The Lutheran Witness - Sacrificial, Unconditional, Incarnational - A Biblical View of Marriage

Sacrificial, Unconditional, Incarnational: A Biblical View of Marriage

Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of June, The Lutheran Witness will be sharing print articles from the past few years on topics of marriage, family and sexuality. Check back for more content each week in June, and view these and other articles here.

By Todd Biermann

I recently began a wedding sermon addressing the couple, “Your marriage is going to be tough! It’s going to be filled with conflict and suffering and sorrow and pain. And, if you do it right, you’ll eventually get to watch each other get old, have more pain, carry more grief and watch each other move toward death.”

Their eyes got as big as saucers, and their huge smiles started to waver. I paused for a bit with a very serious look on my face, because it is all, sadly, true. I then continued, “However, you’re about to enter one of the most beautiful experiences you can ever have on earth. You’ll have glimpses of heaven that most will never see. You’ll delight in the love of Jesus overflowing to you from your spouse. When you fall, you’ll have each other to speak words of forgiveness and renewal. Your joy will grow and overflow to everyone. And I can say this with certainty.”

Is there such a thing as a perfect marriage? Absolutely! The marriage between Jesus and His Bride, the church. At least it is perfect from the side of the husband. And it is also perfect in that He forgives the faults of His Bride to make her perfect too. That is what St. Paul is talking about in Ephesians 5:32: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

Jesus has claimed all Christians collectively as His beloved Bride. He has loved us with perfect love that fulfills the mandate of Ephesians 5:31. That verse is the seminal word on marriage in Scripture and describes the perfect marriage between Adam and Eve in Eden prior to the fall. In Genesis 2:24, the Lord said of this newly created union, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Jesus reinforced this as the perfect way for marriage in Matthew 19:5 (see also Mark 10:7). To emphasize its importance, all three persons of the Trinity proclaim this perfect pattern for marriage: The Father established it at creation. The Son reaffirmed it during His incarnation. The Holy Spirit gave it to St. Paul by inspiration. Such a teaching must be important and powerful. Indeed, it is.

The perfect love described in this key passage is sacrificial, unconditional and incarnational. To “leave his father and his mother” requires great sacrifice of selfish desire. To “hold fast to his wife” requires a husband to make an unconditional choice to never break the commitment of love. To “become one flesh” requires a union of the flesh that is uniquely incarnational and possible between one man and one woman.

We look to Jesus, the perfect husband, as the illustration of such love. Jesus showed perfect sacrificial love for us as He left His Father to offer Himself as the complete sacrifice for our sin on the cross. He passed through hell so we will never have to go there. Jesus shows perfect unconditional love as He chooses to forgive us again and again even though we regularly play the unfaithful bride. Jesus shows us perfect incarnational love in a way that surpasses the sexual union. He gives us His body and blood to touch, taste and ingest in His Supper on a regular basis. It unites us in an intimacy that bridges heaven and earth.

When one man and one woman unite in marriage following the model of Jesus and His Bride, they approach the bliss of a perfect relationship. Jesus empowers His forgiven children to live in His kind of love. He commands in John 13:34, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

The first part of such love is beheld when both husband and wife sacrifice their own selfish desires for the good of the other. They are willing to die for one another. And, even more difficult, they give up their own life for each other on a daily basis.

The second part of such love is enjoyed over the long haul as both man and wife choose to stick to their marriage vow unconditionally, “till death us do part.” No running away for greener pastures when fire burns across the meadow. Instead, there is the eager anticipation of new life sprouting from the ashes. The final part of such love is manifest when a husband and wife care for each other incarnationally in every aspect of that word. They touch, eat, sleep, intimately unite as one, care in times of illness, kneel at the Lord’s Table and grow in a oneness of flesh that only Christ can give. As a couple grows in showing these three parts of love taught by Jesus, they grow in a deep joy that the world cannot give. They catch a beautiful glimpse of Jesus and heaven in each other.

This points to another aspect of the joy that comes to a married couple living out the sacrificial, unconditional and incarnational love of Jesus. They are a living witness of Jesus and His Bride for all the world to see. Even when they fail, they are able to point to Jesus. As they confess to one another and grant each other forgiveness in the name of Jesus, they receive new life that overflows in exuberant joy. Such reconciliation by Jesus’ power is a beautiful witness to the world. When a married couple lives together in this forgiveness, they fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord in a way that will impact those who know them. Their living, lasting, authentic love will draw others. And their joy grows as they share the perfect love of Jesus with all who ask, “How can your marriage be so great?”

Back to my wedding sermon. What you have just read is what I reviewed with that couple and their guests. As I spoke about the perfect love of Jesus that would flow into and through them, their worried eyes ignited with Holy Spirit fire. Their nervous smiles for the day were transformed into joyous smiles for the life that lay ahead. That is the confident beauty of marriage in God’s way.

This article originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of The Lutheran Witness.

For more resources on marriage and the family, visit the LCMS Family Ministry page.

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