“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. – Ephesians 5:31,32
I was hanging out with a few guys the other day and this passage came up in the conversation. Since marriage these days seems to be a mystery only just solved by the enlightened elites and compassionate liberals, let me give my quick take on the matter.
Paul here quotes Genesis 2:24 as he makes reference to a great mystery. Notice that he first anchors the meaning of marriage to the original creation of man and woman in the image of God. we see very quickly that marriage is at its core a divine institution. This means that any argument concerning the meaning or purpose of marriage that is not rooted in the consistent teaching of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation should not even be given a place at the table. And this includes people dressed up in ominous black robes with serious, scholarly looks on their faces.
I have been married now for 14 years. The idea that God could take a man like myself and unite him to a woman like my wife and make something glorious is indeed a great mystery. So is the fact that this woman who is my glory could be so wonderfully devoted to me in all my inglorious moments. But I don’t think that is the mystery to which Paul refers. The idea of “one flesh” is a covenantal reality. The husband loves his wife as he does his own body. the wife loves the husband as she does her own body. As he gives himself for her, he also is blessed. As she gives herself to him, she also is blessed. But the idea of covenantal love was not a new concept to the Jews of Paul’s day. The Old Testament is replete with references and images of covenantal love. So what is the great mystery?
I believe the mystery of marriage is in its cosmic importance to the gospel and the kingdom of God. The mystery that was long hidden and now revealed in the first century was the mystery of its relation to Christ and His church. Marriage is not simply a familiar picture used by the writers of Scripture to explain the relationship of Jesus with His people. The very institution of marriage, as it was first designed in creation, flows from the greater reality of God’s faithful love toward those He would call to Himself as a new creation. In other words, marriage gets its meaning and purpose from the gospel story.
The very fact that we are now wrestling as a culture with the meaning and purpose of marriage is a clear indication that we have wandered from the meaning and purpose of the gospel first. If we lose a high view of the Three-in-One God, we will lose a high view of the two-in-one relationship of marriage. If salvation is many roads towards love and happiness, then so is marriage. If worship is needs-based and man-centered, then so is marriage. If salvation is individual and personal and private, then so is marriage. If salvation is not to make disciples of others but to accept the beliefs of others as equally valid, then marriage is no longer for being fruitful and multiplying faithfulness from generation to generation.
When you walk away from the light, everything becomes dark and mysterious. The solution is not to create a committee, or a congress, or a court to stumble confidently toward a final consensus. The solution is to step out of the darkness and into the Light. Mystery solved!