There is really only one reason why marriages become unhappy over time, and that reason is sin. And there is really only one reason why happy marriages are so astonishingly durable, and that is because the husband and the wife have learned the great lesson of how to deal with sin. And by “dealing with sin” I mean all the various stages of it—identifying the temptation, drawing on the grace of God to resist the temptation, confessing sin honestly and without guile if it has been committed, and extending full and free forgiveness when forgiveness is sought by a spouse. Dealing with sin with integrity this way is nothing more than picking up after yourself in the spiritual realm.
Now if a husband and wife are genuine Christians, this means they have each been freely justified by the grace of God offered in Christ, and that justification is appropriated by faith, and by faith alone. Because that justification is complete, and cannot be improved upon, this sets them free to grow in their daily sanctification, which can be improved upon. That is what sanctification actually is—growth in the graces of everyday living.
Now what does a wedding do to this process? It means that the bride and the groom have embarked on a project of joint sanctification, a significant portion of which is imitative. And that means dealing with sin—both one’s own, and the other person’s. Each person must confess one’s own sins, and must forgive the other person’s. This is simultaneously very simple to understand, and very hard to do.
The reason it is hard to do is not because it is complicated. Rather, it is hard to do because it is humbling. Everyone present here who is married should have discovered this by now, and our bride and groom here today are about to discover it. But every time it is done by either, it is a help to the other. This kind of humility is contagious.
Now in an important sense, marriage does alter what you are. It transforms you. But in another important sense—and I am here talking about daily quirks and habits and foibles—marriage doesn’t change what you are so much as amplify what you are. It was as though you were an acoustic folk musician who one day went electric—plugged it into the amp, and turned it up to eleven. When you lived in your own room all by yourself, it was remarkable how selfless and altruistic you could be.
Having mentioned all this, it is important to now emphasize that sin is defined by the Bible, and not by bits and pieces of folk wisdom we may have picked up. Scripture assigns our duties and responsibilities to us, and we need to embrace them fully, and then after this, we need to embrace the adverbs that go with the responsibilities. In other words, the husband is told to love his wife as Christ loved the church. That is his responsibility. But that phrase as Christ loved the church is what informs the adverb. He is to love her fully, completely, to the death. The wife is to respect and honor her husband, as the church responds to the Lord Jesus. That is her responsibility. But she is to embrace this responsibility without reserve, without hesitation. This means that she cannot say to herself that when the church honors Jesus, the church is honoring the perfect man, whereas when she tries honor her husband, well, you know.
God has given both husband and wife a divine model to imitate, and not a model to duplicate. But in our individualistic age, the word imitation strikes us as an inauthentic word. So we like to pretend than we are much more autonomous than we actually are. So when we imitate God, as dearly loved children (Eph. 5:1), when we imitate older and wiser Christians in the Lord (1 Cor. 11:1), and when we imitate one another as we spur one another on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24), we are actually engaged in the process of becoming the true individuals God created us to be. All of this is a design feature. All of our brains have mirror neurons that fire when we perform an action or when we see someone else perform that same action. We are wired this way, and God obviously knows what He is doing. So it is not a matter of whether we will imitate but rather a matter of what we will imitate. So imitate what is good, and husband and wife should imitate what is good in one another.
Keziah, your charge is this. You are going to be the head of your home, and in order to be an effective and godly head, you must keep your eyes fixed on Christ. God is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of the man, and the man is the head of the woman. So make this a part of your regular prayers—pray that God would so work in you, that you would have your eyes so fixed on Christ, that you would only stop loving Jana if Christ were to stop loving her. Since we have it on the authority of the unbreakable Word of God that this cannot happen, you will be a rock for her.
Jana, here is your charge. Keziah’s love for you will be a securing love, and so you must accept that security as your birthright possession. It has been offered to you, you have accepted it, and it is about to be sealed with an oath. What you must come to understand is a truth that very few men and women today understand, and that is that a secure woman is a lovely woman. A secure wife is a lovely wife.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.