Reflecting God’s Pattern for Our Marriages

August 13, 2000 / No. 3006

Dear radio friends,

Last week we began a study of a very beautiful passage in the Bible, Ephesians 5:32, 33, a passage which speaks to us of the purpose for marriage and also gives to us a pattern, a perfect pattern, to follow in our marriages. There we read these words: “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.”

As I said, we began our study of this passage last week. Then we saw that God has given a purpose for marriage. That purpose does not center, first of all, in ourselves. It does not begin with our happiness, nor does it begin in our fulfillment or satisfaction. Yes, God does bless mightily in marriage. But you must understand that God has not given marriage, nor anything, first of all for us. He has given it for Himself. He has given marriage a blessed purpose to reflect the everlasting union that He has made with His people in Christ. You see, salvation teaches us that life is not about ourselves, it is not about our own little vision for life. No, the child of God who has been saved in Christ is brought to realize that God has made all things for Himself, all things to serve the purpose of His glory. The Bible, if you read it carefully, is very plainly a God-centered book. It tells us that our purpose is not to be centered in man or ourselves. It is not to be centered in our feelings, but it is to be centered in God. So also for marriage. Marriage has a purpose. And its purpose is glorious: to reflect the never-ending and faithful bond that God has made between Christ and the church.

That is the burden of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5 in one of the most practical and beautiful passages in all of the Bible on the truth of marriage. I trust that, as a married person, you read it often. And I trust that if you are planning to be married, you will read this passage carefully and meditate on it.

When you are contemplating marriage, you see that is an awesome step. It can be made a step of surety only if you marry out of faith in God. What a wonderful passage this is, for in it the apostle not only brings to us the principle that must undergird our married life, namely, that our marriages be a picture of Christ and the church, but he also works that out in its details and in its implications. The whole passage, really, is working out the details and the implications of that profound truth of Christ and the church reflected in human marriages. Then the apostle, in verse 33, summarizes those practical aspects of marriage if marriage is indeed centered in that goal of Christ and the church. “Nevertheless,” we read, “let everyone of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” So the Lord is saying to us, “This is your pattern for marriage: Christ and the church. And now this is how you actually reflect that union of Christ and the church: husbands, by loving your wives; and wives, by reverencing your husbands.”

Now we cannot possibly go into the details and implications of that beautiful truth. The apostle, as I said, brings that out throughout the passage, beginning in verse 22. He is bringing out implications for us to meditate upon. But today, let us consider at least the general ideas and the ways in which a husband and a wife reflect in their marriage the union of Christ and the church. How is the pattern of Christ and the church to be seen in your marriage?

From the passage, the first thing we want to say is this: we must marry in the Lord and then, after marriage, look by faith to the Lord. That first statement, marrying in the Lord, obviously applies especially to those who are not married, to you young people who are listening. If your marriage one day is to reflect Christ and the church (and that is what it must do), then the calling that you have in Christ is to marry in the Lord. That is what we read, for instance, in I Corinthians 7:39 where the apostle says that a woman whose husband has died is free to marry again – only in the Lord.Young girl, for a husband to love you as Christ loves the church and to dwell with you as Christ cherishes the church means that that young man must belong to Christ. And if you, as a young man, are to have a wife who reverences you as the church reverences Christ, that means that that young woman must be one who loves the church and loves Christ. You must be one in faith – that is the most important aspect of preparation for marriage. That is not something you just fit in. And it is certainly not something you work out afterwards. Do not take that approach. Do not say, “Well, we are so much in love. These matters of faith, they will all work their way out. They are just little problems that we will solve after marriage.” Oh, no! If you talk that way, if you think that way, you are not giving the attention that your Savior calls you to give to what marriage must be in the first place. Your marriage must be a union in faith and in love and in obedience before Christ.

