Marriages fall apart today for the same reasons that Adam and Eve’s relationship suffered—selfishness, a refusal to submit to each other, and a desire to be free from God’s restrictions. A feeling of guilt and inner pain accompanies this breakdown. We run away and hide (like the first couple) because we can’t face our shame, or face our Father who comes looking for us.
Yet, herein lies the source of the mystery surrounding marriage: While Adam and Eve were running away to hide from God, God was running to find and restore Adam and Eve. Throughout history, humans have always had trouble comprehending that God wants to restore our broken relationships with each other and with Him. Even in our rebellion, God loves us and searches to bring us home (Luke 15).
The Meaning of Marriage Realized
Even though the institution of marriage is present in every culture across the world, it is clear that most of humanity does not know or apply the fullness of God’s wisdom to marriage—they miss the mystery, and all the joy it unlocks!
So, here’s the good news: The coming of Jesus brought light on all God’s promises and plans. In Ephesians 5, Paul identifies the spiritual nature of the mystery surrounding marriage and helps us understand the bigger picture. He says that marriage is a reminder of, a celebration of, and a commitment to God’s plan and provision: (1) to restore the relationship between Himself, the man, and the woman, and (2) to re-form His intended partnership between the man, the woman, and Himself as we navigate our life adventures together and fulfill our destiny (Gen. 1:27-28).
The Mystery of Marriage Explained
We can observe in Ephesians 5:15-33 that every section starts with a wise directive from God, followed by a reference to Christ and how He modeled for us the secrets of successful marriage.
Secret #1 (vv. 15-20) – A godly life is the foundation on which the institution of marriage is built:
- On a heart of thanksgiving to God in the name of Jesus Christ
- On a desire to walk in the Spirit
- On understanding the will of God, which reflects His redemptive plan
- On wise, Bible-based decisions in the trials and opportunities of life
Jesus modeled all of these in His life. For a marriage to succeed, the man and woman must each have a vital relationship with God, being committed to His mission and will.
Secret #2 (vv. 21-30) – Submission to one another is the secret sauce to a great marriage. Christ is the one who demonstrated submission in its true form (Phil. 2:1-11; John 17:1-5). Submission involves a humble, sacrificial, and obedient heart as pictured in the attitudes of Micah 6:8—mercy, justice, and humility—before God and our spouse.
When God fashioned woman out of man—to create male and female (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:7-8, 21-22) for the purpose of companionship and teamwork—He did it to reflect creatively the nature of His spiritual relationship with us (1 Peter 3:7). He created us to fellowship with Him, to be in partnership with Him in fulfilling His vision of redeeming the earth.
Unfortunately, Adam and Eve chose to dissolve this relationship and separate from the Creator and giver of life, to pursue their own agenda without God. Yet, as the gospel teaches us, God did not give up. He sought after them—and still seeks those who are lost. For in Christ, acting as the Second Adam, God made it possible to be reunited … in a “marriage” relationship. And this is where the mystery comes into focus: Marriage symbolizes the spiritual unity and special relationship God created for us as a couple (His image bearers) to have with Him.
Paul illustrates what submission looks like in a marriage relationship. Christ demonstrated each aspect of this submission during His mission to redeem humanity, so we would see how they work.
- The first ingredient in the secret sauce of submission is respect for each other (vv. 21-24). This respect grows out of love and trust for each other, and reverence toward God. We are to respond to each other as if we were responding to God. God gave the responsibility of maintaining this attitude to the woman. She holds the welfare of the mission for their marriage in her hands. By giving full cooperation to her husband’s leadership, as if she were following Jesus, she develops this respect in her heart and in her husband’s.
- The second ingredient in the secret sauce of submission is sacrificial love for each other (vv. 25, 28-30). Love flows out of us when we have compassion for and want what is best for someone, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself as a sacrifice for the church, His bride. God gave the responsibility of maintaining this attitude to the man. He is to hold the vision for the marriage in his hands. By providing Christlike leadership, the man develops sacrificial love in his heart and in the woman’s heart.
- The third ingredient in the secret sauce of submission is a commitment to redeeming each other (vv. 26-27). The fall of the first couple shattered humanity’s relationship with God and with each other, setting in motion dire consequences. So in His plan for redemption, God added a new purpose to marriage—restoring broken relationships. This involves restoring trust and respect; restoring love through selfless sacrifice; and restoring a submissive, humble heart, all as demonstrated by Jesus.
Secret #3 (vv. 31-33) – You must choose to become ONE to experience God’s blueprint for marriage. Genesis 2:24-25 calls the couple to a vision based on God’s directives and a total commitment to each other. This means letting go of all individual goals and selfish agendas to become a new creation with a single heart and purpose—to walk hand in hand with God.
In this way, marriage is more than an end in itself—it is a profound mystery, showcasing God’s redemptive vision for our broken world. And that vision steps closer to ultimate consummation—one human couple at a time.
Dr. Richard Fisher retired from Moody Bible Institute as a Professor of Biblical Studies. He presently serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church near Akron, Ohio.