Marriage is . . .
1) . . . A Covenant before God and Man (and not a mere Convenience)
“The meaning of marriage is the display of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his people.” “When the impossible day comes that Christ breaks his vow, ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age,’ then, on that day, a human being may break his marriage covenant.” —John and Noël Piper
Matrimony is holy because it is God’s sovereign creative act and declaration. Therefore, He has sanctified it—set it apart as sacred and invaluable, not common or base. The vows and divine commandments which belong to this covenant are designed to protect the marriage relationship and sustain its unique quality. The sanctity of the marriage covenant is manifested in the binding nature of its vows: a husband and a wife have separated themselves from all others to remain faithful to each other until death. The biblical commands which govern marriage are necessary for marital harmony.
“You husbands, in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered” (1 Pet 3:7).
“But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3).
“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8). The charge: guard and maintain the covenant to the glory of God by loving your wife (Eph 5:25-32); by leading your wife (1 Cor 11:4) and by providing for your wife (1 Tim 5:14).
2) . . . A Crucible of Sanctification
A crucible is a vessel in which metal is melted down. It is also where the purification and refinement of gold takes place. The base metal is called ‘dross’—it is lighter in weight than the precious metal, so under high heat it rises to the surface and is scraped away and discarded. God will use your marriage to further your sanctification. Marriage accentuates what you are: both the positives and negatives of your character. If you tend to be a grudge-holder, harsh, a compromiser, angry, fearful, selfish, lazy, domineering, passive, reckless, a wimp, a bully, a manipulator, it will come out in your marriage. The key question is what you will do when this dross (of poor character) rises to the surface of the crucible? Our ugliness comes to the top in marriage—it is inevitable. Your self-protection style comes with that ugliness. The most common 3 flesh strategies employed to avoid judgment are: 1) escape and denial, 2) appeasement and placation, 3) open defiance and blame. But none of these three is the gospel solution.
The gospel solution is to confess our faults to the Lord, and to one another because in the new covenant we have a boundless provision for forgiveness (Heb 8:10-12; Jas 5:16). When there has been an offense between the two of you: confront in love; keep to one issue; forgive freely; reaffirm love; move 2 on together. “BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph 4:26-27) (see the warning on bitterness: Heb 12:15).
God is infinitely wise in granting a man the gift of a wonderful wife (Prov 18:22). As a newlywed, it might not even cross a husband’s mind that his lovely wife is going to be a perfect tool in God’s hand to further his sanctification. Your relationship with her will reveal your character, refine your character, and give you countless opportunities to grow in your character.
One surprised husband quipped, “Arguing with your wife is like getting arrested; everything you say can, and will be used against you.” (this is of course, cynical, not biblical). Arguing ‘fairly’ in marriage depends upon the desire to honor Christ amidst the resolution of any conflict. You must guard intimacy like it is a helpless infant that needs your continual nurture. Thus, in order to ‘fight fair’— talk like best friends; flirt like first love; protect one another like siblings opposing an intruder. “A husband and a wife are like the two parts of a pair of scissors; often moving in opposing directions, but ruthless to anything coming in between them.”
The charge: when your character defects rise to the surface in your marriage (which they surely will), repent as frequently as needed. Look to the Lord as your chief evaluator more so than your wife. Actively incorporate the biblical model of sanctification which means committing oneself to the replacement behaviors commanded in Scripture (Eph 4:25-32; Col 3:8-23). Settle for nothing less than continually bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-24)
. . . A Casbah (a Palace) of Marital Affection
‘Casbah’ is a term for a castle, palace, or fortress. Your Casbah is your ‘love nest’—the private, guarded bastion and fortress for your affection. Your marriage bed is a kind of ‘citadel’ because you are guarding your sexual oneness with your wife. Within the marriage covenant, you are to freely, as husband and wife enjoy each other’s bodies. Guarding intimacy and communication, cherishing her, and caring for her with gentleness and understanding assures that her desire to give herself to you with joy will be there.
“The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise, also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Cor 7:4-5).
“Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb 13:4).
“Drink water from your own cistern and fresh water from your own well. Should your springs be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be yours alone and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be exhilarated always with her love. For why should you, my son, be exhilarated with an adulteress and embrace the bosom of a foreigner? For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD, and He watches all his paths (Prov 5:15-21).
