I want to begin this study with a question that may come with a bit of a punch, but which is an important question: Is there a dichotomy between what we do as we gather on a Sunday and how we live our marriages on Monday? Perhaps for some there is even a difference between what happens in the church building and what happens on the drive home from Lord’s Day worship. For far too many, there is perhaps a notable difference between our response to the gospel and the way in which we treat our spouse.
If you don’t know the answer to that question, perhaps ask your children! What would they say?
My intention in asking this is not to heap guilt, but to help us toward grace. If we do not deal honestly with our own failures, there is little chance that we will seek the help we need to get right. Paul wrote Ephesians with a clear passion for his readers to see something of the majestic and marvellous miracle of the relationship between Christ and the church. He knew that, if they saw that, the miracle of that relationship would be reflected in their own momentary marriages.
The atonement is the foundation of marriage. The indescribable relationship between Jesus Christ and the church is high doctrine, and that doctrine is the foundation of human marriage. Paul has spent some time in our present text exulting in the glory of the Christ-church relationship, but as he comes to v. 33, he brings it down to a very practical living. After reminding his readers that marriage was always designed as a picture of Christ and the church (vv. 30–32), he now brings in the earthy application: “Nevertheless, let each of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (v. 33).
The revelation of the glorious marriage between Christ and the church leaves us with a profound responsibility in our marriage to live out these truths on a day-to-day basis. In a sense, the glorious truths on which we have reflected on Sunday is to inform our marriages on Monday. The majestic miracle of sinners being brought, through the gospel, into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ is the empowerment for us in the nitty-gritty of mundane married life.
As I write these words, we as a church are looking forward to four weddings in coming months. Right now, for those couples, it is all big thrills. And rightly so. When the weddings take place, there will be great joy. But the wife will not wake up the morning after the wedding with makeup, and the husband will not look as handsome as he did the day before.
Marriage is wonderful, but much of marriage is lived out in the mundane, in the day-to-day grind of ordinary life. But God expects the vision of Christ and the church to be translated into a miracle on Monday. He expects the doctrine of Christ and the church to motivate husbands to sacrificially love their wives and wives to respectfully follow their husbands.
As we conclude our studies in this subject of marriage, I want to consider what it means to enjoy the miracle of a Christ-centred marriage. We rightly congratulate people every year on their wedding anniversary. A wedding anniversary is a wonderful testimony of perseverance, forgiveness, tenderness, understanding, sacrifice, love, grace and unity. This is so particularly in our day an age, in which marriage for more than a few years is considered to be a great accomplishment.
God wants every Christian marriage to live the miracle. And as we consider these verses together, I want to draw your attention to four things that are necessary in order to live out the miracle of a Christ-centred marriage on Monday.
The first thing we need in order to live out the miracle of marriage is enlightenment. Paul writes, “For we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (vv. 30–32).
The major point here is simply this: The one-flesh relationship between husband and wife is because of the one-flesh relationship between Christ and the church. The primary miracle (Christ/church) produces the secondary miracle (husband/wife). If we will faithfully, joyfully and effectively fulfil our mundane marital responsibilities, we must grasp something of the majestic marital revelation.
Paul speaks about the fact that believers “are members of his body.” Christ considers the church to be a part of his body. That is why, in Acts 9, when Saul was persecuting the church, he was seen to be persecuting Jesus himself (v. 4). As far as we know, Saul had never raised a hand physically to Jesus, but Jesus considered an attack against his church to be an attack against himself.
Paul exhorts husbands here to consider their wives in the same way that Jesus treats the church. Jesus rose to defend his church against attack, and husbands must do the same in order to protect their wives. In the same way that husbands love their own bodies and treat them with respect and care, so they must love and treat their wives.
Husband, if you are in a marriage that is struggling, please take this text at face value. Love your wife as you already love yourself. You already want what is best for you; now you must want what is best for your wife. You must therefore give of yourself for her, for she is indivisible from you. Christ wants the best for himself, and so he wants the best for the church. We must love our wives in the same way.
If you are a believer, the Lord Jesus Christ wants what is best for you. He is working to cleanse you and purify you so that he might one day present you faultless before his presence with exceeding joy. That is the great love that he has for you, and that is the kind of love, husband, that he is calling you to have for your wife.
