I was fortunate to preach this past Saturday at my cousin’s wedding in Winston-Salem. My cousin and his fiancé asked me to use Eph. 5:22-33 as my text, the Bible’s longest and most detailed description of Biblical marriage. My attempt here is not to provide an exposition of this passage or a defense. Rather, my objective is to briefly reflect that not only does Paul give a detailed description of Biblical marriage in Eph. 5, but more importantly he gives responsibilities to husbands and wives by using intertextual references to the gospel of Jesus Christ to establish Him as our foundation, model, and first priority for marriage.

Please allow me a moment of brief application of what I hope to unpack: I believe that the poor state of marriage in the United States is just as much the church’s fault as it is secular culture’s. We as the church too often just tack on God to the world’s definition of love as an emotion. For many, God’s greatest function is to grant a well-behaved spouse that will provide happiness and cure loneliness. This stems partially from the prevalence of person-centered pre-marital and marital resources that are by Christians and for Christians. The notion is that if we can just love more and understand the needs of our partner more then we can be happier because we have better marriages. This misunderstands Paul’s thrust in Eph. 5, as reflected in his intertextual references that point to Christ as our model.

I will focus here on the address to husbands in 5:25-32. Husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (5:25) in order that he might present her holy and without blemish (5:27), love her as himself (5:28), and not allow any possibility of their division (5:31). In 5:31 Paul quotes a verse that first surfaced in Gen. 2:24 with Adam and Eve, and was also quoted by Jesus in Matt. 19:5 and Mark 10:7 in response to the Pharisees question about the legitimacy of divorce. Also included in here is a possible reference to the two greatest commandments (Matt. 22:37-40).

The most important intertextual reference here is that this is the Gospel. Paul gives a systematic progression of the work of Christ—that He would die for the church that submits to Him (5:25) in order to sanctify [the church] (5:26), so that He might “present the church to himself in splendor…that she might be holy and without blemish” (5:27). This is justification, sanctification, and glorification in a command to husbands! This is how husbands should love their wives (as a side note, can we really love in such a way in our own power? This passage not only gives us a model but shows us how helpless we are to love in such a way without Someone greater working within us.)  If God chose to use such a powerful reference then the greatest objective in loving our wives cannot be to simply find her love language or to just make her happy. Rather, it is to love and honor her in such a way that honors Christ by modeling His love—all signs of affection are the natural overflow of this sacrificial, intense, guiding, committed love that receives its cues from the life and death of Christ. If only we as the church could begin defining real love in this way (also see Phil. 2:1-11, 1 John 3:16, 1 John 4:9-11, 1 John 4:19).

Joy and happiness are clearly central to the Christian marriage, but those come from this passage’s main focus, which is honoring God by loving like God which then leads to a good marriage. As John Piper would preach several years ago, “God means for marriage to say something to the world about His Son.” May we develop Great Commission marriages that honor God and our wives in such a way.