The Church's Mysterious Marriage to Christ

August 28, 2016 Series: Scripture: Ephesians 5:25-33 by Chris Strevel

Scripture says that our life is yet hid with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). It does not yet appear what we shall be (1 John 3:3). As we watch for the return of the Bridegroom and long for his appearing, these lines part the veil slightly. Rays of glory flood the soul. Jesus Christ is married to us. We are “of his bones, and of his flesh.” It is not that we are subsumed into him, lose our personal identity or that our proper nature is altered. Yet, in a very real sense, just as Eve was created from Adam’s side and thus enjoyed her life from Adam, so the church was created from our Lord’s bleeding side and obtains her life from him. The language is metaphorical, but it nonetheless reveals a living, covenanted, personal union with him, so that we are the “fullness of his body” (Eph. 1:23). He is not complete as our Mediator without us, and we are deformed and incomplete without him. So rich is his mercy and great his love that he has forever joined himself to us. Her marriage to Jesus Christ is the church’s highest glory and dignity. Love and wonder must grip our hearts. We must live unto him and prepare to meet him, for he will soon return to perfect her in beauty and consummate their love in eternal joy and fellowship.

Christ’s Model for the Husband (vv. 28-29)

He must love his wife as his own body.

Have we not ascended as high upon Pisgah’s heights as we are capable or permitted? To know that our Savior gave himself for us, sanctifies us for his own, washes us, and will one day soon present us to himself a glorious church are truths sufficient to fill us with wonder. And yet, we are called to ascend still higher. As we do, the implications of our Savior’s love for the husband must not be forgotten. As Jesus Christ loved his body and thought no depths of degradation or suffering too beneath him in order to redeem her, so the husband must “love his wife as his own body.” The assumption throughout these lines is that the wife is the husband’s body, for she is one with him. Therefore, all the love and care he lavishes upon her is really a loving of himself – hallowed self-love, to be sure, a self-emptying self-love, but a loving of himself all the same. The idea is not that the husband really has an eye to himself all the time he is loving his wife. Rather, since his wife is really his other half, since she is one with him by hallowed ties, to love her is to love himself. He does not truly love himself in the right sense of the term unless he loves his wife selflessly. By loving her in this way, he certainly reaps tremendous happiness and peace in his marriage, but this is so that he can pour his joy and attention back upon his beloved wife. This is similar to the crowns Jesus will bestow upon us. The saints will not sit back in self-admiration but cast them back at his feet, worshipping him as their life and joy, forgetting themselves in the pleasure of his company but also truly finding themselves in him (Matt. 10:39)

His wife is his body, and he cannot hate himself.

With the exception of lunatics and self-mutilators, “no man ever hateth his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it” (v. 29). When Job confessed that he “abhorred himself,” and Ezekiel spoke of loathing oneself, they meant the self-hatred saints feel for their sins. These feelings did not lead them to injure themselves but to sincere repentance. Here the meaning is more an argument from the normal state of things. Men normally take care of themselves. They avoid pain, if possible, take preventive measures to ensure health, and promote their well-being. Since the wife is the husband’s body, one flesh with him, the husband who hates his wife is a monster, a deformation of basic humanity. He hates his own flesh. Thus, the husband who is always finding fault with his wife, never encourages or prays for her, and does not seek to do her good, is sub-human. He is also sub-Christian. The Lord Jesus loved his body, the church, giving himself to horrible sufferings in order to redeem her. Like him, the Christian husband must have such a regard for his wife that he loves her as fervently and carefully as he takes care of his own body. Never is he to consider these two cares separate. He is one with his wife. She is more a part of him than he can fully understand. This is true by virtue of her creation from his side, the covenant that binds them, and the love they share together a man and wife.

He must nourish and cherish his wife.

