The Picture vs. The Thing

picturevsthething I've had a bit of a catch phrase over the last few months. "It's the picture, not the thing." It started when my ideas about singleness began to change. Many of you will be familiar with the idea that marriage is a picture of Christ's relationship to the church. This teaching comes from Ephesians 5:22-32:

"Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church."

Marriage, on earth, can be a truly beautiful thing and it begs such Divine comparisons from time to time. A writer friend of mine recently wrote a piece about marriage and her depiction of her husband made me think about Jesus and His love for me in new ways. Her husband, and their marriage, acted as a picture.

This is a good and wonderful thing.

The trouble comes in when I get the two confused. Marriage is God-given, can contribute to sanctification, and is one of the paths that He gives to His children. Sometimes, marriage starts to feel like the thing. If I'm not careful, I can forget that marriage is also temporary, like the rest of this earthly life, it is a vapor.

Christ's love for the church began before time and continues throughout all eternity.

This is the thing.

As believers, we all have the opportunity to experience this love, to revel in being chosen, cleansed and presented to God, with no wrinkles or spots. I can't even come close to imagining what life in Heaven will be like as the bride of Christ.

Since I realized this about marriage, I have also noticed other pictures that I have gotten confused with what they represent. The relationship between parent and child is often beautiful. This can be a picture of God as Father with us as His children. Natural children remind us of the Jews, born into the family of God while adopted children remind us that others were chosen to be part of the family, welcomed with open arms, selected, with love, for a purpose.

As I consider these pictures, these troubling words from Jesus pulse in my ears:

"If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26)

I have often glossed over these words, but now I'm starting to remember that God calls Himself jealous. He wants us all, our hearts, minds, souls and every bit of strength. He knows that the only true lasting satisfaction we can find is in Him. If we try to find satisfaction in the pictures, we will be as hungry if we'd eaten a photo of Thanksgiving dinner.

It's the picture not the thing.

I've been greatly convicted of idolatry in my own life lately (which I will write more about in greater length soon). It is easy to forget that believers are cautioned against putting anything before God in both testaments. This very first commandment of the ten commandments did not go away with Christ's atoning sacrifice. Perhaps we are not making golden calves, even as the Israelites were doing at the very time God was giving Moses these commandments, idolatry may look differently today, but it is still very present.

A picture is an image, and in the Bible, a "graven image" was "a carved idol or representation of a god used as an object of worship."

The word worship comes from the old English "weorthscipe" which means "worthiness" or "acknowledgment of worth."

When I allow the image, meant to point me to God, to be seen as worthy on it's own merits, when I worship the image, when I am unwilling to hate every earthly relationship, including the one I have with myself, in favor of giving all of my worship to God, I am unworthy of being His disciple.

He warns me against this for my own good, He knows that eating the picture of food is nothing like the feast He has prepared for me, that the snapshot of well water I'm trying to cram down my throat will never quench my thirst. He knows that I will grow tired, trying to chase after vapors.

The picture can be lovely, when kept as a reflective surface, through which I am reminded of the Thing. God uses pictures all over the Bible, and all over life, to tell His story. But make no mistake, the Lord our God is a jealous God, and He will not tolerate anything which comes between us and Him.

"Little children, guard yourselves from idols." 1 John 5:21


For a while now, I’ve been writing Single Minded Mondays in this space. My hope is that these words will be an encouragement and a challenge both to those who are single, and those who are not.

I always appreciate fresh eyes and perspectives. I’d love to hear from you, in the comments, by email or on social media regarding these or other topics. And it is always an amazing honor when you all share my writing with those you know.

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{photo credit}