In 2013 I had the privilege to preach my first wedding sermon. For my preparation I didn’t spend much time looking online at sample sermons. My initial Internet searches yielded mostly sentimental froth and wordy collections of benign, man-centered platitudes. So, I decided to write an address from scratch, based on what I saw in Scripture and what I believed was most important to say to a couple about to enter into an unbreakable marriage covenant.
Since 2013, I have used this address for other weddings with appropriate modifications and additions. The feedback has been generally positive, and a few people have even requested the manuscript. I am providing the full text here in order to help you the next time you need to craft a wedding sermon. Feel free to take as much or as little from this sermon as you like. No attribution is necessary.
We are gathered together today to celebrate and witness a covenant ceremony. Scott and Miranda are getting married. But there is far more going on today than just the recitation of some vows, and the signing of a marriage license. Scott and Miranda are establishing a covenant between themselves before God and before the community of believers. (And because this is a covenant made before the community of believers, I will have a few words for you in a little bit.)
But at its core, this covenant is a covenant of faithfulness. It is an unbreakable commitment to each other to remain undivided in their affection for one another and to remain exclusive in their sexual fidelity toward one another. It is a commitment to love each other not only the other is most lovable, but even when the other is quite unlovely. It is a commitment to serve the other person for their joy and with their interests in first in mind. But ultimately it is a commitment to glorify God by living in a “married way” worthy of the gospel.
And God calls you to glorify him in a particular way through marriage. This means that whether or not you glorify God in your marriage hinges on each of you fulfilling the roles and responsibilities that God has laid out in his Word. God is wise, and he is good, and he has designed marriage in such a way that he receives the most glory and you receive the most joy and satisfaction when and only when you are living according to these specific roles and responsibilities. And God provides these roles and responsibilities throughout the Scripture, but most explicitly in Ephesians 5:21-33. It is to this passage we now look.
But I do not want to start at the beginning of the passage, I want to first look at verses 31-32. God’s Word says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” After describing in some detail what the relationship between the man and the woman is supposed to look like, Paul quotes Moses in Genesis 2:24.
What do we see in Genesis chapter 2? After Adam looked at all the animals and did not find a helper suitable for him, God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, took out one of his ribs, and fashioned a woman from this rib. After Adam wakes up and catches a glimpse of his new wife, he says, “This at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Adam had found a helper that was suitable for him. She complimented him perfectly. The man and woman fit together.
But if this is all there was—if this is all there was to marriage—it would seem like something is missing. Is there a deeper meaning to marriage? Indeed there is. And that is what Paul is saying in Ephesians 5:31-32: God so designed marriage that it would be a reflection of his Son’s relationship to his Church. God has designed marriage that it would be an earthly picture of a heavenly reality. So marriage is serious business. Why? Because if a married couple chooses to disregard God’s instruction and if they seek to live their according to their own wisdom, the picture that others will see of Christ and his Church will become distorted; it will be unclear. Even worse: the picture will be untrue. What does Christ’s relationship with his Church look like? Scott and Miranda, you will be showing the world what this relationship looks like.
Paul starts in verse 22 with his instruction to the wife, so I will start there, but I won’t be there long, because guess what Scott, Miranda gets three verses and you get eight verses. I will come back to this point but the burden of the health and happiness and holiness and fruitfulness of your marriage lies upon you, Scott.
Verse 22 says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” The first instruction for your Miranda, is an instruction to submit to your husband. What does this mean? The word submission when applied to women is controversial in this day and age, isn’t it? Most of the time it is controversial because it is not rightly understood. God’s call to the wife here is not to become a slave or her husband’s servant. It is not a call to thoughtlessly do whatever the husband says. It is simply a call to follow your husband’s leadership.
In his good design, God has made the man to be the leader of the home. He is the one who sets the vision for the family, making sure that Christ remains at the center of the family; he bears the burden of making difficult decisions that affect the family. The wife is to gladly respond to this leadership. Why? The next two verses tell us: “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.”
Miranda, your submission to Scott is not arbitrary. It is a reflection of the church’s submission to Jesus. And how does the church submit to Jesus? By gladly following and trusting His leadership. But here’s an important point that you both need to remember. Scott is not Jesus. Scott is a sinner, and his leadership will not be perfect. In fact, if Scott ever attempts to lead you into sin, your submission to Jesus overrules your submission to Scott.
But there is also another problem. Not only is Scott a sinner, but so are you, Miranda. Although I’m sure both of you would agree that Scott is a bigger sinner than you are. Remember when we talked about Genesis 2:24? If we would have read a little further, we would have read how Adam and Eve fell; they disobeyed God’s command to not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But they did eat, and as a result, they became sinners by nature.
