Going Silent . . . Again

I’m back at The Institution (SBTS) this week for a PhD seminar on 20th Century Spirituality with Dr. Nathan Finn. Due to twelve hour days in liberal spirituality and various weighty matters at IDC, the blog will go silent this week. I hope to return next Monday.

A Theological Journey

Yesterday I wrote briefly about the theological enigma that is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Today I continue with an overview of his theological journey, particularly as it relates to the development of convictions that would eventually give rise to his two bestsellers: The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together.

“I Heard the Gospel Preached in the Negro Churches”

In the spring of 1930 Bonhoeffer received an invitation from Henry Sloane Coffin, president of Union Theological Seminary in NYC, to apply for a postdoctoral fellowship. Ever the traveler, Bonhoeffer readily applied. In September he boarded the SS Columbia for and set sail for the United States.

Charles Marsh says, “In 1930 Union Theological Seminary was the proud flagship institution of liberal Protestant theology in America.”[1] Yet, Bonhoeffer quickly found the seminary—and American theology on the whole—wanting. He said, “The students . . . are completely clueless with respect to what dogmatics is really about. They are not familiar with even the most basic questions.” Everyone “just blabs away so frightfully.” His conclusion? “There is no theology here.”

The congregations of New York also came under Bonhoeffer’s ire. He visited many of the well-known Protestant congregations, including Harry Emerson Fosdick’s Riverside Church, and never heard of our crucified Christ. “In New York, they preach about virtually everything,” Bonhoeffer said, “except . . . the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[2]

Before his arrival in September 1930, “Bonhoeffer had never had a conversation with a person of color.”[3] Bonhoeffer had been made aware of the “American dilemma,” but it wasn’t until a fellow student invited him to attend a Sunday-morning church service in Harlem that Bonhoeffer not only encountered African-American spirituality, but also “had any experience of American preaching and worship that seemed to him authentic and vital.”[4] Bonhoeffer became a frequent attender at Abyssinian Baptist Church and met with a group of “Negro boys each week,” he said of what he understood as “one of my most important experiences in America.” Bonhoeffer cherished the exuberance and seriousness of what he had at Abyssinian. After the spring semester of ’31 Bonhoeffer and a few friends jumped into a secondhand Oldsmobile for Mexico. More than just wanting to visit the next country south, Bonhoeffer wanted to get a real-life sense of life for blacks in the south—during the time of sharp segregation and Depression-era poverty.

Marsh says,

When, on June 20, 1931 Bonhoeffer embarked on his return to Germany, it was with a new perspective on his vocation as theologian and pastor. He was ready at last to put away childish things, foremost his professional ambitions, and begin to search the Christian and Jewish traditions for peacemaking, dissent, and civil courage. The technical terminology faded steadily from his writings, giving way to a language more direct and expressive of lived faith . . . ‘It is the problem of concreteness that at present so occupies me,’ he wrote upon his return to Berlin—this from the young theologian who ten months earlier had found American pragmatism such an affront to Germanic exactitude.[5]

So Bonhoeffer arrives in the fall of 1931 a changed theologian to a rapidly changing Germany.

The Prophet Returns Home

Capitalizing on the failed Weimar Republic, rising inflation, and enduring humiliation from the Versailles Treaty Hitler’s Nazi party was beginning to make loud rumblings in German politics. While Bonhoeffer was in America the Nazis had become the second-largest party in the Reichstag. Less than a year after Bonhoeffer returned the Nazis had become the largest party and almost 18-months after he began his lecturing at the university Hitler was in total control as a result of the Enabling Act.

Alarmed by the German Christian church’s appeasement of and cowering to the Nazi’s Aryan-supremacy worldview Bonhoeffer found himself function as something like a prophet crying out in the wilderness, warning against the heinous trajectory of destruction on which the Nazis were moving. During this time Bonhoeffer would publish and lecture on topics that would prove to be foundational to Discipleship and Life Together:

  • Lectures on “The Nature of the Church (1932)
  • Article on “The Church and the Jewish Question” (April 1933)
  • Lectures on Christology (Summer 1933)

In the fall of 1933 Bonhoeffer helped to organize the Pastors’ Emergency League (and the subsequent Confessing Church and Barmen Declaration) due to the mainline Lutheran church of his youth rapidly deteriorating beyond repair. The prophetic cry of costly grace thus now fully had its audience. Yet, there is another vital development in Bonhoeffer for our grasping, particularly, the milieu of Life Together and Bonhoeffer’s focus on the Sermon on the Mount in Discipleship.

