Trinitarian Ministry to Body, Mind, and Soul
A series of articles originally written by Jonathan Stepp, edited by Michael Morrison.
What is marriage in the light of who Jesus is?
Weddings are not commanded in Scripture, and Scripture does not provide any instructions for how they should be done. Pagans had wedding ceremonies, and this cultural custom was continued by the Israelites and in Christian churches. Secular governments usually regulate marriage, because marriage helps stabilize family relationships and provide children safer environments in which to grow. We want to reinforce this sociological function. Although Scripture does not command us to continue this custom, it does serve good purposes, and it is rich in theological meaning, so it is a custom we would like to continue.
Before we discuss the details of how to perform a wedding, we need to think about what marriage is in the light of who Jesus is as the union of the Trinity and humanity. How, when, with whom, and under what conditions, we perform weddings will be heavily influenced by our understanding of who Jesus is and who people are in relationship to him.
For example, if we have a theology that says that people are separated from Jesus until they believe in him, then we may insist that one, or both, people being married must believe in Jesus before he will perform the ceremony. We might even insist that both persons be baptized and in regular attendance with a church before we do the ceremony. On the other hand, a more inclusive view of Jesus’ relationship with humanity would probably lead to a greater willingness to perform weddings for more people in a greater variety of circumstances.
We will begin our thinking, as always, with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To think about how the Triune life relates to marriage, we will look at the creation story in Genesis, not for what it does or does not say about science or history, but for what it says about who God is and who he created humanity to be in marriage.
The Israelites had an essentially unitarian image of God when the Genesis creation story was written. Though they understood and spoke of “God’s Spirit” and “God’s Wisdom,” and even personified both, their basic mental conception was of a unitary monotheism: one God existing as one Person.
As Christians, whenever we read the Old Testament, we have to bring our reading lens – or “eyeglasses” – that Jesus gives us to see God. Jesus helps us understand that our belief in God must be Trinitarian, not unitarian, even when the Bible’s language – as in the Old Testament – lends itself, or even emerged from, an essentially unitarian view of God.
This is important for our understanding of Genesis 1:26, where God says, “let us make humanity in our image.” Scholars of Hebrew, the Old Testament, and Israelite theology point out that Israel’s mental concept of God in Genesis 1:26 is unitarian even though plural pronouns are used. One suggested explanation for the use of the plural in the Hebrew is what is known as the “plural of majesty.” In the same way that protocol requires a monarch, such as the Queen of England, to speak of “our will” and decisions “we have made,” so also in this Hebrew account of creation, God – the King of the whole world – uses the plural of majesty to speak of his royal decree to create humanity.
A grammatical, historical exegesis of Genesis 1 would leave the question at this point. However, a Christ-centered, Trinitarian exegesis of Genesis 1 suggests that we should see the plural in Gen. 1:26 in the light of who Jesus is and who Jesus reveals God to be. Seen from a purely grammatical perspective and from a purely historical (i.e. ancient Israelite) perspective, there is no Trinity in Genesis 1:26. But, as noted in lecture 6, our reading of Scripture must go beyond a grammatical/historical methodology to ask “what does the Bible mean in light of who Jesus is?” We believe that the God who inspired Genesis to be written also inspired the New Testament to give us more light on what the Old is talking about, and that we should use the light he has given.
With the perspective that Jesus gives us, we can see that Genesis 1:26 is a foreshadowing of the Trinity. The mysterious pronouns are a hint that more will be revealed about God, and we see the fulfillment of this in Jesus. The Holy Spirit inspired the author of Genesis 1 to use the plural, not just for what it means to him in his own grammar and historical context, but because of what that use of the plural will come to mean centuries later in the person of Christ.
Thus, when God says “let us make humanity in our image,” we are hearing one divine Person speak to the others. The act of creating all things, including all humanity, is an act in which the fullness of the Triune God participates. The Father creates humanity in the Son, by the Spirit, in their image.
