“I, ____, take you, ____, to be my lawfully wedded [husband/wife], to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”
It has become common these days for people to write their own marriage vows, but most of us can still quote and know the traditional Christian vows composed some five hundred years ago. After the aforementioned covenant to one another, the officiator usually makes the statement:
“You have declared your consent before the Church. May the Lord in his goodness strengthen your consent and fill you both with his blessings. What God has joined, men must not divide. Amen.”
The pomp, materialism and joy of the wedding ceremony often overpower the severity and implications of these statements today. But they are composed on Biblical foundations and are not to be entered into lightly. The purpose of marriage is to represent the union and relationship of Christ to His Church:
“For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”
– Eph 5.23-33
This all sounds really great. Husbands, love and cherish your wives. Wives, respect and honor your husbands. Both of you, put each other’s interests and desires before your own, and serve selflessly – ready to die for one another and to be pure and holy before God through daily, small and personal sacrifices like cooking, doing the dishes and working.
Sounds easy enough, right?
God knows the selfish and sinful nature of man and the nature of His church, “prone to wander, prone to leave the God [we] love”, so he gives us a radical example of the depth of His love for us.
There was a prophet named Hosea. “When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord'” (Hosea 1.2). God directed Hosea to marry a prostitute. And it appears that the children she bore during their marriage were not his children, but were results of her continued harlotry (Hosea 1.2; 2.4, 5). She left Hosea, who had redeemed her from a life of prostitution, to return to the streets. She loved the life of harlotry.
Then the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.” So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a half of barley.
– Hosea 3.1-2
This passage is packed full of significance. For one, the price Hosea paid to buy Gomer was 15 shekels of silver and 1.5 homers of barley. Historians note that the value of the barley would have been another 15 shekels, totaling 30 shekels of silver which was the normal price for a common slave (Ex 21.32), but the barley was a disgrace and the offering given for one accused of adultery (Nu 5.15). No one wanted Gomer. She was sold as a common slave. Publicly shamed for her prostitution.
The second, more notable illustration here is the fact that God commands Hosea to love Gomer – the same way that He loves Israel, even though they turn to other Gods. They, we, are spiritual adulterers. The Bible is full of this pungent analogy, regularly saying that Israel “played the harlot” after other gods (Jdg 2.17; 8.27; 8.33; 1 Chr 5.25; 2 Chr 21.11; etc.). It is understanding our union to Christ through the body of the Church that we realize both the intensity and implications of our bond with Christ and also the depth of betrayal when we serve other gods, when we worship another or when we neglect our relationship with Him.
But he loves us. He buys us back in our disgrace, in our filth, and in our sin. And he tenderly, affectionately cares for us and redeems us. He does not lock is in a back room, he does not hide us in shame. No, he washes us clean in His blood – He takes the reproach upon Himself so that we are pure and stand in His righteousness before God and the world. He redeems us and establishes us in a place of honor: His bride.
Do you realize that this is the Biblical expectation and the level of commitment within the vow of marriage? “What God has joined let no man separate” (Matt 19.6). God, in the Old Testament and Jesus, in the New Testament both offer the provision of divorce for someone who has been sexually unfaithful within the bonds of marriage. And Paul expounds that if an unbelieving spouse (or one not submitting to the commands of Scripture) leaves and divorces the believing spouse, the believing spouse is free from the covenant and may remarry (Deut 24.1-4; Matt 19.8-9; 1 Cor 7.10-16). But this is only a provision established because of our hardness of heart and inability to forgive as Christ forgives.
Unfortunately we fail. Miserably. Even if both spouses within the marriage are seeking to the best of their abilities to abide by the instructions and exhortations of Ephesians 5, we will never love so purely and perfectly as God loves us.
This is not an intentional discourse on the provisions, requirements and foundations of divorce. I am meditating on the glory of a God who would knowingly choose a bride, me, who is going to time and time again deny him, either in action or in spirit. Even to the point that I would be Spiritually bankrupt, for sale in an auction to any false god that would take me, and He only has to pay the cheapest price for a worn out, disgraced slave that no one wants.
Over. And over.
Jesus says that “he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7.47). The more we realize the depth of our depravity, spiritual harlotry, tendencies to wander and affinity to place our affections elsewhere, the more deeply we embrace the fullness of His love and forgiveness. What greater stimulus to push us on to love and devotion than understanding the love with which He loves us? Let us press on to honor Him, in everything that we do so that He has no need to come redeem us from the streets again (1 Cor 10.31; Col 3.17)!
There is a mystery within this gift of salvation. We are promised in Scripture that “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1.6). Jesus Himself states that “all that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6.37), and “all that the Father has given me, I will not lose one” (John 6.39). Jesus “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3.18).
If you are in Christ, your sins were decisively covered at the moment Christ died on the cross, and you will not and cannot lose your salvation. He will not lose even one of whom the Father has given Him. But in the sanctification process, while we are living on this earth, we will fall. Our “flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal 5.17). We are at war with our flesh, and at times we will suffer tactical defeats in battle, even though the war is already won.
But Jesus redeems us. He loves us. He does not pay for our sins or save us over and over, but He calls us back from our harlotry, and cleanses us and presents us as holy and blameless before the Father. So come to Him. Let us put away our false gods, our distractions, the sins that so easily entangle us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, setting our eyes on Jesus – the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12.1-2).
If you enjoy fictional, interpretative literature, I highly recommend the book by Francine Rivers called “Redeeming Love”. It tells the story of Hosea and Gomer in literary form, taking liberties with the character’s thoughts and interactions, but grasping the depth of the affection God has for us and the impact it should have on our hearts. Let us love Him purely today.