A GREAT HIDDEN TRUTH
For many people the church is, unfortunately, just an extra appendage in a too-busy life. the compartmentalization of Life -- the attempt to Live it in segments unrelated to one another -- produce frustration at best, and, at worst, insures our failure to accomplish God's will. The Bible teaches that man is a total entity, with body, spirit, soul; intellect, emotion being complementary one to another in the development of the whole person. Biblical religion is not just a sometime thing, or even a Sunday thing. It is an all-time involvement with the person of our salvation, Jesus Christ. Perhaps there is no place in the Bible which so clearly teaches this truth as the portion of Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus in which he compares the involvement of Christ and His church with the involvement of a husband and wife who totally belong to one another.
J. B. Phillips translation of Ephesians 5:22-33 is as follows, “You wives must learn to adapt yourselves to your husbands, as you submit yourselves to the Lord, for the husband is the ‘head' of the wife in the same way that Christ is head of the Church and savior of his body. The willing subjection of the Church to Christ should be reproduced in the submission of wives to their husbands. But,remember, this means that the husband must give his wife the same sort of love that Christ gave to the Church, when he sacrificed himself for her. Christ gave himself to make her holy, having cleansed her through the baptism of his Word, to make her an altogether glorious Church in his eyes. She is to be free from spots, wrinkles or any other disfigurements,a Church holy and perfect. Men ought to give their wives the love they naturally have for their own bodies. The love a man gives his wife is the extending of his love for himself to enfold her. Nobody ever hates or neglects his own body; he feeds it and looks after it. And that is what Christ does for his body, the Church. And we are all members of that body. “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife; and the twain shall become one flesh. The marriage relationship is doubtless a great mystery, but I am speaking of something deeper still, the marriage of Christ and his Church. In practice what I have said amounts to this; let everyone one of you who is a husband love his wife as he loves himself, and let the wife reverence her husband.”
The relationships between a man and his wife, his God, his Savior, the church are all so intertwined that distinctions are difficult to make. The relationships are so different from the usual, so unexpected, that several translations of the passage speak of the “great mystery,” and the New English Bible says, “It is a great truth that is hidden here.” The thrust of the passage is that the relationship between Christ and the church is a great mystery and a great hidden truth. But Phillips recognizes that the mystery and the concealed truth also apply to our understanding of the proper relationship between husband and wife. Do we really understand just how two people can become one in the unique and remarkable ways described in the Bible? When God announced, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh“(Genesis 2:24), He suggested a mysterious relationship that is reenacted each time two people fall in love and determine to live their lives, not as two people living together, but as two separate identities who have become so like one that they can be des cribed as “one flesh.” You will never be involved in any other relationship so surrounded by mystery and great hidden truth as are the relationships to your spouse and your God.
The uniqueness of the marriage relationship is due in part to the uniqueness of God's creation, particularly the crowning portion of creation, the fashioning of man in God's own image. After God had created the heavens and the earth, sun, moon, and stars, the trees, flowers, and grass, the birds, fish, cattle, and reptiles, on the sixth day of creation He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth... “(Genesis 1:26). It is man alone who is said to be made in the image of God. It is man who is able to think, talk, worship, exercise his freedom of choice, and freely participate itt the great gift of eternal life. With an almost musical celebration, man's creation is described as accomplished fact, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27). With the finish of each day's creative work, God examined his handicraft and pronounced it good. But when His creation was completed with the creation of man, “God saw everything that he had made and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1 31).
Immediately following the creation of man, God recognized that man's nature was such that he would remain incomplete as long as he was alone. God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him an help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18). A help meet for man is one who, in the language of the Revised Standard Version, is fit for man. The Amplified Bible explains that the helper would be suitable, adapted. completing for man. Some of the mystery of the marriage relationship is clarified by the understanding that man and woman are, by design and creation, complementary one to the other. It is not male chauvinism; neither is it a denial of woman's dignity and freedom, to say that neither man nor woman is really complete without the help of the other. Causing a deep sleep to come over the man, God took one of Adam's ribs as the base material for the creation of woman. Himself officiating in the joining of man and woman, “God brought her unto the man” (Genesis 2:22). Recognizing the special and mysterious relationship thus established, Adam received his mate with the pronouncement, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh...” (Genesis 2:23).
