November 27, 2008
by Patrick Lafferty
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives—when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
1 Peter 3:1, 7
That dear, dreamy old bachelor notion—the notion that the unity of marriage, the being one flesh, has something to do with being perfectly happy, or being perfectly good, or even with being perfectly and continuously affectionate! I tell you, an ordinary honest man is a part of his wife even when he wishes he wasn’t. I tell you, an ordinary good woman is part of her husband even when she wishes him at the bottom of the sea. I tell you that, whether the two people are for the moment friendly or angry, happy or unhappy, the Thing marches on, the great four-footed Thing, the quadruped of the home. They are a nation, a society, a machine. I tell you they are one flesh, even when they are not one spirit. (G. K. Chesterton, Early Notebooks)
Whether disseminated among the churches of first-century Asia Minor, or written in 19th-century England, or spoken last Sunday, the message that marriage is both magnificent and hazardous remains the same. From that notion, two mandates follow. Marriage must be treated with the greatest care. And the proper care of marriage rests on an abiding grasp of the gospel of grace.
Whether the controversy is trivial, and yet leaves one spouse wishing the other were at the “bottom of the sea,” or if the two disagree on matters of eternal significance, the regard for the marital bond is never to oscillate according to the intensity of the disagreement. Both Chesterton and Peter affirm this: The bond that is formed by marriage calls for a steadfast commitment to protecting and preserving the love that united it. In sickness and in health, in want and in plenty, the indissoluble nature of marriage requires the respect and understanding Peter calls for.
But steadfast commitment, respect, and understanding all rely on something greater than just a proper regard for the nature of marriage.
Only with the gospel of grace superintending all thoughts, prayers, and decisions can marriage ever find its purpose in glorifying the God who formed it. Marriages may endure without the gospel, but only those who understand themselves to be “joint heirs of grace” can glorify God by their marriages. For only the husbands and wives that see themselves as the recipients of immeasurable grace can hold at bay illicit enticements or lasting grudges. One cannot look long at the cross of Christ and entertain what threatens fidelity. For never has there been a greater display of affectionate fidelity than when God came for His bride through the love of His Son, the bridegroom.
We’re given time to pause this week. To reunite, share stories, perhaps to delight in some enduring delicacies—all with a view to rediscovering the reasons for gratitude that strengthen our resolve to remain faithful in whatever our lot. For the good of your marriage, wouldn’t it be fitting to reflect on this bond between you and your spouse—how its magnificence in God’s eyes requires a renewed attention to the grace of the gospel so that the hazards of marriage do not threaten?
And for those not married who one day may be, would it not be just as fitting to reflect again how His grace is sufficient for contentment in this moment (Philippians 4:11, 2 Corinthians 12:9), and that only by taking refuge in that grace shall contentment find you in whatever station of life you occupy?