Our grandson got engaged a week ago. It was complete with a romantic setting, down on one knee, and a beautiful ring. Old fashioned by today’s standards, but important none the less. They are not living together. There is no “trial marriage”. They have taken a couple of years to get to know one another. They have talked much, and had counseling from the church even before the engagement. When it was finally time to propose, and his girl accepted, it was a commitment. They were saying “I want to spend the rest of my life with you, to support you and care for you always”. This is the solid foundation for beginning a marriage. It is not the bells, whistles, and warm fuzzies that hold a couple together, but the commitment to give of one’s self completely in all the coming circumstances. No, it doesn’t always work, but in God’s grace it is the right way. In our modern culture girls give themselves away far too easily, reaping many tears, and guys are eager to take advantage of it. Maybe we should set aside our focus on self gratification, and look back to some of the solid traditions of the past, seeking to live lives the way our Lord intended.
In Genesis chapter two God established the marriage relationship between a man and a woman. He invented marriage. It was not our idea. He brought these two individuals together and declared that they would be one flesh. Two yet one. Actually, that is one of the hardest things on earth to accomplish. I had a wedding yesterday afternoon for a couple I’ve known for a while, and had counseled for their marriage. I emphasized to them, and to the folks that gathered, that this was a Christian marriage, and that the only basis on which it could be truly happy and God pleasing was if the Lord was made a part of it. A couple will come together for a number of reasons – physical, emotional, economic, whatever. But the only true bond that can help a couple give themselves completely to becoming one is the spiritual. This is where each individual is committed to follow the Lord who ordained marriage in the beginning. This, alone, strengthens them to keep the commitments they are making to each other. All of the other reasons can change and wear thin over the years, but the commitment to the Lord is the lasting foundation, and the one that brings the true joy God intended.
I have written often about our salvation in Christ being completely free. It is purely an act of God’s grace that we receive through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no ladder system to climb, no amount of good works to make ourselves worthy of God. However, there is a cost to our relationship with Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35) The cost is yielding the whole of our will in complete trust of our Lord. This is why marriage is used as a symbol of Christ and His church, the bridegroom and the bride. Marriage is not a 50/50 relationship, but a 100/100 relationship, each one giving themselves 100% to make this marriage work, to make one new person out of the two. Jesus has given Himself 100% to us. That is the depth of His love. He is not asking us to do a few good works. He is asking that we commit our life completely to Him in love. As in marriage, that is pretty costly, but it leads to the greatest joy.
Psalm 1 begins, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” I like that phrase, “his delight is in the law of the Lord.” Do we delight in the Lord? I have often mentioned that both Old and New Testaments use the marriage image as a figure for God and Israel, and for Christ and the Church. When a young man falls in love with a girl, he delights in her, and visa versa. There is delight in thinking of the beloved. Such should be our relationship with the Lord. Too often we picture God as only rules and regulations, but God, revealed to us in our Lord Jesus Christ, is our bridegroom seeking the very best for us. We are, or should be, anticipating the time when we are fully in His presence. Meditating on Him and His will is a joy because it brings us ever closer to Him. God is good!
“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.”(Ephesians 2:8-9) We know this is the wonderful truth of our God. We are reconciled to God, we have our salvation, through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. “Gee! Now I’m saved. My future is secure. I can live the rest of my life and do whatever I want.” Oh? Is that really true? Some may think so, but that would be like a young couple getting married. “Now we are married. We have the certificate to prove it. We don’t have to do anything else.” Each spouse can do whatever they want. We know that is not true. The honeymoon is when the work begins, the work of seeing that the marriage grows, and lasts “till death us do part”. But the work of marriage is out of love, not a legal requirement. It is a desire to grow and bond together as “one flesh” as God intended. The same is true with our “marriage” to our Lord. He has saved us by His free gift of grace. Now, in love, we want to grow, and become one with Him who has given Himself to us. Salvation is when the blessed work of love begins.
