This past weekend I had the honor of officiating a wedding for two wonderful people. After be encouraged to do so by several who attended, I’m posting a transcript of the message I shared during the ceremony. May God use his Word to strength marriages that exist, resurrect marriages that have died, and prepare marriages that will one day come to be.
I want to take a few moments to say some words to you both of you, Angie and Joseph, about what is happening here. And I am also speaking to all of you who are witnesses, so that you understand what is taking place in this moment, so you know how to feel and hope and pray and think about this time. I am speaking to all of you in this room who are married. This is God’s Word for you. I am speaking to all in this room who will one day be married. Children, I hope you’re listening and that these seeds from God’s Word are planted deep in your hearts.
The most foundational verse in the whole Bible on marriage, the one that I believe all the Bible’s teaching on marriage grows out of, is Genesis 2:24. After God declared it not good that the man was alone, he made a woman and brought the woman to the man and gave her to him, to be his helpmate and companion for all of life. And Moses writes in Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
When Jesus taught on marriage, he quoted this verse. When the Apostle Paul wrote on marriage, he quoted this verse. When Peter gave instructions on marriage, this verse was behind it. In fact, what we are witnessing today is the re-enactment of this verse. A man came in this room and stood alone. Then a father walked this daughter — who (in an earthly sense) he helped to create, who he nourished as a babe, who he instructed as a child, who he helped build into the woman she is today — down an aisle and brought her to this man and gave her to him. And now they stand here to become one in marriage. Christian marriages are a reenactment of that first marriage in the Bible.
What God does here as you make these vows to one another and to him is powerful. The “two becoming one flesh” is not just a poetic line, not just a beautiful metaphor. This is a supernatural, spiritual reality. You will always be two people, individuals with your own minds and wills and identities. And yet you will be one, united in a way that we can’t see with our eyes. But just because we can’t see it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
As a single man, I’m amazed by marriage. I used to feel guilty and inadequate to talk about marriage because I’m not a husband. But then I remembered that Paul was also a single guy, and he wrote the most beautiful passage about marriage in the whole Bible. I think I understand at least a little bit the awe that must have welled up in his heart as he wrote about the foundational truth of marriage in Ephesians 5, beginning in verse 22:
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:22–25)
Who talks like this today? Where do we see marriage described this way in our culture? No where. But this is God’s design. Angie, you’re commanded to submit to Joseph as your husband, as your head. Submission is not giving up your own will and mind. Submission is not never making a request or sharing a need or disagreeing. Why? Because Joseph is a good man, but he’s not the God-man, Jesus. And there will be time when he will need your gentle, loving, respectful redirection. But in general, you are to allow him to lead you in this relationship.
And Joseph, this will be Angie’s great joy: to submit to you in this way, if you are doing what the Lord commands you to do. You are not commanded to make Angie submit. No where does the Bible tell a husband to make his wife submit. You are commanded to love. And not just love like the world says love. This is not a “I love you because of the way you make me feel love.” This is not a “I love you because you love me” love. This is the very love of Christ for his church. This means when she does something that brings distance between the two of you, you initiate reconciliation, because while we were yet in our sins, Christ came for us. This means when you see a way to for her to grow in grace, you set aside your own rights, you lay them down out of love for her; for Jesus set aside his rights as God and took on the form of a servant for us.
Those verses I just read from Ephesians go on to tell us that Jesus laid down his life for the church “so that he might sanctify [that is, make her holy], cleansing her with the washing of his word.” And then we read the end result: “So that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Jesus wants a beautiful bride for himself. Joseph, there is nothing wrong with you wanting to have a beautiful bride in Angie. And you do. Look her: her eyes, here smile, and beyond that into her heart. She is beautiful in your eyes, otherwise you would not be stand her. But listen, as a husband, you have the honor of nourishing her beauty. You do that by laying down your life for her.
I thought when I started counseling married couples that the big problem I’d hear from women would be cheating or abuse or addictions. And those are real problems. But do you know what I hear more than anything else from women as their complaint about their marriages: “He doesn’t lead me. He won’t lead me.” She doesn’t want a dad. She doesn’t want a boss. She wants a husband who leads like Jesus did: by breaking bread to feed the crowds when he himself was hungry, by taking the servant’s towel to wash feet, though he himself was a king, by making a whip to drive out the phony religious leaders who were taking advantage of the weak, by taking up a cross and bearing the weight of sin. Jesus did all of this for us for us to know eternal joy.
Joseph, if you seek your greatest joy in the joy of your beloved, you will have a fulfilling marriage. Angie, the same is true for you: if you seek your joy in the joy of your beloved, you will have a fulfilling marriage.
Of course, the reality is that neither of you will do this perfectly. You’ll hurt one another, act selfishly, be unkind, lose your temper. That is to be expected. Joseph isn’t the Son of God, and Angie isn’t the glorified Church. The answer here is to never forget that your marriage isn’t just modeled off Christ and and the Church, it is meant to point to it.
I remember when I was in the first grade I bought a telescope. I’d saved money — now I feel quite sure my parents supplemented my funds quite a bit — but I saved until I bought it. It was from Service Merchandise at the mall. It was red. We got home, and my dad and I took it out of the box. It was so cool. We put it together. It was so intricate and delicate. Each lens had a place to go. And the knobs on the stand were so sensitive so we could make the slightest adjustment to the angel of the telescope, adjustments too delicate to be made with just your hand. It was so cool.
Marriage is something like that. It is intricate, complex. It requires adjustments impossible for human hands alone. How it works is amazing! All it can do, all it can be! But marriage doesn’t not exist for the sake of marriage. Ultimately, Joseph and Angie, if you put together this wonderful creation of marriage just for one another, you’ll come to a place of feeling like something’s missing, like something is not right.
As cool as my telescope was as it came out of the box and we put it together, as fun as it was to read the manual and learn how it works, that telescope did not fulfill it’s purpose until my dad and I took it outside and pointed it into the heavens so that the beauty of God’s creation was magnified, brought near in a way that I couldn’t have seen it and known it without that telescope.
In the same way, this marriage you’ve been planning, this marriage that you are pulling out of the box today to build together, it will never be all it is meant to be until you take use it to look beyond yourselves. Paul tells us that when Moses wrote about the two becoming one flesh in marriage, he was writing of a profound mystery all about Christ and the church. Your marriage is meant to point to him, to magnify the mystery and majesty of God’s grace in Jesus. To bring nearer to your hearts the wonder of God’s love for us in Christ.
When you look at one another and your relationship as husband and wife, never ever stop your gaze there. When you make your vows in just a moment, you’ll end by saying, “Until death do us part.” That’s because this beautiful, amazing gift of marriage you receive today, this one flesh miracle, is but a shadow of the reality: the eternal joy of being united together with the Savior who gave himself up for us.