Marriage, Christ, and the Church – Not a Tangent

By Mark D. Roberts

November 19, 2019

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Ephesians 5:25-27 (NIV)


Just about every commentary on Ephesians labels 5:22-33 something like “Instructions for Marriage,” and for good reason. This passage obviously addresses the relationship between husband and wife. It is the first section of a three-part household code that also speaks to relationships between children and parents as well as slaves and masters.

a red cross on a hill over looking a lit city at nightBut, if you study Ephesians 5:22-33 carefully, you’ll notice that it actually has more to say about Christ and the church than about husbands and wives. In fact, if you count the words in these twelve verses, you’ll find that about 55% of them are about Christ and the church, leaving only 45% for marriage.

We might wonder if Paul has lost his train of thought in this passage. Why does he talk so much about Christ and the church when his subject is marriage?

If you’re familiar with the New Testament letters of Paul, you know that Christ is his favorite subject. And, in Ephesians, Paul definitely talks a lot about the church. So his focus in Ephesians 5:22-33 shouldn’t come as a total surprise. But, Paul is doing more than playing his favorite theological song here. Rather, he is showing that what ought to shape a marriage most of all is the gospel of Jesus Christ—the story of Christ who, out of love, gave himself up for the church. The good news of Christ as seen in the relationship between Christ and the church should shape all of our relationships—more than social conventions, more than religious practices, more than personal preferences, more than family traditions. All married people need gospel-shaped marriages.

Thus, what might seem at first to be a tangent becomes the center of Paul’s teaching on marriage. If you want your marriage to be everything God intends it to be, look to Christ and the church. Let the gospel story become your story, not just in the matter of your personal salvation, but also in the matter of how you live each day. If you’re married, the gospel should form your relationship as husband and wife, even as it should shape all of our relationships both in and outside of the body of Christ.

Something to Think About:

As you think of the gospel of Jesus Christ, what aspects of this good news are relevant to marriage?

How might focusing on the gospel help us to be better husbands? Better wives? Better friends? Better workers? Better neighbors? Better citizens?

Something to Do:

Talk with your small group or with a Christian friend about how the gospel of Jesus Christ can make a difference in your relationships (including your marriage, if you are married).


Gracious God, thank you for reminding us that our relationships, including our marriages, should be reflections of the gospel. Sometimes we forget this, living in light of other stories, other values, other traditions. But you give us the gospel, not only so that we might come to know you through your grace in Christ, but also so that we might live out this good news each day.

For those who are married, I ask, Lord, that their marriages be shaped by the gospel. May we live out the truth of your love in Christ each day, at home and work, among family and friends, in our cities and in our churches. To you be all the glory! Amen.

Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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