Thursday, September 06, 2007

Wedding Sermon on 1 Corinthians 13, "Marriage is the Embodiment of Love"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The basis for the message on this joyful wedding day is the great chapter of love, 1 Corinthians 13.

Some might say that this chapter is too beautiful to describe real life. That it’s too idealistic. Well God is no mere idealist. God does not speak of love in abstractions or ideals or impossibilities. He does not speak of a love that does not or cannot exist, but God Himself gives love its concrete reality, its embodiment. God’s love took on flesh and human form. God gave love its embodiment in the person of Jesus Christ, coming down to earth to show God’s love embodied in His death on the cross for our sins, and His resurrection. In Christ’s life, death and resurrection, He showed that the love described here in 1 Corinthians is not abstract or idealistic. He lived it out, He embodied it to the fullest. And it is only through Him that you, Josh and Kristi, are now able to embody this same love toward each other. By faith in Jesus Christ you are joined to and filled with God’s love so that it overflows into your actions. So now you become for one another in marriage, the embodiment of this love to each other. Your marriage will give flesh and blood to this love.

Of course the reason that a person might call this great chapter of love idealistic is because by our sinful nature, we are not creatures that spontaneously and willingly love. On our own, all sorts of selfish behaviors and prideful feelings develop. St. Paul describes those behaviors as the opposite of love. Envy, boasting, arrogance, rudeness, insisting on our own way, being irritable and resentful, and rejoicing in wrongdoing. Because of our sinfulness, all of these have the potential to creep into marriage and erode the love and commitment that you are here to establish today in the sight of God and these witnesses. And this is why, romantic feelings alone are not enough to sustain a lifelong marriage. Love must run deeper than skin, and it must also embrace the commitment to each other’s well-being.

This love has its source in Jesus Christ, who embodied God’s love for you, so that you can embody it for each other. And in this love, you both acknowledge that you come together in marriage both as sinners and as saints. As sinners you must learn that your marriage, as with any godly marriage, must depend on continual repentance and forgiveness. This is the most important way your love for each other is embodied, and takes shape. When those inevitable arguments arise, or poor communication leads to hurt feelings, or you both are stubbornly insisting on your own way, instead of walking together in love—it is then that you need to practice your love for each other by repenting, apologizing to each other, and forgiving. How can a marriage last without forgiveness? And how can we forgive without first admitting our faults? Verse 6 says that love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” Marriage will be full of opportunities for your love to rejoice together with the truth. Part of that will be rejoicing together at the truth of acknowledging your own sin, then seeing it covered with the forgiveness of Jesus, and His forgiving love through you to each other.

There lies the joyous truth that you also enter marriage as saints! That whatever sins and errors and mistakes lie in your past, present, or future, that Jesus Christ has forgiven you! That His death on the cross and His shed blood wash you clean of any guilt, so that you can be presented blameless and holy before God and before each other. In Christ you’re covered by the white garment of His righteousness. And in this embrace of God’s love embodied for you in Christ Jesus, you are given that new spiritual nature that lives and walks in the way of love described for us in 1 Corinthians 13.

And how will Christ’s love for you shape your love for each other in marriage? In one of the most beautiful wonders of creation, God has made marriage to be the highest and most mysterious picture of Christ’s own love for the church. A husband’s love for his wife is compared to Christ’s self-giving love for the church. Perhaps God named marriage as this mysterious picture of Christ’s love, because marriage is the best approximation our fallen lives have to the greatness of Christ’s love for the church. This speaks to you, Josh, as Jesus described the greatest form of love that there is—it is for “someone to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And so Josh, as you are Kristi’s husband, you are to love your wife “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Your love for her is to embody Christ’s love, and to take on those concrete forms of love described in 1 Corinthians 13, that you both chose for your wedding text. Your love is to embody patience and kindness, to bear with all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. For a love that is founded on the everlasting love of God is a love that will endure through the hardships of life and marriage, through the “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy will.”

It is by loving Kristi in this way, and by embodying Christ’s self-giving love to her in marriage, that you create the safe and loving context for her to fulfill her God-given act of loving submission to you as her husband. Here the Scripture also speaks to you, Kristi, that as Josh’s wife you are to “submit to your own husband as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Eph. 5:23). As Josh embodies self-giving love for you, not seeking after his own interest, you can willingly and delightfully submit to him as your husband, knowing that his concern is for your protection, safety, and well-being. As you both embody this love for one another, your marriage becomes a frame for the beautiful picture of God’s love expressed between and through a husband and wife. Love that is embodied in all your actions toward each other.

And submission for you does not mean inferiority or inequality, anymore than Josh’s headship means being domineering or inconsiderate of your opinions. But rather, as you together embody the model that Christ has shown; you, Josh will love Kristi as you love and cherish your own body. Showing all concern to care for her best interests. And likewise Kristi, you will lovingly submit to Josh as the one who loves you so greatly as to even give his life for your protection. As the Bible also says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).As we look again at the great love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13, the passage ends with this statement: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Faith and hope are highly exalted gifts in Scripture, and indeed we cannot get to heaven without faith in Jesus Christ. But why then does St. Paul call love the greatest of these three? I believe the answer lies in the fact that faith and hope both await the time when they become sight, and there is no longer faith, but rather seeing and believing because we will have reached the full reality of heaven. But love does not pass away or come to completion in heaven, but rather love never ends. All other things, prophecies, tongues, knowledge—these are all partial things that will pass away when all things become fully known in heaven. So what is that for you? This means that in marriage in this life, you are taking part of God’s greatest gift, the gift of love. And in your small way you are participating in that everlasting love of God that will not cease, and is not partial, but full and enduring. Though your bond of marital love will last only through this life, till death do you part, your love for each other is nevertheless a small reflection of God’s great and all embracing love, that brings us up to heaven through the embodied love of Jesus Christ our Lord. His love extended all the way to the cross and beyond to the empty tomb, that we might all share one day in God’s heavenly love for eternity. May the blessing of this love of Christ be always embodied in your love for each other. Amen.

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