Single brothers and sisters, please watch this as you pray for your future spouse. Married couples, I pray that this video will flood your thoughts and your marriage and your devotional life with God with many treasures.
Single brothers and sisters, please watch this as you pray for your future spouse. Married couples, I pray that this video will flood your thoughts and your marriage and your devotional life with God with many treasures.
31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.
This phrase, one flesh, refers to deep soul-level oneness. It’s not oil and vinegar, which just sits on top of each other when you mix them. Or, chocolate chips that you knead into dough. This is speaking of a chemical reaction. Jackie’s maiden name is Choi. I think that’s why she married me so that she didn’t have to go through all the trouble of changing her legal name. So our marriage is not RC + JC = RCJC. It’s RJC². It’s a chemical reaction and the output is a new compound. We are one new person.
You know the phrase “opposites attract.” That’s such a bogus statement. Opposites don’t attract. If you are a rich person, are you attracted to poor people? If you are a nerd, are you attracted to jocks? If you are a hilarious, spontaneous, fun, care-free person, are you attracted to someone who is boring and is a homebody? No, you look for friends who are just like you and who share the same interests. The phrase, opposites attract, simply means, if a man is attracted to any woman, by definition, they are already opposites to begin with. The Bible points to the fact that it’s not personality traits, it’s something much more fundamental. Men and women are complements. We are opposites, opposing halves coming together to form a whole. Genesis 1-2. Men and women complement and complete one another.
How are we completed in marriage? The idea of completion assumes that every person on their own is incomplete. We are all works in progress. We have deficits that need to be filled. We have weaknesses that need to be strengthened. Rough edges that are in need of smoothing over. We are not yet sanctified and Christ-like so we need others to complete us.
Our friends may not be the best people to complete us because if you share a struggle with a friend, what do they do? Friends normally listen and they sympathize. Oh you poor thing. They comfort and sympathize you. Completion rarely happens. But if you take an opposite like a spouse and you come together in marriage, then there is some real chance at completion.
In our marriage, I see this principle of completion at work. As a guy, I don’t really need friends. If God calls me to do something and no one else is by my side to support me, I’m okay. It’s just me and Jesus. Like the hymn, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus:” Though none go with me, still I will follow; No turning back, no turning back. A pastor needs this kind of independence. God, I will follow you wherever you lead. At the same time, this can be a weakness. If all I cared about was me and Jesus and I didn’t care about how the members of this church were doing, then I wouldn’t be much of a pastor. Jackie is much more interdependent. She is relational. She is very sensitive to the feelings of others. This can be weakness if she is overly people conscious, but in our marriage, it can be a strength because she can reel me back. Before making a decision, she asks me, did you think about how this decision will affect so and so or how it might make this person feel left out? No, I hadn’t thought about that. Thank you. She completed me.
This is a mirror of what happens in church. We are completed through our relationships here. This gets back to what I said about friends earlier who are very similar. Our friends who are just like us might not be very good at completing us. If our church is very homogeneous and we all look like each other and talk like each other and think like each other, then there is a good chance that we will have blind spots. And so there will be areas of our lives as a community of faith that will remain incomplete. This is why it’s important for us to grow into a multi-ethnic church because it will stretch us and complete us in ways that would take longer if we were all the same.
Also, even in a church as small as ours, I believe that God has already brought together people of varying gifts. Spiritual gifts are great, but if we all had the same gift, we would be severely imbalanced. Imagine if all of us had the gift of evangelism, but we lacked the gift of nurturing and discipling younger ones. Then, we might grow in number and see conversions, but we wouldn’t be able to take care of anyone beyond that. Spiritual gifts are good, but there is a dark side to each gift that needs to be balanced or completed by the other gifts.
Marriage points to the local church and both marriage and the local church point to Christ and THE church, the future, universal church. How do we know that Paul in Eph 5:32 is not talking about the local church, but he’s talking about the future, universal church? Easy. Name any church in the world that meets the qualifications mentioned in Eph 5:27. Without spot or wrinkle but holy and blameless. Any church come to mind? I didn’t think so. There is no church on this side of eternity that fits this description. So marriage and the local church point to this future universal church that all Christians will be part of.
