I think we all want a strong family and household. Regardless of our marital status, the strength of our home and family makes a significant difference. If we’re older we want our kids and grandkids to have a strong healthy family. If we’re married, we know the reality of stress and tension which can easily harm our closest relationships with our spouse and kids. And we know that if our homes and families are strong; the city, culture and country are strong.
So we have been spending time in the book of Ephesians and we have discovered that Paul is writing to a group of Jesus followers who care just as much about family as we do. Today, we find Paul speaking even more deeply into the context of marriage. For Paul, and as a significant piece of Christian theology – marriage between a man and a woman represents the union – the relationship Jesus has with the Church – with us.
Currently, there are many conversations about marriage – its relevance, its meaning, its necessity. So out of our commitment to the authority of Scripture, let’s spend time rebuilding our theology of marriage with the understanding that those who have chosen to marry see that value of that relationship to the strength of our culture. If Jesus is at the core of a marriage – that marriage becomes a ministry and witness.
One of the realities that we must come to grips with is the reality that marriage is in trouble. Over the last 40 years marriage has been in decline. The divorce rate is nearly twice that of 1960. In 1970, 89% of all births were to married parents, but today only 60% are. In 1960, 72% of adults were married; in 2008 only 50% of adults were married. Today, nearly half of all people live together before marriage.
A recent study by the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project concluded that less than 1/3 of high school senior girls and only a little more of 1/3 of high school boys seem to believe that marriage is beneficial to people.
New York Times columnist Tara Parker-Pope wrote an article called The Happy Marriage is the ‘Me” Marriage: The notion that the best marriages are those that bring satisfaction to the individual may seem counterintuitive. After all, isn’t marriage supposed to be about putting the relationship first? Not anymore. For centuries, marriage was viewed as an economic and social institution, and the emotional and intellectual needs of the spouses were secondary to the survival of the marriage itself. But in modern relationships, people are looking for a partnership, and they want partners who make their lives more interesting…who help each of them attain valued goals.
Marriage used to be a public institution for the common good, and now it is a private arrangement for the satisfaction of the individuals. Marriage used to be about us, but now it is about me. (italics from Tim Keller -The Meaning of Marriage)
In Paul’s first century context, marriage had its challenges just as we do in our own 21st century culture. So Paul offers a new reality of marriage based upon the centrality of Jesus. And he begins with the radical idea that the context of marriage is covenant. On one level a covenant is a binding agreement or promise between two or more people. But the concept of covenant appears multiple times in the Bible – and in the Biblical covenant the promise is not just between people but also between God and people. A Biblical covenant is initiated by God and lived out in relationship between people and God. So the covenant of marriage is more than an agreement between a man and woman; and one in which it is binding only so long as both agree. But the covenant of marriage included a relationship to the holy God who calls us into relationship with each other and himself. The covenant of marriage bound in a relationship with God reveals the relationship between Jesus and his church. This is, by far, is the most important reason. God ULTIMATELY made human marriage for the purpose of demonstrating Jesus’ love for His Church.
In the infinite wisdom of God, He saw that exclusive male-female monogamy would be the best “dramatization” of the ultimate reality that is, Christ and His Church. Christians have a heavy mantle of responsibility to bear. Through marriage, we demonstrate to an unbelieving world the power of the relational dynamic that exists between Jesus and His people.
When Jesus talked about his relationship with the Church he often used wedding language. In Matthew 9:14-15 Jesus is asked about fasting and he replies: Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
The union between Jesus and his church is deeply intimate; a supernatural mingling of two into one.
This is so real for Paul that he remembers the creation story and connects the marriage of Adam and Eve not just to human marriages but to Jesus and the Church. READ Genesis 2:24. Jesus leaves his Father to unite with his bride (church) and become one.
Another aspect of union with Christ is that of “Christ in us”. Paul uses such language in Galatians, where he writes “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) To the Colossians, Paul writes that “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27)
So let’s see what Paul says – context of mutual submission led by the Holy Spirit. Read Ephesians 5:31-33. How does the theological truth become practical and expressive in marriage?
Leave. For this reason… what’s the reason – because Jesus relationship to the church…a man shall leave his father and mother. In the first century family was important. And in that family context, the male role was primary. A man couldn’t be fully male until he removed himself from his alpha father and went to create his own household. He would build his own household and rise to community influence. When he left, his loyalty changed. No longer was he required to be loyal to his parents. He was creating a new loyalty.