What is the image of God in which we are created? Traditionally, much of Christian thinking about the image of God in humanity has rested on the concept of “rationality,” particularly some form of rationality not possessed by animals. Humanity, unlike anything else in the physical world, is capable of rational thought and speech and thus of thinking about God and speaking to him. Rationality has to be part of the sense in which we are in God’s image. However, many modern – and especially Trinitarian – theologians are coming to see relationality as the primary way in which humanity is made in the image of God. As the Father, Son, and Spirit live in eternal relationship with each other, so also humanity is made relational in that image. We are created, in the image of the Trinity, capable of relating to the Trinity and to each other in a way that echoes and reflects the relationship of the persons of the Trinity. Not every human relationship reflects the Trinitarian life – only relationships based on love can image the God who is love.
This relational view of the image of God in humanity is reinforced by what God does next in Genesis 1:27: “God created humanity in his own image…male and female he created them.” It does not say “capable of rational thought he created them in his image.” Nor does it say, “he created them in his image with the power of speech.” The creation story itself says that “male and female” is the image of God in humanity and an important part of the way in which humanity reflects God’s image. This is further emphasized by the way the union of man and woman is described in the next chapter. Genesis 2:24 says, “the two shall become one flesh.” As we discussed in our lecture on discipleship and pastoral care, the sexual union of a man and woman – as one flesh – is an echo of the perichoretic life of the Trinity.
The male on his own was “not good,” but male and female together image God. They reflect what God is like, and they are physical representations of God on earth. Based on our post-Resurrection, post-Pentecost, and post-Nicea understanding of the Trinity, we can see that the relationship between husband and wife, when at its best, reflects the intra-Trinitarian relationships of love. In the same way that God is love (i.e., relationship), as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so God created humanity in the image of that relationship and made the marriage of man and woman the most significant human relationship in terms of its ability to help us understand the Triune life in which we live because of Jesus.
This understanding of marriage is further reinforced by the New Testament’s use of the marriage imagery to describe Jesus. Jesus himself is the marriage of the divine and the human. In him, God and humanity become united, without losing their distinct selves. Thus, the New Testament speaks of believers as the “bride of Christ” and says that the church is an image of the marriage that has taken place between the divine and human in Jesus (Eph. 5:31-32; Rev. 19:7). The divine-human relationship, in turn, is a reflection of the intra-Trinitarian relationship; we are being brought into the life of the Trinity. Throughout, it is a covenant bond based on love.
Based on our understanding of marriage as an image of the Trinity, and as an image of the Trinity’s union with humanity in Jesus, we can suggest this Christ-centered definition of marriage:
Marriage is the union of a man and a woman to participate together in Jesus’ ministry to reflect in humanity the union he has in his divine nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit and the union he has with humanity in his human nature.
This definition presumes nothing about the compatibility, happiness, or satisfaction of the persons involved in the marriage. This does not mean that our loving Father in heaven is not concerned about our happiness in our marriages. He is. It just means that the primary purpose of marriage is not self-satisfaction. The primary purpose of marriage is reflecting the divine image. Marriage shows in a very concrete, experiential way what Jesus means when he says “the Father is in me, I am in the Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:10, 20). Living in marriage enables us to experience, in a limited way, the mystery of how the divine Persons live in each other as one God and how we live in them, through Christ, as one humanity in union with the one God, while everyone – the persons of God and all of us – are also able to remain distinctly ourselves in that union.
How do we practice the ministry of performing weddings?
With this Christ-centered, Trinitarian, definition of marriage as our foundation, we can now turn our attention to how we perform weddings in the light of who Jesus is. Defining marriage is just the starting point for doing the ceremony. Let’s take our definition of marriage and convert it into a definition of performing a wedding:
Performing a wedding is our participation in Jesus’ ministry to bring together a man and woman in a relationship that images the union Jesus has in his divine nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit and the union he has with humanity in his human nature.
A wedding is the ceremonial act of bringing together a man and a woman into the state of marriage. From a Christian perspective, a wedding is something that Jesus does. It is not just a sociologically useful custom – by making it a church ceremony, we are signaling that there is a spiritual purpose beyond the social benefits. God’s Spirit draws two people together in love and creates within them the desire to live in covenant faithfulness with each other in a way that reflects the covenant faithfulness of the Father, Son, and Spirit to each other and the covenant faithfulness of Jesus to humanity.
