In Ephesians 5:32, after Paul has addressed how husbands and wives relate to each other, he writes: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Often I have said that one of Paul’s points is this statement is that marriage exemplifies how Christ and the Church relate in the different roles they have to each other. What I have not emphasized enough is that another point Paul makes here is that marriage is a school of discipleship, providing through example and experience a magnified and intensified example for how we relate to Christ, how he works in us, and how we are to relate to each other as Jesus followers. In other words, no matter what your marital status is, you can learn from marriage.
This all sounds good and makes sense. But, is it something the Bible teaches? I believe it is for the following reasons:
In Ephesians 5:31 Paul refers back to Genesis 2:24 and cues the reader into the fact that this picture of Christ and the Church goes back to the creation itself. In the Bible’s account of creation and the fall we discover that marriage teaches us:· We are created in the image of God as social beings who function best in community, not as isolated individuals (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18). Marriage meets this need in part, but the need goes beyond marriage. We need other people.
· Though a couple can be placed in a paradise, like Eden (cf. Gen. 2:4-24), or in a new marriage with romance, hope, the promise that life holds for them, and the close bonds that God designed in marriage, they cannot make marriage work well on their own. They need the grace of God. The same is true of all relationships, no matter how promising they seem.
· Once sin enters the picture, it forms a wedge between husband and wife, as well as between all other individuals and relationships (Gen. 3:12; 4:1-16). Grace is needed if any relationship is to flourish and not to be devastated by evil.
Marriage functions as this school of discipleship in large part because it magnifies and intensifies both the joys of relationships and the pains that emerge in them.
A second reason we know marriage is designed by God not just for the happiness of the couple (Gen. 2:18), for procreation, and for the welfare of children (Malachi 2:15), but also as a school of discipleship is found in Ephesians 5 itself. Paul writes in 5:1-2 that all believers (male, female, married, and not married) are to love others as Christ loved the church. Then, in 5:25 husbands specifically are given that admonition. In other words, it is not just husbands who are to love their wives like Christ. All Christians are to love each other like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. What this most likely means is that by experience husbands are enrolled in a school of discipleship in which they learn to love their wife and, as a result, learn much about how to love other persons, no matter the relationship. What it also means is that all believers can look at marriage and learn, either by positive example or negative example, how to love others.
In the last pages of the Bible a marriage feast is used to describe the celebration of believers in heaven, once they are in the presence of their Lord. This way of describing the divine-human relationship is used elsewhere in Scripture (cf. Ezek. 16; Hosea 1-3) and suggests that one of the purposes God has in marriage is for it to be a school in which we learn about God, self, each other, and life.
1 Timothy 3:2, 4:
A final reason I will give for marriage serving as a school of discipleship is found in the qualifications for overseers (that is, elders or pastors). Paul writes they are to be one-woman men and also are to be able to manage well their households. Most likely part of the rationale behind these qualifications is that these leaders are to set an example in their lives (cf. 1 Tim. 4:12), but also because if a pastor cannot love and lead his wife and/or children reasonably well, how will he be able to love and lead others?
The So What:
To understand that marriage is a school of discipleship not only reminds husbands and wives of the importance of their marriage for their family, the church, and all society, it also lets all Christians know that teaching on marriage benefits them, no matter what their marital status is.
This point is important since we are moving into a six-week-long series on marriage tomorrow.
My prayer for this series is that it will not only grow and strengthen marriages, but all of us in our faith family.
Joyfully Learning From Marriage With You,