Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:31b “. . .and shall be joined unto his wife,. . .”
Paul did not base his ideas about marriage on some new concept, nor did he seek a new and innovative way to have a good marriage. By quoting Genesis 2:24, the foundational premise of marriage, he directed people back to the commencement, to the bona fide, original principles of matrimony. The adage, “to understand anything, know its beginnings,” is especially true of marriage.
Paul’s thinking on the subject was clouded and affected by Genesis 1-3. Our Lord Himself did not seek to give a new teaching on marriage. He also chose to direct attention back to the original pair (MT 19:1-12; MK 10:1-12).
In analyzing marriage, we need neither a new guru nor faddish truths based on anthropological analyses and social studies. The historical development of marriage has not been a progression from worse to better views. For wedlock, the best plan came first. People fell from a perfect standard, and need to be recalled to it. We need to rediscover the old, proven method.
Included in the foundational premise of marriage is the admonition that a husband “shall be joined unto his wife.” “Joined” means glued, cemented, and emphasizes the permanence of marriage. For the bond between a husband and wife to be like Christ’s union with His Church, it must be unbreakable.
A well-glued board breaks in the wood before breaking in the glued joint. Similarly, death should come to the individual before his or her “joined” marriage bond is broken. Only death should dissolve the union. The bond ought to end only because one of the parties is no longer there to be knit to.
In this context, Jesus said, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (MT 19:6b NASB). Divorce destroys what God ordained to be unbreakable. Thus, be not surprised at the devastating effects of divorce.
The notion that divorce is liberating is a lie. Liberalizing divorce laws hurts women and children worst, but also impacts men adversely. The risk for outpatient or inpatient psychiatric care is ten times greater for men, five times for women, who are divorced or separated. Suicide and alcohol abuse are higher among the divorced than the married. The divorced are more likely than the married to miss work days due to sickness, to suffer stress, tension, stomach upset, fatigue, headaches, nervousness, nightmares, insomnia. (See Focus on the Family magazine, September 1994, “Believe Well, Live Well,” pp. 2-4.) Jonathan Pond writes in his book, 1001 Ways to Cut Your Expenses, “The single worst thing you can do to your financial health is to get divorced” (p. 129).
As we accurately view its devastation, we better understand why the Lord says, “I hate divorce” (ML 2:16 NASB). God forgives, but still opposes, divorce. As long as we live in an imperfect society, we will need divorce laws due to people’s “hardness of heart” (MT 19:8 NASB). Divorce may be allowed, but it is not part of God’s divine purpose. Do all you can to avoid it.
Eph. 5:31c “. . .and they two shall be one flesh.”
This phrase highlights the unity of marriage. Husband and wife should share a oneness of mind, heart, and purpose which finds physical expression in the sexual union, as the word “flesh” implies. Sexual intimacy is “the act of marriage.” Western Culture by and large acknowledges the significance of this physical expression of marriage. Until sexually consummated, a marriage can be annulled, dissolved as if it never took place.
Our text sets the limit for sexual activity. “Two” means two, not three, four, five, or more. Thus, polygamy and promiscuity are disallowed. In the sexual realm, the “two” are to show absolute fidelity to one another.
Be ever on guard for the tell-tale signs of an impending affair. John Howell, Professor of Christian Ethics at Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, urges people (Word and Way, May 19, 1994, page 6) to be alert to five signals which indicate one is treading a dangerous path. First, thoughts of the other person dominate your conscious awareness. Fleeting thoughts are normal; constant contemplation is dangerous. Second, sexual fantasies about the other person become more enticing. Always fantasize solely about your spouse.
Third, planning for ways to be alone with the other person. Fourth, comparing the other person with one’s spouse in more favorable ways.
Fifth, confusing “falling in love” with the desire for sexual fulfillment. No matter what our culture says, romance is never a justifiable reason for committing adultery. To think otherwise is to adopt an adult version of the justification teenagers often offer for premarital sex: “If you love me, you will.”
The bottom line is, do not commit adultery in our thoughts, our imagination, our schedule, our comparisons, or our bedroom. Adultery is rarely committed instantaneously. It usually develops by degrees. Being usually a process, not an isolated event, adultery can be halted long before “the act” itself. This is one reason adultery is so hard on a marriage. The wounded party knows the adultery had to develop, and be kept secret, over an extended period.
Eph. 5:32a “This is a great mystery:. . .”
“Great” translates “megas,” which means big or grand. “Mystery” refers not to something cryptic and hard to understand, but to a truth once hidden and now revealed. It refers to a fact people would have never figured out on their own. It would have forever remained unknown, had it not been revealed.
In our text, the “mystery” is that the first human relationship, husband/wife, was ordained by God to serve as earth’s best and highest picture of the marvelous relationship between Christ and His Church. This truth is “great,” one of grandeur and importance, of profound significance.
As far back as Eden, God built into creation a picture of Jesus’ relationship to His bride. Through all history, marriage has had a significance beyond its surface appearance. It was prefiguring something profound. God placed the concept of marriage into the human psyche in every part of the globe in order to help all peoples better understand the union between Christ and the Church.
In the beginning, God understood our frailty. He is divine, we are flesh. He is infinite, we are finite. Sympathetic to our weakness, God built into His creation obvious pictures, illustrations, and examples which would help us better understand deeper, spiritual truths. One reason the wind blows is to picture the movements of the Holy Spirit (JN 3:8). Plants sprouting in the Spring portray Christ’s resurrection. Thorns remind of sin’s misery (GN 3:18-19). The sunrise reminds us “the dayspring from on high hath visited us” (LK 1:78), Messiah’s coming drove darkness away. Another “symbol in nature” is marriage, which was given the high honor of picturing Christ and His Church.
This reminds us, the institution of marriage is sacred, given not by government or society, but by God Himself in Eden. Marriage is a standing joke among comedians and entertainers of our day. Berating it always raises a laugh. I reject this cynicism. These sermons on the family have contained no demeaning jokes and no belittling. In my private life, and in this pulpit, I refuse to make derogatory jokes about marriage. To a society which often rips, claws, and demeans marriage, we say, “Hands off! Defile not this holy thing.”
Parents, be sensitive to this. Do not tell children demeaning things about marriage. Do not poison the well by building cynicism into their outlook. Convey to them the Christian ideal of marriage. It is the loftiest conception of the relationship. Despite our society’s cynicism about marriage, the Christian home is our best hope to have paradise restored. Every Christian home is to be a sanctuary in which the beauty of the Lord is reflected. Heed the plain teaching of Scripture, “Let marriage be held in honor among all” (HB 13:4).