A New Monasticism

In October of 1933 Bonhoeffer began a pastorate for two German-speaking congregations in London. While in England he made a point to visit as many alternative seminaries, peace centers, and monasteries as he could. Why? He had come to see The Sermon on the Mount as having an inalterably integral part of Christian spirituality. He a letter to his older brother during the London period Bonhoeffer said,

I think I am right to say that true inner clarity and honesty will come only by starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. In it alone is the force that can blow all this hocus-pocus sky-high . . . The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with its former self but proposes a life of uncompromising discipleship, following Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time has come to gather the people together and do this.[6]

And so he did. At the urging of a council of the Confessing Church, convened in February of 1935, Bonhoeffer would take leave from his London obligations to set up a theological seminary for the Confessing Church.

Painting on a Blank Canvas

Often thought of as a covert religious institution, the seminary—ultimately located in Finkenwalde—operated for almost half its time without state opposition. It was at Finkenwalde that Bonhoeffer not only enjoyed the most blissful years of his life, it was also an opportunity for him to paint onto a blank spiritual canvas the myriad of convictions regarding spirituality he had amassed over the previous six years.[7]

“As an experiment in Protestant monasticism—at its root, something of a contradiction in terms, Luther’s teaching having closed far more monasteries than it founded—Finkenwalde needed to square the self-abnegation of the cloister with the individual freedom implicit in the Reformation view of Christian community.”[8] Bonhoeffer attempted to manage this great tension by thoroughly regulating most of each day, while simultaneously allowing for students to come and go from the seminary as they pleased. It was a tension not without many complaints, some students often referred to Bonhoeffer as “Der Fuhrer,” but on the whole it was a time of great growth and joy for the group.

The joy of Finkenwalde came to an end in mid-October 1937, but the seminary proved to be the ultimate context for Bonhoeffer’s most enduring works in American evangelicalism: Discipleship and Life Together. In November 1937 Bonhoeffer published Discipleship (the German title is “Nachfolge,” an imperative better translated “Follow Me”),[9] and in 1939 Life Together, with Prayerbook of the Bible following in 1940.

——————————————————————————————————————————

[1] Marsh, 103.

[2] Marsh, 111.

[3] Marsh, 115.

[4] Marsh, 115.

[5] Marsh, 134.

[6] Marsh, 217. Bonhoeffer would later say to Sutz, when thinking about the ecclesiastical division in Germany, “Perhaps this may amaze you, [but] it is my belief that the Sermon on the Mount will be the deciding word on this who affair” (Marsh, 226).

[7] Marsh concurs, “Finkenwalde ultimately existed as the canvas on which he aspired to render his personal ideal of a Christian community. (240)

[8] Marsh, 237.

[9] The English translation, The Cost of Discipleship, originally appeared in 1948.

A Theological Enigma

My first exposure to Dietrich Bonhoeffer came when, as a twenty-two year old student pastor, I picked up a copy of The Cost of Discipleship on sale for $3 at a local Christian bookstore. I found Bonheoffer’s prophetic-like earnestness utterly transfixing and his fervor for following Christ totally convincing. Discipleship was something like spiritual accelerant on the fire of holy-love for Christ. Eventually the book found a cherished place in my study, but a somewhat forgotten place in my life. That was until 2010 and the arrival of Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

A Counterfeit Hijacking?

Metaxas’ book was something of a sweeping and sensational publication in our country, shooting up the bestseller lists and even paving the way for Metaxas to speak before President Obama—and quite humorously so—at the National Prayer Breakfast.   Believe it or not, up until this point I knew next to nothing about Bonhoeffer’s labor against the Nazis and as an armchair historian of World War II I quickly became absorbed in Bonhoeffer’s covert affairs. I greatly enjoyed the book and so upon completion I proceeded to see if scholars and reviewers enjoyed it as much as I did. Suffice it to say, I was rather stunned to see articles like “Metaxas’ Counterfeit Bonhoeffer”[1] and “Hijacking Bonhoeffer”[2] denouncing the book as “a Bonhoeffer suited to the evangelical taste.” Victoria Barnett, the editor of the English edition of Bonhoeffer’s Works, called Metaxas’s portrayal of Bonhoeffer’s theology “a terrible simplification and at times misrepresentation.”

