A Wedding Sermon for an Arranged Marriage

25 Feb

On Saturday morning, 25 February 2017 I had the wonderful privilege to preaching at the wedding ceremony for a lovely Indian/New Zealand girl we’ve known or nearly 9 years and her husband, also from India. This was a glorious, Christian, arranged marriage.

Here is what I said…

“The Big Picture”: A Covenant 

It is a tremendous privilege to be here today and to participate in this beautiful wedding ceremony. We’ve been blessed to know XX and the YY family for about nine years, I think. Their friendship has been a blessing to us in many ways over these years, but nothing really compares to the honour of our being here today and being a part of this wedding.

I just met ZZ Tuesday! Yet, I’ve heard about him, obviously for several months. I am compelled to give thanks to the Lord for His marvellous grace in bringing these two young people together.

And who can’t stand in amazement at this scene. An Irishman and an American serving together to perform the wedding ceremony of a young Indian couple in New Zealand! Go figure. If the family of God isn’t amazing, I don’t know what is!

I now have the awesome privilege or speaking to all of us from God’s Word on this wonderful institution of marriage. Marriage, of course, was God’s idea. The Bible begins with a marriage (between Adam and Eve) and ends with a marriage (between Christ and His bride – the Church). So it would make sense for us to look into God’s Word to see His good purposes for this wonderful part of His creation. There are many places in God’s word where we find clear precepts on the role of a husband, the role of a wife and the purpose of marriage. The Song of Solomon is an entire book dedicated to the marriage relationship.

However I want to think together of the “big picture,” what it is that essentially makes a marriage a marriage.

This is vitally important for this generation. We now live in a world, at least in the West, where one of the most radical and countercultural actions a person can undertake is to stand publically and declare that marriage is between one man and one woman for one lifetime.

Perhaps for some, considering this together for the next few minutes will be particularly helpful because of the background to this particular marriage. As, I assume all of you here are aware, this is an arranged marriage. For most who come from a Western culture this is very unusual. Even for some from an Indian culture this is perhaps seen as a leftover from a more backward generation.

In India there is even another term, “Love Marriage” to describe kind of the opposite of an “Arranged Marriage”. I find that interesting and telling. The term “Love Marriage”, though Indian, accurately describes Western culture’s understanding of the basis of marriage – love. This has formed the basis over the last three generations in the West to argue for the acceptance of everything from easy divorce, to same-sex marriage, to cohabitation, and everything in between. Love is preached as the foundation on which marriage is built.

But is it? This is a Christian wedding. We are committed, this couple is committed, to understanding all of life through the lens of God’s Word. What does God say is the foundation of and basis for marriage. Let me suggest, once we understand that, everything changes! More than that, this particular marriage, in my opinion becomes seriously cool!

Ephesians 5:22-33:

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,

27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,

30 because we are members of his body.

31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

The image God uses to describe and define a marriage is a covenant. This is so often overlooked and yet so very essential in understanding God’s purpose and design for marriage.

Tim Keller has written:

“Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love. A wedding should not be primarily a celebration of how loving you feel now—that can safely be assumed. Rather, in a wedding you stand up before God, your family, and all the main institutions of society, and you promise to be loving, faithful, and true to the other person in the future, regardless of undulating internal feelings or external circumstances. What can keep marriages together during the rough patches? The vows.

When you first fall in love, you think you love the person, but you don’t really. You can’t know who the person is right away. That takes years. You actually love your idea of the person—and that is always, at first, one-dimensional and somewhat mistaken.” (Keller, Timothy J., and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton, 2011.)

I find that quote quite amazing coming from man who pastors in the West – perhaps one could argue the most Western of Western cities, New York City.

It is actually quite refreshing to consider how an arranged marriage doesn’t have a lot of the cultural entrapments he is speaking about here that generally accompany Western practices of dating, engagement, etc.

Marriage, biblically, isn’t about love or based on love – certainly not love as it is generally understood by our Western culture.

At the same time, can I speak to you as a Westerner? Each culture has its own entrapments. Those aspects of the culture which, in the best of cases, are not necessarily bad but when not filtered through Scripture can blind us towards God’s good purposes for us.

Consider Paul’s amazing words in Ephesians 5:31-33:

31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Notice marriage isn’t about pleasing your parents or church leaders or to conform to any other cultural norms or expectations anymore than marriage is about some weak cultural version of love.

Quite startling and shocking really, to any culture – marriage isn’t really primarily about us at all!

My marriage, understood biblically, isn’t primarily about me or my wife. This marriage today isn’t primarily about XX or ZZ, or their parents, or their church leaders, or anyone else’s expectations.

The truth is any of those things, though in and of themselves mostly good, are all too small of a thing for marriage to picture. You see that’s just it, marriage is a picture. A picture points to something greater than itself.

No one who has seen a picture of the Taj Mahal goes there in real life and expects to see something less amazing than the photo. No one who has seen a picture of New Zealand’s Southern Alps goes a tour of the South Island expecting to see something rather drab and boring.