This is why divorce is a sin. For a man and a woman to break their covenant with each other implies – whether they know it or not – that the Father, Son, and Spirit might break covenant with each other or with humanity. Since the persons of the Trinity will never break covenant with each other or with humanity, any action on our part that pictures such a thing is a lie and a misuse of the institution the Father has given us. This also explains, as we discussed in lecture 7, why sex outside of marriage is wrong.
As soon as we say that divorce, and sex outside of marriage, are sins, we immediately need to think of the forgiveness that we already have in Jesus. In our fallenness, we are not capable of keeping our covenant promises. We still have hardness of heart. Even when two people never divorce, they still fail, daily, to fully keep their covenant promises to each other. Therefore, it is Jesus’ faithfulness to us and with us in our marriages that is the basis of our understanding of who we are. It is Jesus’ faithfulness to us, and his forgiveness of our sin, that allows the church to help people heal from the brokenness of adultery and divorce and move on with their lives – even to the point of marrying again, if the Spirit seems to be so leading and blessing a person.
Since a wedding is something that Jesus does, we ought to perform weddings in his name as the Son of the Father and the one through whom the Spirit comes to humanity. Weddings in Jesus’ name should be Trinitarian because marriage is a reflection of the Trinitarian life and of humanity’s adoption into that life through the union of the divine and the human in Jesus. In a moment, when we think about weddings as a ministry to people’s minds, we will think more specifically about how we use Trinitarian language in a wedding.
But first we want to think about the counseling that takes place before the wedding ceremony. A lot of research by counselors and psychologists suggests that premarital counseling can have a profound impact on the success of a marriage. As with all counseling, this is more true when the people involved in the counseling are fully participating, and less true when they are just going through the motions. The giftedness and skill of the counselor involved is important, too.
As a minister, not a “professional” counselor, your first task in premarital counseling is to look for signs that something is wrong. In America, you are society’s gatekeeper to determine the most basic information: are both people old enough to be married in the state where the wedding will take place? Are both people single and not currently married to someone else? Have they obtained the proper license from the state?
You are also Jesus’ minister to assess the most basic issues of healthy relationship: is there any sign that one party is physically or verbally abusing the other? Are both people of sound mind, not acting under duress or out of fear? Do they seem to have a basically healthy relationship in which they are treating each other with respect and kindness?
If people want to, they can deceive a minister on any or all of these points. Your job is not to act as a private investigator. However, to perform a wedding while knowing that something is glaringly wrong in any of the areas mentioned above would be pastoral malpractice.
Beyond these basic issues, however, it is not your job to determine whether two people should be married. At the most you would say, for example, “I am not comfortable performing your wedding because I do not believe you are being truthful with me about your relationship.” Or, “You seem to have radically different ideas of how to handle money, and I advise you to wait until you are closer on that issue.” You would not say “the two of you should not get married!”
If something criminal is involved, you will need to check with your ecclesiastical supervisor about your duty to report it to the authorities. If the couple is contemplating a breach of law out of ignorance – for example, some misguided idea that they can marry before a divorce has been finalized – then you need to inform them of the reality: “I can’t perform your wedding until your divorce has been finalized,” for example.
In addition to the basic issues of pre-marital counseling, you want to help the couple understand – as much as they can – what marriage is. Help them see that it is an image of who God is, in his Triune nature, and of who we are as human beings in Jesus. As a result, marriage is a permanent covenant and a means by which we learn to live in communion and self-sacrificial love. Depending on where they are in their faith, they will be better or less able to understand these spiritual issues, but they should be explained regardless.
Another necessary step is reviewing and explaining the meaning of the ceremony. Explaining the ceremony can be a way to introduce the spiritual issues that are involved and help them see, in a concrete way, how what you are saying about marriage is reflected in the real-life promises they are making to each other and the Father.
Regardless of where the individuals are in their faith, you have three basic responsibilities in pre-marital counseling:
- to look for glaring legal or moral issues,
- to explain the significance of marriage in the light of who Jesus is, and
- to explain the meaning of the ceremony.
After hearing a Christ-centered definition of marriage, and the meaning of the ceremony, a couple may decide they do not want a Christian wedding. That is fine. Just as it is not your job to stop people from getting married, it is also not your job to try to talk them into a Christian marriage. If they decide that a justice of the peace, or a ceremony in another religion, would be better for them, then they are probably right. Under no circumstances should you remove all references to Jesus and/or the Trinity and/or the Bible in order to make the ceremony more palatable to the couple or their guests. If they want you to do the ceremony then it must be a Christian ceremony, and to be Christian it must be in the name of Christ, his Father, and the Holy Spirit. There is no point in having a minister conduct a secular ceremony.