A Theological Enigma

This was altogether alarming. My scratching of the Bonhoeffer surface and correlative conversations had led me to believe Bonhoeffer was just another chip of the Evangelical Block. So, with the assistance of a theological mentor, I began to dabble in Bonhoeffer’s doctrinal convictions and what I found was something of a theological enigma; a teacher who could garner evangelical praise in one breath and scorn in the next.

For example in his 1932-1933 lectures eventually published as Creation and Fall Bonhoeffer says, “The Bible is nothing but the book upon which the Church stands or falls.”[3] That’s a thoroughly evangelical statement. Yet, in the same book, when commenting on Genesis 1:6-10 Bonhoeffer writes, “Here we have before us the ancient world picture in all its scientific naivete.”[4] And, just a paragraph later, the German giant says, The idea of verbal inspiration will not do.[5]

All this from the man who would in the next 5-6 years would offer Discipleship and Life Together as enduring gifts to the church; works that have perpetuated profound Christ-centered and Bible-saturated spirituality.

To understand why Bonhoeffer has no small fans among both liberals and conservatives, we need to get our minds around the historical and theological context of Bonhoeffer’s thought.

A Child of German Liberalism

Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906 “into a family of prodigiously talented humanists.”[6] His father Karl was a doctor who had little interest in religion, while his mother Paula dutifully took Dietrich and his six siblings to Lutheran services. It was clear from an early age that Dietrich possessed great intellectual (as well as musical and physical) talents. Not long after his older brother died on a World War I battlefield thirteen-year-old Dietrich announced that he would become a theologian. Bonhoeffer’s older brother were flummoxed with this plan, saying to the budding professor, “Look at the church. A more paltry institution one can hardly imagine.” To which Dietrich responded, “In that case, I shall reform it!”

In 1924 Bonhoeffer began his theological studies at Friedrich-Wilhelms University in Berlin. Founded in 1809 by the Friedrich Schleiermacher—“The Father of Christian Liberalism”—the university boasted an unrivaled faculty of Adolph von Harnack, Karl Holl, and Reinhold Seeburg. It is important to note that it was here at university Bonhoeffer immersed himself in the philosophical and theological convictions of Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Schleiermacher, and another theologian who’d just burst on the scene: Karl Barth. Bonhoeffer would correspond with Barth for the rest of his life.

At university Bonhoeffer discovered a particular passion (initially derived from Holl) for the nature of “duty transformed into joy.”[7] He would go on to write a paper entitled, “Joy in Primitive Christianity” on the “shared joy” (synchairein) in Paul’s writings. Bonhoeffer’s interest in the shared joy of Christian community led to his 1927 doctoral dissertation, a 380-page manuscript called Sanctorum Communio (“The Communion of the Saints”), with the daunting subtitle: “A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church.” Bonhoeffer claimed that Christ exists as community. Charles Marsh says of Bonhoeffer at this point, “His themes highlighted the uniqueness of his emerging vision and anticipated his life’s work. Christ, community, and conreteness—these were the key words.”

After a short pastorate in Barcelona Bonhoeffer published his Habilitationsschrift (qualifying thesis), entitled “Act and Being: Transcendental Philosophy and Ontology in Systematic Theology.” Upon its successful completion, and meeting a few other academic requirements, Bonhoeffer began to lecture in theology.

So it was at the age of twenty-four, with two dissertations in hand, Bonhoeffer stood on the threshold of a bright academic career in German theological education. He was rooted Kantian philosophy—yet still independent in his formulation, expressing deep affinity for Barth’s burgeoning neo-orthodoxy, concerned with the construction of Christian community, and cherishing rigorous reflection on doctrine. Over the next couple of years two particular experiences would indelibly shape the course of Bonhoeffer’s theological and ministerial trajectory.

The first of which was a sojourn to America. That sojourn we will look at tomorrow.

