The Enduring Goodness of Marriage: What the Gospel Has to Say to a Culture of Cohabitation

old-people-couple-together-connected.jpgWith his characteristic biblical insight and cultural engagement, Tim Keller’s book on marriage, The Meaning of Marriageis filled with wisdom and encouragement. Aimed at marrieds and singles considering marriage (and singles who have sworn off the institution), Keller provides a helpful look at God’s design for marriage.

Importantly, he spends the first chapter considering the state of marriage today. He recognizes the way in which marriage has been assailed by the culture, and he makes a cogent argument for the enduring goodness of marriage in a secular age.

It’s from this first chapter, I want to share a few quotations that reflect on the pain of marriage, the enduring goodness of marriage, the perversion of marriage (i.e., how redefined expectations for marriage have twisted God’s original design); and way the gospel brings hope and meaning to marriage.

If these quotes resonate with you, I encourage you to pick up Keller’s excellent book. Continue reading

Marriage: Counter-Cultural in Every Generation

louis-moncouyoux-3615There are many who have read Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22–33 as an accommodation, or even an appropriation, to the Greco-Roman culture. However, Clinton Arnold in his outstanding commentary on this section, shows why that cannot be true. Taking an extended look at “The Roles of Wives in Roman-Era Ephesus and Western Asia Minor” (pp. 372–79), Arnold shows why Paul’s words are radically counter-cultural—both in his day and in ours.

Writing to a church combatting spiritual powers, Paul is not adopting the idea of patriarchy and headship from the Roman culture. If anything, he is opposing an ancient form of feminism that saw women asserting greater independence. In particular, citing many primary sources, Arnold shows how growing wealth among women, coupled with positions of leadership and the rise of goddess cults all worked to create “freedom and opportunity for women,” which had the effect of creating competition between married men and women (376).

This “new Roman woman,” as Arnold calls it, shows why Paul’s words about marriage and the family in Ephesians are not simply a cultural accommodation. Rather, as he puts it,

Ephesians was thus written to a place and at a time where traditional Greek and Roman roles for women and wives were in a dynamic flux. It is no longer accurate to portray the social-cultural environment as oppressive for women, denying them opportunities for leadership in religious and civic institutions, and extending to them no places of involvement outside of the domestic sphere. Of course, these opportunities would not have been available to most of the peasant and populations. But the same opportunities would have been closed to peasant and slave men as well since their primary focus was on survival. (378)

This is a vast change from the way many have read Ephesians. But we can ask, what significance does this have for our reading of Ephesians? Continue reading

Washed by the Water of the Word: How Paul Applies Ezekiel’s Words on Marriage to Christ and the Church

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Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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.
— Ephesians 5:25–27 —

In his commentary on Ephesians, Clinton Arnold shows how Paul takes up the imagery and language of Ezekiel to explain the work of Christ in purifying his bride, the church. As Ezekiel 16 looks forward to a day when the God of Israel will redeem and purify his covenant people, it is important to see how Ezekiel’s prophecy is fulfilled by Christ and the church. Thankfully, Paul demonstrates how Christ’s purchase and purification of his bride gives us explicit textual evidence for that fulfillment.

Arnold picks up the way Paul has made those connections and helpfully shows us how the many passages describing God’s marriage with Israel (e.g., Isaiah 54:5; 58:8; 61:10; 62:5; Jeremiah 2:2; 3:1–10; Ezekiel 16; Hosea 2:19–20; 4:12; 5:4; 14:4) are picked up and applied to the bride of Christ composed of Jews and Gentiles. Here’s what he says, Continue reading

Walk Worthy (pt. 3): Walk in the Light of Christ (Ephesians 5:6–14)

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Walk Worthy (pt. 3): Walk in the Light of Christ

Walking seems like such a simple thing until we break a toe or all the lights go out. Thankfully, the command to walk worthy of our calling is not something we must figure out on our own or something we must do in our own strength. Rather, in Christ the Christian has been given all they need to walk in love and light.

Just as important, we have been given a community with whom we can walk. In Sunday’s sermon, it was this community—a community of light—we considered most closely. For those who are laboring to walk with Christ, Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 are vital for knowing what light is and how to walk in light. 

