This past week, I was privileged to bring the word of God at a bridal shower in my local church, Second RPC. I must confess, the whole process of preparation was painful. The rod of God’s word was at my back, confronting the indwelling sin within me, yet how quickly did it metamorphose into a kinder staff drawing me ever so close to the graces of my Shepherd. I am sharing my manuscript with the hope that young maidens who are preparing for marriage will do due diligence to the most important, yet neglected aspect of marriage preparation – spiritual readiness for marriage.
A three-fold cord cannot be broken
It’s almost time. That familiar fluttering feeling in your heart is about to burst forth into a fountain of immense joy and fulfillment. You are going to part one way down the aisle, letting go of one faithful hand to take hold of another. Tears sparkling through glistening eyes like fireflies twinkle, whether they laugh or cry is a great mystery. Unveiling your bridal glory, he’ll hold you close, look you in the eye, and firmly confirm, “I do”. It is done. Signed with an oath, sealed and secured. Bonded forever, till death do you apart. Did you realize, that no other earthly covenant bonds two persons so close, with such intention and at such dear cost? There is only one other covenant that I know of that is thicker than a marital bond – Christ’s Covenant of Grace.
Indeed, marriage is but a mirror of Christ’s precious Covenant with His Bride. Marriage was purposed that it may hold out Christ and His supreme love for His Bride the Church. Marriage is not about us beloved. It’s not about you. It’s not about your lover. It’s about Christ. In your journey together, He’s going to paint a portrait of His love for His Beloved, and people around will see and begin to wonder about this portrait of love. That is what Christ meant when He said, “…that they may all be one just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21).
As glorious as this picture may seem, marriage is strangely similar to our spiritual pilgrimage too. Our heads float with clouds, but our feet tread dirt and clay. With its ebbs and flows, marriage has both ecstatic joys and agonizing sorrows. Honeymoon years overflow with passion and romance, and as we begin to rub shoulders under one roof, the reality strikes us that two sinners just avowed to love as Jesus did. Soon, we realize that we have a chip on our shoulders and don’t like our edges being chipped off. Much like our own sanctification. We hate to say, “Husband, thy will be done!”, as difficult as it is to pray, “Father, Thy will be done”. Dark and dry spells will come, and at this juncture, one wonders as to when the honey ran out of the moon, and whether this is all there is to marriage. When you are tossed by these turbulent waves, and wonder if this is the end, take heart dear sister! There is a better anchor for your soul, and so it is with your marriage too.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says this: Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how ca n one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
A threefold cord cannot be broken. Look carefully at this truth. The author speaks of two being better than one. He talks about fellowship, friendship and partnership. But there is something more invincible. A Trinitarian unity. The perfect threefold cord is the God-Head -Father, Son and Holy Spirit and together they are invincible. But notice also that in marriage, it isn’t just two, but three who covenant. The bride, the bridegroom and Christ who is both witness and the covenant-keeper. Your marriage is a three-fold cord only when Christ is between you and your bridegroom. Unlike a worldly marriage, a Christian marriage in a strong union because of our Union with Jesus Christ. Just as you are saved and kept by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, your marriage is also preserved by grace through faith in this great covenant-keeper. So, cling to Christ -the first cord in your marriage at all times! But how do you cling to Christ in your marital union? Once again, the author of Ecclesiastes offers us help here (from the above quoted verses)
Cultivate your Covenant Relationship (Ecc 4:11)
Behold God. Between three Persons in One, there is perfect unity, perfect harmony and perfect peace within the God-head. There is not a hint of disagreement between each other. Christ said He only speaks what the Father has already taught Him, and does what He sees the Father doing (John 5:30). The Spirit only speaks what He hears from the Father and the Son, and He makes known everything that Christ has already spoken(John 16:13-15). They depend on each other entirely, yet they are singular Persons, each with their distinctive personhood. They love each other intimately. The Father will not spare them who dismiss the spilt blood of His Beloved Son, and the Son will not spare him who blasphemes the Holy Spirit. An offence against the subordinate One is an offense against Himself, and it will not be tolerated.
In this three-cord covenant between the God-head is your example for a loving and peaceful marital friendship. Leave your house, your beloved friends and family and cleave to your husband (Gen 2:24). Cleaving is not only physical, in that when two lie down together, you keep each other warm in your love, but also intellectual and spiritual. But remember, you also weave together with Christ. That is when a three-fold cord is made. What brings both of you together and binds you is not ultimately your affections or your attractions for each other, but Christ. Let all your discourses, all your activities, your friendships, relationships and even children be centered of this weaved relationship with Christ. Spend rich seasons with Christ, alone and together. Build your love with Him, around Him and for Him. When your love grows cold, He will be the fire that enflames your love again and keep you warm together. Cling to Him.
