Well, we come at last to the conclusion of this series of messages on marriage. This may be a cause of rejoicing for some, disorientation and sadness for others, and relief for still others. But remember that this subject is not like a series of particular messages to locomotive engineers or architects. We cannot talk about these things without constantly considering Christ and the Church, and this includes all of us, all the time.
For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. 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: but I speak concerning Christ and the church (Eph. 5:30-32).
The way that husbands and wives are instructed to treat one another throughout this passage is based on Christ’s love for His bride. But Christ did not love His bride from a distance; He came to earth and was united to her. In his conclusion to this passage, Paul makes this very clear. And though we want to speak discretely—as Paul does—we don’t want to be so discrete as to miss his point. We are members of Christ’s body, of His flesh and of His bones (v. 30). We are united with Christ in a profound and mysterious way. And just when he is done with this statement, Paul cites Genesis again, speaking about a man leaving his home, being joined to his wife, and becoming one flesh with her (v. 31). We become one with Christ in a way somehow analagous to how a man and woman become sexually one. This is a great mystery, but the point is Christ and the church (v. 32).
We are good Protestants, and we believe that God has appointed only two sacraments in the Church, which are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But this sometimes causes people to miss the point of sacraments—they were given in order to suffuse the whole. Everywhere you go, you are baptised and bear the name of Jesus Christ. Do not bear it in vain. You are nourished by the Lord’s Supper for all that you do throughout the course of the week. Not only is this the case, but there are elements of the world around us that are sacramental (not sacraments proper), and which help fill out the meaning of the two sacraments. Included in this would be things like washing, and eating and drinking, and sexual union. The Latin word sacramentum is the translation of the Greek word used here, which is mysterion. When Paul says mystery here, he does not mean a detective whodunnit. It has to be on a par with, and probably related to, the great mystery of how Jew and Gentile were brought together in Christ. And it is a great mystery. Sexual union is not simply scratching a biological itch or urge. This is a great mystery, and it was intended to be a mystery of union and communion.
Of His Flesh and Of His Bone:
We have already considered two other purposes of the sexual union. One of them is the begetting of godly children, and thank God for it. The second, given the presence and aggressiveness of a lust-filled world, not to mention our own remaining corruptions, is the prevention of sexual sin. We thank God for this as well. But neither of these purposes lies at the heart of what covenant marriage is. Sexual union without a covenant does not establish a marriage (1 Cor. 6: 16). But a covenant of friendship or companionship without sexual union does not establish a marriage either (1 Sam. 18:3). Having said this, we need to remember everything else that Paul has said in this passage about honor, and love, and sacrifice, and tenderness, and closeness. The mere fact of sexual union alone, together with the ratification of that covenant commitment at the county courthouse, will get you nothing but an ignored and despised “great mystery.” But what good is it to be in possession of a great mystery that you trample on?
Union and Communion:
We have addressed some of the practical considerations—these are purposes that lie outside the relationship itself. One is the multiply the possibility of other relationships—the countless marriages of all your descendants. The second is to protect the existing relationship from outside seduction. But—giving all glory to God—this aspect of marriage exists for its own sake. It is self-justifying. You don’t need a reason.
Now when all this is remembered, what are the characteristics of union and communion in marital love? What is lovemaking like when husbands are loving sacrificially and wives are honoring and respecting? Remember—meaning no disrespect—Christlikeness is not to be left outside the bedroom in the hall. This is important to recall because many Christians, for the sake of misunderstood “reverence,” leave Christ out of this—and the results are consistently unhappy. But husbands and wives are to imitate Christ and His bride in their demeanor and approach to all things.
and not an insipid, perfunctory desire either. “I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved” (Song of Songs 5:1). The verb for “drink abundantly” here means to get drunk. So you’d better do it.
what kind of God thought this up? The answer of the Christian is simple—our triune God thought this up. “There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid” (Prov. 30:18-19). What is the way of a man with a maid? Strange and wondrous, that’s what it is.
Just Plain Fun:
our Puritan fathers made much of this passage. “And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife” (Gen. 26:8). Let us call this what it is—a holy horsing around.
An Honored Bed:
Please be aware of the fact that many of our fathers down through church history did not have has balanced a view of the body and human sexuality as they ought to have. The most notable and striking exception to this was our Puritan fathers. According to Scripture, married sexuality was created by God to be exuberant. To conclude with some blended “puritanical” quotes: lovemaking should be with a “good will and delight, willingly, readily, and cheerfully,” your wife is a “companion for pleasure,” your passion for her should be “a golden ball of pure fire,” and with “all demonstrations of hearty affection.”