Nourish and cherish describe both the husband’s love for his wife and Christ’s love for his. Husbands must always keep in mind that Christ’s love is the model for theirs. To nourish is to build up and to bring to maturity. It is used to describe the way parents bring up their children. Not that the wife is a child, but all that the husband does for her must aim at bearing her up in weakness, assisting her in her responsibilities and trials, and encouraging her maturity in Christ. Cherish means that he must do so with tenderness. The idea behind cherish is warmth. A cold husband is an unloving husband, as is one who barks out commands as some kind of domestic field officer, is never satisfied, and expresses his displeasure at every turn. If his love is to be like Christ’s, he must be tender. Notice the way our Lord rebuked Peter’s pending denial far more tenderly than he deserved, and then immediately related that he has prayed for him. Screaming and denouncing Peter did not contribute to melting his heart to repentance; the remembrance of the Lord’s kindly warnings and hopeful expressions of personal love did.

It is the same with husbands. A weighty responsibility they have to nurture their wives, and it can be fulfilled only through tender love, so that necessary rebukes are given patiently, not with the intent to crush but to work together for improvement. Warm and friendly must be their communication, even in tense moments.  Remember: the wife is the husband’s body, one flesh with him. We are quick to forgive our own faults and to excuse ourselves, but when it comes to the faults of others, we lash out with all the calculating coldness of a judge announcing a death penalty. If a husband will work to gain some sense of the Lord’s tenderness toward him, his heart will be humbled by the love of his Savior. Those who have been forgiven much will love much. Adoring the Lord for bearing patiently with them will melt their impatient, frustrated hearts so that they treat their wives as the Lord has treated them.

Christ’s Marriage to the Church (vv. 30-32)

We are bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh (v. 30).

To encourage the husband to think of his wife as his own flesh and therefore to be tender toward her, Jesus’ close connection with his bride is brought forward. We are of his body, “of his flesh and of his bones.” Never shall we scale the heights of this mystery (v. 32). It is a truth we could never know had not God revealed it and a truth that will easily slip away unless the Spirit illumines and constrains us. All the explanations and metaphors used to describe it cannot exhaust its wonder. Paying close attention to the words, it is clear that Genesis 2:24 is in mind, which is immediately quoted. Just as the wife is taken from the husband, so we have been taken from Christ. Our life comes from his life. We are part of him. “Flesh” is significant, for this oneness is particularly related to our Savior’s mediatorial life, his “flesh,” the body the Father prepared for him and that he gave for the life of the world. We are his body, profoundly one with him. The apostle has already said that we are the “fullness of his body” (Eph. 1:23). In some sense, only the shadow of which we can now grasp, our Savior is completed in us, and we in him. He is of course complete in himself as the eternal Son of God and needs nothing. As our Mediator, however, he has a wife, and his saving work and its full completion is inseparable from his oneness with her. To redeem and secure her, he humbled himself and took upon himself our flesh. We might say, though with caution, that just as Eve was created from Adam’s side, so we have been created from Christ’s bleeding side. The church is brought to life only through faith in his crucified flesh. We are healed by his stripes. He died to give us life. His blood is our life. He is so bound to us by election, covenant, and blood that he will not lay down his mediatorial commission until his wife is with him, perfect and glorious. Then, God will be all in all.

The two are one (v. 31; Gen. 2:24).

To establish this unity, the original marriage mandate is brought forward. It serves two purposes. There is the obvious reference to the husband. He leaves his parents in order to establish a new relationship with his wife. He is thereafter bound to her, so that the two are one. They are “bone of bone, and flesh of flesh.” The wife does not lose her own personality, as if her husband is permitted to suffocate and remake her in his image. Rather, they complete each other, the husband by being a loving, servant-head to his wife and the wife by complementing and helping her husband with a meek and quiet spirit. Their two wills are unified around a common purpose – to glorify God and serve him in the earth. They are quickened by the same love for Christ. Their love is celebrated in the pure marriage bed, in which each gives himself for the pleasure and joy of the other. As co-heirs of the grace of life, through prayers, mutual encouragement, and heavenly-mindedness, they strengthen and prepare each other for God’s eternal kingdom. They enjoy life together, talk together, and cry together. Their struggles and joys are shared. The two are one.

