The Lord’s Day Evening
September 10, 2006
"God’s New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians (LIII
Household Rules: Marriage and Family (8)
Marriage and Union With Christ
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter
five. Tonight we’re coming to the end of this extraordinary passage of Scripture
that we’ve been considering for a number of weeks now. We’ve spent two weeks
together on Sunday mornings looking at Ephesians 5:22-24, where the command is
given to Christian wives as to how they’re to relate to their husbands, and then
we spent four sermons over three weeks (three on Sunday mornings and one on
Sunday evening) looking especially at Ephesians 5:25-30, a passage in which God
gives direct commands and instructions to Christian husbands on how they’re to
relate to their wives.
And tonight we come to the concluding section of this passage. In one sense,
it continues with a third analogy offered by the Apostle Paul to Christian
husbands as to how they are to love their wives; but, by the end of this
conclusion, that analogy is extended in both directions—to both Christian
husbands and Christian wives, to provide them an understanding of the context,
the arena, in which they are to relate to one another as Christians in the
context of marriage.
Now just to refresh your memories because we’ve been doing this for a number
of weeks, let’s outline the whole passage just one more time. If you have a
sheet in front of you, you’ll actually have this outline; but if you don’t, just
take a look at the passage itself.
In verses 22-24, we have Paul’s instruction to Christian wives. We have a
command: "Wives, be subject to your own husbands as unto the Lord." We have an
analogy that is given to Christian wives to give them an idea of what is being
asked of them. The analogy is the church’s respect for, submission to, following
the leadership of Christ. It’s not the only time this analogy will be used in
this passage. This analogy will be turned around and applied the other direction
to Christian husbands in just a few moments. And then the apostle elaborates on
that analogy in which he calls on Christian wives to respond to their husbands
in the same way the church responds to Christ: in everything, comprehensively.
So there’s your first command and your first analogy.
Then when we move to verses 25-30, we come to the second command of the
passage, and this second command is to Christian husbands, and it’s a command to
love your wives. You might have been expecting the Apostle Paul to say "lead
your wives," having just given an exhortation to Christian wives to embrace
their husbands’ spiritual leadership, but the Apostle Paul surprises us with
this command: "Husbands, love your wives." And he gives three analogies in the
passages following (or in the verses following) to illustrate what he is asking
Christian husbands to do.
And we’ve spent some time looking at the first two analogies.
First of all, in verse 25 you see him point to the love of Christ for the
church. As the Christian wife was to look at the church’s response to her
Bridegroom and Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, so also Christian husbands were to
look to Christ, the Bridegroom, and look at His care and love for the church and
to imitate it.
Then, in verse 28 (and it’s elaborated in verses 29-30), a second analogy is
given, and this analogy is of the body. The apostle asks Christian husbands
to consider their wives as their own bodies, and to take care of their wives as
they would their own bodies.
Now, that thought causes Paul to transition into yet another analogy that is
connected to that idea, but is deeper than that idea; and, in fact, that
idea of the husband and wife being one body, the Apostle Paul will say in the
section we’re going to study tonight, is just an illustration. It’s a living
illustration of a deeper truth that every Christian experiences, and that is the
truth of union with Christ; and we’re going to look at that truth together for a
few moments tonight.
Now we’ve spent three or four weeks and sermons reflecting on the love
command that Paul has given to husbands here, and we’ve said repeatedly since
we’ve started studying this passage that God is calling Christian husbands to a
radical, God-originated, gospel-based, grace-empowered, Spirit-wrought,
atonement-illustrated, Christ-emulating, self-denying love for our wives. And
every single one of those hyphenated phrases are worth exploration, but the
point is that Christian husbands are going to seek to serve their wives and care
for their wives’ best spiritual and temporal interests in light of these
analogies that the Apostle Paul has given.
Now I want to revisit for just a few moments the last two analogies, the
analogies of Christ’s love for the church, and especially the atonement, and
this analogy of the marital union, the one-flesh union that Paul draws attention
to in verses 28-30. One of the striking things we said last week that Paul
does is that he tells Christian husbands to love their wives in light of the
atonement. One of the things that that reminds us is that every time we are
studying the doctrine of the atonement, we’re not only learning about the
greatness of the love of God...we’ve not only learning about the basis of our
salvation...but, Christian husbands, as we look at the atonement are also
learning by example how we are to love our wives.
