“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” – Ephesians 5:21-33
Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. It is an illustration of the gospel and the relationship that the gospel creates. While this will be focused on marriage, many of the truths will be applicable to everyone regardless of marital state.
The gospel is the giving and receiving of undeserved forgiveness. God forgives us and we receive it. There is nothing we do to earn or deserve that forgiveness, all we can do is accept it.
In our marriages, we live out and illustrate the gospel to ourselves and the world by both giving and receiving undeserved forgiveness. We don’t wait to give it until they’ve done something to earn it and we don’t wait to receive it until we feel we deserve it. The forgiveness in our marriage is to mirror the forgiveness given by God to us through the gospel. It is permanent and complete. We don’t hold it over them and we don’t continue to condemn ourselves for what has been forgiven by both God and our spouse.
Christ “gave himself up for her”, the Church. He sacrificed His life for the church. In this passage husbands are specifically instructed to love their wives in the same way.
The sacrifices we make for each other in our marriage point toward the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made for us. This sacrifice was made for us “while we were still sinners”. While we were still enemies, before we knew we needed Him and before we said we would give our lives to Him, He sacrificed for us.
Human relationships are often based on a sort of economic formula, you do something for me, I do something for you. Both “parties” are receiving benefits they think are worth their level of effort towards the relationship. There is an equality of getting out what you put in to it. Many friendships and relationships die when this economy is disrupted and one or both people think they are no longer getting enough out of it based on what they have to put into it.
Christ’s relationship with the Church, His relationship with us on the basis of the gospel, is completely opposite of this. He does not need us. On our own we cannot give Him anything He does not already have and yet He chooses to give His life for us. The economy of the gospel is one in which God gives and we receive. The love and worship that flows back through us to Him is that which He has already given us and enables us to give.
The sacrifices we make for each other in marriage should be devoid of any sort of this idea of getting out of it what we put into it. Our sacrifice is not dependent on whether they have or will make a comparable sacrifice on our behalf, nor should we decline the sacrifice of our spouse if we don’t feel we can reciprocate “evenly”. Christ’s sacrifice for us is completely “uneven” and freely given, ours should be the same.
In many ways love contains all of these ideas and many more. It is forgiveness and sacrifice, grace, mercy, faithfulness, perseverance and so much more.
God’s love for us does not depend on us. His love for us is “as high as the heavens are above the earth” no matter our faithfulness or lack of it. It never changes. His love for us is no less if we are mired in sin and cannot be more if we are living like Christ for He already loves us beyond measure. We can’t earn it and we can’t change it. The more we receive the love He already has for us, the more we can give it back to Him and to others.
The gospel is God’s love overcoming our sin for His glory. In love He created us and planned our salvation. Through love He paid for our sins and bestows His righteousness to us. With love He purifies us and makes us more like Him. To love He sends us out into the world.
The more clearly we see how undeserving of His love we are the more vividly we see His glory in giving it. The more we allow ourselves to experience the fullness of His love for us, the more we are able to freely share it with others.
Our marriages should be defined by God’s love. His love can be evident in any circumstance, but it is most clear when that love is so contrary to what the world would expect.
In portraying the gospel in our marriages and giving God glory through them, we must both give love that cannot be earned and receive love that cannot be deserved. It is in both the giving and receiving that we illustrate the gospel to ourselves and the world.
If we find it hard to either give or receive forgiveness, sacrifice, or love, let us run to the source of them. Let us be reminded of the sacrifices of Christ to make a way for our perfect forgiveness and the love for us that is deeper than the seas and longer than time itself. As we spend time soaking in these truths through scripture and prayer we will grow in giving and receiving them in our marriages and to the world around us.