Revive Our Hearts Podcast

A God-Sized Picture of Marriage

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Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says, “Marriage vows matter because they reflect God’s commitment to His people.”

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: It's not about you; it's not about me. It’s about the glory of God, and it’s about future generations who can see God’s glory revealed in faithfulness to the marriage covenant.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of True Woman 201, for Monday, April 30, 2018.

This spring, Nancy has been sharing the True Woman Manifesto with us. This is a document laying out the ideas behind a True Woman Movement, and Nancy’s been using the document as the basis for several teaching series. Today she’ll pick it back up, looking at marriage.

Nancy: Well, my husband Robert and I recently celebrated our twenty-eighth anniversary. Twenty-eight? Some of you are saying, "Wait, I thought you got married not too long ago. Well, it's our twenty-eighth month. We celebrate our monthly anniversary. 

When we got married Robert was sixty-seven and I was fifty-seven. We realized it was likely that we wouldn't have as many years as most of our peers do when they are married—some of them for decades. So we celebrate our monthly anniversary. It's actually called a lunaversary.

Each month we exchange anniversary cards. We manage to sneak into each other's space late at night or early in the morning. There is usually a card waiting from one to the other on our lunaversary. I've bought those cards at drug stores, bookstores, card kiosks in airports. I've even found cards online. Let me tell you, it's not always easy to find sentiments that express what we really want to say to each other as husband and wife.

Let me read to you a few that I saw online (these are not examples of ones that I would send to Robert):

"The very first moment I laid my eyes on you, I knew our hearts were meant to be. You are my courage, my angel, my soldier. You saved me. I love you." Well . . . Here's another one.

"You remind me of time itself for you are my past, present, future, and forever. I love you. Happy anniversary." I don't think I'd choose that. I like the "I love you" part.

"Here’s a toast to our beautiful bond
Let’s be immersed in its blissful pond.
Like old times, let’s just cuddle
Let’s get lost, in love’s dreamy bubble."

Whoever wrote that needs to get another job.

I often look for anniversary and wedding cards for others, and I'll say that it's not easy even religious card lines. Sometimes I think, wouldn't it be fun to start a whole new line of wedding and anniversary cards.

At lot of times it's not what these cards say that is all that wrong, sometimes it's what they don’t say.

Almost invariably, the focus is almost entirely on happiness, romance, and blessings for the couple. The common denominator is, it’s all about you. It's all about me. It’s not that God doesn’t want married couples to enjoy a happy, blessed marriage. Robert and I are enjoying marriage, and we want to enjoy and help each other enjoy a happy and blessed marriage.

But we are learning, as have you if you have a good marriage, that the greatest blessings of marriage come as a by-product of seeking something else—something far greater and grander. The greatest blessings of marriage come by having a mission and purpose that is bigger than you.

When Robert and I got engaged in May 2015, three years ago this week, we started talking about what kind of wedding we wanted to have. As much as we loved each other, as excited as we were about God bringing our lives together, we reminded ourselves that our wedding and marriage were not first and foremost about us.

That very summer—July 2015—the Supreme Court of the United States ruled by a vote of five­-to-four that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, so called. Our wedding was set to take place just four months later, in November of 2015.

As all the news was swirling about the Supreme Court decision as people were blogging and talking about this whole turn of events, we felt that God had given us an opportunity and responsibility, a stewardship, to make a bold statement about God’s plan for marriage in our wedding.

Here's a letter that we printed on the first inside page of our wedding program. (Our wedding program was, by the way, I think, twenty-eight pages long! That's what happens when a writer marries a writer.) But here's part of a letter that we wrote at the beginning of that program:

Our dear family and friends,

Your presence today is an honor and a blessing as we are united in the covenant of marriage. Thank you for being here.

Our earnest desire is that this wedding and the marriage that follows would showcase the loveliness of Christ. In a day when marriage is on the witness stand—both in the culture and in the church—we consider it a great privilege and duty to proclaim the order, the goodness, and the beauty of marriage as God ordained it so long ago. 

We have prayed that this day would bring honor to Christ as together we rehearse the great gospel Story of redemption. We have prayed that love for our Savior would burn more brightly in each of our hearts, that marriages would be strengthened, and that we would all experience heightened anticipation for the return of our heavenly Bridegroom. 

