Updated: Jun 4, 2022
Earlier this month I had the honor of officiating the wedding of a couple that will be members of our church in Italy. The ceremony took place in a small town near Venice at an agriturismo (a type of “farm resort” that is often a venue for such events). The scattered showers didn’t dampen the joyous occasion; in fact, the bride, quoting an Italian saying, considered the rain a symbol of abundance and the Lord’s blessing: “sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata” (a wet bride is a lucky bride).
Under a white tent, I stood behind a table with the couple seated in front of me and the seventy-or-so guests both seated as well as standing behind them. The couple had asked me to preach a 25-minute sermon prior to the vow exchange that emphasized the biblical meaning of marriage. My message highlighted how the husband and wife joining in holy matrimony and becoming “one flesh” is meant to be a picture of the love between Christ and His Bride.
Two becoming one in marriage means taking two whole but distinct and separate people, and uniting them into a new, God-designed and God purposed life that reaches far beyond the physical level. Paul describes it as a mystery. Therefore, we should treat this spiritual union with reverence and admiration – a spiritual union memorialized through the covenant of marriage and the physical union, testifying to the husband and wife that their two lives are united together as one. No longer two, but one flesh that share everything – their bodies and possessions, their ideas and insights, their abilities and talents, their problems and sufferings, their failures and successes, their future and their love.
In the third chapter of his letter to the Colossians, Paul gives instructions of how a husband and wife are to express this love and oneness, but those instructions are based on our identity in Christ and what we now have access to in Him. At the beginning of chapter 3, Paul writes that “your life is hid with Christ in God.” At salvation, a believer is united with Christ in a profound way – just as a husband and wife are “one flesh,” similarly “he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor. 6:16,17). Through the union of marriage, the couple should reflect the love of Jesus Christ and oneness with Him. It is through Him and Him alone, that a couple can live holy lives and manifest the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance.
There are some salient truths in this passage in Colossians that are applicable to all and then some specific truths for the husband as well as the wife. According to Colossians 3:12, both husband and wife are to be:
1. Merciful ("put on therefore... bowels of mercies")
In marriage we are given ample opportunity to both demonstrate as well as receive mercy. Our spouses see and know all of us – the good, the bad and the ugly. Mercy is like a judge finding you guilty but withholding the punishment. In marriage it can be tempting to want to, in a sense, punish a spouse for the hurt he or she may have caused. The Lord commands us to love our spouses with the love of Christ and to practice His mercy without demanding anything in return.
2. Kind ("put on therefore... kindness")
In marriage, kindness is demonstrated through generous acts, considerate behavior and comforting words. A man who brings his wife flowers as a sign of his love and a woman who caresses her husband’s arm as they watch the sunset are acting in kindness. Kindness does not act in self-interest but rather puts the needs of the other first. Avoiding rudeness or being verbally/emotionally abusive in any way, allows the marital relationship to be built on mutual trust and respect. Disagreements happen in every relationship; the healthy married couple has learned to resolve these disagreements with kindness.
3. Humble ("put on therefore... humbleness of mind, meekness")
Pride is a mortal enemy to love, and therefore we can assume it is a mortal enemy to lasting marital happiness. The antidote to pride is humility. Humility is an acceptance of the reality that we are dependent on the God who created us, that we don't have all the answers and therefore depend on the love and help of others, and that we were created in order to love and serve God and those around us, in particular our spouse.
4. Patient ("put on therefore... longsuffering")
I once read that within marriage, patience begins with discerning what needs to be changed and what needs to be tolerated. Since some behaviors and personal characteristics resist change, a couple needs to be patient with each other and learn to work around them. In addition to being patient with each other, couples need to be patient with the marriage itself. Healthy marriages evolve. Sociologists point out that a couple can go through several stages of marriage throughout a lifetime. Some stages are exciting (the birth of a child for example) whereas, in some marriages, other stages can have periods of disillusionment or boredom. With patience, a couple can work through any difficult stage and emerge into the next one with a deepened appreciation for each other and the marriage.
Then, in Colossians 3:13-16, Paul speaks of forgiving one another, to be lovers of God’s word, living a life so in harmony and in tuned with God that it sings of His love and grace.
With this foundation, Paul deals with specific commands to the wife and husband. For the wife, Paul writes in verse 18: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” This speaks of respect. Men have an innate need to feel noticed, capable, and appreciated for what they do on the outside.
And for the husband, Paul writes in verse 19: “Husbands, love your wives” and expresses it in Ephesians 5:25 as “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” This speaks of loving sacrificially. Women have an innate need to feel special and worthy of being loved for who they are on the inside.
These two elements – respect and love – are key to a happy marriage. No one denies that husbands and wives equally need love and respect. But in general, wives find it easier to love than to respect and husbands find it easier to show respect than to express love. And so, she has a greater felt need for her husband’s love and he has a greater felt need for his wife’s respect. The vicious cycle at the root of marital strife – that is, the wife not feeling loved, reacts without respect and the husband, not feeling respected, reacts without love – can be broken by giving heed to Paul’s admonition: “husband, love your wife” and “wife, reverence your husband.” And so, the vicious cycle can give place to strengthened unity.
This unity, this concept of husband and wife becoming “one flesh” is of such importance that is repeated at least four times in the Bible and provides a metaphor for the love relationship between Christ and His Bride. Portrayed as the bridegroom in this relationship, the Lord reveals Himself to be faithful, loving and committed to a covenant union with His Church. In preparing this sermon in the months prior to flying to Italy, I was personally challenged to be a better husband and express to my wife in tangible ways the sacrificial love of Christ that she has consistently shown towards me.
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. Genesis 2:24