Marriage Series: 4) The Mission of Marriage

The Mission of Marriage

Text: Ephesians 5:25-27

 

So far in this series we’ve looked at what marriage is? In the first sermon we looked at how marriage is a reflection of Christ’s love for the Church. In the second sermon we looked at how marriage is empowered by the Holy Spirit, who helps us love our spouse as Christ loves the Church. Last week we looked at how marriage is a covenant relationship, a promise of total commitment. Well today we’re going to look at what marriage is for? What is the purpose, or the mission, of marriage? This morning we’re going to look at how marriage is based not only on friendship, but on a spiritual friendship that has a very specific purpose.

 

1) Friendship

So let’s start with the idea that marriage is all about friendship.

a) Friendship is companionship

And when I’m talking about friendship what I’m really talking about is the idea of companionship. Friendship is companionship. And that might seem not only obvious, but also not very spiritual, but it is biblical. When God created the universe, he says everything is ‘good,’ in fact he says it seven times, but when he gets to Adam, God says, ‘18 …it is not good for the man to be alone. (Gen 2:18a)’ If everything is so ‘good,’ how could Adam be ‘not good?’ The answer is found in Genesis chapter 1 where God says, ‘26 …Let us make man in our image… (Gen 1:26a)’ The ‘us’ that God is speaking to are the three persons of the Trinity, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God has existed from all eternity as three persons who know and love one another. And as a result to be created in God’s image means, amongst other things, that we are designed for relationships. When God creates Adam and puts him in paradise, it’s not good, because he is alone. Even though Adam had a perfect vertical relationship with God he was unfulfilled, because God had created him for horizontal relationships with other human beings. Which explains why all the money, comforts and pleasures aren’t able to fulfill us to the same extent as a loving relationship. In response to Adam’s aloneness God decides to, ‘18 … make a helper suitable for him. (Gen 2:18b)’ The Hebrew word translated there as ‘helper,’ is the word ‘ezer (rz[),’ which comes from the verb to surround or protect. It doesn’t refer to a hierarchical relationship, but rather to the idea of one person helping another person in need. In fact, it’s often used of God helping people (Gen 49:25; Dt 33:26; 2 Chron 18:31; Ps 40:17; 46:1 etc). What Adam needs isn’t a servant, but a companion, someone to complete him, someone who is ‘23 …bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh… (Gen 2:23b)’ The woman in the Song of Solomon echoes Adam when she introduces her husband with, ‘16 …This is my lover, this my friend… (SoS 5:16b)’ This first marriage in Scripture is spoken of in terms of a friendship, of God providing a companion for Adam, someone who would complete him, who would fulfill his need for a relationship with another human being.

b) Friendship is constancy

Secondly, the Bible talks about friendship in terms of its constancy. The point of friendship is that it is constant, it doesn’t give up, or give in. The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about friendship. For example, ‘17 A friend loves at all times... (Prov 17:17a)’ and ‘24 …a friend sticks closer than a brother. (Prov 18:24b)’ and it says, ‘10 Do not forsake your friend… (Prov 27:10a)’ Biblical friendship is about faithfulness and loyalty, no matter the cost. The opposite is a ‘fair-weather friend,’ who is only there when things are going well, but as soon as your prosperity, status or influence wanes they’re gone (Prov 19:4,6,7). If you’re not willing to travel the hard yards with someone than whatever you are, you’re not a friend as far as the Bible is concerned. A true friend sticks by you, which is exactly what the word ‘cleave’ means. A husband is meant to stick by his wife. He is a constant friend.

c) Friendship is challenging

Thirdly, the Bible says friendship is challenging. And I don’t mean it’s challenging because it’s hard, but challenging in the sense that friends are also willing to say the hard word. Real friends loving encourage and confront one another. The Proverbs say, ‘9 …the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel. (Prov 27:9)’ and ‘5 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. 6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted… (Prov 27:5-6a)’ and again ‘17 As iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens a friend. (Prov 27:17 NLT)’ The point is that a real friend speaks truth into your life, even if it hurts. Paul tells us to ‘15 …speak the truth in love… (Eph 4:15a)’ and that’s what a true friend does, not just to point out our faults, but to grow and mature you. Real friends challenge us to be a better person.

