The Cosmic Order of the Household | Ephesians 5:31-33

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Ephesians 5:31-33 ESV

Now that we have addressed both wives and husbands specifically regarding marriage, we will take a step back and view the grand institution of marriage itself. Thus, if the previous two sermons were focused upon the actual components of marriage, we will now attempt to grasp the larger portrait. In order to do this, we will focus specifically upon the final three verses of Ephesians 5, and we will break our study into three parts. First, we will address the state of marriage (as well as gender and sexuality) in the world today. Second, we will view the profound mystery of marriage as it relates to Christ and the church. Finally, we will see how our common and ordinary marriages can display a radical witness to the world of Christ’s redeeming love.

THE STATE OF MARRIAGE TODAY

In verse 31, Paul cites Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This verse is the biblical definition of marriage. Unfortunately, the Bible’s teaching on marriage has fallen on hard times. The complementarian and creational pattern of one man and one woman becoming one flesh together before God is increasingly seen as an outdated by today’s standards. This is, I believe, largely due to the rise neopaganism. As we discussed at the beginning of our study through Ephesians, our society is undergoing a transformation into a worldview that more closely resembles Hinduism, Buddhism, and ancient Rome than any form of Christianity throughout the past 1700 years.

We would do well to remind ourselves that paganism is not new, nor did it die out during the years of Christendom in the West. Paganism is simply everything that is not Christianity. In fact, we could just as rightly call it Satanism or worldliness. Although it comes in many names and varieties, it is fundamentally always a rejection of the Almighty Creator. Adherents to paganism are those who “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). In reality, as Peter Jones notes, there are only two ways of seeing the world: the Truth or the Lie. The Bible notes the beginning of both. The Truth and Christianity began at the beginning with the eternal God of truth creating the heavens and the earth. The Lie and Paganism began in Genesis 3:1 with the serpent’s seemingly innocent question, “Did God actually say…?” The Bible also prophesies the end of both, with Revelation picturing the fall of the serpent’s disciples as a burning Babylon while the God’s children are portraited as the radiant New Jerusalem. Thus, the present rise of today’s neopagan mindset is simply that original Lie attempting to find a fresh congregation, a new set of ears.

But for the present, we are less interested in neopaganism as a whole and more focused upon how it is shaping our society’s move away from a biblical understanding of marriage, sexuality, and gender roles. While we could go in any number of directions, Owen Strachan identifies four particular areas:

the four major challenges the church faces today in its sexual ethics are feminism, postmarital sexual libertinism,[1] transgenderism, and homosexuality. Each of those is a part of neopaganism. Feminism overturns the biblical ideal of the woman; sexual libertinism severs sex from marriage and encourages men and women to act sexually without respect to morality; transgenderism rebels against the very concept of divine design in terms of identity and appearance; homosexuality revolts against sacred order in terms of sexual identity and practice. These four ideologies represent an antiorder, a worldview that is in truth no worldview at all. If most modern people do not bow to stone deities, this in no way means that they are not cheerful participants in neopagan worship. They may not be directing their spiritual and bodily rebellion toward a given god, but they are nonetheless following the antiwisdom of the serpent and denying the role of God in the constitution of human identity and the ordering of the human body. Neopaganism is no longer the exception in the West; more and more, it is the norm.[2]

You will notice a pattern found within these four ideologies[3]: they all promote equality at the cost of erasing all distinctions. This is the ultimate goal of paganism. It cannot offer us what we truly need, which is holiness, to be reconciled with the Holy One; all it can present is its own counterfeit: wholeness. Like Satan in the garden, it claims that we need to be made complete and need to achieve real equality, but in reality, it only gives a mushy sameness. Indeed, Satan’s first false promise of equality was when he whispered in Eve’s ear, “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

Feminism does not rejoice in the unique beauty and strength of womanhood; it remains interested only in doing what the boys do. Divorcing sex from marriage does certainly liberate it, but only in the sense that when a dog is liberated from its leash it is now free to run into the street. By undercutting the sacred beauty of sex within marriage, it becomes both everything and nothing. To transform sex into an ordinary and common bodily activity means that the spark of wonder must inevitably die. It is a powerful warning that when writing to the sexually free society of Corinth, Paul needed both to condemn having frivolous sex with prostitutes and of depriving one’s spouse of such intimacy.

Transgenderism muddies the water by insisting on more than two genders and, thereby, making any real definition of male and female null and void. Homosexuality even has same in its definition. By its very nature, homosexuality openly rejects the divine beauty of two distinct people with distinct genders coming together to become one flesh.

