Guest Blog by Chris Bruno
If you ask ten people on the street in just about any city in America, or just about any other Western country, to explain the meaning and purpose of marriage you’re likely to get ten different answers. My guess is that many of them would be built on the assumption that marriage is about happiness—that person’s own happiness and his or her spouse’s happiness. Not many would say that marriage exists to model the gospel. But I this is exactly where our problem lies—we’ve detached our understanding of marriage from the story of the Bible.
Our failure to connect marriage with the story of redemption did not just happen in the last twenty years or even the last fifty years. You see, when we assume that our marriages are ultimately about our own happiness—or even ultimately about our spouse’s happiness—then we are missing the point. And we have been advancing the “marriage is primarily about my happiness” narrative for at least the last two centuries, and probably longer. Please don’t get me wrong—I’m not arguing for some kind of cold, loveless, duty-bound model for marriage. Instead, if you passionately and lovingly pursue a marriage that is shaped by the story of the Bible, then it will not only reorder your thinking about marriage, but it will also bring you the greatest possible joy in your marriage.
In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul gives one of the most detailed explanations of a Christian marriage in the Bible. But before he even gets to marriage, in Ephesians 5:2, Paul tells the church in Ephesus to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
“Walk in love” is really the heading that we can put over this whole chapter. And Paul specifically defines what sort of love he is talking about here. It is not just a you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours kind of love. Not the sort of love that is so common in marriages in the modern West. No, he calls us to walk in love in a way that is shaped by the story of redemption.
Throughout this section (and really throughout the whole Bible), our love is only possible because of Christ’s love for us. We can demonstrate love for others because, as Paul said a bit earlier in his letter to the Ephesians, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). We can only participate in this story because God has acted first, made us alive in Christ, and called us to play a part.
Our love is only possible because of Christ’s loving sacrifice for us—but that’s not the only way his love affects our relationships. Our relationships—and specifically our marriages—should reflect Christ’s love. They ought to be marked by self-sacrificing love that seeks the good of others first because this is the kind of love drove Christ to the cross for our salvation. This is the kind of love that frames the whole story of the Bible—a love that seeks the good of others.
All of this though is still not ultimately for us—Christ’s love and sacrifice for us ultimately was directed toward God. It is a fragrant offering to God, pleasing to him, because it was the fulfillment of the plan that has shaped the story of the Bible from the very beginning. Jesus’ love for us, and our love for each other and in our marriages, is ultimately about pleasing God and giving him glory.
As we think about how our marriages fit in the story of the Bible, we have to start here. Our love is rooted in Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins so that our love for each other is ultimately a reflection of that self-giving love. And this kind of love, shaped by the story of the Bible, is fundamentally for God, not for us. If you were to stop right here and try to apply this truth to your marriage or to begin working toward being the kind of man or woman who will one day reflect this truth in your marriage, you’d have more than enough to keep you busy. But Paul doesn’t stop there.
Marriage is not just learning to apply general principles of loving your neighbor (though it’s certainly not less than that!). In the last part of Ephesians 5, Paul pulls us several steps deeper into the story of the Bible to teach us that God created marriage as a picture of the story of redemption.
Let’s jump to the end of the chapter and think about Paul’s interpretation of Genesis 2:24. In verses 31-32. Paul quotes and then explains Genesis 2: “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
When God created Adam and Eve, he also performed their wedding. If you stop and think about that, it might change the way you look at the next wedding you attend. In that ceremony, the bride and groom really are entering the story of the Bible and reenacting that first wedding ceremony in Genesis. The bride is standing in the place of Eve, the groom in the place of Adam, and the officiant in the place of God. No pressure, pastors. You’re only standing in the place of God.
Back in Ephesians 5, Paul calls God’s words from Gen. 2:24 a “mystery.” Now what he means it not that this is a riddle that we have to solve. Typically when Paul uses the word “mystery” he is talking about something that used to be a mystery in the sense we’d understand it but that is now revealed. What Paul is saying here in Ephesians 5 is that the mystery of marriage all the way back in Genesis was that it referred to Christ and the church.
From the very beginning, marriage was intended to be a little re-enactment of the whole story of the Bible. If we get that wrong, then we will end up with all sorts of distortions of marriage. And let’s be honest—we live in a day where there are all sorts of distortions of marriage. But along with this challenge comes a great opportunity. As we ground our marriages in the gospel and display God’s love for God’s glory, then we can be counter-culture in the best sense. As we shape our marriages around the story of the Bible, we can demonstrate what marriage was made for and how truly joyful a Christ-centered marriage can be. So let’s not run from the challenge of all the competing views of marriage. Instead, let’s step into the darkness and shine the light of the gospel in an increasingly dark space.
Chris Bruno (Ph.D., Wheaton College) serves at Trinity Christian School in Kailua, Hawaii. He is the author of several books, including The Whole Message of the Bible in 16 Words and Churches Partnering Together (with Matt Dirks).
Buy the books
The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses