“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Eph.5: 31-32)
It is not without significance, I think, that the definition of a Church has become as ambiguous as the definition of a marriage. And under the same attacks, I might add. Both are often seen as merely incidental to the reality of a personal relationship with someone. I refer here to the Church as we see it manifested in a local body of believers, in doctrinal and practical fellowship with one another. Just as some Christians today look upon affiliation with such a body as being optional, at best, and a hindrance, at worst; so, too, there are those who look upon marriage as only one option (and not necessarily the best one) in an intimate relationship. But in both cases—Christians and lovers—one will have to look somewhere other than the Bible for justification (e.g., Heb.10:25; 13:4). And in most cases, both do.
The Church of which Jesus Christ is the Head, and the Body of which He is the Savior (v.23), however, is made up of all those who have been reconciled to God by the Cross, whether they be Jew or Gentile (2:16), wherever they are. This is the living organism consisting of individuals who are described as being “members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (5:30). It is this Church that is described in Ephesians and analogized by the marriage of a man and a woman. It is these two entities that are characterized by the word “mystery.”
It is interesting that love itself is never referred to as being a mystery, notwithstanding all the claims of song and story to the contrary. Human love is variable, as well as various; and in many cases, can easily be explained, unless it is perverted. Even God’s love for His creation, and especially man who was made in His image, can almost (though not quite) be understood. But the fact that somehow you and I can become one with Jesus Christ in a way that neither lessens His Deity, nor elevates our humanity, is so unfathomable, it is obvious we will never be able to plumb the depths of its implications.
Are we not guilty of sacrilege, then, as a society, when we stoop to diminish the significance of marriage, or seek to redefine it? And, as individuals, are we not in danger of profanity when we fail to look upon marriage as the natural response to feelings of intimate love? In both cases, societal and individual, one detects a blazing disregard for God and His Word; and, as Ephesians points out, a proclivity for handling sacred matters of mystery with clumsy hands of common irreverence.
The loving union I share with my husband represents an investment I made nearly fifty years ago that has brought me countless dividends, not the least of which are the visible fruits of our love—four children, eleven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren (so far). The union I share with Jesus Christ represents, not so much an investment I made in Him, but one He has made in me. As far as I am concerned, humanly speaking, He's the only risk taker in our relationship! And, to my way of thinking, whatever joy He may derive from our union cannot hold a candle to the delights and dividends I reap.
Paul says, both of these unions—marriage between a man and a woman, and marriage between Jesus Christ and His Church—are great mysteries. And, as one who has experienced both the identification and the intimacy of both, I gladly exclaim, “Ah, sweet mystery!”