Marriage and Christian Joy


Review

  1. The establishment of marriage and the creation of man and
    woman for marriage.
  2. Celebratory Speech as the primary means of the practice of
    married love.
  3. The Headship of the man in marriage and the submission of
    wives as realities of nature, and so divine callings, that are to be sanctified
    and practiced in a Christ-like way, to the mutual pleasure and blessing of man and
    woman.
  4. The endemic temptations of married life: the peculiar
    temptations of men and women in marriage and where, so often, marriages go
    wrong.
  5. Then we considered the biblical data concerning the proper
    choice of a spouse, and were reminded that as one old father said,
    “Repentance mends all things but an ill-made marriage”, on
    the one hand, and, on the other, “He that marrieth a prudent
    godly woman is sure to have the Lord Himself for his
    father-in-law.” [Fraser of Brea, Memoir, 264, 262]
  6. Then, over two weeks, we considered marriage as a sexual
    union and as the divinely ordained context for sexual pleasure and
    fulfillment.
  7. We then treated marriage as a primary sphere of life in
    which Christians are to work out their salvation, experience the
    grace of God, and serve the Lord.
  8. And, finally, last week, we considered the challenge posed
    to marriage by the emergence of the two career family. Someone has said that
    the Bible begins with a marriage and ends with a marriage (Rev.
    19) and that marriage is one of the chief ways in which God
    reveals himself, his love, and his salvation to the world.
    Well, if that is so, no wonder the Devil attacks marriage
    – to spoil the analogy and ruin the effect of the
    comparison between marriage and Christ’s love for his
    bride.

Some of you have spoken to me of your hopes that I would
address this subject or that. I have tried to cover what I feel
are the subjects the Bible itself directly addresses in its
teaching concerning marriage and, in particular, the subjects
that are central to the Bible’s picture of a godly married
life. Insofar as marriage is so integral to the life of a
Christian man and woman almost any subject could be discussed in
relation to marriage, but we must make an end somewhere. Mr.
Pfefferle is at the end of the Trinity and I must be at the end
of marriage!

But I wanted to end on one particular note. In one respect it
is the recapitulation of all I have said so far, but it is also a
point worth mentioning for itself. I am speaking of

Marriage and Christian Joy

In the marriage service we read that “God has established and
sanctified marriage for the welfare and happiness of mankind.” It
is of that “happiness” that marriage is to convey to people that
I want to speak in concluding our series of studies.

One scholar has said this about joy’s place in the
Christian life.

“It is astonishing, and certainly does not need to be
verified by quotations, how many references there are in the
Old and New Testament to delight, joy, bliss, exultation,
merry-making and rejoicing, and how emphatically these are
demanded from the Book of Psalms to the Epistle to the
Philippians.” [K. Barth, CD, III, 4, 375]

I have told you before that over the mantel of Nathaniel
Ward’s (1578-1652) home in Ipswich a former occupant is
said to have carved three words representing the sum of Puritan
ethics: sobriety, justice, and piety. Ward had a fourth word
added when he moved in: laughter. And is this not right. And was
not Lewis right to say that “It is a Christian duty, as you know,
for everyone to be as happy as he can!” [A Severe Mercy,
189]

After all, the bible makes joy an essential part of the true
and faithful response of the believing heart to the gospel.

  1. In Deut. 28:47 we hear the Lord threatening curses upon his
    people if they “did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and
    gladly in the time of prosperity.”
  2. When the Lord sets out to describe the true character of
    the godly, he begins by saying “Happy are the poor in
    spirit…happy are the meek…happy are they who
    hunger and thirst for righteousness…”
  3. In John 16:22 he promises his people that when the Holy
    Spirit comes the joy of the disciples will be complete and that
    no one will take it from them.
  4. In the epistles of Paul we read that the kingdom of God is
    not eating and drinking but “joy in the Holy Spirit” and are
    commanded to “rejoice in the Lord always” and Peter speaks of a
    “joy unspeakable and full of glory” that is a mark of Christian
    life and experience.

We have a certain fear, in this day and age, that making too
much of personal happiness will play into the hands of the
self-serving and self-adoring spirit of our day and turn the
Christian life into the pursuit, not of God’s glory, but of
one’s own happiness and pleasure and fulfillment. We must
certainly take care here to be fully biblical and serious in our
consideration of Christian joy.

But, it is undeniably true, as Jonathan Edwards put it,

“Jesus knew that all mankind were in the pursuit of
happiness. He has directed them in the true way to it, and He
tells them what they must become in order to be blessed and
happy.”

Lloyd Jones explains it this way.

