The Engine That Drives a Good Marriage

This piece first appeared on The Gospel Coalition site.

“I do.” With those two words, my life was forever changed. It was a cold but sunny December afternoon. About 200 family members and friends smiled as the pastor who’d mentored me asked me if I would take Melanie as my lawfully wedded wife.

I still remember standing there in my suit, more excited than I’d ever been in my life, and experiencing something rare: a calm nervousness. I was calm because I was looking into my bride’s radiant eyes. But I was nervous because I knew I was stepping into something bigger than me. I knew my life would never be the same. My calm nervousness welled up into thrilled joy when she looked at me with a huge grin and exclaimed those two words as well.

We were married.

What I couldn’t articulate at the time, but what I’ve experienced day by day since, is that I needed the gospel to be a picture for my marriage but also the reality that supports my marriage. I wanted our marriage to point others to the gospel, but I also knew we’d need a power outside ourselves to sustain us over the long haul of covenant love.

What I needed, what I continue to need, what you need, is the gospel as a picture for marriage, resulting in marriage as a picture of the gospel, all sustained by God’s omnipotent strength.

Gospel Contemplation

God has created an incredible dynamic between the gospel and marriage. The gospel is for us to look at and emulate, but as we look at this incredible painting, an amazing thing happens. Our marriages begin to become a picture themselves that point others to the gospel.

This back and forth between the gospel and marriage is one reason that, in Ephesians 5:22–33, the apostle Paul seems to go back and forth between talking about marriage and the gospel. The two are intertwined by design.

You have to begin by looking to Jesus—to how God loves you in covenant relationship—before you can share this kind of love with your spouse. Because one aspect of the gospel is this incredible picture of the marriage relationship, we can grow in our marriages when we look to the love of Jesus for his bride.

I like to call this gospel contemplation, since basking in the rays of what Jesus has done for you and beholding the gospel in all its intricacies is helping you to better understand true covenant love. Every married person should think about questions like: How—specifically—does Jesus love the church? What is unique about the way he loves her?

Gospel Reflection

But you also need to see how your marriage is a picture of the gospel. I call this gospel reflection. A reflection in a mirror isn’t the reality, but it’s a good likeness of it. The mirror might be bright and clear, or smudged and dirty. But the reflection points to the reality just as our marriages point to the covenant relationship of God with his people. So we need to evaluate periodically what kind of picture of Jesus we are portraying in our marriages.

There is a problem I have every autumn. We live in Vermont, and I will see a mountain bursting with gold and orange and red, and try to get a photo with my iPhone 7. Invariably, it doesn’t even come close to capturing the jaw-dropping display of colored foliage. I need an upgrade to a real camera. I can see the beauty, but my equipment doesn’t have the power to reflect it.

You may feel the way I do about my smartphone camera when you think about trying to reflect the gospel in your marriage. You see its beauty, but you lack the equipment to accurately reflect it. So the problem, and the solution, is plain: you need Jesus in order to point to Jesus.

Trying to reflect God’s design for marriage without leaning into Christ is like trying to drive 75 miles an hour with your radio blaring and wipers going, but not stopping to put gas into your tank. Try loving your spouse like Jesus loves the church without returning to the source of gospel power, and your marriage will soon run out of gas. In fact, it’s like trying to drive your car without an engine at all.

I’ve noticed almost a direct parallel between my walk with Jesus and how I treat my wife. When I’m in the Word daily and talking to Christ in prayer, I tend to reflect more clearly his love for my wife. But when I’m surviving on spiritual fumes, it’s so easy for me to grow impatient, selfish, and rude.

The gospel is the engine for your marriage. So look to Jesus, and as much as possible, look to him together.

Stubborn Love: Reflecting the Gospel By Keeping Your Marriage Covenant

This post originally appeared at The Master’s Seminary Blog and was then featured at Challies.com.

It happened again just the other day. My wife and I were shocked to hear of yet another Christian couple we knew and loved who were getting divorced. I felt sick for several minutes, thinking about the aftermath for years and decades to come.

It’s almost as if Christians are getting used to our marriages mimicking marriages in the world. We think of divorce like a car crash: unpleasant, destructive, but something that just invariably happens now and then. However, the effects of divorce on the couple, their children, and their families are worse than any car wreck. Divorce not only affects the family, but it is devastating to our commission to reflect the gospel to the world.

On the flip side, a couple who keeps their wedding vows “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part…” can have a huge impact for Christ.

I recently officiated a memorial service for a woman who had been fighting Alzheimer’s. The last years of her life were extremely difficult and she rarely recognized her husband. Yet week after week he faithfully drove four hours just to see her. On his last visit, she cradled his face in her hands and told him, “I love you.” At the memorial service, the impact their marriage of 58 years had for the gospel was tangible—including their stubborn love for each other through thick and thin.

There are two biblical truths that can help us to understand why God calls us to reflect the gospel by keeping our marriage covenant: 1) Satan hates your marriage. 2) Jesus will never leave his bride.

SATAN HATES YOUR MARRIAGE

If we understand that we have an enemy, and that enemy is not our spouse, it can make all the difference in the world. Satan has hated marriage from the beginning, just as he hates all of God’s good creation.

When God created Eve and then ushered her as the first bride to Adam, the Scriptures say this: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Gen 2:24-25)

But Satan wasted no time in tempting them to sin, ultimately creating a rift between them so giant that only Jesus could heal it. Right after God created marital bliss, we are introduced to the great enemy of marriage. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” (Gen 3:1) In the following verses, we see the immediate results of Satan’s temptation. Eve tempts her husband to sin. And Adam blames both God and his wife for his sin, rather than taking responsibility for it.

Satan continues to hate marriage because it was created by God to reflect the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. (Eph 5:31-32) When we give up on our marriages, when we are unfaithful to our covenants through infidelity or pornography, when we stop fighting for our marriages with a holy stubbornness that says, “No matter what, I will not let you go,” we are allowing Satan to win. More than that, we are reflecting his evil desires for our marriage rather than reflecting the love of the One who came to destroy the work of the devil.

JESUS WILL NEVER LEAVE HIS BRIDE

Although Satan hates your marriage, the glorious truth is that Jesus will never leave His bride. Sally Lloyd-Jones described God’s covenant love as His “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.” When Jesus came to earth as God in the flesh, He put skin on this kind of unconditional love. He showed us in action what love looks like. When we display Jesus’ love for us in the New Covenant of the gospel by keeping our marriage covenant, we show His love to the world and reflect the gospel.

Jesus will never leave His bride. Followers of Jesus shouldn’t either.

Yet, Jesus does more than provide a supreme example of stubborn love for His bride. Part of the good news of the gospel is that believers are given the power to act righteously. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we can lean into Jesus today to give us the strength to follow Him in giving His kind of covenant love to our spouse.

I remember hearing the testimony of a young couple who had been on the brink of divorce. The husband had struggled with anger their whole marriage and the wife had committed adultery. After he and his wife had separated, the husband repented and turned back to the Lord. In an attempt to reconcile, he looked at her one day and said, “Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead?”

“Yes,” his wife replied, “I do believe that.”

He responded, “And do you really believe that God could raise a dead man back to life and not breathe new life back into our marriage?” They began going to church together and then biblical counseling soon after, and were restored.

If Satan seems to have the upper hand in your marriage right now, and if you are weary of trying to love your spouse in your own strength, the gospel has a better word for you.

Sing this prayer to Jesus today as you seek to reflect His faithful love to your spouse:
O love that will not let me go, 
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow, 
May richer, fuller be
.”