Paul summarizes the picture of marriage in the last two verses of Ephesians 5. The first point Paul makes is that marriage, as an earthly picture, reveals a great mystery, Christ's relationship to the Church. Secondly, Paul makes very clear that a husband is to love his wife and the wife is to respect her husband. Let's look further at these two points.
First the idea of a "great mystery," that of Christ and the church. We find many mysteries within the New Testament. The word "mystery" itself (musterion, meaning what is hidden or not fully disclosed) is used 27 different times in the New Testament. Paul himself uses the word 20 times in his epistles.
In Matthew 13:11 the Lord in speaking to the disciples states that they will "know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven." In Romans 11:25, Paul calls the partial hardening of Israel a mystery. In 1 Corinthians, where the believers were greatly influenced by their pagan culture stepped in mysticism, Paul declares the apostles as stewards of the mysteries of God. In Colossians 1:26 and 2:2 Paul states that God's mystery is Christ Himself, specifically "Christ in you." There is the mystery of lawlessness which Paul writes about to the Thessalonian believers (1 Thess. 2:7) Deacons are to hold to the mystery of the faith (1 Tim. 3:9) meaning the fullness of what God has revealed. In Ephesians 6:19 Paul asks the believers for prayer that he would have boldness in making known the "mystery of the Gospel."
The mystery of the church is something that has now been revealed. Paul is writing with an Old Testament background in view. The saints of the Old Covenant did not understand and or have in view the Church of Christ Jesus. Paul has already declared earlier in his letter (in chapters 1 and 3) that Christ is the head of the Church and that the Church is the means through which the manifold wisdom of God would be made known (3:10). Is it any wonder that, having declared the Jew and Gentile one new man in Christ, Paul would declare the mystery of the relationship of the Church with Christ as "great"?
What a privilege to be a part of the body of Christ, the Church! What a privilege to have a personal relationship with the Lord Himself, having been called into His body, the Church. The picture of marriage, the union of one man to one woman, is a beautiful, divinely inspired and created illustration of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Is it any wonder that the world seeks to destroy what God defines as marriage?
Paul goes on in his summary of marriage and instruction to husbands and wives to state that husbands are to love their wives and wives are to respect their husbands.
The idea of a husband loving his wife has been clearly linked to the way in which Christ has loved the Church. The Lord gave Himself up for the Church. He desires to sanctify the Church and, in short, serves the Church by having given His life for her. The word "love" here is agapatō, the verb from agape, and it is a command. Husbands are to choose to follow the Lord in having this action and attitude toward their wives. Husbands are to sacrificially serve their wives in light of the tremendous example the Lord has given in His love for the Church. Clearly, only God working in and through a husband is able to empower him in this (cf. Gal. 5:22). Therefore, a husband must be rightly related to the Lord first and foremost so as to experience the life changing, transforming power of God in and through his life leading toward his loving of his wife.
Paul concludes that wives respect their husbands. The word for respect (phobos, meaning fear and/or respect) is in the subjunctive case. Paul is urging wives, who are equal in value, to submit themselves to their husbands as to the Lord. Respect for her husband and the role that he has in Christ is an essential ingredient to a marriage reflecting the love of Christ.
Our role as the Church is to submit to the leadership of the Lord, who is the Head of the Church. As we willingly defer and or submit to Him, God, working in and through us, begins to reveal Himself, not only within our lives but through our lives so that the love of Christ is recognized. Marriages are a wonderful picture of God's love.
Are we walking in His grace, His love for one another? Are we following Him?
Erik Christensen is senior pastor of Hoffmantown Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico.