Christ-centered marriage begins and ends with grace

When my wife’s little sister asked me to officiate her wedding, I felt honored.

Granted, I’m the only preacher in the family, so she chose me by default, but I still considered it a privilege. I delivered the following message on October 14, 2017, at Westminster Hall of Grace College in Warsaw, Indiana.

 

Listen as God’s Word explains the profound meaning of marriage between a husband and his wife. Ephesians says:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:21-33)

It cannot be said often enough that marriage is a model of Christ and the church. In other words, marriage is based on grace. Christ pursues his bride (the church) by grace, obtains her by grace, sustains her by grace, and perfects her by grace. We do not deserve it. It is all by grace.

It is this kind of grace that empowers husbands and wives to keep their covenant through forgiveness and forbearance. The very heart of grace is treating people better than they deserve. Jesus says, “Love [even] your enemies” (Lk 6:27). That command is not negated by marriage. If we are to treat even our enemies with love, how much more love should we give our spouse? For the sake of Christ as well as our marriage, we must do all we can to forgive and forbear one another.

According to Ephesians, however, a God-honoring, successful marriage that genuinely represents Christ’s relationship with the church must move beyond forgiveness and forbearance. Christ is seeking the transformation of his bride into something morally and spiritually beautiful, and he is pursuing it at the cost of his life.

Jacob, you bear a unique responsibility for Katie’s moral and spiritual growth. The husband is to be like Christ, which means, of course, he is not Christ. I say that because the aim of a godly husband’s desire for change in his wife is conformity to Christ, not conformity to himself. We are all measured by God’s standard of holiness, not our personal preferences.

Most importantly, Jacob, you will not transform Katie for the better by your words alone. Your leadership of the family requires something far more radical. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). You will lead your wife by dying for her. You will die, not domineer. You will deny yourself, not exalt yourself. You will show compassion, never contempt. May God give you the humility and the courage to measure your role as a husband by the sufferings of Christ.

Katie, your husband will not be perfect. Jacob has room to grow as well. The apostle Peter says:

Wives, … submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (1 Peter 3:1-2)

Marriage is an often misunderstood dynamic between a man and a woman. Both are called to serve the other but in slightly different ways. The husband will lead by giving all of himself to his wife, but he can’t do it without the full support of his wife. In other words, both of you are called to sacrifice yourself for the other person. Who benefits? The answer is both of you. “The two will become one flesh” (Eph 5:31). Whatever you do for one another will lead to your own joy and happiness.

In the good times, don’t neglect your marriage by forgetting that God has joined you together to make one another increasingly holy and blameless. You are not only growing together, but you are also growing together in Christ. The mystery of marriage is that God designed this unique relationship to illustrate the gospel long before Christ was born, to show the world the unconditional love of God.

In the hard times, don’t weaken your marriage by refusing to forgive one another. Look to Christ even then, especially then, and remember that he gave his life to save people who hated him. Always be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (Jas 1:19). Grace is not what the other person deserves, but it’s not what anyone deserves. A marriage cannot thrive without grace, and you will never know the fullness of marriage apart from the sacrificial compassion of Christ.

C.S. Lewis once said, “When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest [speaking of his wife], I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now.”

Jacob and Katie, it is clear to anyone who knows you that you love one another passionately. I just want you to know that those feelings are incredible, but they should be viewed as a by-product of your relationship rather than its foundation. Feelings are fleeting. They come and go. Rather than seek to always love each other passionately as you do at this moment, I encourage you to love one another steadily from this day forward. May God give you strength and wisdom to understand the sacred covenant of marriage and keep it until death does you part.

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