Of course not, that would be nonsense. The picture though beautiful is nothing compared to the thing it represents and points to.

This is even more true for this beautiful thing called marriage. Created by God, according to Paul from Creation itself (in Ephesians 5:31 he quotes Genesis 2), to be a picture of something even more beautiful and amazing! And the thing more beautiful and amazing isn’t our love or a child pleasing their parents or a couple submitting to their church or any of those things which may be aspects of our individual cultures but not ultimately big enough for the glory that marriage is meant to display for the watching world.

Why is this the case? Why is marriage, according to God more about the covenant and less about each of you individually or your collected needs being met?

God has designed marriage to be about something else. To be about someone else. It is designed by God to picture the covenantal relationship between Christ and His bride, the church.

Here are another author’s comments on this passage:

“Unbeknownst to the people of Moses’ day (it was a mystery), marriage was designed by God from the beginning to be a picture or parable of the relationship between Christ and the church. Back when God was planning what marriage would be like, He planned it for this great purpose: it would give a beautiful earthly picture of the relationship that would someday come about between Christ and His church. This was not known to people for many generations, and that is why Paul can call it a “mystery”. But now in the NT age Paul reveals this mystery, and it is amazing… This means that when Paul wanted to tell the Ephesians about marriage, he did not just hunt around for a helpful analogy and suddenly think that “Christ and the church” might be a good teaching illustration. No, it was much more fundamental than that: Paul saw that when God designed the original marriage, He already had Christ and the church in mind. This is one of God’s great purposes in marriage: to picture the relationship between Christ and His redeemed people forever.” (George Knight, Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)

This is why our marriages are founded on a covenant sealed with vows – a promise.

Christ’s covenant with his bride is not based on performance. He does not commit to loving us only as long as we meet His needs or perform up to His standard. He as covenanted Himself to us despite our sin, in spite of our failings. His love for us is rooted in His promise of faithfulness.

Similarly, God calls us to image this covenant in our covenant of marriage. Our marriage must be based on, founded on our covenant of promise. It cannot be based on emotional sentimentality, the other person’s performance, or our needs getting met.

Emotions, needs, performance, etc. will all change. They will come and go. What will sustain, maintain, and provided the soil for everything else to grow in our marriages is the covenant.

Hear John Piper’s words on this:

“Marriage was designed from the beginning to display the new covenant between Christ and the church… The very essence of this new covenant is that Christ passes over the sins of his bride. His bride is free from shame not because she is perfect, but because she has no fear that her lover will condemn her or shame her because of her sin. The foundation of covenant keeping love between a man and a woman is the unbroken covenant between them and God – God governing them for their good and they enjoying him in that security and relying on him.” (Piper, John. This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2009, pgs. 33-35.)

Here’s the hope in this…

The same Gospel that unites us in covenant to Christ and makes us part of His bride; the same Gospel our marriages are to picture, is the same Gospel that enables us to keep our promise and find joy in our covenant.

Because your sins are forgiven in Christ, because you have confessed your sins and trust in Christ alone for salvation you know what it is like to receive covenant love. Love and forgiveness offered freely.

Therefore, in Christ you can offer free covenant love and forgiveness towards each other.

Hear again the words of Tim Keller on this:

“When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience.

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretence, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us…

We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is. . . learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.

In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love seem to dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of a marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love.” (Keller, Timothy J., and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton, 2011.)

You see, the gospel tells us and reminds us that the thing which is essential for a successful marriage is totally different than anything our, or any culture, will tell us – forgiveness.

ZZ and XX are here today to declare to all of us that they have both individually placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. They both came to a specific place in their lives when they understood they were sinners and destined to spend eternity in a real place called Hell forever.

The parallel is unavoidable. Just as it is impossible to avoid Hell and to spend eternity in heaven without God’s forgiveness of our sins that Christ’s death provides; it is impossible to navigate through the maze of marriage and a life together in marital unity without the giving of and the seeking of forgiveness from one another. The gospel makes it possible to live this out within the covenant of marriage.

Today we are celebrating the union of ZZ and XX in marriage. We are also rejoicing in the eternal forgiveness of their sins, and the hope of forgiveness within their marriage that this forgiveness in Christ provides.

I know that today the thing that would bring ZZ and XX the most joy would not be receiving some gift from you. Rather, if you are here and you do not know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, if you have not asked for and received His forgiveness for your sins; they would receive the greatest joy in knowing that you have received the free gift that is available to all who will receive it.

Romans 10:9 “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”


Posted by on 25/02/2017 in Current Issues


2 responses to “A Wedding Sermon for an Arranged Marriage

  1. sheepymarshmallows

    27/02/2017 at 3:49 pm

    Hi Joe, you forgot to censor the couple’s name in the middle of the text, the third para after the Ephesians 5 passage. But, thanks for preaching the glory of God clearly! (:

    Chai, from sunny singapore heh

    • Joe Fleener

      27/02/2017 at 5:15 pm

      Thanks, Chai – fixed! 🙂

      It’s sunny and warm here too! Miss you!


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