Wisdom for Marriage

June 30, 2024 ()

Bible Text: Selected Scriptures |


Wisdom for Marriage | Selected Scriptures
Brian Hedges | June 30, 2024

Let’s turn in our Bibles to the book of Proverbs. We’re going to be in a number of different places in Proverbs. We’re ending in Proverbs chapters 5, 6, and then 3, so we’ll be bouncing around a bit this morning.

But today we’re going to be talking about marriage. This is an important theme to address for many reasons, not least of all because there are many of us who are married in this room this morning and some, perhaps, who are not married but maybe you will be someday if you’re maybe in high school or college and you’re looking ahead to being married. All of us have friends and family who are married. We are brothers and sisters in the body of Christ with those who are married and we recognize that although marriage is in decline in our society today, it is still an important institution to the fabric of society so it’s important for us to address, important for us to talk about. We are facing something of a crisis in marriage in the western world with now, more than ever before, young adults often waiting to their thirties before getting married and sometimes not getting married at all.

There’s a book that was written a couple of years ago by a guy named Mark Regnarus called, The Future of Christian Marriage. He’s using sociological language from somebody else, but he points out that marriage is now widely perceived as a capstone rather than as a foundation upon which to build your life. So just think about the difference between those two images. He says,

“This means that marriage is now something individuals aspire to rather than something a couple enters into in order to fulfill their aspirations. A capstone is the finishing touch of a structure. It's a moment in time. A foundation, however, is what a building rests upon. A foundation is essential; a capstone not so much. A foundation is necessarily hardwearing; a capstone is an accessory that can be replaced if necessary. Similarly, if people are building their lives, marriage is widely considered an achievement attained by each, not the beginning of constructing an adult life together.”

Now this is a shift—a sociological shift that we’re witnessing in the western world. Whereas in generations past, young couples would often get married right out of high school, or maybe in their college years, or right out of college in their early twenties. And then they begin to build a career together. They begin to build a home and a family together. They’re building their lives together, and marriage is the foundation of that whole enterprise.

Now, people are waiting—if they get married at all—but when they do get married they kind of enter into it as something they are seeking for personal fulfillment and happiness and they may exit the marriage just as easily as they would enter in. So it’s important for us to be reminded of what the Bible itself says about marriage—marriage as foundational to both human society and to the covenant family.

Now it’s important to also emphasize at the outset that the Bible also holds out singleness as being something that God sometimes uniquely calls people to and elevates the status of singleness. Jesus Christ himself was single in his earthly life and ministry.

But today I want us to think about marriage. I want to go about it by looking at four things. We’re going to look at a lot of different scriptures along the way so I’m not going to begin by reading scripture, but here’s the basic outline for the message. This should be easy to remember. I’m giving you four words that start with P. I want us to see:

1. The Pattern for Marriage
2. The Preparation for Marriage
3. The Principles for Marriage
4. The Perfect Marriage, or the Perfection of Marriage

We’re going to begin by looking at some of the foundational patterns for marriage in the Bible and how these are assumed in Proverbs. Then we’ll look at some of the specific teachings in Proverbs about preparing for marriage and about the marriage covenant itself, and then we’re going to end by thinking about the greatest marriage of all. Okay?

1. The Pattern for Marriage

So first of all, the pattern for marriage. Here I just want us to be reminded of some of the foundational patterns and ideals for marriage that are assumed in the book of Proverbs and that are taught throughout scripture. There are several things for us to see here. Here’s the first: [This is, if you will, something of a definition of marriage.] Marriage is the monogamous, heterosexual, covenantal union of one man and one woman for life.

Now that may feel like a somewhat technical definition, but this is important and every word is important. Marriage is a union. It’s a union of two people—a man and a woman. It is a monogamous union. That is, it only involves two people—one man and one woman. It is a heterosexual union—a man and a woman, not two people of the same sex. And it is a covenantal union. It’s a union that is entered into for life with a commitment that is far greater than just a contract. This is a deep commitment of life, a devotion which means giving oneself to another. That’s why we make marriage vows when we get married.