But then we also said, looking at that second analogy in verses 28-29, that
the Apostle Paul is asking Christian husbands to love their wives in light of
this unique closeness that exists in the marital union. The marital union, the
Apostle Paul says, means that your wife is your body, so that the way you treat
her, in a very real sense, you are treating your own body. If I could put it
this way, the Apostle Paul is saying to every Christian husband ‘Your bride is
your body.’ Now, that thought is the thought that leads him into this section
which we’re going to begin in verse 30 tonight, so let’s look to God in prayer
before we read His word and hear it proclaimed.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your word, for its rich truth, and we
pray that You would enable us in some measure to live out this truth; for, as we
have repeatedly said, it is easier to say these things than to do them. But it’s
easier to understand these things in our heads than it is to do them as well, O
God. So we pray, O Lord, that You would not only give us understanding tonight,
but that You would place in our heart a burning desire to serve one another and
love one another, and respect one another in the way that You have called us to
in this passage; that You would enable us by the Holy Spirit to do it; that our
desire would grow deeper daily to do it; that You would be glorified as we do
it, for we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Let’s look to God’s word in Ephesians 5:30.
"...We are members of His body. For this cause a man shall leave his
father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall
become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with
reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each individual
among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see
to it that she respect her husband."
Amen. Thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May
He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
If there’s any message that’s come through loud and clear in the last six or
seven weeks as we’ve considered this passage, it is that marriage takes place
not simply under the gaze of the eyes of God, but marriage takes place in the
arena of our Christian experience of union with Christ, and marriage is itself
perhaps the profoundest place at which our union with Christ, our saving union
with God through Jesus Christ, is worked out, is displayed, is deepened, is
John Calvin, when he began his sermon series on this passage, made the
comment that everyone can see how poorly the doctrine of this passage is put
into practice as we look around us at the marriages. Isn’t it interesting that
Calvin can say that in the sixteenth century in Geneva, that city that John Knox
would call the most perfect school of Christ that he had ever seen on earth? But
Calvin can start his series on marriage, on his favorite book in the New
Testament, by saying every one of us can look around us and see how poorly this
doctrine is put into practice in our marriages.
And then he says ‘Let me tell you what the chief source of that mischief is.’
So you’re all ears, because Calvin is going to tell you the root problem. What
is the root problem? He says, "Because in marriage so few have an eye to God."
That is, in marriage they’re thinking simply horizontally. They’re thinking
of husband or of wife; they’re thinking of children; they’re thinking of
personal happiness; they’re thinking of their own goals and aspirations; they’re
thinking of security, whether it be financial or emotional or relational, or
some other sort. But they do not have an eye to God. In other words, they do not
understand that marriage, especially for Christians, is something which is tied
up with the whole of our Christian discipleship. It is perhaps the most
difficult place in which to live out our Christian discipleship, but it is also
the most crucial place for us to live out our Christian discipleship.
And so the Apostle Paul has reminded us throughout that marriage is bigger
than husband and wife. It’s bigger than both of us. It’s about God. It’s an
arena of Christian discipleship. It is a place where we are to grow in grace,
and even as we’ve gone through this passage, we’ve seen repeatedly various key
Christian doctrines related to marriage.
We started off in the passage in verse 22 looking at the doctrine of the
church, and saw how it was related to marriage. We came to Christian husbands
and saw how the doctrine of the atonement was related to Christian marriage, and
how the doctrine of sanctification was related to Christian marriage, and then,
how the doctrine of the one-flesh marital union which comes right out of Genesis
2, the passage quoted for you in verse 31 here, is related to Christian
marriage; and even now, we look at the doctrine of union with Christ.
So I want you to see four things as we try and bear in mind that God is
concerned that we live out our discipleship as Christians in the context of our
marriage relations. Let’s look at four things in this passage.
First, in verse 30 I want you to see the apostle introduce this idea of union
with Christ. We made a passing reference to this last week, at the very end
of our study of this section, but we want to concentrate on it this week.
Secondly, in verse 31 we want to see the apostle going back to Genesis 2
and quoting Moses and pointing us to that one-flesh union that exists between a
man and his wife, and drawing significance from that one-flesh union for the way
we are to live out in our marriages our Christian discipleship.
And then, thirdly, in verse 32 I want you to see the Apostle Paul explicitly
and directly relate that marital union to our union with Christ.
And then, finally, I want you to see the instructions, the practical
instructions that come out of that picture of union with Christ (that
experience of union with Christ that the Apostle Paul has referenced in verse
32), and you see those instructions in verse 33.
