Last summer the two of you talked to Katie and I about marriage as a picture of how God loves his own people. It is a picture of Christ and the church.
I’m not sure I can say this often enough.
The weather was nicer then, sitting on our front porch sharing lunch. But it is still true, here in the dead of winter. And in your marriage, for better or worse, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer— it will always be true.
In fact it may be the most true, most important thing about your life together. God designed marriage to help us understand His covenant-keeping love and demonstrate it to the world around us. Paul tells us this in Ephesians—that the mystery of marriage is about Christ and the church.
It is not a mystery because we can’t understand it, although this will be something you study for the rest of your lives together. It is a mystery because we could not have expected it—it is so amazing that God would use fallen people like us to create an institution where grace and forgiveness and joy break through into every dimension of our life.
Like the church itself Rachel stands here chosen, set apart and loved. And Brian stands here ready to lay his life down for her and lead her toward the gates of heaven.
It’s almost a perfect picture of the gospel, except that all the characters are fallen— prone to self centeredness and pride. And so we enter marriage in awe, needy people totally dependent on the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You will need Him every day. I’m not saying you will turn to Him every day. But you will more and more, as the years go by. And grace will abound. So as you start on this new adventure, I want to remind you of three things.
First, I remind you that you have a new office. Brian, you will be husband. Rachel, you will be wife. You will be these on your worst day, after your first fight, in your most overwhelming moment, during your most tragic and desperate days. Each office holds certain privileges, responsibilities, opportunities and obligations.
In every circumstance, you are still husband. You are still wife. Lots of things will change, but this will not change. This is your calling before God. Even on days you may not particularly like each other, you respect and honor the office that the other holds.
The Puritans often referred to a married woman as Goodwife. Rachel would not be Mrs. Rich, but Goodwife Rich. I like this, and I sometimes call my wife the colloquial version of this— Goodie Metts, as they did in colonial days.
Brian, Rachel may be many things to you— friend, lover, helper, companion, nurse, dietician. But she is this first. She is your good wife. This is the office she holds in the economy of God and the company of the saints. Honor this office, even when you are frustrated by the woman who holds it.
And Rachel this is your husband. Respect his office, try to understand what God requires of him, pray for him without nagging him. Even on the days he annoys you or disappoints you, he stands before God as your husband, and this by the Word of God.
In this way, we are told, Sarah honored her husband and called him Lord. She did this not because Abraham was perfect. She was able to do this, Scripture says, because she hoped in God.
Second I remind you that, as Peter puts it, you are now co-heirs of grace. You have no idea how much grace you will need and how much you will receive.
By grace you will learn to hold your tongue and by grace you will learn to encourage each other.
By grace you will learn to forgive each other, and by grace you will learn to admonish each other.
By grace you will become comfortable in silence and by grace you will sing together.
By grace you will confess your sins to each other, and by grace you will be patient when your partner can not yet do this.
By grace you will serve each other, and by grace you will suffer wounds your partner never recognized or understood. They will forget things that are important to you and say things you can not understand.
But as the grace of God is extended to you, you will extend grace to each other every day, perhaps a dozen times before breakfast.
You will do this, the text says, so that your prayer will not be hindered, as you seek the strength and wisdom and mercy of God.
And finally I remind you that you are now bound by covenant. This is important because marriage is a demonstration of God’s own covenant-keeping love.
So much of what we do today is based on ancient notions of covenant making. We gather before witnesses and share a meal, as the elders did on Sinai before Moses went up to receive the Law.
Rachel will change her name, as God changed the names of Abram, Sari, and Jacob.
And sacrifices will be made.
In ancient days these were blood sacrifices. In marriage these eventually these became dowries. Now there is a diamond, although we were hoping Dwayne and Pam would at least get a couple of goats out of this deal. I’m sure they will be happy with grandkids.
But the real sacrifice is you stand here at the altar and give yourself completely to each other. This is the essence of covenant making.
A covenant is more than a contract. It does not protect our interests, as a contract does. It surrenders them. You come here to surrender yourself to the interests of each other, and you do this by making an oath. There is no mingling of blood, but a mingling of purpose as God himself makes you one flesh.
Today you make covenant. Mark this well. A covenant is a sacrificial and solemn promise to give yourself, without reservation or restraint, freely and forever.
This is how God gives himself to us, and it is for this reason your marriage is an office of substance, a channel of grace, and a covenant that displays to a fallen world the glory of our God.