A few days ago, I had the opportunity to lead a couple in a marriage vow renewal ceremony. They had been married for 20 years and had experienced the ups and downs of a very eventful life. They wanted to celebrate the fact that as they had traveled the road of life together, they had grown closer to each other. They also wanted to recommit to remain faithful to each other as they looked to the future.

As is my practice at all marriage ceremonies, I read from Ephesians 5:22-33. No doubt you are familiar with that passage. It’s the one where husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church and wives are told to submit to the loving leadership of their husbands as the Church does to Christ.

For years, I understood Ephesians 5:22-33 to be God’s word on marriage. I believed that in that passage, God provided instruction on how marriage could work best. Further, I believed the Lord gave us the relationship of Christ and the Church as an illustration to learn from and mimic.

But, unknown to me at the time, I couldn’t have been further from the truth! I completely misunderstood what God was saying!

You see, I was looking at the Bible with a very human-centered paradigm. I assumed that the main idea of the text was man-centered – how we could enjoy a great marriage. Christ’s relationship with the church was only the illustration.

With that approach to the text, I encouraged the grooms and brides to have a great marriage … for their own benefit. In doing so, even though it was not my intention, I was robbing Christ of glory. In my interpretation, there was implied no expectation to do so.

Because this text was ultimately about marriage, right? Wrong!

If only I had paid more attention to verse 32. As Paul is bringing his comments about Jesus, the Church and marriage to a conclusion, he says: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

Mystery? What mystery? What truth has been hidden but is now being revealed? 

Paul is not saying that the principles of a good marriage have been a mystery. For thousands of years, men and women had enjoyed great marriages. 

So, what was the mystery? The mystery is how good marriages illustrate the relationship that Christ has with His Church. When a husband sacrificially loves his wife, he is illustrating to a lost world the kind of love that Christ has for us. When a wife submits to the loving leadership of her husband, she is illustrating to a lost world how believers submit to the loving leadership of Jesus.

Christ and the Church don’t provide an illustration for marriage. Marriage is an illustration of Christ and the Church.

Why is this important? Because, instead of seeing Ephesians 5:22-33 as a self-centered text on how to have a great marriage, we see marriage as an opportunity to glorify our Lord by making an invisible Jesus visible. 

We also see that there is an evangelistic purpose in having a good marriage. The lost world gets to see how loving Jesus is and how believers should follow His leadership.

Does this diminish marriage in any way? Certainly not! It actually elevates marriage and calls upon every believer to fulfill their God-given roles as husbands and wives to point people to Jesus. 

That’s a tall order! I don’t know about you but I’ve got some work to do!