But before we begin this passage, understand that Paul’s overarching theme is
very clear and very simple. It’s simply this: that God expects Christian
husbands to love their wives in light of the staggering mystery and privilege of
union with Christ, and God expects Christian wives to respect their husbands in
light of the staggering mystery and privilege of union with Christ. Paul is
now bringing this section on husband/wife relations to a close by pointing us to
a reality that every Christian experiences: union with Christ. When we rest and
trust on Jesus Christ alone for salvation, having been effectually called by the
Holy Spirit, we are united to Jesus Christ so that He becomes our head and
Savior; and we become members, parts, of His body. We are drawn into a body and
united to one another, and share communion with fellow believers.
This is a precious truth to the Apostle Paul. Remember, he was a prisoner.
Even as he writes these words, he’s a prisoner and he’s separated from other
believers, and he takes tremendous comfort that though he’s isolated he is not
alone, because he is a member of the body of Christ; and though he be at a
distance from the church in Ephesus, yet he is one with them even as he is one
with Christ. It’s an enormously comforting truth.
But the apostle begins by reminding us in verse 30 that we are members of
Christ’s body. What’s he telling you there? He’s saying you are united to
Christ, and as you are united to Christ you are members of His body. He’s
wanting you to be ready now to think in terms of the reality of union with
Christ and its implications for your marriage. He says to you as a believer,
when you are by faith and the work of the Holy Spirit united to Christ, you
became a member of the body of our Lord. He is your head. You are a part of His
The Apostle Paul talks about this all through the New Testament, and he
applies it in various different ways. Sometimes he applies it to emphasize that
one part of the body shouldn’t despise another part of the body, because the
whole body needs one another. Different parts are incapable of functioning
without the other parts, even if they’re parts that may seem to be more
impressive and have a more central and significant role. Yet, every part of the
body is needed.
But in this passage the Apostle Paul is simply asking you to pause and
remember that as a believer you are a member of Christ’s body, a part of
Christ’s body. He is your head; you are a part of His body. And then he wants
you to hold that thought, and then he’s going to tell you something else. He’s
going to take you all the way back to Genesis 2, and he’s going to quote from
"For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and
shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."
Now he is going to remind you again (because he’s just told husbands about
this in verses 28-29)...he’s going to remind you again that the husband and the
wife are in a one-flesh union, such that the wife is literally the body of the
husband. And as we said last week, that doesn’t mean that her personality is
lost somehow in the process, that she no longer exists as an individual, that
she is subsumed somehow under or within her husband; but it means that there is
a closeness of union such that in the marital bond (and not simply considered
sexually)...but in the marital bond there is a union which is so vital, so
organic, and so real, that how her husband treats her in a real sense is his
treating of his own self, so that she is his body.
And the Apostle Paul wants to remind Christians of this great truth. It’s so
important for us to remember, then, that when a Christian husband does not
foster a relationship of concord with his wife, he is subverting the whole
order, the whole created order as God originally intended it. That’s how serious
the issue of marital concord is. The lack of it...discord in a marriage...is a
subversion of the Creation order, that one-flesh order that God intended for
husband and wife.
And of course, it goes the other way as well, doesn’t it? When the wife does
not respect her husband, when she does not give to her husband, then she is
subverting the Creation order of oneness that God intended when He first made
Adam and Eve husband and wife.
Now with that thought in your mind, the Apostle Paul then moves even deeper,
and you see it in verse 32: "This mystery is great...." Now you’re thinking
that the Apostle Paul is going to explore with you for a few moments the mystery
of how it is that an individual person (a man), and an individual person (a
woman) can be united so that they can be described as "one flesh." You’re
thinking that the Apostle Paul is going to take off on that for a few moments,
but he’s actually done with that. He’s already said what he wants to say about
that in verses 28-29, and then again here in this quotation in verse 31. No, now
he’s going to take you deeper. "This mystery is great," he says. And then listen
to what he follows with: "But I am speaking with reference to Christ and the
In other words, the Apostle Paul is saying that this union of Christ and the
church, the union of Christ and His body, is reflected in Christian marriage,
but it’s deeper than Christian marriage: it is a profound mystery. The
Apostle Paul is saying as mysterious a thing as it is that God can say that in
marriage a man and a woman become one flesh, it is an even deeper mystery that
when you are saved by grace that you are united to Christ. And your marriage,
the Apostle Paul is saying, is a prime witness, Christian, to the reality of
your union with Christ.
Do you see again how marriage is bigger than the both of us? It’s bigger than
just husband and wife and our personal happiness. It is a playing out of our
union with Christ. It’s an illustration of our union with Christ, and thus
Christian husbands and wives relate to one another in light of this staggering
mystery and privilege of union with Christ. And the Apostle Paul is saying that
union that we enjoy with Jesus Christ—that we are His and He is ours—is
reflected in marriage, and is to be reflected in marriage deliberately by
Christian husbands and wives in the way they relate to one another.