“Happiness is the great question confronting mankind. The
whole world is longing for happiness and it is tragic to
observe the ways in which people are seeking it. The vast
majority are, alas, are doing so in a way that is bound to
produce misery.” [Sermon on the Mount, I, 32]

“Man is a slave to that by which he wishes to find happiness.”
So said Augustine [Of the True Religion, 69]. Jesus agreed
and, rather than telling people that they shouldn’t worry
about happiness or that they should seek other things first, he
tells them how to find true and lasting happiness.

Now, obviously, Christian joy is a theological joy, it is
rooted in our knowledge of God, in the experience of
Christ’s love, in the forgiveness of our sins and in the
prospect of eternal life in a world of joy. But that does not
mean that this joy cannot be and is not to be fostered and
cultivated and preserved and expressed in a great many different
ways or experienced in many different dimensions of life.

Jesus, for example, compares the joy he grants his disciples
to the joy of a mother who has given birth to a child or the joy
of a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field. There is joy in
all sorts of things in life. But, for a Christian all those
things are from God and to be enjoyed in the Lord. Because we
live and move and have our being in God, because whatever we do
we are to do to the glory of God, joy should be everywhere in a
Christian’s life and can be experienced everywhere. And,
because joy is our inheritance as the children of God, joy is
something that can be practiced anywhere in life.

Take, for example, the account of Ezra reading the law of God
to the people on the Feast of Trumpets in Nehemiah 8. You
remember what happened. The people wept as they heard God’s
law read and then preached to them, because it was clear to them
that they had not lived according to this law, they had betrayed
it. Now you might have expected Nehemiah and Ezra to respond to
this evident spirit of repentance with enthusiasm and try to
build on it and deepen it. But, instead, Nehemiah told them to
stop mourning and weeping. “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet
drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This
day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord
is your strength.” And the people did as they were told and went
away to eat and drink, to send portions of food to the needy and
to celebrate with great joy.

I take away from an account like that, among other things, the
truths that joy is to be practiced, that it can always be
practiced by Christians – even in times and situations when
it might be thought beyond the grasp – and that its
practice is fundamental to a strong and fruitful Christian life.
We need joy; we need lots of it. It is the counterpoise to the
dreariness of sin, it is the evidence of a good creation and a
great salvation. And whatever means may be employed to foster it
in our lives ought to be exploited to the full. Hence the number
of feasts in the Bible – banquets with good food and drink
and a convivial spirit. This is why the celebration of Christmas
is such a Christian thing and serves such a Christian
purpose.

Well, all of this being said, we have now to look at
marriage and notice once more how the Bible connects married love
and life with joy
.

  1. We return to the first expression of married love in the
    Bible, Adam’s exclamation over Eve when first she was
    created for him, and we hear joy in those exuberant and excited
    expressions he used there.
  2. Or, take the father’s wish for his son, in Prov.
    5:18, that his son might marry and “rejoice in the wife of his
    youth.” That is a wonderful phrase. He might have used many
    other terms – “may you find fulfillment”; “may you be
    satisfied with”; etc. – but he used the word “rejoice”
    – the ordinary word for “rejoice”; the word used, e.g. at
    Ps. 122:1: “I rejoiced when they said to me, let us go to the
    house of the Lord.”
  3. Or the Song of Songs, the Bible’s own celebration of
    wedded love. The poems are shot through with joy. The wedding,
    we read in 3:11, is “the day his heart rejoiced.” We are
    reminded of Ps. 19:5: “In the heavens he has pitched a tent for
    the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his
    pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.”
    Or, Jer. 62:5: “As a young man marries a maiden, so will your
    sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over a bride, so will
    your God rejoice over you.”

This does not surprise us. We know the joy of love. Weddings
are regularly among the happiest events in the ordinary course of
human life. But, then, we must face the implications of this
connection between marriage and married love and joy
. God
gave us marriage, as the service says, to make us happy! We are
therefore to be happy in our marriages. Marriage is one of those
ways, and one of the most important ways, more important than
feasts, for example – for marriage is our life every day
– for us to cultivate, deepen, preserve, and practice our
joy.

I want all of you to be happy, I want you to be very happy!
Happy in the pure, honest, and deep way in which Christians are
to be and can be happy. We need that happiness for the spiritual
strength it imparts to us – it is far easier to undertake
almost any duty or to bear almost any burden when one is really
happy – and for the recommendation of the gospel that the
happiness of Christians is to the world. And a happy marriage is
a very important part of that happiness of life, so great a part
of life as marriage is and so intimately connected to all the
rest of our lives as marriage is.

Do you remember the Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon,
recorded for us in 1 Kings 10?