The charge: Love-making is as Tim LaHaye says, “the act of marriage,” a continual celebration of being one flesh (1 Cor 6:16). Make your passion for your wife, and your spiritual oneness with her the safeguard against the allures of the ‘strange woman’. Mortify sin and temptation as 3 soon as it courts you; do not wait, kill it immediately; do not give it a secret chamber in your imagination and affections.
. . . The Criterion of Love before the watching World
“Marriage is meant by God to put that gospel reality on display in the world. That is why we are married. That is why all married people are married, even when they don’t know and embrace this gospel.” —John and Noël Piper
“Marriage is not mainly about being or staying in love. It’s mainly about telling the truth with our lives. It’s about portraying something true about Jesus Christ and the way he relates to his people. It is about showing in real life the glory of the gospel.” —John and Noël Piper
‘Make your wife glorious!’ By obeying in the power of the Spirit, the commands of Ephesians five:
“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. FOR THIS REASON, A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:25-32).
The trouble inherent in the gender-specific wounds acquired in the fall (male inadequacy, and female insecurity—see Genesis 3:16-19), are answered beautifully in the gender-specific ‘love and respect’ commands of Ephesians chapter five. According to Ephesians five, the husband is a type of Christ. He is to imitate Christ in his practice of tenderness, cherishing, forgiveness, patience, understanding, and sacrificial love toward his wife. To withhold any of these virtuous behaviors toward one’s wife is to ‘break the type’ (the husband being a type of Christ).
“Fight for your marriage like it is under attack from the powers of hell, because it is.” And not surprisingly, for marriage is the chief metaphor chosen by God to illustrate the mystery of Christ and the church (Eph 5:32).
The charge: as a Christian husband, you are a type of Christ, don’t break the type by unChristlike behavior. Your submission to Christ and His Spirit will enable you to love your wife supernaturally. Be careful about making your wife your primary evaluator—her approval of you is valuable and necessary, but not infallible.
You must know the difference between principles and preferences. Principles are nonnegotiable, preferences, like personal tastes are very negotiable—if you know the Word and obey it, you will discern the difference between a principle and a preference, and you will therefore have a much better idea of when to give in, and when not to give in.
. . . A Christian Community—a Father-led Clan
God has a ‘truth-succession plan’: it is centered upon the obedience of fathers as they provide biblical instruction of their families (Ps 78:1-8).
4 “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deut 6:1-2, 7).
“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it (Prov 22:6).
The husband and father sets the atmosphere for the entire family. And, a family is a community in miniature. Dad is the governing authority who advocates, teaches, and models the values and rules which engender the fear of God, and consequently, human flourishing. In his many roles, he is a provider, a priest, a teacher, a prime minister, a protector, a problem solver, a disciplinarian, a social planner, and a public servant. But, even more, as the head of his clan, from his leadership flow love, blessing, honor, structure, order, purpose, belonging, and connection.
He is God’s representative to his family, and holds his family members in his heart of love. This implies action instead of passivity. Most fathers say, “Ask your mother,” far too often. And, as one wife quipped sarcastically, “No wife is childless who has a husband.” Men easily take advantage of the woman’s instinct to offer care when she sees helplessness and passivity. Most men are occupying only a fraction of the initiative within their families with which God has entrusted them.
A man’s family members are continually responding to him. Let God’s love and servant leadership flow through you. Don’t exasperate your family members, for they must know that your love is unconditional, and that the standards you teach and require are not fluctuating wildly with your mood (Eph 6:4).
According to Scripture, the ‘buck stops with dad’ (Num 30:13-16). With his God-given leadership role comes responsibility. A man’s faithfulness in leading his family is a prime requirement for spiritual leadership in his local church (see 1 Tim 3).
“An overseer (elder), then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God? and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Tim 3:2-7).
Like a voracious monster, our culture consumes vast portions of each rising generation with its deceptive lies. But, God has appointed dads to be the vital stop-gap to prevent our children from being destroyed. So much of what children learn is caught as much as taught. Kids are watching to see what dad loves; they see what is dear to him. If it is Christ, and it is mom, how blessed those children will be.
The charge: as a Christian husband, and father, do you regularly lead a family altar, or family devotional time, instructing from the Scriptures and praying with, and for your wife and children? Are you faithful in carrying out a plan to catechize your children in the doctrines of Scripture? Do you seek to be a faithful spiritual leader in your home with a view to leading spiritually in your own local church?