An Additional PURPOSE of Marriage is,
An illustration is something that is used to define or describe a particular point of teaching. Illustrations often use tangible, concrete things to express intangible or abstract ideas. An illustration can be “a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality.”
Pastor John Piper believes that one of the primary purposes of marriage is illustration. He says, “The most ultimate thing we can say about marriage is that it exists for God’s glory. That is, it exists to display God.” Now [after looking at the Ephesians 5 passage] we can see how: Marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship to the church. And therefore, the highest meaning and the ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and His church on display. That is why marriage exists.” His conclusion is marriage is an illustration of Christ and His church.
I introduced this purpose of marriage as an additional or secondary one. In the first part of this study, I gave you what I believe are the biblical reasons to see sanctification as the primary purpose of marriage. But surely, John Piper and others are correct in seeing the covenant relationship as one of the purposes of marriage. Saint Augustine of Hippo who lived in the 4th century AD wrote, “As long as a couple is married, they continue to display – however imperfectly – the ongoing commitment between Christ and His church…”
Discussing this purpose takes us back to Ephesians chapter five where Paul quotes Genesis 2:24. He writes, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Paul then gives us his interpretation of this in verse 32. “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
It’s logical to conclude that Paul is saying marriage (the covenant involved in leaving father and mother and being united to a spouse) is patterned after Christ’s covenant commitment to His church. Jesus spoke of this relationship in Matthew 9:15and John 3:29. He refers to Himself as the bridegroom coming for His bride, the church. Paul recognized his own ministry in gathering the bride in Second Corinthians 11:2. “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy, because I promised you in marriage to one husband to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.”
Furthermore, it’s critical to our understanding of this purpose to notice that God didn’t create the union of Christ and the church after the pattern of human marriage. Instead, it’s just the opposite. He created human marriage on the pattern of Christ and the church. Paul writes that the mystery of Genesis 2:24, written by Moses, is an illustration of Christ’s relation to His people that has been planned in eternity past.
The love that binds husband and wife together, the love Adam and Eve had before the fall, is a glorious love because it portrays something magnificent, Christ’s love for His people. Marriage is essential, mysterious, and magnificent because it points to something bigger that is also essential, mysterious, and magnificent. According to this purpose of marriage, its greatest function is that it displays something unspeakably great. In other words, “marriage is a vivid, life-size, daily illustration of God’s plan of redemption, Christ’s covenant with His church.”
Dwight Small, author of the book, “Design for Christian Marriage,” concurs with this conclusion and describes it this way; “To the Christian, marriage is the means to the fulfillment of divine ends. The marriage union, like man himself, is designed for the glory of God, and for the exhibition of His purposes of love on earth…marriage was instituted as an earthly symbol of the spiritual relation between God and man.”
Embracing this purpose of illustration must lead us to practical applications. One application that quickly comes to mind is permanence. In verse 24 of our text, after Adam declared Eve to be an extension of himself, Moses records these words; “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and shall be joined unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” God designed marriage to be a permanent, lifelong, covenant relationship broken only by death. The Hebrew word for “one” used here is echad.It is used in the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4; “Hear O Israel the Lord our God is One” – echad. Is God divisible? Hardly!
This purpose of illustration also leads us to see the roles and responsibilities of the principal characters. In marriage the man’s role is illustrative of Christ and the woman’s role is illustrative of the church. This is clearly taught in Ephesians five. I return there now.
As husbands, we are to love our wives in the way that Christ loved the Church. He made the ultimate sacrifice for His bride, the Church. He laid down His life for us. I admit, it’s a tough act to follow. In fact, it’s impossible in our own strength. How many of us men gave this idea some serious thought as we prepared for marriage? Surely if we had, we wouldn’t see the number of broken marriages that we see today among Christ-followers.
Christ gave Himself for the church to make her holy and pure. The words in the Ephesians passage are, sanctify and cleanse. To sanctify means to set apart for special use, to hallow or consecrate. To cleanse carries the idea of making something pure, to remove everything that would defile. That cleansing is accomplished by the Church being “bathed in the water of the Word.” Since Christ is our example, how do we as husbands “bathe” our wives in the water of the Word?
Some have seen this as a command for husbands to read the Bible with their wives. That certainly is a worthwhile practice. However, the Greek word here is not logos, which refers to the text of the revealed Word, but rhema, which refers to the spoken word given by a living voice. It is used to describe messages given to individuals for personal application. For example, Jesus told Peter where to cast his nets. “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have caught nothing: nevertheless, at your word [rhema] I will let down the net” (Luke 5:5).
The Scriptures teach us that the husband is responsible for the spiritual direction of his wife and his family. In God’s order of headship, He acts through His ordained structures of authority to give direction. God gave His message to Jesus the Living Word and Jesus communicates that message to the Church. In a similar way, Jesus gives His Word to the husband, and he speaks that Word and its application to his wife.
This doesn’t mean that the wife’s relationship with the Lord is dependent on her husband. If that were true, a woman with an unbelieving husband couldn’t be a Believer. It does mean that the wife is to submit herself to the rhemas her husband receives from the Lord. As he reads and meditates on the Word, God gives him specific application to the personal needs they have as a couple and family. After testing and confirming them, he communicates them to his wife, and she submits to them and helps implement them.
