This short address was directed for them on this happy day, and yet, the challenge remains for all married couples today
Erica and Aaron
Many have heroes who are celebrities – actors, sportsmen and musicians. It is perhaps unsurprising to you – that my heroes are a little different. One such hero was a man of unusual character – an early Church father by the name of Tertullian. And unlike today’s celebrities Tertullian had something rather good to say about the marriage of two Christians
“How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in home, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the faith they practice . . . Nothing divides them either in flesh or in spirit . . . They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake God’s banquet, side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts . . . Seeing this Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present.”
Before me today stand two Christians. Aaron and Erica you both have committed your life to the way of Christ, and so today is a joyous day. A day when you will commit your lives to each other – A day that you will stand before God, your family and friends – Profess solemn vows and enter into the covenant of marriage.
It falls to me to give you a charge. My charge is small and my charge is simple but my charge is not easy. It is the same charge that the Apostle John would give in his old age. The old saint would be carried into various Christian fellowships and hoarsely whisper this passionate command. It is the charge that Paul called the “Royal Law”. It is the charge that Jesus gave his disciples as a new commandment – It is simply this – Love one another. Love one another deeply
Jesus said it this way A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
But a challenge stands before us today and the challenge is this – what is this love?
It is not the love spoken of in plays like Romeo and Juliet. The love of most romantic comedies coming from Hollywood today – Boy sees girl over a crowded room – and it is “love at first sight”. The New Testament actually has a name for this. It is ἐπιθυμία – Epithumia. It means an inordinate desire or lust. You have found the one you are attracted physically, emotionally, intellectually and you have fallen in love. This love of attraction or addiction is in fact not viewed very positively in the Bible. I’m sure as two beautiful young people this was a part of you getting together but – “first sights” are fleeting. It is hard to determine if you are truly “in love” because emotions are fickle And when you fall in love in such a way it is all too easy to fall out of love. Sadly, many marriages have fallen apart – because of the allure of this idea. But when I say love one another deeply this is not what I mean.
Often when we use the word love or lover in English we mean sexual or erotic love. Popular culture is full of it – “10 ways to become a better lover”. The Greeks had a word for this as well – Eros. Yet the Bible never used it – because in a Christian marriage sex can never be separated from love – but what do I mean? Sexual union should be a component of every healthy marriage. Your sexual union is for children, but not just for children, It is a physical expression of the spiritual commitment that you make in marriage. As Tim Keller says “Sex is a way of saying, I see all of your imperfections and I am still completely, exclusively, and permanently committed to you.” Sex is a part, an important and enjoyable part – but still only a component of love.
Many see love as affection or friendship. Now here we are getting closer. The Bible has a word for this Φιλία – Philia – Brotherly affection or friendship. Again this friendship component must be a component of your marriage. Aaron, Erica must be your best friend, Erica, Aaron must be your best friend. The marriage where husband and wife are not the best of friends is a marriage that needs life support. Friendship is the oxygen you breathe in marriage. For too many, marriage is a place of either weak connection or antagonism. A place that would be exemplified by the story of Lady Nancy Astor, the first female Member of Parliament and her adversary Winston Churchill. She remarked to him one day “Winston, if you were my husband I would put poison in your tea”. Churchill thought for a moment and dryly replied “Madam, if you were my wife, I would drink it!” May your interactions not become poisonous But friendly affection is – again only part of the story. And again it is not the word that the New Testament uses when it speaks of husbands loving wives and – wives loving husbands. The words that you will use in your vows to each other in just a moment.
The word that is used in the New Testament for marital love is Agape. Not once and twice, but repeatedly, again and again. This is not some lowly, base kind of love. This is the highest form of love
This is the love of God.
This love is an outward looking, covenant keeping love. This love is an action, which goes beyond a feeling and is moved by compassion. This love sees someone in need and comes to serve “in sickness and in health” This is the love of 1 Corinthians 13 – you act not on the basis of emotional need or sexual desire – but because of a deep covenantal – reach.
This is the love of Christian fellowship – and – most importantly today it is the love of Christian marriage. When the King James Bible translators came to translate this word agape they used the word charity because it connotes something that is loved despite its worth – They were right. This is a love that looked down and saw us in our need and despite our unworthiness gave the life of the Son of God to die on a cross. This was Agape the highest form of love.
This is the sacrifice you are called to as husband and wife.
I say sacrifice – but if love works as it should it is no sacrifice at all. You are called to love one another deeply within the confines and safety of the covenant that you are about to make.
This is not a consumer contract. In a contract it might take a few months or a few years, but suddenly you wake up one morning and it’s not working anymore. You start to look for an out. In a covenant – you see the flaws of each other – everyday – they might drive you crazy. But unlike a contract, you’re not looking for the upgrade. Unlike a contract you don’t have to keep marketing yourself. In a covenant you are safe – safe to be vulnerable about your deepest weaknesses In this marriage covenant you have found home because you have promised, and because there is covenantal, sacrificial love on both sides
And so the challenge will remain every morning and every night – Will you learn to love?I pray you will – And I pray that this will be the start of a wonderful journey.