In our day, biblical marriage is mocked in two ways. The first is by those who pretend to be friends of the institution, but who live in a manner that overthrows the pretence entirely for anyone who knows them. The second way is usually more honest, and mocks the name of biblical marriage while rejecting the abuses practiced by the first group. This latter approach doesn’t believe in marriage, and perhaps to them we Christians should say something like, “Tell me the kind of marriage you don’t believe in. Perhaps we don’t believe in it either.”
Gabe and Annie, I want to speak to you first together. After this I want to encourage you in a few things, Gabe, and then, Annie, the same for you.
I just spoke of people who misrepresent the meaning of biblical marriage in different ways. My charge to the two of you is to so conduct your lives together that you live as a standing rebuke of what many people think a Christian marriage must be. Where they think you are consumed with duties and scruples, I want you to overflow with joy. Where they think that your attention to the Scriptures means nothing more than dust out of an ancient book, I want you to live in the exuberance that only the living and triune God can bring. Where they think that the concept of authority and submission is a not-so-cleverly disguised patriarchal power play, I want you to sacrifice for one another in imitation of the Lord Jesus. Where they think you must be nothing more than two more fussy religious types, I want to charge you to live in the kind of liberty that only the gospel can bring. Moreover, I want you to take this seriously as a charge. This is not a nice-to-have add-on. God calls all of us to live this way in His Word, and on such a solemn and joyful occasion as this, I wanted to make sure that I charged you both with this responsibility in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not believe the lie that joy can be sprinkled on the top of disobedient lives, or a disobedient marriage. Discover together the engines of deep joy, and resolve together by the grace of God to live in that way.
Gabe, every groom who comes to a moment such as this in his right mind should be simultaneously as happy as he has ever been and as terrified as he ever will be. He is happy for all the obvious reasons. He has gone to a father who tends to look at all young men through narrowed eyelids, asked for his daughter’s hand, and has been given it. He has sought a young woman’s affection, love and respect, and, wonder of wonders, she is willing to give it. He is delighted that someone as lovely as she is would have anything to do with him, and he cannot stop thanking God for this one small imperfection in her. But he is terrified for all the same reasons. In many ways, he feels like he ought to still be in high school, but suddenly, without any apparent warning, he is now poised on the brink of respectability, responsibility, insurance policies, and shopping for minivans. Gabe, you are stepping into a world that calls for constant sacrifice, courage, surrender, work, and laying down your life. But God has made the world in such a way that whenever a man models Jesus Christ in how he does all this, he may do it, as Jesus also did, for the joy that is set before him. The man who loves his wife, St. Paul tells us, loves himself. You are standing on the threshold of something very good. But I want to assure you that right now you have no idea how good it will be. The way to find out how good it will be is a simple path-always straight ahead. Do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Love God, hate sin. Love God, love your wife. Follow Jesus, and die daily. Follow Jesus and walk in newness of life. Model that way of submission and obedience for your wife.
Annie, the Lord Jesus taught us that when we lose ourselves for His sake, we find ourselves. When we clutch at things, fearful that we might lose them, then in our cowardice we really do lose them. When we surrender them happily to God, offering open palms to God, He restores to us what we have surrendered. But He does not just hand it back again, the same as it ever was. Nothing is ever given to God and returned to us without being glorified in the process. By surrendering your independence here, first to God, and secondly to Gabe, this is not the moment the trap springs shut. In the Christian world, losing your life does not mean losing your life. Rather, this is the moment when the whole world sees that we worship a God who raises the dead. We worship a God who called the universe into being from nothing. He is the one who makes the last first, and the first last. Whatever we freely give to Him, He restores to us. By submission as a Christian woman, you will have that submitted life returned to you glorified. In this, you are doing nothing that Gabe is not also called to do, and like you, he will be blessed in comparable ways. You are not being called upon to surrender your life because God doesn’t want you to have it. You are being called to surrender your life because God will return it to you in unspeakable glory.
Marriage is a dance. It is a ball, and in this dance the gentleman bows and the lady curtsies. In doing this, they both submit to the other. They submit differently, but they both submit. This is not a matter of tyranny, but rather is one of the demands of the dance. Those who want to make everything the same want what can only be described as a romantic and erotic ruination. If they both bow, then they would strike their heads. If they both curtsey, that would be creepy. He bows, serving her. She curtsies, serving him. God takes it all, glorifies it, and returns it to them, thirty, sixty, and one hundred-fold.
So Christian marriage is no gradgrind affair. This estate into which the two of you are entering is nothing short of a blessing straight from the gracious hands of God. Here, in this fallen world, we have the gospel embodied for us, over and over again. God sets His gospel before us in Christian pulpits, at the font of baptism, and on the Lord’s Table. But He also does it every time a Christian man agrees to imitate the sacrifices of Jesus Christ for the rest of his life, and to do it for one particular woman. He declares the efficacy of His gospel every time a woman responds to the groom’s invitation and extends her hand to have a ring placed on it. What grace this is! What glory is here!