d) Friendship is commonality

A fourth mark of friendship is commonality, having something in common. Friendship can be pictured as two people standing side by side, and not only looking at the same thing, but seeing it and getting excited about it in the same way. Friends care about the same things. If you have nothing in common you are extremely unlikely to develop a lasting friendship. If I look at my friends over the years they may not have much in common with each other, but they always had something in common with me. I had friends who loved heavy metal and Dungeons and Dragons, and friends who went to church, and never the twain would meet, because when I was growing up metal heads and Christians had nothing in common. My point is that there is always something that draws friends together.

e) Christ is our friend

And the interesting thing is: Jesus calls us his friends. John 15, ‘13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends... 15 …I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (Jn 15:13-15)’ In fact, Jesus is the best friend you could ever have. He identifies with us, because he’s knows what it’s like. Jesus is able to ‘15 …sympathize with our weaknesses… (Heb 4:15)’ In Jesus God has humanity in common with us. And Jesus promises to always be there for you. He says, ‘20 …I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Mt 28:20b)’ Jesus wants what is best for you even when it means confronting your deepest character flaws. Jesus is our closest companion, not just in this life, but for all eternity.

 

2) Christian Friendship

And according to Paul marriage is meant to reflect this idea that Jesus is our friend. Marriage is meant to be the deepest of all friendships, Your spouse is meant to be a companion, someone who sticks by you no matter what, someone who speaks truth into your life, someone who shares life in common with you. But because marriage was designed and instituted by God it’s meant to be more than just a friendship. In fact each of these four aspects of friendship also has a spiritual dimension. So let’s take a look at Christian friendship.

a) Spiritual commonality

If you need to have something in common to build a friendship on then the good news is that as Christians we all have the same thing in common, we all have the same friend, Jesus Christ. Despite the enormous differences in class, temperament, culture, race and personal history we all share our faith in Jesus. Paul says, ‘4 There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph 4:4-6)’ As Christians those truths are more foundational than anything else. It’s not like we all just happen to like Jesus, our faith in Jesus is the defining reality in our lives. It’s not just that we belong to the church, the church is our new family. The point is that two Christians with nothing else in common except their faith in Christ can have a robust friendship. That really struck me while I was in Nepal. I didn’t have anything in common with the Nepali people, but sitting in a tiny cow-dung plastered church in the Himalayas listening to people pray and sing to Jesus created a real sense of affinity with them. There is a spiritual commonality between Christians that you can’t share with anyone else, which is why Paul tells us not to be un-evenly yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14). If Jesus is the most important person in your life why would you intentionally share your life with someone who has rejected him? Christian friendship is based on the fact that we share our faith in Jesus in common.

b) Spiritual transparency

Secondly, there is a spiritual transparency to real Christian friendship. According to the Bible Christian friends are to, ‘16 …confess your sins to each other and pray for each other… (Jam 5:16)’ In fact, if we catch our brother or sister in sin Paul writes, ‘1 …you who are spiritual should restore him gently. (Gal 6:1)’ Elsewhere the Bible tells us to ‘24 …spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (Heb 10:24b)’ And that’s not meant to happen infrequently, rather we are to ‘13 …encourage one another daily… (Heb 3:13a)’ We are to ‘32 …forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph 4:32)’ We are to ‘14 …warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1 Thess 5:14)’ And Jesus says, ‘15 If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. (Mt 18:15)’ As Christians we are called to hold one another accountable, to be completely honest and open with one another. Christian friends challenge each other to become more like Jesus.

