The Mystery of Marriage

December 9, 2012 / No. 3649

Dear Radio Friends,

There is a certain way of life that exists among the members of the church. This is true because salvation has changed the lives of God’s people. It has changed the way believers view this world and their place in it. This “new life” in the hearts of believers has much to say about how a believer is called to deal with the world of unbelief and sin. We must walk as children of light and have no fellowship with darkness.
Now Paul enters into the part of this letter where he addresses how salvation changes also the way we conduct ourselves in our relationships with others. The first of these relationships is the closest of all—that of husband and wife. The wicked view this relationship, as we will find, in an entirely different way than believers in the church view it. In other words, our salvation results in a right and proper understanding of marriage, and the place of a husband and wife in marriage. In Ephesians 5:22 and 23 Paul devotes much time to husbands and wives. Neither are we going to skip over the calling of a wife and husband toward each other. The last verse of chapter 5, that is, verse 33, treats that subject, and we will treat it next time when we come to that verse. But on our broadcast today we are going to consider verses 31 and 32. They read:
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.
These verses focus our attention on the marriage bond itself—what it is, and the proper way of viewing it. This subject is of extreme importance in the society and world in which we now live. Our society has willfully rejected and forsaken the proper view of marriage. The woeful immorality of our present society can be attributed to the rejection of marriage. No longer do men and women view marriage as a permanent bond between a husband and wife, but marriage has become disposable. Marriage can be enjoyed for a short time, and then be discarded as if it is an empty water bottle. In fact, men and women in their sin enjoy, outside of marriage, the sexual privileges God gives to be used only within marriage. Men and women today, in defiance against the law of God, fornicate with one another, then mock those who desire to remain pure outside of marriage. This, in turn, has led to sexual sins that are too heinous to mention. All because of the unbelieving rejection of the God-ordained institution of marriage. Even many Christian churches openly reject what God’s Word teaches about the permanent bond of marriage.
In opposition to the popular trend of sin in our land stands the clear, uncompromising view of Scripture itself. Marriage is a lifelong bond. The Word of God before us today cannot be changed or misinterpreted without the result being immorality and sin.
Paul, in verse 31, quotes what God Himself said when creating the institution of marriage in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. Such, of course, is the commentary that Jesus Christ Himself adds in Matthew 19:5 when addressing the marriage bond with the Pharisees. “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
Obviously this truth is expressed three different times in Scripture: once by God, once by Jesus, once by Paul. And it is an important truth not to be ignored. What is that truth? A young man leaves the home of his parents in order to marry a wife. When a young man comes of age, when he is mature and responsible spiritually and otherwise, then he leaves his father and mother. That is, he moves out of their house. He strikes out on his own in order that he might make his own way in life independent of father and mother.
But this verse also includes the reason this young man leaves the home of his father and mother. He separates himself from his parents in order to cleave to his wife. Now, there are perhaps several legitimate reasons a young man may leave father and mother to start a life of his own. But there are also many vain reasons a young man can have for leaving the home of father and mother. Usually the one that lies at the heart of it all is the desire to get out from under the authority of parents, to be free to live a frivolous and sinful lifestyle. The most serious and praiseworthy reason for a man to leave his parents is to cleave to a wife.
But there is something else that is evident in this statement of our text. Notice that it says that a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. It does not say that with regard to a woman. Whenever the Bible speaks of a young woman marrying, it does so in terms of the fact that she is given by father and mother to the young man who seeks her hand in marriage. The idea expressed here then is this. The young man goes out and he actively seeks a wife for himself. When he finds one, he seeks, when possible, the permission of her parents to marry her. If they approve, the parents of the woman then give their daughter to him in marriage. That is the first truth that is taught here in this verse.
The second is found in the term “shall be joined.” Paul uses this term rather than the term “cleave” that is used in Genesis 2 and that is used also by Christ when He quotes this verse in Matthew 19. The two words have a lot to do with each other. They have the same idea. The term “cleave,” which is used in Genesis 2, means to solder. I do not know how many of us are familiar with the skill of soldering. When a man solders two wires together or two pipes or two sheets of metal it is for the purpose of making them into one—one wire, one pipe, one piece of metal. The term “joined” in Ephesians 5 has a similar meaning. It means “glued together.” But the idea is the same as that of soldering. Glue is applied to two pieces of paper or a plastic model or wood for the purpose of making them one. The intent is to bind two pieces together inseparably.