Beyond this basic, Christ-centered counseling, you have to use your own discretion in how much counseling you offer and/or require in order to be comfortable performing the ceremony. Some pastors are also trained Christian counselors and are able to offer couples more in-depth relationship counseling. Other pastors have acquired skills, and have some giftedness in this area, and want to offer more in-depth relationship counseling. In other situations you will have a strong pastoral relationship with the people involved, and they will want your guidance in this formative stage of their relationship.
If you do not know the couple well or they do not seem to be open to deeper relationship counseling, there is no hard-and-fast policy dictating what you must do. Some pastors are comfortable performing ceremonies for people with very little counseling; others require a certain amount before they are willing to perform the ceremony.
For example, since all humanity lives and moves and has their being in Jesus, whether they know it or not, some pastors are willing to perform a ceremony for two people who are not Christians – as long as they do not want to make the ceremony un-Christian for their sake. If two nonbelievers are willing to be married in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, that is a good thing – perhaps it is something that is flowing from the life Jesus is sharing with them through his Spirit, even if they do not recognize where that desire is coming from.
Other pastors disagree, and feel that the vows would not be made in sincerity. Why call it a Christian ceremony if the participants are not Christians? You will have to think through the issues involved and decide for yourself how to handle such situations.
In the case where a believer and a nonbeliever are getting married, some extra counseling is warranted. Scripture says something about the wisdom of such an arrangement (2 Cor. 6:14–7:1), and the believer in the relationship should be encouraged to explain to you how he or she understands those biblical instructions. You also would want to get the couple to discuss how they plan to deal with the issues that are raised by an inter-faith (or faith/no-faith) marriage. These issues include their understanding of what marriage is, how to raise any children, how to deal with in-laws, and how to use money, including money given to the church.
Often, marriages between believers and nonbelievers come about when the believer has deluded him or herself into believing that the other person “really does believe, he just doesn’t talk about it or do anything about it.” You can try to confront such delusional thinking, but it is hard to break through. You will probably have to decide whether you are comfortable performing the ceremony based on the other, basic issues discussed above, and not on whether the couple is facing reality in their decision making.
As a concluding thought on how we do premarital counseling, it is worth noting that all marriages come into existence in the midst of some delusional thinking. People do not know what it is like to be married until they are married. Even if two people have been living together prior to marriage, they still do not know what it is like to live together as a married couple. Both persons will have some reality-based and some delusional thinking about what it will be like. Again, it is not our job as pastors to determine who should and should not get married (beyond basic issues of legality). We should lovingly confront delusional thinking as we are able to. Ultimately, however, we must entrust the people whose marriages we perform – as all people we minister to – into the hands of Jesus.
How do we feed Jesus’ sheep in body, mind, and soul through performing weddings?
Body: A wedding is a physical act, and a lot of preparation goes into it. Most people hope theirs will be “perfect” and try to make it so. Usually at least one thing goes wrong, but it is usually not so serious as to ruin the day. As a minister of Jesus, you can help by encouraging everyone involved, especially the bride and groom, to stay focused on what really matters: the Father’s love for them and their love for each other. As much as possible you can be relaxed, trusting the Spirit to guide the occasion, and sharing your confidence with others.
Some couples will want – or need – your input on the physical arrangements for the day, such as the order in which people enter, who stands where, and what kind of decorations are appropriate. It is not a bad idea to do some research and know some of the basics of etiquette for a wedding ceremony if you do not know them already. If you are called upon to help make decisions about the physical arrangements, then you will be ready.
Most couples, however, have thoroughly researched the various options and customs within their own culture and know how they want the ceremony to go. In regard to the location, decorations, use of symbols (candles, rings, etc.), the songs that are sung, the attire, and the general atmosphere of the occasion, the couple has a lot of flexibility. From our perspective as ministers, there are only a couple of actions that “must” take place in order for it to be a Christian ceremony, and those “musts” all relate to the words that are said. We will deal with those in a moment.
