only a picture

This is a wedding homily I gave, a brief exhortation to seek the reality and not the image.

[6] But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ [7] ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, [8] and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. [9] What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Mark 10:6–9

Here we are, beginning something new.  And beginning something old. As our Gospel text reminds us, you now become one flesh, joining in a union which God himself designed at the beginning of the world for our pleasure and our good. From the beginning, marriage was, as Jesus said, according to His Father’s plan.  As this text shows, divorce is not part of His plan. The teachers had asked “is it lawful for a man to get a divorce?” and Christ answers, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

We see the same thing in Malachi 2, where we see two reasons God refuses to accept the offerings of His people or to hear their prayer. One is for profaning their covenant with Him, following false gods, and the other was for profaning their covenant with their wives. In Malachi 2:14, the prophet says God does not accept their offerings “Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.

Both of these relationships, between God and his people and between a man and his wife, are covenants, covenants that secure God’s blessings if they are kept and incur his anger when they are not.  You have come to this altar to make a covenant, in a ceremony that evokes ancient aspects of covenant making: taking oaths, making sacrifices, giving gifts, all this before witnesses who love you and expect you to keep the covenant you are making.

So briefly contemplate what a covenant is and why it is important.  This is what it is not.  It is not a mere promise, easy to break and easy to repeat.  Nor is it a contract, a legal understanding the defines and defends the rights of both parties.  You have not come here to secure your rights, but to give them to each other.

Rather, a covenant is a promise like the kind of promises that God makes, inviolable and everlasting.  Inviolable means it cannot be violated or profaned, that it is impregnable to assault or trespass. This is the kind of vow you make today.  A covenant. As we have seen in the Malachi text, God hates covenant breakers. So let us be clear, from this moment forward you are sworn to your spouse alone, for better or for worse.  And some days will be worse than others.

So why is covenant important?  It is important because your covenant with each other is a picture of a greater one.  In the Ephesians 5:32  we are told the marriage relationship refers to Christ and his church.  The covenant you are making is a picture of something much greater than your own love.  This means you now stand at a post of responsibility, representing to others the freedom and responsibility of the Gospel. When your neighbors, or your family, or your coworkers, or your customers, or your children, look at the way you love each other, it should reveal to them something about how Christ loves you and gave himself for you. It is an imperfect picture, to be sure, but it is an important picture. It is a picture of Christ’s own covenant-keeping love for his people

But it is only a picture. The reality of who Christ is and how he loves us is vastly more important. When you two first met online, the person you imagined was not the same person you met beside Jonathan’s broken-down truck on your first date. The real person was more complex and the real relationship was more rewarding. In the same way, the actual person of Christ is much richer than the picture of him we get from our marriage or from some movie. The implications of this are profound.

First, if marriage is a picture of Christ and the church, you must individually and together cultivate your relationship with Christ.  It can be tempting to turn inward, into your private joys and sorrows, and find in each other what can properly only be found in Him. If you do this, you mistake the picture of Christ for the person of Christ.

You share a relationship with Him only if you both have one.  So you do well to study his Word and listen to His voice on your own, even though you should also do it together. And of course, you also do well to do this together, creating the habits of life that include reading and discussing His word together, listening to it proclaimed and preached, seeking His direction and His peace.  This pursuit of Christ will draw you together, giving you the common values and shared concerns. I this way your home becomes more welcoming and your days more satisfying.  Goals meld and griefs diminish as you seek, with unveiled faces, the glory of the Lord, and are transformed into the same image.

Second, if marriage is a picture of Christ and the church, you must also individually and together cultivate your relationship with His church.   It is easy to try to do alone what God intended for us to do with the support and encouragement of His people. Here again, your temptation will be to turn inward, away from the accountability and instruction a church provides and away from the comfort and support it insures.  Don’t do this.  The reality of our relationship with his church is more important than the picture.

There are many challenges before you.   You may experience sickness or death, as your vows remind you. You may have losses, or strife, or reversals. There will be reasons to celebrate as well, unexpected blessings or well-earned achievements.  None of these things are better because we experienced or did them alone.  We need guidance and encouragement and perspective. For this reason, God gave you each other.  But He also gives you the church, and the reality of it is greater than the picture of it.

Unfortunately, our marriage easily becomes our idol, the thing we seek more than we seek God.  It is even easier for our expectations of our spouse to become an idol, the image in our head of what our spouse should look like or do.  As I meet with couples who are struggling, I almost always find their dissatisfaction is rooted in such idolatry: what they imagined their marriage would be like is not consistent with what it actually is. These images, particularly if they come from images we encounter in culture, online or in a movie, become the thing we most desire, when the thing we must most desire is Christ, a fuller understanding of who he is and what he requires.   And this is what he requires: do not seek outside marriage anything God intends for you to seek inside marriage, and never seek inside marriage anything He intends for you to find in Christ.

 So seek Christ, separately and together.   Marriage is a helpful picture but is not the real thing.  Consider:

  • The forgiveness that you extend to each other is rooted in His greater forgiveness.
  • The blessings you extend to each other is rooted in His greater blessings.
  • The patience you extend to each other is rooted in His greater patience.
  • The joy you experience with each other is rooted in His greater joy.

Both in Ephesians and in Mark we are reminded that in marriage two become one flesh, as God intended.  Ephesians 5:30  adds this thought:  a man nourishes his wife as Christ does the church because “we are members of His body.” The church is the body of Christ and you dare not neglect it, just as you dare not neglect each other, joined as you now are as one flesh.

You will take communion after your complete your vows, to remind you that you partake of His body and that you do so willingly and with joy.

May this always be true.


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