitful and multiply “till death us do part.” Divorce was never part of God’s original plan nor permission. God would have one man married to one woman for life so that through sickness and through health, in sunshine or in sorrow, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse. His grace could be made manifest in all situations.
We do well to hold up this idealized state before the Christian community and for good reason. First, our young people are looking for mates, as well they should. But let the young people be taught that marriage is more than physical attraction. There are principles to preserve, there is a philosophy to embrace if they would not be hurt. Divorce is not an option.
Second, we need to exalt the institution of marriage afresh because far too many Christians are destroying the sacred spiritual imagery that God has ordained to speak of the Church. When Christ stops loving the Church, the Christian husband can stop loving his wife. But that will never happen.
Third, attacks by Satan and society are being leveled against the family in war after war and hell is making an impact. The statistics are staggering. Over fifty percent of our children will grow up in a single parent home. Alternative lifestyles are now not only acceptable, but celebrated as good, decent, and righteous. Turn on any modern-day show and you will see anything but a traditional family.
We need to go back to the Bible. We as a Church need to go back to a stabilizing influence and teach that marriage is between a man and a woman, because only in that pairing can a couple truly reflect God’s image. Two men or two women cannot love—in any meaningful, biblical sense—a mirror image. Marriage is a great mystery in that it speaks of how God came to earth to bring into existence the Church. He loved the Church and gave Himself for her. We must strive to emulate that same love in our marriages, and we should treasure our marriages the way Christ treasures His Church.