“Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him.” (Ps. 45:10-11)
As you know, there’s a great deal in the Bible that flies directly in the face of modern sensibilities. But the further we get from the word of God, the further we get from the source of life, beauty, goodness, and joy. You can’t say you just want to be happy and you want to get as far away from the source of all happiness as possible. You can’t say you just want to live and let live and then studiously avoid doing what the source of all Life says. And this is particularly important when it comes to the question of marriage. What is marriage? The union of one man and one woman, the Bible says. And then because we live in the world we live in, we also have to go on and ask: What is a man and what is woman?
On the other hand, it won’t do to merely react to whatever the world is doing and just do the opposite. The world is insane with sin, and that means rebellion is never consistent, never completely rational. So you can’t just do the opposite of the world. The world is all over the map, but we must students of the map, the Word, disciples of Jesus, diligent listeners and obedient servants. Some of the things Jesus instructs us to do will appear strange and foreign to the world around us, and some of the things Jesus instructs us to do will appear strange and foreign to some within the church who have merely been keeping up moralistic appearances and traditions, rather than actually following Jesus.
So what does the Bible teach? In the beginning God said that a man would leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two would become one flesh (Gen. 2:24). This same verse is quoted by Paul in Ephesians 5:31, and Paul says that it was actually, in the first instance, referring to Christ and the church. More on that in a moment. Here in Psalm 45, we are told that a woman is also leaving her family: “forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty” (Ps. 45:10).
In the history of humanity, societies have veered between tribalism and individualism. For most of history, tribalism was the greater temptation, but individualism is the clear ditch in our day, though there are still various sorts of tribes vying for our loyalties – sports teams and political parties. But the Bible teaches that parents must be honored and they must be left. Adult sons and daughters leave their parents, and they continue to honor them as they do so. In fact, parental authority includes the right to command adult children to obey God’s word and keep covenant with God. In Genesis 18, God specifically values Abraham’s input on Sodom and Gomorrah because Abraham will command his children and his household to keep the way of the Lord (Gen. 18:19). Likewise, at the end of Moses’ life, when Moses was around 120 years old, he commanded all of Israel to command their children, that they may be careful to do all the words of the law (Dt. 32:46). There were multiple generations represented in that assembly, and Moses was not just insisting that Israel have a really robust Sunday School program.
At the same time, the Bible clearly teaches that children grow up and leave their families and new families are created, specifically by marriage. Children are to honor their fathers and mothers, and fathers and mothers are to honor the creation of new family units. This is not tribalism and this is not radical individualism. This is the doctrine of the Christian family, where there is ongoing love and loyalty and honor while there are also clear distinctions made between families and not a massive clan with a chieftain at the top.
This is related to the way God made the world in general. One of the great lies of modernity is that you must find yourself, defend yourself, protect yourself, look out for yourself or else you’ll lose yourself. But Jesus taught just the opposite. He taught His disciples that greatness is found in serving. Lose your life and you will find it. Lay your life down in Christ, and it will always come back to you. This means that all of life actually comes from death. Every good thing is the result of sacrifice. A farmer tills the earth, plants seeds, waters diligently, and in a million tiny deaths, bleeds his life into the earth, and then, as if by some magic, green sprouts and covers a summer hillside. Carpenters, mechanics, soldiers, writers, teachers, parents – we are all called to do this. We pour out our days, our thoughts, our strength, our tears, our blood and sweat, and it all either means something or it doesn’t. Either God sees it and blesses it, or else if there’s no god, then we’re left grasping at sand trying to make it mean something.
Now, I want to make a couple of applications to the specific calling of men and women and to a husband and wife in particular. A man is specifically called to die to himself by initiating, giving, leading, and defending. A woman is specifically called to die to herself by receiving, glorifying, following, and bowing. Both of these require strength, faith, and courage, but they necessarily take on different shapes. The man must exercise faith in giving – not knowing what will result in what he gives. He must lead – not knowing how others will respond. A woman must exercise faith in receiving – not knowing what she will be given. She must be prepared to glorify – not knowing what material she’ll be using. The sins of men and women largely fall out from failures to live by faith here. Men are tempted to micromanage what happens to their gifts after they are given, but that is tampering with the gift. Or out of frustration with what seems to be happening with their gifts, they go limp and apathetic, deciding that their giving doesn’t really matter, which is just to say that they only give for themselves. But this is selfish and harsh because the diligent sacrifice of men is the raw material of life for the world. Women are tempted to micromanage what is given. They are worried and fearful that they will be given poor materials to work with, so they can tend to nag and critique in the name of being helpful. But this is like a dripping faucet and rottenness to the bones of families. So a man must die to himself by giving sacrificially, not knowing what will become of his many deaths. And often it will not look like what you have spent matches what is coming. And a woman must die to herself not knowing what she will be given today, tomorrow, or next year. And often she will be given something other than what she thought was coming, and she is called to glorify it anyway.
So Caleb, this has already been your calling as a man for many years, but now today you are promising to die in this way for Veronica for the rest of your life. The only way you can give like this is by the power of the Spirit of Jesus working inside of you. In the face of massive injustice and cruelty Jesus kept his eyes fixed on the joy that was before Him – that is the goal of winning His bride, the Christian Church. He left His Father to win His bride. He endured shame and insults and pain by resting in the certain knowledge that He was still in the hands of His faithful Father because He was walking obediently in submission to His commands. He knew His Father always judges justly. Caleb, you will only be able to love Veronica faithfully, serving her, leading her, cherishing her, teaching her if you first understand that this is what Christ has done for you. Christ has been patient with your dullness. Christ has been gracious with your sins. Christ has sought you out when you were wandering. Christ is faithful to you to the end. My charge to you is to continually seek Christ and in so doing learn what it means to be a husband. Work hard, give, bleed, cry, pray, lead, defend, cherish – not because you are in control of the outcomes but precisely because you are not, because you are a man. Do not grow weary in doing good. Do not grow weary when you fail, when you are misunderstood, when your efforts do not seem to be making a difference. Live day by day in faith obeying God, believing that no good thing will go to waste because we serve the God of resurrection.
Veronica, you have already been practicing womanhood for many years. But today you are promising to be Caleb’s woman, to die for him as a woman, for the rest of your life. This means that you are being called to receive his love, his leading, his labors, his efforts and rejoice in them, honor them, and glorify them. In Psalm 45 it says, “… and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him.” In our PC culture, if you say this sort of thing out loud anymore, the shrieks and howls of oppression and misogyny will come faster than you can say Donald Trump. But in the Bible submission and beauty go together, submission and feminine strength go together. If you learn to dance, you will find that a strong man is a delight to dance with but an insecure man, a soft man is a real bore. But the solution to this problem is not for the woman to make up for her man’s softness. The solution is for the woman to wait for her man to lead. She may encourage him, pray for him, cheer him on, but she must not take his place, even when he is failing, even when you think you could help him. Yes, you must help him, you are his Eve, but you must help him be a man. And you do this by bowing to him as your lord. You do this by being a woman. And you can only do this as you fully and freely submit yourself to Jesus Christ. A man never stands so straight and tall as when a godly women sincerely looks up to him. And a woman never looks so lovely. So Veronica, choose this day to bow to your husband. Let him be your lord and be his wise and glorious lady, and he will desire your beauty. Take what he gives and make it sing, make it lovely, make it shine, make it taste good, make it look good, turn it into dinner, turn it into children, turn it into a home. And may you be the mother of thousands and may your descendants posses the gates of our enemies.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.