Last week, we talked about how marriage is a vehicle of our sanctification. This week, I want to talk about an aspect of sanctification. We are sanctified as we are completed, completed in marriage, completed in church and ultimately completed in Jesus.
31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 32 This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.
I am covering only 3 verses this afternoon. Let’s work in reverse. Verse 33 – I just want to point out the phrase, “each one of you.” In his summary statement, who is Paul addressing first and foremost? He is calling out the husbands. He could have phrased it, husbands, love your wives and wives respect your husbands. But he doesn’t. He puts special emphasis on the husbands. Each one of you. If the marriage doesn’t go right, it’s often the husband’s fault for not loving rather than a lack of respect issue on the part of wives. If husbands loved in the way that Christ loved the church, wives wouldn’t struggle so much respecting their husbands. What woman would not respect a husband who led and loved like Christ? Men, God is going to hold you responsible if the marriage suffers.
Verse 22 – the mystery of marriage is the fact that in this section which is all about marriage, marriage is not the main point. Having a good marriage is not the main takeaway from this chapter. The point is Christ and the church. The secret that unlocks this mystery is gospel re-enactment. We covered this already. The gospel is embedded in marriage and the gospel is embedded in Christ’s interaction with the church. Husbands are to lay down their lives for the church and wives are to submit and this pattern exactly mirrors Christ, who laid down his life to birth the church and the church submits to the headship and leadership of Christ.
Verse 31 has 4 important parts.
31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.
The 4 parts are: 1) For this reason, 2) leave, 3) be joined, 4) one flesh. Let’s look at part 1.
“For this reason…”
Phrases like this are important. There is a reason or basis for marriage and completion in marriage and one flesh union in marriage. What is the reason? This is just simple reading comprehension. To get at the answer, we have to read the previous verses.
29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 since we are members of His body.
I think we can see 2 things in these verses. First, the reason for marriage is to teach husbands and wives, and in this case, specifically the husband, to provide and care for his wife. In other words, husbands, don’t be selfish. Life was not meant to be lived for the self. This goes for both men and women. Life is more than providing for your own needs and taking care of yourself and using the other person to get what you want. Instead, live for others, starting with your spouse if you are married. Many people think they are loving. The Bible doesn’t allow us to make broad generalizations like, I love humanity. I love the world. Really? The Bible is much more concrete. Start with loving one person. Can you love one person, just one person, with the same level of care and concern that you have for yourself?
Second, we see how marriage is a reflection of Christ and the church. Christ did not live for himself. Christ provided and cared for the church. He laid down his life for the church. He continues to this day to pour out his love to the church and He has sent the Holy Spirit and given spiritual gifts to help edify His church. Christ is inseparable from the church. Christ and the church are one. He is the Head of the church. He is not a decapitated Head floating around the heavenly realms. He is connected to, inseparable from His body. And we are the body of Christ. May we never be a headless body where we only relate to one another and we lose sight of who the Head is.
The only reason we are together is because we are IN CHRIST. We are one body AND we are one with Christ, who is the Head. Christian brothers and sisters are to provide and care for one another in the same way that husbands are to provide and care for their wives. Remember, the two mirror one another. Marriage is a pointer to the mystery of Christ and the church. It says we are members of Christ’s body. Your arm is not a severed limb. It is connected to the rest of the body. You wouldn’t refer to your pinky toe and say, man, I got a mighty fine body. Arm, pinky toe, torso, legs–it’s all one body. Even a paper cut on your index finger causes you pain. Whether you stub your toe or jam a finger or get your wind knocked out, to you, pain is pain. Because you have one body and the parts are interconnected. One part suffers, the whole body suffers. Members of Christ’s church are as inseparable and interconnected as body parts are to a person’s body.
Marriage mirrors Christ and the church. Does this mean that singles are in a worse off position than married couples? This is review, but I want to make sure you understand this point. There is no marriage in the new heaven and new earth. Apostle Paul was single and obviously none of us would consider him to be inferior because of his single status. Marriage is only a pointer to Christ and the church. Therefore, having a happy marriage or an incredibly intimate marriage where there is deep soul level oneness cannot be the end goal. The end goal is for you and I, for every believer, whether single or married, to be the radiant, spotless bride of Christ.
