Friday, June 03, 2011

What Is Marriage For?


Yesterday we celebrated a decade of marriage. In that time, we've moved from Wisconsin to Illinois to Kentucky, switched jobs a number of times, watched siblings progress from high school to college to married life, buried loved ones, welcomed babies, started and finished seminary, and experienced disappointments and successes. You do a lot of living in ten years.

Such a milestone is cause for celebration and thanksgiving. I am deeply grateful to God for you. Ten years of life together has furnished me with ample evidence that God was especially kind in the wife he gave me. I couldn't have known, on that blustery and cold June day a decade ago, just how great a gift you would be! So one purpose of this post is to publicly give thanks to God for his goodness, and to celebrate his faithfulness to us. Proverbs 18:22 isn't true of everyone, but it's true of me: "He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD."

Another purpose is to call to mind and affirm anew the overarching purpose of our marriage. What is marriage for? What are we trying to accomplish? Ephesians 5, which has taken deep root in your heart, tells us that our purpose is to display the gospel of Jesus Christ as we relate to one another in self-giving love, to be a sort of living picture of Christ and his church:
[22] Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. [23] 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. [24] Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
    [25] Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, [26] that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, [27] 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. [28] In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. [29] For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, [30] because we are members of his body. [31] “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” [32] This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. [33] However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Lauren Winner, in an article she wrote a number of years ago, beautifully summarizes this scriptural teaching:
Our surrounding society tells us that marriage is a private endeavor, that what happens between husband and wife behind closed doors is no one else’s concern. But in the Christian grammar, marriage is not only for the married couple. Insofar as marriage tells the Christian community a particular story, marriage is for the community. It reminds us of the communion and community that is possible between and among people who have been made new creatures in Christ. And it hints at the eschatological union between Christ and the Church. As Catholic ethicist Julie Hanlon Rubio has put it, “marriage consists not simply or even primarily of a personal relationship. Rather, it crystallizes the love of the larger church community. The couple is not just two-in-one, but two together within the whole, with specific responsibility for the whole. They must persevere in love, because the community needs to see God’s love actualized among God’s people.”
The inflections of community are important because they get at the very meanings of marriage. Marriage is a gift God gives the church. He does not simply give it to the married people of the church, but to the whole church, just as marriage is designed not only for the benefit of the married couple. It is designed to tell a story to the entire church, a story about God’s own love and fidelity to us.

I praise God for these first ten years, and pray that he will give us many, many more devoted to displaying his love and kindness!

No comments: