“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. (Ephesians 5:31-32)
In the Book of Ephesians, as Paul is talking about what faith means for our human relationships, and how God calls husband and wife to love and respect one another, it’s as if he can’t keep himself limited to the topic at hand. Like the good preacher he is, he finds it necessary to point back to Christ and what Christ has done for us. Regarding the ordinary and everyday relationship experienced by husbands and wives throughout the world, he says: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church” (v. 5:32).
Lest we think that marriage is just one of those things that people do – some kind of quaint, old-fashioned tradition from times gone by, that has no meaning for our modern world – Paul says that it is something that teaches us about the very nature of our relationship with God.
On a surface level, we can recognize that both marriage and faith are relationships of love. Just as our spouse is a person for whom we have affection, we know that our love for God is based on his love for us (1 John 4:19). In a similar way, we know that the love a mother and father have for their children is a reflection of the love that our Father in heaven has for us. But I think Paul is saying more than this.
The “profound mystery” of which he speaks is more than just a metaphorical comparison or simile – i.e. this is like that. Paul is speaking here of something that strikes to the heart of what it means to call Christ our Savior. It is a deeper reference to trust and dependence, and what it means to know that our life and well-being rests in the hands of another.
One of my favorite images in all of Scripture is when Jesus speaks of himself as the “stronger man” who rescues us from the powers of sin, death, and the devil. In the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus was accused of casting out demons in the name of the devil, Jesus pointed out how foolish that accusation was. He says:
“If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.” (Mark 3:26-27)
Satan is the strong man who holds us prisoner in his dungeon. Far from being on Satan’s side, Jesus shows that He is the one who is stronger than Satan! Jesus has the power to bind the strong man and rescue us from the devil. Jesus breaks in and plunders hell itself, to bring us back to God. Truly, “Nothing in all creation will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Romans 8:39).
As a disciple of Christ, who trusts and believes in Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I know that I cannot save myself. I need someone to break in from the outside, not only just to save me from the devil – but frankly, to save me from myself. Sometimes I fancy myself as the “strong man;” I cling and hold on to my goods, thinking that somehow I can save myself. But then Christ comes, and proves me wrong.
The irony I have found is that it is most often my wife who shows me this. In my vocation as a husband or a father – or simply as a sinner trying to live my life in faith – I depend upon someone from outside myself to intervene. I need someone, beyond myself, who sees me bound in sin and does not turn away. I need someone who has the strength and the love and the courage to speak the Word of Christ to me in my weakness. I need someone who is not afraid to speak God’s grace and forgiveness into my captivity, so that Christ himself would set me free.
As Christians, I believe that is the very thing we are all called to do for one another. But no where is this more true than in the relationship between husband and wife.
Martin Luther once said of his own experience as a husband to his wife Katie, “A Christian is supposed to love his neighbor, and since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love.” (Of course, the same could be said of wife to husband.)
But the love of which Luther spoke in these words is more than a simple attraction of male to female. It is even more than the affection we feel toward one with which we are in love. Like Paul, the love of which Luther speaks is the greater love of God that can only come from outside of ourselves. It is a love spoken in real-life words of grace and mercy in Christ that are lived out within a life of weakness and genuine need.
So when I think about why it is that God created such a thing as marriage, I don’t see it as just a human tradition or a out-dated contract between two people in this world. I see marriage as a way that God has built the gospel itself into who we are.
I am blessed to say, both a spirit of confession and as a matter of dependence and trust, it is for this reason that I left my father and mother and now hold fast to my wife. For I know that tied up within this marital bond is the very means of grace by which I am able to live from day to day. My wife is a channel of divine love to me, and the one in whom I most clearly see the face of God. Indeed, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.”
– Pastor Steven E. King