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Today, we are going to start a series of 3-4 sermons about marriage. How many people have heard even one sermon about marriage? Show of hands please. I grew up in the church and spent over 35-36 years in the church and I never heard a single sermon about marriage. So I decided several years ago that I was going to study this topic for myself.
Also, some exciting news–Brother Matthew is going to do his debut sermon next week on this theme of marriage because he was personally blessed as he learned more about this topic while I was learning about it and sharing it with him and a handful of others a year or two ago. You might wonder, 3 or 4 sermons on marriage sounds excessive. Why teach that many sermons on such a mundane subject as marriage? I thought so, too, until I began to study it.
For me, prior to my own study on this topic, the only time I heard anything remotely connected to marriage was at weddings. And I’m sorry, but most wedding sermons I have listened to give the wrong idea about marriage. You’ve heard them. Wedding sermons tend to be on the sappy, sentimental side and they have about as much depth as a Hallmark card. Marriage sounds so joyous and fun when a minister is standing in front of a man in a tux and a woman dressed in radiant white and he is waxing eloquent about love being patient and kind and keeping no record of wrongs. Talk to anyone who has been married for more than a few months and they will tell you that marriage is anything but easy.
Marriage is not like sod that you buy from Home Depot and roll out and you are good to go. Marriage is not like those fake flowers that you buy from Ralph’s and put on your coffee table. Marriage is like a garden. It takes a lot of work. You got to break up the hardened ground and remove the rocks and water it and give it enough sunlight and something might grow.
Marriage is many things, but it is anything but sappy and sentimental. Marriage is glorious but hard. Marriage is a incredible joy and it has the potential to strengthen you in ways that you cannot imagine and yet it is also blood, sweat and tears. There are exhausting victories but also humbling defeats.
Tim Keller, pastor and author of the book, “The Meaning of Marriage,” has this to say–
“At night, as your head is about to hit the pillow after a long, hard day of marriage, I think many would identify with what Paul writes in Eph 5:32, that marriage is a profound mystery. It’s like a riddle, a puzzle, a maze. It’s not a Hallmark card.”
I used to think–what’s there to say about marriage anyway? Just buy flowers once in a while, don’t forget birthdays and anniversaries, say sorry a lot and be a good Christian to your spouse. Then, you’ll live happily ever after, right? Wrong. Well, not wrong, but there is so much more to marriage than that.
I’ve been married for 13 years and I’m pretty laid back and Jackie is also very easy going. I like scary movies and Jackie likes boring movies, but for the most part, we get along. We both went to Cal, we both like eating and we both love Jesus. So marriage has been pretty smooth. Some rough patches in the beginning, but we worked through them because she repented and I remained the same (just kidding, not true). We both had to make adjustments in the beginning and we went on missions to Japan for several years as newlyweds and then 3 kids later, we’re still together. And we still like each other. We still go on dates when we can.
Given our track record, why did I feel a personal need to study marriage? You normally study something when you are in trouble and need help. Like if I was in serious debt, I might pick up a book about financial advice or how to be a good Christian steward. Or, if I struggled with an unruly kid, I might pick up a book about godly parenting. But why did I start studying about marriage when our marriage by all visible criteria was doing okay?
For one, as a new pastor, I felt unequipped to counsel married couples. I’ll be honest. Jackie and I never received marriage counseling because we got along. But what would I say to a couple that didn’t get along? I don’t know what I would say–forgive, serve your spouse, be a Christian. My advice would be so abstract that it wouldn’t be much help.
Second, I studied the topic of marriage because I knew that if I were faithful to preaching expositionally, book by book, chapter by chapter, then we’d eventually get to a chapter like Ephesians 5. So I began my study of marriage 2.5 years ago because I knew that soon enough I would have to preach about marriage. And here we are. 2.5 years later–Eph 5. I can no longer avoid it.
Another reason I studied marriage was because the biblical portrait of marriage is far more than having the same hobbies, and liking the same kinds of food, and getting along. Or, if you are spiritual, finding a ministry partner. Marriage is more than all of those things. In Eph 5, in the very passage that talks about marriage, Paul throws in a curveball. Verse 32.
