Mercy and Marriage

I recently had the privilege of sharing a wedding message- a number of you have asked for a copy of the transcript, so here you go. Names have been changed to “protect the innocent”. A second post will follow later on the origins of this message, but for now, I’m particularly intrigued with your thoughts (in the comment section please) of how the mercy and marriage relationship plays out.

There are many things that the meditation or sermon at a wedding can be. They can be long or they can be short. They can be funny, they can be filled with joy, they can be filled with a sense of love, hope and celebration. To be truthful, I’m not sure where this one is going to fit, but more than anything, my prayer is that the simple, foundational truths of God’s word for all of life speak not only to the bride and groom, but to the hearts of all of us here. As I prayed and pondered over this message, I was struck by the realization, probably less of a revelation to the rest of you than it was to me, that the secret to a good, healthy, loving, God honoring marriage is really not a secret at all. Rather, it is simply living the life the God has called each one of us to: a life lived in covenant relationship with Him, the Creator and Ruler of the Universe, and a life lived in covenant relationship with each other- a picture to those around us of the beautiful reality of a life that is transformed only because of the free gift of grace, offered to each of us by the death of Christ on the cross on our behalf.

the 12th chapter of Romans is our text.

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function,
5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;
7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;
8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Now, this is a passage jam packed with truth and beauty. We could literally spend hours here. However, I would like to just touch on a few foundational points.

The first and most important point- for all of us is found in verse 1- where Paul tells us that he appeals to us by the mercies of God, to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our worship.
God’s mercy is the building block of our reality. It is foundational, core to understanding our lives. Without his mercy, we are condemned to live in a self made, self centred, self focused prison of our own making, constructed by our selfishness and centred only on ensuring a sense of self fulfillment and self satisfaction. But God’s mercy allows so much more freedom- the rest of what we see in the chapter flows out of this. It is the same way in our lives as well- the life of everyone on this planet is really simply a life lived in response to God’s mercy. It is either accepted, and leads to worship or it is not accepted, and lives are lived in rebellion to God. There is no middle way in this universal truth. John and Jane- this applies not only to you, but to all of us here- I say this to you especially because I pray that we together can see the new perspective on relationship that accepting the mercy of God can have. Grace changes everything:

verse 3 tells us that our response to God’s mercy kills our tendency to measure others by ourselves
verse 4 reminds us that we are to embrace our differences
and verses 6-8 remind us that we are called to live out God’s calling in our lives with enthusiasm, zeal, and zest.

All of them, responses to this incredible gift of God’s mercy.

You see, the thing about mercy is that it is a kindness that is undeserved, unearned, and freely given. The first thing God’s mercy does is offer us grace and freedom from sin through the death of Christ on our behalf.

In this way, the theme verse for your lives and marriage ought to be Second Corinthians 5:21: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

There is no greater truth than this. There is no greater love than this. There was no greater mercy than this.

In Christ, God sees us as righteous, holy and beautiful – the righteousness of God. The world tells us about our faults, and we know they are there, but God’s love for us covers our sins and continues despite them. So Jesus has the ability to overcome everything anyone has ever said about or to you. In a Christian marriage, you get the privilege of living that out in miniature. Sometimes, your spouse points you directly to Christ’s love. Sometimes your spouse’s affirmation imitates Jesus’s love and reminds us to more fully accept the love we have in Christ. And sometimes – your spouse will let you model Christ’s love and mercy to the undeserving 🙂

And in light of this- when you allow your lives to be molded and shaped and transformed by this majestic promise of God’s mercy- it changes the way you relate to others as we see in verses 9 -21 this afternoon.

You see, marriage is likely the most dangerous interpersonal relationship in the world, and also the most rewarding. Reality is, as you will discover, that sometimes marriage can be really, really hard. But lived in response to God’s mercy, it can also be really, really good.

John and Jane- I want to caution you today to remember this as we consider the potential difficulty that can arise when you live in close proximity to someone for the rest of your life. It exposes the condition of your own heart and your relationship with God. It isn’t your spouse who is exposing the sinfulness of your heart, its marriage itself. Marriage does not so much bring you into confrontation with each other – although I think it is fair to say that it will do that sometimes- as much as it will confront you with yourself. It shows you a realistic, somewhat frightening, quite unflattering picture of who you are and then takes you by the scruff of the neck and forces you to pay attention to it.

