Edited by: Leslyn Kim and Dana Curle
I’m starting a new ongoing series called – “What does it mean?” The plan is to take bible verses that use unfamiliar or complex language and research what it means. We’ve all read them or heard them before, scriptures or portions of scripture that require a leap of faith in personal interpretation. Phrases, or ideas that are not 100% clear upon first read. There are two solutions when this occurs. We can mentally cut out that particular section of the text and ignore it and risk losing the full meaning. Or, we can choose to simplify its meaning to match our level of understanding.
Ephesians 5:25-27, is the most recent one that I’ve come across.
The broader context of the chapter is an appeal to walk in holiness and righteousness before the Lord. Paul is emphatically appealing to the church in Ephesus to have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but instead to walk in the light of Christ.
In verses twenty-five through twenty-seven he transitions into what that looks like for husband and wife relationships.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
The first part of verse twenty-five is relatively straightforward. Christ died for our sins that we might be forgiven, righteous in his sight. The middle portion, “cleansing her by the washing with water through the word”, doesn’t seem as easy to understand. What does cleansing by the washing with water really mean? And how does one wash with water through the word? What does “word” mean here, the bible, Jesus – who’s referred to the Word in Hebrews?
Cleansing her by the washing with water
Mikveh – is a Hebraic tradition by which immersion in water is used to signify a rebirth. It’s a ritual that signifies a crossing over from and old chapter of life to the new. Sound familiar? Yes! Mikveh, in Jewish culture was the precursor to baptism. An outward spiritual sign of an internal conversion, where the old man is put to death and a new creation emerges (If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation..).
The same ritual is still practiced today in orthodox Jewish culture today. A bride prior to marriage is expected to perform a special mikveh just before the marriage ceremony, marking a transition from single life into that of holy matrimony with her new husband. In doing, she briefly bathes in water (natural or man-made sources) in preparation for her new life and commitment.
Through the Word
The term the “The Word” takes on different meanings in scripture. Sometimes it refers to Christ, at other times it refers to scripture. In this particular instance it’s referring to the rhema Word. The active, living Word of God spoken to us in the present form.
The word of God, as it’s spoken to us now, has a purifying and cleansing effect.
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. – John 15:3
It’s God’s will that we would be sanctified by the continual leading and guiding into all truth by the Holy Spirit (John 16:1-15)
Practical application for marriage
Christ not only saved us, sealed us for eternity, but in the present he continually sanctifies us through continual cleansing of his present Word for our lives today. The challenge to myself and others is to live out our lives in Christ-glorifying way in marriage. Loving our wives as Christ loved us, and loving our wives as we love ourselves (as the text goes on to explain) is an everyday act of obedience. One way to achieve that is to cover (wash) our wives daily in life yielding words that lead them closer to Christ, seeing to it that their sanctification and seeking God’s will for their lives is just as paramount as it is for us. Similar to a mikvah, this daily “washing” with words of wisdom and encouragement can have a purifying affect on both the person and the relationship.
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – Ephesians 5:28-29