For help on this subject, you can listen to this sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and further resources are listed below. Continue reading

Walk Worthy (pt 2): Walking in (His) Love (Ephesians 5:1–5)

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Walk Worthy (pt. 2): Walking in His Love (Ephesians 5:1–5)

After laying out the riches of God’s grace and glory in Ephesians 1–3, Paul turns to the way in which Christians are to walk in their new life. Five times in Ephesians 4–5 he uses the word “walk:— in light of Christ’s work of salvation, Paul calls us to walk worthy of our calling (4:1), to walk unlike Gentiles (4:17), to walk in love (5:1), to walk in light (5:8), and to walk in wisdom (5:15).

In this week’s sermon, I consider the third of these instructions, to walk in love. Based on a close reading of Ephesians, we learn that walking in love depends on knowing, delighting, and experiencing God’s love. Only as we walk in his love, can we express love to others—especially love to those who are unlovely.

You can listen to this message online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and additional resources are listed below. Continue reading

Two Weddings and a Funeral :: Two Funerals and a Wedding

A Wedding Sermon

If you look at the big picture of the Bible, you will see that it is about two weddings and a funeral!  In the first book of the Bible and the last, weddings take center-stage.  And between them, leading from one to the other, is a funeral, but one without a grave.

In Genesis 1, God says in verses 26-28,

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

What Genesis 1 tells us in brief Genesis 2 gives with more detail.  Genesis 2 records that when God made Adam, he was alone and it was not good.  So God paraded all the animals of the earth before Adam, and yet a suitable helper was not found.

Then we learn that Adam was put into a deep sleep by God, and that from his rib God made a helper suitable for him.  Genesis 2:23 tells of Adam’s exuberant reaction, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh or my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.”

Genesis 2 continues,

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  And the man his wife were naked and were not ashamed.”

 So it was in the beginning, God created marriage.  He called it good.  It was his idea.  His invention.  One man.  One woman.  In covenant together, forever.  A union of love, intimacy, pleasure, and security.

And so human history, in every culture and in every land, has celebrated marriage, as we do today.  Even with the effects of sin that plague marriage, it is a glorious gift that God has given to humanity.  The joy that we feel today, as with the regular joys of home life, is a taste of God’s goodness and love.  In a world torn-apart by sin, it is the place that God has designed for as a refuge from the storms of life.

But marriage is not an end in itself.

God gave marriage to Adam and Eve, and God gave marriage to everyone else to point to a greater marriage.  This is where the second marriage comes in.

In Revelation 19, the Bible records the marriage of Jesus Christ to his bride, the church.

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (19:6-9)

It is not an accident that one of the last acts in the Bible is a marriage.  For this was God’s plan from the beginning—to establish an eternal covenant of love between himself and all those who trust in Christ.

So the Bible begins with a marriage and ends with a marriage. But to get from one to the other, it has to pass through a funeral.

The central feature of the Bible, is the cross of Jesus Christ.  The death that he died on Calvary, to pay for the sins of the world.  And interestingly, one of the ways that the Bible describes Jesus’ death, is that of a husband for his wife.

Ephesians 5:25 reads:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor…

What we see described in Revelation 19 was accomplished by Jesus death on the cross.   The second and eternal marriage of Christ is the wonderful result of Christ’s death and resurrection.  The death and resurrection which overcame all the corruptions that have marred humanity and the marriages that have come after Adam and Eve.

So today, as we consecrate this marriage, I want to remind you that for your marriage to last and experience God’s blessing, it requires an ongoing and growing relationship with Jesus Christ and hope in marriage to Him.

In fact, what we see today in your wedding depicts in minuet, what that final wedding will be like.  A faithful husband taking a radiant bride and loving her and caring for her for eternity.  In this way, your marriage is not just your own, it is Christ’s!

Two Funerals Before Your Wedding

This wedding today marks out the fact that you are covenanting together today to be husband and wife.  A husband and wife that are first committed to Jesus Christ, and from his saving love, you are committing to love one another until death – and death alone – separates you.

To the husband

You are committing to love your bride like Christ loved the church, to give up yourself for her, to be her spiritual leader, and her sacrificial lover.  To cherish her, to nourish her, to consider her before yourself.  You are taking on the role as one who promises to love like Christ, and to lay down your life for her.

In order to be the kind of husband that she needs, you will need to die to self, daily.  The cross of Jesus Christ must become more precious to you every day.  The forgiveness that God gives to you in Christ must spur you on to love him more, and in turn to love your bride more purely, more passionately, more completely.   The death of Christ must become ever increasing in your sights, so that the resurrected life of Christ will continue to work in you.