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[1] Richard Weikart, “Metaxas’ Counterfeit Bonhoeffer,” https://www.csustan.edu/history/metaxass-counterfeit-bonhoeffer

[2] Clifford Gree, “Hijacking Bonhoeffer,” http://www.christiancentury.org/reviews/2010-09/hijacking-bonhoeffer

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall & Temptation (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1997), 10.

[4] Ibid, 30.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Marsh, 4.

[7] Ibid, 44.

A Retreat

In Quest of Rest

The blog is going silent for the rest of the week as I’m on a retreat with some other brothers in ministry. My time of rich pastoral fellowship will be interspersed with studious dives into Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Eusebius of Caesarea—it’s crunch time for a few doctoral seminars. See you next week.

In Memory

Wake Up

For Don

Over the last two years I’ve counted it a supreme privilege to know Don Phillips as his pastor, friend, and brother in Christ. To know Don was to know a man who could inject joy and laughter into any situation with effortless ease. It was to know a man so filled with a welcoming spirit that after just a few conversations you’d feel as though he was a life-long friend. It was to know a man passionate about his wife, children, grandchildren, and the happiness of games like golf. Yet, I stand here today to say that over and above all those things, to know Don was to know a soul changed by the Lord Jesus Christ.

What I want to think about with you is exactly how that change came about in Don’s life.

An Amazing Awakening

One of Don’s favorite hymns was “Amazing Grace.” As many of you know, that first verse says, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound / that saved a wretch like me.” If you saw Don sing those lines you would have likely seen him beating his fist on his heart in that moment. It was as though he was preaching to himself, “Oh, my soul don’t forget this. That you were a wretch saved by amazing grace.” What I want you to see today is a truth Don showed with his life—that God’s amazing grace is always awakening grace.

As we just heard in the song a few minutes ago, a great anthem in Don’s life was, “Wake Up.” It’s no mere theme derived from pop culture, it is an anthem Scripture shouts forth with fervency and mercy. One place in particular that comes to mind is Ephesians 5:14 which says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

I see in this text two truths about God’s awakening, truths in which Don Phillips lived with great delight.

Awakening grace is sovereign grace. Earlier in Ephesians 2 the apostle Paul said we are all dead in trespasses and sins, by nature we are children of wrath. “But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Spiritually dead people can’t breathe life into themselves. Spiritually dead people don’t even know they are lost. Such deadness is only overcome by a sovereign God who cries out in love and mercy, “Wake up, O sleeper and arise from the dead.”

Do you know how God woke Don up? It all started when a telemarketing evangelist from Campus Crusade for Christ called his house during a football game. Don said, “Leave me alone, I don’t believe in God anyway.” Don told me it was as though God said to him in that moment, “I won’t let you got that far son.” And so God woke him up—through telemarketing evangelism! Awakening grace is sovereign grace.

Awakening grace is satisfying grace. “Awake, O sleeper, and Christ will shine on you.” In the sweep of Ephesians 5 we find that the light of Christ is a light more satisfying than anything sin and this world can offer. In Ephesians 3 Paul says there are unsearchable riches to be found in the shining, awakening grace of Christ. Don knew what the world had to offer, for years he tasted of its finest feast. And when Christ shined on him he found a satisfaction in Jesus infinitely superior to anything this world or sin has. And he fought—oh, how he fought hard!—to be satisfied in Christ alone.

Just two months ago, at our church’s monthly men’s gathering, Don spoke of this fight for joy in Jesus with his typical passion and boldness. If you looked close enough in that moment what you saw in his eye was the joy of God’s sovereign and satisfying grace. God woke Don up, only by His sovereign grace, so that Don might enjoy His supremely satisfying grace.

Blunt Tenderness

There’s another reason why I find Ephesians 5:14 emblematic of Don Phillips: it’s blunt in its tenderness. “You who are dead, wake up and behold the glory of Christ!” Don was nothing if not blunt. But as you well know, there was such tenderness in his bluntness. He longed to be, and I think he was, an ambassador of Christ who went about each week with blunt tenderness, calling people to “wake up!” Are you dead in sin? Don’s life calls forth God’s word to you, “Wake up and rise from the dead.” Is there somewhere in your life where you are feeling dead spiritually? Don’s life cries out, “Wake up o sleeper, and the light of Christ will shine on you.”

