Occasional Services — Wedding Exhortations
Written by Douglas Wilson
Saturday, June 11, 2011 11:51 am
In the name of the God of all grace, welcome. Steven, may grace and peace be multiplied to you. Katie, may grace and peace be multiplied to you.
This is a Christian wedding and, as such, it is therefore a testimony to the grace of God. But what is grace, exactly? For too many people, it simply represents a vague, divine, and somewhat fuzzy benevolence. To others it means that heaven is in the business of maintaining standards that are suitably slack for humans, but without allowing our moral order to fall into complete chaos. But this is a complete misunderstanding.
The grace of God, as revealed in Christ, is a monument to how much and how deeply God hates sin. In Scripture, husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. This self-gift, this surrender to the point of death on a cross, was a propitiatory death. What that means is that it was a death that absorbed the wrath of God against sin. The cross is not just the place where we see an astonishing love for sinners, it is also the place where we see God’s holy fury against sin. If we are thinking of them rightly, both the height of the love and the level of hate take our breath away.
What this means is that the grace of God, while greater than the wrath of God, is nonetheless in some way defined by that wrath. In other words, if the wrath of God against sin were tiny, grace wouldn’t have to be very great in order to overcome it. It would not take great grace to overcome a mild divine irritation or annoyance. But if the grace of God needed to be great in order to save us, then the peril it was saving us from was great as well. That peril was divine holiness. Now Scripture describes the grace of God in superlatives — and so this means that God really hates sin. He hated it enough that His Son had to die on the cross in order to make it possible for Him in justice to extend grace to us, His children.
So this means that we do not view marriage, even Christian marriage, through a gauzy sentimentalist veil. As Christians, we should even say that we especially do not view Christian marriage that way. The gospel is clear-sighted and hard-headed about the realities of sin. The grace of God in the gospel is not squeamish about what has to happen to sin — it must be mortified. It must die. God’s grace does not make the death of sin optional, but rather it makes a resurrection possible. All have sinned and all must die. We either die in Jesus or away from Him. So then, Jesus did not die so that we might live; He died so that we might die, He lives so that we might live.
In the context of Christian marriage, either sin must die or the relationship will. As much as we might want to split the difference, or come up with some “third way,” there is no other way. If anyone could have found a way, it would have been Jesus in the Garden, when He was in anguish while looking for one. The fact that His Father closed that door meant that there was no other way.
Bringing it back to this great occasion, and our relationships with one another, the cancer of sin is terminal, and so either the cancer dies or the patient does. This is how the grace of God is offered here, in this wedding, in this marriage. The grace of God gives each of you the option of dying and rising. When you die, you die to that which will kill you. When you live, you enter into a life that no death can ever touch.
When you rise, you rise to that which can never be taken away. We like the second part but have trouble with the first part. As the old blues standard puts it, everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.
The evasions of hypocrisy are simply maneuvers that are attempts to get around this liberating death. The constant temptation to hypocrisy is the temptation to deal with sins on the surface, sins in their external and social manifestations. And this is successfully done by many, and all the pretenses are kept up at church, at the office, and while out with friends to dinner. But within the context of marriage, when a man and woman are home together all the time, you are what you are what you are. It is awfully difficult keep the real you under the surface 24–7. Some would say it is impossible. This is why gospel must govern the home; this is why grace must be the context for everything.
In the context of this grace, Christian husbands and wives can remember the second great commandment, and couple it with the realization that marriage and family are the proving ground, the testing ground, for obedience to this great commandment. Love God in the first instance, and then love the one whom you have seen — your neighbor, in other words. And, said the one seeking to justify himself, who is my neighbor? The biblical answer is that your neighbor is the one there in front of you, which means that your closest neighbor is the one in bed with you, the one across the kitchen table, the one watching television with you, and the one working in the yard with you.
Home is not the place where the obligation to love your neighbor evaporates. Home is the place where you really learn how to do it, or not. Home is the place where love must operate in close quarters. Home, to reapply the cliché, is where the heart is. And, following the argument, home is where the grace is.
In addition to this, love of neighbor throws into high relief the nature of the sin that we all must mortify. Love for the other person reveals what the real cross fodder is. Not surprisingly, if we put it this way, the attitude that must be put to death is love of self. The apostle Paul speaks of those who are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Tim. 3:4), which amounts, at the end to the day, to being lovers of self. It is this self first lust that must die, so that you, your true self can come to life and live forever.
Steven, you know and understand the grace of God. Freely you have received, freely give. Sin is lawlessness, and because grace is not sinful, grace is not lawlessness. Grace conquers sin, and not by putting up with it. Grace overcomes, and grace restores. Grace loves, grace rejoices, and grace loves to die and rise. There are many in this world who cannot comprehend the power and goodness of this kind of grace. You used to be among them, and so you must own that. In owning it, you are demonstrating your willingness to take these vows today. Only the grace of God in you could possibly take these vows. You are therefore charged to come to these vows the same way that you come to the throne of grace, which is to say, with boldness.
Katie, you are a glorified embodiment of the Church as the apostle Paul describes her. You have been invited to begin your testimony today, and it is a testimony you will maintain throughout the course of your life. In the wisdom of God, this is a testimony that accumulates. The more you honor and respect your husband, the more you counsel him as a faithful advisor, the more you labor to be a helpmeet suitable for him, the more you are stepping into the design work of God. Done right, this wifely testimony ages well — it is among the permanent things. It is one of the eternal verities. God summons you to this, and He has given you grace to do what He calls you to do.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.