Friday, July 31, 2009

Marriage: An Exposition of Covenant-Keeping Grace

As we're preparing to move, we've been going through our stuff, cleaning up, throwing out, and figuring out what we're going to take with us. During that time, we found some extra programs from our wedding ceremony on July 19th, 2008. In them, we wrote a message to our guests, basically trying to make plain the interrelatedness of marriage and the Gospel. I'd like to share that with you, and would welcome your comments.

It's a bit longer than even some of my long posts, and it's also probably best read slowly. On top of that, I'd recommend strongly mousing over the Scripture references to see what those are as well. So it'll be somewhat of a time commitment, but that's OK because my last few posts have been short. :o) And as always, I pray that you'll be benefited by reading.


The most foundational thing that can be said about marriage is that it is the doing of God (Gen 2:22; Mk10:9). And the most ultimate thing that can be said about marriage is that it is the display of God (Eph 5:32).

Unfortunately, we are so wired by selfishness, sin, and cultural adaptation, that the glory of marriage is scarcely perceivable by our minds and hearts today. Janna and I would like to do our best to help you perceive the glory of marriage as it is, and not how our world has imagined it to be.*

Marriage is indeed a wonderful, glorious, and beautiful thing. But the truth is that marriage is not those things in and of itself. You see, marriage is actually only a symbol, or a picture, that points to something greater than itself. And it is only so wonderful, glorious, and beautiful because of that something greater that it points to. And so the only way to fully grasp the glory of marriage is to grasp the glory of the substance that marriage is a picture of. And that is the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To understand marriage, we must first understand the Gospel.

The Bible teaches that there is a self-existent, self-sufficient, Triune God in heaven (Ex 3:14; Jn 8:58; Gen 1:2). Even before the creation of time, God is the most righteous, pure, good, benevolent, and exuberantly joyful Being that we can imagine (Ac 2:25-28, 17:24-25; Heb 1:9). Out of this fullness of everything that is right, God desired that His greatness and glory be communicated (Is 43:7). With such a disposition to communicate His glory, He created the entire universe in six days (Gen 1:31-2:3). He desired that His creation know His glory, His goodness, and His loveliness, and that all creatures enjoy Him for all those things that He is (Rom 9:23).

God the Father also desired that out of the human race, created uniquely in the image of God, that there be a holy, pure, and gorgeous bride to give to God the Son. But we, through our representative Adam, sinned by rebelling against God, worshiping our own desires and not enjoying God for all that He is (Gen 3:6-7). As a result, humanity fell from their state of communion with God into enmity with Him (Gen 3:23; Rom 5:12, 18-19), and became darkness (Eph 2:1-3), which has no fellowship with the Light that God Himself is (1Jn 1:5). Because of this, the Father could not properly present to His Son the bride that He is worthy of (Rev 5:12-13). In fact, because of our sin, all of humanity is rightly banished from the purity of God’s presence and into eternal torment away from Him, what we know as hell (Matt 13:41-42).

But when the fullness of the time came, God the Father sent the Son to the Earth to live a life as both God and Man (Mk 1:1; Jn 3:13), and to rescue a remnant of humanity, purchasing them with His own blood (Mk 10:45; Gal 4:4-5; Ac 20:28). He was born of a virgin (Lk 1:30-35, 2:7) and given the name Jesus (Lk 2:21). He lived a life that was entirely worthy of the holiness and purity of His Father (Matt 3:16-17). He never sinned against God (Is 53:9; 1Jn 3:5), the way all of us have (Rom 3:23). He satisfied God’s righteous requirement of perfection (Rom 8:3-4), and He willingly laid down His life as the payment for the penalty that the sins of humanity incurred (Jn 10:15, 18). His life of perfect obedience satisfied the Father’s just wrath against our sin (Is 53:4-5, 10), and the Father imputed (or ascribed) Jesus’ perfect life to us while at the same time imputing our sinfulness to Christ (2Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13-14). By His sacrifice, we who receive Him by faith are saved from the sin that separated us from God (Ac 15:8-9; Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16), and are given the gift of eternal life in His presence (Rom 6:23; 1Pet 3:18).

All those that Jesus redeemed are called the Church (Ac 20:28; Col 1:18), who is properly called the Bride of Christ (Rev 19:7-8). This people, totally unworthy of the Father and so unworthy to be presented to His Son, is purified by the Son Himself (Tit 2:14). The dowry for Jesus’ bride cost Him nothing less than His life. But in the majesty of His abundant grace, Jesus willingly paid that price for the joy set before Him (Heb 12:2). And at the end of all things, after the Lord Jesus returns to set up His kingdom on earth and rightfully rule over His creation, the Father will present to Him the Bride He Himself purified, having no spot, wrinkle, or any such thing (Eph 5:25-27).

