If you ever want to feel awkward, try preaching a wedding as a single guy.
That will just about do it.
A few months ago, I received a call from an old college student of mine. He and his fiancée (also a past student of mine) were getting married and wanted me to officiate the ceremony. In almost all circumstances, I would have said no, but this particular couple was an exception to that rule. Over the years, I had closely watched their relationship blossom and grow into a godly, responsible relationship.
So, I said yes.
Last Saturday, I stood up on stage, next to the groom, as they swung those doors open and his bride walked down the aisle. Then, the couple turned and stared at me, waiting on me to impart some words of Biblical wisdom about marriage.
That is where the awkward started.
To be sure, I began my preparation for that moment long before the day. When asked, I pondered how I could speak to such a thing, considering I had never experienced it myself. In my preparation, a truth came to mind.
The last thing this couple needed was my wisdom.
Truth be told, this role was no different from any other moment where I would stand to preach the word of God. Too often, sermons come to a congregation full of the opinions of the man delivering them instead of the rich counsel of Scripture itself. The advice of man pales in comparison to the words of God.
So, instead of making some feeble attempt at providing marital advice, I simply sought to share the Bible’s description of marriage. And in doing so, I was faced with a realization. Perhaps we have misplaced the emphasis of marriage today.
Let me explain.
As best I can tell, the Bible does not indicate that the purpose of marriage is our happiness or personal fulfillment. While, in marriage, these things can and should happen, if they are the end goal, then a marriage falls far short of its actual purpose and potential.
In truth, marriage is a picture of the gospel.
The Bible is explicit about the inherent symbolism of marriage. A man is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Women are to submit to their husband as the church submits to Christ. Now, without getting sidetracked into a conversation about the meaning of “submit” in that statement, I do think it is clear that marriage is an image of the gospel and its resulting community.
Thus, marriage stands as the church’s strongest picture of the gospel. Married couples should exist to be living, breathing symbols of Christ’s relationship to the church. Furthermore, the yoke of marriage brings with it great responsibility to the couple entering this sacred union.
Unfortunately, it seems this selfless mission is rarely the purpose behind most Christian marriages today. It appears weddings are less a celebration of the gospel and more an celebration of two people. The root of this misappropriation of worship, of course, is a self-centered understanding of marriage. It is a view of marriage that ultimately asks the question, “What’s in this for me?”
For some, they are looking for happiness and they think that this particular person will make them happy. For others, perhaps it is the cultural pressure to get married (a thing we push real hard in the church). And for others, it is a strategic move about life goals and bettering oneself. All of these reasons ultimately make self the center.
How often do people get married so they can show the world the gospel? How often do people see the purpose of their marriage as a testimony of Christ’s love for the church?
At the end of the day, perhaps the reason so many wind up unfulfilled in marriage is the fact that they are looking for fulfillment in the wrong place. Maybe if people entered marriage thinking less about their own success in it and more about their responsibility to image the gospel, they would find a deeper joy in marriage than they ever imagined.
Truly, there is more to marriage than this symbolism, but there is certainly no less to it.