In Christian circles we are very accustomed to the word grace. The word refers simply to the unmerited favor of God, but we need to be careful here. We sometimes confound the difference between unmerited favor and demerited favor.
When Adam was first given the gift of life, when he was established in the garden, when God brought his bride to him, he had not sinned in any way. But neither had he earned or merited any of the things that were being given to him. Being innocent is a wonderful condition, but it is not meritorious.
When we think about what a glorious and sovereign gift it is to be given the gift of life, it should all come clear. No one could possibly earn the reward of “coming into existence.” Non-existent beings earn very few things, actually. You can’t show up for work if you don’t exist.
Now God gives us such things because it is consistent with His nature and character to overflow in this way. In order to overflow to others, He must first create those others, which is what He has done for us.
But because sin intruded, because our race rebelled against this sovereign kindness, on top of all the unmerited favor that God has bestowed on us, we now have to add the fact that these gifts we are receiving have been actively forfeited by us. We are now receiving demerited favor, but we still receive it anyway. God gives unmerited favor because He is simply like that. God gives us favor despite our demerit because Jesus died on the cross so that we might we made right with Him, and able to receive gifts again.
So what does this have to do with marriage? I have been talking about the gifts of God. These gifts are both creational and spiritual. The greatest of the creational gifts is physical life itself, but right after this, the greatest earthly gift is the gift of marriage. The greatest spiritual gift is new life, the regeneration that comes through the gospel. There they are—life, new life, and marriage. As a Christian wedding, this ceremony is a place where all these gifts converge and intersect. They converge at this place because we have met in the name of the Lord Jesus, and we have invoked His blessing on what we do here. Because that is a biblical prayer, we may be sure that it has been heard. In the Person of His Spirit, the Lord is present here with us.
We have a Christian man—he has been given life, and he has been given new life in Christ. We have a Christian woman—she has been given life, and she has been given new life in Christ. In the book of Genesis, we learn that God displayed His image in mankind, as it says, male and female created He them (Gen. 1:27). The fall into sin did not eradicate that image entirely, but it did damage the image of God badly. Christ came to restore the image of God in man, and one of the principal places it needs to be restored is in marriages. This ceremony is one of the places where God is putting His gospel kindness to us on display.
As we look at the world around us, our marriages included, the two basic options are Christ or chaos. On the one hand we are image-bearers, and if we are married we are image-bearers in high relief. If we are image-bearers, then we accept the fact that sin marred our ability to reflect or bear God’s image. We receive the forgiveness that is offered in Christ, and a Christian man and woman are wonderfully equipped to do this together.
But what if we are not image-bearers? What if we are just atoms banging around? We do not simply lose a few traditional values at the periphery. We lose everything—ethics, reason, value, purpose, duty, faithfulness, and truth. If all my thoughts are just the end result of atoms banging around, I have no reason for thinking that any of my thoughts are true. And if that is the case, then I have no reason to believe in the existence of atoms, or of me as a thinking being. There are many variations on this theme, but it boils down to this—Christ or chaos.
Ian, my charge to you taken right out of the fifth chapter of Ephesians. You are instructed there to love your wife as an imitator. You are told to look at two things, note the love displayed in them, and to use them as your model or template for how you treat Lydia. Both of them set very high standards. One is for you to love her as you already love and care for your own body. The second example is to love her as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. So here is the charge. Love this woman. Love her with everything you’ve got. Work joyfully until your hands bleed. Give her your life, all of it. You were created to spend and be spent on behalf of this woman and her children. This is what you are for.
Lydia, my charge to you is this. The glory of the man is the woman. This means that the glory of masculinity is femininity. We live in an age that is in high rebellion against this kind of glory, or more sadly, low confusion over it. Your task is to ignore all the world’s lies about sex, gender, roles, and relationships. If they knew anything about it, they wouldn’t be divorcing each other all the time. They don’t know. You were created to become Ian’s glory, and without your glad obedience, he can’t have it. So when you reflect Ian you respect Ian. And when you reflect him, because we serve a God who loves to do this kind of thing, you become more of a true individual, and not just a mirror image. Jesus promises us this—when you lose yourself according to His way, you find yourself. This is simple gospel.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.