Since Christ is married to his church, the same parameters are generally true of his relationship with his church. He left his Father’s house to redeem, secure, and wash his wife. Having brought her forth from sin and death through his obedience and sufferings, he is joined to her forever. The two are one. She is his body, his full self as the Mediator of the covenant and the gift of God’s love. Upon her, he lavishes his love, gifts, and graces. She has life and purpose through union with him. The union he has with us is no less personal and living than that of earthly husbands with their wives. We are in covenant with him, and he will fulfill all its obligations of care, tenderness, love, support, and protection. The two are so one that he never thinks of himself as our Mediator without thinking of her. His eye is continually upon her. He is always working to promote her safety and holiness, her joy and peace in the world. Our union with Christ is so personal and intimate that “one flesh” is appropriate – not a blending of substances but of wills, joys, love, and purpose. This because he gave his life for her, redeemed her by his blood, and joined himself to her. She is his body. He must love her as he loves himself.


This is a great mystery (v. 32).

This is the profoundest, the most glorious statement of our union with Christ to be found in Scripture. It is not the least surprising that marriage is the chosen metaphor. Where else at a human level do we find such a blending of hearts, lives, and destinies as in the relationship between the husband and the wife? Yet, this is not the mystery. The mystery is that Jesus Christ sustains this same and yet higher relationship with his bride. The union of Christ and his bride is the profound centerpiece of this passage. The metaphor of marriage is used by the Spirit because it expresses the fundamental truth of our union with Christ – intimacy, inseparability, sacrifice, devotion. All we can do is stand in wonder at our Savior’s great love for us. Why would he desire to be one with us? We were dead in sin and unworthy of any consideration from him except condemnation. His mercy is great and his love rich (Eph. 2:4). Nothing is as wondrous as that we are bound to Jesus Christ in this way. His condescension, power, and sufferings have secured us to be his wife. We are never good enough to be married to Jesus Christ; he must cleanse us. We shall never in our own strength stand before him glorious and spotless, but his love will bring us there. He is the most faithful of husbands. And this is the profound foundation and motivation for husbands to love their wives and wives to submit to their husbands. It is not the worthiness of your spouse but the incredible, condescending, self-emptying love of the Son of God for us.

Christ’s Mandate to Husbands and Wives (v. 33)

Therefore, husbands, love your wives. You are married to Jesus Christ. Pleasing him will lead you to love your wife as he loves his. Lay down your life for her. Grow in wonder at Jesus’ love, be transformed by it, be utterly mesmerized by it in the depths of your soul, and you will love your wife. Jesus Christ, however, is your only foundation to make progress in love. Personal resolve, fear of negative consequences, increased romance, and guilt must all fail in the end to help you love your wife. Nothing but “Christ in you,” Christ “of his flesh and of his bones” loving you can love you into loving your wife. Rejoice in him. Be often with him, waiting upon your Husband and Savior in his word and prayer, growing in your estimation of his wondrous love, and he will strengthen you do die to self so that you can love your wife.

Wives, reverence your husbands. The main way you love and follow Jesus Christ in this life is to respect and obey your husband. You do this not because your earthly husband is worthy; he may be an unbeliever. He may fail you in so many ways that you struggle to find positive reasons to move forward. Or, he may be a good husband. Still, you are weak and must cling to Jesus. Remember how he saved you from the gutter of filth and sin. Would you offend him, give him cause to be displeased with you, ignore his word, and live as if you were a free woman to do as you please? No, and neither must you live this way toward your earthly husband, for Jesus Christ has given him to you to serve. By serving your husband, you serve your Husband. By yielding your will to your husband, you yield your will to Jesus.

We do not find our life by insisting upon having our way or that others think like we do and support us no matter what choices we make. We find our life by losing it in Jesus Christ; we also find our true life in him. Wonder and awe, humility and joy, marks the Christian who is married to Jesus. It changes everything in his life. He does not want to live unto himself but unto him who loved and gave himself for us. Live like this with your spouse, live unto Jesus, as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, and your marriage will take on heavenly hews. Perfection? Not yet; this is coming, but you will have a foretaste of wedding joy – the favor, smile, and presence of your Husband, whose love is sweeter than life and whose presence beautifies every relationship.