Of course, the foundation text for this goes all the way back to Genesis 2 when God created the first man and the woman placing them in the garden and gave them to one another—Genesis 2:22-24. It says,

“Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called ‘woman’, for she was taken out of man.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife and they become one flesh.”

That text is the foundational text for understanding marriage throughout the scriptures. This is the pattern in creation. It is the ideal that is assumed in wisdom literature and is taught in the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament. If you want to see Jesus’ teaching on marriage, just go to St. Matthew 5 or Matthew 19 or Mark 12. Jesus alludes to this passage, quotes this passage in his own teaching.

Therefore, this being the pattern, this being the ideal, we can say that every deviation from this pattern in the ancient or the modern world reflects the brokenness resulting from the fall. This is the ideal that God established in creation, but we recognize that we do not live in an unfallen world. We live in a world where sin has occurred, where human beings have fallen from the glory of God. We have fallen from the pattern that God established and, therefore, we see all kinds of deviations from this pattern.

We see it both in the Bible and in the modern world today. Some of these deviations, for example, would be polygamy. Polygamy was widely practiced in the ancient world. It seems that it is tolerated in the Old Testament, but never directly approved.

We see it in divorce. The scriptures tell us very clearly that God hates divorce and we can say that divorce is always the result of sin on at least one spouse’s part. And yet, the scriptures recognize the hardness of the human heart and recognize the sometimes irreconcilable damage that can be done in marriage when the covenant is broken. The scripture sometimes allows for divorce—this would be in cases of adultery or desertion, and I think we can say by extension, other forms of covenant breaking such as criminal activity or abuse.

Another deviation would be polyamory—that would be multiple sexual partners who are not married. Believe it or not, that is becoming increasingly more common in the western world today.

Another deviation would be same sex relationships. Make no mistake, the scriptures uniformly condemn this in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. These are all different kinds of deviation from the pattern, from the ideal, the biblical ideal for marriage.

And, of course, as soon as I bring these up it raises a whole hatful of complex issues relating to many of our lives, because the reality is that many of us have experienced some form of brokenness, or pain, or personal disappointment or disillusionment in our lives related to these issues.

I think in recognizing that complexity we need to do two things. We, first of all, need to speak with moral clarity about what the Bible says. It’s crystal clear. Friends, the Bible is not hesitant in affirming this basic pattern for marriage. That’s very clear in the scriptures. It’s taught in Genesis. It’s assumed by the law and the prophets and in the wisdom literature. It’s reaffirmed by Jesus and by the apostles. This is the pattern, and this has been the fundamental pattern through most of human history even though there have been these deviations along the way. So we’ve got to speak with moral clarity about this.

But on the other hand, we must also act with deep compassion and with love for those who have experienced more brokenness and pain than pleasure and joy in the realms of sexuality and relationships. And wherever you are this morning—it may be that you are divorced. It may be that you have been in a marriage that has been very unhappy and has brought you more disappointment, more disillusionment, than anything else. Or maybe in some other way you find yourself on this spectrum of deviation from the pattern in scripture. Wherever you are, I want you to know that the Bible tells us very clearly that God is for us, that God is for sinners who are broken by the fall.

When you look at the ministry of Jesus, you see him ministering to people who were broken in these areas. You think of the story of the woman caught in adultery and how Jesus did not condemn her. You think of the woman of Samaria, the woman at the well, who had this series of husbands of failed marriages, and yet Jesus was able to point her to living water. You think about how Jesus hung out with the prostitutes and the sinners and showed them love.

In the same way, the church is a place where broken sinners are welcome and where even as we speak with clarity about what the Bible says, we also welcome people with open arms and say to them that God is for you and that there is wholeness for your hearts in Jesus Christ and in a relationship with him. But we’ve got to be clear about this pattern for marriage that’s established in the Bible.

