Our church, Living Grace, is currently going through a series on marriage and family. Yesterday's sermon was about how marriage is a covenant relationship, not a consumer one (although our society treats it as a consumer relationship much of the time). As I sat and listened, I was reminded of something I wrote about this topic four years ago (6/12/08)--although it seems like just yesterday...
The subject of this note may have thrown you off a bit—“Thoughts on Marriage,” especially coming from me. We all know that I have never been married and have never really dated; yet, I am one that learns quite well from others, and I feel as if I have had enough life experience in the area to share a thought or two. I know I am by no means an expert or even a novice in any of this, but I want to share my heart from where I sit today. God has grabbed my heart these last few months and opened my eyes to view a little more clearly his thoughts on marriage, and I believe it is because of my life experiences that I was able to listen and learn.
Coincidence? I doubt it. I was standing downstairs in Barnes & Noble last night with Christy discussing my thoughts on church and church planting as she simultaneously picked up a book on the shelf that basically echoed my heart—I must read that one soon. What does this have to do with my thoughts on marriage? Well, after the topic of church planting, I moved onto my recently discovered thoughts on marriage. With my thoughts spewing out of my mouth and my back turned to her, she pulled out a book of letters from Dietrich Bonhoeffer and randomly flipped open to a letter he wrote on marriage. I continued on, completely unaware of what she was holding in her hand. I reached a pause in the pouring out of my heart, and she held the book out to me—the letter was everything I had just said and more. Interestingly enough, last night was the first time I had read the letter. I was amazed. Please take a moment to read the words of this theologian, written from his prison cell….
"Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher power, for it is God's holy ordinance, through which He wills to perpetuate the human race until the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to His glory, and calls into His kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and all mankind.
Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal — it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. As you gave the ring to one another and have now received it a second time from the hand of the pastor, so love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God. As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love."
Read it once more—slowly. How imperative this message is, especially in our society today. The sanctity of marriage has been tainted. The idea of love has been degraded. Pride, selfishness, lust, personal ambition, power, and temptation have seeped into this union that was created by God to be sacred. Lives are being devastated; families are being ripped apart because people have forgotten what marriage is. God created marriage as a union of man and woman to be an earthly example of Christ’s relationship to the church. Take a look at Ephesians 5:
"22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband."
Marriage cannot be selfish. Marriage was not created just for the husband and the wife. Marriage was not created merely for pleasure or sex or feelings—yes, those are nice attributes, but they are not the purpose of marriage, they will fade (or so I have heard). The purpose of marriage is to serve God and his Kingdom; to glorify Christ and honor Christ in a union far better than you could by yourself. God created us all so uniquely. We are able minister to his people right now, just as we are, and we should. For some, God’s calling on their lives is to serve Him in their singleness without the ties of marriage. But, for those who are called to be married, how much more effective could they be in a Godly union, bringing complimentary attributes together with the single purpose of serving God and his people and bringing God all the glory along the way? The beautiful picture of marriage painted here cannot be attained in selfishness or pride—it cannot be tainted by lust, greed, or temptation. It must be centered on God and his purpose from the beginning.
I sit and picture myself as a wife one day. We all know I will not be perfect—I will be far from it. I know things will not always be easy—there will be disagreements, fights, and disappointments. If I go into that marriage just for myself or my husband or even my future family, odds are it may not work out. Every fight would crush me. Every disagreement would seem defeating. Every challenge or rough patch would seem like too much to handle. I know that I could not sustain myself. My husband will not be able to solely sustain me and pull us through—only our Savior has the power to do that. With the goal of my marriage completely focused on Christ and his glory, I pray that fights and disagreements will seem petty. I pray that challenges and rough patches will serve to bring my husband and myself closer to each other and our Creator. I pray that I will not rely on myself or my husband to sustain me—but fully lean on Jesus Christ. I desire to follow my husband as he leads me in ministry. I am excited to see how God may take my gifts and talents together with my husband’s and bring them to fruition in an area where we can best serve Him together. I pray that my marriage will not be for myself, but for my God.
Remember that love is not just a feeling; it is a decision, one that you must make every morning you step out of bed.
Our society is sick—it is in desperate need of a Healer.
Ponder Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words once more:
"It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love."
To watch an incredibly sweet video that depicts this type of covenant marriage and/or to read a PDF copy of John Piper's book This Momentary Marriage, click here. You really should click there because everyone and their mother/neighbor/friend/coworker should read the book. I'm super serious. ;)