It feels pretty strange to be writing a blog post about marriage since I am, in fact, not married. Lest you worry, it won’t be a list of how I think all the married people should be acting or tips on how to make married life easier. My hope is that these words will direct attention to Christ and the glory of the salvation of His people.
Lately I’ve felt convicted about my lack of affection for Christ. For a lot of my Christian life, I’ve loved going to church, I’ve loved God’s people, I’ve grown in my love for the Word and hearing it preached, but all too often I can’t truly echo the Psalmist in saying “there is nothing on earth I desire but you.” (Psalm 73:25) My prayer has been that God would work in my heart and stir my affections for Him, and He’s been doing it in much different ways than I expected.
A rich theology of marriage.
When one works at a Christian liberal arts college, one must anticipate that marriage, dating, and any sort of related conversation will be frequent. I happen to work at such a place, and this is especially true this semester as we walk through what the Bible says about manhood, womanhood, singleness, marriage, and dating. Students talk about it in the dorms (my job is to live there with them), messages are preached in chapel, and teachers talk about it in the classroom. The decision of who and if to marry is, in fact “the most important decision of one’s life.” Depending on one’s status within those topics, the conversation can be either helpful or yet another reminder God has not given them this gift at this time. By God’s grace, I’ve found it to be exceedingly helpful in understanding the theology of marriage and just what these relationships are all about.
Typically, when talking about marriage and dating I’ve heard about what to look for in a spouse, principles for dating, and “how to have a great marriage”. Perhaps there’s something more important and foundational in order to understand what God wants us to see through the institution. What has stood out to me recently is the purpose and theology behind the God-ordained union of a husband and wife. I wanted to understand this more fully, so I did what any good Christian would do and picked up the best John Piper book I could find on the subject. He writes in This Momentary Marriage that the ultimate thing to see from the Word about marriage is that it is primarily for God’s glory, specifically by displaying the covenant between Christ and His Bride, the church. Ephesians 5:22-33 is a familiar but perhaps the most helpful passage to see God’s purposes:
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his won flesh, but nourishes it, and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ (Quote from Gen. 2:24) This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Eph. 5:22-33
Linger on the parallels that Paul makes here. Don’t think of it as just a list of expectations that God requires of husbands and wives, but through the lens of Christ’s relationship to YOU:
- Christ is the Head of His Bride. (He leads, protects, and provides as the Bride submits.)
- Christ is the Savior of His Bride. (Rescue)
- Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her in order to purify her.
- Christ nourishes and cherishes the church.
- Christ is “one flesh” with His Bride. (We are a part of His body that He cares for. Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor 12:12)
There is value to be gained from this passage whether or not you’re married. What makes these truths so glorious is knowing that if we are truly in Christ, His commitment to us in these ways is fixed. It doesn’t depend on how we do in our side of the covenant relationship. Paul says right there, in the beginning of Ephesians, that God set this affection and commitment on us before the foundation of the world. (1:3-14)
I was recently watching my university’s production of the Broadway Musical Titanic. As the ship is going down (sorry for the spoilers), two of the characters, a married couple of forty years, sang a song to each other. Earlier, the wife had refused to get on the lifeboats with the other women. She couldn’t imagine going anywhere without him, much less leaving him to die as the boat sank.
“True companion of my soul
I won’t turn from
you I learn from
Through fortune’s changes
Always we’ve been
That promise we made
kept us as one
I loved you then
and I love you
Okay, I know, I know this analogy breaks down if you take it too far. But as I listened to this particular song during the show, the Spirit drew my thoughts to the very analogy in Ephesians 5. Not even that sinking city on the sea and looming death would cause her to leave her husband. This was a tangible picture to me of how God loves me and us. God graciously let me see a glimpse of His glory in His covenant toward me through something as silly as a song that had nothing to do with Jesus but so much to do with Jesus at the same time. Since “we love because He first loved us,” the process of loving God more has to begin with a deeper, better understanding of His love. This is how He is answering my prayer.
Married and unmarried alike, we all observe marriage in some way shape or form almost every day. When we focus on how the commitment of a married couple reflects the glory of God, we are blessed by more than sentimentality and a shallow “aw, that’s so sweet” reaction. It should cause us to look up, see our great Savior, Christ, and remember that one day we will all be presented to Him as His bride, fulfilling the ultimate end and purpose of this earthly institution called marriage.