A more wonderful union

Ephesians 5 is one of the clearest passages in all the Bible dealing with marriage and the family. But what’s so fascinating about this passage is that Paul is teaching on two levels at the same time.

First, Paul is describing the literal level, that a man is to love his wife; that a woman is to submit to her husband; and that they are joined together as “one flesh.” There is intimacy, permanence, and mutual respect in marriage.

But there’s a second level Paul is teaching on. In verse 32, he says something extraordinary. “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). Wait a second, Paul, weren’t you just speaking with reference to man and woman in marriage?? Well, yes. But he was also speaking of something deeper and even more wonderful: the union between Christ and His bride, the church. This is the second level.

I love being married. I’m so thankful the Lord has given me a wonderful bride Natalie. But Ephesians 5 teaches there is an even more wonderful union that Christ is producing in us. Marriage is temporary, but union with Christ is permanent. Marriage is wonderful, but fellowship among believers and our Savior is in many ways actually superior.

Jayne Clark explains how the joyful relationship of Christ with His church outshines the relationship between husband and wife:

Consider Genesis 2 through the lens of the New Testament. As surprising and awesome as it must have been for Adam to open his eyes and see a woman who was like him but not like him, how much more awesome it is when we meet brothers and sisters who differ from us in innumerable ways—culture, background, social class, political views, education, interests, everything imaginable—but with whom we still have a sense of recognition and connection, a sense of familiarity that says, “I feel like I know you. Have we met before?”

As beautiful and miraculous as it is for a husband and wife to become one flesh, how
much more beautiful and miraculous it is to be the body of Christ, so connected with one another that if one part suffers, we all suffer. If one part is honored, we are all honored. We are all the bride of Christ together.

As incredible as it is for a husband and wife to come together so that they can be fruitful and multiply, how much more incredible it is that Christ should multiply and grow His kingdom by sending flawed people like us to make disciples of all nations.

As wonderful as it must have been for Adam and Eve to be naked and unashamed with each other, how much more wonderful it is that dirty, rotten scoundrels like us should have our sins washed away by the blood of Christ and now stand clothed in His righteousness! We no longer need to hide behind fig leaves when our sin is exposed. Now we can confess our sins one to another. (“Loneliness: God’s Remedy,” Journal of Biblical Counseling, Fall 2005)

This is a strong cure for the sorrow of singleness and loneliness that many people face. Whether we’re married or single, we have much to be thankful for in our union with Jesus Christ and one another. Marriage is great, and it does offer great companionship in this life, but it’s still only a picture of a spiritual unity even more permanent and profound, a relationship available to all people, that will outlast this life and carry on through the rest of eternity.

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