Sunday, 15 August 2010

Marriage and the cross

I was preaching at a young couples wedding on Friday here's the bare bones of what I said from Ephesians 5. I always find weddings provide a helpful MOT for my marriage and a helpful pointer to the single about what they should look for in a partner and what they can pray for married friends.

Congratulations to you both, at last the big day has arrived and you are Mr and Mrs Martin. Today marks the beginning of your married life together and I want to share some principles for you to base your marriage on.

There are lots of places you could go to for advice or role models of love and marriage; your families, friends, couples in your church family. Or even the media, celebrity couples, or Hollywood films. Some will provide better models than others but all of them are flawed.
The Bible provides us with God’s blueprint for marriage, the passage read to us has its roots in Genesis and the first ever wedding and marriage as God unites man and wife. It is in the Bible that we see the beauty of what marriage was intended to be, and God’s blueprint for marriage at its best in his service.

Ephesians 5 gives 2 key instructions for your marriage, and for all marriages, wives submit to your husbands and husbands love your wives. But it also shows us the pattern for such a marriage.

Marriage is a Copy of God’s masterpiece
Marriage is a picture of Jesus’ love for his church. Love in marriage is not the ultimate expression of love but it gives us a glimpse into how God’s people are loved by Jesus and how they relate to him.

So “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” I wonder what image comes to mind when you heard that, I guess you may have heard no more of the reading than that because it just seems so old fashioned and even a bit sexist. The problem is in our definition of submit, we think of someone being forced into submission, being overpowered, of the wrestler tapping out, it conjures up visions of victor and vanquished, of a wife waiting on her husband.

But not in the Bible, the Bible affirms that men and women, husband and wife are made equal before God, but it says they have different roles. And it calls wives to submit willingly and joyfully to their husbands, just as the church submits to Jesus.

Now submission is a hard thing if you are oppressed, or the person you submit to is an ogre. But notice submission is to a husband who loves his wife as Christ loves the church, and that is what makes submission a joy and a possibility.

Marriage is a Commitment not a feeling
It is hard to imagine today that your marriage will ever be anything but perfect. Rachel looks radiant and Alex hasn’t scrubbed up too badly, and the smiles look pretty permanent.

But can I encourage you to make the most of today. There was a programme some years ago on which a man was interviewed he was asked “Are you romantic?” His answer was quite revealing “Well, I try to be,” he said in his broad Yorkshire accent “but I’m from Yorkshire.” Alex is a Yorkshire lad and my hunch is he won’t always be as romantic as he is today, and I guess it won’t be every morning that so much attention and time is spent on Rachel’s hair and dress.

Not every day in your marriage will be like today. And the Bible recognises that, notice Paul commands the husband to love his wife, just as Christ loved the church. Christ loved the church and gave himself for her when she was not perfect. In fact the Bible tells us Jesus comes into the world to die in the place of his enemies, he gives his life for those who are imperfect because of his love for us. He loves us when we get things wrong, when we fail to think of him as we should, when we fail to give him the priority he deserves, and when we do things our own way.

Today you have committed to love one another in front of all of us. In Hollywood film weddings they say “I do” but actually Hollywood has got it wrong, today you said the right words which were “I will”. It is a promise, a covenant about your future conduct. It is not the immediate I do love them now because I find them attractive, but the concrete promise that I will love them for the rest of my life no matter what, even when they wrong me, or do things that offend me, I will forgive them and love them and treat them by grace.

It is a picture of what Jesus does of his commitment to love us even when we are unlovely, even when we deserve judgement not his love. Love each other like Jesus loves us.

Marriage is Costly
There is one last thing about marriage and the love of a husband for his wife, it is costly, I don’t mean in terms of the credit card bill though that may also be true. (25)”Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...”

The thing that stands out most about Jesus’ love is its cost to himself and its active nature. He left his home all the splendour and worship of heaven, he is joined to his people, and he gives himself for them.

In your marriage the two of you leave your parental home and care and make a new family. Alex you are to love in a way that is self sacrificial, you are to love in a way that is actively seeking Rachel’s greatest good. You are to love in a way that models the love of God in Christ shown to us – love that doesn’t seek his ease and rest but serves the church and brings them to God.

The marriage of two followers of Jesus provides us with a picture of God’s love for us seen in Jesus; a love that is costly, that is committed and that is God’s masterpiece.

It is a love that requires a response, the right response to God’s love is to recognise our rebellion, to believe, repent and live following him. It means changing how we think, how we act in short how we live.

Alex and Rachel the model to follow is not found in Hollywood, or in any earthly marriage but it is found at the cross, it is a love that submits to God’s will, that copies Christ’s example, is committed to loving and costly to self.

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