Such is the idea applied by Scripture to marriage. When a man and his wife enter into marriage, they are glued or soldered together into one. They who were two have now become one.
Neither do the man and his wife do the gluing or the joining. Notice the passive use of this term here in verse 31. They are joined together. Someone else does the joining. As we know from Genesis 2, it is God who joins two into one. God uses the vows spoken in marriage, as well as the marriage bed, to bind two people together into one. He glues them or solders them with the intent that they should be one. And God’s glue, God’s solder, is permanent. It cannot be broken.
This passage here in Ephesians teaches us plainly of the permanency of marriage. Paul simply teaches us what Jesus teaches us in Matthew 19:6: “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” Paul says this in Romans 7:2, 3 as well. God so binds a man and his wife together in marriage that it is only death that will separate them. At death God, who has done the binding, literally rips the husband and wife apart. And that in a very painful but also permanent way.
This all-important truth about marriage is reinforced at the end of verse 31, where Paul writes: “And they two shall be one flesh.” In Genesis 2 we read, “And they shall be one flesh.” Christ and Paul both emphasize: “They two shall be one flesh.” Then Christ adds, as we notice, “they shall no more be twain but one flesh.” The idea is a beautiful one. Up until the moment of marriage a man and woman are solitary, they are single. They live their own lives and walk their own paths. The woman is her own and the man is his own. They did things on their own, went places on their own, followed after their own interests. They were two, not one, two separate individuals, two distinct people. Then, providentially, God brings the two of them together and they marry. The moment they marry, they are no longer two but one flesh. One flesh. They are no more two, but one.
That does not seem to be very true, does it? I mean, they still are two people, are they not? They still have their own thoughts and desires. They still oftentimes have their own way of doing things. And yet, Paul says that now they have become one flesh. How could that possibly be true? Obviously, they remain two distinct people. That cannot change. One is a male and the other female. But remember that God has so created these two that they can become perfect complements of each other. They can be joined in such a way that they, given their physical and psychological makeup, can be blended together by God into one organism. That is exactly what happens at the time of marriage. They become one.
Physically they become one. In fact, this is the center and core of their oneness—the sexual union unites the two of them together into one flesh. But also, as they live together in love together, God unites them into one flesh from an emotional and psychological point of view, too. And even from a spiritual point of view they are bonded together—whether that be a bond of unbelief or a bond of faith. Even if a man and his wife, by reason of sin, may never discover the joy of being one flesh, nevertheless, God has made them one. So the Word of God teaches us of the permanency of the marriage bond—what God has joined together, let not man put asunder.
Paul does not stop at this point, either, in this instruction concerning marriage and its permanency. We read in verse 32, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” The binding together of a husband and wife in marriage is a great mystery. And it is so because God created it to reveal in an earthly way the intimate relationship between Christ and His church.
There are many passages of Scripture that speak of Christ and His church as a marriage relationship. Christ refers to Himself as the Bridegroom, and to the church as His bride. In the Old Testament we read of God as the Groom and the church as God’s bride. Let us look into that relationship just a little more closely.
From eternity, in His eternal plan for all things, God chose or elected the church in Christ. We cannot even conceive of the church apart from Christ. Christ was sent into this world on behalf of that church. He was sent for the salvation of His bride, the church. The church was lost, together with the entire mass of fallen humanity. In order to deliver His church from God’s wrath and condemnation, Christ died and earned for her the righteousness necessary for communion with God. Through that death of Christ, believers are bound together with Christ. The church, and we as believers in the church, are viewed by God as one body with Christ. We are in Christ and He in us in such a way that we have become one living organism with Him. He is the head; we are the members of His body. That is the mysterious union that exists between Christ and His church. We cannot see it. But it is real. How can we begin to explain that living union we have with Christ to an unbeliever? It is beyond comprehension, it seems. All we can do is explain to that unbeliever that something miraculous took place in us. We were lost in sin and darkness. And God, through Christ, has saved us unto Himself. And now we are one with Him.
