31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the Church.
Ephesians 5:22-33 has been taught with a focus on the responsibilities of a husband on behalf of his wife, and responsibilities of a wife on behalf of her husband. The husband must love his wife in the same manner that Christ loves the Church. The wife must respect her husband in the same manner that she respects her Lord. However, there is a deeper message in this passage that, if recognized and understood, explains why these two marital responsibilities (love and respect) are effective and essential not only in marriage but also in relationships in each local church.
The picture of love and submission, which is the fruit of respect, depicts the relationship that every believer must have with Christ, the Lord. The marriage (home), therefore, is the initial teacher that instructs the next generation of the church (the children) how to relate to the instructors (pastors, elders, teachers) who will guide them further into a deeper truth. The love of parents, pastors, elders, and teachers reflects the love of Christ to the children who are taught to respect them, and inevitably the Lord. This divinely established process helps the church avoid the inevitable consequences that occur when one generation of believers fails to pass the knowledge of the Lord onto the next generation; a failure that is spiritually destructive for any number of future generations (see the second commandment, Exodus 20:4, 5-6).[i]
What does the Lord want to create in His people? Why does He give husbands the responsibility to love their wives and why does He give wives the responsibility to respect their husbands? Why do pastors/elders and teachers have the responsibility to love those they teach and why do the students/lay people need to respect their leaders? The answer provides the key to successful marriages and churches for generations. God wants unity, which is derived from biblical truth, sustains the indispensable institution of marriage, protects the hearts and minds of children, and defines the church, which projects a clear and cohesive message to the community in which it lives/exists! The Church being joined to its Creator and Savior creates one flesh, a unity that deepens and strengthens the faith of believers so that they can endure the trials of living in a fallen world as confident representatives of God and His impregnable truth, who bend under pressure but never break. The Church is stronger when it projects a united front than when it is merely a handful of faithful saints standing in the breach, which has been a problem too often throughout history.
Unity begins with God. Who or what is the Trinity? There are basically three ways to understand the Trinity: 1) Modalism, which argues that God is one person who plays three (3) roles; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This fallacy is popular with some modern teachers. The basic problem with this view is that the Bible doesn’t represent God as one person playing three roles. Scripture depicts God as three individuals who talk and listen to each other and play various roles. Jesus prays to the Father, the Father grieves over the suffering of His Son, and the Holy Spirit is present in the hearts and minds of believers while the Son is now in the presence of the Father.
2) Others describe the Trinity as Polytheism: three separate and individual Gods, each with a particular role. This would be similar to the Greek pantheon of gods. Again, Scripture does not teach this fallacy.
3) The historical Christian view is Monotheism. This view maintains that God is one God Who exists in three equal and independent Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Son willingly sets aside His glory and authority during His life on the earth so that He can become the sinless sacrifice each human being desperately needs if he or she wants salvation. Since the moment of His resurrection and ascension, He has been restored to His full glory!
As a monotheist, how does the Christian explain this apparent mystery? When I was in college, my theology teachers made it clear that no example can perfectly describe this unique oneness of the triune God. Maybe the reader has heard the basketball team illustration—five players all working as one to form a single team. I learned this explanation early in my faith and shared it a few times with others, but, in truth (as my teacher warned), it left me feeling unsatisfied. I believe that the proper answer is not an illustration; it is merely an obvious biblical explanation. God wants His children to be unified in thought and opinion (1 Corinthian 1:10)[ii] and sanctified in truth (1 Corinthians 17:19-2)[iii]. As each believer comes to discover and understand biblical truth, he or she becomes more united or unified with each other and with God. Believers must strive to be one as God is one. When Scripture talks about God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), it clearly states that they are each in full accord with the other; in other words, they have complete oneness in mind, thought, opinion, and emotion. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are a unified One! They are God (Elohim, who made us in their image; Genesis 1:26)[iv]. They never argue or get irritated with each other, discuss planning alternatives should one disagree with the other, solve personal issues, or withdrawal from a difficult discussion. They literally think and act as one while being three distinct Persons. Yes, our God is a wonder to behold, to know, and to worship and, therefore, the One in whom we can thoroughly trust.
Marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33)
Unity begins with God and is developed in the home! As we discussed in the introduction, the Lord commands the husband to love his wife[v] and the wife to respect her husband. This biblical arrangement focuses on the two virtues that are required to build a unified relationship, that is, oneness among fallen human beings. Without love and respect, there is no chance of unity and, therefore, no chance for an effective godlike marriage or for the effective rearing of children, who are responsible for passing on the truth of God from generation to generation, thus fulfilling the purpose of the Second Commandment. Unity begins with God and is passed from father and mother to the children.
The Church (1 Corinthian 1:10-17)
Unity begins with God, is developed in the home, and extended into the Church of Christ. There is a great tendency to be a pastor or people followers more than we are God-followers. Paul is livid with the congregants in Corinth who are prouder of their relationships to their “great” pastors than they are concerned about taking their eyes off the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:11-13)[vi]. We get so focused on the character and quality of the pastor that we forget that he is supposed to be promoting unity in Christ, not devotion or praise to himself (this is not necessarily always the pastor’s fault, but every pastor must be aware of this natural human frailty or tendency). But this isn’t the primary cause of the lack of unity in the Church of Jesus Christ.
It is my contention that the primary cause for the lack of unity in the Church of Christ (“being complete in the same mind and in the same judgment,” i.e., thoughts and opinions 1 Corinthians 1:10, see endnote ii), is the parents’ unwillingness or their unfamiliarity with their responsibility to create biblical Christian unity in the home through love and respect. The Church cannot overcome the failure of parents to teach unity in the home, much less truth, love, and respect, which are the foundation of unity. Without love and respect in the home, there will not be love and respect in the Church. With the proper foundation established in the home, the Church can use all the gifts of its members to equip the God’s children “for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (See Ephesians 4:11-16). The Church is dependent upon the home for the initial training of the children in truth, love, respect, and unity.
Unity begins with God, is developed in the home, extended to the Church of Christ, and then displayed to the world. When the couple, the home[vii], and the Church unify around the truth of God’s eternal Word, the message of the Gospel can then be an effective witness to the world. The lack of unity misrepresents the Triune God. The simple message: churches struggle when families struggle. The commandment to “Honor your father and mother” places the responsibility of biblical truth and unity upon the parents who dedicate their marriages to love and respect in order to honor God and develop intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually healthy children. United families in Christ build united churches of Christ which, only then, present a united message about Christ to the world. That which is developed in the home impacts the world, for good or evil.
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[i] 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
[ii] 10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.
[iii] 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may [believe that You sent Me.
[iv] 26 Then God (Elohim, plural) said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
[v] For a good understanding of biblical love, read the last paragraph in the devotion entitled “Lost that Loving Feeling”. https://christianboast.com/2019/04/09/lost-that-loving-feeling-matthew-2237-40/
[vi] 11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
[vii] Single or unmarried persons are included here; they too have their initial teaching on love, respect, and unity in the home.