Yesterday I had the joy of officiating my sister-in-law Maggie’s wedding, as she married a wonderful young man, Alex. Maggie was 9 years old when I first met her, so it was an emotional and special day.
This is the third wedding I’ve been blessed to officiate for Molly’s siblings, so I decided to write something new for the wedding sermon. The wedding message is below, and I think it’s a good word for anybody who wants to have a great marriage.
Alex & Maggie, God has done—and will continue to do—special things in your lives, and it is a huge privilege to be part of your lives and part of this ceremony today.
The most significant relationship in your lives is with God. It’s even more important than your relationship to each other. You have each made a commitment to trust Jesus as your only hope to forgive your sin and give you a relationship with God. You know that you’re not better than other people, just forgiven by God’s amazing grace.
However, following Jesus is not just about having your sin forgiven and a promise of Heaven (which is incredible!). It’s also about submitting to Jesus’ Lordship in every area of life. You are his disciples. For you, all of life is all for Jesus.
This is a radical way to live and will often mean that your lives look different from the world around you. You will often be counter-cultural and do things that others—even friends or family—might think strange.
For disciples of Jesus, few areas of life are more counter-cultural than how we are to approach marriage. In the few moments I have remaining, I want to call you to three priorities for marriage that are absolutely counter-intuitive and counter-cultural.
1. Prioritize your commitment over your feelings.
In just a few moments, you will make some big commitments. You will commit to be faithful to one another no matter what: better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health.
You are in love and you have many real and important feelings of love toward one another that will continue to deepen over the years. This is wonderful and right!
But these vows rightly assume that life will get more difficult. You will eventually be less attractive than you are today—gravity eventually wins! You will disappoint one another, see each other at your worst, and face unforeseen trials and seasons of pain.
Some of these difficulties will draw you together. Others will tempt you to drift apart. These moments may expose the unloveliness of your spouse, and you may find yourself not feeling particularly “in love.” I know you find this hard to believe now, but that is precisely why the vows you are making today are so important.
“Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love.” (Keller, 78) Your fickle feelings will not hold you together, but your conscious commitment will.
When moments come where you find your spouse unlovely, you must remind yourselves that 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 at us—denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him—and in the greatest act of love in history, he stayed. He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. (Keller, 100)
That is why you should love your spouse.
2. Prioritize your own need to change over your spouse’s need to change.
It has been said that, “women marry men hoping they’ll change, but men marry women hoping they never will.” Through your marriage, you will change and grow in many positive and important ways. At the same time, every married person here knows that you will discover things about your spouse that you’ll wish would change. This is inevitable.
Author Tim Keller says that soon after your wedding to this wonderful person, three things usually happen:
First, you begin to find out how selfish this wonderful person is. Second, you discover that the wonderful person has been going through a similar experience and he or she begins to tell you how selfish you are. And third, though you acknowledge it in part, you conclude that your spouse’s selfishness is more problematic than your own. (The Meaning of Marriage, 56)
But this is the wrong conclusion. On the other hand, if you are committed to treating your own self-centeredness as the main problem in your marriage, you have the potential to have a great marriage.
Fortunately, the good news of the gospel allows you to humble yourself in this way. In becoming a Christian, you admitted that you are far more sinful and wicked than you ever dared believe. Despite this, you also know that you are far more loved and accepted by Jesus than you ever dared hope. You don’t need to pretend you’re OK. You can admit your shortcomings and sin, confident that God will finish the work he began in your life. Jesus is the True Groom who washes us with the water of his word until we are like a spotless, radiant bride.
3. Prioritize self-sacrifice over self-fulfillment.
Many couples look for their fulfillment in their spouse. This is natural, as a marriage relationship is one of the most fulfilling relationships human beings can know. It can be dangerous, however, to expect your spouse to fulfill you in every way. This turns a spouse into a god, and no person can live up to that. But followers of Jesus know that true fulfillment is found through self-sacrifice.
In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he gives God’s instruction to husbands and wives. He tells wives to submit to their husbands, humbly respecting him and following his leadership. But then he tells husbands to love their wives, as demonstrated by dying to themselves. He says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25).
In other words, both husband and wife are called to self-sacrifice. They are called to rearrange their lives around the other. In the preceding verses, both husband and wife are called to “submit to one another out of reverence to Christ” (Eph 5:21).
One scholar tells us that:
The word “submit” that Paul uses has its origin in the military, and in Greek it denoted a soldier submitting to an officer. Why? Because when you join the military you lose control over your schedule, over when you can take a holiday, over when you’re going to eat, and even over what you eat. To be part of a whole, to become part of a greater unity, you have to surrender your independence. You must give up the right to make decisions unilaterally. (Keller, 51)
This may sound oppressive or limiting, but it’s actually the path to real love. The Bible doesn’t measure love by how much you want to receive, but by how much you’re willing to give. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).
Alex and Maggie, how much are you willing to lose for one another?
How much of your freedom are you willing to give up?
How much of your time, emotion, and resources are you willing to invest?
The husband and wife who sacrificially serve one another will, wonderfully, find that it leads to joy and fulfillment. So commit to the daily process of dying to yourself for the sake of your spouse. In this way, you will demonstrate true love and grow more and more like Jesus.
Now, if these three things—prioritizing commitment over feelings, your need to change over your spouse’s need to change, and self-sacrifice over self-fulfillment—sound difficult, it’s because they are. In fact, they are impossible in your own strength.
You’ll need God’s power and presence on a day-by-day, moment-by-moment basis. So, every day, you must look to Jesus—the Ultimate Spouse—who loves you with a never-stopping, never-giving-up, always-and-forever love.
Alex and Maggie, it is a joy to stand with you today as you begin this life together. I’m excited about how God will grow you and—most of all—that God will be with you every step of the way.