You hear it all the time in church:
“A marriage is a symbol of Christ and the church.”
But have you ever stopped to consider the implications of that statement?
A marriage is a celebration of the sexual union between a man and a woman. Without sex, what can bind a man and woman together?
As the Apostle Paul says, “for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife.” (Ephesians 5:31)
What cause was Paul referring to?
The relationship between Christ and His body. The erotic image of the union of man and woman helps us understand the love of Christ for His body (i.e. the believers.)
Understanding this erotic background sheds some light on an important metaphor that I believe has long been misunderstood:
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ Himself, who is the head. From Him the whole body is fitted and held together by every supporting ligament; and as each individual part does its work, the body grows and builds itself up in love.
~Ephesians 4:15-16 (NIV)
In the NIV (the most popular translation) the metaphor is familiar enough. It sounds as if we speak the truth to one another, each doing our part, and that causes us to metaphorically build up the body (i.e. the church) in love.
The only problem is that is not what the text says.
Compare the NIV translation with a literal translation of the text. I’ve bolded the differences:
Now, being true, in love we should be making all grow into Him, Who is the Head – Christ out of Whom the entire body, being articulated together and united through every assimilation of the supply, in accord with the operation in measure of each one’s part, is making for the growth of the body, for the upbuilding of itself in love.~ Ephesians 4:15-16 (Concordant Literal Version
In sum, the image we get is this:
The head (Christ) is already established. The body is presently disjointed, but it is growing into the head.
And how is the body growing into the head?
By intertwining with itself and uniting through every “assimilation of the supply.”
Every time the “supply” (seed or milk) is assimilated into the physical body, two members of Christ’s body are united.
And before assimilation can occur, there must be a joining of parts.
This is why Paul was strongly opposed to believers sexually uniting with temple prostitutes:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”~1 Corinthians 6:15-16
The sexual union is intended to build the body of Christ, not the body of Aphrodite (or any other false deity.)
“Uniting” and “assimilating” is the primary purpose of the believer in this era.
But here’s where it gets interesting:
The supplying is to be done in accordance with the “operation in measure of each one’s part.”
The Greek word translated as “operation” is energeia, the root of the English word “energy.” Different people have different levels of sexual energy.
This “supplying” is to be done “in measure” of each one’s “part.” Metron (measure) in Greek is used figuratively to describe what is enough (or not enough).
In this uniting of the body of Christ, no man is required to give more than he is able… nor is any man restricted from giving less than he is able.
It is the sexual union that unites and builds the body of Christ.
When a man is spiritually united to Christ and takes a woman, a new ligament or joint in the body of Christ is created.
And when, through the sexual union, a woman bears her man children, these children are added to the body of Christ.
And the woman bonds with her children by providing them with milk… which nourishes them so they can grow.
And when the children are fully grown, they will unite with their own man or woman and continue the process.
This is how the body of Christ builds itself up.
Some might object to this image and say there is more to the Christian life than “just sex.”
That may be so.
But it nothing less than sex.