Christ, the Church, and Marriage

I have a beautiful muscat grape vine. Last week I pruned it. Then I felt bad, since Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Maybe in my pruning the vine I misrepresented the permanence of the Covenant of grace. Jesus will never cut us off, will he?

Last night, before I went to bed, I locked my front door. That made me feel bad, since Jesus is the door, that maybe I misrepresented the kingdom of heaven, by locking people out of my house.

I guess that when I turned off my lights at night, I could possibly be communicating that I walk in darkness and not in the light. I should probably keep them on.

And I could go on, except now it is getting silly.

In case you wondered, these ridiculous examples show how important it is to interpret pictures and parables correctly.

Take, for example, our mystic union with Christ. It is so intense, so diverse and so deep that scripture uses picture after picture after picture to describe it.

He is the vine; we are the branches. He is the Good Shepherd, we are the sheep. He is the head; we are the body.

And this one: He is the husband; we are the bride.

And that brings me to my point. Ephesians 5 is about the union of one flesh that takes place in a marriage. The husband and the wife, through mutual love and submission, are to become more and more as one flesh – like Christ and the church.

And we have to be very careful about imagery. Don’t take it further than is intended. The common interpretation of Ephesians 5:22ff is this: Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Since Christ will never abandon his church, divorce is forbidden under all circumstances.

Hogwash. This is the same as saying that since Christ will never abandon his church, we also must never prune our vines. It’s silly on the face of it.

I have also heard that since Paul says that the husband is like Christ, he is to sanctify the wife with the word, and act as her prophet priest and king.

Piffle. It doesn’t say that at all.

The Husband isn’t Christ; Ephesians 5:22ff teaches only this: the husband is to love sacrificially like Christ did. This doesn’t say that the wife is not to be like Christ, nor does it say that the husband is a king, or a prophet or a priest in the home – like Christ. It merely says that the husband is to love sacrificially, like Christ loved the church.

The wife is to submit, which I preached on here. It doesn’t say she is made in the image of man, or that she is eternally subordinate, or that the husband is her savior, umbrella of protection, or any other nonsense. It simply says submit, like the church submits to Christ. She also is a Christian, and a partaker of Jesus’ anointing. She is also a human being, made in God’s image. She is a covenant creature, responsible to God alone. She also is given the Holy Spirit. But when she marries, she is to strive to be one flesh with her husband, like Christ and the church. That’s all that Ephesians 5 is teaching.

When you say that, it is best to then stop with the analogies, lest you make the husband a god and the wife an idolater.

This passage says nothing about whether divorce is permitted, whether marriage is to be a “living picture of the gospel” or anything else of that sort. It is simply an analogy that Paul uses pastorally to teach, first of all, about mystic union with Christ, and second, about husbands and wives.

God created a world so that he could reveal himself to men. He created lambs and fire and gold and bulls and trees so that when he spoke to us, we would know something about what he is talking about. So also with marriage. He gave us marriage so that when he speaks to us of love, tenderness, intimacy and union, we would know something of what he is talking about.

But we also must understand that we cannot ever know God exhaustively. Ultimately, his name is “wonderful”, that is, to be wondered at, not exhausted. He is “I Am that I Am”, self-referential. To bring more into the nature of God than scripture gives us warrant is to ultimately become an idolater.

So let’s be careful with our marriage counsel.  A husband and wife are not a living picture of the gospel any more than any Christian, whether married or single. Ephesians 5 says nothing about divorce or eternal covenants. It implies a LOT about abuse. If the husband abuses his wife, then he blasphemes the name of Christ, but that’s another blog for another time.

Let’s be Christians in all of our actions. This means that all of us- married, single, men, women, children- should strive to become more and more like Jesus. And at the same time, let’s cast aside all the nonsense in the marriage books that go so far beyond what the scripture actually says that they are beginning to sound like caricatures of themselves.

There’s a lot more in the book of Ephesians than Ephesians 5:22. I would recommend that you read the whole book in one sitting, and then read it again. Look at the whole message and see who Jesus is. That’s the point of it.

Of course, to be blatantly self-marketing, one could also simply listen to my series of sermons on Ephesians.


Filed under Church, Divorce, Marriage

15 responses to “Christ, the Church, and Marriage

  1. Reblogged this on Hannah's blog- Narnia in real life and commented:
    It takes some courage for me to move forward into separation and now soon to divorce and I found this blog wonderfully helpful.

  2. Wonderful post, Sam!

    “Piffle” —- it’s been years since I heard that word. Love it. 🙂

  3. Lea

    Analogies that are turned into absolute requirements that make no sense is probably my biggest pet peeve right now. So frustrating.

  4. Love this. Thank you. One thing I hate is the misunderstanding that the husband is supposed to wash his wife with the water of the Word, when it’s clear (seems crystal clear to me anyway) that it’s Christ who does that, for both men and women.

    • Thank you, Rebecca. When you read Ephesians 5 without the complementarian blinders, you see that the husband is to emulate Christ’s love, not his mediatorial work. The washing of the word is done by Christ. There is nothing there that indicates that this is to be also done by the husband. That interpretation flies contrary to the rest of the book. There is only one Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism.

  5. Simone

    I hope you will write soon on abuse!
    Thank you for this writing! God bless you.

  6. Allan Jenks

    I took that to say you support divorce?

    He (Christ) loved her, and gave Himself for her (Church).’.
    Malachi 2. Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the LORD has been witness Between you and the wife of your youth, With whom you have dealt treacherously; Yet she is your companion And your wife by covenant.
    But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence, Says the LORD of hosts. Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.

  7. Anu Riley

    I’m halfway through this post; just wanted to say how much I love your Biblical “common sense.”

    “And we have to be very careful about imagery. Don’t take it further than is intended.”

    This is something taught (or SHOULD be) when we read classic books or Shakespeare or any piece of writing in schools. In order to understand what the writer is trying to communicate, don’t superimpose your own ideas or thoughts into the writer’s writings. Every writer is trying to communicate something to their readers: find out what that is, or you must not think much of the writer, if you don’t even want to know. Then why are you even reading their work at all?

    Don’t forget that God Himself wrote the Word. Don’t confuse who He USED to write the Word with Who REALLY wrote the Word—God Himself.

    I’ve had the honor of reading wonderful writings by wonderful writers, and then watching the intent and meaning behind their words get twisted up into something they NEVER meant to communicate.

    Sometimes people ask honest and good questions; there are misunderstandings and clarifications needed—when it comes to human error or lack of context, that is normal. A good writer will actually look BACK on their writings, look at their mistakes and learn from them. And they grow as a result. They get better and better over time.

    But God made NO mistakes, there are NO shortcomings and absolutely NO room to critique Him. If you don’t like what He said or how He said it, don’t add or replace or change one word in order to erase your discomfort or dislike of His text.

    It is fair to ask how many of us claim to love Him but don’t like Him very much. We wish He was more like us: crude, controlling and coercive. That is the crippling attitude that is seeped into cruel narratives about “Biblical” marriage that, as Pastor pointed out, happens when we take His imagery too far—-into the abyss of Hell, IMO.

  8. Pingback: Christ, the Church, and Marriage - The Aquila Report

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