Finally Alive and Free

I find in in this text unusual comfort for those of us who mourn the loss of our dear brother, and it’s this: Don is now staring at the everlasting, shining glory of God in the face of Christ. He is finally and perfectly alive to Christ. He fought the good fight and finished his race, all the while keeping his faith. Seeing the Lord Jesus is his prize.

There is a verse of “Amazing Grace” that goes unsung by many, but we can rest assured this day it is a song of truth for our brother:

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

So let us mourn with hope, let us grieve with faith, for he is has sailed behind the veil of heaven, to endless joy and peace. He is finally, perfectly awake in God’s heavenly presence.

To our God be the glory forever and ever, amen.

To Your Superior

Church Unity

A couple months ago I read A.G. Sertillanges’ brilliant work, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods and I found no shortage of takeaways. The one quote that’s yet to leave me has rather profound application to the pastoral landscape in America.

In the preface Sertillanges writes,

We are often taken in by the way in which the masters speak of one another. They attack one another unmercifully, but they are fully conscious of one another’s value, and they attack often unintentionally.

Yet it remains true that general progress needs peace and co-operation, and that it is greatly hindered by pettiness of mind. In the face of others’ superiority, there is only one honorable attitude: to be glad of it, and then it becomes our own joy, our own good fortune

In an evangelical culture where it’s commonplace to poke theological and philosophical holes in “superior” pastors and preachers, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we purposed to “be glad” of their superiority.

Might not that simple exhortation be a powerful means of “maintaining the spirit of unity in the bond of peace?”

When Death Strikes

The End of Death

For Ryan, Jayme, and Eli

I’ve been helped these last few months, when thinking about the Smiths, by an old poem of John Donne’s titled, “Death, Be Not Proud.” It says,

Death, be not proud, though the whole world fear you:
mighty and dreadful you may seem,
but death, be not proud—for your pride has failed you— you will not kill me.
Though you may dwell in plague and poison,
You’re a slave to Fate and desperate men—
So death, if your sleep be the gates to heaven, why your confidence?
You will be no more. Even death will die.

A Season of Unusual Suffering

When we began our fall series on Job I was personally stepping into waters of great trepidation. Who in our church would be met with unexpected suffering over the course of our study? Who would say the truth from Job arrive “just in time” for them during a season of pain and hardship?

I didn’t think those questions were unrealistic. God is sovereign over His powerful word. It is never accidental that a church hears the text it hears each week it gathers together. If, after much humble prayer and meditation, a new book of the Bible is selected for study, I take it to mean God wants those people to hear that book at that time. If you agree with that statement, then a mere cursory knowledge of Job would lead you to conclude – like me – that unusual suffering might be coming our way this fall.

And came it did.

The fall of 2014 will be indelibly written on my heart as a season of shepherding a small church through unusual suffering. Unusual suffering that included this story of the Smiths and little Eli.

When Questions Become Real

In almost every one of our studies in Job I tried to pull out from the individual text what I saw as the dominant question at that moment in Job’s experience of suffering. I went back and looked and here were the questions we’d considered in the month leading up to when Ryan and Jayme first found out about Eli’s condition:

  • Will you magnify God even if you suffer innocently?
  • Will you trust God even if your suffering is unexplainable?
  • Will you hope in God if [no one understands your pain]?
  • Will you trust God is for you when your suffering makes no sense?

Little did any of us know how real those questions were about to become to Ryan and Jayme’s experience. It was the week after that last question that Emily got a phone call from Jayme telling us the news about little Eli. A few hours later in a text message exchange we had Ryan said, “We are thankful for your teaching on Job. There was never any doubt that we’d need it, we just hoped it wouldn’t be so soon.” My immediate thought was, “Me too brother. Me too.”

Faithful Acceptance When God Doesn’t Answer

One of the more amazing things about Job’s story is that he never gets an answer from God of why he was made to suffer so grievously. We know from chapters one and two because the reader peaks behind the veil of heaven. All Job gets is a sovereign God appearing in a whirlwind saying, “All you need to know is that I’m sovereign over everything.” So in and around Thanksgiving as we walked through the whirlwind chapters the main thoughts we considered were:

  • Trust in God’s sovereignty will sustain you through suffering.
  • Surrendering to God’s sovereignty will keep you steadfast in suffering.

