I remember as a kid spending time at my grandmother and grandfather’s country home in West Texas. It seemed like I was always finding something interesting there – whether a pile of junk out by the barn, some new piece of clothing my grandmother picked up at a garage sale, or hundreds of home canned vegetables in the basement. Their home was full of things like this, all representative of the fact that they had both brown up during the Great Depression, and because they did, they lived their lives being mindful of waste.
And they wasted nothing. Everything could get more use, or a second life, or have further value, as they were committed to squeezing the marrow of utility out of everything from a garden to a 30-year-old pair of jeans.
In some ways, this is how God operates with us. Nothing is wasted with Him – no experience, no pain, no learning – everything is useful for God’s purposes. Staggering as it might be, everything from the time we spend in traffic to the conversations we have with neighbors to the sermons we listen to on Sunday has spiritual utility, and all are tools in His deft hands for making disciples into the image of His Son.
It should, then, come as no surprise to us that the closest, everyday, common relationships we have are more than relationships; they are God’s means for making us like Jesus. And here we come to the subject of marriage.
Marriage is a crucible for discipleship. Through this most intimate of human relationships, God does more than give us a companion; He does more than provide the means of procreation; He does more than join us with another; He makes us more like Jesus in at least these ways:
1. Marriage confronts our self lordship.
How do we know if we are bowing at the idol of self? Many ways, of course, but one of the most visible is in the way we treat others. If we use other people to satisfy our own needs, desires, and ambition, the we can be sure we ultimately are worshiping ourselves. But in many relationships, we are able to put up a front – to act accommodating and polite enough in public company to get by and generally be regarded as a good citizen and contributing member of society.
Not so in marriage. We live too closely. We see each other too much. We operate in the same spheres. Marriage is one of the places where it’s the most difficult to hide our selfish ambition and vain conceit. It’s through this relationship, though, that God confronts our self lordship and breaks is from us because here is where we truly learn to think of someone else as better than ourselves. Here is where we truly understand what it means to be the last so someone else can be first.
2. Marriage demonstrates our understanding of forgiveness.
Marriage is a dance of wronging each other, repenting, and forgiving over and over again. Because it is, we learn in marriage what it truly means to say, “I’m sorry.” Without equivocation or self-justification. And the only way we can truly release that need to justify ourselves, have the last word, and constantly be right, is if we have deeply taken in and internalized what it means to be sorry and repent before the Lord.
A step further – marriage provides the opportunity to truly extend grace like few other arenas do. In other relationships, we can voice forgiveness but still withhold it in our hearts, but in marriage, it will eventually bubble to the surface if we have only forgiven at a surface level. Once again, it’s through our experience with Jesus by which true forgiveness, without some kind of probationary period in which our husband or wife has to earn that forgiveness, is possible. Through marriage, then, God shows us as His disciples just how deeply we have internalized the nature of repentance and forgiveness.
3. Marriage testifies about the gospel.
Marriage is and always has been about a demonstration of the gospel. It’s meant to be a walking, talking, living, breathing illustration of the relationship between Christ and the church. As Jesus loved the church enough to die for her, so should husbands love their wives. And as the church gratefully and willingly submits to the leadership of Jesus, trusting He has the best in mind for her, so should the wife follow her husband.
When it happens, marriage does more than testify about the nature of the gospel to a watching world – it reminds the husband and the wife themselves of their relationship to Jesus. A husband has the opportunity, each time he is overcome by the sheer ferocity of his love for his wife to be reminded of how much more Jesus loves Him. And the wife, each time she is overcome by the gratitude of godly, kind, and compassionate leadership, has the opportunity to be reminded just how much better Jesus leads and provides for His people than her husband does.
Marriage points us back to Jesus. In this crucible of discipleship, thanks be to God, we not only experience the love and commitment of another – we also are made day by day more like Jesus.