Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.
Years ago, a wise old mentor gave me some advice on the eve of my wedding. I will always remember one thing he said. “Love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener.” Here is part two of this three-part series on Christian marriage.
Roman Catholics consider marriage a sacrament. While Protestants do not go that far, I think it would be fair to say we consider Christian marriage to possess a sacramental quality. What does that mean? A sacrament, like baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are signs and symbols that point to a greater reality beyond themselves. We not only look at them, we look into them, and even learn to see through them. Sacraments open the eyes of our hearts to behold something extraordinary in the substance of ordinary.
For instance, Paul can’t talk about marriage without also talking about Jesus and the church. More than a metaphor or analogy, Paul gets at a divine mystery in the way he deals with marriage. Note how he even reaches for baptismal language in this text (i.e., the washing of water with the Word). Wow! Remember, marriage is an “eye-opener.”
Love is blind. We mostly come into marriage with a vision of our spouse that turns out to be a mirage. Why? Because we see them not as they are but as we are. It’s why early marriage (which can go on for decades!) can be such a battle as we unwittingly attempt to conform the other into our own image.
Codependence happens as one or both of the spouses succumb to this strategy, becoming not who they most truly are but who the other most needs them to be. Independence happens as one or both of the spouses enclose and protect themselves from one another’s brokenness. Independence in marriage always leads to divorce, whether actualized or not, for independence rarely comes without war.
You think I’m heading toward the happy medium of interdependence. I’m not. And I know all of this can sound more like therapy than theology. (As an aside, therapy means a treatment intended to relieve or heal. If our theology does not turn out to be a source of healing, we should question whether it is really Christian.) It turns out marriage is about resplendence, which means “shining out.” Did you catch that? Verse 27: So that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Now, interestingly, the resplendence does not come from one spouse outshining the other. It comes from unconditional surrender to God.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . .
Jesus did not give himself up to us but for us. He gave himself up to God. It sounds like the invitation and calling of marriage is not to give myself up to my spouse for God (i.e., Christian codependence) but to give myself up to God for my spouse (i.e., holy matrimony). The fruit of surrender is splendor.
Marriage designs to be a window into the heart of God, which is the mind of Christ. Let’s take care to remember the way in which Jesus gave himself up for us’the cross—not just one horrific Friday but the entirety of his existence (to the present day). Jesus gave himself up to God for us as a seamlessly unfolding gift of self-giving love. He delights to do this in and through the mystery that is marriage. As couples give themselves up to him for each other, he makes their marriage an eye-opening gift to the watching world. This is the resplendence of holiness, bright shining as the sun.
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus. We see in this one who never married the very mystery of marriage, the way of un-self-interested giving that is both suffering and joy simultaneously. Fill me with your Spirit and grant me the grace to surrender everything to you, to give myself up for the sake of others. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Can you think of a marriage through whom you witnessed the resplendence of grace and holiness? Describe it.
How do you see the difference between codependence and independence on the one hand and surrender on the other?
Why is Christian marriage so challenging? What will it take to stop seeing people as we are and to begin to see them as they are?
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