Marriage: A Lifelong Giving of Each Other for Each Other

1 Corinthians 13:1-8a

You may recall (and as I mentioned earlier in the Marriage Preface; the introduction), that Jesus was himself a guest at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. And it was here – when they ran out of wine – that Jesus performed his first miracle and changed six jars of ordinary looking water, used for ceremonial washing, into the best choice wine!

In this miracle Jesus provided what was lacking. He brought fullness where there had been emptiness, joy where there had been disappointment and something internal (wine for consumption) from that which had been external (washing up water). The substance, the make-up, the dynamic changed: what was once water became the best wine they had ever drunk! What made the difference? Jesus did. And it’s the same in a marriage: it’s been well said that ‘wise are the couple who invite Jesus to their wedding, and into their marriage.’

There is a profound mystery when God brings two people together in holy matrimony. Do you know what holy means? Holy means separated; set apart, sacred, blessed. Just as the water was changed into something different – wine – so the two are changed to become one, and what once was is now different; changed forever. When [NAME and NAME] arrived at church a little while ago they were 1 + 1 = 2, but now as they begin their new married life together they are 1 x 1 = 1. They are joined in holy wedlock.

And what wonderful words, [NAME and NAME], you’ve chosen for the Bible reading (from 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a) – familiar to some and much loved at weddings because they speak of love – and today your love for each other, and your happiness together is very evident. But what exactly is love? How might we define it? Some primary school children were asked to describe what love is… I thought you might appreciate one or two of their responses:

  • One little girl said, “When my grandma got arthritis she couldn’t bend over to paint her toenails anymore. So my granddad does it for her now all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s what love is.”
  • Elaina, age 5, said, “Love is when mummy gives daddy the best piece of chicken!” (I like that one!)
  • And my favourite: Carrie, age 5, said, “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on aftershave and they go out and smell each other!”

Now I don’t pretend to be the world’s greatest expert on marriage but not so long ago my wife said I was a model husband. I thought that was a compliment until I looked up in the dictionary and discovered that a model is a small imitation of the real thing!

We laugh … and laughter itself is a great ingredient for a healthy marriage. But over for the next few minutes I want us to think about what marriage means in a Christian context and what love is; in particular, I want us to think about two qualities that characterise a healthy marriage; two defining virtues at the very heart of marriage:

Firstly, at the heart of marriage is love characterised by forgiveness

The Bible tells us, “God is love,” (1 John 4:8) or to put it another way: Love is what God is like. So when we ‘love’ we are being like God, which is the way God intended it to be. We are meant to love Him, as He loves us, and we are meant to also love one other… but things have gone wrong, haven’t they? And that’s why we need forgiveness.

So how might we define love? An excellent definition is found in the marriage ceremony itself, where a moment ago I asked the bride and groom, ‘Will you love, comfort, honour and protect (each other) and be faithful as long as you both shall live? Do you take (each other) to have and to hold, from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do you part?’ – In the marriage ceremony love is expressed as a lifelong giving of each other for each other. It is sacrificial love; it is other person-centred.

Remarkably similar to our relationship with God: what it’s meant to be like… that too is a rather like the marriage ceremony. You see, at the heart of the Christian message is love and forgiveness; or as the Bible puts it, ‘God so loved the world [you and me] He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16) – In God giving up his Son, whoever believes in him is forgiven and blessed both now and for all eternity: Again it’s like the marriage ceremony, where God gives his Son in marriage and says to us…

“Beloved, do you take this Saviour?”
“I will” (is the response that God wants to hear)
“And Saviour, do you take this beloved?”
“I will,” (says Jesus… with his arms stretched out wide open!)

At the heart of the Christian message, and at the heart of marriage, is love characterised by forgiveness. The truth is, sometimes in life and in marriage we get things wrong and we do things or say things that aren’t kind, or that are selfish and unloving. And because we sometimes get things wrong – in order for those wrongs to be dealt with – for the hurt to be healed and the relationship restored, there needs to be forgiveness. The five essential words for a healthy marriage are “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” The poet, Ogden Nash, put it like this:

To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up!

On the subject of forgiveness, the Bible says, “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Good advice, and remember this also, in marriage the price of forgiveness is always less than the price of unforgiveness.

Secondly, at the heart of marriage is love characterised by selfless sacrifice

Real love is sacrificial love; it is other person-centred. The most loving act and the purest demonstration of selfless sacrificial love in all of eternity, is when Jesus gave himself – his body on the cross – in our place so that we could be forgiven and share in God’s kingdom. Selfless, sacrificial love: Christ gave himself, literally all of himself, for our sake. Similar in some ways, again, to the marriage ceremony: in the giving of rings, the bridegroom and bride say, “With my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

At the heart of the Christian message and at the heart of marriage is love characterised by selfless sacrifice, the giving of one for the other.

And that’s not easy… in fact it’s really hard work sometimes! Those of us who are, or have been, married know how challenging it is to love in a selfless sacrificial way like this. Happy marriages are not accidents. They are the result of commitment, love, mutual understanding, sacrifice and hard work. Marriage has to be worked at and invested in… but the rewards are so very worthwhile. Someone rightly said, “Marriage is like a good retirement plan. As long as you keep the deposits flowing, the account grows. The marriage develops like compound interest over time. Small investments of love and nurture reap great dividends in relational happiness.”

That means sacrifice, hard work, faithfulness and investing in marriage… like watering your garden to make it grow. As marriage-enrichment advice wisely says: “The grass is not greener over that side of the fence. The grass is not greener over this side of the fence. The grass is greener where you water it!”

[NAME and NAME], may your marriage be characterised by this kind of forgiving and sacrificial love for each other; the kind the Bible reading from Corinthians says… “Always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, and never fails.”

God bless you both.



(For further resources see Marriage)