Notice that the whole passage from Ephesians 5 on marriage is bursting with the truth of salvation and redemption. When Paul speaks to wives he says, “Now you behave as unto the Lord.” And when he speaks to husbands he says, “Now do this as Christ does it.” And he says, “I speak concerning Christ and the church.” It seems that Paul cannot open his mouth about marriage without pointing to the very heart of our salvation in Jesus Christ, so that the passage includes some of the richest teaching on salvation. Paul is saying to us, “Now, only as you know that salvation in Christ are you able to live in marriage. If you take the unity of one faith, the unity of Christ out of marriage, you have cut the lifeblood of a marriage.”

Living in marriage requires much grace. You cannot understand that until God opens your eyes that you see it. Crucial to that living in grace is living out of one faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You must come under that conviction. You must come under the conviction that as one who belongs to Jesus Christ, the most crucial thing for you is to establish a marriage built not upon your own feelings, not upon mere physical attraction, but upon faith in Christ – agreement with and understanding of the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures. Marry in the Lord.

Then after you are married, look to the Lord. That is the most important thing for a husband and wife. Look to the Lord, not to each other, but look to the Lord first. That is the implication of the passage. Husband and wife will reveal the unity of Christ and the church by directing their own life to be obedient to Christ – in the specifics of their marriage. That means that we do not take the attitude as a husband and wife, “Well, I’ll change if the other person will change.” Or, “I’ll do this if you will do that.” Or, “If she shows amendment and changes her way, then I’ll change my way.” So that husbands and wives spend year after year in a battle of arbitration, each one waiting for the other one to make a concession before he will show love or before she will give submission. The result is that they stand fifty yards apart, saying, “It’s her fault. No, it’s his fault,” each one waiting for the other to do it first. What are you doing? You are saying, “My conduct in this marriage will be controlled and regulated by the conduct of the other.”

That is exactly rebellion against the Word of God. The Word of God teaches us that our conduct in marriage is not to be based upon, or to be conditioned by, the actions of the other person. It is to be based upon and conditioned by our relationship to Jesus Christ. That is the heart of the passage. You must get hold of that. If before doing what God tells you to do in your marriage you wait for the other one to do something first, for the other one to make a change first, you are in rebellion against the Lord Jesus Christ.

You are to do that for the Lord’s sake – as unto the Lord. For Christ’s sake you love your wife. You do not look first to your husband for the motive of reverencing him and submitting to him. You do not wait for your wife to be the kind of person you think she ought to be before you show her love. Is that what you are doing? Then you are rebelling against your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You must repent. The Lord is very serious. He is our Savior. We must do all things as unto Him. Look unto Him and obey Him. He tells you, “Love your wife.” He did not say, “If she is the kind of woman now that you thought she was going to be.” He did not say that. He said, “Love your wife, the one I gave to you. I know all about her. I knew all these things before you married her. I was well aware of these things,” says the Lord. But you see, who she is and how she acts is not the determining factor of your actions. The determining factor of your actions is Christ.

Now we must lay hold on that by faith. We are to reflect the union of Christ and the church. Let me ask you husbands, Why did Christ love the church? Why did He love you? Did He wait to condition His love upon you? Oh, I know that that is the proud teaching that is very popular in Christianity. But it is not a biblical teaching. It is a proud teaching. No, Christ did not love us, conditioning His love upon us by anything that was in us, but because He would love us purely out of grace. Now you are to reveal that kind of love to your wife.

That means that our marriages must take on very pronounced spiritual characteristics. Let me mention a few of them. Faithfulness. That is the word of God for marriage today: faithfulness. Christ is faithful to His bride, the church. And the church, in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, is faithful to Christ and to His Word. In fact, we sing about that, do we not: the amazing faithfulness, the unbreakable fidelity that Christ has revealed toward the church. That is the most blessed thing of our salvation – that that love of God is changeless. Even when we stray foolishly in our sin, yet He abides faithful because He cannot deny Himself, says the apostle in II Timothy 2. He is faithful to us, He seeks us, He cleanses us, He restores us to Himself. Therefore, faithfulness must be the characteristic of your marriage. Outwardly. Husband, she is your wife. And wife, he is your husband. She/He is the one to whom you vowed to be faithful. And that love does not cast away. You may not marry another. You may not put her away. You may not put him away. God calls you to repent and be faithful to each other. But faithfulness also in your heart. Then you pray, as a man, that you do not wander in your thoughts. But you cherish your wife and you love your husband.

