A Gift for Your Marriage
This post may not be for everyone. Nor will it compare with the usual fare that I put up for view here. But then, these are not usual times.
I have never, indeed, ventured into this territory before. But because it is (a) critical territory, and (b) timely territory, I could no more refrain from posting what follows than I could deny my belief in salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. After you read it (or listen to to it, read to you by your spouse), I promise you will understand.
What follows is a homily, or exhortation, delivered to an actual couple at an actual marriage ceremony. If you are currently unmarried, then simply read it through, and imagine yourself some day at the altar, listening to these words with your future betrothed, as the celebrant speaks them to you both.
And if you are already married, then the same exercise applies. As (both of) you read through what follows (perhaps alone at first, and then together with your spouse; or else together from the outset, and freely sharing with each other the emotions which the homily evokes), receive it with an open, humble, and contrite heart. And whatever way you choose to receive it, read it out loud. Its force comes from the words being spoken, and not merely read.
In short, let it speak to—and strengthen—your marriage, present or future.
Herewith the homily, then, as written by the Rev. Douglas Wilson—and delivered for a recent temporal occasion, but with timeless and universal effect. Let all of us thank him for having posted it on his website, to our lasting benefit. And let a husband (present or future) be addressed by his own name in place of the “Elliot” whom Pastor Wilson addresses, and the wife similarly by her own name in place of Elliot’s betrothed, “Jill.” Either together (or singly at first, and then together), read out loud, mark, inwardly digest, and commit to live fully the timeless truths that follow.
One of the things that married couples do, in the pleasure of God, is feed one another. Now there are two kinds of feeding, both of them pertinent to marriage. There is food at rest—what we might call sabbath food, or celebratory food. But there is also food for the journey, nourishment on the way, food for the adventure.
Today the two of you are embarking on a great adventure, one that contains all the elements of a classic adventure, except for maybe the dragons. There will be trial, there will be difficulty—all those things that are mentioned in the vows are there for a reason. We will talk about sickness, poverty, and those things that are worse over against better. These things are not an indication that something has gone terribly wrong with your story. It is an indication that your story is a story.
Today you are becoming true companions. The word companion is derived from the Latin word panis, which means bread. A companion is one who shares bread together with you—bread for the journey, bread for the way.
So what is that food? What is that nourishment? The Bible teaches that a husband is to feed his wife with love, and she is to feed him with respect. I love you and I respect you could be taken as mere pieces of information, mere indicative statements like it is raining now, or the table is set, or the car is red.
But if these statements were simply information, why do we say them over and over again? Why don’t we have the bride and groom just say these things in this ceremony and be done with it? And if you started to forget, you could just go watch the wedding video.
Well, we say these things over and over again because they are food, not just information. If it were late in the afternoon, and you had skipped lunch for some reason, and somebody asked you to go have a hamburger with them, you would not decline because you knew what a hamburger tasted like. You would know what a hamburger tasted like, but the more “only information”you have, the hungrier it makes you.
So husbands are to nourish their wives, and they are to do so by loving them. In the fifth chapter of Ephesians, Paul summons [husbands] to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and gives the additional example of loving them as they love their own bodies. In that context, Paul notes that one mark of that love is nourishment. When a man tells his wife he loves her, he is not giving her new information. He is feeding her. When a husband sacrifices himself for her, in matters big and small, and all in imitation of Christ, it is not aimless activity. He is nourishing her.
In an analogous way, when a woman tells her man she respects him, she is feeding him. When she looks to him for leadership, not rushing in to fix things ahead of him, she is nourishing him.
All this explains how a wife can know cognitively that her husband loves her, and yet still feel hungry. This is how a man can know cognitively that his wife respects him, and still feel hungry. And for both of them, if they ever veer from this path and stop nourishing the other, the results can be dramatic. There is the sin of omission, where you simply forget to nourish the other. Untended, this is the way of slow death, slow starvation. But there are also harsh and unloving words, or overtly disrespectful ones, which have the effect of snatching food away.
But remember the distinction I made earlier between celebratory food and way-bread, food meant to nourish you on the road, on the way to your adventures.
If you understand your story correctly, you will expect candlelit dinners from time to time. But you should also learn to love and nourish her while you are late for work and looking for the car keys. You should learn to respect and nourish him when you are having trouble getting the car seats buckled. You have to learn to see true story in random events, adventure in the mundane, and the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary. In those extraordinary ordinary times, you need to remember to feed one another with this extraordinary food of ordinary love and respect.
Elliot, you are a remarkable young man, and you are being called today to surrender all of that. This is the gospel pattern—give it away freely, and back it comes. Paul says that he who loves his wife loves himself. When a man gives all that he has and is to a woman, he discovers that she was created to return it to him thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold. You will discover that by nourishing her you are actually growing stronger yourself.
The temptation, whenever you have something remarkable, is to think that (surely) God does not intend for that thing to die. Oh, but He does. Whenever we have a good thing, we always want to stop everything, and say that it is now “good enough.” But God doesn’t traffic in good, better, best. He is after glory, and glory always follows the pattern of death and resurrection. So look at all that God has given you, and meditate on how much He has blessed you. Don’t hold tight to any of it—when you have numbered all that you have, place it all symbolically on an open palm and give it all away to Jill. What was yours is now hers. It will come back to you in glory.
Jill, you have great gifts of empathy and identification. These were given to you so that you might identify with others—your family, your friends, and now Elliot. This is a great gift, meant for great blessing. But one of the things that the apostle Peter teaches wives is that they must imitate their mother Sarah, and are to do this by not giving way to fears. The alternative for wives to giving way to fear, as Peter outlines it, is wholehearted submission to their husbands.
The gift of empathy means that you can identify instantly, and at quite a distance. You are being called today to identify with your husband—with him as a person, with his strengths, with his security, with his love. We are conducting a transaction right now. We are in the process of giving all of that to you. You are being called, after Elliot gives himself to you sacrificially, to give him back to himself glorified. Give him back to him, and he should barely recognize himself when you do. This task will delight you so much, and so take you up into the work, that you will not see that you have been transformed as well.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.
Amen. And thank you, Pastor Wilson, for embodying God’s truth in terms so that all who wonder (or who celebrate, or who doubt, or who may have become jaded) about marriage may understand, and so understanding, may provide constant and life-bringing nourishment to the sustenance and growth of their God-blessed union.
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