Calvin, when he comes to this section, just throws his hands up and he says,
"I confess that this mystery is too deep for me, and I cannot explain the whole
of what the Apostle Paul is saying here." And it is indeed a deep mystery, to
think that Christ cherishes you as His own body, that Christ considers you as
His own body, that Christ welcomes you into His own body; that to touch you as a
member of Christ’s body is to touch Christ.
You remember Derek reminding us a few weeks ago, and he’ll remind us again on
Wednesday nights when we come to that passage in the Book of Acts where the
Apostle Paul meets the risen and ascended Christ...before he’s the Apostle Paul.
He meets Him as Saul the rabbi, the Christian persecutor. And you remember what
Christ says to Saul: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute...them?" No!
That’s not what he says. "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Christians?"
No! That’s not what he says. "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" You touch
Christ’s body, you touch Christ... because Christ’s body is united to Christ. It
is a mind-blowing thing that the Apostle Paul is reminding us of here, but he’s
doing it so that we understand that in marriage we are, especially as
Christians, to display that reality.
And you see that this means that when there is discord in marriage, when
there is disunity in marriage, when there is a lack of love from a husband to a
wife, and a lack of respect and regard from a wife to a husband, it isn’t just a
tragedy at a human level—though it is. It’s a tragedy so deep that if you’ve
been close to it before, you could cry a river of tears to see dear friends
tearing themselves apart. But for the Apostle Paul, for the Christian, you see,
it’s a more profound tragedy than that. It’s not just a tragedy at the human
level; it’s a tragedy at the divine level, because in marriage we’re supposed to
be displaying that glorious, incomprehensible mystery of our union with Christ.
And if in marriage, of all places, Christians do not display that love of Christ
for the church, and that respect and regard of the church for Christ, where else
can we possibly display it?
You see how the Apostle Paul wants to keep our whole lives together. He wants
our discipleship to be of one piece, so that we don’t just come to church and
act like Christians, or we don’t just go to conferences and act like Christians,
but we act like Christians in our families, in our marriages, with our children,
around our neighbors, as well as when we gather together to worship the living
God. The Apostle Paul is remind us that our marriages...we have in our marriages
the staggering privileges and responsibility of bearing witness to believers’
union with the Lord Jesus Christ.
And then he draws this application in verse 33, and this is the fourth thing
I want to draw your attention to. "Nevertheless," he says, "each individual
among you is to love his own wife even as himself; and the wife must see to it
that she respects her husband." In other words, the Apostle Paul is saying
‘Consequently, in light of this great mystery of union with Christ, which is
witnessed to especially in a Christian marriage, since we share in that union,
every Christian husband, every Christian wife, is a part of the body of Christ.
Since we share in that union, and since we are to image that union, every
Christian husband and Christian wife is to be a living, breathing, walking,
talking witness to that union which Christ has with the church. Therefore,
Christian husbands must love their wives, and Christian wives must respect their
You see Paul’s deduction. He says how is it that you, Christian husband,
could be united to Christ, drawn into His body, cherished as His body, included
in His body, cared for as His body, and then you wouldn’t turn around and love
your wife that way? When you’ve been given that kind of love? When you have been
given that kind of privilege? You see, for the Apostle Paul it’s
incomprehensible that a Christian husband would not extend that kind of love to
his wife, having received that kind of love from his Savior.
And then he turns around to the Christian wife, and he says it is
inconceivable, Christian woman, that you could be united to your Savior, part of
His body, cherished as His body, and you would not regard Him and respect Him.
It’s so interesting, isn’t it, again, that the parallels—husbands, love your
wives; wives, respect your husbands—you know, why not "Wives, love your
husbands"? Because as far as the Apostle Paul is concerned, you can’t love what
you don’t respect. You can’t love what you don’t regard. Think back when you
were first attracted to one another. Your regard for one another was part of the
love that built, so that regard is built into Paul’s command to husbands to love
their wives, but it’s especially highlighted to Christian wives. And again, John
Calvin (so practical he is in his sermons in this passage!) says, "Any wife will
find ample reason not to respect her husband." Because we’re sinners! And we’re
imperfect, and we blow it. And so he says (God especially says) to those
Christian wives, ‘Regard your husband anyway. Because you’ve been included in
the body of Christ; even when you deserved no regard, you have been included in
the body of Christ.’
And Christian husbands, love your wives, because you have been loved when you
were unloving and unlovable, and you did not deserve to be loved. So you show
that love to your wife; and wives, you show that respect to your husbands.
