The Peace, Power, Pattern, & Promise for Marriages
Topic: Marriage Passage: Hosea 1–3
Series: Glorifying God in Marriage & Singleness (Part 3)
We continue our series on marriage today. We’ve traced marriage from creation to consummation. And we saw that God created marriage to image Christ’s union with his people. Then we looked at the husband’s role in headship and the wife’s complementary role in submission. I tried to illustrate this as a dance. The husband leading, the wife following, the two delighting in each other—and as they delight, their marriage in this age points to Christ’s union with his people in the age to come.
Occasionally, though, spouses step on each other’s feet in the marriage dance. The husband doesn’t lead as he’s supposed to lead. Perhaps his moves are too fast, too harsh. Perhaps he forgets the rhythm of the gospel music. The wife struggles to follow him. Sometimes she misunderstood his gestures, and other times the hurt and frustration she experiences make her want to quit this so-called dance.
Today is a message that I pray will help you stay in the dance. We’re going to be talking about our sin against each other and the hope we have through God’s grace in Christ. My prayer is that today helps marriages in this room shine our Redeemer’s covenant-keeping love into a world that’s darkened by convenience, selfishness, and divorce?
Whether you’re married or not, much of what I say today is just as applicable to relationships beyond marriage. For those of you who are single, let me just say thank you for your patient listening the last several weeks. Next Sunday, we’ll spend the whole time looking at a biblical perspective on singleness.
But today, let me tell you where we’re going. Ephesians, the whole letter, will be our base text. A couple weeks back, I said, “Let’s not get so focused on the marriage passage in Ephesians 5 that we forget Ephesians!” It has a context. I want to show you some very powerful truths from Ephesians for your marriage, and really any relationship. We’ll also be getting some help from Hosea along the way. And I’ve sought to organize everything under six headings that begin with P.
The Purpose of Marriage Is to Glorify God
Something we’ve already seen is that the purpose of marriage is to glorify God—that’s the first P. In Ephesians 1, Paul celebrates God’s work of grace through our union with Jesus Christ. But three times he makes the ultimate goal of Christ’s union with his people explicit. Verse 6: “to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” Then again in verse 12, speaking of how God made us his inheritance: “so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” Then again in verse 14: “[the Holy Spirit] is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
Three times Paul says that the ultimate purpose of Christ saving us and uniting us to himself is the praise of God’s glory. If you keep that in mind and then turn to Ephesians 5:32 and see that marriage is meant to image Christ’s union with his people, then what’s the purpose of marriage? To glorify God. Marriage is a temporary parable about an all-glorious God and his all-glorious love for sinners in Christ. We have to keep this before us: a husband’s relationship to his wife is always telling a story. The question is, do our marriages tell the story about God’s glory in Christ accurately? Would others looking into our marriages know it’s the glory of Christ that makes us tick, that—as Andrew Peterson would say—keeps us dancing in the minefields, sailing in the storms?
Now, it could be that you’re truly striving to glorify God in your marriage, but your spouse just isn’t interested. Let me say here, that doesn’t mean that you can’t glorify God in your marriage. Your marriage may give you an even greater opportunity for people to witness what God’s relentless love is like, including your spouse. The point being, whatever state your marriage is in, the purpose is to bring God glory in it.
The Problem of Sin & Self-Centeredness in Marriage
There is one problem, however: the problem of sin and self-centeredness in marriage. Ephesians 2:3 says that “we once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind.” In Titus 3:3, sin results in being “hated by others and hating one another.” In Romans 1:29, when we trade the glory of God for idols, we become full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness and gossip.
In other words, as sin separates us from God, it also separates us from one another. Sin takes our focus off living for God’s glory and puts the focus on living for self-glory. Sin turns us in on ourselves. Everything becomes about me, myself, and I—“what she’s not giving me, what he’s not doing for me, what they did to me.” It’s impossible to love God and love others when our chief focus is self. It’s impossible to bring God glory in the way we treat our spouse when we want the glory.
A newspaper article once invited readers from all over the world to answer this question: “What’s wrong with the world?” G. K. Chesterton responded with this brief reply: “Dear Sirs, I am.” Our greatest problem in any relationship is our own sin and self-centeredness. If we fail to embrace the truth about our own sin and its destructive nature, then we’ll also fail to embrace God’s solution in Christ.
A wrong diagnosis of your problem will lead to a wrong treatment of your problem. Instead of addressing the sin in your own heart for what it truly is, as rebellion against God, you’ll seek to justify sinful actions. Instead of acknowledging your own sin with humility, you’ll blame your spouse for all your problems. Marriages will not heal as long as both spouses point to the other as the problem without any willingness to accept responsibility for and repent from their own sins.
A good theology of sin, a right understanding of our own sinfulness, will help our marriages, and all our relationships. Whenever conflict rises, a good theology of sin will lead us to humbly suspect ourselves first.[i] We’re bent toward self-righteousness—toward thinking too highly of ourselves—and the cross teaches that we have no righteousness apart from Christ (Phil 3:9). Even for the Christian—the power of sin’s reign was broken, but that doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with sin’s remains. That’s why Paul says in Ephesians 4:22 that we must still “put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life.”
When your spouse confronts you about sin, what’s your first reaction like? Is it, “Well, you did…,” or “If you would just….” Or maybe you say nothing and stew over it throughout the day, maybe for weeks. A good theology of sin should lead us to step back humbly—even if the other person has sinned as well—and consider whether our own motivations were pure, whether our own words imparted grace, whether all in us truly pleases Jesus.
Jesus taught, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:4-5). Get alone with God. Open your Bible. Pray, “Search me and know me and see if there be any grievous way in me” (Ps 139:24). Welcome your spouse’s input.
A good theology of sin will also lead us to accept that circumstances reveal already existing sin.* We often tend to blame our circumstances or other people outside of us for our sinful responses: “I spoke harshly because she said this…,” or “I get impatient because he does this…,” or “It’s his neglect…It’s her nagging—they make me like this…they trigger this in me.”
This becomes even easier when we live in a culture teaching that people are fundamentally good, that the problem isn’t inside us but outside us. So, instead of addressing the real problem in the heart, couples end up with superficial solutions. Instead of repenting from anger inside, they try to change all the so-called “triggers” outside. Instead of repenting from unbiblical expectations that are often rooted in idolatry—they just negotiate settlements: “You can do this, if you give me that.”
But Jesus says, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34). James 4:1-2 says that the passions at war inside us cause quarrels and fights. When circumstances get tough with our spouses and we sin, they are not to blame. We are to blame. Our biggest problem in marriage is not outside us but inside us.
The Peace in Marriage through Christ
But the Bible gives so much more than just an understanding of our problem. It also gives us great hope. Who will deliver us? God delivers us, and he does this in Christ and by the Holy Spirit. Let’s look now at the peace in marriage through Christ.
There are two kinds of peace we need. Our greatest need is peace with God. If we lack peace with God, then we won’t be peaceful toward others, and we’ll forfeit our souls to an eternity of separation from God under punishment. Romans 5 says that we obtain peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ. By relying on Jesus to save us, God forgives our sins and also gives us his righteousness. We call this justification: “since we’ve been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
But we also need peace with one another. God brings about peace with one another also through the cross. Ephesians 2:14 says, “For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” Now in this instance, Paul is talking specifically about how Jesus’ death reconciles Jew and Gentile together in one new humanity.
But it has a much broader application. If the cross overcomes our greatest obstacle—namely, our sin and separation from God—and if the cross tears down some of the biggest barriers so that Gentiles like us are welcomed into God’s covenant people, don’t you think it’s powerful enough to unite husbands and wives, Christians to each other? If the cross has bridged the greatest divide between us and God, then surely it can reconcile sinners to each other.
The cross does this by killing self-righteousness—we all stand on equal ground at the foot of the cross, none of us more righteous than the other. We saw that last Sunday. It brings peace by also breaking our bondage to self-centeredness: 2 Corinthians 5:15, “…[Christ] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Peace comes when we’re not competing for our own agenda, but all ordering our lives around Christ’s agenda.
The Power for Marriage by the Spirit
But another way the cross brings peace is that it gives us God himself, which leads to another P: the power for marriage comes by the Spirit.
Look at 3:16-19. Paul’s prayer: “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
The Holy Spirit’s job is to strengthen our inner being with the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Meaning, he takes the unchanging, objective truth about God’s love for us in Christ, and he makes it so real to our inner being that it transforms us. It make us new. It compels us to treat others as we see how God has treated us in Christ.
This is why Paul, before he tells wives to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives—before he tells them that, he says in 5:18—“…be filled with the Spirit.” Marriage ain’t happening in your own strength. As Tim Keller describes it, trying to live together without the Spirit is like bringing together two vacuums. All you get is a stronger vacuum.[ii] We need God to fill us, God to satisfy us, God to strengthen us, God to give us joy, God to find true meaning and significance, not our spouse.
Which means we ought to be praying as husbands and wives for the Spirit to fill us each day. We must look to the Spirit and his written word to fuel our souls, instead of exhausting our spouse and expecting our spouse to satisfy us. They can’t do it. They can’t give you what you need. They will fail miserably.
You weren’t made to live off your spouse, but off of God. He is life itself. We must be praying that God’s Spirit opens our eyes to more of God’s glory and more of God’s grace and more of God’s love and more of God’s mercy. He is more than enough.
The Pattern for Marriage is God’s Love & Forgiveness in Christ
The peace we find in Christ also gives us the pattern for marriage, which is God’s love and forgiveness in Christ. Before we look at another text in Ephesians, let’s get some help from Hosea. Hosea begins in a shocking way. God asks Hosea to marry a harlot named Gomer. In 1:2 we read, “When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.’”
Some say that Gomer wasn’t yet a harlot when Hosea married her. Others say she was already a harlot. The point, though, is that God asks Hosea to marry a woman who flirted around. She was always looking to shack-up with another man. Hosea was to take this kind of woman and have children of whoredom. Meaning, he’d be raising some children that she has by other men. Only the son in verse 3 is identified as Hosea’s. For the rest, the real father goes unidentified.
The picture is scandalous. Hosea is going into this relationship knowing that his wife is a cheater. But what we find out as we keep reading is that Hosea’s real experience becomes an enacted prophecy. Hosea’s marriage experience with Gomer is much like Yahweh’s marriage experience with Israel. Israel has cheated on Yahweh. And not only has Israel cheated on Yahweh, but Israel has born generations of children who have cheated on Yahweh. Generations who have whored after other gods.
In 2:5 you get a glimpse of it: “For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’” What’s she doing? She’s chasing after whatever gives her what she wants instead of God who gives her all she needs. She’s trading the glory of her Creator for the creation. Israel’s infidelity is so rampant that verses 6-7 picture Yahweh having to hedge her up and build walls around her, so she can’t get out to her lovers in the red-light district.
Now, because of this rampant harlotry, cheating on God with false worship, several places in chapters 1 and 2 threaten Israel with the judgment. Gomer ends up having three children, and each child’s name represents the pending judgment: the first son reveals it will involve punishment; the next daughter foreshadows God removing his mercy; and then the third son reveals that things are so bad, God refuses to even call them “My people” anymore. Now, these births which are signs happen over time—meaning, God is being patient and holding out the opportunity for repentance. It doesn’t come.
And probably the worst of this section is the last line in 2:13: “‘and [Israel] forgot me,’ declares the Lord.” As the story goes, Israel will certainly have to endure judgment in the exile. But what makes the prophecy so remarkable is that God doesn’t forget them altogether. At the end of verse 13 we get, “and Israel forgot me.” Then at the beginning of verse 14 we get, “Therefore…” And we’re expecting, “Therefore, the Lord forgot her”—that’s what she deserves. Are you kidding me?! How dare she treat her faithful husband that way! How dare she sleep around on him!
But that’s not what we get. We get, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her.” Despite all that she’s done to him, God comes to her speaking tender and romantic words to woo her back into a relationship with him.
…I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt [This is a new exodus rescue, a reversal of fortunes]. And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more [So God will cleanse her from idolatry]. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety [So all the earth made right for her to dwell in peace.]. And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD. [verse 23]…And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”
Amazing, isn’t it? How extravagant is God’s love here? After all they did to offend him and to dishonor him, he lavishes kindness on them. Not only does he bring back his wife, but he does all that’s necessary to ensure the marriage will last. After experiencing his extravagant love and mercy, she doesn’t even want to mention her old lovers anymore. Who can compete with the love of God?!
Based on this extravagant love, God then tells Hosea once again in 3:1 to go and love Gomer again. We’re now back in the present situation of Israel’s disobedience, and God is saying to Hosea, “Even though Gomer has left you for other men, you go Hosea, and love her again, “even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” They chose raisin-bagels over the Holy One who spoke the universe into existence. Talk about blindness! And yet he loves them.
Where we going with all of this? What does this have to do with us? Well, Romans 9:25-26 says that Hosea’s words foreshadowed our salvation in Christ. Paul is talking about Gentiles getting saved—and last time I checked, nearly all of us are Gentiles. But he says in Romans 9:25, “Those who were not my people I will call my people, and her who was not beloved I will call my beloved.” We were once not a beloved people. In our sin, there was nothing lovely about us.
All of us are like Israel. Israel is a parable that explains our human condition. In our sin, we have whored after other gods. In our sin, we have eyes that roam. In our sin, we have demanded from our spouse expectations that not even God has for them. In our sin, we have so loved our money and our hobbies and our pets and our ministries and our me-time and our sports, that we snap at our spouse when they get in the way of them. Others of us have a past clouded by difficult divorce situations. Others have had love-affairs with images on the internet or with images still etched in their minds.
We deserve abandonment by God…and yet he allures us in Christ. He commits himself to us. And yet, he loves us still. It’s not that he loves us only after the cross cleans us up a bit. He loves us simply because he chose to love us, and his love for us fashioned the cross to get us to him. While we were enemies he sent Christ to die for us, and we find ourselves forgiven in him and loved in him.
Now, turn back to Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Get this text in your head for marriage, and for any relationship: forgiven sinners forgive sin. Those who have experienced God’s mercy in Christ will extend mercy to others. Those who have experienced God’s love in Christ will extend that same love toward others. We love because he first loved us.
If you don’t want to forgive, if you don’t want to love, if all you do is tally up all the wrongs he does to you and keep an account of all the wrongs she does to you, then you don’t know God’s forgiveness. And that’s a terrible place to be. “Judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (Jas 2:13; cf. Matt 18:22-35). The pattern for marriage, the pattern for relationships in the church, must be love and forgiveness, as we have seen that love and forgiveness demonstrated in Christ.
In his book When Sinners Say “I Do”, Dave Harvey writes, “Have you ever thought that passing along mercy may be one of the main reasons that you are married?...Mercy doesn’t change the need to speak truth. It transforms our motivation from a desire to win battles to a desire to represent Christ…Mercy takes people who are capable of open warfare over toothpaste tubes and toilet seats, and enlarges their vision to include a Savior.”[iii] When the gospel enlarges our vision to include a Savior, we forgive and we love as God in Christ has forgiven and loved us.
Love is not weak emotionalism or dispassionate duty. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” As we’ve said before here, love is a genuine affection for another’s good in God such that we spend ourselves sacrificially to see them obtain that good.[iv] That’s the love we find in Christ for us and it’s the love that should characterize us.