May God grant a fresh sense of wonder and awe as together we contemplate the magnificent, covenant-keeping love of Christ.

Now, people came to that wedding to see us. They came expecting a bride and a sanctuary and flowers and a reception—things that would be beautiful, that would be arrayed, that would be adorned for this wedding. But most of all, we wanted them to leave saying, "We saw the loveliness, the beauty, the wonder of Christ."

Going back to that Supreme Court decision about gay marriage, so called. That decision didn't just happen. It was the fruit of decades of our society shifting in its understanding and its beliefs about the origin, the definition, the meaning, and the significance of marriage.

The world since then has become more insistent that it be allowed to define marriage, and that we all be expected to affirm the validity of those changes in the culture.

I read in a recent article in a publication in the United Kingdom that quoted the European Union Court as saying that the “definition of marriage has now ‘evolved’ to include same-sex couples.” The court recommended that all European Union nations should be required to recognize same-sex marriages from other countries.

Now, these are tough issues. The are ones that call us not to be strident, not to be angry, not to be rude. The people we are talking about who are making these laws, who are lobbying for them and for their application in our culture, they are human beings created in the image of God, who, like us, need a Savior.

As we go back to the Scripture, which is what we need to do no matter what subject we are talking about, in the gospels, when Jesus asked about issues related to marriage and divorce, He responded: “In the beginning . . .” He took them back to the Genesis account of the first marriage. That's the starting place.

That's why in the True Woman Manifesto that we've been looking at over these weeks, we affirm this statement:

Marriage, as created by God, is a sacred, binding, lifelong covenant between one man and one woman.

Now, let's just unpack that statement for the next few moments. Marriage was created by God. It was the first human institution ordained by God. It was not a random idea. It was something God had in the wisdom and the inscrutible counsels of His heart in eternity past. It was not just a social convention. It was created by God, designed by God, the Creator of life, to tell the gospel.

Before there was even a human race, before there was such a thing as the gospel on this planet. Marriage was God's idea. It was His plan; it was His creation. It is foundational to our telling and our understanding of the gospel. It is not something that is secondary in importance. It's not something that is tangential. It's not something that, "Oh, you can be a Christian and believe the gospel and teach the gospel, but you don't have to see marriage through the lens of Scripture. You can redefine it. The definition can evolve, and you can still honor God and His Word."

No! God's Word defines marriage because God created it.

Polls can measure where the public is on all of this. Politicians can pass laws to redefine it. They can say that the definition is evolving, but marriage is what God says it is. He's the creator of marriage.

God says in Genesis chapter 2:24:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother [male, female] and hold fast to his wife [female and male joined together], and they shall become one flesh.

In Mark chapter 10, Jesus talking about marriage and divorces, quotes from this verse in Genesis.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh, [and then he adds this] so they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate (vv. 7–9).

Marriage is created by God, and marriage, as we read in this True Woman Manifesto statement is sacred. It is not just a human idea. It is not just a civil idea. It is not something that the courts determine what it should look like, how it should be executed, how it should be lived out. Marriage is sacred. It is not common; it is not profane.

Now, Christians and non-Christians get married. But marriage in its essence is holy; it is set apart. We talk in the old school marriage ceremony: holy matrimony. It is holy. It is sacred. It is binding, and it is life long—a binding, lifelong covenant says the Manifesto here.

Marriage is a pledge to be faithful—one man to one woman. To be faithful until the death of one or both of those partners, regardless of what circumstances may arise after the "I do's," after the covenant is made.

Marriage is not like a legal or business contract where when one party fails to fulfill their obligations, the contract is broken and the other party is freed from their commitment. Marriage is not a contract, it is a covenant. A covenant in the biblical sense transcends the legal requirements of a contract. A covenant in a biblical understanding of marriage cannot be broken, regardless of whether the other party fulfills their obligations.

Now, I know that I am speaking to many people in this room and listening on podcast or radio or livestream who you or your partner or a previous partner have broken those marriage vows. We are going to talk about that today and some more tomorrow. This is commonplace in our culture, but I think we need to go back to the beginning and say, "What was it like in the way God ordained marriage? What is it intended to be? What ought it to be?" Then we have the gospel to help us deal with our failures to keep the law of God.