At the core of their being they now had a tendency to disobey God and go against his design. We are told in Genesis 3:16 that this means that for the woman, a tendency in your marriage will be to rule over your husband; to usurp his authority and to take his place. This means that for you, Miranda, there will be a temptation to usurp Scott’s leadership, to take over. When this happens, neither of you will be happy or satisfied for long. But by God’s grace, you can grow into a wife who not only follows your husband’s leadership, but encourages it.
But Scott, this means that you must be the kind of man that Miranda will be happy to follow. And that is why Paul gives twice as much space in this passage to exhort the husbands. Scripture says, “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 her without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might holy and without blemish.”
Scott, you are called to love your wife like Christ loved his church. And how did Christ love his church? He laid down his life for her. He died for her. He gave everything for her eternal good. Scott, this means that you must die. You must die daily. You must die to selfishness, to fear, to laziness, to getting your own way. You must win Miranda’s confidence and trust by always speaking the truth, by protecting her purity, by making good decisions—and good second decisions when the first one is foolish. It means that you must also die to—and this is very important—to passivity.
Just as we saw in Genesis 3 that the wife’s temptation will be to usurp the husband’s leadership role, so it will be your temptation to become passive and to neglect to lead. So you must die to the temptation to live in your marriage passively. This means that you must actively seek to set the tone for the family, to provide for your family, to instruct your children (if the Lord blesses) in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and, as verses 26-27 say in Ephesians 5, you must actively pursue your wife’s sanctification. You must guard her from her spiritual enemies, you must go to battle for her soul, and you must seek to wash her in the pure water of the Word of God.
And if we might go back to the garden of Eden one more time: When Adam and Eve sinned, do you know God came to first? It was Adam. It may have been Eve who ate the fruit first, but it was Adam who was held responsible for the welfare of the family. This means that if there are problems in the family—even problems caused by Miranda herself—God holds you responsible to seek solutions to the problems and seek reconciliation when there is a fight or an argument. This doesn’t mean that Miranda isn’t supposed to seek reconciliation; it means that Scott, God holds you responsible to initiate reconciliation—even if it was Miranda’s fault.
Verse 28 also tells you Scott that you must nourish and cherish Miranda as if she was your own body. How do you care for your own body, Scott? You feed it, you provide for it, you clean it, you protect it. This you must do for Miranda. Why? Because she is your own body. Verse 31, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
In God’s design, he intends for you two to live together in spiritual, emotional, and sexual unity. Scott, Miranda’s joy is now your joy. Miranda, Scott’s joy is now your joy. Scott, Miranda’s pain will now be felt by you. And likewise with you, Miranda. This also means that your relationship now has priority over every other relationship. That is why Genesis 2:24 tells the couple that they must leave the closest relationship they have and cleave to one another. This doesn’t mean you don’t continue to honor your parents, but it does mean that your relationship with them, after today, has changed. Scott, your relationship with Miranda now is your highest priority. Miranda, your relationship with Scott is your highest priority.
But as I mentioned a few minutes ago, because this is a covenant ceremony, and because Scott and Miranda belong to this body of believers at 9th and O Baptist Church, I have a few words for all of you. One of the metaphors used in Scripture to describe the church is that of “body.” The church is a body. That means that we are all a part of the greater whole. This means that we are also responsible for one another. The answer to that infamous question posed by Cain several thousand years ago, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is yes! Church, it is your responsibility to help Scott and Miranda glorify God by fulfilling their roles as husband and wife. It is your responsibility to help Scott and Miranda remain faithful to each other and to love each other.
This means that you must continue to cultivate relationship with each of them and get into their lives. This means you must be ready to rebuke them, encourage them, exhort them, admonish them, and love them; to tell them what they don’t want to hear when they really need to hear it. Those who are older, come alongside Scott and Miranda and offer wisdom and advice and counsel. They can’t do it alone. They were never meant to.
Scott and Miranda, I am very happy for you today. I look forward to seeing how the Lord uses you and continues to work in your life as you glorify him as a married couple. But remember this, as the old saint John Newton quipped when he was and old man. “I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior.” You two are great sinners, and your sin will cause problems in your marriage. But Christ is a great Savior, and he loves you and he has forgiven you of all your sin—even the sin you will commit in your marriage. I encourage you to always look to Christ, confess your sins, and trust in his death on the cross for your right standing with God. Then extend that same forgiveness to each other—and learn to extend it over and over and over. As you do this, you will find great peace and great enjoyment of one another. Let’s pray.