What Is the Mystery of Marriage?

The Most Beloved (and Misunderstood) Wedding Text

There is indeed a mysterious element to romance and marriage. Even the classic Christian text for husbands and wives, Ephesians 5:22–33, mentions “mystery.” However, the mystery here is not what we may be prone to think — and it’s a vital lesson for every marriage. If the “mystery” in Ephesians 5 is not the universal enigma of romance we often admire, then what is it?

 

Ah, the mystery of marriage. What an enigma, that a young, energetic man would fall head over heels for a maiden. And what an even greater riddle, that she, mature and competent, would overlook his immaturities and join herself to him. At every good wedding, we perceive a glory that defies description, a beauty past finding out. We marvel at something we can’t quite understand or articulate. As an inspired wise man muses,

Three things are too wonderful for me;
four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a virgin. (Proverbs 30:18–19)

There is indeed a mysterious element to romance and marriage. Even the classic Christian text for husbands and wives, Ephesians 5:22–33, mentions “mystery.” However, the mystery here is not what we may be prone to think — and it’s a vital lesson for every marriage. If the “mystery” in Ephesians 5 is not the universal enigma of romance we often admire, then what is it?

Not a Secret to Keep

Mystery is a common word in the New Testament, and only rarely does it refer to what we might expect: something enduringly mysterious that remains puzzling or uncertain. Rather, mystery typically means what was hidden, concealed, or unclear in the past, but now has been revealed in light of Christ’s coming and his gospel. “Mystery” is not a secret to keep but truth to tell, and especially so for Paul who talks this way most.

How does God strengthen Christians? “According to the gospel” — or another way to say it: “according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed” (Romans 16:25–26). For “long ages” God “kept secret” his goal and intention in all history. Until “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4Ephesians 1:10), God sent his own Son as the long-awaited Messiah, and climax of history, to reveal his purposes all along — the great secret of the universe.

In Colossians 1:26–27, Paul unpacks “the stewardship from God that was given to me for you.” What is it? “To make the word of God [the gospel] fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints” (Colossians 1:25–26). Far from keeping secrets quiet, Paul wants Christians “to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2–3).

Make the Mystery Known

But Paul says the most about mystery in Ephesians, which, of course, is where he says of marriage, “This mystery is profound” (Ephesians 5:32).

At the beginning of the letter, he says that in the gospel, God is “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time” (Ephesians 1:9–10). And at the end, he asks for the Ephesians to pray for him, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).

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