“This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32, NASB95)
From verse 32 we read that while the terms husband and wife are used in the previous verses and that they clearly speak to the husband and the wife, the focus is greater than the relationship between the husband and his wife. The focus is much broader in that it points to the relationship between Christ and His church, and what He has done for His church out of His great love. He gave Himself fully for His church so that His church might grow and mature into His radiant bride which is to be given fully complete back to Him.
Paul used the term “mystery” and he said that it is a great one at that. We have been brought into a wonderfully amazing union with Christ. We have been knit together with Him and one another, and are inseparable in that oneness. He is the head and we are the body. This was a truth that was previously unknown, and here Paul makes it clear that our union with Christ as His church is special and unique.
For thousands of years, man had known and experienced the union of one man and one woman in marriage. He had known its marvelous strength and love, and he had also known the ills of it going wrong. But man had not known God in a personal, physical way until Christ took on the form of man and became flesh for us. Now there was a person to attach to God and a personal relationship to experience. God has always been real, but in Christ becoming man and living a life recorded for us we came to know God in a way that had previously been unknown. In Christ many great mysteries were revealed, and the one pointed to here by Paul is the union between Christ and His church which is compared to that between the husband and wife at its best, where the wife submits to her husband and the husband lovingly gives himself for his wife as the head in the relationship.
His church is not to be a power play between men seeking their agenda of what they think God might want, but it is to be His collective body of believers seeking Him as one, loving Him and submitting to His will just as the Son loves the Father and submits to His. Sure, there is a communication gap between us and Him. We don’t see Him clearly or hear Him fully as He and the Father do one another, but it does not diminish the fact that the relationship is real and we are called to walk in His way and be filled with His Spirit as we hide His Word in our hearts.
It’s a difficult thing to watch a church go through a split because of competing desires or twisted emotions, but it happens. These words of Ephesians 5:21-32 are an instruction and an encouragement on how it is to be. Just as we can easily see when a marriage goes bad, we know when a church does also. God’s Word tells us that the real answer is to keep our hearts and our focus right by taking the ideal we know of marriage and living according to in in relation to one another in the church and in our relationship to Christ. And just as when a husband and a wife turn their hearts and eyes back to Christ and their marriage is revitalized, so can a church when it turns their wills and their emotions back to Christ.
Working in a public place I see many things. I see the couples going through the difficult days. I see the tensions that exist when agendas compete with one another, and I get the extreme privilege of seeing couples whose love has grown incredibly deep through many years of walking together as husband and wife. I even get to see the loneliness that occurs when one of that couple goes on before and the other is left to walk alone. We are relational people. This is how God created us. In being relational we are both instructed in and enabled to experience God’s best. What we have to do is seek after Him and do it His way. This is what God expects of us as individuals, and it is what He expects of us as His church.
But unlike marriage, where the feast happens at the beginning of the union, for us His church the great feast is yet to come. We entered this union not having personally seen the groom though having come to know Him and grow in Him, and one day we are assured that we will see Him face to face.
“Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”” (Revelation 19:6–9, NASB95)
Who we are as the church matters. As His church we speak of Him to others. Christ has united Himself with us, and we are His light in the world. The way we are with one another speaks to the way that we are with Him. In John 13:34-35 we read, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, NASB95) We are His bride, His church, and he gave Himself fully for us.