Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife,and they shall become one flesh. (Gen 2:24)
Marriage was established by God. But His plan for it is increasingly lost as people seek alternative expressions or a way out. Divorce is rampant. In a world that is increasingly unable to recognize the uniqueness of marriage between a man and a woman Christian marriage stands out as something extraordinary and special.
At the exchange of wedding vows before God two people join and become one flesh (literally – they will have children together) and one in Spirit. Our understanding of marriage is rooted in the language of covenants in the Old Testament. The Hebrew concept of covenant has no real parallel in our language today. It is much more than a contract. It would best be described as an agreement in the spirit of communion. Let’s look at it this way…
A contract is between two parties, but a communion is between three parties; husband, wife and God. A contract is under the law of man, but a communion is under the care of God. A contract is based on mistrust while a communion is the built on trust. A contract is based on limited liability whereas a communion is based on unlimited responsibility. Finally, a contract is conditional and contains exception clauses, which can void the contract if one of the parties fails to meet their obligations. But a communion is unconditional and cannot be void; forgiveness is presumed. Marital union, as prescribed by God, was intended as a lifelong bond.
It is marriage-like language that Jesus uses to talk about our union with Him. This grounds us in the reality of the communion he has in mind for the believer. In the book of John, beginning with His announcement that He is going to prepare a place for His disciples (John 14-17) Jesus uses the language of marital union. It is the starting point of a discourse wherein he speaks plainly of what is in store for His disciples, in the near future and in eternity. And it has an earthly echo in marital unions.
Paul repeats this language in Ephesians 5:22-33, where He says that this mystery of marital union refers to Christ and the church. He will present her holy and without blemish. But we know that the church is not holy and without blemish, so what does He mean?
When a man and woman marry, they give all they have. All of the groom’s possessions, debts, talents, failures and successes are given to the bride – all that he is. In the same manner, all of the bride’s possessions, debts, talents, failures and successes are given to the groom – all that she is.
Now think about what this means when Jesus invites us into communion with the Triune God. In John 17, Jesus says,
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:20-24)
Jesus offers Himself. When we say yes, all that is His becomes ours. And all that is ours becomes His. And all the promises of Ephesians 1 become ours. And all of our sin becomes His. Our humble God looks upon His people in love and says, “I got this.” He went to the cross on our behalf because that is what you do for someone you love. You do what they cannot do for themselves. You pay the price, remove the debts and clean the slate, insofar as you are able. He is able. And that is why the cross is personal to every Christian. By it we have been made holy and without blemish – because He is holy and without blemish. He has conferred upon us what is His – eternally.
Back to human marriage… say a man tries to be a good husband to his wife. He is committed to her and to their union together, as is she. In many regards he is a model husband. But he still leaves dishes in the sink and messes up what she has just cleaned up. He doesn’t express enough appreciation for a wonderful meal she has prepared. He leaves the car on empty when she needs it to make an important meeting in the morning. He doesn’t always call when he is going to be late. He doesn’t live up to the standard he would like. In a good marriage, she doesn’t toss him out. Rather, she sees her own shortcomings and forgives. She does what she can to communicate areas of discord. In all of it, they grow together. She still loves him. If that is in a human marriage, how much more so union with Christ?
Sometimes we make messes of things. We pray to him to fix them. When He fixes them, we create more messes and we are back on our knees asking for help. We don’t express appreciation and gratitude nearly enough. We don’t always communicate with Him, running ahead on our own steam – which produces yet more challenges. And so we pray. As disappointed as we are with ourselves, He is unwavering. He doesn’t toss us out. The cross dealt with that – all of it. We are never cast away…
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
This is freedom in Christ.