So love won’t passively wait to be asked; it will take initiative in seeking the well-being of your spouse. Husbands, there are occasions when we might have to encourage our wives to tell us how to serve them. But if we find ourselves saying repeatedly, “Why didn’t you just tell me?”, or hear our wives saying, “I’ve said this a hundred times before, but…”, then maybe we should ask ourselves if the initiative-taking, bride-pursuing, sacrificial love of Christ is in us. If not, we must repent and return to it again in the gospel and pray the Spirit makes us get it more.
Love will also not make a hundred self-calculations before acting—“Will it keep me from the game? Will this mean I can’t go golfing? Will I have to give up my weekend?” Love will consider the interests of your spouse as better than your own (Phil 2:4-5). Love will not primarily ask, “Why isn’t he/she doing this for me?” but, “How can I pour myself out for him/her?” Love will not keep your spouse at ‘arms distance’ after conflict; it will make all necessary investments to see the other drawn near, the other wooed back, the other forgiven and reconciled, the other prospering in the Lord.
And love will also endure even through times that the same love is not reciprocated. Jesus said, “If you love those who love you back, what reward do you have?” (Matt 5:46). The world can do that. Christ’s love is different. Jesus loved his own until the end, when nobody was reciprocating love to him. Not even his closest disciples reciprocated love. And yet he gave himself for them.
This kind of love will hurt. It will cost you. As C. S. Lewis put it,
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping [your heart] intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.[v]
When we love each other as the cross calls us to love each other, it will hurt and it will cost us. But this is the road Jesus walked before us. It’s also the road that he walks with us right now. When we love as he loved us, we image Christ to others and bring glory to God’s love and mercy toward us.
In terms of forgiveness, when sin is confessed, extend forgiveness to each other, knowing how much you have been forgiven by God through Christ. Forgiveness means cancelling the debt the other incurred by wronging you, and so cancelling it that you are free to pursue reconciliation happily. Paul Tripp writes, “Healthy marriages are healthy because the people in those marriages find joy in cancelling debts.”[vi] I’d say the same is true for a local church: healthy churches are healthy because the people in those churches find joy in cancelling debts. Do you find joy in cancelling debts? Or, do you make it your business to keep lists of wrongs that just breed bitterness? Our memory verse this week is fitting: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov 19:11).
When your spouse comes to you and confesses sin, it’s not time nor is it your place to become the prosecuting attorney pointing out all the other failures. Mercy triumphs over judgment. You have the glorious opportunity to be a conduit of grace and forgiveness in Christ. Not because the other person deserves it—that’s the point of the gospel—but because the gospel of grace is about getting what we don’t deserve.
The Promise for Marriage in the Gospel
Which brings us to one last point as we go into the Lord’s Supper: the promise for marriage in the gospel. By promise I mean all the hope that the gospel message holds out for us in Christ. When we eat this meal today, we not only remember the peace made possible by Christ’s work in the past, we not only remember the power he gives us now by the Spirit to live out the pattern of love and forgiveness. We also remember the future glory that we will enjoy at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
The Bible says, “As long as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.” That’s the promise: Christ is coming for us, brothers and sisters. The one who betrothed us to himself will come to finalize everything, including our Christ-likeness. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
We’re all works in progress, but the gospel promises a glorious future for those who belong to Jesus. No matter how much you’ve failed this week, or over the last several years perhaps as a husband or wife, no matter what chaos or divorce or adultery clouds your past, place your trust in Christ for rescue. Make this another opportunity to believe on him, and you will be saved. Based on his past work he promises you present grace to bring you to future glory. Let’s eat together.
[i]I am indebted here and on the next point of application to Dave Harvey, When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage (Wapwallopen: Shepherd’s Press, 2007), 63, 68.
[ii]Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (New York: Dutton, 2011), 52.
[iii]Harvey, When Sinners Say “I Do”, 81, 82.
[iv]Mark 10:45; Rom 12:10; 1 Cor 9:19-23; 10:31-11:1; 13:4-7; 1 John 3:16; 2 Cor 8:9; 12:15.
[v]C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves.
[vi]Tripp, What Did You Expect?, 86.
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