Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Mystery of Marriage

Have you ever wondered why God took Adam’s rib to make Eve? After all, He created Adam from dust. Why didn’t God also make Eve from dust? In fact, why did God use any part of Adam whatsoever to make Eve? If you don’t recall, in Genesis 2, God said that it was not good for man to be alone. So, He put Adam into a deep sleep and proceeded to remove one of his ribs with which He created Eve. Upon awakening, Adam looked upon Eve with astonishment and declared “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” And, then God declared, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is an interesting story. But, do we really understand why God did it this way?

Today, our culture is very confused about what God thinks about marriage, even though He explicitly invented it. And, in spite of the fact that the Bible is fairly clear, we have so confused the concept for the benefit of a human agenda that we have distorted marriage beyond Biblical recognition. But, is that because we have reduced marriage to what we can see instead of keeping it vaulted to the level of what God  sees? Is there more to marriage than what meets the eye?

The most instructive passage of scripture on marriage is Ephesians 5. It is from this chapter that we receive the famous guidance for wives submitting to their husbands in the manner that the Church submits to Christ. In addition, this chapter instructs husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed His life for her. But, this is not what defines marriage. Rather, it is how the chapter concludes that begins to reveal what the Inventor intended for marriage. Ephesian 5:29-33 says, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘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. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

How is marriage a “profound” “mystery”? Let's begin to answer that question through a series of questions. When you look at your spouse what do you see? Your best friend, your lover, etc…yes. But is that all? You see God’s temple? You see a Prince or a Princess? But is that all? Do you see God? Not just the image of God, but do you see God? Or do you see another person? Do you see yourself? When you see each other as a couple, what do you see? Do you see two people who have vowed a covenant before God and man? But is that all? What does God see? 

The problem with Christian marriages today is that we don’t see the mystery and therefore we don’t pursue the mystery. We have reduced marriage to what we can see with our fleshly eyes. We have reduced marriage to a contractual relationship or a religious civil union. Even worse, long ago we had sown government into marriage in order to control it and are in some respects reaping today what we should never have sown. If our marriage relationships are God’s mystery, how could we ever let government have a say in any of it? Lastly, we have allowed the spirit of religion (a demonic spirit) to reduce our marriages to religious relationships between two Christians of the opposite sex. But, isn’t it so much more than that? What if a gay couple gets married, makes the vows and each dies keeping the vows. How do they differ from a Christian couple in the eyes of the world? Shouldn't there still be an obvious difference even to the world? How will our marriages be different to others? They will only be different if we pursue the mystery that our marriages were designed to reveal.

Paul referring to marriage in the context of a mystery means that there is something to it that we can’t see with our eyes and can’t see even in these verses. There is something to it that we can’t sense with our physical senses. There is something there that points to God that rises above what is plain to see. The solution to the mystery is not even revealed in detail in the passage. If it were, it would not be a mystery. So, what is the mystery? The mystery is this: “two become one.” When we reduce marriage to what we can see with our physical eyes, we embrace what our flesh can feel and know; but that is not mystery. With our eyes we see two. But, God sees one. Therefore, in reality we are one. But, do you treat each other as two or do you treat each other as one? Pursuing God’s reality is pursuing the mystery.

In the Ephesians 5 passage above why does Paul quote Genesis 2? Genesis 2 begins to declare through marriage the mystery of the union of Christ and the Church. Almost everything about Genesis 2 points prophetically to Jesus. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it this way, "Woman was made at the beginning as the result of an operation which God performed upon man. How does the church come into being? As the result of an operation which God performed on the First Adam, His only begotten, beloved Son on Calvary's hill. A deep sleep fell upon Adam. A deep sleep fell upon the Son of God, He gave up the ghost, He expired, and there in that operation the church was taken out. As the woman was taken out of Adam, so the church is taken out of Christ. The woman was taken out of the side of Adam; and it is from the Lord's bleeding, wounded side that the church comes." The Bride comes from Jesus for the purpose of being united with Him. And, the two become one. As it is between us and Jesus becoming one, so it should be in our marriages.

Jesus completes us and we complete Him in His body – This is the mystery of which Paul speaks. Look again at Ephesians 5:30, “because we are members of his body.” And Ephesians 1:22-23 says, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Jesus, our groom, yearns for the reunion of us to Him, and we should likewise yearn for our reunion with Him just like a betrothed virgin couple yearns for their wedding night.

To that point, the phrase “the two shall become one flesh” is too often confused with sex. Animals have sex, but they will never reveal the mystery of God to which Paul refers. Rather, God always uses physical symbols to reveal to us a higher spiritual reality. In truth, sex is one of those physical symbols, but it is not the spiritual reality. It points to a spiritual reality. There are other examples of symbols pointing to the mystery of the Gospel. God uses baptism to point to the mystery of spiritual rebirth in Christ. God uses the Lord’s Supper to reveal the birth of the Church through the symbolic consumption of a representation of the body and blood of Jesus. It is the same with marriage. In fact, God created only two institutions to reveal His mysteries – family and the Church. To that end, there are no mentions of wedding rings or marriage vows in the Bible. That is because God’s symbol for marriage is sex – sex is God’s wedding ring. And, that is why it should be reserved for heterosexual, monogamous marriage.

If you are not married, are you promoting what God has strictly created and prescribed to reveal Himself. Or do you advocate for its distortions? If you are married, are you living out this mystery of the two becoming one in your marriage? Or, are you ignoring this mystery? Did you come to the altar to dive into mystery? Consider this: Would we need vows if the two became one? Is it the vows that make us one? In fact, vows sound an awful lot like a contract, which are almost always broken (and, contracts recognize two opposite parties not the unity of them). It will take so much more than our vows being kept in order to reflect God’s mystery. But God’s Spirit is never broken. Therefore, it is not our vows but the Holy Spirit enabling that will fulfill and reveal this mystery. Revealing this mystery is humanly impossible without God.

Just like in God the three are one (the Trinity), so are we – husband, wife, Holy Spirit. Just like God is the three in one, we, in our marriages are called and entrusted to project an image of the mystery of two becoming one by actually becoming one - and do so as unceasing as possible. This is the mystery that Christian marriage was meant to pursue and thereby reveal. In doing so, we will reveal the mysteries of God in ways that no other forms and distortions of marriage can.

What are ways that we can pursue the mystery of two becoming one? When was the last time that you felt most like one? How about when God spoke to both of you in the same way? Have you ever felt more like one than that? How about walking with God together, praying together, reading His word together, serving His Kingdom together? How about not dividing each other through disagreements, but racing each other to the low place. How about compete with each other in nothing except humility (remember Ephesians 5:21 precedes Ephesians 5:22)? If we become one, doesn’t love and respect, submission and self-sacrifice just flow? If we focus on the mystery of God, the mystery of God in us, the Holy Spirit knitting two into one, don’t you think the world will notice...God?

In the words of the Casting Crowns’ song, “Broken Together”, “Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete.” Rather, maybe we as one are meant to be complete as we together are completed in Christ’s Spirit and He in us. Christian, may our marriages reveal the mysteries of God as God designed them to. May we lose each other in our unions. Isn't that much more worthy of our energy towards marriage?

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