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Mixing Marriage Metaphors

I once attended a beautiful outdoor wedding held at a resort among the majestic canyons of western Colorado (U.S.). The entire weekend was like the intertwining of two family reunions. In fact, for fun, the two families being joined each had different colored bandanas to wear to identify them as they visited and played together all weekend. Non-family guests wore bandanas of various other joyful colors. And, of course, there was a bride and a groom. 

On Sunday morning they stood together—the bride in her ecru French lace over the lightest sage green, and the groom in dressy leather flip-flops and a desert tan suit. As they said their vows, they were framed against rock-solid grandeur. Instead of with a unity candle easily snuffed out by the wind, they signified their becoming one by mixing in a decorative bottle of Colorado clay and rich, dark Appalachian Trail loam.

As I enjoyed the weekend activities and all they represented, I thought about the various metaphors Jesus gave us about the Church, and weddings, and brides and grooms. There are several.

In one parable, Jesus is the bridegroom and we are virgins who are waiting to attend the wedding. In another metaphoric allusion, He is the bridegroom and we (the Church) are the bride. Then, of course, He refers to the Church not only as His bride, but also as His body. For me, those last two metaphors can be mixed productively.

Christ always used scenarios with which His hearers would identify. So He apparently took as a given that those of us learning from His marriage parables would understand the different roles for the male and the female in a marriage. In Ephesians 5:22-33 Paul spells those roles out.

· The wife is to be subject to the husband in everything (verses 22, 24).

            · The husband is to sacrifice himself for His wife (verse 25).

            · The wife is the body of her husband, and

            · The husband is the head of that body (verses 23, 28, 31, 33).

            · The wife is to respect her husband (v. 33).

            · The husband is to love his wife as himself (verses 25, 28, 33).[i]

Put in other words, the husband sacrifices, the wife submits. The husband is the head and the wife is the body—joined into one flesh. The wife respects and the husband loves.

The reason for this relationship is explained in 1 Peter 3:7, “In the same way you married men should live considerately with [your wives], with an intelligent recognition [of the marriage relation], honoring the woman as [physically] the weaker, but [realizing that you] are joint heirs of the grace (God’s unmerited favor) of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered and cut off. [Otherwise you cannot pray effectively.]”[ii]

If we don’t understand the marital relationship appropriately, we miss beautiful truths about our (the Church’s) relationship with Christ.

Taking the delineation above as our base of common understanding, let’s look at what Christ is implying about His relationship with His Church—His bride/body/wife.[iii]  We must, of course, be careful not to extend metaphors too widely. When we do that we run the risk of having a bizarre picture (such as that of evangelists being fishers of men and then hauling them into the church/boat and gutting them). However, metaphors can sometimes be taken much more deeply than we tend to take them. And we can even mix the metaphors of the Church as the body and the Church as the bride of Christ to come up with added insights into our relationships with one another as well as our relationship with Christ.  Let’s look at the comparisons given above, this time applying them to Christ and us (the Church bride/body/wife).

· The Church-bride is subject to Her divine Husband in everything. 

            · The Divine Husband already sacrificed Himself for her.

            · The Church-bride is the body of Her divine Husband.

            · The divine Husband (alone) is the head of that body.

            · The Church-bride is to respect Her divine Husband.

            · The divine Husband has already loved her as Himself--enough to die for her!

As I took part in the ceremony unfolding in canyon country, I had to ask myself, exactly what is my role in the upcoming marriage of Jesus with His Church? Brides and grooms are usually very busy planning and preparing for months before their big day. How am I helping the bride/body plan and prepare for the upcoming heavenly wedding?





[i] This particular delineation of marital roles is from Sarah Sumner, Men and Women in the Church, Downers Grove, ILL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2003.

[ii] Amplified version.

[iii] Ephesians 5:28, 29.

"In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body" (Eph 5:28-29, ESV).

If we don’t understand the marital relationship appropriately, we miss beautiful truths about our (the Church’s) relationship with Christ.