The wedding ceremony should reflect the tastes, culture, and desires of the couple being married. Even if they want to get married on a roller coaster, that is their prerogative – but you also have the freedom to say, “I can’t do that, but I’ll help you find someone who can.” You should never try to dictate to the couple on matters of taste or custom. They do not have to exchange rings, or have candles, or wear formal attire, for example, unless they want to. The Bible does not command the ceremony, nor the details, and neither can we.
Before the ceremony begins, make sure that you know the order of the service, who will do what when, and have notes for yourself about this information. There will inevitably be some weddings where someone forgets his or her part and will look to you, as the officiant, to give them a cue as to what to do. Make sure you have a good handle on how the ceremony will go so you can be helpful in making it run smoothly. A rehearsal will be very helpful.
Make sure that you know what the attire will be and that what you are wearing will be appropriate to the formality of the wedding. Even if you preach without notes, always read a wedding ceremony – even the wedding homily – word for word. A wedding is not a time to ad-lib or try to go off the cuff.
In general, you want to listen for the Spirit to help you see how you can be an agent of joy, calm, and help during the whole process – and not be a distraction.
Mind: To begin thinking about the words we speak at a wedding, and how they impact people’s minds, you may wish to review the standard GCI ceremony. You can find it online at https://www.gci.org/books/ceremonies-for-pastoral-use/. It is the longest of the ceremonies.
Some couples may want a very short ceremony, and the question may arise as to what the “bare minimum” is. The government gives us tremendous latitude in what constitutes a wedding ceremony, so there are few legal requirements other than the requirement that a ceremony of some sort takes place and that you sign the license certifying that it did. It could be as brief as having them each promise, in your presence, to be married to each other. However, from a Christian perspective there are three “must haves”:
- One is a promise between the couple to be faithful to each other. Although the ceremony does not have to mention these things specifically, this includes sexual exclusivity, emotional support, and financial cooperation.
- The second is the pronouncement of marriage in the name of Jesus. In the GCI ceremony this pronouncement is expressed as “by the authority of Jesus Christ.” You could also use the wording of the Book of Common Prayer, which says, “I pronounce that you are husband and wife in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Either way, the message needs to clear that a Christian marriage ceremony is a ministry of Jesus, on behalf of his Father, in the power of their Spirit.
- The third “must” is a prayer of blessing on the marriage. Prayer is part of every Christian ceremony. A prayer should be offered to the Father, in the name of Jesus, and asking God’s blessing, through the Holy Spirit, on the marriage of this new husband and wife.
Apart from these three key elements, there is a lot of flexibility. There is a long tradition regarding the form that the vows take. Vows are in the first English editions of the Book of Common Prayer (in the 16th century) and they are reflected in most modern standard ceremonies, including the GCI ceremony. It involves language such as “in sickness and health” and “thereto I pledge you my faith.” However, there is no reason that a couple cannot write their own vows (if they wish), so long as what they write does not contradict who Jesus is. For example, if the groom wanted to promise to be faithful by the “power of the god Thor,” that would contradict who Jesus is. You may laugh, but our culture is becoming post-Christian, and a wide range of belief systems are returning to prominence in some people’s lives.
The words we speak at a wedding are the primary explanation of Christian marriage that most people, especially outside the church, ever hear. Therefore, it is appropriate to take a few moments to describe what marriage is from a Christ-centered perspective. This section of the ceremony, generally coming before the vows, is the wedding homily (or sermon). It is good to use the word “homily” to describe this section of the ceremony because the word “sermon” suggests something longer and more doctrinal than a homily. What we want is a homily: comments that are short and more devotional. The homily is not a required, but unless the couple objects, it is good to take a few moments to refer to Scripture and explain marriage in the light of what God has revealed.
Soul: Perhaps more than anything else, your goal in performing a wedding is to impress upon the couple – and their extended families and friends – what their marriage is in Christ. Marriage, especially in our culture – where many traditional supports for marriage are fading away – can be an intimidating prospect. Young people, especially, wonder whether they can fulfill the vows they are making and they worry about what the future will bring in their relationship.