The danger and prevalence of these pagan doctrines[4] can be summarized by Rod Dreher, who said of homosexuality, though it applies to all of the above, “the gay-rights cause has succeeded precisely because the Christian cosmology has dissipated in the mind of the West.”[5] The proper response to Satan’s lies is always to present the truth. Warring against this pagan worldview requires a true understanding of the God-ordered cosmos and how we fit into it.

THE PROFOUND MYSTERY OF MARRIAGE

Each marriage displays a far greater cosmological reality than is immediately noticeable. Indeed, Paul says that a profound mystery is attached to marriage, a mystery that has now been revealed. This profound mystery of marriage is that marriage refers to Christ and the church.

I imagine Paul thinking over what he just wrote (or dictated) in verses 22-31, reflecting once again upon the beauty of Genesis 2:24 as magnified through Christ. When he considers anew the universal and eternal glories pictured within such a common institution as marriage, he can simply write this mystery is profound, and I am saying it refers to Christ and the church.

And it truly is profound. The more we ponder this mystery, the deeper it goes. For instance, it is easy to read this verse and subconsciously consider the gospel as serving as a metaphor for our marriages. But while it is true that Christ and the church function as examples for how we are to live in our marriages, the metaphor is on the wrong end. Our marriages are living metaphors for Christ and the church, not the other way around. Jesus and His bride are reality; all other marriages are only reflections of that marriage in a foggy mirror. He is the substance; we are the shadow.

Because your marriage is a metaphor, the ultimate goal of your marriage is not individual fulfillment or happiness; instead, it is to declare to the world the true cosmic order of reality. Your marriage is meant to serve as a miniature display of God’s design for all of creation. If that sounds like a bit of an exaggeration, listen to what Paul wrote to the Corinthians about this matter:

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

1 Corinthians 11:3–16

The temptation here is to get lost in the weeds of head coverings, yet head coverings are merely a cultural expression of creational truth. While the particular expression of how a wife submits to her husband may change (like head coverings), the fundamental principle does not. Verse 3, after all, blatantly presents the headship of a husband and submission of a wife as bound to our triune God Himself. Strachan writes regarding this verse:

In a few deft strokes, the apostle Paul sketches once and for all time the superstructure, the ontological architecture, of reality itself. The Trinity is infinitely above us, but not disconnected from us. Reality is Trinitarian at base. We thus look to the Son’s incarnational example in particular to think rightly about our hair, our families, our living worship of God.[6]

The majestic wonder of the Trinity is, of course, that God is only one God, yet He is also three distinct Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit. Only under this mighty God can we properly understand the depth of “and the two shall become one flesh.” In marriage, we do not lose ourselves and merge into our spouse, or at least we should not. Rather, we remain distinctly ourselves, while also becoming one unit. Furthermore, like the Trinity, the distinct roles within marriage do not negate equality. The woman is not less an image-bearing human than the man any more than the Holy Spirit is not less divine than the Father or the Son. In fact, Paul notes that a particular glory is reserved for both man in his headship and woman in her submission. Matthew Henry comments specifically on the glory of woman, again tying it back to the creation account:

That Adam was first formed, then Eve (1 Tim. 2:13 ), and she was made of the man, and for the man (1 Co. 11:8, 1 Co. 11:9 ), all which are urged there as reasons for the humility, modesty, silence, and submissiveness, of that sex in general, and particularly the subjection and reverence which wives owe to their own husbands. Yet man being made last of the creatures, as the best and most excellent of all, Eve’s being made after Adam, and out of him, puts an honour upon that sex, as the glory of the man, 1 Co. 11:7 . If man is the head, she is the crown, a crown to her husband, the crown of the visible creation. The man was dust refined, but the woman was dust double-refined, one removed further from the earth.[7]

This is, therefore, biblical equality that happily rejoices in the distinctions that God has designed.

We again see this unity-through-distinction within the great reality behind every marriage, Christ and the church. As we saw throughout chapters 1-3, we are now in Christ, but we have not nor will we ever become Christ. We are forever bound to Him in love and joy so that Peter could call us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), yet we will never be divine. We do not cease to be human; rather, in Christ we are becoming truly human. This is a very opposite of paganism, or we should rightly say, paganism is the very opposite of this glorious reality.

We should also note that through this exalted view of marriage, singles are not left behind. According to the sexual ethic of today, sexual identity is a fundamental part of being a person, so celibacy is treated as abnormal. For Christians, however, we are all called to hold marriage in honor (Hebrews 13:4), yet we do so knowing that marriage is not ultimate. Because Christ and the church is the eternal reality, singles are able to point beyond even the metaphor of marriage directly to Christ Himself. Thus, the honoring of marriage and the reality that it represents also inevitably affirms the value of those who are not married.