And this future universal church is ushered in with the Marriage Supper of the Lamb between Jesus, the Bridegroom and the church, the bride of Christ. Whether single or married, whether at Hill Community or part of another church down the street, all of us need to find our completion in Jesus. Jesus completes us. Jesus is the perfect man and the perfect woman. He is the perfect blend of masculinity and femininity. Men, you can look to Jesus and learn how to be a real man. Submit to Jesus’ authority. It’s not a tyrannical authority. It is not an oppressive authority. Jesus is not passive nor oppressive, but he proactively lays down his life for the church.
Women, look to Jesus. In Christ, can’t you see how beautiful it is when there is subordination of an equal before an equal? The beauty of putting power under someone else. Glorifying someone else. Submit as Christ submits to His heavenly Father. Be a helper in the way that God is described as our Helper. Use your power in such a way that it empowers someone else. It’s a power that enables instead of replaces. The fact that women can help implies that there is a deficiency in men in an area that women are not deficient in. Men need this enabling power. Jesus is a perfect paragon of feminine power as well as masculine power.
Marriage and the local church point to the future, gloried church, and ultimately, EVERYTHING points back to Jesus. Now we are back full circle to the first sermon on marriage a few weeks ago. The mystery of marriage is gospel re-enactment. The gospel is embedded in the gospel.
The gospel tells you that you are more helpless and hopeless in your sins than you ever dared believe, and at the same time, you are more loved and cherished than you ever dared hope. REPEAT. We have the courage to face our sins, no matter how bad they are. Why? Because we have the safety net of God’s love to catch us from falling into a pit of despair.
I have one simple application to wrap up this topic of marriage and it is regarding our speech. Eph 5:26 speaks of washing and washing is a very personal activity. Marriages and local churches are places where we see each other’s dirt. How do we wash each other? It says, washing each other by the “word.” This is not the written word, as in the Word of God, but it is the SPOKEN word.
If Jesus were standing here right now, what words would come out of his mouth? Would he say, man, you’re pathetic. You call yourself a Christian. What’s wrong with you? How many times do I have to forgive you for that same old sin? Are these the words that would come out of Jesus’ mouth? I highly doubt it.
What words would Jesus speak to wash off your dirt? He would say, I love you, I laid down my life for you. You’re safe with me. Own up to your sin because I want to set you free. Don’t carry the guilt around. Your debt has been paid for in full. Here’s my blood, which cleanses you from all sin.
Don’t carry the burdens of life on your shoulders alone. Come to me. Don’t be afraid. I am gentle and humble in heart. Find rest for your soul. Take my yoke upon you because my burden is easy and light. Let’s do life together. Follow me. You can trust me.
The words of Jesus liberate us from legalism, and performance, and low self-esteem. We can confront the dirtiest parts of our hearts without being crushed. Because we are forgiven and loved.
The spoken word is very important. Your entire life has been a compilation of verdicts that people have said about you. You are not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough, not talented enough. When we are filled with the Spirit and we speak the truth in love about Jesus and the words of Jesus come forth from our lips, we can overturn all of those verdicts with a single word.
Brothers and sisters, choose your words to one another carefully. If you are careless with your words, you think you’ve got a kid’s water gun in your hands but actually you’ve got a rocket launcher. In marriage and in churches, you think you are barely getting somebody a little wet with a squirt when you say mean things, but it’s like the cartoons, you shoot out some words carelessly and you’ve vaporized your target and all you’ve got left is a pair of sneakers with smoke coming out of them.
If having access to your spouse’s dirt, you abuse that power and privilege and speak carelessly, you don’t realize that you have a rocket launcher. And instead of achieving deep soul oneness, marriage ends up being nothing more than a business partnership where you learn to bargain and not deal with the dirty parts. Or, you let the words fly in a raging firestorm that will destroy both of your lives. What words come out of your mouth toward your spouse is very important.
Likewise, in churches, we hold the same potential for good and evil in the way we speak to one another. The life-giving words of Jesus can re-program your self-image. With our spoken words, we can wash and confront sin in a way that edifies and cleanses and affirms God’s love in spite of our sin. Also, with the same spoken word, we can condemn and tear down, enslave and abuse. The words that come out of our mouths toward one another are extremely important. Through words, God created the heavens and the earth. Jesus is logos, or the Word embodied in the flesh. Words can create, words can breathe life, and at the same time, words can tear down and destroy.