To the bride

Today you are pledging to be your husbands helpmate.  To trust him, to respect him, and to submit to his leadership.  Just as the church lovingly follows Christ, so you are to walk by his side, as a woman of virtue and character, cultivating a godly home and co-laboring with Ryan to raise children who know the love of God because of your model before them.

But in order to be the kind of wife that he will need you to be, and to be the kind of wife that Scripture commends, you too will need to die to yourself daily.  You must look to the cross of Christ for the grace that you will need to love and live with this man.  And some days you will need it more than others!

In the Bible, there are two weddings and a funeral.  A funeral that was cut short, because Christ rose from the grave!

In your lives, as the two of you become one, there must be two funerals for your marriage to succeed. For your marriage to know and show the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the two of you must die with Christ daily, and live by the power of the Holy Spirit—directing you, empowering you, helping you to love one another, learning to forgive one another and to pursue peace with one another, in a way that only Jesus Christ can give to you.

We live in world today where marriage is a cheap and disposable thing.  Where God created it to last forever, too many people treat it like plastic silverware.  Use it a time or two, and get rid of it.

In treating it with such disdain, the world misses God’s purpose for marriage and his blessing.  Satan will tempt you with the same thoughts, but if you look to Christ together every day, God will accomplish his plans and purposes in your marriage, and your marriage will shine like a light, a light that point others to the marriage supper of the lamb, one that will last forever.

You see, Christ’s funeral did not end in a tomb, it won a bride and finished with a feast.  So too, the power of the resurrection is available for your marriage, if you will daily look to Christ and ask him to establish your marriage in grace and truth!

May God be pleased to make your marriage one that is filled with the joy and love of Jesus Christ and shows to the world the coming Marriage Supper of the Lamb!

The Mystery of Marriage: A Quasi-Ordinance

[This is a follow-up post from The Mystery of Marriage: A Parable of Christ and Church  which reflected on George Knight’s article on Ephesians 5 in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991], 175-76)].

From the foundation of the world, marriage was always designed to picture a greater reality.  Generation after generation of God’s covenant people knew of his marital designs and creation, but only in the fullness of time, as Jesus Christ came in the flesh and the Spirit of Christ inspired the apostles to elucidate the gospel of Jesus Christ, did the mystery of husband and wife become known.  Consider Knight’s concluding remarks:

But if this is so, then the order Paul is speaking of here (submission and love [in Ephesians 5:22-33]) is not accidental or temporary or culturally determined: it is part of the essence of marriage, part of God’s original plan for perfect, sinless, harmonious marriage.  This is a powerful argument for the fact that Christlike, loving headship and church-like, willing submission are rooted in creation and in God’s eternal purposes, not just in the passing trends of culture (176).

In our foolish and anti-Christ(ian) world, there are countless marriages that exist in rebellion against the very purpose for which they were designed.  God made marriage for his glory and the expression his covenant love with his bride, redeemed humanity.  Consequently, the establishment of marriage in Genesis 2 was intended to tesify to this reality. 

Today, unbelievers experience the mystery of marriage, but without knowing how to understand it.  They are blind to its salvific and cosmic significance.  Too non-Christian marriages are drenched in bitterness and guile, because unmitigated sin gnaws at their covenantal bond.  But unbelievers are not alone.  Christian marriages war against God’s design for marriage whenever they cast aside God’s intended order for husbands and wives (cf. 1 Cor. 11:7; Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Pet. 3:1-7).  This can be done by deliberate egalitarianism or by immature believers in need of marital sanctification.  Either way, in failing to recognize God’s wise design for husbands to lead and wives to follow, for men to love like Christ and women to submit like the church, they are dishonoring the Word of God, disobeying the Lord who bought them, and distorting God’s picture of salvation captured in the parable of marriage. 

God’s illustrative purposes for marriage is what makes it a mystery.  Just as the heavens testify to the glory of God, so marriage captures something of his grandeur–something that is seen in the best of marriages, to be sure.  Likewise, as baptism and the Lord’s supper resemble the salvation of Christ’s disciples, so marriage images something about Christ and the church.  In this way, marriage is a kind of quasi-ordinance.  It is not restricted to the church; it is rather for all people.  Yet, in its global enjoyment it testifies to heavenly realities and God’s cosmic plan of redemption in Christ.  In this way, marriage is perhaps one of the largest and potentially broadest means of sharing the gospel, as marriage itself can be called upon to witness to Christ and the church.  The impact of marriage biblically arranged and gloriously incarnated has great evangelistic potential.  Soberly, couples that disregard God’s word concerning marriage, cannot have such effect. 