2. The Preparation for Marriage

And then to understand that pattern we can dig into what Proverbs has to say about marriage, which leads us to the second point, the preparation for marriage. Here I just want to spend a few minutes looking at the wisdom that’s given in Proverbs for selecting a spouse. I think this will be especially applicable to those of you who are single and you’d like to be married. Maybe you’re in high school or you’re in college—you’re in that young adult phase of life and you’re interested in marriage. Maybe you're even dating someone but you’re trying to think in wise ways about this process of moving to marriage. Scripture has wisdom for us.

First of all, Proverbs says that we should be cautious in choosing a spouse. And it does this in a number of ways by highlighting for the readers of Proverbs the importance of marrying a person of noble character and avoiding those who will bring misery into your life. Let me just give you some examples.

Proverbs 12:4 says, “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.” In other words, Proverbs is saying be sure to choose a spouse of great character because if you don’t, it’s going to bring deep pain and deep disappointment into your life.

Or you might take Proverbs 27:15-16. “A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm. Restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.” This shows the impossibility of being married to someone who has this quarrelsome temper and how this just will lead to constant agony and discomfort and unhappiness in life.

Or Proverbs 21:9-19, these are some of those “better than” statements in Proverbs. “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. Better to live in a desert than live with a quarrelsome and nagging wife.”

Now you read those passages, and I’m just wondering, how are all of the women in the room feeling right now? I can imagine that if you’re a woman and you read the book of Proverbs you would initially be turned off. You might be wondering, “Why doesn’t it say it’s better to live in the corner of a housetop than live with a quarrelsome husband?” And I would say that’s a legitimate move to make because the Proverbs can work both ways.

But let me just address women for a minute. Now there’s a couple of things I think you have to understand about Proverbs if you’re going to read this literature the way it’s supposed to be read. Here’s the first thing: you do need to remember that Proverbs was written to young men. It’s addressed to young men. That’s the orientation of this book. We could say that Proverbs says a lot about women, but it does not really speak directly to women. It’s addressed to the young man.

And oftentimes, when Proverbs speaks about women, it’s giving us three different, almost caricatures, three different types of women. There is, first of all, the femme fatale. This is the seductress. This is the strange woman, the immoral woman. This is a woman who’s like a predator. And this father is warning his son, “Don’t go after this woman. Don’t go to the prostitute. Don’t go to the adulteress. Don’t be seduced by the beauty of the woman who will be unfaithful to God, unfaithful to the covenant, the woman who’s already married.”

Then there is the woman, as we’ve already read, whose temperament is such that it would be better to be in solitary confinement in a desert island than it is to be married to her.

And then, of course, there is the noble woman, the virtuous woman, the excellent wife, the Proverbs 31 woman. You read Proverbs 31 and you get a portrait something like this: she seems to have everything together; she has flawless character; she works morning, noon, and night; she runs her own business; she purchases real estate; she’s admired by her husband; she’s praised by her children; she makes her husband well known in the city gate; it seems like everybody admires this woman. And you read that and you think, “Well that’s nice, but that feels like an impossible ideal to live up to. Why is it that there is no Proverbs 32 that talks about the excellent husband?”

I think the answer is that we have to remember what this literature is intended to do. It’s intended to instruct a young man about how to make a good choice of a wife. Secondly, maybe it would be encouraging to you if you recognize that if men will actually listen to and heed the wisdom of Proverbs, they’ll actually treat you much better as a woman. All too often, men in our world tend to objectify women for their looks or disregard them if they are not physically attractive or overlook their actual abilities and character. But Proverbs encourages men in a very different way—to not isolate physical beauty from a woman’s whole character, to not objectify women sexually, and to be deeply grateful for good character and appreciative of their abilities and achievements. If men will heed that advice, it will be a better world for women.

And maybe the final thing to say in this little parenthesis is just an exhortation to the men. There’s much wisdom in these proverbs, but Proverbs itself tells us that a proverb in the mouth of a fool is as dangerous as a thorny bush in the hands of a drunk. In other words, men, be careful about quoting Proverbs to your wife. Okay? There is caution here for the young man, and that can be applied to young women as well. Be sure that you choose someone of good character when you are selecting a spouse.