This is why the truths in verses 9-21 are so important. As you learn to live out God’s mercy to each other, your actions to each other will become actions to the world around you. And when those around you see God’s mercy lived out in miniature, it becomes like the ripples that move across a still pond when you throw a rock in- they move out in ever widening circles of impact.

Let’s look briefly at what those ripples from the rock of God’s mercy look like

verse 9 tells us that love is genuine – its the real thing- its not an act, or a facade, or something you put up only when you feel like. Its a 24 hour a day, seven day a week commitment to loving your spouse and putting their needs ahead of yours.

verse 10 moves the bar even higher – God’s commandment is to outdo one another in showing honour. Thats a clear command for both of you to do two things. First, to outdo one another in serving each other, and secondly to show honour to each other.
Both of these actions will strengthen your marriage exponentially- serving, because in putting the needs of each other first, you will be able to daily remind one another of the love that you have for each other and the fact that Christ put you first, ahead of his own comfort when he died for your sins on the cross. Honouring – because as you hear and see your spouse talking about you with others with love and respect, you will both see and feel positive affirmation. Don’t be those people for whom griping about their spouses character traits seems to be a hobby, instead, remember to out do in showing honour.

Verse 11 is a commandment to fervently serve the Lord. This needs to be the goal and the focal point of your marriage, because as we see in verse 12, when we do this, God gives us the strength to be patient in tribulation, to be constant in prayer, and the opportunity to rejoice in hope. Verse 13 – is a commandment about contributing to the needs of the saints and showing hospitality. This is another opportunity for your marriage to show in miniature what God has written across the sky in letters too big for the world to see. A marriage that is lived in response to God’s mercy is lived outward, not inward. The needs of God’s saints in other parts of the world pull more strongly on your hearts and your chequebook than the need for a third annual tropical vacation. Your home is not just your castle retreat, but rather the place that you can serve others, a place that is always open for friends and family that need a listening ear, but above all, a safe and welcoming place that points everyone to the ultimate refuge that we have in Christ.

Verses 14 and 15 talk about our responses to each other – bless those who persecute you, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. The truth of the gospel is a strange and peculiar thing that really means life is lived upside down from what the culture around us expects it to be. Our responses to difficult times and difficult people are to be different. We are called to share, to sympathize with others in times of extreme sorrow and extreme joy. Today is a celebration, a high water mark in your lives together. But, always remember, a high-water mark cannot exist without a low water mark. God’s call, clearly to both of you, is that no matter the level of the tide, you are to share and support. Jane, when John is excited and happy about something you don’t understand, shares the joy with him. John, when Jane is down about something, share the pain with her. Understand each other, with patience and love.

Verse 16 gives us another key truth for life and marriage – never be wise in your own sight. Both of you, will discover very quickly that your spouse is your ultimate reality check. For some reason, God has created marriage in such a way that the spouse he gives you seems to be gifted with just the right pin to pop the balloon of our selfishness and self importance. Learn to embrace that as a gift instead of resenting it.

Verses 19-21 address how we are to essentially overcome evil with good. Again and again in your marriage, God will call you to overlook the faults and blemishes of the other and to love them unconditionally. Again and again God will call you to respond to your spouse in ways that are not your natural inclination. Again and again you will find much blessing and happiness when you respond in love. I cannot describe this clearly to you, other than to say, let’s talk about it in 20 years from now.

John and Jane, just as God has given you your love for each other, and this day of celebration, he has just as surely called you to live out lives of sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Let your response to His mercy to each of you shape your response to each other. Let His Limitless love for a world full of hurting and rebellious people be an example for the love without boundaries that he calls you to. And always remember- living out your marriage today is an opportunity for both of you to call others to the invitation that we have all been given to the wedding that we read about in Revelation: “I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away..behold, I make all things new.”

I pray that your lives together would point others to that greater story

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