Ultimately, Christ reprograms your self-image. Listen to his words. Listen for his voice. Let the fact that He died for you be the only fact that matters. Let that reprogram you. I matter to the only person in the world that really matters. Everyone else can criticize but you don’t fall apart because Christ thinks the world of you.
Jesus loves you in spite of you. A man and woman who are in love. The guy might be a total jerk and people around may wonder, what does she see in him? The couple’s love in the beginning is quite immature or she is blinded by romance so she may not see his flaws, which are obvious to everyone else. I see his heart. Who he really is. The problem with immature love–you see the heart but not the blemishes. A mature love sees blemishes but also sees the diamonds in the rough rocks that are yet to emerge. Jesus loves us. He sees your sins, and he says, let me cover them and remove them from the inside out. I see the glorious person that you will become one day.
Marriage is only a metaphor for the Great Marriage. The real completer is Jesus. Jesus is the Helper and the Head. A great marriage is not enough. It doesn’t complete you. Christ completes you. He comes as the ultimate spouse, head, helper. We are sub-men and sub-women apart from Christ. Look to him. In Him, you will see the completion and the perfection of your soul.
Lastly, Christian life is a divine romance. Jesus is madly in love with you. When you look at how a man falls in love with a woman and sweeps her off her feet and marries her, you get a glimpse into Christ’s love for you. He sets his heart on you with a passion that makes the most daring romance in this world seem like kids stuff. It’s a love that goes beyond any passion that you will ever experience.
Someday, when faith becomes sight and you see Jesus face to face and you flop into the arms of your Savior, you and I can say, at last, bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh, now that I am with you, I know who I am. I am finally complete.
31 For this reason a man will leave…
The word for “leave” is a strong word. It can be translated as leave behind, neglect, forsake, abandon. Who are we called to leave? Father and mother. There is no society like Western society that de-emphasizes the obligation to your parents. But Asians, I think we can better appreciate how shocking this statement must have been for the Jewish readers in the first century. To the Jewish contemporaries of Paul, family was everything. So a Jewish reader in the first century would have been jarred by the statement–leave your father and mother.
Is there any relationship in life while you were single that has been more formative and foundational in your development than parents? Your parents had a tremendous influence in making you who you are today. And that’s why we honor our father and our mother.
Jesus made an equally shocking statement when he described what it means to follow Christ in Luke 14:26–
26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be My disciple.”
Here, Jesus is basically saying, if you want to be my disciple, then I have to be the most important person in your life. Relative to our love for Jesus, our love for others, even other Christians, will feel like hatred because our love for Jesus has to be orders of magnitude greater and higher than all other relationships. Jesus alone is Tier 1. Jesus includes father and mother, but he also includes wife and children. Clearly, in terms of priority, Jesus has to be #1 for the believer.
Beyond Christ, every other relationship is Tier 2. I think there can be a certain amount of debate as to how all other human relationships rank in terms of importance. As I said earlier, marriage mirrors Christ and the church so there is no use in saying between marriage and the church one is more important than the other. In my opinion, both marriage and church relationships are equally important and so the key is consistency. If you are at church, be a good Christian. If you are at home, be a good Christian. Be consistent.
With that said, we mustn’t lose sight of the priority that marriage has over many other relationships and many other pursuits. The marriage relationship is more fundamental than even our parents. If you study Genesis, you will notice that God did not put a parent and a child in the Garden. He didn’t put two same gender best friends in the Garden. He placed a husband and a wife.
What can go ahead of marriage? For many men and an increasing number of women, career comes before marriage. Even kids. Marriages are so bad these days that even kids are placed ahead of spouse. You are walking on thin ice if the chief source of your love and emotional nurture comes from your kids. Many married couples revolve their entire lives around their kids. They buy a house they can’t really afford so that they can move into a neighborhood with a good school district. Then comes the kumon lessons, soccer practices, music recitals, summer camps. For 18 years, the kid’s schedule becomes the parents’ schedule. The kids have been placed above the marriage. Then, during the empty nest years when the kids move away, there is nothing to hold the marriage together.
