Paul's argument in Eph. 5 is quite clear: the man represents Christ, and the woman represents the ecclesia. But have a look down at 5:30: " We (all of us) are members of (Christ's) body, of his flesh, and of his bones" . That the church is the body of Christ is a common New Testament theme. The figure of being somebody's body could not be more intense and personal. You touch your own body, feel your bones beneath your flesh- that's fundamentally you. Whilst of course Christ does have a separate bodily existence, we are fundamentally Christ. Without us and our inherent sinfulness, Christ would not have come into existence, nor would He now exist.
So, the man represents Christ, and the woman the ecclesia. But the ecclesia, all of it, is the body of Christ; so in this sense husbands should love their wives " as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh" (5:28,29). The more we appreciate the strength and power of typology, the more we will realize the spiritual unity which there should be between brethren and sisters. The physical body of Christ is not divided- there is only one Jesus in Heaven. If brethren represent Christ and sisters typify His body, then there should be no division- either between husbands and wives, or amongst brethren and sisters within Christ's body. Thus marriage breakdowns and internal ecclesial strife are equally wrong- they both spoil the typology presented in Eph. 5. They effectively tear Christ's body apart, as men tried to do on the cross. We say " tried to" because ultimately Christ's body is indivisible- in the same way as in a sense His body was " broken" (as it is by division in the body), whilst in another sense it remained unbroken, in God's sight. Likewise, the ecclesial body in God's sight is even now not divided- we are one in Christ.
The relationship between God and us is to be reflected in that between husband and wife. But because (in different ways) both man and woman represent Christ, the marriage relationship is to be seen between all brethren and sisters in the ecclesia. For this reason, the language of marriage is often used about the unity which should be seen between us all:
- " God hath tempered the (ecclesial) body together...that there should be no schism in the body" (1 Cor. 12:24,25) uses a related word as in Eph. 5:31 concerning how a man " shall be joined unto his wife...I speak concerning Christ and the church" . Because both man and woman ultimately represent Christ, there should be no schism between either believers, or husbands and wives. We should all be " perfectly joined together (marriage language) in the same mind" (1 Cor. 1:10). Recall how " Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor" (Num. 25:3) in a sexual context. Hos. 9:10 comments on this as meaning that Israel " Separated themselves unto" Baalpeor. We cannot be 'joined to' something unless we are 'separated from' something else. If we are truly joined to Christ and each other, we must be separated from idolatry. It is impossible to experience this 'joining' with believers who are not 'separated'- one cannot be 'joined' in intercourse to more than one person. We cannot serve two masters without hating God.
- " God hath...given more abundant honour unto that part which lacked" (1 Cor. 12:24), as the husband should " (give) honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel" (1 Pet. 3:7). God's dealings with the ecclesia are replicated both within marriage, and within the ecclesia- for we too should give special respect and sensitivity to the weaker parts of the ecclesial body (Rom. 14:1; 15:1).
- Elders should desire to " present every man perfect in Christ Jesus" (Col. 1:28), as Christ will " present (us) holy and unblameable" (Col. 1:22), as a spotless bride (Eph. 5:27). Again, the relationship between Christ and the ecclesia is to be mirrored within the ecclesia.
- The church should obey Christ if they are one in Christ- as within the ecclesia, wives obey husbands (1 Pet. 3:6) and brethren obey elders (Heb. 13:17).
- The church is subject to Christ, as wives are to their husbands (1 Pet. 3:1). Yet because the wife too represents the body of Christ, all of us are to be subject to each other (1 Pet. 5:5).
- Husbands and wives become " one flesh" . But " flesh" is almost equivalent to " body" (see Eph. 2:15,16; Col. 1:22)- their union of " one flesh" is parallel to the union of the " one body" within the ecclesia.
- Husbands and wives are " heirs together" (1 Pet. 3:7)- as the whole church are " heirs together" through being one in Christ (Gal. 3:29; Eph. 3:6).
- Because we all represent Christ, He dwells in the body of each of us, " we are members one of another" (Eph. 4:25)- on the same way as we read that " we are members of (Christ's) body" in Eph. 5:30. As man and woman are " one flesh" (Eph. 5:31), so we are Christ's flesh (5:30).
At least two highly practical exhortations spring out of all this evidence.
Firstly, because we all represent Christ, albeit in different gender roles, there should be no division within ecclesias- for Christ is one. Likewise, " God is one" , and we all bear the one Name of Yahweh through baptism into the Name.
Secondly, we must appreciate that the following things are all equally wrong, because they are symptomatic of a separation between us and Christ:
- Separation and schism between brethren in Christ's body
- Separation and schism between husbands and wives.
Therefore to create schism between brethren who by status are one in Christ is as bad as having schism within one's own marriage. It is tragic that some seem to view schism as a sign of spiritual maturity, whilst treating marital strife as something infinitely worse. If we recognize that our brethren really do typify Christ, then we will seek unity with them- as we seek unity with Christ, often having to change our mental perspectives to achieve this.
The act of intercourse makes husband and wife " one flesh" . In the same way as there is " one body...one flesh" at this point, so " he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit" (1 Cor. 6:16,17). Highlight, or underline, those phrases " one body" and " one flesh" in v.16, and also " one spirit" in v.17. Don't miss the point. We must " stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together..." (Phil. 1:27). We have seen that we are to be one spirit with the Lord, as a man is one body and spirit with his wife (1 Cor. 6:16,17). But that same intense union is to be seen within the ecclesia! The sheer challenge of these thoughts should lift us right above all ecclesial strife, above all the turmoil we may have in our private lives. The possibility of this intense relationship between us and our partners, with our ecclesia and above all with Christ our Lord, should lift us up on eagle wings of spirit, far above the flesh, far above a world which revolves around shallow relationships. The world can in no way appreciate the indescribable bond of fellowship which true believers experience.
God is building up His house, His ecclesia. But because we manifest God, we too are " labourers together with Him" , not just puppets in His hand; we too are the builders of His house (1 Cor. 3:9-13; 2 Cor. 6:1). If we really are God-manifest, if we truly are the body of Christ, then we will show love to the ecclesia- for Father and Son loved the ecclesia, to the extent that God was in Christ in the death of the cross. The union between man and woman also typifies the unity of purpose between God and Christ (1 Cor. 11:3). So great is that unity between them that it seems almost impossible to correctly fathom- in the same way as the closeness between husband and wife, between us and Christ, and between us and each other, is so hard to define and appreciate. We experience it, we sense it exists, we sense we are experiencing a unity which we don't fully understand. The tearful Christadelphian missionary brethren as they embrace in an African airport, the spiritual couple as they watch their child immersed, the believer arising after two hours intense prayer and meditation at the bedside- in each case, in every dimension of our spiritual lives, we experience this spiritual unity which we cannot define, and fain would lay hold on the more permanently in our lives. Yet this is the joy set before us in the Kingdom, true fellowship with each other and with the Lord Jesus.
In the memorial bread and wine we see a foretaste of that time. " The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread" (1 Cor. 10:16,17). Through the bread we discern the body of Christ, which is the ecclesia. The breaking of bread should connect us inseparably with each other, and with Christ- we are all part of that one bread, that one body. As our bodies metabolize the piece of bread which represents His body, so we must strive in our daily thinking and actions to be at one with Christ, as well as one in Christ, and with each other as parts of His body.