I know you all agree, and we’ve already celebrated tonight, that Ryan and Jayme have modeled surrender to and trust in a God sovereign over their suffering. I have personally taken a few encouragements and challenges from the Smiths through this season that I’m sure many of you will resonate with.

The sweetness of God’s sovereignty. The most consistent Bible verse I’ve heard from Ryan and Jayme these past few months is Job 1:28, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” I remember saying in our study of that text, “I’ve always wondered if I would respond like Job when surprising suffering comes my way?” I don’t have to wonder about Ryan and Jayme. Their lives and words have preached a powerful sermon these last few months. A message that says there’s a powerful and peculiar sweetness in knowing God is sovereign, even over the matters of pain and loss.

The sweetness of Christ’s victory. Richard Sibbes a Puritan so enflamed with love for Christ he was called the “Sweet Dropper” for all his joyful meditations on God’s glory once said, “Death is only a grim porter to let us into a stately palace.” Faith in Christ give Christians a totally new perspective on death. It’s why Paul can say, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” It’s why the Smiths can say in an email, “We are thankful that God has taken Eli in a way that was easiest for him, and that he is now in his permanent home, worshiping the Lord. It is hard to believe that we have a child who has gone home before us, but we take so much comfort in that reality.”

That reality which the Bible declares,

 Behold! I tell you a mystery . . .

 “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

 Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

A Wednesday of Weeping

Today is one of those days when tears of sorrow cover a pastor’s soul.

Back in November I mentioned how some members at IDC – and close family friends – found out their third child, a thirteen-week-old infant, had anencephaly. It’s a serious birth defect that meant the baby, if it made it to term, would not survive many hours out of the womb.

Yesterday they found out little Eli didn’t even make it to term. He died in the womb at twenty-four weeks.

And so this Wednesday is one of weeping for our church body.

Yet we do not weep from fear. We weep with faith, for death will be no more.

Then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

Another Arrow

imageKnox Andrew Stone made his long-awaited debut yesterday. We are praising God for His blessing of a fourth arrow in our quiver! (Psa. 127:3-4)

A Wedding Exhortation

Two Become One

For Jacob and Haley.

We gather today as observers of a wedding because God loves to make new things. We are witnessing before our very eyes the formation of a new household through a new marriage. It’s wise for us, especially in the shifting shadows and institutions of the world we live in, to understand what we are watching tonight and why we are watching it. What I first want to do, then, is briefly outline what the Bible understands marriage to be – I want to help us all meditate on that. After, I want to encourage Jacob and Haley individually in the God-given design of husband and wife.

To the Witnesses

It is a wondrous thing to know a God who providentially rules and governs everything in the universe. Ephesians 1 tells us he works all things to the counsel of his will, to the praise of His glory. So then it is no accident we are here tonight; God has been on the move in the lives of Jacob and Haley.

Marriage is not something we create, but it is something God purposes to sing and shout His grace. It began all the way back in the Garden of Eden. Right after the Lord created Eve, the Bible says something surprising. Adam had found no helper suitable to him among all the beasts that he had named, it was not good for him to be alone, and so God caused a deep sleep to come upon him, removed a rib from his side, and fashioned a woman out of it. God then presented the woman to the man, and his first words—the first human words uttered in the Bible—were words of poetry in praise of the gift he had been given. And what does the next verse say? It says that every marriage after that point should in some fashion be an imitation of this one. It uses the word therefore. Here it is: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). God gives us four vital elements of marriage in this one verse. It is an exclusive relationship. It says that a man shall cleave to his wife. The baseline pattern is one man, one woman, one time. Second, marriage is a public relationship. Notice that it says that a man shall leave his father and mother. This is something that people notice. It is public. Third, it is a permanent relationship. The text says that the man is united to his wife. He cleaves to her. Jesus, later in quoting Genesis 2 says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” And fourth, marriage is a united relationship; the two become one flesh. Thomas Adams said, “God by creation made two of one, so again by marriage He made one of two.”

