God is God, and we are not. His ways are so high above ours, how can we ever understand them?
A huge part of the way God helps us to understand deeply spiritual precepts is to begin with what we naturally understand. “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). God, in His rich mercy, bears with us in our humanity. He makes Himself known to us, declaring His ways but remembering that we are mere mortals who will struggle to understand.
So when it comes to our understanding of Christ’s relationship to us, and the establishment of the church as His Body, He has given us marriage.
In a sense, God’s “relational style” is to present a series of shadows and types until the fullness of what we are to understand culminates in Christ. We see this with the sacrifices, commandments, rituals and even the language of the Old Testament—it all prepares us for understanding the truth in all of its depth. Marriage, the mystery of Christ and the church, is an example of this method of communication. It sets us up to understand a deeper mystery by using something we can readily understand.
Biblical marriage—the union between one man and one woman—is the first social institution God established. The order of the creation of man and woman and the purpose for which God joins them must not be overlooked. From the man Adam, God forms the woman, Eve—a suitable helper. These two are one flesh. Though distinct and different, they are one flesh. They form a family in which they are specifically commanded to be fruitful and multiply.
Adam has a responsibility to Eve; he is the head of this unit. It’s no wonder, then, that while it was Eve who yielded to temptation first, the greater responsibility was Adam’s. He was tasked with oversight and given the initial commandments. The first Adam failed to protect and lead. He failed to give himself fully to the task entrusted to him.
But the second Adam—Jesus Christ—did not fail. In Christ we see what should have happened. He obeyed all that the Father commanded. Christ, having borne with us in our frailty, ultimately protected us from ourselves by giving His life for us, for the church—His Bride.
Unfortunately, the modern concept of love and marriage typically does not include sacrifice. Unlike Christ’s display, our marriages know very little about humility, longsuffering and grace. Instead, people often become dissatisfied and say they have “fallen out of love.” When they don’t feel the emotions that romance promises, they decide that marriage is no longer worth it.
But what if we’re missing something critical? What if the love we experience in marriage is designed in part to show the extent of Christ’s love for us? When the Apostle Paul teaches the Ephesians about marriage he writes, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Ephesians 5:22-23).
Christ is the head of the church—His Body. Paul continues, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:28). Notice that husbands are instructed to love their wives as their own bodies. This is remarkable. Remember, Paul has already pointed out that we are not only in Christ; we are His Body. When we consider how unlovable we were, that we were cut off from Christ; the implication here is profound.
But what does this mean for marriage? In the marital context, we get to understand the selfless love of Christ in a unique way. A husband gets to experience the sacrifice of laying his life down for his bride. A rich, fulfilling marriage allows husbands to lead, protect and even seek out the interests of their wives rather than simply tolerate those interests. The enduring love of a husband points to the love of Christ. And the world is watching. As the one-flesh commitment of marriage comforts a wife, how much more must the commitment of Christ comfort us.
While husbands are the heads of their families, wives are suitable helpers to their husbands. This is not a downgrade from any exclusive position of leadership. The word helper used for Eve in the Old Testament is the same word used of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. So we can see here that even the work of the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit is first understood in the context of marriage. Adam is given a helper, one who comes alongside. Jesus promises that the Helper would come to aid us. The Helper, in Greek, is parakletos, which means advocate, consoler, intercessor. A wife’s role is undeniably huge when we understand the role of the Spirit in aiding the people of God. As Wil’s wife, I get to help him in life. I’m tasked to come alongside, encourage and improve his life. I’m to do that with the utmost respect and submission. Again, the world is watching.
Marriage is far more than keeping romance or enduring drudgery. Marriage should be an active, real-time illustration of how Christ relates to us. Love is therefore best reflected in sacrificial leadership and respectful aid. Winning in marriage is the proper display of our roles and the joy that should accompany that display. Success in marriage is unity in spite of our differences. When we live in light of the great sacrifice of Christ for us, our marriages will become living testimonies that declare God’s wisdom in designing such a rich institution. And they can help us to better understand the profound mystery of Christ and the church. ©2020 Meeke Addison
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
Meeke Addison is associate director of Special Initiatives for the American Family Association and co-host of the radio/podcast program “Airing the Addisons” on American Family Radio. She and her husband, Wil, offer insight on culture, popular trends and current events that threaten the integrity of the Christian Faith and the proliferation of the Gospel.