William Barclay suggests that “no one reading this in the twentieth century can fully realise how great it is.” I suspect he is right. But if we can grasp something of this glorious truth, it will radically transform our marriages. Can you imagine how different a marriage and a home would look if husbands would want for their wives what Christ wants for his bride! Husbands would have no problems laying down their lives for their wives.
When Paul wrote, the Christian view of marriage was new and radical. Wives in that day were treated as little more than servants. Adultery was widely accepted. A wife could be dismissed at will. Barclay correctly notes, “Paul was calling men and women to a new fidelity and a new purity and a new fellowship in the marriage life…. It is impossible to exaggerate the cleansing effect that Christianity had on ordinary everyday home life in the ancient world.”
What made the difference? Why was the Christian view of marriage so radically different? Because it was rooted in Christ’s love for his bride. Christian husbands were called to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and that kind of love was unknown in the ancient world. But a Christian marriage would only look like it ought if it was grounded in the doctrine of Christ and the church.
Husband, never minimise the importance of right doctrine. The truth does indeed set you free. There is always a danger of jumping directly into pragmatic practice without first grasping the principles behind the practice. If I am going to read a book on marriage, one of the first things I will do is look at the Scripture index. If the book is not deeply rooted in Scripture, I will not waste my time. There is, of course, a place for practical, pragmatic counsel when it comes to marriage—but only if that counsel is deeply rooted in Scripture.
One of the reasons that divorce is so easy and accepted today is because people do not understand the truth in which marriage is rooted. If we would love our spouse in the way that Christ loved the church, we would be far quicker to forgive and far more unwilling to separate. How much trouble we would be in if Christ separated from us as easily as husbands sometimes separate from their wives! We need the “therefore” before we need the “how do.” Without firm, doctrinal principles, our practices will go horribly wrong.
I recently heard of a pastor who, counselling a married couple who were having problems in the bedroom, advised them to both start viewing pornography. Clearly, that is a pastor who was not rooting his understanding of marriage in the doctrine of Christ and the church!
When it comes to pursuing godly marriage, we need enlightenment regarding Christ and the church. We need enlightening regarding the unity of the body of Christ. Paul prays consistently in this letter that the church would be enlightened (1:3–4; 2:4–7; 2:11–18; 3:8–12; 4:1–3; etc.), and we need the same enlightenment. If the church is supposed to have such harmony, should not a microcosm of the church (i.e. marriage)?
As husbands are so enlightened, they will find themselves living out this miracle in the daily mundane of marriage. And there is indeed much that is mundane in marriage.
Motivated by Christ’s leaving and cleaving, godly husbands will leave and cleave themselves. They will prove themselves to be men. They will not be perpetually led by their parents but will lead the home that they have established. Their parents will not have undue influence on the marriage and children, on career choices, on schedules, on family holidays, etc. These decisions will be taken and led by the husband.
Motivated by Christ’s love, husbands will sacrificially love their wives. They will sacrifice in order to sanctify them, and will lead them in a servantly manner. As Christ sacrificed for his bride, so they will sacrifice for theirs.
Motivated by Christ, husbands will lead their wives toward biblical peace. They will provide for, protect and perfect their wives. As Boaz protected Ruth, so the godly husband will protect his bride.
Of course, this enlightenment requires light. Let us never forget that all these injunctions concerning family and society spring from the exhortation to be filled with the Spirit. Only as we walk in the light, guided by the Spirit, will we be enlightened to understand what God requires of godly husbands.
Those who therefore wish to lead their wives in a Christ-honouring manner ought to pray for enlightenment. They must take the effort to lead their wives in a godly manner if their marriages will be marriages that exalt the Lord Jesus Christ. The man does indeed make the marriage.
This enlightenment requires learning. John Piper once said that his church was filled with dumb men and smart women. Far too often, women are the ones bringing their Bibles to church while men come empty handed. Women are often the ones reading theology while men prefer Sports Illustrated. Husbands should understand that their wives need them to be the theologian. Wives need husbands who will grasp the gospel and get the church.
