In the Scriptures, the pattern of marrying and being given in marriage is a picture of normality. Sometimes it is a picture of normality on the brink of judgment, as when people were doing all their normal things just before Noah’s flood. “For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark” (Matt. 24:38). When God threatens desolation, this kind of celebration is one of the things that is taken away. “Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride: for the land shall be desolate” (Jer. 7:34)
On other occasions it was a sign that things had returned to normal, or were going to be allowed to remain normal (Dt. 24:5). This is also assumed at the beginning of Deut. 28, where God promises to bless our going out and our coming in. In either case, the celebration of weddings represents a celebration of ordinary life. This is how God designed human life in community to function. This is how it is supposed to go.
But we are living in disordered times, and one of the signs of this disorder is found in the fact that marrying and being given in marriage, following God’s pattern and design, is rapidly becoming a revolutionary act. This is not because we believers have become radicalized. It is simply the result of not moving while the outside culture is hellbent on altering everything. In order to become a radical Christian in these deranged times, all that is necessary to do is remain a normal person.
Now when it comes to marriage, this is what normal is supposed to look like. It is important for us to keep reviewing this. There are two aspects to it. The first is to make your promises and vows, as we are going to do in just a moment. The second is to keep those promises and vows, as you will do over the rest of your lives together. That’s it. Make your promises in the sight of God, and keep your promises in the sight of God. Make your promises by the grace of God, and then, also by the grace of God, keep them.
The secret to keeping your vows of fidelity over a lifetime is to keep short accounts. It is important to recognize that oath-breaking, like all other great sins, grows up from tiny little seeds.
“Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me: Then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression” (Psalm 19:12–13).
The psalmist is asking God to guard and protect him from the “great transgression.” But notice that this begins with cleansing him from secret faults, and then by preventing presumptuous sins. Secret faults are known only to you and to God. Presumptuous sins are the kind of sin that people in your family know about, and which people at church don’t.
A good gardener pulls the weeds when they are easy to pull. In the fuss and bother of ordinary life, normal life together, there will be bumps and misunderstandings, small resentments and whatnot. Put another way, extraordinary fidelity, over the course of a lifetime, is something that will be largely constructed out of ordinary apologies. So whenever there is a disruption in your fellowship, however slight, put it right, and put it right immediately. The world talks a big game about love, and tolerance, and so on, but they don’t know how to do it.
Joseph and Sarah, as we have visited about your upcoming marriage, I have emphasized this, and I want to emphasize it here yet again. If you do this, you will have a healthy marriage. If you do not live this way, you will not. Great marriages are built out of countless acts of humility, and great civilizations are built out of great marriages. The kingdom of God is being built in our midst, and this is how it done. If we want the towers of that city to reach the sky, then we must learn to stoop low.
Joseph, you are responsible, as the head of his relationship, to set this as the tone of your home. You are to do it, not with the demand that your wife serve you in this way, but rather through you setting a pattern and example for her, not to mention for your children as they come after. Whenever you have sinned in your attitude in any way, you must be a model of prompt humility and confession. At the same time, you must never apologize if you have not sinned. If you are not convicted you have done wrong, then the apology is simply being used as a way to patch things up. That is not humble, but rather craven. You must set a pattern in your home of honest confession, with an emphasis on that word honest, and to have nothing to do with any form of dishonesty.
Sarah, you are a responsible Christian woman, and of course you are to do the same. When you have spoken unkindly, or thoughtlessly, follow the example that your husband is setting, and be quick to put it right. And when it comes to those moments where he has spoken thoughtlessly, help him out. Make sure that you don’t play emotional games with him. Men and women are different enough as it is, and he is going to need all your help in understanding you. Throw the poor guy a rope.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.