Tuesday, October 18, 2016

As their own bodies - Ephesians 5:28-33

"So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. 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. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 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 her husband." (Ephesians 5:28-33)
This is an interesting verse, especially in light of how some interpret the words of Jesus when He said, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:39) Some have misconstrued these words of Jesus to mean that we must love ourselves before we can love others. However, Paul's observation is that we already instinctively love ourselves. The problem is not in learning how to better love ourselves but in learning how to love others as we already love ourselves. Here Paul is simply restating the golden rule as taught by Jesus, "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12) Or. as my mother would say, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The point is that we should treat our wives as we would wish to be treated. We should treat our wives with the same care, nurture, and attention we give to ourselves. In fact, our love for our wives should be even greater than our love for our neighbors, for she is a member of our own body. While we are called into harmony with our neighbor and into unity with our brethren, we are called to be one in body with our wives. Therefore they deserve first place in our love and they deserve to be loved even as we love ourselves. For, in truth, if we truly love our wives then we are truly loving ourselves as well.

One of the keys to loving our wives is perception. The Greek word for "hated" can also be translated "detest". How we look at our wives will determine if, and how, we will love them. Some men come to the place, for whatever reason, where all they see is the bad in their wives. They become fixated on their faults and short comings and forget why they fell in love with them in the first place. All they see are the things that irritate them and have they forgotten that which once drew him to her. Even where there are real failings in her life, his perception of her is to detest her rather than to extend Christ's love to her in a way that will help her to grow and overcome the issues in her own life. He becomes a man who demands perfection instead of nurturing growth in her and in their relationship. If we can learn to see past each other's failures then we can see the image of Christ that dwells in each other and we can then learn to cherish and nurture what is good and right in each other rather than always focusing on the bad in each other.

Paul says that, for this reason, a man should leave his father and mother... but for what reason? That the two of them, the man and the woman, might become one. To be "joined," in the Greek, means to be "glued" together. The reason a man is to leave behind his family is so that he might be adhered to his wife and that the two of them may form their own family, creating a new family out of two individuals. The process of becoming one requires that two be joined together. It requires a focused relationship where two lives intermingle to where all aspects of their lives become shared and held in common. A man cannot maintain his feet in two separate camps. One foot in his old life and one in his new. He must be "all in" and fully committed to his marriage and his wife, even to the forsaking of old relationships that would seek to distract or divert him from his primary mission of becoming one with his wife.

Paul's reference to this great mystery always baffled me. What was they mystery he was speaking of? This verse immediately follows him speaking of a husband and wife becoming one. Is this the mystery he refers to? If so, then why say he speaks in reference to Christ and the church? Here are some alternate translations to this verse that might help us to better understand what Paul is saying.
"This is a huge mystery, and I don't pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church." (Ephesians 5:32 The Message) 
"This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one." (Ephesians 5:32 NLT) 
"That is a great truth hitherto kept secret: I mean the truth concerning Christ and the Church." (Ephesians 5:32 Weymouth)
I believe that the mystery that Paul is referring to is God's plan to restore mankind back to Himself through the person of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, we are reconciled to God and, together with all the brethren are made one in Christ and one with the Father. This mystery, that we should be one in Christ, was hidden from the beginning of time and only reveled in the coming of Christ. However, although this truth was hidden, it was foreshadowed through the marriage relationship that God inaugurated in Adam and Eve. Marriage is an example of the kind of oneness that God intends for all of us; a oneness with each other and a oneness in Christ.

Finally, Paul summarizes his thoughts concerning husbands and wives: husbands are to love their wives as themselves and wives are to respect their husbands. It is interesting here that Paul does not repeat his words that wives should submit to their husbands. Here he conflates the ideas of submission and respect. The Greek word for "respect" literally means to be frightened, but is most often used in the context of awe and reverence. Respect is the key to submission. No one will submit to someone they do not respect or, if they do, they will do so only begrudgingly. When we belittle each other and practice fault-finding with each other, we loose the since of awe, reverence, and respect we have for the other person. However, when we look to see the good, the noteworthy, and the amazing image of God in others, then we can stand in awe of who God made them to be and it  becomes easy to submit one-to-another. Submission, as an act of love, always begins with respect. We must learn to cultivate respect for one another if we are to grow in love for one another.

David Robison

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