What about friends? Friends can come ahead of marriage. If any of these come before your spouse, you are in trouble. Except for Christ and the church, marriage has to have priority over all other people and pursuits in your life.
Leave your father and mother. Many marriages are destroyed because the couple did not follow this prerequisite prior to getting married. What are some examples of couples who haven’t left? You may know someone who is dependent on mommy or daddy for finances. Or a momma’s boy–a husband who can’t make decisions without finding out what mommy wants. Leaving father and mother means putting your spouse ahead of your parents and what they want.
When your parents criticize the spouse, what does it mean concretely to leave father and mother? It means, when there is a conflict between your parents and your spouse, you can never take your parents’ side again after you are married. Singles, this is priceless advice. Someone would treat me to dinner if they realized how valuable the advice I just gave to you is. Singles, take notes. If you follow this advice based on biblical principles, you will be spared from many fights with your spouse. You always have to defend your spouse and make them feel like you are on their side and not your parents’ side.
We need to leave behind old family patterns. You don’t enter a marriage and say, this is how it was in my family. This is the man’s role. This is the woman’s role. Some fathers help their wives in doing chores around the house and with raising the kids. Some father’s don’t lift a finger. What we observed and determined to be the “norm” growing up, you have to leave it behind.
If parents did something negative, we may react against those things. I’ll never treat my kids the way my parents treated me. If you were beaten mercilessly by your parents, you may resolve never to lay a finger on your child. Instead of evaluating the merits of corporal punishment in child rearing, you have just made a decision because you are reacting against your past. Or, my parents made me go to church. I am going to be different and give my kids a choice. So when they turn 5 years old, if they rather stay home and watch cartoons, I will respect their decision. There is no consideration of whether church is good for me and my kids. You are just NOT doing something because my parents did it.
You need to leave all of that behind and start anew. Leave. Start fresh. What will be right between me and my spouse? How can I serve my spouse so that they know they are loved? What worked between your parents will not necessary work in your marriage because you have a new husband, a new wife, you are different couple. And there will never be another couple just like you.
31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined…
The word for “be joined” means literally “to be glued together.” To be faithfully devoted to, to be united with, to cleave. You leave and then you cleave. There are only 2 occurrences of this word and in both instances, it is used only in the context of marriage. Marriage is a very unique relationship indeed. However, because marriage is a pointer to Christ and the church, the principle of being joined in marriage has universal application for everyone in the church, singles as well as married couples.
The joining together in marriage happens during the wedding ceremony when the wedding vows are exchanged. In that moment, you are making a commitment to your spouse for life in a public ceremony. Similarly, when a person is saved, there also is a ceremony. A baptism ceremony. The new believer is baptized and they publicly confess their commitment to Christ and that commitment gets fleshed out in a local church context.
Marriage and church mirror one another and so when we are joined to our spouse in marriage and when we are joined to Christ and when we join a church, we are talking about the same thing–commitment. You commit to your spouse and you commit to Christ when you repent and place your faith in Him and you commit to a church to express your commitment to Christ within the body of Christ.
Another way of saying, be joined is be committed. The essence of marriage and the essence of our relationship with Christ and the essence of our relationships within the church is not a feeling. Feelings come and go. If the essence of marriage and Christ and the church were feelings, then this means we can fall in and out of marriage and in and out of a relationship with Christ and in and out of a relationship with His church.
When you left your father and mother and committed to your spouse, you promised, you made a vow that you would stick to your spouse in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, and I would add–when emotions run high and when the tank is empty–until death do us part. It was a commitment.
Doesn’t this reflect our relationship with Christ and our relationships with other believers in the church? When Christ commits to us, we committed to Christ. And we said, Jesus, I will stay by your side through thick and thin, I commit to open up my Bible and pray and worship you even on days when I don’t feel like it. Regarding church, I know churches are not perfect, but I have committed myself to the universal church and to this particular church, Hill Community, for as long as Christ would have me here. When things are going well at church or when things are falling apart, I will remain committed to His body. And this commitment to the universal church might be expressed by staying here for 40 years or it might be 4 weeks because God has another local church in mind for you down the road. But your commitment to the universal church and one or more local churches over the course of your lifetime will never waver because commitment to Christ and commitment to His church are inseparable.
