Must ♥ Weddings

I love weddings.

Kampong Kapor Methodist Church Church Wedding
This comes as a surprise even to me, since I’ve done so many that these once-in-a-lifetime celebrations have become routine – the process, the emotions, the things people say and do that are special for the bride and groom, seem to me to be indistinguishable one wedding to the next.

Bridal Car "Just Married"
The costumes people dress up in – usually a white gown with train for the bride and some sort of two or three-piece suit for the groom, and matchy-matchy outfits for the bestman, bridesmaid(s), ring-bearer, flowergirl(s) are something to look at, as are the flower arrangements in the church building and the decorations on the bridal vehicle.

Kueh Pie Tee, Wedding Reception
Sometimes the food at the wedding reception is exciting enough to warrant a photo or two.

1920s New York Themed Wedding Dinner 1920s New York Themed Wedding Dinner
And if guests* at the wedding dinner accede to the bride’s request to costume-up according to theme (say, 1920s New York), there will be interesting visuals in the evening.

The speeches, toasts and “special items” can be entertaining and touching. At this wedding, we had a beautiful sensitive performance of the Arioso from J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 156 on a violin accompanied by pipe organ in the morning, then a commendable pounding of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on a grand at dinner.

Table Flower Arrangements at Wedding Dinner Table Flower Arrangements at Wedding Dinner
Table Flower Arrangements at Wedding Dinner Table Flower Arrangements at Wedding Dinner
The table centerpiece floral arrangements in the St. Regis Singapore ballroom were dramatic and gorgeous,

Wedding Singer and Band
the wedding singer Joanna Dong and band were more than competent,

Wedding Dinner, St. Regis Singapore Wedding Dinner, St. Regis Singapore
Wedding Dinner, St. Regis Singapore Wedding Dinner, St. Regis Singapore
Wedding Dinner, St. Regis Singapore Wedding Dinner, St. Regis Singapore
Wedding Dinner, St. Regis Singapore Wedding Dinner, St. Regis Singapore
Wedding Dinner, St. Regis Singapore
and the food was excellent – chosen to reflect the couple’s cultural roots.

What is marriage?
Isn’t marriage merely a out-of-date social construct, an artifact brandished about by the cultural conservatives?

In his article on Christianity and Sexuality, Christopher Ash points out:

marriage is a creation ordinance, a way of life rooted in the way the world is and the way human beings are.

If God created the world, and if he determined the purpose for his created things and how they fit together, then the order of such things, as revealed to us in the Bible, is a creation ordinance that applies to all – whether believer or non-believer. In much the same way, the “law” of gravity applies to all, whether they believe it exists or not.

What then does Scripture mean by marriage?

When Jesus and Paul spoke about marriage, they referred back to Genesis 2:24 as a foundational indication of the Creator’s definition: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5; Ephesians 5:31). There are presumably many ways in which God could have chosen to create humankind, but this definition implies that he created us as sexual beings whose sexuality is to be expressed only in the exclusive, permanent, social, and sexual union of one man with one woman, publicly pledged and recognized by society in what we call marriage.

Another way in which the Bible speaks of this is by calling marriage a covenant to which God is witness (Proverbs 2:17; Malachi 2:14). When a man and woman marry, God is always watching and listening (whether or not it is a church wedding), and he will hold each accountable before him for keeping their wedding promises.

Why get married? What is the purpose of marriage?

1. Sex within marriage for the purpose of procreation

Why did God make us like this? In the context of Genesis 1, humans are made to rule a world that is already teeming with living creatures, a world that is abundantly fecund, but that will be out of control unless it is ruled. How may we fulfill this task? We also, like the sub- human living creatures, need to “be fruitful and multiply” so that there will be sufficient human beings to exercise responsible dominion. We need to procreate children who will share our likeness just as Seth shared Adam’s likeness (Genesis 5:3) and therefore be God-like creatures suitable for stewarding God’s world. Although this likeness is flawed and spoiled by human disobedience, it is still true to say that human beings must multiply as God-like creatures, as the Bible continues to affirm after Noah’s flood (Genesis 9:1–7).

The emphasis in Genesis 1 is on procreation in order to fulfill the task of dominion. Sex is for the purpose of having children so that these children will share with us in the privilege and task of caring for God’s world.

…Genesis 2:18–25 is the most famous of all Bible passages about sex and marriage. God says that it is not good for Adam to be alone (Genesis 2:18). He brings him the animals to name as an expression of his stewardship over them, but no suitable helper was found for Adam (Genesis 2:20). So God puts Adam in a deep sleep and creates the woman Eve from his rib. Eve, unlike the animals, is Adam’s own bone and flesh, his own kind, his own family, a suitable helper for him. Adam rejoices in the poem of verse 23. This Creation narrative lays the foundation for marriage: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 19:5 and by Paul in Ephesians 5:31 and 1 Corinthians 6:16).

…As twenty-first-century people, we tend to respond to the words “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) like this:
Ah, poor Adam was lonely. There he was in that lovely garden in Eden, and he was all on his own with no one to talk to, no one to have “a relationship” with. A pet dog, cat, cow, or goldfish did not meet his relational needs. God will give him a wife so he will not be lonely anymore.

Sex and marriage solve the problem of human loneliness, it is suggested. But this misunderstands the meaning of verse 18 and the purpose of sex. As we shall see, the consequences of this misunderstanding in contemporary society are disastrous. Let us reexamine verse 18 in the context of Genesis 2. This section of Genesis begins with a portrait of a world that is badly in need of a farmer or gardener: “there was no human being to work the ground” (Genesis 2:6). God makes Adam in Genesis 2:7 because the world needs a gardener, namely, someone to steward and care for it. So we read in verse 15, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (emphasis added). There is Adam in this wonderful garden or parkland entrusted with the privilege and task of looking after it. In this context we are told in verse 18 that God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” The natural reading is not that Adam experienced relational loneliness (he may have, he may not,but it’s not the point), but rather that he had been entrusted with a task that was too big for him to do on his own. This is why God goes on to say, “I will make a helper.” Had he been lonely, he would not have needed a helper, but a companion, a friend, a lover. He is given a helper because he needs help to do the task with which he has been entrusted.

In what way will the woman help with the task? Genesis 2 does not tell us. But it is natural to include the procreation and nurture of children, which has been so emphatic in Genesis 1, where humankind has been given the blessing and exhortation to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” So presumably one way the woman helps the man is by enabling the procreation, birth, and nurture of children. Not only is the garden too big for Adam to look after on his own; it is too big for Adam and Eve to look after on their own.

2. Sex within marriage for public order

Every stable society has had to say that sex needs to be controlled and contained in some way, and has recognized that this powerful drive in human beings can do great damage if it is allowed to be expressed with no restraint. Every society has some taboos, some regulatory mechanisms, some forms of sexual behavior that are allowed and others that are forbidden. These taboos vary (as social scientists and historians show us), but they always exist in some form or another. So in one form or another, people have said that sex exists in order to be expressed in some ways but not in others. There are safe and healthy contexts for sexual intimacy, and there are dangerous and chaotic contexts. It is a mistake to think that the emancipation of sex in western society since the 1960s has removed the existence of restraint; pedophilia and rape, for example, are still taboo. What has happened is that the boundaries of restraint have changed.

Christianity echoes this universal recognition that sex needs boundaries, but claims specifically that the only safe and healthy context for the expression of sexual intimacy is the marriage of a man and a woman. Most famously in the Bible, Paul counsels the men and women in Corinth to pair off and marry because they are surrounded by so much sexual chaos (1 Corinthians 7:2). The wisdom of Proverbs warns the roving eye of the young man not to stray to another man’s wife, not simply because it is wrong but because it leads to violent and destructive consequences (e.g., Proverbs 6:20–35)….to guard sex within marriage serves God by preserving sexual order in God’s world. We keep our sexual urges for marriage and resist the desires to express them elsewhere, not because this is an arbitrary rule imposed upon us from outside, but from an understanding that this safeguard, these boundaries, are necessary to preserve our societies from sexual chaos.

…It is worth asking in this connection what the difference is between unmarried cohabitation and marriage. Why not just live together? The main truth to understand is that there is an intrinsic connection between sexual intimacy and permanence. Sex is designed for permanence, and the breaking of a sexual relationship, whether by death, by divorce, or by infidelity, is always the breaking of something created to be maintained. This is expressed in a saying of Jesus: “those whom God has joined together, let not human beings tear apart” (Matthew 19:6). Every married couple is joined together by God. This has nothing to do with whether or not they were married in a church. It is a simple fact about marriage: when a man and woman publicly pledge themselves to lifelong faithfulness, God joins them together and holds them accountable for keeping their promises. Sexual intimacy is either in the context of the public pledge of lifelong faithfulness, or it cuts across Creation Order.

