Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.
I am aware that roughly 30 percent of the adults who worship at Bethlehem are not married. In the interest of full disclosure, this article is about marriage.
The living parable is the marriage relationship. But if you fall in that 30 percent, I do not want you to stop reading this article because you think that it does not apply to you.
Single or married, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are betrothed to Jesus, the Bridegroom, by virtue of your membership in his Church by faith. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and the great wedding feast of the Lamb is near at hand.
Marriage is “a living parable of the supernatural union between Jesus and his Bride” (Gary & Betsy Ricucci, in Love That Lasts, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006, p. 20).
Therefore, married or single, being a student of marriage will better prepare you individually and the Church corporately for that future reality.
Prepare? Why do we need to prepare? Didn’t Jesus demonstrate his love for his Bride by giving himself up for her, thereby sanctifying her and cleansing her so that he could present her to himself in splendor without spot or blemish? (Ephesians 5:25–27). Yes he did! But consider this: Wouldn’t a bridegroom accept his bride on their wedding day regardless of what she wore? Most husbands would answer that question “Yes.” He loves her just the way she is.
Yet I can tell you from my personal experience of watching the face of a bridegroom as the doors are opened and his bride steps into the sanctuary—there is a look of awe and wonder and appreciation as he beholds his bride adorned in her wedding garments looking more beautiful than he has ever seen her before.
The bride prepares herself for the wedding. “‘Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Revelation 19:7–8).
The bride has made herself ready, clothed in fine linen, the righteous deeds of the saints. She has prepared herself for the wedding day.
Isn’t this a picture of the Christian life? On one hand we have been justified by grace through faith by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet we say with the Apostle Paul, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12).
But in the marriage relationship, this process we call sanctification takes on greater importance. Marriage is more than just a laboratory for growth in faith and grace and righteousness, it is intended by God to be a picture of Christ’s covenant-keeping relationship with his Bride, the Church. Marriage says something specifically about Christ.
Students of marriage learn that the husband’s headship in marriage is modeled on Christ’s headship of the church.
The husband learns that his role is to serve and not be served, to love sacrificially, considering his wife’s greatest good, and to lead his wife and family to look to Christ for their supply and sufficiency. A wife learns to joyfully come alongside her husband as a complement and a helper for what God has called them to together. A mature Christian marriage should preach the gospel to the world around it.
So practically, what does this mean for you? How can you learn to make this living parable speak more clearly and accurately to the world? Here are some suggestions:
If you are single …
- Identify married couples who are living out this parable well; get to know them and learn from them. Most of you see marriage as part of your future, so begin preparing for that relationship now.
- Join a small group that has married couples in it; watch and learn.
- Read good books on marriage to prepare yourself for what God may have for you in the future.
- Learn what it means to be a biblical man or woman, and begin to appropriately apply what you learn in the relationships you have with the opposite gender.
If you are married …
- Read a good book relating to marriage every year of your marriage. (Don’t worry, you won’t run out of titles.)
- Join one or two other couples and agree to gather monthly with the intention of growing together in becoming better husbands and wives.
- Look for unmarried couples to mentor. Nothing spurs you on in the growth of your own marriage like the accountability that comes from instructing others.
- Make it a priority to get away as a couple once or twice a year to reconnect, assess your relationship, and plan for the future.
- Attend a marriage retreat or conference annually. Bethlehem’s 2011 Marriage Retreat weekend is February 4–6, and there are still some rooms available.
My prayer is that we would all learn to live out this parable well to the glory of God and for the increased joy in the marriages present and future at Bethlehem.
Jack Delk, Pastor for Covenant Member Care