Marriage as we understand it is a union between a man and a woman for life. It follows the precedent set in Genesis 2 when God created Eve as a help for Adam. Adam was put to sleep, Eve was made out of a rib from the side of Adam, and they joined together in marriage. Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
When thinking of marriage, have you ever asked yourself the question, “Why?” Why is marriage a thing? Why did God establish marriage? Why does God disapprove of divorce? Why is it one man and one woman for life? Well to answer those questions, we have to look at what marriage symbolizes.
God put many things into place throughout the Old and New Testament that are a picture or symbols of things that are greater. For example, in the Old Testament when the nation of Israel was told that they were to offer blood sacrifices and offerings to the Lord, these sacrifices were a picture of things to come. They were a picture that the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus Christ, was going to come one day to redeem mankind from their sin and be the last sacrifice we would ever need.
In the New Testament, we’re given symbols such as communion and baptism. Baptism symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When you go under the water you are illustrating the death and burial of Christ and when you come back out of the water you are illustrating the resurrection and newness of life with Jesus.
In the same way, marriage is an illustration or symbol of something greater than marriage itself. Let’s look at it in reference to these passages: Ephesians 5:22-25 – 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Let’s break down the above passage as it relates to being symbolic of Christ’s relationship with the church. In marriage, wives are directed to submit, and husbands are directed to love. It doesn’t stop there. Wives aren’t directed to submit just for the sake of submitting, and husbands aren’t directed to love just for the sake of loving. They are both part of something bigger.
When a wife submits to her husband (as to the Lord), it is a picture of how the church submits itself under the authority of Christ. He is the great shepherd, and the pastors of the churches are considered “under shepherds.” I personally grew up in a denomination who prided themselves in the word “independent.” While I understand their meaning of that phrase in being that they are independent of man-made constructs within the church, it’s worth pointing out that no church is 100% independent. EVERY church has to submit themselves under the authority of Jesus Christ or else they find themselves out of the proper order because they are no longer in submission to Him.
When a husband loves his wife as Christ loved the church, it is a multi-faceted illustration. The first is that it is always a reminder that Jesus died for our sins. He put his plans, goals, desires, comforts, and more on hold because he knew we had a need and loved us enough to give up everything to meet it. Husbands are called to do the same thing. Love their wives by putting their needs above his own. It pictures Christ’s selfless love.
But it also symbolizes something else. Christ never turned his back on the church. Jesus will never leave the church. Jesus will continue to love the church until the end of time. This is why God disapproves of divorce (in the broad sense, “I fell out of love,” “I want to be free again,” etc.), because it breaks the picture of what marriage stands for. Jesus will never divorce his church. He will never turn His back on us. He will continue loving us, putting our needs first, and accepting us when we turn back to Him.
Geoffrey Bromiley, in his book God and Marriage puts it perfect when he says, “As God made man in His own image, so He made earthly marriage in the image of His own eternal marriage with His people.” As you go through life with your spouse, remember that marriage remains a symbol of God’s love for us. As we submit to his authority, He promises to never leave us or forsake us, and to love us to the end of time.