And then Proverbs gives positive advice for choosing a spouse well. Let me just run through some of these points quickly. First of all, it would encourage us to seek God’s favor first. You see this in Proverbs 18:22. “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.” A good spouse is considered a gift from God. But God’s favor is to be sought first and foremost. As Jesus said in another context about another issue, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Seek your relationship with God. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. That’s the first exhortation—seek the Lord’s favor first.

Then, secondly, use the right criteria when choosing a spouse. Again, Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” That verse is telling us that character is always more important than physical beauty. And it means that no matter how great the chemistry between you and someone else, if that person does not fear the Lord—remember that “fear of the Lord” is kind of the Old Testament language for a worshiper of the true God. If that person is not a worshiper of God—if they don’t fear the Lord—then you should have nothing to do with that person in a romantic way or in a sexual way. You should not choose such a person for a spouse. It’s very clear in the New Testament that you should not marry an unbeliever. You should not marry a non-Christian, someone who does not follow Christ. Far beyond a person’s personality or their physical attractiveness, you should prize character and someone who is deeply committed to fearing the Lord and following the Lord Jesus.

Then, thirdly, Proverbs encourages you to seek the advice of others. Look at Proverbs 15:22. It says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.” And there are many proverbs like that, that hold out the benefit of seeking out wise and godly counsel. So, if you’re a young person and you are thinking about dating and marriage, one of the things this means is that you should talk to your parents, assuming that your parents are godly Christians. You should talk to your parents. You should get their input. You should want their wisdom. They are looking out for you. It means that you should talk to godly mentors in the church. If you’re headed towards marriage, by all means, get premarital counseling. This would be one of the best things you could do in investing in your future relationship.

And then finally, number four, the emphasis of all of Proverbs is to build your own character so that you, yourself, become the kind of person who will be a good spouse. There’s a place in Tolkein’s writing—J.R.R. Tolkein, who wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings—where he was talking about the books he wrote, and he said it grew like a seed out of the leaf mold of his mind, and all that had been seen or thought or read, long forgotten, descending into the deep parts of his mind, all of that was kind of the earth out of which the books grew. In other words, good writing doesn’t come from nowhere. Good writing comes from long hours of good reading and of study and developing skill and developing craft. All of that was necessary before Tolkein could write a masterpiece.

I think the same analogy holds true in our marriages and relationships. A good marriage does not come out of nowhere. It comes from many hours over weeks and months and years of making small choices, where you are developing a good, godly, and wise character, where you are pursuing honesty and integrity and love and kindness and compassion and hard work and all of the things that make up wisdom. If you want to have a successful marriage you’ve got to give time to that. You’ve got to build your own character. Become the kind of person who will be a good marriage partner.

All of this summarizes the wisdom of Proverbs about preparing for marriage.

3. The Principles of Marriage

Now, thirdly, I want us to talk about the principles of marriage. Here I have in mind the principles of faithfulness in marriage, considered as a marriage covenant.

Let me just qualify this for a minute. There are actually a lot of different things we could talk about that will make marriage work. We could talk, for example, about communication. Many couples have problems with communication and the difficulty of resolving conflict. We are going to do a whole sermon on communication—on words. We could talk about friendship and the role that friendship plays in marriage, but there’s going to be a whole message on friendship. We could talk about managing one’s emotions. There’s going to be a whole sermon on that.

But I want to focus for just a few minutes on that aspect of marriage that is most unique to the marriage relationship, and that is the sexual union in marriage. Because this is so central to marriage, I think it’s important to say that the quality of that sexual relationship—between a man and his wife—will serve as both a thermometer and a thermostat in the marriage. It’s a thermometer in that it shows the temperature—the overall temperature of the marriage—just as a thermometer shows the overall temperature of the room. If you want to know how happy your marriage is, you can look at your sexual relationship and get a pretty good indication. But it’s also a thermostat so that, all things being equal, devoting more time and attention to this can help your marriage in other ways.

