HK and Alex, it is a great honor to be with you here today as you make your vows before God and these witnesses, and enter into the covenant of marriage.
You have both given your lives to Christ, and today you come to give him your life together as well. You both believe the gospel, that Christ died on the cross for your sins and rose again on the third day to bring you into new life and to guarantee your share in resurrection glory in the future. You each love God's truth, given to us in his inspired and inerrant Word. You are each marrying in the Lord, as Scripture requires. You have each been building your life on the rock that is Christ, and from this day forward, you will build your life together on Christ as well.
HK, it has been a great joy for your mom and me to raise you and to see the godly young woman you have become. You look beautiful today, and your outward beauty is only surpassed by your inner beauty. Alex, it has been a great privilege getting to know you, to see your faithfulness to Christ and your love for HK. You look pretty good too -- I especially like your haircut! I want to charge you two here today by reminding you of a few of the most basic truths about marriage. Marriage is a beautiful thing and we make weddings beautiful because we want to try to capture some of the beauty that belongs to marriage as an institution. God established marriage in the beginning (Adam and his wife) and history will conclude with a wedding at the last day (Christ and his bride the church). The gospel is marital, and marriage is designed to reveal the gospel. God ordained marriage and so we honor him by honoring his institution.
In our day, there is a lot of confusion about marriage. This is certainly true in the world, which is no surprise, but sometimes this confusion bleeds over into the church as well. We need to be clear about what marriage is.
What is marriage? Let me give you a big definition. Marriage is a comprehensive, exclusive, and lifelong covenant union of a man and woman in which the two become one flesh in order to fulfill God’s creation mandate and symbolize the gospel as they fulfill their assigned roles as husband and wife.
Break that down:
It’s comprehensive. The man and woman are united in body and soul. God takes the threads of two people’s lives and weaves them together in one strand so they share a common life. In marriage you do not give part of yourself to each other, you give your whole self to the other. It's a complete union -- sexual, spiritual, financial, and in every other way.
It’s exclusive. You forsake all others and have an utterly unique relationship with each other in which you give to and receive from one another in a way that is completely different from every other relationship. Certainly, spouses are friends, but marriage goes way beyond friendship. It's not even friendship with romance tacked on. Marriage is a relationship category of its own.
It’s lifelong. Marriage is intended to be permanent, til death do us part. It’s for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness, in health; or as my wife has had to learn the last week, it’s when injured and when not injured, when your spouse’s Achilles tendon is torn and when it’s not(!). The point is that the covenant you are making here today does not depend on feelings or circumstances. You are making promises to walk through life together, no matter what hardships or struggles get thrown your way. You are promising to be there for each other. The vows you will make shortly do not say anything about how you feel (today or in the future), but they say a lot about how you will act in the future. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it (paraphrasing), your love has brought you to the covenant of marriage today, but from this day forward, it is not your love that sustains the covenant, it is the covenant that will sustain your love.
It’s a covenant union. “Covenant” is an important word for us Christians. What does it mean to say that marriage is a covenant? That it has a covenantal shape? It means there are promises and obligations; there is a structure to this relationship; there are roles to fulfill. It’s controversial to point this out today, but men and women are not the same. You are not interchangeable pieces. Alex, you need HK’s femininity, and she needs your masculinity. HK, Alex needs your respect, and Alex, HK needs your love. When you fulfill your roles in this way you, complement and complete one another. In marriage you do not give the other person what you think they deserve; you give what God has commanded you to give. You give what you have promised to give. Marriage is not a fluid relationship that we can reshape any way we want. It has a covenantal design and the more you respect and fulfill that design, the more you will enjoy marriage.
The purpose of marriage is to fulfill the creation mandate, which we read in Genesis 1. The creation mandate centers on work and family; it’s our commission to rule and subdue the earth, to multiply and fill it. God wants to use your family to fulfill his purpose for the creation. He wants you to rule and subdue the part of the creation he gives to you. He wants you to multiply and fill your piece of the creation with new image bearers (your parents want that as well!). God is bringing you together because he seeks godly offspring, he wants to advance and grow his kingdom through you. By building a godly and faithful household, you are helping to bring about a Christian civilization. This is why Christians have always said marriage is at the foundation of society. Many glorious things will flow out of the union created here today.
And finally, marriage serves to symbolize the gospel. Marriage is shot through with gospel symbolism. Marriage is a created picture of Jesus and the church. The husband symbolizes Christ. The husband takes his cues from Christ, leading and loving like Jesus does his bride the church. The husband images Jesus to his wife. And the wife takes her cues from the church, as she respects her husband, following his lead, submitting to him as he submits to Christ. That submission, of course, has conditions, since no human authority is absolute, but it is nevertheless a genuine submission. Your marriage preaches a sermon. Your marriage tells a story. What is your marriage saying? What is it showing? Your marriage is designed to show the world what the Christ/church relationship looks like.