They are right to be concerned. Marriage is probably the most challenging task that most people will take on in their lives, and many marriages fail. But in the overall scope of life, the positives of marriage far outweigh the negatives. Marriage blesses us, encourages us, and helps make us fit for eternal communion with the Triune God. Because marriage helps make us fit for eternal life, it must also help purge out of us our self-centeredness, our isolation, and our sin. Marriage is a blessing that heals by sometimes soothing and by sometimes hurting.
If couples embark on marriage believing that it is always a soothing, enjoyable experience, or believing that a good marriage is something they can achieve by their work, then they are headed for heartache. Our goal in premarital counseling, in the way we conduct the ceremony, and in the way we talk about marriage in general, is to help others see that marriage is yet another aspect of our lives in which we are learning to trust the Father’s love for us in Jesus, through the power of their Spirit. Marriage, just like everything in our lives, is something that Jesus does in and with us through his Spirit. It is something that helps us understand our Father’s love and faithfulness to us.
We can join Jesus in ministering to people’s souls if we keep pointing them back to the assurance they have in Jesus. They will not be alone in their marriages. Their Father is caring for them in their marriage, with Jesus, through the Spirit, and they can trust and rest in this reality no matter what comes in the years ahead.
Since this chapter is shorter than most, we are including below a wedding homily. The original occasion was a wedding reception. Although the ceremony included a homily, a significantly larger number of people were at the reception, and the couple requested that another homily be given, in which the gospel would be presented. You are welcome to use or adapt this for your own settings. The title of “reflections” made the message sound less formal, and it tied in easily with the biblical theme of “image of God.”
Reflections on Marriage
By Michael Morrison
Good afternoon, and [turn toward the couple] congratulations to our happy and perhaps nervous couple. We are happy to share this joyous occasion with you.
[Gesture toward audience] [Names of the couple] asked me to say a few words about the meaning of marriage – not just its meaning for newly married couples, or even a meaning for older married couples, but a meaning that extends well beyond, to include everyone else as well.
And that’s because marriages are reflections of something much bigger. The Bible tells us that marriage is a reflection of the love that Jesus has for his people. The apostle Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her… There is profound truth hidden here,” he says, “and it’s about Christ and the church.” Marriage is a reflection of the love that Jesus has for his people.
This is not some new thing – it goes back to the very beginning. In the Bible, in the book of Genesis, it says, “A man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family.” This comes shortly after God explains his purpose for creating human beings: “God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”
We are created in the image of God, to be a bit like God – and in order to do that, God created us as male and female. Both males and females are reflections of who God is, but the combination of male and female also reflects God. God wants each person, and each marriage, to be reflections of who he is.
So it’s important for us to know what God is like – and the Bible tells us that God is like Jesus – that if we have seen Jesus, then we have seen the Father. We have seen the kindness and compassion of God, and the love of God that makes sacrifices for the people he loves.
Each of us should be a reflection of the God that we see in Jesus – a God who loves us so much that he gave himself up to save us. His love for us is unconditional – nothing can separate us from his love. Even if we run away, God still loves us. Even if we disobey, God still loves us. Even if we reject God, he does not reject us. His love never fails.
That’s the kind of love he has, and when we have this kind of love, we are reflecting the image of God that we are supposed to be. When a marriage has this kind of love, it is a reflection of the love that Jesus has for each of us.
Now, we don’t do this as well as we should, and in fact, we almost never do it as well as we should. We simply aren’t as much like God as we were created to be, and the natural tendency for us is to think that, Well, if we aren’t doing what God wants, then he is probably angry at us.
He has every right to punish us, to push us aside as failures, but God does not push us aside. Even if we cut off the relationship, God does not. He keeps the door open. He wants us to come home. We may not think that we belong in God’s family, but God says that that is precisely where we belong. The relationship is still open.
The Bible says that God is love, and in the wedding ceremony, we hear a description of love. According to the Bible, one of the components of love is that “love does not keep a record of wrongs.” It does not keep score, or try to get even. Now, that is certainly good advice for [names of the couple], for all of us who are married, and for anyone who wants to keep a friendship. If somebody does something wrong, don’t try to get even with them. That would just make both of you wrong.
God is the example in this. He does not keep a record of wrongs – and this is so contrary to our stereotype of God that many people find it hard to believe. They think that God is keeping track of every single thing we do wrong, and he’s going to make somebody pay for it.
