Johanna and Nathan asked me to preach at their wedding, along with Nathan’s father. Since a few people asked me for the sermon, I am posting my notes here. However, my preaching tends to be extemporaneous, based on an outline of the thoughts I want to speak (and sometimes specific words). As the bare outline would not be too useful to anyone, this is an expansion of my outline, which should be fairly close (but not exactly the same) as the message I preached at their wedding. I have resisted trying to “fix” problems here.
God’s ideal for marriage – Ephesians 5:22-33
God has set a high ideal for marriage: to be a very picture of the Kingdom of God. It means that you should embody the self-sacrificial love that is between Jesus and His people. When people see you as a couple, they should feel like they are in the presence of Jesus Himself, that they are getting a glimpse of what Jesus’ love is like. This is the key point of marriage. Everything else you have learned about marriage – about communication, sex, finances, family life – is but commentary!
And we know you plan to live according to this ideal. You want to show the world, and your friends, what Christian marriage really should look like. Indeed, you even want to demonstrate to your parents how it ought to (should have been) done! And these are good ideals and ambitions to have!
Trouble in Paradise
But this is a trouble in this paradise. Johanna’s husband is now married to a sinner! Nathan’s wife is now married to a sinner! Even if you were married to a perfect person, there would be trouble, because you have brought it with you!
These troubles are the hidden “idols” you carry – those things that nothing, or nobody, can touch without incurring your wrath! These idols may be sinful pleasures you don’t want to part with, or things that give you a sense of security or comfort, or even those preferences about which you refuse to yield.
But it is worse than this! You each are now married to a sinner! And that dear sinner will not always react in a godly way to your sin, nor even to your different preference, nor even to your genuine and innocent weaknesses!
But it is even worse than this! That beloved sinner you are married to will also sin and provoke you, and have their own preferences, and you will not always act in a godly way.
Our conclusion: This marriage is already in trouble, and strong measures are going to be needed to save it! And to everyone else, notice that nothing I said is specific to Johanna and Nate. This applies to everyone here who is married.
How not to deal with this trouble
Many people just give up. That is why so many marriages end in divorce, even amongst Christians.
But many instead fall into an easy truce of appeasement, based on mutual self-interest, living more as disciples of Ayn Rand than Jesus Christ. They tolerate, or turn a blind eye (or ear) to each other’s sins. Rather than celebrating and synthesizing their different preferences, bringing unity out of diversity, they end up living largely separate lives from their spouses, except where their mutual self-interests happen to intersect.
Far too many so-called Christian marriages fall into this trap. Even though they remain together and superficially have a strong marriage, they have utterly failed. They mock God’s standard of marriage, which is based on love and self-sacrifice, rather than mutual self-interest. For proof, consider how many Christian married men mock women in general, and how many Christian married women mock men in general, never having learned to appreciate and celebrate their difference preferences.
God has provided the strong measure to save marriages – the Cross of Christ
But their is hope! God has provided the strong measure needed to save Jo and Nate’s marriage – the Cross of Christ!
Because Jesus bore God’s wrath in our place, we have forgiveness of sins. As sinners, that is what we most need! And with forgiveness, we have the courage to pray, and the ground for trusting that God hears our prayers. Prayer itself has little power – what makes prayer important is that our all-powerful God hears our prayers and answers them.
One of the hardest things to experience in marriage is when I realize that we have troubles that are the results of my sin – I am the guilty party! My sins have caused trouble and hurt! My words, actions, or inactions have wounded the person I love most! But we have a Saviour who can salvage even these situations, even when we have to admit that we have failed to do our part.
We have a Saviour who forgives our sins. And as we experience forgiveness, we can forgive others, including that beloved sinner we are married to.
Because Jesus lives again, He sent us His Holy Spirit, who dwells in us and changes us. And as we pray, He is changing our spouse too. And He is working genuine love in each other’s hearts. Sometimes our spouse says something that hurts us, and makes us doubt that they really love us. But that love and kindness is real! Johanna, when Nate is short with you, he still loves you! Nate, when Johanna is grumpy toward you, she still loves you! That love is real! It is the work of the Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit will leads us to appreciate each other’s differences. He is the one who brings true unity out of diversity, just as He is doing with the Church.
Together you two will show forth God’s glory, the image of God, in a way that neither of you could alone.
So here is my charge to you: Fight!
Fight like Christians! The enemy is not each other. The enemy is the flesh, the world, and the devil. Your enemies seek to divide and conquer, to discourage you, to make that easy truce seem like a more desirable alternative.
Give each other the judgment of charity! If something can be taken two ways, pick the one that thinks best of your spouse.
Pray for each other! It is good to pray together, but wrestle in prayer in private for each other. Trust that God is hearing you, and that God is working in each other’s hearts.
Clothe yourselves in the humility that befits sinners saved by grace.
Be quick to seek forgiveness, both from each other and from God.
Be worshippers of God. Johanna and Nathan, both of you are musical. Fill you house with music.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing
one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual
songs, with thankfulness in your hearts.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of
the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. —