We have all had the experience of buying an appliance that we thought we understood, but then when we couldn’t get to work, we found that we had to finally, somewhat sheepishly, resort to the manual. When all else fails, read the instructions.
The mystery of human existence is far more complicated than a simple appliance like a blender, or a mixer. It is more complicated by a factor of millions. And yet, how many people launch into a mystery like marriage—central to the matter of human meaning—with virtually no preparation at all and, once there, countless numbers steadfastly refuse to read the instruction manual that God gave to us.
In Scripture, one of the things God tells us that we absolutely need His guidance in this area. This is an aspect of our lives that is far beyond our ability to understand.
“There be three things which are too wonderful for me, Yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; The way of a serpent upon a rock; The way of a ship in the midst of the sea; And the way of a man with a maid.”
Proverbs 30:18–19 (KJV)
And in his epistle to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul has this to say about marriage:
“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
Ephesians 5:31–32 (KJV)
Not just a mystery (mysterion), Paul says, but a great mystery. The word here for great is megas. Not just a mystery, but a staggering mystery. A stupefying mystery. A mega-mystery. A beyond-all-mortal-reckoning mystery.
One of the mistakes we easily make is that of thinking that the mystery lies in the other sex, the one opposite you. The men think the women are unfathomable, and the women think the men are incomprehensible. But the fact is that all of us together, everybody, is part of the mystery. The benchmark for evaluating this is the Word of God, and not what each of the two sexes thinks of as normal.
But only do all of us need a map, we also need a guide. Fortunately, the Spirit who inspired the manual is also the one who indwells everyone who has faith in Jesus Christ. He very kindly has written out for us what to do, and He also accompanies us as we seek to learn how to do it.
Without the Spirit and without the Word, I frankly don’t understand how anyone would dare to get married. Of course, it would be just as reckless to reject marriage—because all of human existence is a great deep, and not just when we marry.
Let me give just one example. Few people know that Scripture teaches that men run on diesel fuel and that women run on regular. By this I mean that men and women are motivated differently. Men are motivated by respect and honor, and women are motivated by deep love and affection. When a woman is held secure by a good man’s love, it enables her to stand up straight in order to fulfill the calling that God has assigned to her. When a man is honored and respected in the way that God requires, this enables him to stand up straight in order to fulfill the calling that God has assigned to him. Conversely, an unloved woman must struggle against the rip tide of unloveliness. A disrespected man must struggle against the temptation to collapse in despair.
This is because, in a biblical marriage, love bestows loveliness. In a biblical marriage, respect confers respectability. Because all of us are sinners, and all of us have faults and failings, it is the task of biblical parents to give the future bride and the future groom something of a head start. The Christian groom should come to his wedding day as a respectable man, as Paul has done. The Christian bride should come to her wedding day as a lovely woman, as Tamar has done. But the charge to the two of is this. Build each other up. But you do not do this by treating one another in some egalitarian or identical fashion. You do not render to the other what you would like to receive. Render to the other what God outlines in His Word. Remember that we are complex and we need a manual to understand. Remember that we are fallen and complex, and we need a troubleshooting manual in order to understand both the nature of the problem and the outline of any solution.
So Paul, here is your charge. Scripture instructs you to love your wife—you are about to have one, incidentally—and it gives you two templates to follow. You are told to love her as you love yourself (Eph. 5:28), which is simply the Golden Rule as it applies to husbands, and you are also instructed to love her as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). This love means that you sacrifice for her, you give yourself away for her, and you take responsibility for her. You look around for all that you have and are, then you give it all away.
Tamar, here is your charge. When he gives it all away to you, receive it from him gladly, glorify it as only a woman can, and then give it back to him—thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold. Paul says in the fifth chapter of Ephesians that the man who loves his wife loves himself (Eph. 5:28). A godly man who gives his all to a godly woman finds that it is all returned to him, glorified, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. A righteous woman is a force multiplier. The “all” is much greater than it was before. This is a great mystery, but as Paul tells us, it is a gospel mystery.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.