There is a section in our local paper called REAL LIFE highlighting things of note in the Frederick County area. An article in yesterday’s paper told of a couple celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary. The last paragraph of the article read, “Their lives together have modeled love and devotion, among many other strengths, have seen them through the challenges of life. The vows they took on their wedding day ‘for better or worse, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer’ have been witnessed through the prism of their lives together and serve as a testimony for their family and friends.” This couple stood before the altar of God and took seriously the vows they made to each other. I know there are tragic situation where vows must be broken, but that should not be the norm. We live in a day where sex before marriage is standard, where personal feelings rule, and commitments are disdained. It is time we stepped back and considered the lessons of couples such as this. We might also consider the truth in the kind of self-sacrificing love our Lord has for us. It also is a model for life.
In a day when divorce is easy and many marriages dissolve, where many couples disdain marriage altogether, and society is redefining it according to sexual preference, there was a report out of Connecticut a while back, of the longest married couple. They were celebrating 81 years of marriage. When a young couple gets married they are “in love”. Today it is most likely they’ve already had sexual relations. The hormones are surging. They are convinced this is what marriage is all about, and it will last forever. Then comes reality, finances, children, personality traits intentionally ignored during courtship that are now irritating. This is not what it’s supposed to be! But it is. What makes an 81 year long marriage? Not the bells and whistles. Oh, they remain, but in different forms. What lasts is the covenant made before God, “to love and to cherish till death they do part.” And, yes, the “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health” – oh, and “forsaking all others” – is all a part of that covenant. We learn to cherish our mate, not for what we can get from them, but what we have the privilege of giving to them in the covenant God established. Congratulations and a thank you to all long married couples for showing us again that it is possible.
There is much in the news in recent years about the definition of marriage. Especially now as we await a U.S. Supreme Court decision later this month. The problem is that changing the definition of marriage changes our understanding of God. Our God is a Holy Trinity. Three unique persons, yet only one God. Marriage between a man and a woman brings together two uniquely different natures that compliment each other, and makes them to be truly one. Our sin has vastly clouded this image, but it does not change what God has given. As we understand biblical marriage, and see it portrayed even dimly in our own marriages, we get a small glimpse into the unfathomable nature of our God, diversity and yet perfect unity. No other marriage definition can show us this truth.
The Bible is not a law book, though many treat it that way. The Bible is a narrative about a relationship between God and His people. Both Old and New Testaments use the image of marriage to depict that relationship. Adultery takes place all over the world, but there is no culture that sanctions adultery as a positive value. Regardless of how free we are with our sexual mores, when a couple gets married there is the expectation of fidelity. If a couple is serious about their relationship they guard themselves from temptations that would harm that treasured relationship. They choose not to do or say things that are destructive. That’s what Biblical “laws” are about. They give us guidance concerning the things that honor our Lord and those that don’t. We simply follow that guidance because the life we have found with our Lord is more precious and valuable than the things that would pull us away from Him. It is not a matter that we can’t do things, but that we don’t want to do them because they are hurtful to something we have that is far more beautiful.
When I was a kid the family would vacation each summer at Rehoboth Beach on the Atlantic Ocean . The waves seemed gigantic to me, and once or twice I found myself spinning underneath one of them. I mention this image because that is what I feel like today regarding the sexual attitudes that prevail in society. It is almost universally accepted that sexual relations before and outside of heterosexual marriage are fine. It has become the norm. Those of us who believe that sexual intimacy in meant only for the covenant bond of marriage feel overwhelmed by this wave of society. Nonetheless, we stand on this truth. It is expressed clearly in God’s Word that this is His will. But it is really not because it’s a law that God says, “don’t do it.” It’s because by doing it we miss the best that God has for us. Sexual relations outside of the marriage bond have caused all manner of pain and heartache. God created the sexual relationship to be a special and personal bond between one man and one woman in marriage. Something beautiful, and shared with no one else. Further, it is a God created bond that reflects the depth of our relationship with Christ. When we become so free in our sexual attitudes, we lose both its beauty and its depth of meaning. God is always right, and what He says is for our best good. As much as possible don’t let the waves of life overwhelm you.