In a quote famously attributed to St. Francis, he once told his followers: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words only when necessary.” Now to the extent that this is simply an exhortation to live out the Christian life, even when you are not talking, then we can all agree with it, or at least agree with the spirit of it. We are not supposed to be hypocrites, saying things with our mouths that we contradict with our lives. That much is certainly biblical.
But the Christian faith is irreducibly verbal. We are called to proclaim, announce, herald, and to declare that Jesus rose from the dead, and we are to preach this gospel to every creature. The Christian faith is garrulous. We are lovers of the Word, and so it is that we much be lovers of words.
“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?”
Rom. 10:14 (KJV)
And so the principal way that the gospel is to be to communicated to a lost and hurting world is by means of preaching.
But is preaching the only way that the gospel is to be communicated? No, not at all. Another potent way of spreading the gospel is through Christian marriages. And by Christian marriage, I am referring to marriages between two regenerate Christians, conducted under the authority of God’s Word, and within the confines of God’s covenant people. In other words, what we are engaged in doing here.
Scripture speaks of Christian husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). This means that husbands, on a day-to-day basis, are charged to be imitating the gospel in all the ways they relate to their wives. And when we imitate the gospel, one of the things that happens is that we also reflect and manifest that same gospel. In the same spirit, Christian wives are told to model the response that believers have to Christ in their responses to their own husbands (Eph. 5:22). We have, therefore, in Christian marriage, a demonstration of the objective content of the gospel, and of the subjective response to that same gospel.
The objective content is the reality of Christ’s suffering on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead. The subjective response is that we are to hear that message declared, and we are to believe it. The way a husband talks to his wife, and the way a wife responds in turn to her husband, are a divinely appointed means of communicating this glorious reality.
In saying this, I am not trying to say that preachers communicate the gospel verbally, using propositions, and that Christian marriage is a non-verbal and very Franciscan way of expressing the realities underneath. No—Christian marriages are filled with words. We are not following the way of the Buddha here. Christian lives, and therefore Christian marriages, must be filled with content.
This is why Christian marriages are inaugurated with words—the vows that will be exchanged in a moment are vows made entirely of words. Christian husbands are expressly taught to love their wives in a way so as to cause them to flourish in loveliness. And one of the things a husband must imitate in this is how Jesus does it with the “washing of water by the word.” This means that when the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection is communicated to others through a Christian marriage, it is a peculiar form of preaching. It is incarnational preaching—preaching in the car, around the dining room table, in the kitchen, in the bedroom, on the front porch.
Because of how God created the world, words are not simply data. Words bring information with them, that is true, but faithful words are filled with nutrients. A good report, Solomon says, “maketh the bones fat” (Prov. 15:30). A husband must not say to his bride, on his wedding day, that he loves her dearly, and that if this ever were to change, he would be sure to tell her. Otherwise, she should just assume his love for her is undying. No—words are food, not just information. And this is possible because the gospel is food, not just information. The gospel is daily bread, the kind of bread we are to pray for. We don’t want to get fed only at the church’s annual retreat, and your wife should be nourished by you on more occasions than just your anniversary.
Kip, my charge to you is this. You are a Christian man, which means you are under a standing obligation to be a gospel man. Come before the Lord in worship every week, on the Lord’s Day, and hear, really listen to, what He declares to you and all of His people. Take it in every week. Note how God speaks to you, internalize it by faith alone, and then turn around, face your wife, and imitate your Lord. He teaches, you teach. He forgives, you forgive. He provides, you provide. He leads, you lead. But remember the adverbs. Do all these things in the same way that the Lord did. And you cannot do without being, and you cannot be in Christ apart from the grace of the gospel.
Karis, when the Lord determined to save His people, He did it in order to show the principalities and powers, through His glory in the church, the manifold wisdom of God. God intended a bride for His Son, and that intention was for her to become the right kind of trophy wife. She was to be the showcase of the manifold wisdom of God as manifested to the world. As Kip loves you the way Christ loved the church, as he pours into you that way, your responsibility is to let it have its way with you, which will be a manifest glory. It will be really hard for the unbelievers to keep saying that the biblical way of marriage is at root misogynistic when you and all your sisters in Christ are all so radiant.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.