But again, to pull back from it all, do you see how the Apostle Paul is
saying marriage is a "God thing"? And none of the problems we face in
marriage today—none of them...none of them—can be solved apart from that
You know there are 10,000 people out there offering to patch you up, but if
you’re a Christian it can’t be done until you understand that at the very bottom
marriage is the place where you work out, live out your understanding of the
atonement. Marriage is the place where you work out, you live out you
understanding of sanctification, of what it means to grow in grace. Marriage is
where you work out and live out what you think of the church, the bride of
Christ, the body of Christ. Marriage is the place where you live out that
thunderous reality that Moses spoke of in that one-flesh union. Marriage is the
place where you live out, you work out, union with Christ. And, my friends,
marriage cannot be what it was intended to be until those things are understood
and appreciated and put into practice and experience.
So let me give you this word of counsel: Don’t try and put it back together
without God being first and last, because everything else is just a bandage.
Our Lord and our God, our mouths are agape at the depth and the practicality
of Your truth in this passage, and we pray that by the Spirit that we would
experience congregationally a massive revival of our marital unions, in which
more and more husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church, and more and
more wives respect and regard their husbands as the church regards Christ. We
pray that from this would come not only godliness, not only tremendous gospel
witness, but, O Lord, that there would come from this a depth of
happiness...husband delighting in wife, and wife delighting in husband...that
can only come when we seek You first, above all else. We ask this in Jesus’
Would you stand for God’s blessing.
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, through Jesus Christ, our
Lord, till the day break and the shadows flee away. Amen.
Ephesians 5:30-33 Outline
God’s New Family: An Exposition
of Ephesians (LIII)
God’s Household Rules: Marriage and Family (8)
Marriage and Union with Christ
1. Tonight, we come to the end of our study of an
extraordinary passage of Scripture, Ephesians 5:22-33.
2. Just to refresh our memories, let’s outline the
whole passage one more time. There is a command, followed by and
analogy, then another command, followed by three analogies or
3. Here, again, is an outline of Paul’s argument in
[22-24] 1. The Command to Christian Wives - Be
subject to your husbands (22)
* Analogy - Like the church is subject to Christ (23)
a. Elaboration - Be subject to your husbands like the church is to
[25-30] 2. The Command to Christian Husbands - Love
your wives (25a)
* Analogy #1 - Like Christ loved the church (25b)
a. Elaboration #1 - Christ’s love is manifest supremely in the
b. Elaboration #2 - Purpose of Christ loving the church - to
sanctify her (26)
c. Elaboration #3 - Ultimate goal: the glory of the church in
holiness and perfection (27)
* Analogy #2 - Love your wife in the same way you take care of
a. Elaboration #1 - in a real sense you are caring for your own self
when you love your wife (28b)
b. Elaboration #2 - that means, specifically, nourishing and
cherishing her (29a)
c. Elaboration #3 - just as Christ nourishes and cherishes the
church, as members of his own body (30)
[30-33] 3. The Conclusion - Christian marriage can
only be understood and rightly lived in light of union with Christ
* Analogy #3 - Union with Christ (esp. 32)
a. We are parts of Christ’s body (30)
b. Husband and wife are one flesh, one body (31)
c. The mystery of union with Christ (32)
d. Husbands, love your wives and wives respect your husbands, in
light of union with Christ (33)
4. We have spent three weeks and four sermons
reflecting on the love command to husbands, and we have said
repeatedly, in light of what we’ve already learned in Ephesians, in
light of what Paul says here and elsewhere, that God calls Christian
husbands to a radical, God-originated, Gospel-based,
Grace-empowered, Spirit-wrought, Atonement-illustrated,
Christ-emulating, self-denying love for our wives — in which we seek
to serve our wives and to care for our wives’ best spiritual and
5. We’ve emphasized that husbands are to love their
wives in light of Christ’s atonement, and in light of the unique
closeness and sharing of the marital union (one flesh). Your bride
is your body.
6. Tonight, we come to the last analogy that Paul
gives to Christian husbands as to how we are to love our wives.
God expects Christian
husbands to love their wives, in light of the staggering mystery and
privilege of union with Christ, and God expects Christian wives to
respect their husbands in light of the staggering mystery and
privilege of union with Christ
I. We are united to Christ, and thus members of his body
30 because we are members of His body.
II. Husband and wife are one flesh (31)
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.
III. The union of Christ and his church (his body)
–reflected in Christian marriage– is a great mystery (32)
32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference
to Christ and the church.
IV. Consequently, since we share in that union and image
that union, Christian husbands must love their wives and Christian
wives respect their husbands (33)
33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own
wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects