Marriage and Discipleship

Over the last couple of weeks we have looked at the roles of wives and husbands in the marriage relationship. Paul’s comments conclude with a brief statement in verse 32 that leads us to stop and reflect on the depth of meaning in the verse. Let me read it in its narrow context,

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

The question we pose this morning is simple: How does marriage illustrate the union between Christ and the Church? And what can we learn from the relationship between Christ and the Church that we can apply to marriage?

This is not a new idea. Paul has underscored this connection throughout his whole discussion. Marriage and our relationship to Christ are interrelated.

One Commentator writes,

The union of husband and wife, although sometimes imperfect, provides the best picture to describe the union of Christ with his church. “This is a great mystery” might better be translated, “There is a profound truth hidden here.” As Paul contemplated the mutual love and loyalty . . . riches bestowed, intimacy and oneness, and self-sacrifice that should describe every marriage, he saw in these a picture of Christ and the church.[1]

 This morning we are going to look at a few of things we learn from these relationships.

 We Learn About Grace and Repentance

 You will learn very quickly in marriage that “keeping score” will destroy your marriage. When you do this you will find yourself always rehearsing past hurts and magnifying faults in an attempt to show that you are giving more than your fair share and getting much less than you deserve. We are to treat each other in the same way that we have been treated by the Lord: with mercy and grace.

The only way for marriage to grow and flourish is to repent (truly acknowledge and name the hurt and express sorrow) when we have failed, and extend grace when our mate has repented. It is impossible to undo the past. No matter what pain we have inflicted or received (whether it was because of some relatively private sin or a because of a horribly public sin), the pain cannot be undone. We have a choice: we can allow the pain of the past to destroy us or we can address the pain and move past it.

This is what we have learned about love from Christ. When we come to Him as broken people who acknowledge our sin and rebellion, we find grace and mercy because of the blood or sacrifice of Christ. We can’t undo our sin even with all the offerings, good works, and meetings we attend. Our only hope is to turn to Christ for a grace we do not deserve and cannot earn. Repentance and Grace are necessary ingredients to any truly loving relationship.

If you want to be part of God’s family you have to stop trying to make things right (in essence trying to dig yourself out of trouble). Instead, we must confess our sin, our inability to “fix things”, and admit our need for forgiveness and grace. When we come to Christ we find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.

If you want to have a strong marriage you have to understand this and extend that same grace to your mate. We must truly forgive our spouse for those things done in the past. This means you have to stop throwing them up in the face of your mate!  Beating someone up with past failures makes it impossible to ever heal and move forward. We must treat each other in the same way as we have been treated by our Lord.

We Learn that Relationship Involves Sacrifice

When we think about two people becoming one it is good for us to reflect on how we become one with Christ. Such oneness is impossible without the sacrifice of our Lord. He humbled Himself, became a servant, and then gave His life on our behalf.

In the book of 1 John we read,

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

The Bible reminds us that we are “bought with a price”. Grace, mercy, and forgiveness are not without cost. Someone has to pay the price. The person who paid the price in our relationship with God is Jesus. Our forgiveness was costly to Him and freely given to us.

We understand this idea of sacrifice in child rearing. We know (or quickly learn) that having kids will involve late night feedings, taking days off to care for sick children, sacrificing financially to provide what our children need, there are emotional sacrifices that come with trying to train our children, and we must adjust our schedule to that of the needs of our children.

This same kind of sacrifice is needed in marriage. There is nothing easy about it. This is what Paul has been trying to teach us. Wives are to give themselves sacrificially for their husbands. Husbands are to give themselves sacrificially to their wives.  Let’s face it, we are happy to have our mates sacrifice for us – we are less enthused about sacrificing for them.

Where does this need for sacrifice reveal itself?

  • When it comes to working through the pain of a deep hurt. Working through things like marital unfaithfulness, past abuse, and even hurtful words will require sacrifice. We must sacrifice the desire to get even. We must absorb the hurt (and that isn’t easy).
  • Financially (we may need to sacrifice some of what we want to support and encourage our mate).
  • Emotionally. There will be times when we have to endure trying times (and sometimes hurtful words) in order to be support our mate.
  • In the use of our time. We will have to make quality time for our mate even though it may mean not being able to do other things.
  • In family responsibilities. We should be willing to do what needs to be done in our household rather than insisting “That’s not my job”.

Sacrifice sounds like a “dirty word” but as we have mentioned before, sacrifice, submission, service and the giving of ourselves is the secret to deep relationships and true joy.

We are going to need a supernatural strength to make these kinds of sacrifices. Our relationship with Christ is an essential element to being able to do what needs to be done to build a great relationship.

We Learn the True Nature of Commitment

Marriage teaches us about commitment. As you enter into marriage you quickly discover that things do not always run smoothly. There are days when we may not like each other because of some conflict or irritation. Increasingly people throw up their hands and conclude that they have made a mistake. They divorce, and move on.  That is not commitment!

The mistake is in our understanding of true love. When two people get married in the way God designed they make a commitment to each other. Think about the words often included in marriage vows. Many people today seem to think the promise means: I will do all these things as long as things are going well; as long as I feel fulfilled and satisfied; as long as the happy feeling remain. However, a true commitment is a covenant (rather than a contract). It is a promise that says: I am committed to you no matter what happens. We will work through the times of pain. I won’t give up. I won’t walk away. I’m in.

That understanding helps us to better understand God’s love for us. Listen to these words from the book of Romans with the understanding that marriage brings us,

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39 NLT)

God has promised to never, never, never leave us or forsake us. When we stumble . . . He is there. When we rebel. . .  He continues to pursue us. When we become distracted . . . He continues to hold out open arms. God is committed to us.

