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. 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. My previous blog post discussed the husband/wife relationship but I believe that the Christ/church relationship is also worth exploring.
While a certain amount of what Paul has had to say in Ephesians is directed at individual believers, 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 in this passage. 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.
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 and that he has equipped the church for success. All we have to do is submit to him. But I have a struggle with that; submission requires me (us) to give up control, doing not what we think is best, or makes us most comfortable, but doing what Christ tells us to do.
For a successful marriage with Christ, the church needs to be united as one body, growing in maturity, seeing Christ’s direction for us, and then submitting to that direction. Without unity, without maturity, without knowing the direction we should go, 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 would not pretend to know all of the answers to that, but it seems to me that it will only happen as each of us, as members of that body, learn 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.
Christ is described as loving the church and giving himself up for her. In doing so he made her holy and clean, and can now 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, describing what God had done in taking a poor, rejected, and often immoral, young woman, pulling her out of the filthy environment she was in, cleaning her up, giving her new clothes to wear, and then entering into a marriage covenant with her. This is the same picture, in fewer words, that Paul is painting here. Jesus paid the ultimate price to claim his church, cleaned her up, put her into beautiful clothes and claimed her as his bride.
To me, the most interesting part of this passage is in verses 21 & 22. 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.” 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.
A similar passage comes from John 17:20-22 and following: “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 unity together that Jesus does with the Father. And not only would we share that oneness with each other, but that 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, Christ’s bride, 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.