Very few, though, are willing to look in the proper places to learn, and few are willing to put the work into marriage that is necessary. God's approach to marriage is not a "Five Easy Steps to a Happy Marriage" that you might find in the Reader's Digest. God's approach to marriage is this: for a successful marriage, you work with all your might that your marriage may reflect the beautiful relationship that exists between Christ and His Church (His people). This is the plain teaching of Ephesians 5:22-23.
How many young couples marry, believing that their marriage must be patterned after Christ's marriage to His Church? Yet this is the Bible's teaching.
The relationship of marriage as you and I know it -- the loving bond between a man and a woman -- exists because the relationship between Christ and the church exists. In the mind and will of God, not our marriages are first, but the marriage between Christ and the church was first. Marriage in creation was made as an illustration of, or a mirror of, the marriage between Christ and His Church. God wants us to know about that great marriage; so He created earthly marriages as reflections of it. Ezekiel 16, Hosea 2,The Song of Solomon (a bookevery married couple ought to read at bedtime), as well as Psalm 45, all point to this truth.
It is important to see that clearly. That's why earthly marriages pass away: they are only pictures of the real marriage! If we see that, it will help us think soberly about our present marriages: they are important, but they are not the end-all and be-all of our life. Also, it will help us endure the loss of a spouse better: we are going to see that spouse again in a far more beautiful relationship than we had on earth! Finally, it will keep from despair those whose remain single.
Ephesians 5 points out a number of things about this relationship. Christ is head of the church (see verse 23). He rules over His body, as every head rules over every physical body. For that reason, the church is subject to Christ (see verse 24). This is a willing subjection, a loving subjection. It can be a willing subjection, because Christ loves and saves the Church. Verses 25, 26: "Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." Christ nourishes and cherishes the church (see verse 29). By His life-giving Spirit, He keeps His Church alive, consoles Her, embraces Her, and protects Her.
This is why our marriages are what they are!
Now, since Christ and the church are the standard, we are taught how to behave in marriage:
First, this means that we marry only in the Lord (see I Corinthians 7:39). This comes out from the original marriage. The only reason there is a relationship between Christ and the Church is that they are united spiritually. For believers, the only union they may make is with one with whom they are spiritually one.
Second, this says something about weddings: they ought to be reverent occasions. Joyful, but reverent. Lately, it seems, the more ridiculous the setting, the more popular the wedding. That ought not to be if our weddings reflect the wedding of Christ and the Church.
Third, during marriage, there is guidance and rule of the husband with the wife. There is submission of the wife to the husband, and reverence. Husbands esteem their wives highly, treating them with highest respect: Christ wants His bride to think of herself as a queen! (Do husbands treat their wives in this way?) In marriage there is faithfulness, because Christ is faithful. There is forgiveness; there is self-denial; there are children . . . . All because this is what goes on in the marriage of Christ and His Church.
Do the marriages in churches today help the church's witness in the world? In our witnessing, we talk a great deal about Christ's love, Christ's rule, Christ's salvation; about the Church's glory, Her holiness, Her submission to Him, Her love for Him. Do our marriages speak as clearly as our tongues?
What a great goal we have in marriage! Husbands, is this the goal you strive to reach: "God, help me to behave toward my wife as Christ does toward His Church"? Wives, is this the goal towards which you reach: "Lord, may my behavior toward him be as the Church is called to behave toward my Christ - -submitting, loving, honoring, obeying, helping"?
Ah, how sinful we are! How far short we fall! Let's pray for forgiveness when we fail. Look to Christ, our Husband, for salvation. There we find not only the instruction, but the strength to behave in marriage as we ought to behave.