The problem is that we had a debt we could not pay, and so Jesus volunteered to pay for it for us. Jesus is God, and he loves each of us so much that he volunteered to accept the consequences of all the things that we have ever done wrong. The biblical book of Colossians puts it this way: “Even though you were dead in your sins, he has forgiven all your sins.” He nailed our debt to the cross. He has destroyed the debt; it is not a debt any more.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he puts it like this: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s sins against them.” In other words, God is not keeping a record of all the wrong things we have done. The door is open, and he wants us to come back home. Even if we don’t like him, he likes us, and he wants us to come back home. That’s what he is like, that’s what he wants us to be like, and that’s what he wants marriages to be like.
This is how we know what love is, the Bible says, that Jesus died for us. We don’t deserve this kind of love, that the Son of God would sacrifice himself for us – and yet he would have done it for any of us.
God made us for a purpose, and he is not going to abandon that purpose merely because we didn’t get right the first time,… or the second time, or the third time. God does not keep track of how many times we got it wrong. He just keeps the door open, waiting for us to come back home.
No, we don’t deserve it. We might feel embarrassed to meet our Maker. But we are already forgiven, by grace, for whatever have done. There is no sin too great, no heart too cold. God has reconciled you to himself, not counting your sins against you.
And when we come back home to God, what will we find? The Bible describes it as a party, a celebration, a banquet – even like a wedding!
The apostle John described it in the book of Revelation:
I saw a new heaven and a new earth… And I saw the holy city—the new Jerusalem—descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.”
Our future is described as a marriage to Jesus Christ. The future that God has planned for us is a future of eternal relationships, of love for one another, of living together in peace and harmony and joy, forever and ever. God will enjoy being with us, and we will enjoy being with him, and with each other. It will be a celebration like we have never seen! [Names of the couple] will be there, celebrating, and we are all invited to celebrate, too.
The marriage we have today is a reflection of what God wants our life to be forever. So, [names of the couple], may your marriage be a reflection of God’s love for us, and may it be an example to others of how much Jesus loves us, of how willing he is to forgive the things we’ve done wrong.
In your marriage, things will go wrong. Mistakes will be made, but love keeps no record of wrongs. May the door always be open for either one of you to be accepted and embraced by the other.
For the rest of us, may we see the love between [names of the couple] as a reflection and a reminder to us today of how eagerly God wants to embrace us, to welcome us home, to join the celebration in heaven, where we can live with God without any mourning or crying or pain or death, because the old approach to life will be a thing of the past. We don’t deserve it, but God gives it to us, because he really wants us to join the celebration.
God, our loving heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus and thank you for wiping away all our sins. Thank you that we have a home in heaven, paid for by Jesus Christ. We ask your blessing now on [names of the couple], that their marriage might be a bright and shining reflection of how much you love us, that the joy they have is a reflection of the joy that we will have with you in eternity.
And for any here today who are not quite sure of your love for them, help them come to have faith here and now that the door is open for them to come home to you. Help them say, “Yes, God, I want to come back, to have a relationship with you. I may be a bit reluctant, but you will embrace me like a groom embraces his bride, and I need that kind of love in my life.”
Father, thank you for the gift of love. This is what we were made for, and this is where we find the greatest joy in life. We celebrate a marriage today, but we know we can celebrate only because there is something much more profound here, because our marriages are reflections of what you want us all to be. May we all be reflections of your love for us. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Amen.
 In some ancient cultures, the wedding ceremony was a covenant enacted with the words: I will be your husband and you will be my wife. This phraseology is echoed by God’s covenants with Israel: I will be your God and you will be my people.
 This would not explain why the plural of majesty is not used in most other places. The exegetical question is, why here, and almost nowhere else? Another use of plural pronouns for God is in Genesis 11:7: “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” Another suggestion is that God is talking to angels, involving them in the work to be done.
 Scientists have discovered various forms of language and rationality in animals that communicate with one another and demonstrate purposeful thought in making tools. But none appear to have any forms of worship or communication with God.
 This is not to imply that romance is the only foundation for marriage. In societies that have arranged marriages, this love can come after the marriage begins.
 Exodus 21:10 specifies that a husband must provide food, clothing and marital rights.