32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
This verse doesn’t flow with the rest of the surrounding verses. This chapter is about marriage. Husbands, love your wives. Wives, submit to your husbands. Then, v32 comes out of nowhere and Paul’s point is, I am not writing a how-to book about having a successful Christian marriage. I’m actually not even talking about marriage. That’s an odd statement. In the most famous chapter about marriage, Paul says, the reason I am writing this is not marriage. In other words, don’t read this chapter and put these principles into practice in order to have a successful, problem-free marriage. I think this is the problem with most Christian books about marriage. They are trying to help you have a better marriage by minimizing conflict and equipping you with tools to resolve issues more effectively and teaching you how to say sorry when you’re wrong. Those things are important, but having a successful marriage is not the main point of Ephesians 5.
How do we know that having a successful marriage can’t be the goal for marriage? Well, for one, what about all the people in the world who are single? If being successful in marriage was so critical to God, then first of all, that means all of us need to get married. So if you’re single, you need to be looking for your spouse. Because you are living a sub-optimal life as a single person. There is a bias in most cultures that everyone eventually ought to be married and if you are single and you are getting up there in age, then something must be wrong with you. Paul is clear in 1 Cor 7 that not everyone is given the gift of marriage by God. Please turn with me to 1 Cor 7:7. [READ]
Marriage is a gift or a gifting. So is singleness. The gift of celibacy. Certainly, we wouldn’t look at Paul and wonder, what’s wrong with him? Why is he single? No, what’s wrong with us for thinking that way. Paul was single and he lived a full, abundant life and he wished that more Christians could be single so that they could focus on living wholeheartedly for God without distraction.
Another reason that tells us that being successful in marriage is not the ultimate goal of marriage is the fact that in the new heaven and the new earth, there won’t be marriage. That might be news to some of you (Matthew 22). I know what some married couples who learn this are thinking–Amen, preach on, brother, Yes, one day, I’ll be free from this prison called marriage! The fact that there is no marriage in heaven reveals that although marriage is important, it’s not important in the way that you and I think.
The theme of marriage runs throughout the Scripture. The Bible begins with a marriage between Adam and Eve and God is the one officiating the wedding and the Bible ends with the Marriage Supper of the Lamb between Christ, who is the Bridegroom, and the church, who is often referred to as the bride of Christ. Ephesians 5 is the bridge between physical marriage here on earth and our eventual spiritual marriage with Christ.
32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Marriage is a mystery, a profound mystery because it’s not what it seems on the surface. Marriage is not being happy together or getting along or finding your ministry partner. Those are secondary benefits when we understand the primary goal of marriage. The primary goal of marriage is to point us to or to illuminate for us, and to give us a better handle on the relationship between Christ and the church.
I was in the computer field for my entire career before I became a pastor and I discovered that I don’t learn very well in a lecture style environment. With computers, I learned by troubleshooting real life problems like when I got a blue screen of death in Windows 95. I learned much better when I was tinkering around in my spare time and browsing the web and then trying to see if I could implement certain things with my own hands. You can read about a CPU and a processor and RAM from a book. It’s quite another thing to buy the parts and build a computer yourself.
The same with marriage. Physical marriage is like a hands-on lesson about our spiritual marriage with Christ. There are things that are hard for us to conceptualize in our relationship with Christ and so God has given us an object lesson called marriage. If you think about it, there is no human relationship which is equivalent to your spouse. It’s a covenant until death do us part. There is no relationship on this side of eternity like that. Friends come and go. We switch membership at churches when God calls us from one place to another or we leave churches when there are issues. Even our own kids grow up and leave us. Only your spouse is in a covenant with you for life. And that’s the closest human relationship to teach us what it means when Christ covenants with his church.
Marriage is a profound mystery, and in a month of preaching about marriage, we will barely scratch the surface. Whether you are married or single, listen up. Singles, please don’t tune out because you assume that this teaching doesn’t apply to you. No, if you are a Christian, then you are part of Christ’s church, which means you are, we are the bride of Christ. To understand our relationship with Christ better, we have to study the one human institution that God ordained to teach us concretely what our relationship with Christ looks like. Marriage is the closest thing we have on this side of eternity to give us a tangible picture of what our spiritual relationship with Christ is like.