Most married Christian couples are familiar with the famous analogy from Ephesians 5 comparing marital love to Christ’s love for the church. The comparison conjures up images of chivalric knights risking their lives for their beloved.
But for those who find their relationships on the brink of collapse, this image can seem confusing or unrealistic. On Monday morning, Desiring God’s John Piper discussed this problem on his “Ask Pastor John” podcast.
Piper began by reading a letter he’d received from an anonymous listener:
My marriage has suffered much due to me neglecting my wife in many ways over the past 22 years of our marriage. Currently it is teetering on the brink of collapse and it has reached the point where it is completely at God’s mercy and is proving to be the biggest struggle in my rekindled newfound faith and relationship with God. I wake up many mornings despairing that my marriage is beyond repair and I struggle to rejoice in the new mercies that the new morning is bringing to me. My wife has given up on me and I cannot blame her. My question is this: How is marriage, like mine, which is so hard to pull off, a model of Christ’s covenant love for his church? Can a hard marriage model Christ, or only easier ones?
To these questions, Piper offered great encouragement:
“Hard marriages that persevere in faithfulness, year in and year out, against all odds, tell a great truth about Christ and his church,” he said.
In fact, Piper argued that Christ’s love for the church is particularly evident in his willingness to pursue his people during times when they reject or disobey him.
“What communicates something false about Christ and his church is when a marriage covenant is treated as broken, because the covenant between Christ and his church is never broken,” he noted.
It’s important not to mistake a Christlike marriage for a perfect marriage. No marriage is perfect, because no human is perfect. But as Piper explained, imperfect individuals can emulate Christ by uniting themselves with his suffering and sacrifice.
“If a faithful believer sees his marriage unraveling, he or she can tell the truth about Christ and the church by keeping the covenant, even if the other partner doesn’t. That is what is new and radical in the ideal that Jesus has lifted up to model the new covenant,” he said.
Piper stressed that the hope Christians have in Christ must spill over into every area of their lives, including their relationships. Given this, hard marriages can serve as some of the best models for unconditional, covenantal love.