Paul S. MacDonald
Editor's note: This "homily" was delivered at a wedding recently (personal names and references have been removed).
Bride and groom, I don't know how far we will get into this book, because I don't know how much time you will let me have, but I want to begin at the beginning! The first words are, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
How about that! God made everything. And when did he do that? In the beginning. All right then, what I want to know now is, what was before the beginning?
If, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, that means that before the beginning there were no heavens and no earth. Before the beginning, there was no creation, only the CreatorGod!
The concept that there was something before the beginning is a hard one for us to grasp, because our empirical experience is limited to things that have beginnings. It is hard to believe that there can be anyone or anything that has no beginning, that always was and always will beforever.
But God, being eternal, had no beginning. That means that God never grows any older. He just is. That's why he told Moses at the burning bush that his name was "I am who I am" (or, "I am the One that is") (Ex. 3:14).
Before the beginning, God was there and he was alone, but do not get the idea that he was lonely. To see that, let's skip ahead in the book a little. After reading that God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth, we read this: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness . . .' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:26-27).
Did you notice the words "us" and "our"? That's why we can say that God was not lonely. Before the beginning, there was only God, but the one living and true God always existed as three separate persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. When it came to the point of making the crowning achievement of creation, there was a conference among the persons of the Trinity. That conference shows that the three persons of the Godhead enjoy eternal fellowship and communion with each other.
And when the Bible tells us that God created man in his image, that means, for one thing, that he made people so they could enjoy interaction and communion with one another. It is the fellowship among the persons of the Godhead that is not only the pattern for, but also the fountain of, the interpersonal communication that characterizes the most treasured experiences of human fellowship.
Because of the entrance of sin into the world and the curse that sin incurred, the joy of interpersonal fellowship is too often turned into alienation and loneliness, but that is not the way it was intended to be. We were created for fellowship. Skip over a few pages to where it says, "But for Adam no suitable helper was found.... Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man" (Gen. 2:20, 22). God let Adam experience the loneliness of solitude before he assuaged that loneliness by making a suitable companion for him.
It is important to realize that a central aspect of bearing God's image is personhood. What makes us different from the rest of creation is that we are persons. And we are persons because we are made in the image of a personGod. As persons, we can appreciate interpersonal relationships with other persons. But of all the opportunities for human interpersonal relationships, the most exalted and most special is the relationship of marriage. That is why, after God made woman and brought her to Adam, it says, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24).
Remember what we readthat "God created man in his own image ... male and female he created them." God created people male and female in order to give them the closest approximation of the bond of ideal love and fellowship that exists between the members of the Trinity. No other experience of friendship or communion comes close to that attained in marriage. And the most essential oneness between husband and wife is not found in the physical union, but in the oneness of mind and spirit as they share free communication and trusting fellowshipsomething of a reflection of the communication between the members of the Trinity. The joys of physical intimacy are not the spring and source of ideal oneness, but its fruits and rewardsits seal.
The covenant of marriage reflects the eternal covenant relationship among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That is why illicit relationships, whether before or outside of marriage, are so destructive. They break the covenant bond. They are counterfeits of genuine love and communion. They are attempts to experience the privileges of close fellowship without making the investment of labor and time necessary to establish the relationship itself. It is no wonder that the Bible so often describes unfaithfulness toward God as spiritual adultery. Illicit relationships shatter the communion of mind and heart in the marriage relationship and insult the unity among the members of the Trinity. They are to be avoided at all costs. If you are going to have a strong marriage, you must strive to build a unity based not on passion but on the oneness of your hearts.
Do you think the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit keep secrets from each other? Does any person of the Trinity harbor expectations not shared with the others? Does any one of them seek to manipulate the others or lay guilt trips on them? Now, bride and groom, you are not yet completely holy or perfectly sanctified, so you are going to fall short of the ideal communion shared by the persons within the Trinity, but you must hold this ideal of oneness before you, as you grow in trust and faithfulness with one another.
Let me draw out one more point here from the divine relationships that existed before the beginning. I want to say something about submission. Submission does not mean subservience or inequality. There is a lot of agitation these days that the concept of the submission of one person or group to another implies a lack of equality or dignity. The biblical principles that in marriage or church office women are to submit to the authority of men are very unpopular. It is urged that submission belittles and disparages the dignity of women.
In this connection, however, consider the relationships among the members of the Trinity, both before and after the beginning of the universe. In the marvelous divine plan for the redemption of fallen mankind, both in its conception in the eternal counsel of the Godhead and in its execution in the course of time, the infinite Son of God willingly and joyfully submitted to the will of the Father to become the substitutionary atonement for repentant sinners. Did Jesus' submission to the will of the Father constitute inequality? Did Jesus lose dignity by being submissive? The questions are foolish. In power and gloryand in dignitythe persons of the Godhead are equal.
Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus was God in his very nature. That means that Jesus was an equal member of the Trinity. Yet the passage also says that he submitted to the Father by humbling himself to take human form so as to accomplish human redemption. He was both equal and submissive.
So in marriage, the dignity of man and wife are both equal, and wifely submission does not mean any loss of stature. It may be argued that it was easier for Jesus to be submissive because he was confident of the infinite goodness and love of the Father, whereas no wife can be completely assured of her husband's infinite wisdom and care.
True. And that is whyif we skip way ahead in this bookwe read these instructions: "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body.... Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy" (Eph. 5:22-26).
The essence of love is giving. God's love for the world is measured by the giving of his only begotten Son so that those who believe in him might be saved. In the world's view, "love" consists of getting. But the biblical standard for love is givingnot only in salvation, but in all relationshipsdivine and human. That is most especially true in marriage. Here is your standard, husband, that as much as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her, so also you are to love your wife and give yourself to her. And, wife, honor your husband. As the Son did not rankle at the idea of submission to the will of the Father, do not feel that submission is a sign of degradation or inequality in your marriage.
One more thing to observe is that love and submission flow both ways in your relationshipnotice that the verse before "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord" says to all believers, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."
Remember also that Jesus' willing submission to the Father, as expressed in Philippians 2, is the pattern for all our relationships, and is introduced by the instruction, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus" (vs. 5).
May the closeness and the oneness of your lives, as you grow in the estate of matrimony, become increasingly an echo and a reflection of the holy fellowship that existed among the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, even before the beginning of the world.
Mr. MacDonald is an elder at Pilgrim OPC in Bangor, Maine. Reprinted from New Horizons, October 1998.