c) Spiritual constancy

Thirdly, Christian friendship means spiritual constancy. We are to ‘2 Carry each other’s burdens… (Gal 6:2a)’ We are to ‘11 …encourage one another and build each other up… (1 Thess 5:11a)’ We are to remember ‘16 …to do good and to share with others... (Heb 13:16a)’ Paul reminds us ‘5 …each member belongs to all the others. (Rom 12:5b)’ And that we are to ‘10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love [and] honor one another above yourselves. (Rom 12:10)’ As Christians we are to identify and call out one another’s gifts, strengths and abilities. In fact, in our wedding vows Alice and I promised to ‘serve one another with tenderness and respect, and encourage each other to develop God's gifts in us.’ As Christians we are meant to be there for each other, we are joined together in bonds as strong as, well, as strong as marriage.  

The point of Christian friendship isn’t about going to concerts together, or enjoying the same sporting event, it’s about the deep oneness that develops as two people journey together toward the same destination, helping one another through the dangers and challenges along the way. My favourite movie is the Lord of the Rings, and while the coolest characters are the warriors and wizards, the characters that stand out the most are the little hobbits, not because they’re strong or overly intelligent, but because they never give up, they hold true to their friends no matter what. And that’s the point of Christian friendship, that just as Jesus laid down his life for us, we lay down our lives for each other.

d) Spiritual companionship

And the richest of all friendships is the marriage relationship, especially when it combines friendship with the Christian faith. In Proverbs 2:17 it refers to one’s spouse as a ‘partner,’ but the Hebrew word ‘’allup (pwLa)’ actually refers to a ‘special confident’ or a ‘best friend.’ In an age when women were often seen as property the idea that your wife is your best friend is startling. But the Bible puts great emphasis on marriage as spiritual companionship, two people who commit to one another in order to grow each other.

 

3) Holiness

And that leads us to the ultimate mission of marriage. You see it’s more then just friendship, in fact marriage is all about a having a spiritual best friend. Christian marriage is not only sharing a common faith in Christ, it’s not just knowing someone more intimately and more deeply than anyone else, it’s not just being there for your spouse, but at its very core Christian marriage is about walking together on the journey to becoming like Jesus Christ. We mentioned it a few weeks back but ultimately marriage isn’t about our happiness, but our holiness.  

a) Sanctifying one another

If marriage reflects Christ’s love for the church than the mission of marriage is to sanctify one another, to make each other holy. That’s Jesus’ purpose in laying down his life for the Church, ‘26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Eph 5:26-27)’ Jesus wants to remove all the spiritual stains and flaws, the sins and blemishes, to make us holy, and blameless and radiant. The point of the Christian journey is that by the power of the Holy Spirit we will ‘24 …put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:24)’ And according to the Scriptures, ‘6 …he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion… (Phil 1:6b)’ Jesus who begun this work of sanctification will complete it. How? Because he is the ultimate friend who sticks closer than a brother. In John 15 Jesus does this because he is our Divine Friend, but in Ephesians 5 he does this because he is our Divine Husband. Jesus never gives up on us, Jesus is always there for us, Jesus lays down his life for us, Jesus changes and transforms us, and that’s what marriage should be. Paul directly links the purpose of every marriage to the purpose of the Ultimate marriage, to transform people until they are like Jesus. To the question what is marriage for, the answer is to help each other on the journey to becoming like Jesus, to become holy.

b) Seeing what God is doing

I want to ask you: where are you going in your marriage? And if you’re not married, I can ask the same question: where are you going in your life? God’s vision for your life is so much grander than just being happy, or comfortable, or successful, he wants you to be like Him. I’d don’t know if you’ve ever climbed a mountain when it’s been shrouded in cloud, or mist. I’ve had it happen to me a few times climbing in Tassie. One moment you can’t see anything but the next marker, but then suddenly the clouds part and you can see the towering peak rising above you, and then the clouds roll in and it’s all gone again. And that’s what it’s like to be a Christian. You have the old self, which is crippled with anxieties and character flaws, stained with sin, and hampered by old habits. But then there’s the new self, what the Spirit is helping you become. And every now and then the clouds part and you see the amazing work that God is doing in your life. And that’s what Christian marriage is all about. It’s about looking at another person and getting a glimpse of the person that God is creating, and saying, ‘I want to be a part of that!’ Marriage is about seeing what God is doing in the life of someone else. And not only seeing it but committing yourself to be used by God in that work.

