Thursday, April 7, 2022
Ephesians 5:28-32 “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
The older I get, the more I realize how hard it is to carry the burden of performance. From an early age, we have been taught from numerous sources that we all have a role to play in life, and that our lives will be judged on how we did. Every job we take demands that we learn a certain set of skills to accomplish the work assigned to us. Every relationship we pursue seems to require some adjustment to our personality or goals so we will be accepted by the other person. We have even turned our relationship with Christ into a performance by thinking that Scripture demands we change our behaviors to match some idyllic model of what Jesus must have been like. To quote the words of a former college classmate who became an author, “I’m tired of trying to measure up.”
The reason I got on this train of thought today was because of a misunderstanding about marriage and its symbolism of the church’s relationship with Christ. Near the end of the Apostle Paul’s teaching on marriage he makes this statement – “This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.” For most of my life I understood that to mean that the marriage relationship of husband and wife is the basis for understanding the relationship of Jesus to His church. Now I know that I was wrong. The right understanding is this – the relationship of Jesus to His church is the basis for understanding marriage. This makes a huge difference to me. No longer do I use my relationship with my wife to define my relationship with Jesus, but I use the truth of my relationship with Jesus to define my relationship with my wife. I do not know how to love Jesus because I have practiced on my wife. I know how to love my wife because I have experienced true love for Jesus. I know how to act towards my wife because I have experienced how Jesus acts towards me. I know how to treat my wife because of how Jesus treats me. I know how to forgive her because I have been forgiven. I know how to care for her because Jesus cares for me.
Here’s where the whole performance thing comes into play. When we responded to the call of God for salvation and surrendered our lives to Jesus Christ, we became one with Him. The two of us – me and Jesus – became one flesh, one spirit, and one mind. The total life of Jesus – his nature and character – was born in me through the power of the Holy Spirit. In the book of Titus, Paul says, “But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”
The life of Jesus Christ was born in us when we repented of our sin and by faith received God’s
gift of salvation. Unfortunately, in our human attempt to do our best and take responsibility for the outcome of our lives, we have distorted His qualification of our lives by trying to learn how to please to God. We have somehow turned God’s truth of grace into our duty to adapt our lives to the learned behaviors that please God. As a result, we are frustrated and fearful of failure.
Unfortunately, we have taken that same misunderstanding into our relationships with people and spouses. We are dissatisfied with life because we feel it has been spent trying to please others by learning approved behaviors rather than living in the liberty of expressing God’s love. We have become addicted to performance when God wants us to be addicted to love.
Here’s the key for me – the love of God in Christ Jesus has so overwhelmed me, and the life of Jesus has so overtaken me, that I no longer live for me, but for the one who died for me and who now, in His resurrection power, lives in me. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not about accepting a new job and then learning the skills necessary to please the employer. It’s about being adopted as a son of God and being guaranteed the inheritance of it all. Then, to carry beyond human capability, we have the very life of our adopted father infused into ours so we have the capacity and capability to know everything necessary to fulfill the goals of the Father. We are no longer bound by the false belief that we must try to please God. We are no longer slaves to the false thinking that we can perform up to an acceptable standard. We have been liberated by the birth of Jesus in us, and His life lived through us cannot fail to please God.
That’s how a man is to love his wife. He doesn’t learn what please her and then attempt to do it. He doesn’t perform up to some perceived standard of approval. Just as Christ did with me spiritually, the husband takes his wife’s life into his and becomes one with her. Her thoughts are his thoughts and her ways are his ways. Then, when he loves her, he is loving himself, because she is one with him. All activity ceases to be performance and instead becomes the expression of the heart. That’s what Paul means when he calls this a profound mystery. The union we have with Christ in salvation is to be the model for the union we experience in marriage. When we understand it from that perspective, we will begin to experience and enjoy the fullness of oneness that God intended.