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The Mystery of Marriage

In this subseries of my Refocus on the Family blog series, we are examining how to honor God in marriage by what God writes about marriage in the Bible. In the introductory post, we examined Ezra 9-10. In that introductory post, we found a parallel between Ezra’s time and our own time: although a biblical view of marriage is in decline and is even less-than-biblical among some Christians, “there is still hope.” As we examine God’s Word and obey him in marriage, one by one our families will be revived to faithfulness in the home.

We last examined the majesty of marriage, which God presents in Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:15-23 even as he creates marriage. In that post, we saw that marriage both reflects God’s nature and crowns God’s creation. The opening chapters of Genesis establish marriage’s majesty. Marriage was majestic since creation. I concluded that post that “as we recapture within our minds the inherent majesty of marriage, we begin to journey closer to God’s plan, as revealed in the Bible, for marriage.”

Tonight, we will examine the mystery of marriage, which Paul writes about in Ephesians 5:31-33.

“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. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

The Mystery

Paul hearkens back to Genesis when he quotes Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31. In doing so, Paul says that the majesty of marriage causes the mystery of marriage. It is a majestic thing to be involved in a relationship whose prototype crowned God’s creation. It is a majestic thing to be involved in a relationship that reflects God’s nature. And this inherent majesty causes the mystery of marriage, as signified by the transition word, “therefore.” What is this mystery of marriage? “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Now, before we get confused by this “mystery,” it would help if we knew what Paul meant by this word, “mystery.” In the ESV Study Bible, Dr. S.M. Bough explains this “mystery” as “the hidden plan of God that has come to fulfillment in Christ Jesus.” So even one earthly marriage is a shadow, or type, or reflection, of the fulfillment of God’s plan. It is certainly God’s will for people to be married, for he designed all (commanded) sexual relations to occur only in marriage, but it is also God’s will for a husband and wife to leave their parents and become one flesh with one another. It is important to note this because many marital problems arise from less-than-perfect relationships with either sets of in-laws. It is vital for us to realize that God-designed marriage prominently features both a leaving of parental authority and support and a holding fast to one’s spouse.

Referring to Christ and the Church

Paul in this passage emphatically declares that the mystery of marriage “refers to Christ and the church.” This is an all-important fact. We must realize and acknowledge this truth. At its deepest level, marriage should reflect the relationship between Christ and his bride, the church. As Dr. S.M. Bough later writes for the ESV Study Bible:

Paul’s meaning is profound: he interprets the original creation of the husband-and-wife union as itself modeled on Christ’s forthcoming union with the church as his “body” (see v. 23). Therefore, marriage from the beginning of creation (Genesis 1) was created by God to be a reflection of and patterned after Christ’s relation to the church. Thus Paul’s commands regarding the roles of husbands and wives … present God’s ideal for marriages at all times, as exemplified by the relationship between the bride of Christ (the church) and Christ himself, the son of God.

These three verses in Ephesians 5 are the foundation of the preceding verses, which delegate the roles of husbands and wives in the home. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church; wives are to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. I will write more explicitly in coming posts, but now I turn your attention to Jim Hamilton’s contribution to For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper. It is available in full online; you can read it here. (I highly recommend it as a much more thorough treatment of this inexhaustible subject than this mere blog post.)

For the Fame of God’s Name

As revealed by its title, For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper is a book filled with essays written in honor of John Piper’s lengthy and faithful ministry. A beautiful copy of the book was presented to Piper at the recent DesiringGod Conference. (You can purchase the book here.) On October 11, Justin Taylor revealed at his blog that Jim Hamilton’s essay was available for free perusal online, and I jumped at the offer … especially when I read that Professor Hamilton’s essay was actually entitled, “The Mystery of Marriage.” (No, I did not steal that title. I had this post’s title planned months ago.)

When I found this providentially given essay, I eagerly began to read it. I will return to Professor Hamilton’s essay in the coming posts, but I will include his essay’s conclusion here:

The connection between Ephesians 5:29b–30 and 5:31–32 is the point where the plunge is taken. This connection is such that having described the way that Christ has loved the church, Paul says that it is because of Christ’s love for the church that the words of Genesis 2:24 exist. This amounts to a declaration that God created humans as gendered persons who would unite in a one-flesh union as one man, one woman, in covenant marriage, the two becoming one, so that the world would have a category for understanding the relationship between Christ and the church.

The mystery of marriage, then, is that in it the gospel is proclaimed as a wife submits to her husband as the church submits to Christ and as a husband loves his wife as Christ loves the church, giving himself up for her. Herein is displayed not only the love of Christ for the church, but also the love of Yahweh for Israel, and the latter is fulfilled in the former.

The mystery of marriage is that marriage displays “not only the love of Christ for the church, but also the love of Yahweh for Israel.” I leave you with the postscript poem Professor Hamilton wrote and placed at the end of his essay:

Like land and sea and stars above
And all else he has made,
This too is for the glory of
The one who has displayed

A love not based on beauty’s shades
Nor driven by some debt,
A love before there were yet days
Like none else ever met.

The archetype for man and wife
Is Christ’s love for his bride.
To Christ her Lord the church submits,
And for her life he died.

And for this reason, man should leave
His parents and his kin,
And to his wife then he shall cleave
Never to leave again.

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