And though that celebration remains a future event, the Church is Christ’s betrothed, and so we love Him and joyfully serve Him in the present (1Pet 1:8). We submit to His loving, sacrificial leadership and experience His grace and love each day until He returns. He has promised that He will never leave nor forsake His Bride (Heb 13:5), and that no matter how much we continue to sin against Him and even break that covenant of marriage that He died to institute, He will remain faithful to Himself (2Tim 2:11-13; Deut 7:9), and always remain united to us (Hos 2:19-20; 1Jn 2:1-2; Ps 89:30-34).

That’s what marriage points to. That’s what marriage is about. It is an institution set up by God with a specific purpose: to glorify Him (to make much of Him) by magnifying the relationship of covenant-keeping grace that exists between Christ and His Bride, the Church. And in Ephesians 5 God tells what that relationship is like. To wives He says: “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” And to husbands He says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.

What we desire most of all for our marriage is that it would be an exposition of the nature of that covenant-keeping, grace-fueled relationship between Jesus Christ and His church that is so clearly and beautifully expressed in that passage. It says that the husband is to be the leader of the wife, as Christ is the leader of the Church. So we ask, “How does Christ exercise leadership over His bride?” He did so first by laying down His life for her so that He might purify her. In the same way, a husband’s leadership over his wife is to be characterized by life-giving, sacrificial service with a view towards her sanctification. And the reason is because that’s how Christ did it with His bride, and that’s what marriage was designed to depict.

And His leadership is so sweet to His people. Jesus rules lovingly and as a meek shepherd (Matt 11:28-30) and always with the ultimate good of His Bride as a primary purpose (Rom 8:28). He does this in such a way that His people joyfully come to Him and submit to His leadership out of delight and desire, and not begrudgingly or out of compulsion (Psalm 119:97, 103; Jn 10:27). Because of this, I (Mike) need to see to it that my leadership is equally loving, meek, tender, and always after Christ Himself, so that it makes it an absolute joy for Janna to submit to my leadership, the same way it is an absolute joy for me to submit to Christ’s leadership. I am to so follow Christ, that Janna’s submission to my leadership should be as sweet and enjoyable as the Church’s submission is to Christ. And as it is such a joy for the Church to submit to Christ, I (Janna) will respect Michael in everything, honoring his leadership by joyfully submitting to him as he follows Christ. It is with eagerness that I will support him with words of kindness and encouragement, making it a delight for Michael to exercise loving and gracious leadership as my head.

So we want you to see that marriage only has meaning when it is founded upon Christ and His relationship to His people. Since it exists to illustrate that relationship, we will seek to ask about everything in our marriage, “Is this properly and accurately illustrating the relationship between Christ and the Church?” Put more simply, “Is our marriage telling the truth about Jesus Christ?”

Our prayer is that in our wedding ceremony the truth of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed. And we pray that as you reflect on that truth and read these things, a light would go off in your soul, and you would awaken to the self-authenticating glory of God manifested in what marriage points to. If you haven’t acknowledged your rebellion and alienation against God because of your sin, His righteous condemnation of you, and your total inability to do anything about it, we pray that you would see your own insufficiency to meet God’s requirement of perfect purity and holiness, and at the same time see how perfectly sufficient Jesus Christ is to do just that. We pray that you would put your faith in Him for your righteousness before the Father, and so joyfully receive Him as your Lord, your Savior, and as your Husband!

If you have already tasted the glory of Jesus Christ by receiving Him as the Treasure of your life, we rejoice with you! And at the same time, we pray that you would see the glory of Christ in this institution of marriage. We pray that you would implement these truths in your own marriages, and in so doing, that you would enjoy all God is for you in Christ. Rejoice that you’re His and that He’s yours! Rejoice, for by His grace you have the Perfect Husband!

In the Fullness of His Joy,

Mike and Janna
* The first two paragraphs are borrowed from Piper's series on marriage, found here.


C. Seth Rima said...

Hey Mike, I've been following your blogs on Cripplegate and I stumbled upon this site now as well, and the heading for this caught my attention as my wife and I have been married for around 15 months now, and we've been trying to convey this precise message to many of our friends who are in the same life stage, but we haven't been able to put it all together quite so well as you just did! So thank you and if you don't mind I am going to share this with some of my friends!

Mike Riccardi said...

Hey Seth,

Glad to have you over here! Thanks for your encouragement. And please feel free to share whatever you'd like with whomever you'd like!