We’ve just heard from Ephesians 4:1-6, words which you asked to be read here during your wedding ceremony. This is a rich passage to ponder at the beginning of your marriage.
You two are no doubt aware that these verses come at the half-way point of the book of Ephesians. For the first three chapters of the letter, Paul has been unfolding God’s great works of salvation for His people, beginning with His sovereign plan in eternity past, when He chose us before the foundation of the world to be adopted as His children.
That plan of salvation moved into history as Jesus came and was crucified for us, suffering the judgement that we deserve, and paying for our sins with His own blood.
God then raised Jesus up and seated Him at His right hand, far above all other rulers or competitors. And together the Father and Son sent the Spirit to raise us up from being dead in sins, causing us to be born again, and bringing us together in the church. The Spirit dwells in us now as a downpayment—a first instalment—of the inheritance God is preparing for us to enjoy in the age to come.
And all of this is a gift. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
There’s nothing we could do to earn this love. There’s nothing we could do to be worthy of this. There’s nothing about us that made us deserve mercy instead of judgement. This is all an act of free mercy.
And that’s where Ephesians 4 comes in. After making sure we know how great our salvation is, Paul then urges us to walk—to live—in a way that’s worthy of this salvation.
The “order of operations” here is itself good news. Aren’t we glad that God doesn’t wait until we’re worthy before He saves us? Instead, He saves us by grace alone and then calls us to live worthy of this great gift.
He adopts us into His family, and then calls (and equips!) us to act like His children. He invites us to join the team—no tryouts—and then He teaches us how to play the game in a manner worthy of the number on our jersey.
And what does it look like to walk worthy of our calling? What does it mean to act like one of God’s children?
The answer is right there in Ephesians 4:2-3: it means living a life marked “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.
The next question is: what does all of this have to do with marriage? Why are we talking about this on your wedding day?
The Pattern of the Gospel
There’s a few answers to that question, each of them important. The first answer is that your marriage needs to follow this pattern of the gospel.
Just think of the pattern we’re seen: God invites us into the safety of an eternal salvation, and then calls us to live worthy of it.
Similarly, today the two of you are about to enter into a covenant of marriage. You will make promises, first to God and these witnesses, and then to each other, that you will be faithful to each other alone until death.
And then, within the safety of that covenant, you get to learn how to live out this covenant unity in real life.
And I’ll warn you again, as I’ve warned you before, it won’t be easy. Marriage doesn’t come naturally to anybody. Living out your unity as husband and wife will be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.
And that’s why the safety of the covenant is so important. On the hard days, when you’ve misunderstood each other or hurt each other or just have no idea what’s going on, you can think back to this day and remember that you chose each other. You chose to give each other the free gift of covenant-keeping love.
You’ll remember that on this day, this person that you stand before, with all of their life ahead of them, has chosen you out of everybody else. They’ve chosen to give you the gift of the rest of their life. And if you don’t know it today, you’ll see in the years ahead just how much of a gift this is. You don’t deserve this. And yet, freely, they will promise to be faithful to you unto death.
And that means that on the hard days, there’s no need to anxiously wonder, “Are they going to leave me? Are they going to get fed up and move on? Are they going to find someone else more exciting?” Those questions should never even come into your mind.
Because on this day you pledged your love to each other. And going forward you will have something so much more than feelings or chemistry or even a good friendship holding you together. You have a covenant. You will be one in the eyes of God and these witnesses.
And now you get to learn how to walk in a manner worthy of this marriage. You get to live out your unity in the safety of this covenant. And in this way, your marriage gets to follow the pattern of the gospel.
The Power of the Gospel
But that’s not all. Your marriage also needs to draw on the power of the gospel.
On the hard days, or in the hard years, your love for each other won’t be enough to keep you going. If all you have is what the other person can give you, then you’ll run out eventually.
And you’ll so easily end up in a shell of a marriage that is full of pride instead of humility. Harshness instead of gentleness. Snappiness instead of patience. Complaining about each other instead of bearing with one another. A quickness to divide instead of an eagerness for unity. The knife of tension instead of the bond of peace.
I know that right now, what I’ve just described is not the marriage either of you wants. It’s not the marriage anybody wants on their wedding day. So how to you avoid heading that direction?
You live out the book of Ephesians. You marinate your souls in the truths of the gospel. You walk with God in the power of the Spirit, drawing deeply from the wells of His gospel grace, so that each day you have a fresh supply of that love and grace to give to each other.
And that’s why your relationship with each other is not your most important relationship. Your relationship with God matters more than anything. You need Him every hour so that you can walk with each other in the way Ephesians 4 describes.
Your marriage needs not just the pattern of the gospel but also the power of the gospel lived out between you.
A Picture of the Gospel
And as you do this, your marriage will be a picture of the gospel. Isn’t that what the next chapter of Ephesians tells us?
Husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25), and that “as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Eph 5:24). That passage goes on to tell us that marriage, from the beginning, was designed by God to be a picture of the saving, covenant-keeping love between Jesus and His people.
These verses are familiar, but they can’t be understood apart from the rest of Ephesians. Your marriage will only be a compelling picture of the gospel as you draw on the power of the gospel to love each other according to the pattern of the gospel. And as you do that, your marriage will preach the gospel. People will be able to look at you and say, “If that’s how Jesus and His church relate to each other, then I want to know Jesus like that, too.”
That’s a tall order. But it’s possible because the God who loves you and chose you and sent His son to die for you has given you His Spirit to empower you and to keep you until you enter in to the heavenly inheritance He’s preparing for you.
So here on this first day of your marriage, and on every day of your marriage hereafter, may God help you heed the Apostle’s urging to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3).