Now, here’s the caveat to that. Sometimes there can be so much pain in the relationship that you can’t or shouldn’t start with this. For example, when there’s been infidelity, when there’s been violence or abuse of any kind, when there have been long periods without intimacy, other work has got to be done. And you might think of it sort of like a house. A house that is in general good repair can be heated up if you’ve got a furnace and you turn the thermostat on. But if the windows are broken and if the roof is falling in and if the foundation is shaky and the house is falling apart, turning on the thermostat is not going to do much good. You’ve actually got to fix the house. For some people, the marriage is so broken there’s other work that’s got to be done before you can really attend to this. If that’s where you are this morning—if you’re struggling with issues of forgiveness or communication or conflict resolution or the balance of roles and responsibilities, my encouragement to you would be to seek out some marriage counseling and start working on those other issues, and eventually that will be reflected in this area as well.

Now with those caveats in mind, Proverbs gives us basically two guidelines when it comes to faithfulness in the marriage covenant. We can summarize those guidelines with these two images, two exhortations. I’m drawing this from Anthony Selvaggio and his book, The Proverbs Driven Life. He words it like this: “Drink the water and flee the fire.” Let's look at Proverbs 5 and 6 for a minute.

First of all, drink the water. Look at Proverbs 5:15-21 and just note the imagery as we read this passage. It says,

“Drink water from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets,
your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone,
never to be shared with strangers.
May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer—
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be intoxicated with her love.
Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife?
Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?
For your ways are in full view of the Lord,
and he examines all your paths.”
Now that’s a really remarkable passage. It’s a passage that, far from denigrating sexual pleasure in marriage or making it subservient to procreation, actually exalts the joys of married love and emphasizes three things.

It emphasizes, first of all, mutuality. When you look at this passage and you read the commentaries, it becomes really clear that the metaphors here are erotically charged metaphors. The various images for water and its sources—water, cistern, well, spring, stream, fountain—they all are metaphorically emphasizing both male and female sexual arousal and climax. There’s mutuality here. This isn’t just a guy thing, in other words.

There’s exclusivity here. You see that when you emphasize the pronouns. “Drink from your own cistern, your own well. Love the wife of your youth.” Your own wife, right? Don’t share this with strangers. There’s an exclusivity to the relationships and there is to be satisfaction in the relationship.

Again, seen in the imagery of quenching one’s thirst and then the terminology used in verses 18 and 19 of being intoxicated. Be intoxicated with her love and don’t be intoxicated with the love of a stranger. It’s the same language that’s used for being drunk elsewhere in scripture. In other words, this passage is telling husbands and wives in the tenderness of a loving, healthy marriage relationship to be intoxicated with one another. Drink the water.

But along with that there’s a negative exhortation to flee the fire. You see this in the last two verses, verses 20-21. “Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife? Your ways are in full view of the Lord. He examines all your paths.” There’s the motive. The Lord sees everything you do in secret. Don’t commit adultery. Flee the fire. And then, especially, you see this in Proverbs 6:27-29 where the language of fire is actually used. It says,

“Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife. No one who touches her will go unpunished.”

The application: avoid adultery at all costs. This is actually a very significant emphasis in Proverbs. If you look at just Proverbs 5, 6, and 7 alone, there are over sixty-five verses in those three chapters warning against adultery.

And the metaphor of fire, others have pointed out, is a powerful metaphor. It allures. Fire has this kind of alluring, seductive appeal, but it also spreads and spreads quickly. Fire can get out of control really fast, and it burns. Fire is hard to control and it consumes everything in its path. And if you read carefully Proverbs 5-7, it will show the destruction that will come into a person’s life if they wander into the forbidden fires of adultery.

So drink the water, flee the fire. It’s important that we keep those two things together. These are the two exhortations—a positive one and a negative one that have to do with maintaining that marriage covenant. The old commentator, Charles Bridges, put it like this: “Tender, well-regulated domestic affection is the best defense against the vagrant desires of unlawful passions.” Now that’s typical Victorian language, but if you want to put it in a very straight forward and contemporary way, he is saying that a good sex life with your spouse is the best defense against adultery. These are principles for maintaining the marriage covenant.