This is the kind of commitment the Lord wants us to give to our marriage. This is also the kind of commitment He wants us to give to Him.

Being a committed follower of Jesus Christ is not about just showing up for worship when your schedule allows. (That would be like saying, “I’ll be home whenever I can find time to be there”). It is not even about being present every Sunday for worship. True commitment is a day in and day out decision. Every decision will be impacted by our commitment to Christ. When we are truly committed to the Lord it will alter our priorities, our passions, and our actions – not just on Sunday, but everyday.

We Learn that Love is Exclusive

From the book of Genesis, from the mouth of Jesus, and in the teaching of Paul we are reminded of this verse:

A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”(Genesis 2:26; Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7-8; 1 Corinthians  6:16, 7:10, 11; Ephesians5:31)

Jesus said “What God has joined together let no one split apart”. All through the Bible God compares worshiping other gods to adultery. In the book of Hosea God used unfaithfulness in marriage to illustrate unfaithfulness to God through idolatry. A love relationship will not tolerate rivals to that relationship. We cannot be committed to more than one person in a marriage relationship.

God calls us to be truly committed to Him. The Bible says “God is a jealous God”. That is not a negative thing. It means God is passionate about guarding the special character of our relationship to Him.

We someone finds out their spouse was unfaithful a common response is fury. The covenant of marriage has been violated. Trust has been trampled on. The feeling of betrayal and hurt is deep and devastating. Now get this: This is how God feels when we wander off in our idolatry to serve other things!

Let’s turn this the other way. Imagine coming to Christ and saying, “Lord, I want you to save me. I want to be forgiven of my sin. I want you to give me a new heart. I want to know the joy that you alone can give. I want to hear your voice clearly in all that I do. However, I don’t want anyone to know that I belong to you. I will worship you publicly only when it is convenient or I am in a crisis. I will read the Bible if I can’t figure things out on my own.  I am going to pursue all the things the world tells me will fulfill me and if they don’t do the job I will turn to you. I want to fit in with those around me. I want to be like everyone else. I want your benefits but I am only willing to follow you on my terms.”

How would you expect the Lord to respond to such a statement? He would say, “Come On! You can’t have a real relationship without commitment. You can’t “sleep around” and still say you belong to, or truly love, me.”

Marriage involves commitment. So does being a follower of Christ.


 If we had time we could draw other lessons from marriage and God’s relationship with us. Paul’s point is: we will never come closer to understanding the nature of a true relationship with God, than through marriage. The Bible calls the church the bride of Christ. On occasion the Bible talks about God being our “husband”. Marriage is the closest thing we have to the kind of love God has for us. Rather than chafe at his commands to submit and to sacrifice, we need to see those commands as windows which will help us to experience and understand God and His love for us more fully. Marriage is the laboratory for applying the principles of Christian growth and discipleship.

Let me conclude by speaking to two groups of people. First, let me speak to the unmarried. Some of you are unmarried by choice and others because of circumstances. It has perhaps been difficult for you to sit through these sermons on Ephesians 5:21-33.

Perhaps, you may feel like a “second class” believer because you are not married. I hate to admit it but the church sometimes unintentionally communicates this message. I ask for your forgiveness.

In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul says there are benefits to being single. Being single gives you the chance to serve God in an undivided manner. You don’t have the same kind of demands that married people do. You can serve in ways most of us cannot. I hope you will learn about God from the example of marriage even as you serve Him faithfully in your singleness.

The contemporary view of singleness is vastly different from the Bible’s view. Society views singleness as freedom to do “whatever you want”. It is about sexual license without the need for any commitment. This is a horrible perversion of God’s design for our lives! Sex apart from marriage turns what was meant to be a path to intimacy into something that is a selfish pursuit of personal pleasure. Biblical singleness involves sexual purity. I commend those of you who choose to serve and honor God in your singleness.

Second, I want to address are those who are or have been divorced. I read an extended quote from Tim Keller because it is so compassionate and clear.

The Bible teaches, first, that divorce is an amputation. It’s not like taking a shirt off; it’s like taking an arm off. All this stuff we’ve been reading about the fact that two people become one flesh … the head, the body, all this sort of thing … proves why you have felt as maimed as you have. If we ever get to the place where our society and our laws try to treat divorce as if it’s a light thing, as if it’s a casual or routine thing, we will know they are lies because everybody who goes through it knows it’s like an amputation.

The Bible also teaches, just like doctors know, sometimes amputation is necessary to live. Nobody wants to take a leg off. Sometimes it’s take the leg off or lose everything. That’s the reason the Bible allows for divorce and regulates it, . . . in marriage you are so vulnerable that if a villain gets in there and starts to tear things up, you can be destroyed unless there’s a divorce. That’s why God allows for divorce on two grounds: adultery and willful desertion that cannot be remedied.

Somebody says, “But what if I was the villain? What if looking back I’m the one who blew it?” Don’t forget that Jesus Christ is married to you. The real marriage is intact if you belong to him. You’re his bride, and he sees you through the rags and says, “I’m going to make you pure and spotless. I am devoted to you. I love you.”[Even this sin is forgivable].[2]

Our intention these last weeks has been to spotlight the beauty and majesty of what God designed marriage to be. Marriage is old fashioned or outdated. It is not the construct of a Victorian and oppressive day. It is not something to be defined by lawmakers. Marriage is a wonderful gift from God that helps us understand more clearly what it means to be loved by God, what it means to love each other, and what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

May God help us to learn what it really means to be committed; to be able to see beyond ourselves. For, it is only when we see beyond ourselves that we ever come to see the true majesty of Christ.

[1] Barton, B. B., & Comfort, P. W. (1996). Ephesians. Life Application Bible Commentary (118). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

[2] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive.

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