In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Marriage is a covenant involving three parties: God, a man, and a woman.
Covenant is a word we don’t use very often these days, but from the standpoint of Scripture, it’s a word that means a relationship backed by commitments. In marriage, those commitments come from God and from the man and the woman.
Like the covenant that God makes with us in Holy Baptism, when He adopts us as His children and pledges to never give up on us, the commitment made by God to those who marry in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is ironclad.
The promise that God made through Moses to His covenant people in Deuteronomy 31:6, is the promise that He makes to you today, Ben and Jill, as you enter a marriage covenant with God today: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified...for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
The problem, of course, is that while God is always reliable, we human beings can be less than that.
We sometimes fudge on our commitments.
Or become less than diligent in keeping them.
Or we take each other for granted.
Or we look for escape hatches.
Or one partner tries to be "in charge."
Or we turn our marriages into boxing matches.
Because of the humanity of the men and women in marriage covenants, many people, including Christians, have given up on marriage altogether.
Why did God create marriage?
And why should you enter your own marriage, Ben and Jill, with anticipation?
A clue in answering those questions, I think, can be found in Genesis 2:18-24. There, we’re told about how God created the first woman and the first marriage. Verse 18 says: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’”
We were made for relationships and for intimate relationships.
The Bible says that we were made in the image of a triune God, one God in three persons, Who for all eternity has lived in a relationship of intimacy and mutual self-sacrifice, of mutual care.
God knows that thinking, feeling beings need relationships with other thinking, feeling beings.
That’s why God made us: So that His overabundant love could give us life and so that we could know and be known by God.
But God also knows that we aren’t spirits. We’re flesh and blood. It helps us to remember that God is there and that God loves us, that God forgives the repentant, that God gives new life to those who die to themselves--taking up their crosses and pouring themselves out for others, when God brings us other human beings to love and be loved in a relationship of enduring commitment, a covenant with another human being who is both like us and different at the same time.
God made marriage to be a foretaste of the pure and eternal relationship we will enjoy with Him and with all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ beyond the gates of death. In that sense, good, Christian marriages can be a kind of preview of coming attractions!
We can see all of this in the last part of Genesis 2:18. God says of Adam: “I will make him a helper fit for him.” Some people look at that noun, helper, and think that it means assistant. But the word in the original Hebrew means not only someone who helps, but also one who brings succor, comfort, encouragement, who builds another up, who nurtures.
And the word translated as fit for means corresponding to.
Husband and wife, these two people made in God’s image, are designed then to fit hand in glove and encourage, comfort, and nurture one another as they seek to be all that two people who seek to follow Jesus Christ can be.
Wife and husband are meant to use their gifts, talents, and abilities to lovingly help and challenge each other to grow as confident, humble disciples of Jesus Christ.*
No wonder that, if I dare to mention him here in this Presbyterian sanctuary, Martin Luther called every family built on this covenant involving God, a woman, and a man, “a little church.”
Jill and Ben, I have been so impressed by the two of you as we have met together and talked about your marriage covenant. (Though I confess, I don't quite get the whole Justin Bieber thing.)
As you enter into that covenant today, I pray that you will seek the power of God’s Holy Spirit every day to be exactly what Christ is calling you to do on this day: helpers fit for each other, partners made in the image of God, committed to being and helping one another to give glory to the One Who gave You life and the One Who gives you new and everlasting life through Jesus Christ.
Pray for and with each other.
Be there for each other.
Lift each other up.
Offer one another constructive criticism.
Share Christ with each other and with the world.
And keep following Christ!
God bless you both!
[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]
[This was shared during the joyously Christian wedding of Ben and Jill at First Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, Ohio, earlier today.]
*It's heartbreaking to see how many supposedly Christian marriages are marred by partners who are discouraging, belittling, or bullying toward their spouses. Men and women are equally prone to such behaviors, the ultimate reason being our inborn human desire to "be like God," pursued without regard to the will of God.
It only takes one such spouse breaking the marriage covenant's commitment to mutual servanthood, forgiveness, love, and accountability to to undermine a marriage.
Repentance and renewal from God through Jesus Christ, the acknowledgement of one's own faults and need for forgiveness from God and from one's spouse is the fundamental daily step, along with the habits of life mentioned near the end of this message, to keep the marriage covenant alive.
A marriage in which spouses pray together in humility and authenticity is fundamental for maintaining the covenant relationship among its three partners--God, a woman, and a man--alive.