Yesterday I had the great joy of preaching at a wedding for one of the guys in our church, who is also a student at SWBTS Houston. At the encouragement of a couple friends who were present, I’m posting my remarks here. May the Lord be pleased to bless our marriages that we might be living pictures of the mystery of Christ and the church!
When God gave the woman to the man in the Garden of Eden, the words were pronounced, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). The harmony enjoyed in Eden was soon lost when the couple sinned, and God said to the woman as he pronounced judgment, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16). That curse is the origin of all marital difficulty. That curse is the origin of feminism. That curse is the origin of males who sinfully “rule over” their wives in inappropriate ways. That curse came because of human sin, and that curse threatens to make marriage hopelessly impossible.
What a depressing thing to say at a wedding!
But we aren’t hopeful about your marriage because we can make a joke and lighten the mood. We are hopeful about your marriage because when Jesus came, he died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin. His resurrection shows that he has triumphed over the curse. He has opened the way to life.
All who trust in Jesus are justified before God and empowered to live in a new way, a way that is not doomed by the dreadful curse on sin.
Life is possible because Jesus died. We can have fellowship with God because Jesus died on the cross. Through Jesus, by faith in Jesus, people can enter the presence of God. (And I know this dear couple would want me to say that if any of you here today don’t know Jesus, please don’t leave this place without talking to one of us who is following Jesus and trusting in him. You can have this new life that is enjoyed by those who trust in Jesus!).
And there is hope for marriage because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus died for his bride, and that sets the pattern for marriage. Husbands are to live to die for their wives in order to be living pictures of Jesus. Wives are to submit to their husbands in order to be living pictures of the church submitting to Jesus.
We are among the witnesses to these living pictures of Jesus. Those of us who follow Jesus with Joe and Jill have a responsibility to encourage Joe and Jill to be living pictures of Jesus. We do this by being mindful of the way that we conduct ourselves toward our spouses—so that they see in us a living picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. We also do this by being mindful of the way that we speak about marriage in their hearing. What kind of expectations do your words about marriage create? And finally, we do this by being mindful of the way that they live out this high calling of depicting to the world the relationship between the Lord Christ and his pure bride.
This is really an impossible task. It is only even remotely possible for those who have been born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, who have trusted in Jesus, who are saved because they call on the name of the Lord and believe that in his death he paid the penalty for sin, who believe that the resurrection of Jesus demonstrates his victory over sin, death, and hell.
But even born again people can have terrible marriages. A great marriage is not necessarily a marriage that is glamorously romantic. A great marriage is one that is a living picture of Jesus: a husband who lays down his life for his wife, and a wife who lovingly submits to her husband.
Born again people must live by faith in Jesus, informed by the truth of the Scriptures, empowered by the Holy Spirit, with faith working through love for the glory of God.
This is what we, the witnesses to this union, are to call this dear couple to. This is what we are to encourage them toward. And we pray that they too will so live this out that we will be inspired by the beauty of the love Jesus has for his church, a beauty we see in Joe and Jill’s marriage.
What this means, Joe and Jill, is that your marriage is primarily about God. What on earth do I mean by that?!
Well, there are two ways in which your marriage is about God.
First, Ephesians 5 says that the reason God gave marriage was to demonstrate the relationship between Jesus and those He redeems. Jesus redeemed His people by suffering and dying on their behalf.
Joe, the Bible commands you to love Jill the way that Jesus loved His beloved.
I think that this would be a lot easier for you if you only had to do it once—if you just had to muster up all the love you feel for Jill for one heroic act of death to self! That’s not quite the way it works. You have to love Jill the way that Jesus loves the church every day that God gives you together.
Many of life’s days seem routine, even mundane. And as years crawl by, strong emotions, like bright colors, seem to fade and there will be times when the euphoria of the honeymoon and all the joy of this day will be forgotten. It is during those times that other things may seem more exciting than your aging wife. During those times, you must love her with the same extravagancy with which Jesus has loved the church.