That's a pretty basic, straight-forward way to define and think about marriage. But there are other ways to contemplate marriage, more poetic ways. Marriage is a garden. The husband is the gardener who tills the ground and sows his seed. The wife is the fruitful land who brings forth life and beauty and glory. Marriage is a dance. As the man leads and the woman follows, their lives meld into one on the dance floor of life. Their lives move in sync with one another. Marriage is a house, or a home. The husband serves as the strong walls and roof, protecting and providing for his wife and children, while she is heart of the home, filling it with beauty and joy. Marriage is a river. The husband is the river bank, channeling the flow of his family's life in accord with the mission God has given him. She is the rushing water, full of feminine emotional energy, living inside his frame. Marriage is a kingdom. It’s a king and his queen who share their wisdom and gifts with one another as build up their domain into a glorious realm full of love and light, taking dominion, and God willing, raising up little princes and princesses. Marriage is a duet. As husband and wife sing their respective parts, their voices blend and harmonize into a glorious song sung to the praise of God’s glory. If the wife tries to sing bass, or the husband tries to be a soprano, the marriage will be ugly. But when they each play their role in this choir of two, it produces one beautiful melody for the world to hear.
Marriage is many things. God has given us an inexhaustible supply of metaphors and images for understanding the marriage relationship. But I want to pick out one theme in particular, HK and Alex, to focus on because I think it truly characterizes the two of you together. It the theme of companionship. The importance of companionship in marriage is found all over the Bible. Proverbs 2 calls the wife the man’s companion from youth. We know companionship is important to marriage from the creation account. Adam is created first. And God says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” God has said, “It is not good for Alex to be alone.” And just as God provided a companion and helper for Adam, so he is for Alex. But even before God judges Adam’s aloneness to be deficient, we could have already known there was a problem. In Genesis 1, God said, “Let US make man in OUR image.” God speaks of himself in the plural but man exists in the singular. God speaks of himself in the plural because he is the Trinity – one God existing eternally in three persons. Humanity is made to reflect the Trinity, but that can only happen if man is given a companion who is fully equal to him and yet also different from him, and through whom and with whom he can become fruitful. In his aloneness, Adam could not fully image the relational Triune God. The Trinity is a community, a family, and he has made us, particularly in marriage and family life, to reflect this reality. The persons of the Trinity are equal, but they are not the same; they have the same divine nature but also distinguishing qualities and roles. So it is in marriage. As husband and wife, you share the same human nature, and yet you express and fulfill your human nature in profoundly distinct ways. This is the mystery, the mystery of marriage, the mystery of being one flesh with another person – you are the image of the Trinity. While the mystery will always remain a mystery, the point of the mystery is not confusion but awe. God has given us many clues to the meaning of this mystery. From this day forward, be assured you cannot make any sense of yourself apart from the other. You were made for relationship with each other, to pattern your life together after the inner life of the Triune God.
What does it mean to be companions as husband and wife? It’s metaphysical, as your life images the Triune God. But for that reason, it’s also intensely it’s also practical.
This covenant of companionship means you walk through life together, multiplying your joys and dividing your sorrows. It means you walk through life with a shared mission and shared goals. It means you depend on each other. You seek to meet each other’s needs. You encourage each other. You share wisdom with each other. You are better together than you ever could be apart. You can serve God better together than apart.
That’s not to say you do all the same things for each other. Again, men and women are different, and men care for women in one way, while women care for men in another. To be companions means you become students of each other, so you can serve one another better. Alex, you’re called to make Christ-like sacrifices for your wife. And Hannah Kate, you’re called to live in such a way that Alex constantly thinks, “All those sacrifices sure are worth it!” The apostle Paul calls the woman the glory of the man in 1 Corinthians 11. One thing that means is that everything a man gives to and does for his wife, he receives back from her glorified – at least, that’s what happens when this relationship works as it should.
As companions in the faith, you press one another toward ever greater holiness. Some people look like saints everywhere they go, but then they get home and they act like the chief of sinners. You cannot do that. What you are at home is what you are. Take responsibility for yourself, for your duties and your roles in this relationship. There’s only one person in this relationship you can control, and that’s yourself, so be what you are supposed to be and left God take care of the rest. In marriage, it's very easy to focus more on the obligations of your spouse than your own obligations, but that is a pathway to strife and discontentment.
As companions you remind each other that marriage comes with an owner’s manual – the Bible – and you seek to master and be mastered by that book together. As companions, you should sharpen one another and bring out the best in one another, which you can only do as you seek God’s truth in his Word together.
As companions, you love one another. This is your closest neighbor, the one you are to love as you love yourself. The world says, “love makes you do crazy things.” No, that’s not true. Love makes you do holy things. Love makes you patient and kind; love makes you humble; love makes you forgiving; love makes you obedient to God's Word; love makes you like Jesus.
Ultimately, as companions you are helping one another on the pathway to eternal glory. That’s your shared destination. You share together in the hope if the resurrection, and you spur one another on towards that grand inheritance. You are co-heirs of a future salvation, so live like it in the present.
The companionship dimension of marriage has been captured beautifully by the church father Tertullian, who wrote these words in a letter to his wife around the year 200 AD. I close my charge sharing with you his words of wisdom:
“How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in Spirit. They are in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit. They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another, they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts… Psalms and hymns they sing to one another. Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present, and where He is, there evil is not.”
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.