This past weekend I had the beautiful responsibility of officiating the wedding of one of my best friends. Steve and I have been friends for 17 years and counting, so it was a special thing to have played such an intimate role in his wedding. Since the wedding I’ve been pondering commitment; the vows have been running through my head. You know … “I take you to be my wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part.” It’s a fairly audacious thing to say to another person in our quick-fix, jump-ship-when-things-get-hard society. Yet vows are still pledged, they are still our highest ideal, they are still what we hope and long for in marriage, in relationships, in society, and most importantly in our Christian journey.
The vows are intimately connected to Christ and his commitment to us, his body, the Church. Paul advises both men and women to model their distinct, yet equal roles in marriage after Christ and his relationship to the Church.
Marriage gives us a glimpse, a little peek at heaven on earth.
In Ephesians 5, Paul writes that a women submits to her husband as the Church submits to Christ. People are too quick to get all up in arms about this whole “submission” issue—the next verse resolves it. And, in a way to get caught up on this misses the point. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her. In other words, a women submits to a husband who sacrificially gives himself up to her. She submits to a man who surrenders his own well being for the sake of her well being. He vows to die for her good, to give his whole life to hers. This may irk you in theory, but in practice it is always a beautiful thing. It gives us a glimpse of Christ’s love for us, and what our response to him should look like.
Yet all of this practical wisdom from Paul leads to his last thought on marriage “the two shall become one flesh” which is a “profound mystery.” Why is it a profound mystery? Because the union of two becoming one is in reference to “Christ and the Church”. Christ and his Church shall become one, just as a husband and wife become one in marriage.
Christ and his Church is the most intimate form of relationship we can experience. We are invited to gets caught up in the perfect, Triune, self-giving love of God. To flush this out, Paul uses one of the most intimate relationships we know of on this side of eternity to point us towards Christ’s profound love for us. Marriage intertwines two lives in the most intimate of ways; it is a healthy forgetfulness of where one begins and the other ends; it is the mutual surrender of anything that may separate what has come together, be it any goal or dream.
In doing this, husbands and wives each get to participate in making the love of God known to one another and to the world. The love of God flows to them, and through them as love mysteriously knits them into “one flesh”. And this is the relationship between Christ and his Church, between Christ and us. This means that marriage is not just for the married. Marriage is a picture and metaphor for us all to know Christ’s commitment to us.
Since God first loved us, in a way he first says to us “I take you to be mine, to have and to hold form this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, and even through death itself.”
Jesus invites you into the most intimate form of love. Every desire to connect, to be understood, to be accepted, every hope to be known will be cherished by him. He will give himself fully to you, sacrificially to you. Better yet, the incarnation (God clothing himself in humanity) shows us that his desire to connect with us knows no bounds. The horrendous death, for our sins, he endured was for us to be forgiven and accepted. At our very worst, we are known and cherished.
God has made a vow to us in his Son: whoever believes in him will be saved from the struggles that overcome us, the trials that bewilder us, the temptation that drags us down, the sin that ravages us, and the death that destroys us. Brokenness will one day be no more because God has made a vow to wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Christ has done his part, he “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). He has given up everything for us that our lives might intertwine with his, and he has done, and will do, everything to remove whatever may separate us from him. The love of Christ will not let you go. He will relentlessly pursue you because he is faithful to the vow he has made to you.
So what’s our part?
Paul writes that our part is to submit to Christ. And honestly, if someone loves us that much, that completely, and is that committed to cleaning us, to transforming us, and to making us holy, then how could you not give your entire life to him?
Do you trust his vow?