Dietrich Bonhoeffer is arguably one of the most important Christian leaders and theologians of the 20th century. His work Life Together is my second favorite book of all time. The pastor, theologian, martyr, and seminary professor has a lot to say to Christians today. As I was reading this morning, I came across a marriage sermon he wrote for his niece and her fiancé. He wrote the piece while sitting in prison awaiting his release or his death. Ultimately, the Nazis put him to death. They may have martyred the Christian but they did not stamp out his legacy. Here is what the pastor-scholar has to say about marriage.
The road to marriage is difficult but it is worth celebrating once it arrives.
It is right and proper for a bride and bridegroom to welcome and celebrate their wedding day with a unique sense of triumph. When all the difficulties, obstacles, hindrances, doubts, and misgivings have been, not made light of, but honestly faced and overcome – and it is certainly better not to take everything for granted – then both parties have indeed achieved the most important triumph of their lives. With the ‘Yes’ that they have said to each other, they have by their free choice given a new direction to their lives; they have cheerfully and confidently defied all the uncertainties and hesitations with which, as they know, a lifelong partnership between two people is faced; and by their own free and responsible action they have conquered a new land to live in.
Marriage isn’t merely about our love. It exists for us, the world, & the Church.
God is guiding your marriage. Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which He wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to His glory, and calls into His kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more that something personal – it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. As you first gave the ring to one another and have now received it a second time from the hand of the pastor, so love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God. As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.
God makes your marriage indissoluble. ‘What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ (Matthew 19:6). God joins you together in marriage; it is His act, not yours. Do not confound your love for one another with God. God makes your marriage indissoluble, and protects it from every danger that may threaten it from within and without; He wills to be the guarantor of its indissolubility. It is a blessed thing to know that no power on earth, no temptation, no human frailty can dissolve what God holds together; indeed, anyone who knows that may say confidently: What God has joined together, can no man put asunder. Free from all anxiety that is always a characteristic of love, you can now say to each other with complete and confident assurance: We can never lose each other now; by the will of God we belong to each other till death.
God has an order for marriage for both the husband and the wife.
God establishes a rule of life by which you can live together in wedlock. ‘Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives’ (Colossians 3:18-19). With your marriage you are founding a home. That needs a rule of life, and this rule of life is so important that God establishes it Himself, because without it everything would get out of joint. You may order your home as you like, except in one thing: the wife is to be subject to her husband, and the husband is to love his wife. In this way God gives to husband and wife the honor that is due to each.
God is interested in our homes. They are to be a place of peace, rest, & security.
The place where God has put the wife is the husband’s home. Most people have forgotten nowadays what a home can mean, though some of us have come to realize it as never before. It is a kingdom of its own in the midst of the world, a stronghold amid life’s storms and stresses, a refuge, even a sanctuary. It is not founded on the shifting sands of outward or public life, but it has its peace in God, for it is God who gives it its special meaning and value, its own nature and privilege, its own destiny and dignity. It is an ordinance of God in the world, the place in which – whatever may happen in the world – peace, quietness, joy, love, purity, discipline, respect, obedience, tradition, and with it all, happiness may dwell.
Now when the husband is called ‘the head of the wife’, and it goes on to say ‘as Christ is the head of the church’ (Ephesians 5:23), something of the divine splendor is reflected in our earthly relationships, and this reflection we should recognize and honor. The dignity that is here ascribed to the man lies, not in any capacities or qualities of his own, but in the office conferred on him by his marriage. The wife should see her husband clothed in this dignity. But for him it is a supreme responsibility. As the head, it is he who is responsible for his wife, for their marriage, and for their home. On him falls the care and protection of the family; he represents it to the outside world; he is its mainstay and comfort; he is the master of the house, who exhorts, punishes, helps, and comforts, and stands for it before God.
Children are a difficult yet delightful blessing from God.
God has laid on marriage a blessing and a burden. The blessing is the promise of children. God allows man to share in His continual work of creation; but it is always God Himself who blesses marriage with children. ‘Children are a heritage of the Lord’ (Psalm 127:3), and they should be acknowledge as such. It is from God that parents receive their children, and it is to God that they should lead them. Parents therefore have divine authority in respect of their children.
Difficult times with children are meant to drive us to God for help.
Since men live on earth, God has given them a lasting reminder that this earth stands under the curse of sin and is not itself the ultimate reality. Over the destiny of woman and of man lies the dark shadow of a word of God’s wrath, a burden from God, which they must carry. The woman must bear her children in pain, and in providing for his family the man must reap many thorns and thistles, and labor in the sweat of his brow. This burden should cause both man and wife to call on God, and should remind them of their eternal destiny in his kingdom. Earthly society is only the beginning of the heavenly society, the earthly home an image of the heavenly home, the earthly family a symbol of the fatherhood of God over all men, for they are His children.
God gives you Christ as the foundation of your marriage. ‘Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God’ (Romans 15:7). In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.
A Pastor’s home and marriage are a marriage and home for the world.
Your home will be a pastor’s home. From it, light and strength will have to go out into many other homes. The pastor undertakes a life of special discipline. The husband must bear alone much that belongs to his ministry, since the ministry is his and must, for the sake of God, be a silent one. So his love for his wife must be all the greater, and he must be all the more concerned to share with her what he may. And as a result the wife will be able to lighten the husband’s burden all the more, stand by his side, give him help. As fallible human beings, how can they live and work in Christ’s community if they do not persevere in constant prayer and forgiveness, if they do not help each other to live as Christians? The right beginning and daily practice are very important indeed.