Today was a first for me. I had the great privilege to marry a middle-age couple on Sunday morning, in the worship service – that last last part was the “first for me.” Never once in over 23 years of pastoral ministry have we had a wedding on Sunday morning, part of the worship service. And I loved it. I’ve always imagined it but never thought that it would ever happen. Below is a portion of what I said, with a few annotated remarks.
“A Sure Foundation for Marriage”
Ephesians 2:19-22; 5:21-33
Evolution cannot explain why a man and a woman would get married . . . mate? – yes! But not marriage. If Charles Darwin was right, no man would voluntarily submit himself to live with one woman and provide for her, serve her, love her alone, and stick around to care for the children. (I interjected here 2 Cor. 5:15 that we are inescapably selfish and desire only to live for ourselves, of which, Christ came to free us). If Charles Darwin was right no woman would voluntarily submit herself to live with one man who still can’t find the laundry basket and put his dishes away. Left to ourselves, mankind would never have invented marriage.
But being made in the image of God we instinctively know that marriage, that making a covenant to love one another and no one else till death parts us is not a cultural tradition – it’s grounded in the historic death, burial, and resurrection of Christ which was planned before the world began. God the Father created human marriage to display Christ and the Church whether or not mankind realizes that he is actually participating in a divine and sacred institution.
The mystery is that human marriage is a living drama of Christ and his bride – the church. We learn from Christ and the church what are the roles of husband and wives. Paul’s point is that the roles between husband and wife and not arbitrarily assigned and they are not reversible without obscuring God’s purpose for marriage. The roles of husband and wife are rooted in the distinctive roles of Christ and his church. God means to say something about his Son and his Church by the way husbands and wives relate to each other.
Which means, this wedding today is not founded on a perfect past, or even the hopes of compatibility. (here again I interjected that no one is truly compatible and that compatiblism is a false foundation for marriage; sooner or later, what you find in common will run its course and you will be at odds with each other – then what?). This wedding is founded on the historic fact that Christ died for our sins – a sinless Savior voluntarily submitted himself to the cross so that a sinful bride, true lovers of Jesus Christ, would be made whole.
The mutual submission to one another in vs 21 does not rule out a husbands special responsibility to lead and a wife’s special responsibility to support that leadership with her gifts.
Christ submitted himself to the church in one way: with a servant-leadership that cost him his life. And the church submits herself to Christ in another way: by honoring his leadership and following him.
So Mutual submission in 5:21 does not rule out distinction in the rest of the chapter: I submit to Cheryl and she submits to me – but not in the same way. I submit to lead her with Christ-like leadership and she submits to follow me with church-like submission. And the foundation for such a union is based upon what Christ did for sinners who have been forgiven of their sins.
(as in all weddings that I preside over, I speak directly to the couple, and back and forth with the congregation, beginning now . . . )
- Know yourself and know your spouse as one that Christ died for. Long before Paul addressed husbands and wives in particular (5:22ff), he addressed you in chapter one and two as one who was chosen for salvation before the world began, blessed you with every spiritual blessing, that you would be holy and blameless in Christ, predestined you for adoption, redeemed you in Christ before you were born, made you alive in Christ before you were born, gave his Spirit to you, a guarantee for your future inheritance, and saved you by his grace.
Here is why this is so important: if your identity is grounded in anything else you will struggle to not only to be honest with your sins but you will struggle to love one another when you have failed, feeling that you’re unworthy to love and be loved. Truth is: you already are unworthy to love and be loved (Luke 17:7-10). Knowing who you are in Christ frees you from fearing rejection and frees you from having to be the Savior of your marriage – Christ is the Savior of your marriage.
Headship then takes the lead in reconciliation. This does not mean that wives should never say they are sorry. But in the relationship between Christ and his Church, who took the initiative to make all things new? Who left the comfort and security of his throne to come to Calvary? Who came back to the apostle Peter after three denials? And who has returned to you again and again? – (great is his faithfulness – it is new every morning!) Husbands your headship means – take the lead. It does not matter if it is her fault. That never stopped Christ. Who is going to break the cold silence? – You!
Many times we won’t try unless we have a full proof plan – we don’t like it when we fail – or when we look inept – or weak. Too often this pride prevents us from starting over again. This means: Wives because you also know yourself as one that Christ died for, and not only you but your husband as well, when he fails, permit your husband to start all over again. If a husbands’ sin is indifference, apathy, and controlling anger, a wife’s sin is shaming her husband when he fails. When a wife graciously submits to her husbands’ role of leading and serving even though he failed, she is saying in effect, “I want you to lead me, please don’t ever stop trying.” That is all he will need to try again even at the risk of failure.
- Believe that you have been blessed in Christ for this Marriage.
Read Ephesians 1:1-14
Here is where I focused on: “unite all things in him” “works all things according to the counsel of his will” – because of the particular broken promises of previous marriages, I believe these passages (Matt. 19 and 1 Cor. 7), give this couple freedom to “remarry in the Lord”.)
Every broken promise that broke your heart and every dismissive resignation that left you empty, will not slip away from the ultimate goal – to the praise of the glory of his grace. And this is how I know: because the lies, the deception, and the murder of Jesus Christ is to the praise of the glory of his grace.
And if what was done to Jesus is the means by which God the Father will fill the universe with joy, then you can count on it: your sins and the sins that have been committed against you will not cancel out the Lord’s plan to give you joy in the beauty and display of God’s grace in your lives. You don’t deserve the joy that you are about to enter – and that’s the point: God is merciful and abounding in steadfast love. If he gave his son how will he not also freely give you all things for your enjoyment of him, not only in this life but especially in the one to come (Rom. 8).