4. The Perfect Marriage, or The Perfection of Marriage

Finally, I want us to think for a few minutes about the perfect marriage, or the perfection of marriage. Now, here’s my guess: we spent thirty minutes talking about the ideal of marriage, talking about choosing a wife of noble character, talking about the ideals of sexual joy in marriage—my guess is that there are many in this room who feel a variety of other kinds of emotions. It may be that you want to be married and you’re not and so you just feel frustration. It may be that you’ve been married for a long time and you’ve made a lot of mistakes and so you feel regret. It may be that you are unhappy in your marriage and you feel discontent or disappointment. It may be that you feel hurt or overlooked by God or by others.

There’s all kinds of emotions that we can feel when we start looking at the ideal for marriage held out in scripture. It’s an immediate reminder to us to not make marriage the ultimate thing. This is the problem of idolatry, isn’t it? And this is one of our problems: we idolize marriage, sex, and romance. We take something that is good and we try to turn it into an ultimate thing as if that’s what we’re living for—to find that one person who will absolutely fulfill every desire of my heart. I mean, that’s the goal, isn’t it, of every romantic relationship as it’s held forth in literature or in movies or whatever—to find that person who is your soulmate and fulfills the deepest longings of your heart? The problem with that is it elevates marriage too high. It puts it in first place rather than keeping it under the lordship of Christ. I think we do well to hear these words from C.S. Lewis. He said, “Every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the smaller, partial good for which the sacrifice was made. Apparently the world was made that way. You can’t get second things by putting them first. You can get second things only by putting first things first.” And then in one of his letters, Lewis said that, “Sensual love ceases to be a devil when it ceases to be a god. So many things—nay every real thing—is good if only it will be humble and ordinate.”

Now here’s the problem. The problem is that in our world we turn it into a god. We’ve worshiped at this altar so that my personal desires—whether sexual desires or romantic desires or emotional needs, whatever it is—we elevate to make that the highest good to find fulfillment for myself. And if we make that the highest good, we make it a god and it turns into a demon that brings destruction into our lives. Proverbs, speaking to this reality, shows us that the greatest prize in life is actually not a good spouse or a satisfying marriage, but it is marriage to wisdom herself. Okay?

Proverbs 3. I’ve got one more passage for you. I think it’s important that we understand how Proverbs 3 fits into the other Proverbs we’ve already looked at about marriage. This precedes all of those. Proverbs 3:13-18 is something of a hymn to wisdom. It says,

“Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.”
Just notice the second person, feminine pronoun. She is more profitable than silver and gold.