At the beginning of a marriage, as with the beginning of your relationship with Christ and when you first joined a church, emotions tend to run high. You had a literal honeymoon phase as newlyweds when your spouse could do no wrong. In your relationship with Christ, new believers also go through a honeymoon phase when you are so excited to open your Bible and you are eager to spend time with the Lord in prayer. When you first walk into a church and things are new, there is kind of a honeymoon phase as well because the pastor seems witty and insightful and you are so excited to meet new people because they seem nice and you don’t see their flaws yet and you are eager to serve.
Things are easy in the beginning. When emotions run high, actions follow naturally. This is human nature. As a newlywed or as a newborn Christian who is enjoying Christ and his people for the first time, think back to how easy it was to act loving toward your spouse and toward Christ and others in the church because your feelings of love were strong.
What happens, for example, when married couples operate with emotions first and then actions second? What happens is this. When the emotions of love fade, and they inevitably do, the actions of love cease. It’s a vicious cycle. Because the feelings of love are gone, the actions of love stop and because the actions of love stop, the feelings of love never return. The marriage becomes stuck. This same pattern can happen in our relationship with Christ and this same pattern can happen at church. Feelings fade, then actions stop.
If a marriage settles into this pattern, it’s just a matter of time before the relationship will devolve into bargaining. You think, your husband is not being the husband he used to be or she is not being the wife she used to be so why should I be the spouse I am called to be? This is the bargaining mentality and you pull back.
But when a child is born, everything changes. The baby spits on you, poops all over you, the child does nothing for you. You get nothing out of the relationship while you are giving everything. You are dead tired, but still you wake up in the middle of the night because you are the parent and you are committed to love regardless of your feelings in the moment. Even without realizing it, you are following the biblical pattern of love as commitment.
Love is an action first, feeling second. The feelings of love follow the actions of love. In the case of your children, for 18 years, you have been practicing the principles of love. Even if your child is a jerk and has no redeeming social value, you still love him. In those same 18 years toward your children, it’s not a bargain and so the cycle has been working in reverse.
However, we hold our spouses to a different standard, don’t we? When your spouse acts like a baby, what do you do? The less your spouse gives to you, the less you give. The less you give, the less you feel loving. The less you feel loving, the less you act loving. It’s a vicious cycle. But for your child–the more you give, the more you feel loving. The more you feel loving, the more you give. You are operating toward the child based on a biblical pattern.
With your spouse, you treat it like a bargain instead of a commitment. The feelings of selfishness follow the actions of selfishness. And it’s no wonder, after 18 years, you have a tremendous amount of affection for your child but absolutely no affection for your spouse.
Practically, this means that love is an action first and a feeling second. Being committed to your job means you will show up to work on Monday mornings even on days when you don’t feel like it. Being committed to Christ means you will seek him even when you don’t feel inspired or when you are feeling lazy. When the Bible says, love your neighbor and it says, love your enemy, it’s uses the same word. How is that possible? You feel absolutely zero affection for your enemy, but you are called to love that person.
Be joined, be committed. Act in a serving way toward one another. Act in a tender way, out of a sense of commitment, even when you don’t feel affectionate. If you act that way toward your spouse and towards Jesus and toward your Christian brother or sister, an amazing thing will happen. As you act loving, the feelings of love that you had during the honeymoon stage will return.
In all 3 arenas–marriage, Christ, church–emotions do not last. Our hearts are fallen and fickle. When emotions dry up, that’s when the marriage begins to fall apart. That’s when Christians close up their Bibles and their prayers are reduced to 10 seconds before the meal. Then, you start skipping Sunday services. Most times, the feelings subside and the actions follow suit. The flowers stop coming. The dates and dinners are no more. The strolls along the beach are replaced by romantic strolls down the aisles of Costco. You skip out on your devotional life with Jesus because you want to sleep in or watch your favorite TV show. Church becomes a chore and you start doing bare minimum and isolate yourself from other believers.
If you follow your feelings first and your actions stop as a result, your relationships in marriage, with Christ and within the church will spiral downward. Invest in your relationship with spouse, Christ, church and they will become more lovely to you.
Last week, we talked about how marriage is a vehicle of our sanctification. This week, I want to talk about an aspect of sanctification. We are sanctified as we are completed, completed in marriage, completed in church and ultimately completed in Jesus.