Husbands, be enlightened and let a miraculous light shine from your marriage. Only God can reveal this mystery (see 1 Corinthians 2:7–14).
The second thing required to live out a godly marriage is equipment. We need help. And God has provided the help we need in the form of the church: gifted members gifting members to reflect on the unspeakable gift of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since Christ and the church is the miracle that informs marriage, we need to stay focused on this marriage. And we need the church to help us.
Husbands should be the ones who take the initiative to seek help from the church when marriage is broken. A few years after I first came to Brackenhurst, a man came to see me about problems he and his wife were having. I commended him, noting that it was the first time a husband had come to me seeking help. He looked down at his coffee and said softly, “Actually, my wife told me to.”
It is a shame that wives are usually the first to seek help when help is needed in marriage. Husbands should be the ones leading the way in that regard. Men must man up and quit hiding. Only as they own up to the struggles they face will they be built up as God intends.
The church is God’s design to fix what is broken in the lives of church members. Men should therefore take the initiative to seek help when it is needed, and to offer help when others clearly need help.
What is needed more than anything else is a biblical mindset. The problem in our day is that there are far too many with a worldly philosophy that perverts both masculinity and femininity. If you want the miracle on Monday, gather to learn about it on Sunday. Gather to share in the gifts, and then take them home to your marriage.
A necessary component of the equipment is engagement. Be connected to your local church in order to strengthen your home. Be a meaningful part of your church’s small group ministry. Build real friendships in the church. Gather together. Grab a coffee with a fellow church member. Read books together. Do what you must to strengthen one another in order to be helpful to one another.
The third necessary element is empowerment: specifically, the filling of the Holy Spirit (5:18). “Only if you have learned to serve others by the power of the Holy Spirit will you have the power to face the challenges of marriage,” writes Tim Keller. When John Piper was writing a book on marriage, he asked his wife if there was anything in particular she thought he should emphasise. Her response? “You cannot say too often that marriage is a model of Christ and the church.” The huge responsibility to live a godly marriage requires a miracle, but thankfully we have the means for this: the Spirit of God.
The God-given responsibilities of husbands and wives are counterintuitive and supernatural. We need help from our triune God. Selfishness is our default, but we must overcome this if we will live out marriage as God intended. Unlike elaborate stunts on TV, this is something that we must try at home. We learn at church and obey at home.
Christian, the miracle Paul reveals here can be yours! The Holy Spirit is able to bring cosmos out of chaos. A church member recently reminded me of a time years ago when she came to my office, informing me that her car was packed and she was leaving her husband. We talked for some time, and she went back home. I asked her as she reminded me of that incident how things were going in their marriage now. She smiled and replied, “Things are great!”
God is able to heal the most broken of marriages, if only husbands and wives will commit to walking in the Spirit. The gospel is the Spirit’s sword to slay the giants that would destroy marriage. The Spirit can empower us to forgive, to forbear, to forget, and to forge ahead with a foretaste of the future. He can empower his people to be Christlike, forsaking self out of love for another.
Enactment and Enrichment
The fourth thing that is required of a godly marriage is enactment: Just do it! Having heard the miraculous basis of marriage, Paul concludes, “Nevertheless, let each one of your in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (v. 33).
Having revelled in the miracle on Sunday, husbands—and wives—are exhorted now to just do it. Respond to the miracle on Monday. Husband, love your wife. Wife, respect your husband. Obey God, despite the world’s opinions.
The result of this enactment will be enrichment—evangelistically so. As husbands and wives respond in a gospel-driven way, they will be able to raise children who also love the Lord (6:1–3). And such a marriage will prove to be a marvel to others, perhaps even giving opportunity for Christian husbands and wives to given an answer for the hope that is in them (1 Peter 3:15).
Do you speak well of marriage? Do you live the miracle of the mundane? If so, it will speak well of marriage.
And speaking of this miracle, have you experienced it? Perhaps today is the time for you to experience the miracle of the gospel—the miracle of the new birth. This miracle may not deliver you entirely from the mundane, but it will take care of your biggest problem: separation from God and shame because of your sin. He is calling. Those who want him as their groom are invited to freely come.