One of the phrases that sticks with me from The Meaning of Marriage is that of future glory. Keller points to places like Ephesians 5 to contemplate this idea of our future glory.
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.
Jesus gave himself up for the church for a few reasons mentioned here (and others elsewhere). He sets her apart. He has cleansed her in order to present her to himself. Her new condition is one of splendor, without blemish. Paul is mentioning the future glory of the church. And this is to be the model for the husband, to consider the future glory of his own wife.
I’m currently editing my own book on marriage, and grappling with this passage. We tend to get stuck in the tension between their dignity as image bearers and their depravity as sinners. Each of us tends to err in one or the other extreme. We can focus on their dignity so much that we idealize them, worship them and don’t address the sin they do commit. It is almost like you remain forever in that infatuation phase when all you see is what is good about a person and not their faults and failings.
But most people who are married for any length of time tend to slowly drift toward the other extreme. Their failures and faults loom large since we see them on display regularly. We grow weary of these things, apart from grace.
This grace is two-fold. First, there is forgiveness. No marriage, or any relationship, can survive without forgiveness. It is like grace’s in-door plumbing system. It refreshes those how are guilty, and removes our “waste” from the relationship. Without it the relationship begins to look like one of those houses in Hoarders, filled with animal excrement, mold and filth. It is an assault on one’s senses. Forgiving one another is rooted in Christ’s atonement. Paul goes there at the end of Ephesians 4. Since we have received grace from God, we are to grace one another. We forgive because we have been forgiven!
Second, there is contemplating their future glory. Your spouse will not always remain as they are now. In our saner moments we notice how much God has changed them already. My wife sees this most clearly whenever we spend time with my family. I am increasingly less like them.
But we also need hope, and God provides that in passages like this. All of the members of Christ’s bride will appear before him in splendor, without blemish. We need to keep this thought before us. He or she will one day be just like Jesus in their character. Their personality will remain, in purified form, but they will no longer have their faults and failings. Their blemishes will be gone.
And one of the means that God uses to accomplish this, one set of circumstances in which he applies the work of Christ, is marriage. If you are married, this is probably the primary place. He has others, so if you are single don’t worry, he’ll apply them to you as well. You are one of the means as you increasingly treat their sin as Jesus does. Yes, you become a living representative of Jesus to them as one in whom the image of God is being restored. You are patient, merciful and yet firm with their sin. You call them out, AND to repentance on the basis of God’s mercy in Christ. You aren’t doing it to win an argument or keep them in their place so you can feel superior. You are pursuing their sanctification with humility and love.
In our community group recently I also applied this to our experience with the church. We often begin our time at a church in an infatuation phase. The pastor’s sermons are awesome, people friendly etc. Eventually we being to see their sin. We begin to be sinned against. What do we do? Depends. If we are not actively impacted by grace, we get angry and leave. But grace enables us to forgive the sins of the local church and contemplate (as well as pursue) her future glory.
6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1
Paul here contemplates that future glory with regard to the Philippian church. God is the one who began this, and will finish it. Paul rested in that. We need to as well. If we are sure of this, like Paul was, we can be patient and merciful with our fellow church members- forgiving them, correcting them, offering them mercy in the midst of their sin.
If we don’t, our church life will become like so many marriages: cold, distant, lifeless and ending in divorce.