Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Demand and the Promise of Marriage

A Gospel-Centered Wedding Address

NOTE: Last weekend I performed the wedding of two of my favorite 20-somethings, two kids who were in 9th grade when I first became a student ministries pastor. What follows is the charge I brought to them that day.

As many of you know, my wife, Aundrea, and I have known Nick and Meghan for 10 full years. Knowing them has meant growing to love them and enjoy them, and today we are humbly honored and delighted to serve them.

As I considered what to say to them on their wedding day, my mind ran back over a decade of memories—ministry trips, special moments, new developments, long talks, big decisions… 10 years worth of growing up, physically and spiritually. I remember well from 10 years ago the slender young lady with the striking voice and mischievous smile and the dark-complected young man who orbited the youth group like a planet, silent and mysterious. Watching them both grow—better said, watching God grow them—has been a privilege and a delight, and I say again that for me, to know them has been to love them and enjoy them. Now, the rest of what I’m going to say is for them, and you can listen in…

Nick and Meghan, as I pondered what to say to you both today, my thoughts took me back to the very first wedding at the very beginning of time, recorded for us in Genesis 2:

Genesis 2:18 - 25 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his
wife, and they shall become one flesh.

These instructive words about marriage—this phenomenon of becoming one flesh—imply both a demand and a promise.

The demand of becoming one flesh is the demand of love itself, namely, complete and unconditional surrender. Love requires that we freely and gladly give up everything. Unless you are willing to surrender everything—all that you have and are and hope to be, you’re not really in love.

Before marriage, affection convinces two people that they are the most romantic couple who ever lived, that they are perfect for each other, that no two people have ever loved as they love, that they will never face a problem too great or a sacrifice too demanding for them to overcome. And then marriage comes along asks them to prove it.

Marriage asks us to prove that what we have together is something more than mere emotion, mere friendship… Marriage asks us to prove that we are truly, truly in love! How? By the complete surrender that is required for two independent people to become one indivisible unit—one flesh.

Why is it that a wedding involves sealing our love with an oath? Nick and Meghan, aren’t you both completely captivated by each other right now and eager to spend you whole lives together? So why should you bother with all the business of taking a sacred vow “before God and all these witnesses”?

Here’s why… Wedding vows are simply the natural, verbal expression of love, because real love expresses itself in real commitment. Love is less about how we feel and more about what we do. It’s an act of the will before it’s a feeling of the heart. Even though it seems like the emotions of this moment will never change, God knows that our emotions are notoriously fickle and untrustworthy! Therefore, we enter into the marriage relationship by pledging our lifelong commitment. The well-known and traditional “I do” is your affirmation of this sacred oath. It is, in a sense, your white flag of surrender as you yield to the demand of becoming one flesh.

The demand of being “one flesh” is aptly captured in Wesley’s famous line from The Princess Bride: “As you wish.” Nick, being one flesh with Meghan means that from this day forward, your attitudes and actions toward her are one life-long expression saying “As you wish.” Meghan, as you become one flesh with Nick, the banner that hangs over your life must now be “As you wish.”

To put it in biblical terms, we would go to Philippians 2:3-4: Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The Scriptures are clear about what this means for both of you. Ephesians 5:33 instructs: Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Nick, becoming one flesh with Meghan demands that you love and care for her in the same way you care for your own body. Meghan, the demand of being one flesh with Nick requires that you respect him. Anything less from either of you will prevent full oneness.

This is the demand of becoming one flesh. But marriage is not all demands and duties. Being one flesh also implies a promise… a great and awesome promise that God makes available to every married couple through His grace.

Becoming one flesh through marriage implies the promise of lifelong blessing from God! Think for a moment of all the blessings that your marriage promises: companionship, friendship, romance, intimacy, security, children, spiritual and personal growth, to name only a few.

Nick, Meghan, do you realize what incredible potential for joy and blessing your future together holds? The metaphor of a wilderness expedition comes to mind… Here you stand, on the brink of a lifelong journey… not a journey into the uncharted territory of some majestic mountain or island paradise—too narrow! Too bland! No, you have embarked on an expedition exploring the single most limitless entity in creation—the soul of another human being, a place of mystery so vast and delights so unimaginable, you have to see it to believe it!

