On May 22, 2010 my wife Sarah and I stood at the altar before God, our family, and friends and made vows committing to love each other until death. Today is our third anniversary so it is fitting and fun to reminisce over the past three years. During engagement and the early months of marriage it seems as if all we did was dream and plan. We had long talks about what the future would look like and wondered where we would be in three, five, and ten years. We knew from the beginning that the three year mark would be significant. Why? Once we got married I immediately started seminary and the plan was to finish in three years and then, Lord willing, find a full-time ministry position. Well, that happened, but the road we took to get here was not programmed into the GPS, or Nancy as I so tenderly call her.
Almost ten months into our marriage Sarah’s dad was diagnosed with brain cancer and our world was suddenly flipped upside down. Winona Lake, IN is about 3 1/2 hours from Columbus, OH so we spent many weekends driving back and forth until we eventually moved in with her parents to help care and support them. Sarah’s dad passed away just 19 months after his diagnosis and only weeks after his funeral her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Needless to say, we had about ten months of the typical newlywed experience.
I do not include all of this personal information so you can feel sorry for us and I am not asking for your sympathy. I give you the background to introduce why Sarah and I are still married after three years. In the midst of stress, a full-time school, moving in with parents, enduring suffering, etc. what has kept us married and what fuels our love for each other is understanding that marriage is a covenant that points to something much bigger than ourselves.
Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This is covenant language and describes a new relationship being formed and Jesus eventually says this is a God created union and what “God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mk. 10:9). A covenant means that couples fulfill the promises of their vows despite circumstances and the vows are not conditioned on the other person fulfilling theirs first. Often times at weddings we hear how much a couple loves one another, but Timothy Keller says, in The Meaning of Marriage, the point of vows are not to declare present love. He says, “Wedding vows are not declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love.” On May 22, 2010 Sarah and I made promises to love each other until death and we committed to be faithful to those promises. I know we haven’t been married long, but in a society with a high of divorce rate such as ours I am excited to celebrate the Lord persevering us through three years. We have had to chose to love and serve one another as life has not gone exactly how we expected.
Staying true to the covenant of marriage displays the covenant that Jesus enters into with his people. Keller explains that practical notions of this:
This means we must say to ourselves something like this: “Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think, ‘I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.’ No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us – denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him – and in the greatest act of love in history, he stayed. He said, ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’ He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse (The Meaning of Marraige, 109).
Not only is marriage a covenant, but it is a covenant that points to a greater reality. In Ephesians 5:32 Paul says everything he has just written in verses 22-31 to husbands and wives is a mystery that actually refers to Christ and the church. What this means is that God created marriage to serve as a type of his relationship with his people. In other words, every marriage should serve as a picture of the gospel and reflect God’s redemptive purposes in the world. Keller says, “…the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another. That when God invented marriage, he already had the saving work of Jesus in mind” (The Meaning of Marriage, 47). On our wedding day, Sarah and I committed to each other and all that were present that our marriage would serve as a witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Greg Beale is worth quoting at length here:
When problems arise in the marriage relationship, husbands and wives need to remember that there is an ultimate redemptive-historical purpose for marriage that transcends their own human relationship. As husbands unconditionally love their wives and as wives respond to this love in a faithful manner, they are actors on a redemptive-historical stage performing a play before the on-looking audience of the world. As husbands and wives perform their roles on this stage in the way God has designed, their roles are an object lesson to the watching world that Christ left his Father to love and become one with his bride, and that those who respond in faith can become part of his corporate bride. In doing so, people will leave the sphere of the old world and enter into the new. Christian mates are part of the new creation, and the ethic regulating their marriage is a recapitulation of the original design of marriage in Eden, which pointed to Christ and the church. When conflict enters the marriage relationship and division begins to occur, both partners need to remember they have covenanted with each other before God to love each other, to remain loyal to that covenant, to continue to become one and, hence to maintain the peace of the new creation of which they are part.
I am no marriage expert. I admit I am an imperfect self-centered husband who fails to love his wife as he is called to. I don’t write this to brag about us, but to brag about Jesus. I pray Sarah and I have 70 years of marriage ahead of us and I pray we continue to stay faithful to the covenant we made and that God would give us the perspective of the gospel in our relationship. I encourage you to think theologically about your marriage or your future marriage. It’s wedding season and I’m sure we will hear quite a lot of mushy love poems and songs, but I pray Christians will consider the greater purpose of their marriage which is to reflect and model the sacrificing love of Christ for his people. Pray that your marriage would preach the gospel.
Happy Anniversary Sarah! Thanks for your display of Christ to me. By His grace, I love you!