why marriage matters

Photos by Luke Holmes.
Photos by Luke Holmes.

A wedding homily, for Ben and Molly Kauffman.

In ancient times, a covenant was marked in distinct ways—witnesses were called, a meal was shared, a vow was uttered, gifts were exchanged, sacrifices were made.

All these things happened, because a covenant was solemn and binding, as when Jonathan made a covenant with David and put on him his own royal robe. A covenant had lifetime implications, as when Jacob promises Laban not to mistreat his daughters or ever cross a boundary with the intent to do harm.

Covenants are signified in Scripture by signs and memorials: a monument is built or a rainbow revealed. When God made covenants he sometimes changed the name of the other party, Abram to Abraham, Sari to Sarah, Jacob to Israel.

Often an animal was sacrificed and cut in half, and parties to the covenant walked between them.  God himself did this when he made his covenant with Abraham. For this reason, the Hebrew idiom for making a covenant is literally cutting a covenant.

You have come here today to do all these things.  You have come to cut a covenant. You will make a promise before these witnesses and exchange a ring to signify your shared life together. Molly will change her name. We will all eat together and celebrate the beginning of something beautiful and precious.

And there will be some cutting too. You will cut yourselves off from any other romantic interest, as long as you both shall live.   You will leave father and mother and cling to one another, as the Scripture requires. As you leave, you will symbolically walk between the pieces of this sacrifice.

But covenant making is not merely about the symbolism of what we do here this afternoon. It is about substance. This is no mere contract that you make.

It is a covenant. This is very serious. Malachi says God withheld his blessing from Israel partly because men had not been faithful to the wives of their youth, “though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” Christ himself taught that divorce was a kind of adultery.   Clearly marriage is more than a contractual obligation.

A contract is about protecting your interests. A covenant, however,  is about giving them away.   In contracts we secure our rights; in covenants we surrender them.   You are giving yourselves to one another. This is how it is and how it should be. This is how it must be, because today you accept new obligations freely and agree to perform them earnestly.

Today you become husband and wife. These are offices of extreme importance. You stand at a new post of responsibility to the world. Your marriage becomes the most important way your children will understand the love of God. Your marriage becomes a block that helps build the church. Your marriage becomes a way for others to see and understand God’s own covenant keeping love to his people.

For this reason, the fiends of hell stand against what you commit to do here. Every marriage is God’s design, part of the foundation for the orderly and blessed life that God intends. Every divorce is a victory for the great Deceiver, for the lie that happiness is bound up in our self interests and pride.

In your marriage, you speak the truth to this lie. Every day you will learn to forbear and to forgive. Every day will require sacrifice and service. Everyday you, Ben, will learn to lay down your life as Christ does for the church, and everyday you, Molly, will have opportunities to submit and serve, as the church does with Christ himself.

The world opposes this idea at every turn. It is mocked in the media, ignored in church, flaunted in every way. But in your faithfulness to each other, you bring glory to God, both in this age and in the ages to come. So I charge you, through the power of God in you and the grace of God to you, to live sacrificially, to forgive frequently, to submit freely, to pray earnestly, to wait patiently, and to die daily.

Ben, you must protect and provide for this woman, so that she flourishes as a true daughter of God. Molly, you must honor this man so that he grows as a leader in the church and in your home, perhaps in your community or in your nation.

Because the covenant you make here points to a greater one, to the New Covenant in Christ’s own blood. This is the mystery of marriage, that it refers to Christ and the church. It is not a mystery because we can not understand it. It is a mystery because we could not have understood it until Christ died for us and gave himself for us. The Hebrews understood that marriage was a covenant. The church understands why.

Christ chose us. He died for us and gave himself for us. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. The Holy Spirit bears witness that this is true. We come together around the Lord’s table to remember it and celebrate it.   We long for the day that the bridegroom will come for his bride.

Marriage is a picture of all this. And while the picture is important, the reality is greater.

So love each other as Christ has loved you. Forgive each other as Christ has forgiven you. Serve each other as Christ has served you.

If you do this, the witnesses in this room and the children in your home and the coworkers on your job and the people in your community, all will know that God keeps covenant with His people.

And you yourselves will more clearly understand that he keeps covenant with you.

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