In short, being one flesh is a promise of lavish and undeserved goodness from God! This day is just a foretaste… your wedding day—the day for which you’ve longed and prayed and hoped and dreamed… Is finally here! Just look around you… Isn’t God incredibly good?! And this is just a foretaste, a shadow, these opening notes of the love song of goodness that God means to play through your marriage for the rest of your life!

I think God thought up weddings just so that He could show off His lavish and bountiful goodness! I think God loves weddings. Think about this… the Bible opens with a wedding, in the story we just read of Adam and Eve. That’s quite a statement right there! And then when God’s Son Jesus came to earth, He chose to perform His first miracle at a wedding, when He turned the water into wine. But that’s not all… The Bible also comes to a close with a wedding, as Jesus takes His blood-bought people to Himself and makes them His bride for all of eternity. Weddings form the inspired bookends to all of human history!

Why does God love weddings? Here’s why… because marriage provides a sublime metaphor for the profound good news He wants all people to hear. What good news? This… The paradise of the Garden of Eden, though it was lost by humanity’s fall into sin, has been restored.

At that first wedding God saw something that he said was “not good”—Adam’s aloneness, and so He fixed it by creating Eve and making her one flesh with Adam. But these days the problem is much bigger than Adam being alone. Our whole world is filled with sin and its awful effects.

God looked into this fallen, messed up world and once again said, “It is not good.” Humanity’s sin had destroyed the paradise God intended this world to be, and worse than that, our sin has separated us from our good God, filled us with guilt, and aroused His anger against us. We can see all around and inside us that God is right: “It is not good.”

This time, God’s solution wasn’t to create a woman. It was to send a man into the world, THE Man, His own perfect Son, Jesus. And after 30+ years of living sinlessly, how we were supposed to live, Jesus died painfully, paying the penalty for sin that we were supposed to pay.

God’s verdict of “it is not good” has been reversed in Jesus! Just like He brought Eve to Adam, God brings Jesus to us. And like Adam, we must say, “This is good! This is what we need!” Jesus fixes our ruined world and removes our guilt and brings us back to God so that we can be made one, not with each other this time, but with God Himself!

The demand of oneness was satisfied—Jesus offered Himself in complete surrender. The blessing of oneness is offered freely to us, if we entrust ourselves to Jesus as our only hope of being restored to God.

Nick and Meghan, this wedding will make you one flesh, and being one flesh extends a demand and a blessing. But remember this: both the demand and the blessing of oneness don’t begin here today, at the altar, in your wedding. They began on the cross, with Jesus Christ your Savior. This day is a reminder of that day.

And this day is also a foretaste of the awesome and final wedding day when we will enjoy being brought into perfect fellowship, intimate oneness, with our Savior, Jesus Christ!


BNick said...

I appreciate the comment that love is active--it's something that we do. There's a song to that effect, which downplayed the typical wording of "falling in love" or "having love" or "finding love." Those trite statements can sound romantic on greeting cards, but do little to contribute to our understanding of true love.

I also appreciate a wedding address that doesn't use the made-up word "helpmeet." I think people made up this word from the KJV rendering of Genesis 2:18, where God says, "I will make him an help meet [fit] for him." Anyway, I apologize for using your blog as my soapbox; I should do that on my own blog I guess.

Anonymous said...

Hey Josh, I see you haven't written in here in a while... I don't know of any other way to get in contact with you though =]I hope you and the family are doing well. I start college in the fall and am just working right now- saving as much money as I can! Meg and her husband Brandon have moved out to Idaho to serve in a church and just found out they are expecting their first child! Everyone is very excited about that. Ryan and his wife are doing well down in Florida... My mom opened her own workout place about a year ago here in shelbyville and is doing well with that. I miss you guys and think of you ever now and again. Tell Aundrea and the kids I say hey!!

Devin D. from Shelbyville KY