Embrace your Covenant Role (Ecc 4:12)
In the movie, the Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King, notice that everyone is fighting, but not everyone is on the battlefield. Frodo’s job is not on the battlefield. He has to carry the ring and throw it into the volcanic fires of Mount Doom. Sam’s job is to be Frodo’s confidante and trusted ally during this journey. Aragorn’s job is to keep the battle going till Frodo does his job. And likewise Gimli, Legolas and Gandalf all muster their gifts to fight off the warring armies. It’s a faint picture of heavenly battle lines too. Although God wars against the Enemy, the Trinatarian dynamics in the war are different. The Father wills, the Son procures and the Spirit applies redemption. One sends the other, and one is subject to the other (John 16:8, John 3:16, 1Cor15:28). They are equal in essence, but distinct in their roles. They sacrifice graciously one for another. The Father gave up His One and Only Son for us, the Son gave up His glory and throne for the will of the Father, the Spirit gave up heaven of heavens to enter the dark soul of man for the sake of the Father’s purpose and Christ’s redemption. So too dear sister, you have a covenant role. This role is by design, and none can tamper with it. Your husband’s job is to love you as Christ loved the church and poured Himself out to enrich her. Your job is to respect your husband and submit to him in everything as the church does to Christ (Eph 5:24). These are difficult matters, and where do I begin? For the flesh rages against the spirit in these things! Our submission as Christian women will always fall short of God’s standards, but be not dismayed! Christ’s unction will lift you up and cause you to embrace your role most joyfully in the same way that He caused your dead soul to be subject to the Loving Master most willingly. Christian submission is the key to marital peace. This is your battle dynamic.
In the garden, the Enemy divided and ruled. As Ecc 4:12 says, the enemy prevailed because the wife was alone and succumbed to temptation. Instead of turning together against the enemy, they turned against each other. Is this not what causes fights and quarrels in our marriages too? We kill and covet because our passions are at war and we do not get what we want (James 4:1-4). How do we escape this endless vitriolic war, the curse in Gen 3:16? Turn, turn to Christ. Although being God, He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself and took the form of a servant. Have this mind future bride, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5-7). This is your covenant role, and working together this way, you will be a strong three-fold cord and withstand the assaults of the Enemy. Cling to Christ, the perfectly submissive One!
Fulfill your Covenant Responsibility (Ecc 4:10)
When you get married, you become a helper for your husband. That means you not only help him physically or intellectually, but more importantly spiritually. You are his accountability partner. You keep a watch over your soul and his too, just as he keeps a watch over his own soul and yours too. It’s mutual. If you fall down, he’ll lift you up. If he falls down, you must lift him up. Peter gently instructs wives of unbelieving husbands ( or even disobedient husbands) that they ought to win their husbands over without a word, by their living conduct (1Pet 3:1-2). Pray for your husband’s walk with God. Pray with him, and be his leaning shoulder at all times. Demonstrate love to him, even when he is irritable. There will be days when his burden is too much to bear. Unburden his heart. And it may not be by asking him for information, but by simply praying with him and leading him to see Christ’s sufficiency. Can you take up some of his finer chores? Then take it up. When you have children, take up the responsibility of nurturing and training them, so that your husband feels that your help lightens his burden. Nevertheless, there is another dimension to your covenant responsibility. Recollect Cain’s piercing retort to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Often marriage blinds us to the needs of our brothers and sisters who are bound to us by Christ’s Covenant of Grace. Some of us get so caught up with our lives, that we forget the poor, the widows, the single maidens and the divorced among us. As the two of you love one other deeply and love Christ dearly, in time overflow your love to the poor women amidst you, and invite them into your family. Pour out your joint love upon them by spending time with them, listening to them, and caring for their souls. Give them what they are lacking, so that none may be needy in Christ’s church. Make sure that your ministry is the overflow of gratitude for Christ’s love brimming in your hearts together. These are lofty endeavors, and how may you fulfill these tasks? By clinging to Christ, who finished His work and sat at the right hand of the Father.
Finally beloved, remember you have a reward. When you both labor together in Christ’s vineyard, cultivating your relationship, embracing your role and fulfilling your responsibility, there is a rich reward (Ecc 4:9). Every time you pray “Not my will, but Thine O Lord be done!” and push your will to submit to Christ, God is adding to your inheritance in Christ. Marriage is sanctifying. It will break your pride. It will change your persona. It will challenge your presuppositions. But Christ uses this blessed institution to also show you that you are His beloved and to draw you nearer to Himself. What a tender Master we have! May the great Covenant-keeper, keep the two of you together, joining you firmly in His love, and pouring out His love to others in the church through your union, that Christ may receive due praise, honor and glory from a watching world.