The second characteristic of our marriages must be forgiveness. How can the church exist without forgiveness? For the church to be united to Christ there must be forgiveness. We are one with Christ through the cross – a union which is based upon the forgiveness of God. God has forgiven us our trespasses. If that were not the case, there could be no union between Christ and the church. It is based upon a just and perfect forgiveness in His own blood. So Christian husbands and wives reflect Christ and the church by forgiving one another. As James says in his epistle, chapter 5, “Confess your faults one to another and pray one for another that ye may be healed.” Forgive one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you. Be tender-hearted and kind to each other. Do not harbor evil thoughts. Do not keep a record book. Do not write down your grudges. Forgive them. Pray each night. Cleanse your heart of all bitterness each day. Forgive one another in the way of mutual confession.

The third characteristic is this: Self-denial. Marriages must be faithful. Marriages must be filled with forgiveness. And there must also be self-denial. We must love each other as Christ loved the church. How was Christ’s love for the church shown? The apostle says, “He gave Himself and He emptied Himself for the church.” Self-denial. We will show that we know nothing of Christ and nothing of the blessed union of Christ and the church if we consistently go around exalting ourselves. If the number one thought in your mind is yourself, then you are showing that you do not know Christ. When a husband is so self-absorbed that he cannot share his life with his wife, too self-centered to be loving, to say, “I’m wrong, will you forgive me?” too self-centered to be thoughtful about the needs of his wife; or when a wife never takes the time to confer with her husband, never divulges to him her deepest concerns – then they show that they do not know Christ. In marriage, you must deny yourself. You must take the dagger to your own self. You must esteem each other better than yourself.

Why is all of this important? Why should marriages be faithful, filled with forgiveness, and evidencing self-denial? Because this is the reflection of Christ and the church. Therefore, our marriages must be built under the shadow of the cross. It is only there, under the shadow of the cross, that we receive strength to live in marriage. It is only there that we are given to know ourselves as sinners and to see that amazing love and grace of God. And it is only there, under the cross, that husband and wife are able to live with each other. Before the cross you go. You bend your knee before the cross and you confess your faults to each other, and you seek strength to overcome your weaknesses and to live in this world in the love of God. Those who are under that cross are given the grace of God to build a loving home.

Young people, when the call of God comes to you to marry in the Lord, that means: Be sure that you marry one who has tasted the grace of God that flows from Calvary. Then, come what may in the storms of life, you shall be sure and safe. Put your Lord first. See yourself clearly under the shadow of the cross in all that you do. If you do not see that in a young girl, if you do not see in that girl one who is living under the conviction: “I am Christ’s possession and therefore I keep my body chaste” – if you do not see that in her, then have nothing to do with her. If you do not see that in a young man, if you do not see in him self-denying love for Christ but you see someone who is stuck on himself, and who desires things only for his own gratification and if he does not get his own gratification then he pouts like a little boy – if that is all you see in him, then you leave him now. You run from him. Forget him. Look for someone who is in Christ. They you will find strength for your marriage.

The most important thing is to live in marriage consciously after the pattern of Christ and the church. That is very important. It is very important for you to have fellowship with Christ, is it not – to grow up into Christ, to put on Christ? We say, “Important? That’s life for evermore!” Then how important it is for husbands and wives to have fellowship with Christ, to pray, to read the Scriptures. Then you recognize that even your earthly marriage is only for this life, that marriage one day must be replaced by the reality of Christ and the church – the marriage of the Lamb and His bride.

May God give us grace that, with our eye of faith upon Christ and His church, and with our eye of faith upon the eternal union of the Bridegroom Christ and His bride the church, with our eye upon these things may we so live in marriage to be pleasing to Him.

Let us pray.

Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. We would ask that Thou would apply it with power to our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.