Summary: The purpose of human marriage is temporary. But it points to something eternal, namely, Christ and the church. And when this age is over, it will vanish into the superior reality to which it points.
You recall perhaps that my wife, Noël, said, “You cannot say too often that marriage is a model of Christ and the church” (see Ephesians 5:31-32). I said that I think she is right for three reasons. I’ll mention two. The first was that saying this lifts marriage out of the sitcom sewer and elevates it into the bright, clear sky of God’s glory where it was meant to be. And secondly, saying that marriage is a model of Christ and the church places it firmly on the basis of grace, because that is the way Christ took the church to be his bride, by grace alone. And that is how he sustains his relationship with the church—by grace alone.
Marriage: The Doing and Display of God
The first two messages were meant to support that first reason. I tried to show that marriage is the doing of God and the display of God. That is its glory—it is from him and through him and to him. The purpose of human marriage is temporary. But it points to something eternal, namely, Christ and the church. And when this age is over, it will vanish into the superior reality to which it points.
Jesus said in Matthew 22:30, “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” This is why my father, Bill Piper, will not be a bigamist in the resurrection. Both my mother and my step mother have died. My father had a thirty-six-year marriage with my mother and, after her death, a twenty-five-year marriage with my stepmother. But in the resurrection, the shadow gives way to the reality. Marriage is a pointer toward the glory of Christ and the church. But in the resurrection the pointer vanishes into the perfection of that glory.
Marriage: Firmly Based in Grace
Then the point last week was that marriage is based on grace—the vertical experience of grace from Christ through his death on the cross, and then that very grace bent out horizontally from husband to wife and wife to husband. We simply pointed out this general structure of the Christian marriage (and the marriage where only one of the partners is a Christian) from Colossians 2:13-14 and 3:13. Colossians 2:13b-14 tells us how God provided a basis for the forgiveness of our sins: “. . . having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” The record of debt that mounts up against us because of our sin God set aside by nailing it to the cross—and the point, of course, is not that nails and wood take away sin, but the pierced hands and feet of the Son of God take away sin (see Isaiah 53:5-6).
Grace Bent Outward
Then, having shown us the basis of God’s forgiveness in the cross, Paul says in Colossians 3:13b, “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” In other words, take the grace and forgiveness and justification that you have received vertically through the death of Christ and bend it out horizontally to others. Specifically, husbands to wives and wives to husbands. I asked the question near the end: Why the emphasis on forgiving and forbearing rather than, say, an emphasis on romance and enjoying each other? I gave three answers:
Because there is going to be conflict based on sin, we need to forgive sin and forbear strangeness, and sometimes you won’t even agree on which is which;
Because the hard, rugged work of forgiving and forbearing is what makes it possible for affections to flourish when they seem to have died;
Because God gets glory when two very different and very imperfect people forge a life of faithfulness in the furnace of affliction by relying on Christ.
Redemptive Separation and Beyond
So today I want to deal more thoroughly with forbearing and forgiving. Let me say at the outset that I am aware—painfully aware—that there are sins that spouses commit against each other that can push forbearance and forgiveness across the line into the assisting of sin, and may warrant a redemptive separation—I choose the words carefully: a redemptive separation. I am thinking of things like assault, adultery, child abuse, drunken rage, addictive gambling or theft or lying that brings the family to ruin. My aim today is not to talk about these—that will come later when I take up the topic of separation and divorce and remarriage. Today I am trying show you a biblical pattern of forbearance and forgiveness that can keep you from reaching the point of separation, and maybe even bring some of you back from the brink—perhaps, even restore some marriages that the world calls “divorced.” And I pray this will also sow seeds in children and single people who may one day be married, so that you will build your marriages on this rock of grace.