Scripture talks about the solemn, binding nature of a vow. You read this in Ecclesiates chapter 5:

"When you vow a vow to God" . . . The vows exchanged at the alter that Robert and I exchanged on November 14, 2015, these weren't just vows to each other. They were vows to God.

When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger [or a court] that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? (vv. 4–6).

Now, he's not just talking about marriage here, but is there any more solemn, binding, lifelong covenant anywhere in human relationships than the marriage covenant? God says that if you break your vows, apart from repentance and believing and applying the gospel to your life, God will undo the work of your hands.

There are so many people today, I believe, that are experiencing conflict and issues in their lives that may not have been necessary. Sometimes suffering is for different reasons. Sometimes the suffering you experience is the consquences of other people's sins. But sometimes it is the consequence of our own unfaithfulness, our own faithlessness—perhaps not keeping a covenant.

God is a faithful, covenant-keeping God.

Years ago as I set out to understand biblically what the Scripture teaches about marriage, divorce, and remarriage—we are not going to go through all of that here—but the thing that was a huge lightbulb that went off for me was when I realized that marriage was a reflection of the character of God. God is a faithful, covenant-keeping God. He keeps His promises—even when we don't keep ours. Marriage is supposed to reflect that covenant-keeping love of God, the faithfulness of God, and the plan of redemption between Christ and His Church.

But what's happened in our culture, and sadly, in the Church, is that marriage lasts as long as the feelings and the attraction last, as long as people feel they are compatible. Listen, who among us that are married did not quickly in our married life come to realize that no two people, particularly a man and woman coming together in marriage, are compatible. We're not. We're sinners. We have all kinds of differences and failures and things that rub each other the wrong way.

But the culture says as long as you are happy in the marriage, as long as you feel that you are soul mates, as long as you feel that, then you stay married until one does something that crosses a line—a line you've drawn in your head or your heart. You've said, "This far, but not that." When we break the marriage covenant, once those feelings are gone, once the oxytocin stop flowing, once the hormones settle down, once the person we said would make us happy forever stops making us happy any more, when we break our marriage covenant, we distort the picture of God’s redeeming love for His people.

The marriage covenant is a binding, lifelong covenant.

The word "binding" may sound negative, like you got put into prison. You've got to stay in this marriage because it is binding. Let me say that there is a sense in that which is true. Marriage is designed by God to be a context, a crucible, for sanctification. Now, that doesn't mean that those who aren't married aren't sanctified. God has other crucibles to put us in. I was single for fifty-seven years, and God knew how to sanctify me without a husband. Now He is sanctifying me with a husband. And, God is by the way, sanctifying my husband with a very flawed wife.

God has designed marriage to be a context for sanctifying us, for conforming us to the image of Christ—something like a gem that is put in a vice where it's chipped away at, chiseled, cut so it can reflect the beauty of that gem. This is what God is doing in our lives through the binding covenant of marriage. That is a good thing; that is a beautiful thing. It's not intended for our harm or damage, but for our beauty, so the glofy of Christ can be reflected in and through our lives and marriages.

Dr. John Piper has written an excellent book called This Momentary Marriage. I read recently a review by Tim Challies of that book. Tim quotes from Dr. Piper:

[Marriage] is more than your love for each other  . . . The meaning of marriage is the display of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his people.

Marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship to his redeemed people, the church. And therefore, the highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display. That is why marriage exists. If you are married, that is why you are married. If you hope to be, that should be your dream.

In his review, Tim Challies goes on to say,

Thus staying married is not about staying in love but about keeping covenant . . .

Maybe that's the word some wife today needs to hear. "Staying married is not about staying in love but about keeping covenant," now in the keeping covenant, God will birth deep channels of sacrificial love. You'll get love as you keep covenant. Tim goes on to say,

Getting divorced involves not just breaking a covenant with a spouse but misrepresenting Christ and his covenant . . . marriage is not about lifelong fireworks and unending doe-eyed feelings of romance. Instead, marriage is about the long-term commitment to make a statement about God to the rest of the world.