THE RADICAL WITNESS OF LOVE & RESPECT

How then are we to respond to these things? How do we reject the Lie, and how do we embrace the Truth? As we noted previously, our ordinary actions are the battleground between Christianity and paganism, between the Truth and the Lie. Thus, if we desire to reflect the vast cosmological truth of marriage and sexuality, Paul gives us a simple closing command, However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Ortlund explains wonderfully Paul’s usage of the words love and respect.

For the husbands, remember that God made Eve from Adam, for Adam, as his dear partner in life to help him follow the divine call. But now, in our broken world of today, deep in the heart of every wife is the self-denial that wonders, “Do I please him? Am I the one he dreamed of and longed for? Will he love me to the end? Am I safe with this man I married? Will he cast me off? Even if we go the distance, will he get tired of me?” A wise husband will understand that that uncertainty, that question, is way down deep in his wife’s heart. And he will spend his life speaking into it, gently and tenderly communicating to her in many ways, “Darling, you are the one I want. I cherish you. I rejoice over you, as no other. The thought of living without you is horrible to me. I love the thought of growing old together with you, hand in hand all the way. I will hold you close to my heart until my dying day.” A wise husband prizes and praises his wife above all others. That is why the word love is in verse 33. Love breathes life into a woman.

For the wife, remember that God made Adam first and put him in the garden with a job to do, a mission to fulfill, a mountain to climb. But now, in our broken world of today, deep in the heart of every man is the self-doubt that wonders, “Am I man enough to meet the challenge God has called me to? Can I fulfill my destiny? Won’t I end up failing? Is there any point in even trying?” That question is way down deep inside the heart of every husband. A wise wife will understand that. And she will spend her life speaking into it, communicating to her husband in many ways, “Honey, I believe in you. I know you can follow God’s call, by God’s grace, for God’s glory. The Lord is with you, and so am I. Let’s go for it!” A wise wife will never put her husband down or laugh at him but will greatly strengthen him and build him up, for God’s glory. He will accomplish more by the power of her respect than he ever could on his own. That is why the word respect appears in verse 33. Respect breathes life into a man.[8]

While the incarnation of Jesus is the ultimate example, God delights in displaying the extraordinary through the ordinary, the miraculous through the everyday. This is no different. Marriage points to nothing less than our eternal state of loving communion with Christ our Lord, yet that vast and eternal reality is imaged through the husband’s love for his wife and the wife’s love for her husband. We do not need to complex and drawn out philosophical discussions in order to know grasp something of how Christ loves His people; we just need to look at a husband and wife who are faithfully embracing their distinct roles and giving themselves selflessly to one another.

If we live by this text, our marriages will become a radical witness to the world around us. Indeed, it was this very radical witness that transformed the ancient world into what it is today. Paganism certainly offered women “sexual freedom,” but it could never offer the nourishing and cherishing love of a Christian husband. It could also give a husband nearly absolute authority over his home, but it could not give him the respectful and helping complement of a Christian wife. Men thrive when respected; women thrive when loved. Paganism can only ever give fraudulent imitations of these joys. Christianity alone is the reality.

While the cultural shifts today should properly alarm us, we must not deceive ourselves into thinking that we can debate, legislate, or advocate our way to a more godly society. The real and lasting work is much smaller in scale, but like yeast working through the whole dough, its impact is ultimately far greater. We push back against the pagan sexual ethic of this world simply by husbands loving their wives, wives respecting their husbands, and everyone pointing to Christ. Let us be a people who provide a radical witness to the world by making our homes into Jerusalem, not Babylon.


[1] This may seem like a big fancy term, but it simply refers to the belief that sexuality has now been liberated from the supposedly antiquated and patriarchal institution of marriage.

[2] Owen Strachan, Reenchanting Humanity, 202-203.

[3] Note that we are discussing the ideologies themselves. In Ephesians 5:7-14, Paul addressed how we are to treat individual nonbelievers, and we are to do so with love and grace. The ideologies, however, must be exposed for the deceits that they are.

[4] Make no mistake, these are the doctrines of a functioning religion. In fact, philosopher Jacob Howland refers to this movement as secular puritanism, emphasizing the religious zeal behind what most consider to be nonreligious beliefs. Out of love for the actual Puritans, however, I will not be using that term.

[5] Cited in Peter Jones, The Other Worldview, 73.

[6] Reenchanting Humanity, 176.

[7] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/genesis/2.html

[8] Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, 101-102.

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