Leaving one leads to loyalty to another. And loyalty is significant for the health of a marriage. If your focus is still back home; or if your focus is on something else: job, friendships, hobbies – you will never be able to give full loyalty and commitment to your spouse. You’ll be divided. Your spouse will want your loyalty and attention while you are still connected to your family of origin. Break the emotional connection. Leaving is a strong term of intention. It is the intention to break all other bonds of authority for the sake of your spouse.
In Matthew 19 Jesus is responding to questions about marriage and divorce. And in response to that which breaks marriages Jesus says, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” No one, no other relationship – even that with our family of origin, is meant to separate the covenant between husband and wife. Leaving does not mean ignoring other relationships or not spending any time with them. Leaving means recognizing that your marriage created a new family and that this new family must be a higher priority than any other relationship you have.
The next portion of this phrase that Paul quotes from Genesis is in leaving there is now a uniting between a husband and wife. The word means “to cling to, to stick (or glue) to, to hold fast to someone in a permanent bond.” – Certainly the idea of uniting is a whole-hearted commitment to another in an inseparable union … A man who unites to his wife … will “glue” himself to her in a permanent bond. When two people are married, God provides the glue and seals them in a union.
Another aspect of this unity means “yoked together;” like a yoke of oxen. The picture is of marriage as the creation of a team of persons who are closely related to each other. Like oxen yoked together to do a task, each partner in the marriage has been yoked with the other so that they may most precisely function as a team, can do the work that God has set before them. They are no longer two independent individuals but are a unit. What therefore God has made a team, let no man separate.
If you have ever experienced divorce, you can understand the pain of something coming apart that was “glued” together and what that potentially does to all involved.
The reason is that the two have become one flesh. Becoming one flesh symbolizes the identification of two people with one community of interests and pursuits..no longer isolated. Although they remain two persons, the married couple becomes one in a mystical, spiritual unity … The concept of “one flesh” is beautifully illustrated in the children God may give a married couple. In their offspring, husband and wife are united into one person.
Remember that in this passage Paul is using the analogy of marriage to describe the relationship between Jesus and the church. The Ephesians passage speaks to the believer’s relation to God. Paul is identifying the nature of the Christ-Church union. It is a living union – a union that is permanent—nothing will ever separate the believer from the Lord.
What, does it mean to become “one flesh?” The words themselves speak of organic union. It is the relationship of one’s hand to one’s head. But although the head and hand may “team up,” their relation is far greater than that of two oxen simply bound together by a wooden yoke – the way an arm is to a shoulder – the two are a team, the members of which cannot function as independent individuals.
Emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, financially, and in every other way, the couple is to become one. Even as one part of the body cares for the other body parts (the stomach digests food for the body, the brain directs the body for the good of the whole, the hands work for the sake of the body, etc.), so each partner in the marriage is to care for the other.
Every single one of us, for every marriage that is represented in this room, our marriages are intended to be a parable of the gospel. Every single marriage in this room is meant to point to the truth of a crucified and risen Savior who has died for His church and is redeeming her. Every marriage is meant to be, by the grace of God, the best echo—the most faithful reflection—of that relationship that can possibly be.
John Piper says it this way: “Marriage is not mainly about being or staying in love. Marriage is mainly about telling the truth”—namely, the truth of Jesus and the church—“it’s mainly about telling the truth with our lives. Marriage is a pointer toward the glory of Christ and the church. It’s about portraying something true about Jesus Christ and the way that He relates to His people. It’s about showing in real life the gospel.”
What would change with our kids or grandkids; with our city; with our country if this were true in our lives?
My Next Right Step
- In Ephesians 5:21-33, Paul writes about the covenant of marriage as symbolic of the relationship between Jesus and the church. Talk about or journal your thoughts on this theological reality.
- How am I and my spouse working to ensure that our marriage takes precedence over every other relationship we have?
- Pastor Ron used the image of tearing glued items to demonstrate Paul’s message of being joined with or united to your spouse. Talk about or journal the pain caused when two people who are joined together experience being torn apart.
- Becoming “one flesh” suggests the mingling of our soul with our spouse’s soul. In what ways are you and your spouse daily becoming and staying “one flesh”?