“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” (Eph. 5:32–33).
Godly marriages are a beautiful thing to behold, and they point to something far greater than the bond between husband and wife. As Paul tells us in today’s passage, the intimacy and mutual self-giving love of married life wonderfully symbolizes and points to the relationship between Christ and His church.
Much can be said about this text on the husband’s love for his wife and the wife’s submission to her husband. Practically speaking, the wife’s submission to her husband gives him no right to be self-centered, self-assertive, and authoritarian (Eph. 5:22–24). On the contrary, as one commentator has noted, Christ’s example governs the husband’s loving leadership (vv. 25–28). Husbands must be like the Lord who humbled Himself and did what He had to do to give His life for His people, even enduring the shame of the cross (Phil. 2:5–11). A godly husband surrenders his own self-interests for the good of his wife, and any man who demands his wife’s submission without willingly surrendering himself for her good has not understood marriage, much less the person and work of Jesus.
The analogy between marriage and Christ’s relation to His church has limitations, for no husband in this fallen world loves his wife perfectly, and no wife submits as she ought in every circumstance. Yet even the failure to achieve God’s high standard for marriage points us to Christ. In cases where intimacy breaks down and men and women do not fulfill their divinely ordained roles, we long even more for the true intimacy that is most fully expressed in the relationship between Christ and His church in glory (Eph. 5:29–33).
Jerome, one of the most significant early church fathers, writes, “Nothing is greater than Christ and the church. Even all that is said of Adam and Eve is to be interpreted with reference to Christ and the church” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT 8, pp. 188–89). Every marriage in Scripture points us to Jesus’ relation to His people — the good ones give us hints as to the glory of Christ’s intimacy with His church and the bad ones show us how unlike the worst husband Jesus really is. Our Creator has always sought to take His people for His bride (Isa. 62:5; Jer. 2:1–2), and in Christ this marriage is finally consummated.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Jesus certainly loves us individually and justifies us via our personal faith in Him. However, the relationship between Christ and His bride is a relationship between the sovereign Lord and a corporate body. Jesus loves a people as His bride, and, consequently, we cannot be joined to Him as the one for whom He died if we have no love for His wife. Scripture knows nothing of the lone-ranger Christian who is uncommitted to the church.