God’s designs are not new, they are from before the foundation of the world.  Neither is Satan’s attack on marriage.  He attacked Eve in the Garden and he is still advancing towards marriages today.  May we who love the gospel and the biblical vision for marriage, fight to protect our homes from the corrosive effects of an anti-marriage culture, and may we by the power of the Spirit embrace and embody God’s glorious designs for marriage.  So that perhaps, the world around us might come to know Christ by the testimony of our marriages which point to the message we proclaim–Jesus Christ is Lord!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Gender-Specificity and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

When Paul speaks in Titus 2:1 about sound doctrine, he immediately turns to relationships. Rather than expatiating a systematic theology, Paul says that theology is worked out in the context of distinctly masculine and feminine roles, in youthful and elderly stages of life, and in varying spheres of leadership and influence (i.e. masters and slaves).  Clearly theology that is genuine is incarnated in the daily life of Christians.  In regards to husband and wife relations, Christopher Ash in his book Marriage: Sex in the Service of God  picks up this same idea– theologically-infused living– when he comments on another Pauline passage in 1 Corinthians 11.  He writes:

Paul’s teaching here (1 Cor. 11:2-16) seems to be conditioned by women (perhaps reacting against the abuses of patriarchy) behaving as if they can ‘go it alone’ in their behaviour, whether by ceasing to be gladly feminine or by reluctance to cooperate in the marriage partnership. By their contentious and disorderly behaviour they bring disrepute on the gospel. In the absence of proper order (which includes Christian subordination of the wife to the husband, and headship as sacrificial serving authority) there will be rivalry rather than partnership between the sexes. Perhaps in Corinth the women needed reminding both of their interdependence with the men and that they were made ‘for the sake of’ man, as partners in a shared God-given task. Disorder (and in particular a wrong attitude of subordination) leads to rivalry in which the weakest go to the wall; the task will be neglected. Proper order will promote sexual relations in the service of God (302).

Ash does not only address women but men as well.  Writing later in his book, he furthers his argument of gender-specific gospel living by saying:

The love of husband for wife is to be modelled on the cross. It is to be self-sacrificial love and not the self-serving enjoyment of some misguided privilege. Christian headship in marriage is marriage in the shape of cross; most contemporary debate misses this central point. For Christ to be head of the church was not a cheap or comfortable calling; it involved crucifixion (322).

The purpose of marriage then, says Ash, is that “the husband takes upon himself the goal of being such a husband whose love will lead his wife into growth in personal and spiritual maturity (for there is not dichotomy between these two), so that his greatest aim in marriage is not his self-fulfillment but the blossoming of his wife. ‘Husbands should be utterly committed to the total well-being, especially the spiritual welfare, of their wives’ (Peter O’Brien 1999:422-424). This might sound a little self-righteous, as if he from his Olympian spiritual height can raise up his wife to his level; it is in fact deeply humbling. No husband can take responsibility seriously without himself being deeply conscious of his own need for cleansing, holiness and growth in grace” (324).

Both headship (expressed in sacrifice) and submissiveness (to unjust authority) are expressions of the way of the cross (327).

In these bold and counter-cultural statements, Christopher Ash is saying something twenty-first century Christians need to hear.  Both expressions of headship and submissiveness adorn the gospel of God and manifest, in part, the inner workings of the Trinity. In fleshing out male and female roles, husbands and wives, become more like the men and women God created them to be.  In other words, they more accurately display the gospel of Jesus Christ when they bear the fruits of biblical masculinity and feminity in the roles of head and helpmate.  Just as Jesus came as the perfect second Adam, so too married men and women, when they gladly take on their biblical roles, dignify humanity and call men and women living outside of God’s moral order to return to the truth. 

Realistically, the world’s response may not be commendation and praise, but rejection of the gospel light reflected in these godly marriages.  Nevertheless, when the world encounters a gracious patriarch willing to lay down his life for the care and protection of his family and gentle feminine companion unwilling to usurp his authority or combat his leadership, the world encounters something different, perhaps even transcedent.  When the world encounters a 1 Corinthians 11 woman or an Ephesians 5 man, it encounters a picture of Christ and the church! This is a powerful testimony and one the world can only hate. It cannot deny its Spirit-wrought reality!

May who claim the name of Christ all grow in grace and godliness, not as androgynous saints, but as brothers and sisters manifesting distinctly masculine and feminine godliness in the marriages God has given to us.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss