In his letter to the Ephesian church, the apostle Paul specifically addressed marriage. In Ephesus men typically viewed women as property, not as someone who should be loved and cherished. They often treated marriage as a business transaction for the sake of social appearances, thus they sought sexual gratification outside their marriage. While the cultural norms in Ephesus stood in stark contrast to God’s law, the apostle Paul never addressed them. Instead he simply told men to reflect on God’s great love for them as the motivation for their marriages.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. (Eph. 5:25–26)
Paul essentially said, “Guys, let your hearts be melted by Christ’s pursuit of you. He loved you when you were cold to Him. He gave everything up to cleanse you. If you are having a difficult time loving and pursuing your spouse, come back to the gospel and repent. Love your spouse as Christ loved you. Serve your spouse as He served you.”
Often our first impulse is to give marital advice. Who knows? Maybe some of the Ephesians expected Paul to rattle some helpful marriage principles or recommend a conference—which can be good things. But he did neither. He simply reminded men and women of the gospel and showed them how the gospel impacts marriage. Quoting the book of Genesis, Paul showed that marriage is actually a beautiful reflection of the gospel:
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:31–32)
“Mystery” in the text does not mean something too deep or complex to understand, rather something that was hidden in the Old Testament that has now been revealed. Paul showed that under the Old Covenant the union between man and woman pointed to something more profound than the marriage itself, and what marriage pointed to was a mystery until Christ was revealed. Marriage is a metaphor and a shadow of the eternal marriage God has with His people.
A disciple’s marriage points to the ultimate marriage and therefore has profound significance. This is why God hates divorce so much. Divorce is a massive contradiction of the gospel and an inaccurate reflection on the eternal marriage between God and His people. He will never divorce His bride, will never forsake her, and will never cheat on her. Thus, as we prioritize the gospel in our lives and marriages, our relationship with God and our spouse will deepen.
Viewing discipleship through the lens of the gospel will also impact how church leaders challenge and encourage marriages. Church leaders will not rush to offer more marriage personality studies, events for couples, or facilitated date nights but will seek to ground couples in the gospel.
Adapted from Transformational Discipleship (B&H Publishing Group, 2012)