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For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.

This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:31-32

Paul has just instructed husbands and wives how they are to behave toward each other in marriage. Wives are to submit to their husbands in all things, even as the church submits to Christ. Husbands are to love their wives, even as Christ loves His church.

In that connection, Paul explains the great love that Christ has for His church. He gave Himself to the cruel cross that He might sanctify her and present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish. And what explains Christ’s great love for His church? We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.

In the passage we consider for this meditation, Paul quotes Genesis 2:28. This brings us back to the original marriage ordinance of creation and teaches us that in marriage two become one flesh. This is a great mystery. Two become one! But Paul has in mind more than marriage between a man and a woman. Ultimately, the mystery of marriage is the relation between Christ and the church. Do we not become one with Christ, even as a man and a woman become one in marriage? This is a great mystery!

In marriage two become one flesh.

Before marriage, a man and a woman are two. Each is brought up in different homes, living separate lives. But in marriage they become one. They are no longer two but one flesh.

To become one flesh is to be joined into the closest possible relationship of life. There are other close relationships in life. There is the parent/child relationship in which children are the flesh and blood of their parents. There is the sibling relationship in which brother and sister are of the same flesh and blood. But marriage is a closer relationship yet. In marriage two become one flesh. So close is this relationship that husband and wife live one life together. When marriage works as ordained by God, husband and wife more and more think alike, pursue the same goals, and work together as one. The joys and sorrows of the one are that of the other. Husband and wife in a sense lose their separate identity and are identified together. They find no real meaning and significance in life apart from each other. They are incomplete without the other. When one of the marriage partners dies, the other loses a part of self.

Two become one in marriage because God joins them together in marriage. Speaking of marriage in this passage, Paul cites Genesis 2:24, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife.” The word “joined” means to be glued together. In marriage God glues two together. God does not glue together into the intimacy of marriage two of the same sex—man with man or woman with woman. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to legitimize homosexual marriage is a mockery of marriage. According to Genesis 2:24, God glues together in marriage only a man and a woman. This arises out of the fact that God made the woman out of the man to be a help meet for him. Because the woman is taken out of man, she is similar to him. Yet, she is also profoundly different. Being glued together in marriage, husband and wife complement each other in a most wonderful way so that together they can serve the Lord in a way that neither could achieve alone.

The bond that God makes in marriage by gluing a man and woman together makes the marriage bond a permanent relationship. Were marriage a human invention and the bond of marriage only of man’s making, any marriage could be terminated at will. However, when God glues two together, He does so for life. The only thing that dissolves the marriage relationship is death.

For the woman which hath an husband is bound [tied, fastened] by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man (Rom. 7:2-3).

Consequently, when asked about divorce, Jesus proclaimed, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:6).

Let every married couple or those contemplating marriage understand this. Take this perspective in marriage. Marriage is permanent. Should problems arise in your marriage, divorce is not an option except in the case of adultery. But even then, the marriage bond is not broken. Only death breaks the marriage bond. Let husbands and wives be committed to their marriages and in Christ work out any problems that may arise. And let those dealing with what may seem insurmountable problems in their marriage remember, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).

“This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

The mystery Paul speaks of here is not a crime story that you need to solve. Nor is it a deep, dark truth set forth in riddles and apparent contradictions, so that only a few can understand or of which no one can make complete sense. When the Bible speaks of a mystery, it is speaking of the works of salvation that God performs in Jesus Christ. These are called mysteries because they originate in the mind of God and can be known by us only when God chooses to reveal them. And God has revealed the mysteries of salvation in the Scriptures.

Marriage is a great mystery!

That God joins a man and a woman together in marriage so that they become one flesh is a great mystery. It is great in that it is a wonder that brings great joy.

But the great mystery of marriage is not limited to the union of a man and a woman. That in itself is not the mystery of salvation.

And so Paul adds, “but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

Between Christ and the church there is a most intimate and wonderful relationship. Paul speaks of that relationship in verse 30, “For we are members of his body, of his flesh and blood.” Often the Bible calls the church the body of Christ. This compares the church to a human body with many members. Of that body Christ is the Head and we are its members. As members of Christ’s body, we are “of [out of] his flesh, and of [out of ] his bones.” Just as Eve was made out of the flesh and bone of Adam and then glued to him in marriage, so the members of the body of Christ find their spiritual origin in Christ and are glued to Him in marriage. This spiritual marriage becomes a reality first in God’s eternal election. In election God chose Christ and chose us in Christ (Eph. 1:3). Eternally, God gave us to Christ (John 17:9). This makes us one with Christ eternally. This eternal election in Christ becomes a spiritual reality in our lives through the gift of faith that joins us to Christ and makes us spiritually one with Him. In this way God marries us to Jesus Christ.

And what a blessed marriage that is! In that marriage we enjoy all the blessing of the cross that Christ earned for us and received at His exaltation into heaven. In that marriage we are regenerated to a new life of loving service to God and the enjoyment of intimate friendship and fellowship with Him through Jesus Christ. The beginnings of that life we enjoy now. And because this is eternal life, we will enjoy it perfectly in heavenly places world without end.

What a great mystery is this marriage of Christ and the church!

But there is more.

The marriage that God has ordained from the beginning obviously serves as an earthly picture of this eternal marriage between Christ and the church. As members of Christ’s body, we are “of [out of] his flesh, and of [out of] his bones.” Quite obviously, God had this in mind when in the beginning He made the woman from the flesh and bone of the man and joined them in marriage. God ordained marriage among us to be a picture of that higher, spiritual marriage between Christ and the church. Already before the Fall God established the institution of marriage to reflect the saving relationship between Christ and the church!

But there is still more to the mystery of marriage.

Through the institution of marriage, husband and wife also enjoy the blessings of the greater, spiritual marriage of the church to Christ. Most men and women are incomplete in the single state. This is true from many points of view, but especially from a spiritual point of view. In the single state, men and women experience significant weaknesses when it comes to serving their God and enjoying a blessed life with Him in Christ. That lack is graciously addressed by God when He gives them a marriage partner. In marriage those who are incomplete find a partner that complements them, making them complete. In marriage the Christian husband and wife enjoy the blessings of their spiritual marriage to Christ in a way that they could not find in the single state.

This is a great mystery!

Although it is not the focus of this passage, it is also a great mystery that those whom the Lord has called to be eunuchs for the kingdom’s sake find fullness in the single state. These indeed are special gifts to the church.

Our calling is to honor marriage by living in marriage as God intended.

Marriage is not being honored today. Many live together in sexual union without marriage. Others enter into marriage with the thought that they will divorce if the marriage does not work well. There is even talk of trial marriages, so that the young can learn the ropes of marriage.

We must honor marriage. We must do so by viewing marriage as a reflection of the great mystery of the marriage between Christ and His church. We must also honor marriage by reflecting in our marriages that higher marriage of Christ and the church. Wives do this by submitting to their husbands, even as the church that Christ sanctifies submits herself to Christ her Head. And husbands reflect in marriage the higher marriage between Christ and His church by loving their wives, even as Christ loves the church. And marriage is honored by committing ourselves to the permanency of marriage.

Honoring marriage, we will also enjoy the blessings of the blessed marriage between Christ and the church.

This is a great mystery!