Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. . . . “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.Ephesians 5:25-27, 31-32 NIV
The Bride of Christ
In the midst of Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33 is an interesting comparison to Christ and his church; the bride of Christ. Much of what Paul has to say to both parties in the marriage relationship is compared to the relationship between Jesus, as the husband, and the church, as his bride. Another blog post in this series discussed the husband/wife relationship. But I believe that the Christ/church relationship is also worth exploring.
A certain amount of what Paul has had to say in Ephesians is directed at individual believers. But he has also had a lot to say concerning the church as a body, much of it concerned with helping the church to mature. And that is true in this passage as well. It is the church, as a body, rather than individual members, being addressed as he relates the church to the bride of Christ. But at the same time, it is important to realize that I am a member of that body. And the body will only reach its potential as I, and others like me, commit to it and fulfill the role we were called to.
A Submitted and Unified Church
The role of the church in this relationship is simply to submit to Christ; in everything. Paul has already shared with us that the church is central to God’s plan (Eph. 3:10) and that he has equipped the church for success (Eph. 4:10-16). All we have to do is submit to him. But I have a struggle with that. Submission requires me (us) to give up control. We should not be doing what we think is best or makes us most comfortable. Instead, we should be doing what Christ tells us to do.
For a successful marriage with Christ, the church needs to be united as one body. If we are not unified together, what kind of body would we be? Imagine a human body where each part had a mind of its own, each seeking its own satisfaction. It would never be able to function as intended. And the church is the same. We have only one head, Christ, and we should be united in following him. We need to submit to his headship, both individually as members, and together as a body. Without unity, it will not be possible for us, as a church, to submit to our husband in everything.
But how does a church reach this unity and maturity? I do not pretend to know all of the answers to that. But it seems to me that it will only happen as each of us learns to submit to each other and to Christ; as we choose to take the role our Lord has given to us, and as we do our part in building up the body.
A Radiant and Glorious Bride
Christ is described as loving the church and giving himself up for her. In doing so, he made her holy and clean. And now Christ can present her to himself as a radiant, holy, and blameless bride. Many of the Old Testament prophets painted a picture of Israel being married to God. Ezekiel 16:1-14, in particular, describes the birth and development of Israel as a girl. A girl who was unwanted, but who God took for himself; his bride. This is the same picture, in fewer words, that Paul is painting here. Jesus paid the ultimate price to claim his church. Christ cleaned her up, put her into beautiful clothes, and claimed her as his bride.
A Profound Mystery
To me, the most interesting part of this passage is in verses 31 & 32. It starts off with a quote from Genesis that many people include in their wedding ceremony: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). This illustrates leaving the old life and family relationships behind and becoming something new; two people becoming one flesh. That becoming one flesh is the most intimate relationship we have.
And this is followed by: “This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Could it really be that Paul views the relationship between a husband and wife as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and his church? It would appear so. Fortunately, Paul says that it is a profound mystery, so it is probably OK if I do not fully understand all of the implications of this verse. But at the very least, it refers to an intimacy between Christ and his church, of which I am a part, which goes well beyond the master/servant relationship we more commonly think of.
The Intimacy of the Body
A similar passage comes from John 17:20-22, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus’ prayer in this passage is that his future followers, us, would experience the same union that Jesus does with the Father. And not only would we share that oneness with each other, but we would also share it with God.
I honestly don’t know just what to make of these two passages. But at the very least, it seems clear that God desires an intimacy with his people, the bride of Christ, that goes beyond anything that we can experience apart from him. The closest we can get is the intimate relationship between a husband and his wife. But I suspect that is really just a shadow of the reality he is inviting us to be a part of.
So just how do I experience this intimacy with God and my fellow believers? I believe the answer lies in the word ‘submit’. The one thing I really don’t want to do is the one thing I need to do to experience the joy of knowing my creator in a very personal way.
- Ephesians: A Brief Introduction
- Ephesians: Spiritual Blessings (1:3-14)
- Ephesians: A Prayer for Believers (1:15-23)
- Ephesians: From Death Into Life, An Act of Grace (2:1-7)
- Ephesians: Amazing Grace (2:8-10)
- Ephesians: Tearing Down the Wall of Hostility (2:11-22)
- Ephesians: A Mystery Revealed (3:1-13)
- Ephesians: Rooted and Established In Love (3:14-21)
- Ephesians: Walking Worthy (4:1-6)
- Ephesians: Growing a Mature Church (4:11-16)
- Ephesians: Put on the New Self (4:17-32)
- Ephesians: Imitators of God (5:1-20)
- Ephesians: Life in the Family (5:21-6:9)
- Ephesians: The Bride of Christ (5:25-32)
- Ephesians: Spiritual Warfare (6:10-20)