31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 32 This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.
I am covering only 3 verses this afternoon. Let’s work in reverse. Verse 33 – I just want to point out the phrase, “each one of you.” In his summary statement, who is Paul addressing first and foremost? He is calling out the husbands. He could have phrased it, husbands, love your wives and wives respect your husbands. But he doesn’t. He puts special emphasis on the husbands. Each one of you. If the marriage doesn’t go right, it’s often the husband’s fault for not loving rather than a lack of respect issue on the part of wives. If husbands loved in the way that Christ loved the church, wives wouldn’t struggle so much respecting their husbands. What woman would not respect a husband who led and loved like Christ? Men, God is going to hold you responsible if the marriage suffers.
Verse 22 – the mystery of marriage is the fact that in this section which is all about marriage, marriage is not the main point. Having a good marriage is not the main takeaway from this chapter. The point is Christ and the church. The secret that unlocks this mystery is gospel re-enactment. We covered this already. The gospel is embedded in marriage and the gospel is embedded in Christ’s interaction with the church. Husbands are to lay down their lives for the church and wives are to submit and this pattern exactly mirrors Christ, who laid down his life to birth the church and the church submits to the headship and leadership of Christ.
Verse 31 has 4 important parts.
31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.
The 4 parts are: 1) For this reason, 2) leave, 3) be joined, 4) one flesh. Let’s look at part 1.
“For this reason…”
Phrases like this are important. There is a reason or basis for marriage and completion in marriage and one flesh union in marriage. What is the reason? This is just simple reading comprehension. To get at the answer, we have to read the previous verses.
29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 since we are members of His body.
I think we can see 2 things in these verses. First, the reason for marriage is to teach husbands and wives, and in this case, specifically the husband, to provide and care for his wife. In other words, husbands, don’t be selfish. Life was not meant to be lived for the self. This goes for both men and women. Life is more than providing for your own needs and taking care of yourself and using the other person to get what you want. Instead, live for others, starting with your spouse if you are married. Many people think they are loving. The Bible doesn’t allow us to make broad generalizations like, I love humanity. I love the world. Really? The Bible is much more concrete. Start with loving one person. Can you love one person, just one person, with the same level of care and concern that you have for yourself?
Second, we see how marriage is a reflection of Christ and the church. Christ did not live for himself. Christ provided and cared for the church. He laid down his life for the church. He continues to this day to pour out his love to the church and He has sent the Holy Spirit and given spiritual gifts to help edify His church. Christ is inseparable from the church. Christ and the church are one. He is the Head of the church. He is not a decapitated Head floating around the heavenly realms. He is connected to, inseparable from His body. And we are the body of Christ. May we never be a headless body where we only relate to one another and we lose sight of who the Head is.
The only reason we are together is because we are IN CHRIST. We are one body AND we are one with Christ, who is the Head. Christian brothers and sisters are to provide and care for one another in the same way that husbands are to provide and care for their wives. Remember, the two mirror one another. Marriage is a pointer to the mystery of Christ and the church. It says we are members of Christ’s body. Your arm is not a severed limb. It is connected to the rest of the body. You wouldn’t refer to your pinky toe and say, man, I got a mighty fine body. Arm, pinky toe, torso, legs–it’s all one body. Even a paper cut on your index finger causes you pain. Whether you stub your toe or jam a finger or get your wind knocked out, to you, pain is pain. Because you have one body and the parts are interconnected. One part suffers, the whole body suffers. Members of Christ’s church are as inseparable and interconnected as body parts are to a person’s body.
Marriage mirrors Christ and the church. Does this mean that singles are in a worse off position than married couples? This is review, but I want to make sure you understand this point. There is no marriage in the new heaven and new earth. Apostle Paul was single and obviously none of us would consider him to be inferior because of his single status. Marriage is only a pointer to Christ and the church. Therefore, having a happy marriage or an incredibly intimate marriage where there is deep soul level oneness cannot be the end goal. The end goal is for you and I, for every believer, whether single or married, to be the radiant, spotless bride of Christ.