Christ’s commitment to the Church was not a “we’ll try it and see if it works” kind of commitment. NO, it was an act of His divine will. He loves His Church regardless of her response. He will continue to love her even as she spurns His love. There is no qualifier given for a husband to love his wife. It is to be unconditional, just like Christ’s love for the Church. Men, there’s no way we can come even close to this standard unless we have a growing, vital relationship with Jesus.
The wife’s role in this illustration is submission and support. Because many contemporary Christians find this command so offensive, there are a variety of ongoing attempts to either explain it away or to weaken its implications. We hear things like, “Well, her husband is not a Believer, so God certainly doesn’t expect her to submit to him!” Or maybe, “Her husband is really going to make a foolish decision unless she intervenes. If she submits to his leadership, the family will suffer.”
I want you to notice, however, that the command has NO qualifiers; it just says, submit. I hasten to say that a wife should never do anything that would violate Scripture. An unbelieving husband may ask his wife to do something contrary to the Scriptures. But even in refusing to disobey God she can demonstrate a submissive attitude toward her husband. First Peter 3:1 gives specific instruction in this regard.
People, who present the kind of excuses I listed a few moments ago, are forgetting something very important. God works through structures of authority regardless of whether they are Christian. This truth is illustrated many times in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. A Christian wife who submits to an unbelieving husband is following this principle. God is still able to direct her life through her husband because he is her God-ordained leader.
Now notice with me the last part of verse twenty-two. Here we learn HOW the wife is to submit to her husband; in the same way she submits to Jesus Christ. This is an extremely important part of this command. The most important thing is not that she is obeying her husband, but rather, that she is obeying God when she obeys her husband. By obeying her husband, she acknowledges that God’s plan is to direct her life through her husband. That does not mean she has no personal, direct, relationship with God. It simply means she understands God’s order of authority and the blessing that comes to those who function within that order.
God, in His sovereignty, decided this order would most clearly reflect His character and His purposes for mankind. We can obey and enjoy His blessings. Or we can refuse and suffer the consequences of our disobedience. If wives are to submit to husbands in the same way that the Church submits to Christ, what does that look like? Well, if we look at much of the modern church, we may not have a very good picture of what this submission looks like. There are a lot of Christ’s commands that are either ignored or minimized.
The best example I know is the life of Christ. In submitting to His Father, He modeled for us how the Church should submit to Him. He said things like, “I do only those things which please the Father,” and “I have finished the work you gave me to do.” His was total submission to the will of the Father. That is the pattern for the Church as it submits to Christ, and that is the pattern for the wife as she submits to her husband.
Christ is the head of the Church. That is an unarguable fact. In His position as Head, the Church is subject to Him. Paul goes on to say that the wife should submit herself to her own husband in the same way. How should the Church submit to Christ? In every way! How should a wife submit to her husband? In every thing! This does not give the husband the right to be a tyrant. The following verses clearly indicate the loving leadership of the husband. However, the command for the wife’s submission is not dependent on the husband’s love.
A woman may have an ungodly, callous husband, but she is still commanded to submit to him as her divinely appointed authority. If he is physically abusive there may need to be a separation, but that should always be a temporary, a last resort. In the same way, a husband may have a wife who is not submissive, but he is commanded to love her anyway.
I know some men have used this constraint of submission to dominate their wives. That is an abuse of their leadership, and it leaves a bad example of how God intended this principle to function. As is so often the case, Satan will take a biblical principle and have professing Christians twist it into something God never intended. But just because someone leaves a bad example by their abuse of the truth, we don’t reject the command of the Lord. Instead, we apply the truth in the way God intended so that all involved will benefit, and onlookers will see the blessing of this principle being lived out in our relationships.
Even though the constraint of submission is to be in every area of her life, we reiterate the point that a wife must not do anything that is contrary to God’s Word. This also is a constraint, a restriction that helps to protect her spiritually. Wives who’ve embraced this principle of submission have discovered that God honors their obedience. That shouldn’t surprise us because that’s the promise God gives to wives in First Peter chapter three.
These then are some of the practical applications that result from seeing the purpose of marriage as illustrative of Christ and the church. The marriage covenant establishes an indivisible oneness! The husband is obligated by his vows before God to love his wife the way Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it. No sacrifice is too great. The wife is obligated by her vows before God to lovingly submit to her husband even as she would to Christ – in everything.
Can you see the difference it would make in our world if every married couple lived out this purpose of illustration? I agree with Albert Barnes that “There should be such mutual love and confidence that the known wish of the husband should be a law to the wife; and that the known desires of the wife should be the rule which he would approve. A perfect government is that where the known wish of the lawgiver is a sufficient rule to the subject. Such is the government of heaven; and a family on earth should approximate as nearly as possible to that.” As I conclude our time together, I want you to know that we’re not finished with this subject. I believe that the establishment of the marriage covenant in the Genesis record holds yet another important purpose for marriage. We’ll take that up in our next time together so be sure to join me.