She came with her great caravan to see for herself if what she
had heard about Israel’s great king were true. And, when
she had seen Solomon’s court and capital and spoken with
him and tested him with questions, she said,

“The report I heard in my own country about your
achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe
these things until I cam and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not
even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far
exceeded the report I heard” And then she said this. “How
happy your men must be! How happy your officials, who
continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!
” [vv.
7-8]

Well, that is the idea. To have women, especially unsaved
women, say to our wives, after seeing the way they are loved by
their husbands, to hear the husbands celebrate their wives in
their speech, “How happy you must be to have such a husband, such
a marriage!” And men to say the same to our men concerning their
wives and their marriages. How happy you must be!

Lloyd Jones put it this way in a sermon on joy in the
Christian life [cited Murray, vol. 2, 36].

“Let us in our married relationships show how Christ binds
together two persons in holy love…let us so live in this
relationship that people of the world looking at us shall say,
‘Would to God we could live like that; would to God we
were as happy as they are…’”

And, if we are Christians together in a marriage – man
and woman – we cannot say that it ought not to be so; we
cannot say that it cannot be so. We know that God created us for
marriage and for one another. We know there is nothing wrong with
marriage itself, God made it. If there is a problem, it has to be
with us. We know what God expects and requires of us, both of
husbands and of wives. We know what it means to love, appreciate,
and celebrate one another with our speech and to cultivate the
erotic dimension of married love. We know that the commandments
of God are not burdensome. We know that in keeping the
commandments of God there is a great reward and that he who loses
his life – to love his wife as she must be loved –
will gain his own life – in the joy and pleasure and
satisfaction of a very happy marriage. Surely, it takes two to
tango and one spouse cannot make up for the disinterest or
unfaithfulness of the other. But, I hope I am speaking by and
large to Christian men and women who equally feel the obligations
of faithfulness to God in their marriage, to love and make happy
the spouse God gave to him or to her.

Sooner or later we must face the implications of all of this
material, and you men and you husbands must face it in
particular, and put the question directly: how happy am I and how
happy is my wife? How happy, how delightful is our marriage? How
much is my marriage an engine of joy in my life and in the life
of my wife?

Or, put it backwards and ask yourself if you could say this
about your marriage as James Fraser of Brea said it about
his.

“…the Lord showed His mercy to me, in giving me a
comfortable and suitable yokefellow, who did me good and not
evil all the days of her life. In her did I behold as in a
glass the Lord’s love to me, by her were the sorrows of
my pilgrimage many times sweetened, and she made me frequently
forget my sorrows and griefs, and was the greatest tentation
to me of saying, ‘It is good for me to be
here;’
so that I can seal to the truth of that,
‘An inheritance is from the fathers, but a good prudent
wife is from the Lord, and whoso findeth her obtaineth favour
of the Lord.’”

Can you say that your wife is your greatest temptation to you,
in that you so delight in her love that you fear you want to
leave this world and be with the Lord less than you should. I am
happy to tell you that I am subject to that temptation, and of
the temptations of this life, that is about the happiest and the
best and the purest of all temptations! I think God is quite
happy to have his people struggle with the temptation to desire
heaven less because they are so delighted with the love of their
wives and get such pure pleasure out of their marriages.

So, husbands and wives, you seek one another’s
happiness. I know, I can guarantee you that you are not as happy
in love as you can be! If you are going to push the envelope
anywhere in your life, why not there? See how happy in love you
can become, what perfect pleasure and joy you can get from your
marriage, before the Lord takes one of you home to himself. There
is a goal to set for life. You men, especially, make it the goal
of your life to see how happy you can make your wife, how much
sexual pleasure you can learn to give her, how much romantic fire
you can put into your love, much pure fun you can find in living
with her, and how much glory you can give to God by demonstrating
how good, how kind, how wise he was to make marriage and men and
women for marriage and to order married life as he did in his
Word.

Luther once said,

“According to the Word of God, there is no more precious
treasure on earth than that of holy marriage. God’s
highest gift is a pious, amiable, God-fearing and domestic
wife, with whom you may live in harmony, to whom you may
entrust all you have, indeed, your body and your very life, and
with whom you may bear children.” [Cited in German in Schaff,
Church History, vol. viii, 417n]

Now, you husbands, prove the great Reformer true!

And if you do, my brothers, your lot may be like that of the
great Jonathan Edwards who, when he came to die, had breath for
one last word to the three at his bedside – his daughters
Lucy and Esther and his doctor, a Dr. Shippen, the one who had
administered the small-pox vaccination from which he died. We
expect that with but breath to say one thing more, a man of the
stature of Edwards would say something memorable about the grace
of God, or the love of Christ, or the righteousness that was his
by faith. And, in a way he did. But he gave witness to those
things in an entirely different way.

“Give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her that the
uncommon union which has so long subsisted between us has been
of such a nature as I trust is spiritual and therefore will
continue forever.”

We will, you and I, have done well by the Lord, the giver of
every good gift and the one who desires that husbands and wives
love one another and delight in one another deeply, if a goodly
number of us think to say such a thing when we are about to leave
the world!