“She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.”
Do you see the parallel here with Proverbs 31? Proverbs 31—Who is this excellent wife? Her value is greater than rubies. But here it’s wisdom. Verse 16—
“Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.”
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.”
Proverbs is here holding out as the greatest prize of all, the obtaining of wisdom.
Now here’s what I think you’ve got to understand about Proverbs. Proverbs kind of operates on two levels. On one hand, Proverbs addresses young men, urging them to avoid the immoral woman and to seek out the noble wife so as to have a godly, satisfying marriage. But on another whole level, Proverbs throughout, is warning the young man to avoid another woman, a woman we might call Madame Folly. He personifies folly as this woman who will lead him astray. Avoid her and seek out, instead, Lady Wisdom. And so, wisdom here is personified and it’s pointing us, ultimately, to the wisdom of knowing and fearing and loving God himself. And the full personification of that wisdom is, of course, found in Jesus Christ who is, made by God, wisdom for us—1 Corinthians 1:30. The Proverbs is using metaphorical language that points us to the alluring and transcendent beauty of God in his wisdom, and the life, the satisfaction, the reward that flows from a flourishing relationship with him.
And there’s one other clue here that I want you to note and it’s in verse 18, where it says, “She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her. Those who hold her fast will be blessed.” The tree of life. Isn’t that interesting? Do you remember where else you find the tree of life in scripture? There’s only a few places. You have the tree of life, first of all, in the Garden of Eden. When God created the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, he placed them in that garden to rule it and to keep it and to extend his loving reign throughout the world. There was a tree of life.
There was also the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If they ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die. And that’s what they did. And remember what happened? They were banished from the garden. And God set a cherubim with a flaming sword at the entrance to the garden so they can’t come in, so they can’t come in and eat of the tree of life. They are separated from the source of life.
And then you really don’t find the tree of life again, except for a few references in Proverbs—here and in Proverbs 11:30, 13:12, and 15:4—perhaps a veiled reference to it in the prophecy of Ezekiel, and then, finally, in the last book of the Bible, Revelation. You especially find it in the last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22. And there it is—the tree of life.
But here’s the context of another marriage. This is the marriage, the final union between Christ and his church. The church is like this bride being prepared for her husband. And there is this uniting of heaven and earth and the tree of life is there for the healing of the nations. All of this Eden imagery, it’s coming back right there. The tree of life. And it shows us something.
I think if you connect all these dots together along with all the other references to God as Israel’s husband, and Christ as the bridegroom for his people, and the husband who lays down his life for the church, who loves her and gives his life for her, you connect all of those dots together in scripture and it shows us that the ultimate marriage is not found in a perfect, storybook romance with the person of your dreams. It’s found, instead, in the divine romance, the story of the Father’s pursuit of a holy bride for his Son. This is the perfection of marriage. This is what every marriage is meant to point to in the first place. And listen, the reality is, no matter how great your marriage—nobody here has a perfect marriage—but your marriage is there to point to a greater reality. A reality that will fulfill the deepest longings of your hearts. A reality that will be fulfilled in your relationship with Jesus Christ himself.
One of the hymn writers put it like this:
O I am my Beloved’s,
And my Beloved’s mine;
He brings a poor vile sinner
Into His house of wine!
I stand upon His merit;
I know no other stand.
I’m hidden in His presence
And held by His own hand.

The Bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of grace:
Not at the crown He giveth,
But on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory,
And my eternal stand!

That’s what we’re waiting for, friends. We’re waiting for that day when we will look our bridegroom—our heavenly bridegroom, Christ, the husband of the church—we’ll look him in the face. We will see that he has love in his eyes as he always has—this one who has always loved us, gave himself for us to rescue us from our sins and to draw us to himself and to give us that deep relationship of loving union that we all long for in the depths of our hearts.

Friends, as we consider this morning the biblical pattern for marriage, as we’ve looked at how to prepare for marriage and the principles for maintaining the marriage covenant, look beyond all of that, embrace that, affirm that, but look beyond all that to the perfection of marriage itself in the union between Christ and his church.

Let’s pray together.

Father, we thank you this morning for your word. And we thank you that your word gives us both practical instruction, wisdom that put to practice in our lives can help us. But it gives us, also, the story of the divine romance, the story of your eternal love for your people, the story of your son, Jesus, in his pursuit of a holy bride, and it gives us the invitation to be part of that eternal love story, to embrace Christ as our beloved, to devote ourselves to him.

And so, Father, wherever we are this morning, my prayer is that our hearts would turn now to Christ, that we would trust him, that we would love him, that we would be faithful to him, that we would, as it were, pledge our troth to Christ, our husband, so as to live in faithfulness to him all of our days. Lord, would you forgive us this morning that we so often put other things first. We elevate our desires, even good desires, above Christ. We seek in the created things and in created persons and in created institutions, we seek what we can only find in the Creator. May we find rest for our restless hearts.

In you, this morning, may we put first things first. And then, may our marriage relationships be as whole and as healthy and as fulfilling as they can be as they are brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Lord, we pray that as we come to the Lord’s table this morning, that you would draw near to us as we remember that the table is for us the place of deep communion with Christ, the lover of our souls. May we receive from Christ all the grace, the love, the blessing, and the fellowship that we need and long for, and may we give Christ in return, our hearts. So Lord, draw near to us in these moments. Meet with us as we pray through your Spirit. We pray this in Jesus’ name and for his sake, amen.