While Christ’s love for the church was sacrificial, He does benefit from it. Ephesians 5:26-27 tells us that Jesus gave Himself up for the church so that He could have the joy of a perfect bride. In other words, Jesus sought His own joy in the happiness of His beloved. You can love Jill in this way, Joe. You will be happiest when she is happiest, so seek your own happiness by striving to make her happy! This is not selfishness—selfishness seeks its own private happiness at the expense of others. This is love—love seeks its happiness in the happiness of the beloved.
It is dreadfully important that you love Jill this way, Joe. Your marriage depends on it. John Piper was right when he wrote, “The reason there is so much misery in marriage is not that husbands and wives seek their own pleasure, but that they do not seek it in the pleasure of their spouses.” Seek your joy in the joy of your spouse and you will be happy indeed, though it means that you must lay down your own life.
God is making you two husband and wife to give the world a picture of the relationship between Jesus and the church. If you do not love Jill the way that Jesus loved the church, you lie to the world about God.
My friend, there is one way for you to maintain the mindset and ability to do this. You must satisfy yourself primarily in God, and then receive Jill as God’s gift to you. If you look primarily to Jill to meet your deepest needs, understand all of your emotions, and be a constant source of encouragement and strength for you, you will be frustrated. God has made you such that only He can satisfy you.
The word husband communicates husbandry, which pictures a shepherd tending to his flock. Jill is your flock, Joe. Shepherds do not expect their sheep to satisfy them. Only God can so satisfy you that you have the necessary physical and emotional resources to be a good shepherd to the one God is entrusting to your care.
Jill, the Bible says that it is your responsibility to submit to Joe in the same way that the church is to submit to Jesus. In our day many women feel the need to assert their equality, and so they cast off submission. But submission has nothing to do with equality. Submission has everything to do with God-appointed roles. If Joe leads you rightly—the way that Christ leads the church (self sacrificially)—you’ll have no problem submitting to him. I cannot tell you precisely what submission needs to look like in your marriage. The ways submission is expressed vary from marriage to marriage, but to fulfill your role you must have an inclination to follow Joe’s leadership and a disposition to yield to his decisions. Doing this, you will be obeying God by relating to your husband the way that the church is to relate to Christ. If you are walking with God—constantly thanking Him for His moment-by-moment grace and continually calling on Him for help—you will find your God-appointed role to be like rich, fertile, pleasant soil, and like a beautiful flower of a wife you will flourish. (I’ve had the joy of seeing this happen up close in my sweet wife Jill. I can say from personal experience that there is no greater happiness than walking with God in obedience to Him).
This puts a great deal of responsibility on you, Joe, to die to yourself and love Jill. Please pray for each other. Love each other—seek your own happiness in the pleasure, joy, contentment, and peace of your spouse.
The second way that your marriage is about God has to do with the two of you being one. In the same way that you two are going to be one, there are three persons in God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and the three are one. Your marriage is about God in that it will be a picture to the world of the harmony, beauty, unity, diversity, and community that exists within the Godhead. The Three persons of the Trinity have always been one; they’ve always been together. They’ve never gotten tired of each other; they’re never cross with one another; They love each other perfectly. And, the Three accept roles. The best earthly picture of the Three in One relationship between the members of the Godhead, is the Two in One relationship between marriage partners.
The glory of God is at stake in your marriage. In order to love each other as you must until you die, you must satisfy yourselves on God. People get divorced because their spouses do not satisfy them. God doesn’t intend for your spouse to satisfy you. God intends for your spouse to remind you that you need God. And in casting yourselves again and again on God, satisfying yourselves day after day on God, you will have the emotional resources necessary to love each other.
You will be happy. And God will get glory because your lives will testify that He is the best, most beautiful, most worthy, most valuable, most able, most glorious thing in the universe. Seek your own joy in the pleasure of having a happy, pleased spouse. Gladly, humbly, prayerfully seek to live out the roles that God has clearly appointed for you. And enjoy the all-sufficient God who made you, redeemed you, and has promised to make you perfect like Jesus.