Marriage, in this first instance and throughout the scriptures, is always a great deal more than a mutual desire to live together. Though people may certainly be attracted to one another sexually, by personality characteristics, by similarity of likes and dislikes, or by some inexplicable magnetism, they are not really joined as one except by the mysterious power of God. Agreements entered into by men may be and are broken frequently and regularly, but Jesus warns that what God joins must not be torn asunder by man (Matthew 19:6) Standing in awe of the majesty of God, and recognizing His mysterious power with respect to the cementing of marriages, two people best give themselves to one another when they freely give themselves to Him. Marriage is best made when it is made best by the presence of God as an active, interested, and controlling third partner. No marriage is adequately dimensioned unless both husband and wife recognize the spiritual dimension made possible by the presence of God. Reverence for the dignity, mystery, and sanctity of life is particularly noticed when children come into the world, born to parents who discern in such a process a mysterious, creative relationship with God Himself. We bring our children into the world as workers together with God. We hold them, not as possessions to be used, but as sacred trusts to be refined, polished, improved, taught, loved, and returned to God, fit for the Master's use. As husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, can you really explain your love for one another? for your children? Can you articulate with precision all of the emotions that you feel toward one another? Do you not agree that we are talking about “a great mystery?“
Of course you are not alone in your inability to adequately express your feelings. Even God resorted to comparing such relationships, husband and wife to Christ and the church, and leaving His inspired writer to conclude: “This mystery is great(Ephesians 5:32). On a human level, perhaps the best known attempt to unravel the mystery is the forty-third of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Porugese. Seeking to express her appreciation for the unselfish love of her husband, she wrote:
How do I Love thee? Let me count the ways.
I Love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I Love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints; I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, fears, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Even such love, beautifully yet inadequately expressed, can only complement the action of God in ordaining from the beginning a special kind of union. “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man Leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh; so then they are nomore twain, but one flesh. What therefore Cod hath joined together, let not man put asunder”(Mark 10:5-9). Responding to a question designed to trap Him into criticism of the Law of Moses, Jesus gave this answer. It is so positive, so majestic, that the question His critics raised about divorce lost and still loses its significance. In a day of broken homes and easy divorce, we must naturally deal with the realities. Our purpose today, however, is simply to reaffirm, as did Jesus, that marriage is divinely instituted, that it is sacred; and, in the purpose of God, a lifelong union in which two people beconie one.
Though never married during His relatively brief life on earth, Jesus took advantage of several occasions to show his high regard for marriage. Surely there is more than coincidence in Jesus' choice of a marriage feast as the setting for His first miracle (John .2:11 ). The mystery of how God's Son could turn water into wine was exceeded that day only by the mystery of how God could make two lives into one. Jesus' story of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) presents the marriage ceremony as something too good to be missed. The disappointment of that occasion is transcended by the tragedy of missing the grand appearance of Jesus the Bridegroom when He comes for His bride, His church. Acknowledging the high honor His hearers would attach to a marriage feast for the king's son (Matthew 22:1-14) Jesus described how the king would bypass the thoughtless invited guests by cornmanding his servants, “Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.” Just as the originally invited were passed by because of their neglect, and one of the newly invited was cast out for his failure to properly honor the occasion with appropriate attire, the negligent and the careless make poor mates, whether for an early spouse or a heavenly bridegroom.
The mystery, the great hidden truth referred to earlier, appears as a part of Paul's instructions to the early church. “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh. 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” (Ephesians 5:28-29, 31-32). In a time of much controversy about sex education, we need to consider afresh this fundamental yet profound teaching of the Apostle Edith Deen quotes Dr. Derrick S. Bailey, from the last chapter of his book, Sexual Relation in Christian Thought: “The metaphysical significance of sexuality (Paul's great mystery), is one of the profoundest and most baffling enigmas of human existence. First, in every sexual relation of integrity man and woman enter together into a new dimension of experience, entirely different from that of non-sexual meeting, in which they discover a fresh understanding of humanity and another way of being human. Secondly, each actual relation between man and woman has a potential creativity quite different from any belonging to non-sexual relation.” Human marriage, with its unfathomable mystery, thus becomes a parable of the very kingdom of God.*
* This message is a reproduction of a message preached by Phillip E. Morrison at the Church of Christ in Falls Church, Virginia on May 2, 1971 and heard on the CHRIST FOR TODAY boradcast. I thought this sermon deserves to live on.