Friday, March 16, 2012

Mystery, Marriage, and Gospel in Ephesians

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." -Inigo Montoya

In Ephesians, Paul uses the word "mystery" over and over. And, unlike poor Vezzini, I think Paul knows exactly what he means by it - but until now, I'm not sure that I did.

I've been reading Ephesians over and over again this Lent, and its message is becoming much more clear to me now than it ever did when I read it only a chapter at a time.

Mysteries Revealed
In chapter 3, Paul talks about the "mystery" of the gospel, and then in chapter 5, he uses "mystery again", this time in his discussion of marriage. After reading the whole book in a sitting many times now, I'm beginning to think that the way he uses it the first time illuminates the way he uses it the second time.

In chapter 3, he talks about his appointed task of evangelizing the Gentiles, saying that the "mystery" of the gospel has finally been revealed: salvation from God is for all the nations.

In other words, when he says it's a "mystery", he's not saying that it's an unsolved mystery. He's saying that it was a mystery. Now, of course, we know. What used to be hidden is now revealed - that God had a plan to save all the peoples of the Earth through the seed of Abraham. Salvation is from the Jews, but it's not just for the Jews - God's plan was bigger than that.

"But I speak of Christ and the Church"
So here's what I'm wondering: in chapter five, when Paul is discussing marriage and says: "this mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church", is he using "mystery" the same way he was using it in chapter 3?

That is, is he talking about another thing that was a mystery, but isn't anymore? Is he, perhaps, saying that we used to not understand marriage, but now that we know how Christ loves the church, we can really understand how husbands are to love their wives?

There used to be "hardness of heart" (think about Jesus explaining why there was a provision in the Law for divorce), but now we understand: married love is a picture of Christ and the church, and both parties are to love each other sacrificially, wholly, generously.

Is this what Paul is saying? I don't know, but I begin to wonder. It does seem to fit one of the big themes of Ephesians: that the cosmic is connected to the mundane. That God's great work is to so transform the lives of his people that their obedience becomes such a show of his power that makes the angels stand stock still in wonder. That how we love each other showcases His own love. That the way He chooses to manifest His greatness is by empowering us sad, sorry, sinful humans to love one another - something we could never do in our own strength.

It seems like a small thing: to love one another. Yet we can't do it consistently and well for even ten minutes at a stretch - try it, you'll see. It's very impossibility is what makes it such a marvel when God's Holy Spirit enables us to do it - a marvel that declares God's glory. As Paul says, he preaches the gospel, "so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places." (chapter 3, verse 10.)

We're on display, Paul makes clear in the first half of Ephesians. And then, when the book takes a turn to his familiar "therefore . . .", the practical instruction that always comes after his theologizing, the "therefore" is that we ought to love each other. In our churches and in our homes. As the prayer book says, "in our daily life and work".

This is a great mystery. But I don't think it's one we're supposed to puzzle at, scratching our heads and wondering what it means. I think it's one we're supposed to stand in awe of. Because, in the coming of Christ, in his death, resurrection, ascension, and the promise of his coming again, in the sending of his Holy Spirit, I think God showed us what He meant.

What do you think? Is what I think I'm seeing actually there?

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

1 comment:

fhm said...

I think you are on the right track, Jessica. Keep digging, and you will discover rich gems of truth. "By the truth, and sell it not." God bless. Fred @