One Of The Bible’s Most Beautiful Metaphors

One Of The Bible’s Most Beautiful Metaphors

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

The second half of the Ephesian letter is addressed to showing how the redeemed walk in Christ. That cannot be divorced from the Christian’s function within the body of Christ, the church. It has often rightly been observed that Paul, in this epistle, is exalting the church of the Christ. It is valuable to God and to us because (1) It is the body of Christ, His Son (1:22-23; 4:4), (2) It is His means of reconciling all people together (2:16), (3) It makes us members of His household (2:19-22), (4) It is the means through which He shows His manifold wisdom and eternal purpose (3:9-11), (5) It is the means through which He receives glory (3:20-21), and (6) It is where and how God intends for us to use our talents and abilities to grow individually and collectively (4:11-16). Added to that list is what Paul says in what we call Ephesians 5:22-33. Paul makes it clear that the material he covers in this text illustrates a profound mystery; what he is saying “refers to Christ and the church” (32). Therefore, whatever else we take away from this text as inspired guidelines for marriage–which it is–we must understand that the church is the bride and Christ is the groom. When we see God’s binding legislation on the husband and wife in this text, we must remind ourselves that it illustrates the relationship between Christ and the church. Paul repeatedly gives this reminder (23, 25,27,29, 30,32). But, it’s not exclusively about that, as Paul concludes, “However, let each of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (33). In other words, Paul is saying, “Even though my underlying point is about Christ’s love for the church and the church’s need to submit to His authority, apply this to the marriage relationship!” 

This illustration is about submission (22-24). The command here builds on the command previous to it, in Ephesians 5:21, that being filled with the Spirit is fulfilled by “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That is more generally about each member of the church. But, in a marriage between Christians, there would also be this mutual submission. Yet, in a specific way, God commands the wife to submit to the headship of her husband. Paul speaks “of submission involving recognition of an ordered structure… of the entity to whom/which appropriate respect is shown” (BDAG 1042). Louw and Nida add that it means “to bring something under the firm control of someone” (475). Kittel tells us that in the middle voice (i.e., the one commanded acting upon himself/herself) this is voluntary submission, but it is according to a divinely willed order (1159). The wife places herself under the leadership of her husband in a way that shows that she respect him (33). God commands this because, as previous commands in this letter, it does not come naturally or easily. It requires self-discipline and effort. The close the loop on the metaphor, Paul says, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (24). This is neither vague nor unclear, though it is difficult. 

This illustration is about sacrificial love (25-30). The command here complements the one Paul gives to the wife. The husband is commanded to love his wife “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”  (25). The specific “love” mentioned here is not erotic, familial, or companionship centered. It is the highest form of love, “to have love for someone or something, based on sincere appreciation and high regard—‘to love, to regard with affection, loving concern, love” (Louw-Nida 292-293). This is the love used to describe why God gave His Son (John 3:16). Likewise, Paul here is saying that what husbands are called to show their wives is what prompted Jesus to lay down His life on the cross. Picture the intensity, the fierce devotion, the selfless care involved in that (as you read 5:26-27)! But that active interest also leads the husband, in love, to nourish and cherish her (29) as carefully as one acts to preserve self (28). Paul sharpens the focus of husbands on the sacrificial love Christ heaps on the church, and that is the bar God sets for the husband in the marriage. A husband is to be driven by concern, care, and genuine interest for the needs of his wife! Her greatest need is spiritual, so he will never abdicate the role of spiritual leadership. He will lovingly exercise it. 

This illustration is about severing (31). When the old saying goes, “Marriage takes three,” it does not mean the husband, his wife, and a parent. In fact, a prerequisite of forming a marriage presupposes what Paul explicitly states here: “Therefore a man shall leave his father & mother & hold fast to his wife, & the two shall become one flesh” (31). Did you know that this is one of the first commands in the whole Bible? Paul quotes Genesis 2:24)? Jesus reiterates it in His teaching to restore marriage to its original state (Mat. 19:5; Mk. 10:7). Suffice it to say, this is a foundational principle. Just as God does not want any outside influences to interfere in the church’s relationship to Christ, He does not want any undue influences upon the marriage relationship. That includes the parents of the bride and/or groom! The legislation is spoken to the husband, but it is applicable to the wife. It is also a warning to the parents whose children leave their home and form their new home. While this does not mean total isolation and desertion of responsibilities to parents, whom we must always honor (6:3), it does mean that the relationship changes. The married couple are not under the rule of parents. They leave that relationship and form a new one, beautifully described as a “one flesh” relationship. 

This metaphor is to help the church at Ephesus understand their relationship to Christ. But, let’s not miss the bottom line application, either. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (32-33). 

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