Summary: In Christ’s relationship to the church, he is clearly seeking the transformation of his bride into something morally and spiritually beautiful.
[Submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Based on Grace
You cannot say too often that marriage is a model of Christ and the church. That’s what Noël said. One of the reasons she is right is that this makes clear that marriage is based on grace. Christ pursues his bride, the church, by grace, obtains her for his own by grace, sustains her by grace, and will perfect her for himself by grace. We deserve none of this. We deserve judgment. It is all by grace.
Grace: Treating People Better Than They Deserve
For two weeks, we have emphasized that this grace empowers husbands and wives to keep their covenant by means of forgiveness and forbearance. That emphasis is at the heart of what grace is: treating people better than they deserve. This is one of the central pieces of Christian ethics:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. . . . Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-29, 35-36)
Those commands do not cease to be demands of Jesus when we get married. If we are to return good for evil in general, how much more in marriage.
Grace: Power to Stop Sinning
That’s what we have emphasized so far in saying that marriage is based on God’s grace toward us. But now I want to emphasize another truth about grace. It not only gives power to endure being sinned against, it also gives power to stop sinning.
In all our emphasis on forgiving and forbearing, you might get the impression that none of our sinful traits or our annoying idiosyncrasies ever changes—or ever should change. So all we can do is forgive and forbear. But what I want to try to show from Scripture today is that God gives grace not only to forgive and to forbear, but also to change, so that less forgiving and forbearing is needed. That too is a gift of grace. Grace is not just power to return good for evil; it is also the power to do less evil. Even power to be less bothersome. Grace makes you want to change for the glory of Christ and for the joy of your spouse. And grace is the power to do it.
The Gospel Way to Confrontation
But we have come at this, you might say, in a roundabout way. The emphasis on forgiveness and forbearance came first, because it’s the essential rock-solid foundation for change. In other words, rugged covenant commitment based on grace gives the security and hope where the call for change can be heard without it feeling like a threat. Only when a wife or husband feels that the other is totally committed—even if he or she doesn’t change—only then can the call for change feel like grace, rather than an ultimatum.
So today I am emphasizing that marriage should not be and, God willing, need not be static—no change, just endurance. Even that is better than divorce in God’s eyes, and has a glory of its own. But it is not the best picture of Christ and the church. Yes, the endurance tells the truth about Christ and the church. But the unwillingness to change does not.