3. Sex within marriage for revealing God

…how does the delight of the sexual relationship serve God? On the face of it, this enjoyment and fun serve the couple, but not God. The Bible consistently affirms the naturalness of sexual desire and delight, and it positively encourages a healthy sexual relationship within marriage (notably in 1 Corinthians 7:1–6). Sexual attractiveness, beauty, desire, and delight are affirmed and accepted as a right and natural part of the world. In Psalm 45:11, the king desires the beauty of his bride, and this is affirmed as right and natural and a cause of rejoicing. Furthermore, the Bible chooses this relationship as one of the most significant images to help human beings understand the relationship of God with his people and of Christ with his church. The Bible even speaks of God himself as feeling like a husband passionately desiring intimate delight with his wife: “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). This is bold sexual imagery and is possible only because the Bible is warmly in favor of sex within marriage.

The faithful love of husband and wife serves God by providing in this world a visible image of the love God has for his people and their answering love. God wants this kind of relationship to display one of the ways in which the invisible God becomes visible in his world. When a couple devotes time and energy to nurturing their own love for each other, paradoxically they may also be serving God, if they love one another with the longing that their love will begin to approximate the love between God and his people.

…The Bible tells many stories of human marriages, both good and bad, from Adam and Eve through Abraham and Sarah, David and Bathsheba, and countless others. All of them, one way or another, are stories of dysfunctional people in spoiled relationships.

But above these stories the Bible tells a bigger story. It is the story of a marriage that includes within itself the whole history and future of the human race. It is the story of God the Lover, the Bridegroom, the Husband, and his people his Beloved, his Bride, and in the end his Wife. It is the story that John the Baptist had in mind when he spoke of Jesus as the “Bridegroom” (John 3:25–30), and the story that Jesus himself accepted when he spoke of himself as the “Bridegroom” (e.g., Matthew 9:14–15). It is the story Paul referred to when he spoke of the church in Corinth being “engaged” to Jesus Christ like a pure virgin (2 Corinthians 11:2).

It is the story that John speaks of in the visionary imagery of Revelation 19 and 21. The metaphors are mixed, and the language is vivid and suggestive; we cannot read it literally, and it would not be possible to make a film of this imagery. At the climax of human history, John hears the announcement: “the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7). The Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, is to be married at last. His Bride is his people, every believer of all time, corporately to be joined to him forever in a union of unmixed delight and intimacy. This is a time of joy and amazement. Then in Revelation 21, John sees the heavenly Jerusalem, that is the whole new heavens and new earth, the restored and redeemed created order, coming down out of heaven as a city, but not only a city, also a bride: “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” For this renewed and restored creation is “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:2, 9). All of the people of God in the new heavens and new earth are the bride of Jesus Christ. That is to say, he loves them passionately, and they love him with an answering love.

In that new age their love will be consummated with an intimacy and enduring delight that the best human marriage can only begin to echo faintly. To put it bluntly, the most climactic and rapturous delight ever experienced in sexual intimacy by a married couple in the history of the human race cannot hold a candle to the delight of that union.

This is an amazing and beautiful prospect, a time when all the deepest yearnings and longings of the human heart will be fulfilled. And it is open to all who will come in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ in this age. The invitation is open.

Every time an unmarried person feels frustrated or depressed by their circumstances and unfulfilled desires, this is a pointer to the age to come. Jesus Christ says to them, “Set your sights on your wedding day, which is also my wedding day. You think you are ‘on the shelf’? Not at all, for I love you passionately.”

Every time a married person struggles with conflict or pain in marriage, it is a signpost to the age to come. Jesus Christ says to them, “Lift your eyes above the frustrations and pain, and look up to that wedding day when I will take all my people in my arms forever.”

Every time a man or woman feels the pain of the scars of past mistakes and hurts, Jesus says to them, “Look up to that wedding day because in that wedding you will wear spotless pure clothes and the only scars in that wedding will be the scars I bore for you, the scars on my feet, in my hands, and my side. Because I bore those scars, there will be none on you.”

On that day all the sex within marriage that has been used in the service of God in this age will be taken up into an eternity of sexual fulfilment that will fill the age to come with delight, security, and wonder to beat all marriages. May God help us to be there to enjoy it.

  1. August 24, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    I must say, that was very well written and had so much in it. It was a great post to read. Thank you for sharing. Christians sometimes speak so negatively of sex that their children have a sewed version of what it should be. Meaning, it is a beautiful thing between a husband and wife, but not a boyfriend and girlfriend (of any age). Great job on speaking the truth.

  2. September 22, 2011 at 2:24 am

    Thank you for reading!

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