…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 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.
(Ephesians 5:25-27 ESV)
A certain section in Ephesians 5 has gotten a lot of attention over the years because of what it says about the roles of the husband and wife in marriage…and the apostle Paul is certainly teaching about those things- how each spouse is called to model the likeness of Christ, whether in submission or in leading. But something else is going on there in his instruction- something bigger than the roles of two people living together and loving one another for the rest of their lives. God wants us to see that marriage has a higher purpose- it points us to something bigger than ourselves. It’s a picture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
God’s desire in your marriage is to use each of you as His primary tool to make your spouse more holy- to be THE person who sacrifices self for the good of the other. As a wife, you are called to humble submission, just as Jesus joyfully submitted to His Father for the good of His church- setting aside His own glory. As a husband, you are called to servant leadership. Just as Jesus gave His life for the good of His bride, to make her holy, so you are to give your life for your bride.
Both of you are called to sacrifice. But what God wants you to see as you sacrifice for one another is that in your mutual self-giving…is mutual gain. You both gain as you lay down your life for the other. You gain a best friend; You gain an intimate lover; You gain a trusted counselor. Because two become one flesh, as you sacrifice and love your spouse, you profit and love yourself. But even larger than that, God’s mission is to use this life-long commitment to grow you together toward Christ-likeness. Marriage, then, is a work of grace.
The flaws and sinful tendencies that each of you have will be the very things that the Lord will use to teach you compassion, patience, and bearing another’s burdens. It’s a mysterious work of grace that your weaknesses will make you and your partner stronger. Even the most challenging days that are in front of you will be a gift from God to transform you both into the image of His Son, Jesus. Nothing will be wasted as your hearts draw closer together, and become more like His. You are instruments in your Redeemer’s Hands to model and display the glory of Jesus Christ and His Gospel, as you shape each other into your future selves in the Kingdom of Christ.
Tim Keller sets this truth in front of us beautifully in his book, The Meaning of Marriage:
“When two Christians who fully understand this stand before the minister all decked out in their wedding finery, they realize they’re not just playing dress up. What they’re saying is that someday they are going to be standing not before the minister but before The Lord. And they will turn to see each other without spot and blemish. And they hope to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Over the years you have lifted one another up to me. You sacrificed for one another. You held one another up with prayer and with thanksgiving. You confronted each other. You rebuked each other. You hugged and loved each other and continually pushed each other toward Me. And now look at you. You’re radiant.” Romance, sex, laughter, and plain fun are the by-products of this process of sanctification, refinement, glorification. Those things are important, but they can’t keep the marriage going through years and years of ordinary life. What keeps the marriage going is your commitment to your spouse’s holiness… That’s your job as a spouse. Any lesser goal than that, any smaller purpose, and you’re just playing at being married.”
Husbands and Wives, that’s your goal as you begin this journey together- sacrificing yourself for the other’s holiness, just as Christ has done for you.