Marriage: A Portrait of Christ and His Bride
In the 1990 masterpiece Home Alone, Kevin McCallister has to ward off two thieves that are trying to rob his house. He must do this all the while dealing with the aftermath of his family accidentally leaving him in Chicago after they went on a Christmas vacation to Paris. In the turning point of the story (and one of the great scenes of the movie), Kevin goes home to set his traps, as he says, “This is my home. I have to defend it.”
While not explicitly Christian in any way, I think the writers of Home Alone accidentally modeled something that is absolutely essential to the life of a believer. The gospel doesn't only shape our views of Christ or of the Church (as important as those views are), but the gospel also affects our view of the home. Paul begins to show how everything that has been written in the first four and a half chapters of Ephesians affects the way we view marriage, obedience from children, parenting, and even the workplace.
This is what Ephesians 5:22-33 begins to address. Paul directly addresses both wives and husbands. "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (verse 22). "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..." (verse 25). While this text has been abused many times and in many different ways, it still stands true as the Word of God. Marriage is a gift from God and ultimately is meant to be a picture of the gospel. The mystery of marriage is that it is truly meant to be a portrait of Christ and His Bride (verse 32). I think there are four (at least) components of this portrait this text paints for us.
The first thing to notice is the way the wife submits to the husband. Notice that the command to submission is not given to the husband to force upon the bride. The command to "submit" is rather given to the wife to do voluntarily. In this way, the wife models how the Church is to submit to her Groom, Jesus. The question the wife should be asking is not, "Is my husband worthy?" The question is rather, "Is Jesus worthy?" This type of submission is ultimately about obedience to Christ.
The second component is the way the husband loves his bride. Notice the sacrificial element stressed in this kind of love: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..." Christ's laying down of His life for the Church is the picture that the husband should have in his mind as he thinks about the way he is to love his wife. Husbands should "love their wives as their own bodies" and they should "nourish and cherish" their wives. This is a weighty call, but one that affects every aspect of our lives as husbands, including our spiritual lives. For example, look at Peter's words in 1 Peter 3:7: "Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered."
The third component of this portrait is the way that Christ cleanses His Bride. Notice verses 26-27: "...that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." Christ desires for His Bride to be holy, as He is. So, He cleanses the Church with His Word! This models how husbands should lead their wives. Obviously, a husband does not cleanse his bride. And he especially cannot do this with his own words, as any husband outside of Christ is deeply flawed. But it does mean that a godly husband will speak and model Biblical truths to his bride. A godly husband will desire for his wife to walk in holiness and will lovingly lead her in the ways of the Lord. In this way, marriage portrays to the world the holiness that Christ cultivates in the Church.
The fourth component is the fact that marriage is actually about Christ and His Church, as has already been mentioned several times. Jesus so desires for us to see His glory and His love for us, that He gave us the intricate, timeless institution of marriage to display in a very real way the relationship between Christ and His Bride. John Piper says it so well in his book, This Momentary Marriage:
"I pray that we will all recognize the deepest and highest meaning of marriage—not sexual intimacy, as good as that is, not friendship, or mutual helpfulness, or childbearing, or child-rearing, but the flesh-and-blood display in the world of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church."
So, is this passage about marriage? Yes. And is this passage about Christ and the Church? Yes. These four components paint a beautiful portrait, both for how husbands and wives are to interact and for how we, as the Church, are to submit to Christ.
As healthy marriages become rarer, Christ-centered marriages will become more and more evangelistic. Perhaps one of the reasons God has allowed such a breakdown in the institution of marriage in our society is so that we would do our duty of displaying Christ and His Church to the surrounding culture in our marriages.
The enemy wants nothing more than to destroy your marriage because he wants nothing more than to bring down the testimony of the greatness of Jesus. Along with Kevin McCallister, we should say, "This is my home. I have to defend it!" Husbands, love your brides well; wives, submit to your husband’s loving leadership. And may we as a church ever look to Christ, our ultimate Husband, to lovingly lead us as we submit to Him all along the way. Our lives, including our marriages, are meant to point to His glory alone!