Couples who get engaged prepare for months and even years for their wedding day. For the believer, this life–40, 60, 80 years–is all preparation. It’s a shadow of things to come. We are preparing ourselves for that day when we will be invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and we get to participate in the cosmic wedding with our ultimate Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. We will be united to and experience deep oneness with Christ. A deep unity with Christ that we only have faint glimpses of here on earth. We get faint glimpses of our future marriage with Christ here and now in physical marriage. We get faint glimpses of it in churches. But we mustn’t forget–the best is yet to come. God has to use many tools in his toolbox to teach us the deep things of God. Marriage is one tool and church is another. Both are vehicles to sanctify us and to help us understand the mystery of Christ and the church.
To say that marriage is more important than church is to misunderstand this spiritual principle. It would be like saying the sign on the freeway that says, “Los Angeles – 50 miles,” is more important than the city that the sign points to. No, the City of Angels is infinitely more important than a metal sign. Or, it’s like saying that our reflection in the mirror is more important than our actual bodies. I don’t know about you, I kind of like my reflection, I would like it more if I lost 10 lbs, but I like me infinitely more than my reflection.
Physical marriage points to Christ and the church, both here in our physical local churches, as well as the future, fully sanctified church that is part of the new heaven and the new earth. In the same way, our physical, local churches are pointers to the future, fully sanctified church that is part of the new heaven and the new earth. Marriage vs. local church–I wouldn’t say that one has priority over the other. They are on equal footing, they are on the same level because they mirror one another and BOTH act as pointers to the future, cosmic union between Christ and His universal church.
When marriage is functioning according to God’s design, marriage helps selfish sinners concretely by giving them an opportunity to deny themselves in order to serve their spouses. Churches that are functioning according to God’s design, likewise, help selfish sinners concretely by giving them an opportunity to deny themselves in order to serve other believers.
The practical application is simple. For singles, get involved in the lives of brothers and sisters around you. Start here. The person next to you. Once a week on a Sunday afternoon doesn’t cut it. Imagine if husbands and wives lived in separate rooms and had entirely separate schedules and only saw each other once a week. We would say, that marriage is dysfunctional. Because they are supposed to be one.
Likewise, the church. As members of Christ’s body, we are supposed to be one. Unity in marriage and unity at church doesn’t come automatically. It takes work. Invest in others. Spend time with brothers and sisters in Christ whom God has placed around you. Provide for their needs. Care for them concretely the same way that you provide and care for your own needs.
Married couples: your challenge is more complicated because you have the same 24 hours in a day that singles have. You have your spouse to invest in AND you have brothers and sisters at this church to invest in. And if you have kids, well, life becomes a juggling act. Life gets incredibly complicated because your spouse, kids, church members are all vying for your attention.
My advice to married couples is simple–be consistent. If you are active and intentional about investing in relationships at church but neglect your spouse, then perhaps you have made church or ministry an idol. If you are active and intentional in your marriage but you neglect your church relationships, then perhaps you have made marriage your idol. If you are active and intentional with your kids, but you neglect your spouse and you don’t prioritize church, then perhaps you have made your kids an idol.
As a pastor, if I am only godly while I am at church, but I live like an atheist outside the church, then you would have good reason to question my authenticity. If I’m good at pointing people here to Jesus, but I go home and I just play video games all day and I never talk about Jesus with my wife and kids even though I spend a good chunk of the week with them, then you would conclude that I am a phony. I would be like a corrupt police officer who abides by the laws and catches criminals while I have the uniform on, but after I take off the uniform, I’m dealing drugs on the street corner. You would say, I’m a crook, I’m a hypocrite, I’m just playing the part of a good guy when I have on the uniform, or I’m behind the pulpit, but it’s all an act.
It’s easy to act a certain way when people are watching, or when the spotlights are on. Anyone can act saintly for a couple of hours on a Sunday. It’s another thing altogether to be consistent Monday through Saturday. We have to live before God and not before men. Who you are in the privacy of your home when no one from church is around is the real you. A father who serves his spouse and trains his kids in the ways of the Lord when no one at the church is around to notice is the real deal because he is living before the Lord. A father who serves as a deacon and who meets with younger brothers of the church to disciple them but who doesn’t disciple his own children and neglects his wife lacks the consistency of someone who lives before the Lord. Or, he has turned church or ministry into an idol. Be consistent because wherever you are, God is there.