My friends, Crawford and Karen Loritts, have written a new book on marriage called, Your Marriage Today and Tomorrow: Making Your Relationship Matter Now and for Generations to Come. In that book they say,

What’s most important in the marriage is what the marriage says about God and not what it says about us. . . . Every marriage is to be a statement about the redemption, honor and glory of our great Savior, Jesus Christ. . . . There is no higher goal, dream or ambition. And when we give ourselves to pursuing this vision, our marriage becomes God’s statement to a watching world during our moment in history as well as the breeding ground for hope for future generations.

What are all these authors saying? It's not about you; it's not about me. It's about the glory of God, and it's about future generations who can see God's glory revealed in faithfulness to the marriage covenant.

I know that many, many listening to these words, this is painful because you either are in a difficult, maybe seemingly impossible marriage, or you were and you chose to get out of it. Or you wanted to stay in it and your mate rejected you and divorced you. There are lots of different combinations and situations reflected in just this room. I want to be sensitive to that, but I think we need to encourage each other to keep holding up God's ideal.

Even out of our failures and pain to say, "God's ways are right. They are true. They are good"—to affirm that.

I got an email some time ago from a friend who had been through a painful season of major upheaval in her marriage years earlier as a result of her husband’s sinful choices. She wrote and said to me:

During that time I received a letter from you which I still cling to these ten years later (though the challenges have changed). May I quote from your letter something that I hope you will share with others that has proven so real and so true? [Here's what she quote from my letter to her when she was in the fire in her marriage.]

Part of the mystery of marriage is that you are one, not only in your joys, gains, and victories, but also in your humiliations, losses, and brokenness. Part of your lifelong unconditional commitment is to bear reproach with him. The consequences of his choices will deeply affect you as well. But, in your willingness to share in his losses, you become a living illustration of the heart and spirit of Jesus, enabling Him to extend grace and healing through your woundedness. Yours is a high and holy calling. And in embracing and fulfilling it, you will experience a greater intimacy and oneness with the Savior, than most will ever know this side of heaven.

[She says] I have nearly memorized these words as I've read them over and over again through the years and have shared that wisdom with many other friends.

Your marriage, my marriage, the marriages of our friends and family members are intended to be means of putting on display the glory of God and the covenant love of Christ. There's supposed to be a HD picture and HD movie of redemption to point people to Christ and to draw them to the gospel.

Remember: It's not about me; it's not about you. It's all, all, all about Him and that amazing story of His marriage to His Bride.

Oh Lord, I lift up those who are wounded, who are hurting for whom these words are like maybe picking a scab on a wound they thought was healed. I pray for perspective; I pray for hope; I pray for the ability to go back to Scripture and consider what Your Word says. And then to align our lives around Your ways, Your holy character.

I pray that You would infuse hope and grace into hearts that feel, "I've blown it. There is no hope for me." Thank You for the gospel! Thank You that there is hope for every person—married or not, divorced or not, remarried or not. We take our failings, our frailities, our flaws, our deficiencies, and we come to the cross.

We confess our sin. We grieve over the sins of others. We say, "Thank You Lord for the amazing grace and mercy that You pour on to those who are willing to say, 'Yes, Lord' to all that You say in Your Word."

Give hope and courage and faith and encouragement this day, I pray, as we seek to have marriages that glorify You and tell Your story of Jesus and His amazing love! I pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, showing us how our marriages can be a picture of the gospel. That teaching is part of a series based on the True Woman Manifesto, and you can read that whole document by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com.

The Manifesto was first introduced at True Woman '08, the conference Revive Our Hearts hosted ten years ago. We are re-convening this September—September 27–29 to be exact. This time in Indianapolis. Not only does this offer a chance to look back and mark a decade of True Woman conferences. It’s also an opportunity to prepare to display the beauty of femininity into the future.

Nancy will be speaking, with Dannah Gresh, Jackie Hill Perry, Mary Kassian, Betsy Gómez, and Dr. Eric Mason. You’ll enjoy music from the Gettys and drama from the group Acts of Renewal We anticipate all the seats to be gone soon, so get your tickets now.

When you order by tomorrow, May 1, you still can get in on the early registration discount. Get all the details at ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can call 1–800–569–5959.

Tomorrow Nancy will be back to ask, “What does your marriage communicate?” Please be here for Revive Our Hearts

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you give an accurate picture of the gospel. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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