So these are the normative parts of marriage: it’s an exclusive, public, and permanent union. But we must add a fifth. It is a gospel-declaring relationship. Paul too quotes Genesis 2 (in Ephesians 5) and says the marriage relationship reveals to the world the relationship between Christ and his church. The Bible tells us every person is born in sin and are thus under the wrath of God. They can do absolutely nothing to remedy the Black Plague of Sin that mars their soul. But God, in His great love for sinners like you and me, sent His Son Jesus Christ to live the perfect life we were supposed to live and die the death we were supposed to die. Three days later He rose again and now reigns at the Father’s right hand. He reaches down and gives eternal life to all who turn from their sin and trust in Him. This is the gospel, the good news. By His blood He ransomed His church, which the Bible also calls His bride.

And marriage, under the gracious sovereignty of God, is meant to declare and display this good news through the relationship between a husband and wife. Now we give our attention to the about-to-be husband.

To the Groom

Jacob, your role as a husband is clear as crystal: in your love and leadership of Haley you are to reflect the love and leadership of Jesus over His church. This means foundationally that you are to love Haley with a love that knows no height, breadth, length, or depth. It is a love ordinarily typified by sacrifice. You must give yourself every day to see your Haley grow and increase in the grace and knowledge of God. This assumes therefore that you are growing as well. Do not let your affections for the Lord run dry, for the minute your affectional-river drains is the minute your leadership of Haley runs on the fumes of small smoke, rather than the full flame of God. Be diligent to cultivate a deeper sense of the unsearchable riches of Christ. And keep everything in proper proportion. Haley, as wonderful as she is not meant to satisfy you, she is meant to come alongside you and help you glorify God, help you together find nothing more satisfying than our great God.

To the Bride

Haley, the kindness of God means we also don’t have to guess at what He wants you to be as a wife. Just as the church serves, submits, and dedicates herself to the Lord Jesus, so too are you to give of yourself to follow Jacob – wherever our good God leads. You are both created in the image of God and thus stand before Him as equals in Christ, yet your roles are different. To submit to Jacob as the church submits to Christ means you have a growing inclination to follow Jacob’s leadership and a delighted disposition to yield to his decisions. Doing this, you will glorify God by relating to your husband the way that the church is to relate to Christ. If you are walking with God—constantly thanking Him for His moment-by-moment grace and continually calling on Him for help—you will find your God-appointed role to be like rich, fertile, pleasant soil, and like a beautiful flower of a wife you will flourish.

To You Both

William Carey once said, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” God is giving you a great thing in this marriage. You must now use this marriage to do great things for God. You must remember, great things are never easy things. When you step down from this stage as husband and wife you enter a spiritual battlefield unlike any other you’ve ever faced. Marriage is meant reveal the gospel and the Snake hates the gospel. He will launch a frontal assault to destroy your joy in marriage so that God will not get the glory He must receive. But do not fear the bared teeth and destructive pursuit of this roaring lion named Satan; Jesus, the Lion of Judah, has conquered. Your marriage is one to be lived as a visible announcement to the world of Jesus’ victory.

So then, let me end by encouraging you to pray for and pursue four things at you attempt great things through this great union of marriage.

Pray for and pursue holiness. Marriage is meant to make you holy, and holiness is the ultimate happiness. Jacob, what Haley needs from you more than anything else is your personal holiness. Haley, what Jacob needs from you more than anything else is your personal holiness. Strive with the Spirit’s power, through the word, for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord and no marriage can find its intended delight.

Pray for and pursue wisdom. When God set Solomon as king over Israel He appeared one night and said, “Ask what I shall give you.” Solomon said, “Give me now wisdom . . . for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” We can something similar about this covenant relationship. Who can glorify God in marriage, which is so great? Those who are wise in Christ. The treasures of wisdom are hidden in Christ and they come from the fear of God; get those treasures through that fear.

Pray for and pursue humility. Pride is Satan’s favorite tactic of assault; slay it with humility. Each of you, have the mind of Christ, and count the other as better than yourself.

Pray for and pursue joy. Joy in God is the fountainhead from which joy in each other flows. Sin and Satan will rapidly want you to be bored with each other and grow cold towards each other. If you let joy in God be your constant song you will then find your home to a symphony of love for each other and glory for God.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.