When Michelangelo was asked how he carved the statue of David he replied, ‘I just looked inside the marble and took away all the bits that weren’t David!’ Today most people are looking for a spouse who’s a finished work of art, but marriage is about seeing what God is doing in someone else’s life and helping Him carve away all the bits that don’t belong. In marriage each person says to the other, ‘I see all your flaws, imperfections, weaknesses, and dependencies, but underneath I see the person that God wants you to be.’ The goal of marriage is not just to do life together for 40 or 50 years and then die, rather it’s to arrive before the heavenly Father and hear him say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants! You lifted each other up, you sacrificed for each other, you prayed for each other, you confronted each other and challenged each other, and rebuked each other. You hugged and you loved each other. And you encouraged each other towards me.’ The mission of marriage is your spouse’s holiness. Any lesser goal, any smaller purpose, and you’re just playing as being married.

On the cross Jesus gave himself, he put our needs ahead of his own, he sacrificed himself for us. But Jesus didn’t do that because we were so lovely, but to make us lovely. Jesus didn’t die because we were holy, but to make us holy. I thought Alice was beautiful on our wedding day, but the goal of my marriage isn’t to watch as her beauty fades but to see her become more beautiful with every passing year. And yes that’s probably the most romantic thing I’ve ever said. But how do you do that? The answer is to help your spouse love Jesus more than you. Only if I love Jesus more than my wife, will I be able to serve her needs more than my own. Only if your emotional tank is filled with love from God will you be able to be patient, faithful, tender and open with your wife when things are not going well in your relationship. The more joy you get from your relationship with Christ, the more you can share that joy with your wife and family. And that’s true for all your relationships.

 

I just want to finish this morning by applying this stuff firstly to singles. Often today many single people have good friends of the opposite sex with whom they share common interests. You trust their opinions, you are able to share your feelings without fear, but you aren’t romantically attracted to them. But then you meet someone who you are physically attracted to, who is interesting and fun and so you start hanging out with them. What happens is the person you end up falling in love with isn’t nearly as good a friend as the one you already have. I want to encourage you look first for friendship, before anything else. Your spouse needs to be your best friend, or you won’t have a strong, rich marriage that endures and makes you both vastly better people in the process. Look for someone who makes you a better person just by being around them, someone who is interested in your holiness, someone who can be your companion, someone who will be constant, someone who will challenge you, someone who shares your faith in common. And marry that person.

Secondly, I want to encourage you couples to prioritize your marriage. Paul quoted Genesis 2:24 which says we need to leave and cleave. Some of you need to leave some stuff behind, and maybe it’s your family of origin. But all of us need to cleave to our spouse, they need to become our best friend. If your spouse isn’t the first priority in your life it will slowly kill your marriage. No other human being should get more of your love, energy, efforts and commitment than your spouse. Just as Jesus demands that we put him first in our lives, so we need to put our spouse before anything else. God designed marriage to be the primary relationship in your life. And while that sounds full-on, the wonderful thing about marriage is that if it is strong then even if everything else in your life is filled with difficulty it doesn’t matter. Like building your life on Jesus creates a firm foundation for life, so having a good marriage provides a firm foundation.

And finally if you think having a holy spouse doesn’t sound very interesting, maybe it will help to think of holiness as ‘wholeness.’ It’s only when your spouse is like Jesus, when their lives are characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness, faithfulness and integrity, humility and self-control, that they become who they were created to be. That is the purpose of our salvation, and that’s the purpose of Christian friendship, and because your spouse is your best-friend, that’s the mission of your marriage. Amen.

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