God’s Pattern for Marriage

August 6, 2000 / No. 3005

Dear radio friends,

Today we open the Scriptures as they come to us in Ephesians 5:32, 33 – beautiful and necessary verses of God which speak to us of marriage. We read: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” In that beautiful passage the apostle Paul speaks to us of marriage’s divine pattern.

Perhaps no passage in the Bible more fully reveals the will of God for marriage than the one in Ephesians 5, beginning in verse 22 and carrying all the way through chapter 6, verse 4. When speaking to us of these things, the inspired apostle Paul is concerned that we hold before our eye of faith the divine pattern or model for marriage. The apostle Paul’s approach to the truth of marriage is not the simplistic, easy, quick step to a happy life so clamored for today by men who have no time for God’s truth and doctrine. It seems that people have time for detailed instruction in everything except spiritual things. This approach throughout the beautiful passage before us is that we must understand, as people of God, the principles which are underneath our life, the principles which are underneath marriage. We must grasp those principles in our hearts by faith if we are to live a God-glorifying life.

The Christian life is not feeling-based. It is faith-based. And faith is a certain knowledge and a hearty confidence in what God teaches us in the holy Scriptures. The principle that undergirds marriage is Christ and the church. The apostle is teaching us that the marriage of believers is to be a picture, is to reflect, is to be modeled after the union of Christ and His church. The apostle says, “But I speak concerning Christ and the church.” If you read those verses, you will see that it is very plain that he is talking about marriage, the calling of husband and wife. But he says, “I’m speaking to you of Christ and the church – that great union of pure and almighty grace whereby the Son of God gathers a church chosen from eternity, becomes her head, dwells in her by His Spirit, nourishes her and keeps her in love.” That great truth whereby the church of God is united to Christ, whereby we submit to Him, find our all in Him, love Him and treasure Him as our life – that union of Christ and the church is to be the model, the pattern, after which we form our human marriages. In our earthly marriage we are called to reflect the heavenly and the eternal marriage of Christ our Bridegroom. That is the principle. Lay hold of that. The divine pattern for marriage is Christ and the church. No sense going into the issues of marriage until you first lay hold, by faith, of that truth.

But not only is it the pattern for our marriages. It is also the purpose. God unites in marriage for this purpose: in order that that marriage reflect the union of Christ and the church. That lifts earthly marriage out of the mundane and brings it to a supremely blessed purpose. In the way of two believers, male and female, united in one faith before God, in that union of marriage God causes us to taste something of that blessed union between Christ and the church.

It is not the question today for you as a husband, “Do I treat my wife well and get along with her at least better than most?” No, the question is this: “Did I today behave toward my wife as Christ behaves towards the church?” And the question now for you as a wife is not: “Am I nice and helpful to my husband? Do I measure up as a pretty good wife?” No, this is the question: “Do I live with my husband as the church is called to live with Christ?” The divine pattern for marriage is Christ and the church.

Let us look at that. And let us look at that under the conviction that this is very crucial and important. It is important for you as young people. As young people it is easy to be filled with romantic ideals or tempted with base ideas and fleshly lusts when viewing the whole subject of marriage. You must remember these words. These words of the apostle must come thundering into your ears and pull you back to what God wills marriage to be. God wills marriage to be a reflection of Christ and the church. That means that you may not take your body which right now is a member of Jesus Christ and make it the member of a harlot and debase your body in sexual uncleanness outside of marriage. That means also that you must find a husband or a wife united with you in faith, so that you may pattern your marriage after Christ and the church. As a redeemed child of God, being purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ, confessing that “I am not my own but belong to my faithful Savior,” your calling in marriage is to reflect Christ and the church.

But this passage is important not only if we are anticipating marriage or praying that the Lord would lead us into marriage, if that be His will. It is very important also for us in the married state. We can only live pleasing to God in marriage if, in each day, we set this before us, before our mind’s eye, before our faith, that we must live as an example of Christ and the church. Our marriages, then, must be an example of godliness for our children and young people to follow after us. So even if you have been married for twenty or thirty years, with most of your married life now behind you, it is still as important today as the first day of your married life that you strive to reflect this divine pattern.

The apostle says, marriage has a pattern: Christ and the church.

The great mystery that I am talking about, the apostle says, is the mystery of Christ and the church. This is a great mystery, he says, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. We are to pattern our union as husband and wife after Christ and the church. The whole burden of the apostle Paul’s teaching concerning marriage in Ephesians 5 is exactly this. Now if you have that passage open, note with me in verses 15-18 that we are called to holiness. We are called to walk circumspectly, that is, discerningly. The apostle says that that means two things: we are to understand what the will of the Lord is; and we are to be filled with the Spirit, we are to be under the influence and dominance of the Holy Spirit through the written Word of God. That general exhortation the apostle applies to all of our life – we must know the will of God, and we must be filled with the Spirit. Then he applies it to the concrete realities of marriage. As he brings the will of God concerning marriage, as he shows what a Spirit-filled life in marriage is, he compares marriage to Christ and the church. In effect, he says, you have to know the pattern. You first have to know what marriage must reflect before you can understand your calling in marriage. Wives, submit to your husbands because that is the pattern given from the relationship of Christ and the church. As the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be subject to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.

Even when speaking of the intimacy of marriage, that God would make two one flesh, Paul again brings in Christ and the church. So it is very plain from our text that the whole passage means that the model to which our marriages are to be conformed is that relationship of Christ and the church. That is what it means to walk as one who is wise, as one who is doing the will of God, as one who is filled with the Spirit of Christ. What does it mean in marriage? It means this: conform your marriage to the pattern of Christ and the church. That is the mystery, says the apostle, the intimate relationship of Christ and His church.