Couples who get engaged prepare for months and even years for their wedding day. For the believer, this life–40, 60, 80 years–is all preparation. It’s a shadow of things to come. We are preparing ourselves for that day when we will be invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and we get to participate in the cosmic wedding with our ultimate Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. We will be united to and experience deep oneness with Christ. A deep unity with Christ that we only have faint glimpses of here on earth. We get faint glimpses of our future marriage with Christ here and now in physical marriage. We get faint glimpses of it in churches. But we mustn’t forget–the best is yet to come. God has to use many tools in his toolbox to teach us the deep things of God. Marriage is one tool and church is another. Both are vehicles to sanctify us and to help us understand the mystery of Christ and the church.
To say that marriage is more important than church is to misunderstand this spiritual principle. It would be like saying the sign on the freeway that says, “Los Angeles – 50 miles,” is more important than the city that the sign points to. No, the City of Angels is infinitely more important than a metal sign. Or, it’s like saying that our reflection in the mirror is more important than our actual bodies. I don’t know about you, I kind of like my reflection, I would like it more if I lost 10 lbs, but I like me infinitely more than my reflection.
Physical marriage points to Christ and the church, both here in our physical local churches, as well as the future, fully sanctified church that is part of the new heaven and the new earth. In the same way, our physical, local churches are pointers to the future, fully sanctified church that is part of the new heaven and the new earth. Marriage vs. local church–I wouldn’t say that one has priority over the other. They are on equal footing, they are on the same level because they mirror one another and BOTH act as pointers to the future, cosmic union between Christ and His universal church.
When marriage is functioning according to God’s design, marriage helps selfish sinners concretely by giving them an opportunity to deny themselves in order to serve their spouses. Churches that are functioning according to God’s design, likewise, help selfish sinners concretely by giving them an opportunity to deny themselves in order to serve other believers.
The practical application is simple. For singles, get involved in the lives of brothers and sisters around you. Start here. The person next to you. Once a week on a Sunday afternoon doesn’t cut it. Imagine if husbands and wives lived in separate rooms and had entirely separate schedules and only saw each other once a week. We would say, that marriage is dysfunctional. Because they are supposed to be one.
Likewise, the church. As members of Christ’s body, we are supposed to be one. Unity in marriage and unity at church doesn’t come automatically. It takes work. Invest in others. Spend time with brothers and sisters in Christ whom God has placed around you. Provide for their needs. Care for them concretely the same way that you provide and care for your own needs.
Married couples: your challenge is more complicated because you have the same 24 hours in a day that singles have. You have your spouse to invest in AND you have brothers and sisters at this church to invest in. And if you have kids, well, life becomes a juggling act. Life gets incredibly complicated because your spouse, kids, church members are all vying for your attention.
My advice to married couples is simple–be consistent. If you are active and intentional about investing in relationships at church but neglect your spouse, then perhaps you have made church or ministry an idol. If you are active and intentional in your marriage but you neglect your church relationships, then perhaps you have made marriage your idol. If you are active and intentional with your kids, but you neglect your spouse and you don’t prioritize church, then perhaps you have made your kids an idol.
As a pastor, if I am only godly while I am at church, but I live like an atheist outside the church, then you would have good reason to question my authenticity. If I’m good at pointing people here to Jesus, but I go home and I just play video games all day and I never talk about Jesus with my wife and kids even though I spend a good chunk of the week with them, then you would conclude that I am a phony. I would be like a corrupt police officer who abides by the laws and catches criminals while I have the uniform on, but after I take off the uniform, I’m dealing drugs on the street corner. You would say, I’m a crook, I’m a hypocrite, I’m just playing the part of a good guy when I have on the uniform, or I’m behind the pulpit, but it’s all an act.
It’s easy to act a certain way when people are watching, or when the spotlights are on. Anyone can act saintly for a couple of hours on a Sunday. It’s another thing altogether to be consistent Monday through Saturday. We have to live before God and not before men. Who you are in the privacy of your home when no one from church is around is the real you. A father who serves his spouse and trains his kids in the ways of the Lord when no one at the church is around to notice is the real deal because he is living before the Lord. A father who serves as a deacon and who meets with younger brothers of the church to disciple them but who doesn’t disciple his own children and neglects his wife lacks the consistency of someone who lives before the Lord. Or, he has turned church or ministry into an idol. Be consistent because wherever you are, God is there.