Saturday, June 15, 2013

A letter to a young (imaginary) Christian couple, Raja and Rani, who are planning to get married soon.

Dear Raja and Rani,
Congratulations! What superb news that you are going to get married next month!  I am so glad to hear that you are excitedly making arrangements and wedding plans. This is a wonderful time, and I know that you are savouring every moment. And believe me, contrary to what the movies portray, things can get even better once you get married!
You have asked me to pen my thoughts on what a Christian marriage should look like. That is a great question, but a huge task! I could write volumes, but (you can breathe again!) let me instead limit myself, in this first letter, to trying to give you a glimpse of the glorious plans God must have had when He arranged the First Marriage, and began this institution of marriage.
Timothy and Kathy Keller, in their excellent book, “The Meaning of Marriage” (you must try and get your hands on this book) write that the Bible begins with a marriage and ends with a wedding!
We read in the first two chapters of the Bible about the first marriage. God had been creating night and day, sun, moon, stars, plants and animals, when suddenly there seems to be a pause. For the first time, we are given a picture of the Trinity talking and planning together, “Let Us make man in Our own image”.... and, we read, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” We are given more details in Genesis 2, about how Adam was lonely, and God made Eve out of his rib, woke him up from his sleep, and brought her to him, and about how Adam sang for joy in a burst of creativity, “Here, at last, Bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh!”  I’m sure Adam’s song resonates in your own hearts at this time.
We get a sense of the common origins and destiny of man and woman, and the mandate given to both: To display God’s image, and to be stewards of all of creation, acting as God’s representatives on earth. We are given a sense that both men and women, with all our similarities and differences, are needed to display God’s beautiful image accurately and accomplish His task.
And then, in the last two chapter’s of the Bible we read about the great Wedding feast of Jesus and His Bride.
From the Biblical account of these two weddings, we get some important clues to God’s great design for marriage. I think there are really two great purposes for marriage:

1. I think God intended from the beginning that marriage should be a depiction of the beauty of the Trinity, with husband and wife mutually exalting and mutually submitting to each other, just as Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to each other.
2.  I think God wishes marriage to display the wonder of Christ’s love for the church, and to remind us of the marriage we are invited to be part of, at the marriage feast of Jesus and His Bride.
These ideas are explained further in other parts of the Bible. For example, we read about marriage displaying the Trinity in 1 Cor 11:3 (“Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ”) and about marriage displaying the relation between Christ and His Bride in Eph 5: 17-33 (the difficult passage in which men are encouraged to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it, and wives are encouraged to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ).
Another truth that emerges when all these passages are put together is that Jesus is the example for both husbands and wives.
Picture a marriage in which the husband imitates Jesus, as he is instructed to in Eph 5. (“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.”)
Imagine a husband loving his wife as Jesus loves His church. What would such love look like?! Imagine the husband giving himself up daily for his wife. Imagine him taking steps to love first and unconditionally, and to love until the end, forgiving first, taking the first steps to resolve conflict, and truly displaying servant leadership, just as Jesus, his example. Imagine him satisfying her, nourishing and cherishing her, meeting her every need, providing for her, giving her the desires of her heart and leading her higher just as Christ does for the church.
Imagine the wife playing the Jesus-role as she is instructed to do in 1 Cor 11:3. What would such submission look like?! Imagine a wife joyfully submitting to her husband, exalting him, seeking to please him and serve him just as Jesus, her example, who “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men”. Imagine the husband responding by exalting the wife, glorifying her and setting her above himself!
What a glorious marriage that would be!
We bristle at words like ‘submission’ and ‘leadership’ because we do not see that the Jesus-like love of the husband towards his wife demonstrates itself in very similar ways to the Jesus-like submission of the wife towards the husband! Both are continually asking the question, "How can I serve you better?"
As Kathy Keller says, “We, the Church, submit to Christ in everything, and the parallel of the wife submitting everything to the husband is no longer daunting, since we know what kind of behaviour the husband has been called to imitate.” A wife could joyfully and fearlessly submit to such a man.
Unfortunately, one of the effects of the Fall is that this high view of the purpose of marriage has become corrupted. Starting in Genesis 3, men and women have begun selfishly begun trying to blame each other, attempting to dominate, exploit and use each other for their own purposes.
I pray that you will have caught a glimpse of God’s high calling for your marriage, and that you will give yourself to your spouse, just as Jesus gave Himself for you. Your marriage will then display to the world around the beauty of the Dance of the Trinity, and be a glorious reminder of the coming Wedding Supper of the Lamb.
With you in seeking God’s purposes,