Why are we so loyal to Christ and His cause in this world? So loyal that we would be willing to die for Christ—why is that true? Because by means of our salvation, Christ has become our husband. And the church has become His wife. We are married to Him. There is a mysterious work that has gone on in us, calling us out of darkness into God’s light. We have been joined with Him, glued, soldered spiritually together with Christ and never will that bond of love and fellowship with Christ be broken. God has sworn to us in His great love that He will never leave us and will never forsake us. Has that not been true of us, believing saints? God preserves His church. God guards the righteous well. How often we sin. How often we stumble along life’s pathway. How often we rebel against our Husband. Has Christ ever left us? Has our Husband ever forsaken or abandoned His wife, the elect church? Has not Christ always been there in our greatest needs, even though we at times would stray from Him?
And is it not true that we are preserved by Christ in our love for Him, too? Because Christ is faithful to us, we have remained faithful to Him. We persevere, even though at times we may have walked in sin.
God has created the institution of marriage as a picture of this relationship between Christ and His church. Now I realize we must be careful at this point. This does not make marriage a redemption ordinance, you understand. It is not simply the marriage of two believers that is a picture of Christ and His church. It is true that only two believers can discover the true beauty of marriage. But marriage, as an institution, is made to reflect the bond that exists between Christ and His church. Marriage is a creation ordinance that was purposed by God, in the very making of it, to show forth the permanent bond that exists between Christ and His church.
Throughout Scripture God’s covenant with His people, the bond of friendship and fellowship, was meant to be entered into by a husband and his wife. That is the goal of marriage. All marriage. And even insofar as the unbeliever discovers this friendship in his relationship with his wife, he can live a happy outward life. Marriage is, therefore, a picture, a reflection, of a permanent bond. And for that reason it is meant by God as a permanent bond. Such is the nature of marriage. That is the very character, that is the very essence, of marriage. And that, Paul tells us, is a great mystery.
We have already considered the mystery that Paul speaks of in this letter to the Ephesians. The mystery is this, dear friends: the church of all ages, Jews and Gentiles alike, saints of the Old Testament together with the saints of the New Testament, are all united together in one inseparable body with Christ. The mystery of marriage that is discovered and enjoyed by the believer is just the taste of the blessed unity we share with God, with Christ, and with all fellow believers. The union of a man and wife in marriage is a mystery. We do not see that union with our eyes. We cannot see that a man and wife are one flesh with the eye. How God does this we can but marvel at and wonder. But the oneness of the man and his wife is there. God has made it so. And the husband and wife are to seek out just exactly what that means for them in their marriage.
The unbeliever cannot begin to imagine the beauty of marriage. He in his sin despises it. And it gets worse in our society as sin develops. Unbelief blinds the eyes of the unbeliever. Because man does not seek God’s will for him in marriage, the blessedness of marriage eludes him. Men and women have become so self-centered. They enter marriage to see what they can get out of marriage for themselves. They do not give, but they are always taking. Marriage then becomes one of heartache and pain, and there is no peace in the marriage. So the world seeks to get out of marriage by means of divorce.
But divorce itself is painful, bitter, and hurtful. Why? Because it is against the very nature of marriage itself. One or both in the marriage are attempting to rip apart what God has glued together. The husband and wife cannot divide asunder what God has joined together, no matter how hard they try. And that is why God hates divorce. He says so in Malachi 2:15 and 16. The bond of marriage, the beauty and blessedness of marriage, must be found and searched out. It is not something that will simply fall into our laps. It is not even ours just because, perhaps, our marriage started out in the Lord. The mystery of marriage must be practiced. It must be lived—in order to understand the blessed union that a man and woman can share together.
When that is discovered, then in a real way husbands and wives begin to think alike. They begin to reason alike. They begin to discover that they enjoy the same things, and the same things repel them. They laugh together. They cry together. They become one flesh, striving in perfect harmony for the same goals. They will discover the mystery of marriage, and their life together will be blest. I have seen it. I am experiencing it. Marriage is a wonderful union, a wonderful bond. Let us strive to find its beauty and blessedness. It is a mystery. A wonderful mystery. But I speak of Christ and the church.
Let us pray.
Our gracious Father in heaven, we come before Thee and we thank Thee that Thou hast instituted the ordinance of marriage into which a man and a wife can enter. And we pray that Thou wilt work in our hearts by Thy Spirit and grace that we might know of our salvation and of our intimate relationship with Christ in order that we might strive to know that in our marriages, too. Sin cleaves to us in that marriage bond, we realize. We pray, forgive us of those sins. But make that bond sure, so that we might indeed reflect that relationship of Christ and the church. For Christ’s sake we pray this, Amen.