That means that your marriage can only be pleasing to God if it based on an understanding in your heart of the doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ and His church. If you are not clear about the relationship of Christ and the church, of Christ’s union to the church and the church’s to Christ, then you simply cannot understand marriage. That means that the proper study of a husband and of a wife is not, first of all, all kinds of books on solutions to marital problems. The proper study of a wife is not, first of all, her husband; or of the husband, his wife. But the proper study of those who are married and those who are intending to marry is Christ and the church. You will learn to live with your wife, not if you have graduated from a course on social human relationships and hold a master’s degree in these things, but if you, as a believing man, know Christ and His church. The doctrine of the union of the church to Christ must be the treasured knowledge of your soul.

You see, marriage is not what the world views marriage to be. There are some who look at marriage as a purely physical union. Because they look at it this way, today they do not even feel the necessity of being united in the bonds of marriage. They throw the bonds of marriage aside entirely and thus fly in the face of the almighty God. We are told more and more that people should simply be governed by their impulses and instincts and wants, and that if two want to live together and pull their resources together and get along, why shouldn’t they? And these sometimes become the motivations for others to form a marriage, to build a marriage on what Jesus said was sand. If we do not build on the Word of God and the Word of Christ and obedience to God’s Word, we are building our life on sand and it will wash away in despair.

There are others who teach that marriage is a human contrivance – a human arrangement. Because of this man is free to set the rules. He may pass laws for marriage as he goes along, so to speak, to fit his particular circumstances.

Now to all of that the Word of God says, No. God has given marriage. God has given the purpose for marriage. That purpose is that two are to reflect the relationship of Christ and the church and to pattern their living together after God Himself. How does God live with His people? That regulates marriage. How do God’s people live towards Him? That undergirds a life in marriage. The apostle says, “I speak concerning Christ and the church. Yes, I’ve been talking about marriage. But really I haven’t,” he says. “I’ve been talking about Christ and the church.” Oh, that union! That union of the church and Christ that was conceived by God in all eternity. Read Colossians 1. There we find that God willed, from eternity, to show His glory in Jesus Christ, by giving to Jesus Christ a church elected in Christ. From all eternity, the Scripture teaches, God’s people – saved at Calvary – were united to Christ by a decree of God’s eternal, gracious election. II Timothy 1:9 tells us that that grace which brings us to Christ was given to us before the world began. From eternity God made the church for Christ. Christ and the church are seen of God in His eternal plan as one.

Then, in time, God gave Christ to die for the church – for those whom the Father had chosen. And Christ, in the Holy Spirit, is poured out to dwell in us, in those whom the Father hath chosen and whom the Son hath redeemed, and to draw them together into one body. That is the great mystery, says the apostle – Christ and the church. It is the great revelation of the eternal thoughts of God that we would be made one with Christ.

The bounds of that union, or the implications of that union of Christ and the church, are beautiful. That the church is united to Christ means, first of all, as the apostle brings out, that Christ is the head of the church and we are His body. The church is subject to Christ. We are His purchased possession. Christ is the Savior of the body. He not only gives Himself upon the cross but He nourishes and cherishes His church. He keeps us in the blessings of salvation, purchased for us in the cross.

Now, that great reality of the union of Christ and His church; that union which was conceived in eternity, accomplished on the cross, realized by the power of the Holy Spirit; that union which shall be preserved by the power of God forever – that union is the pattern, the all-comprehensive pattern, for your marriage. It is totally adequate. That tells you how, as a husband, you are to behave towards your wife.

Do you do some serious thinking about that? Your ability to be a husband rests upon Christ, knowing Christ personally. You are to be the head of your wife. Read the passage. The apostle says that. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” You are to be the spiritual head of your wife. You must pattern yourself after Christ who is the head of the church, Christ who is perfect in wisdom and love, who governs His church, who leads, consoles, and directs her. You are to love your wife as Christ loved the church with an exclusive love, a self-denying love, an intimate love. You are to cherish your wife as Christ cherishes the church. That means you are to talk with her, care for her, and show her daily that you do.

And wives, in your day-by-day life, do you think about how the church behaves towards Christ? Does not the church recognize Christ as her head by God’s own appointment? So you must recognize your husband as given to you of God to be your head. Does the church find her freedom in obeying Christ? So let a wife submit to her own husband. Does the church serve Christ, exist for Christ, find her greatest joy in Christ? So, as a wife, you must live for your husband. Put yourself before that pattern. The result will be, first of all, that you will see your sin. You will see your shortcoming and, by the grace of God, repent. But then, secondly, you will have before you a perfect goal, a perfect standard by which to regulate your feelings and regulate your actions in marriage. This is the goal towards which you press in your marriage – that you strive to pattern yourself after this union of Christ and the church, to reflect in your earthly marriage the heavenly union between Christ and His bride, the church. That is the true beauty of marriage. Marriage is the call of Jesus Christ in very deed and in very truth: “Magnify Me. Magnify Me by revealing the great mystery of My union with My people.” Do that in your marriage.

Do you?

May God give us grace so to do. May God give us a zeal, as married people, to know the Scriptures, specifically to know the great doctrine of Christ and the church. Then may God give to us that practical obedience to apply – before each other, before our children, before the world, before the church – that principle of Christ and the church to our own marriages in order that others may see Christ in us and that God might be glorified.

Let us pray.

Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. Bring us, O Lord, even on bended knee before the Word of God and sanctify us. Make us holy in our marriages, that in this world of sin and break-up and division and hatred there might be seen the beauty of Christ and His church and that it might be seen in the marriages of believers. In His name do we pray, Amen.