We live in a day when the institution of marriage is under assault. Not only are many powerful voices clamoring for a fundamental redefinition of marriage, we are also faced with the confusion of many Christians in how to respond to it. We know that something is drastically wrong, as though the whole world has gone off the rails, but so many things are wrong we often don’t know where to begin.
In that broader context of confusion, when we gather to celebrate this marriage, do we really know what we are doing? There are many lies currently being told about marriage, but long before these lies were commonly accepted, the truth about marriage was being mumbled by those who claimed to be its friends. When the truth is not boldly and confidently declared, this leaves room for lies to be boldly and confidently declared. When glorious truths are muttered, the lies become more and more brazen and open.
So our task, in these times, is to speak the basic truths about marriage clearly and plainly, and weddings are a wonderful occasion for doing this. We need to speak the truth plainly, and we need to do this in two ways. The first, ordained of God, is to speak by speaking. We speak the Word by speaking words. We are to teach, instruct, correct, encourage, and we are to do so verbally.
But there is another way of speaking these truths as well, also ordained of God, and that is what I want to focus on today. I want to speak aloud about the non-verbal ways of speaking the truth; I want to utilize the first way of speaking truth in order to honor the second way of doing it. If we live and love in this way, we will provide a cogent reply to those who would darken the plain truth of God in this matter.
This second way of speaking the truth is by our actions, by what we do.
When God loved us in Jesus Christ, He certainly told us what He had done for us – how Jesus died on the cross – but let us never forget that He actually did it first. Before the gospel message declared to us the fact that Jesus died and rose, Jesus actually died and rose. Word and action go together. He told us what He had done. Let us not love in word only, the apostle John tells us. Speaking and doing go together.
A husband must tell his wife that he loves her, of course, but this should be a word that follows after the reality of him laying down his life for her. The Bible is very plain on this point, and it is the fundamental place where we have allowed our thinking about marriage to become confused. Husbands, Paul says, love your wives, as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself up for her.
Husbands, the Bible does not call you to be a big talker, but rather a big sacrificer. When a man is called into marriage, he is being called into a daily imitation of the way of Christ, and that way of imitation summons him to lay down his life. When Jesus died, He was not inconvenienced in a minor way. When Jesus died, He was not briefly interrupted. When Jesus died, He gave His bride everything He had to give, up to and including His blood. This is the model for Christian husbands.
But wives, this does not mean that the husband does everything, and you do nothing. Christian marriage is not a free ride for the wife. No, it means that your death (for all disciples of Jesus must take up their cross) is a responsive and imitative one. Jesus died for the church, but it is also true that the church died in Jesus. Jesus initiates the sacrifice, but it is the sort of sacrifice that gathers us up into it. This is what our baptism means – we are privileged to share in the death of Jesus. We were baptized into His death. Christ’s sacrifice took the initiative; our sacrifice is based on that, and is responsive.
In a well-ordered marriage, husbands are privileged to imitate that sacrifice of Christ, on a lower level, which means that their wives are invited to be gathered into this sacrificial pattern of living for others, a pattern that is established in that particular household by the husband. That sacrificial pattern will not be the pattern of the entire household unless the husband and father of that household embraces it.
A godly woman married to an ungodly man can speak wonderfully about the grace of God. But the marriage does not speak clearly unless the husband does, and unless the wife responds to him. The apostle Paul teaches us that these two—husband and wife—have the tremendous privilege of enacting the great mystery of Christ and the church. This mystery, this gospel, is what the world does not know, and which Christian couples must learn to declare. And, as has been the pattern throughout the history of the church, the declaration is a resurrection declaration, and that can only happen if there has been a death.
And so, Michael, this is my charge to you. From the very first day of your marriage—which is today, in fact—lay this pattern down. This is how the Hervey household functions. This is simply what we do here. But you don’t lay this pattern down by laying down the law. You are a head, not a boss. You don’t lay down the law, you lay down your life. And this is where faith comes in. Jesus plainly teaches us that this is the only way to gain true authority. Do you want to be great in the kingdom? Jesus asks. Then you must do as He did, and become the servant of all. This is the way of true kingdom authority, which is the only kind of authority in the home that a Christian man should ever want to have. When you lay down your life, instead of the law, you discover that this sacrificed life . . . has become the law, the law of resurrection life.
Jennifer, be eager to follow Michael’s lead in this. Do not be so eager that you take the initiative, but when he takes the initiative—which he is promising to do—you should be right there. This is no small feat; it has been observed that Ginger Rogers did absolutely everything that Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in heels. Remember that you will be sacrificing, just as he is, but you are keying off him. You take your cues from him. This only declares the gospel in the way I am discussing when both husband and wife are walking in imitation of Christ, but when both do this, the effects are potent. And to a confused and disobedient world, the results will be astonishing. He is to bring the sacrifice, and you are to be the glory of sacrifice.
So I charge both of you to receive by faith what God made you for—love and respect, sacrifice and response, masculinity and femininity, death and resurrection.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.