by Keith Lippy
Almost all of us have been involved in the building of some kind of structure. Maybe it was a house or a garage, or maybe something more elaborate such as a building for a business or a church. In order to undertake such an endeavor you need to follow a well-defined process. While there are many more steps in the building of such a structure, we will simplify it down to three. First, you must choose a site; second, you must lay a foundation; third, you add the framework. Well, this illustration is an attempt to explain how a Biblical marriage should be constructed.
- The Site
“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12: 1-3
God’s covenant is the stable ground of a good marriage. In essence, a covenant is a promise. In order to understand the gravity of entering into a covenant (such as in marriage) we can look at the example of God’s covenant with Abraham. Beginning in Genesis 12, God made very specific promises to Abraham. In these three verses, God said “I will” five times, and promised Abraham these blessings freely, without Abraham needing to do anything. When two people exchange wedding vows it is a picture of God’s covenant: each party promises unconditionally to stay faithful and committed, no matter what happens.
In Genesis 15, God then confirms the covenant by doing something that is foreign to us today. God told Abraham to bring two animals, cut them in half and lay the pieces apart with a little distance between them. This was a well-known way of making a contract in ancient times. Each party would walk between the pieces, signifying the seriousness of the pledge that they were making to each other. In essence, each party said to the other, “If I break this contract, let this same bloodshed be poured out on me.” But in the instance of God and Abraham, both parties did not walk between the pieces: God put Abraham to sleep, and God himself passed between the divided animals. God again reiterated that his covenant was not based on Abraham’s performance but on God’s divine character. When couples exchange rings it confirms the vows that they have taken, symbolizing the preciousness and seriousness with which they make their promise. It also indicates the lifelong commitment seen in the circular design of the ring. In essence, each person entering into the vows of marriage, individually, will be promising to the other party, “I will keep my promise to you.”
- The Foundation
“Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”
In order for the structure to stand against the onslaught of the elements (wind, rain, snow, heat, and cold), it must be built upon a solid foundation. The marriage that God blesses is built upon the foundation of sacrificial love. In Ephesians 5, God instructs us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This type of love is modeled by Jesus’s example, who loved His bride and sacrificed Himself to the point of death on the cross on her behalf.
A marriage that holds together puts the interests of the other party ahead of their own. Philippians 2:3-4 says it like this: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his (or her) own interests, but also to the interests of others.” So, the foundation that any marriage must be built upon is sacrificial love toward one another.
- The Framework
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
Finally, after choosing the ground on which this edifice will be built, and laying a solid, firm foundation, you are ready to add the framework. The framework will need to be constructed so as to accept and support the final design and accoutrements of the building. So, we have chosen a site for the building of this marriage – the concept of covenant. We have laid a solid foundation for the building of this marriage, which sinks its footers deep onto the bedrock of sacrificial love. Now we are ready to construct the framework for this marriage. The Biblical framework for marriage is forgiveness. For a vivid illustration of what this kind of forgiveness looks like in a lifelong marriage, consider this illustration from John Piper’s book, This Momentary Marriage:
“Picture your marriage as a grassy field. You enter it at the beginning full of hope and joy. You look out into the future, and you see beautiful flowers and trees and rolling hills. And that beauty is what you see in each other. But before long, you begin to step in cow pies. Some seasons of your marriage they may seem to be everywhere. Late at night they are especially prevalent. These are the sins and flaws and idiosyncrasies and weaknesses and annoying habits in you and your spouse. You try to forgive them and endure them with grace.
But they have a way of dominating the relationship. It may not even be true, but sometimes it feels like that’s all there is—cow pies. The combination of forbearance and forgiveness leads to the creation of a compost pile. This is where you shovel all the cow pies.
You both look at each other and simply admit that there are a lot of cow pies. But you say to each other, “You know, there is more to this relationship than cow pies. And we are losing sight of that because we keep focusing on these cow pies. Let’s throw them all in the compost pile. When we have to, we will go there and smell it and feel bad and deal with it the best we can. And then we are going to walk away from that pile and set our eyes on the rest of the field. We will pick some favorite paths and hills that we know are not strewn with cow pies. And we will be thankful for the part of the field that is sweet.
Our hands may be dirty. And our backs may ache from all the shoveling. But one thing we know: We will not pitch our tent by the compost pile. We will only go there when we must. This is a gift of grace that we will give each other again and again and again—because we are chosen and holy and loved.”
In any marriage, there will be many times and circumstances in your life together that require forgiveness. Always keep in mind the amazing grace that God has shown to you and allow that grace to flow from you to every aspect of your lives and your relationship with each other.
Keith Lippy is a committed participant of Living Hope Church. He and his wife, Michelle, have six children.