(I had the privilege of preaching for my sister Allison’s wedding on June 14, 2019. Here is the sermon I wrote for her and her husband based on Romans 12:9-21.)
Dear family, friends, and especially you—Allison and Paul. I think I can safely say I speak for everyone here when I say to you from the heart, “It’s about time!” Allison, to be honest, we were really starting to lose hope. Year after year, Dad put together lists of eligible MLC students, and nothing… When we’ve looked for houses, it started to cross our minds that we may need a sister suite to take care of you… Paul, you were a tutor at MLC. That’s the official WELS way of saying, “You really need help finding a spouse.” So it’s about time! God promises he has our lives in his hands, even when life doesn’t follow our plans. We’re so thankful that God has brought you together. It’s an honor for me to share God’s Word with you on your wedding day.
It’s just that the lessons you chose don’t actually talk about marriage. You know that, right? “Love each other deeply.” That’s not written for Christian couples. That’s God’s will for all Christians. All you all: “Love each other deeply!” In fact, our lesson from Romans focuses on how to love your enemies. Enemies! It seems like you’re planning on having lots of conflict in your marriage. You’re right! This isn’t what you expect at a wedding, but do you know who is probably going to cause more pain and hurt for you than anyone else in life? He is! She is! Why? There will be endless opportunities as you go through life together. But when that strife comes, you know the solution: Rant about it on Twitter. No! If you want a lasting marriage, you need to learn from God how to love someone deeply who will disappoint you over and over again.
God’s Word starts with this: “Love must be sincere.” The word “sincere” actually means, “without acting.” No faking it! How much of our love is acting? The “how are you doing?” to people you hope don’t tell you how they are doing. The “I’d be happy too!” and then rolling your eyes. That’s not Christian love. That doesn’t fly in a marriage. Your spouse will know when you’re acting. “Love must be sincere.” So what does sincere love look like? The rest of our lesson describes it. “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love.”
Here’s how devoted: “Honor one another above yourselves.” This is a cool phrase! What it really says is, “Go before each other in honor.” Make your marriage a race. Try to outdo one another in showing honor to each other. Make sense? Allison, in my room is a jar of pennies. Remember why? You gave me a jar with as many pennies in it as I scored points in high school basketball. As a younger sister, you have always outdone me in showing honor to those you love. Don’t stop! That selfless desire has to come from Jesus. So “never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” That’s “loving each other deeply.” Love isn’t a feeling. Love is an action! Love flows from Jesus through us to everyone.
God means everyone: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Even enemies? Yes! “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position…. Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” This is a lot! So remember this summary: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” You want to love each other deeply? Love is sincere. It honors. It forgives—even our worst enemies. It never repays evil for evil. Love overcomes evil with good!
Got it? So is that how you love? Not me! I could take the word “not” and put it in each sentence: “My love is not sincere. I don’t honor others above myself. I don’t bless those who persecute me. I don’t live in harmony with everyone. I don’t associate with people of low position. I don’t overcome evil with good.” How about you? The most beautiful “love” sections of the Bible convict our hearts, because we’re not like that! Marriage is only going to bring out your sinful nature even more. We can fake love out there. At home, there’s nowhere to hide. Sin separates us from each other—even our spouses. Especially our spouses! So good luck on your marriage!
I suppose you want a little more… God does tell us of one marriage that actually works. Do you know which one? God’s marriage. “But God’s not married!” Oh, yes he is! God’s marriage is the whole story of the Bible. Do you know whom God decided to marry? His enemy. A lady who right from the start didn’t want anything to do with him. She was unfaithful to him. Just plain evil to him. So what did God do? He overcame evil with good. Know who God’s bride is? You! The Bible’s story is the story of how God married us. “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” he says. (Jeremiah 31:3). Heaven is “the wedding supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).
Later we will hear the words from Ephesians 5 where God really talks about marriage. He says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for herto make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27). You want to talk about loving each other deeply? God loves you deeply! Jesus died for you. Jesus washed away your sins in baptism. Jesus makes you holy and blameless. Allison, you’re probably not going to wear that dress tomorrow. Or in downtown Chicago. But that is how you always look to Jesus: Perfect! Because Jesus loves you deeply.
When God tells us not to repay evil with evil, it’s because Jesus already paid for all evil with his death on the cross. When your spouse sins against you, what already happened to that sin? Jesus took it away. It’s gone. What has happened to every one of your sins? They’re gone. Forgiven! When the devil accuses us of our sins before God, do you know what God says? “What sins?”
Because Jesus overcame evil with good. You can insert Jesus’ name into every sentence. Try it: “Jesus’ love is sincere. Jesus hates what is evil and clings to what is good. Jesus is devoted to us in love. Jesus honors others above himself. Jesus never lacks zeal, but always serves the Lord. Jesus is joyful in hope. Jesus is patient in affliction. Jesus is faithful in prayer. Jesus shares with the Lord’s people who are in need.” This is why we love Jesus! Jesus overcame evil with good.
“Bless those who persecute you…” Remember what Jesus said to the soldiers who crucified him? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). “Rejoice with those who rejoice…” Remember the story Jesus told about the lost son? What did the Father do when his son came home? Rejoice! “Mourn with those who mourn…” Remember when Jesus showed up at his friend Lazarus’ tomb? He wept. “Be willing to associate with people of low position…” Remember the most common accusation against Jesus? “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). When you hear that, say, “Yes! That means Jesus loves me.” Jesus loves you deeply! This is how you learn to love someone deeply who will disappoint you over and over again. Jesus fills you up with his love, so you can “overcome evil with good.”
That sounds good on your wedding day. “We’re going to overcome evil with good!” Until the first fight. Who knows who started it, but suddenly you’re in this downward spiral. Repaying evil for evil comes so naturally. Soon you’re not racing to see who can honor the other more. You withhold honor and love until he or she changes first. It’s going to happen! So how do you stop that downward spiral? Remember what Jesus does for you: “Overcome evil with good!”
God gives some practical encouragement. Just listen to what he says! Allison, on the days when Paul’s sinful nature is getting the best of him and he seems like your enemy, do you know what God’s advice is? Feed him! “If your enemy is hungry, feed him.” Paul, on the days when Allison’s sinful nature is getting the best of her and she seems like your enemy, know what God’s advice is? Give her something to drink! Like ice water. Orange juice. “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Nothing makes us realize our sins more than underserved kindness. That’s how you stop the downward spiral. You love! Like Jesus. When our spouses sin, our goal isn’t to make them pay. It’s to point them to Jesus. How? Overcome evil with good!
We should practice this. Right now. I want you to look each other in the eye and repeat after me, “I’m sorry.” Wow! You can do it! Now say, “It’s my fault!” Yes! We all heard it. You’re not the only ones who need to practice. Let’s see if everyone can join in and repeat this, “I was wrong.” When was the last time you said that? Now here’s one that’s even harder, that couples almost never say, “I forgive you.” Can you try that? “I forgive you.” Not, “It’s okay.” Not, “I’ll get over it.” Repeat those words again: “I forgive you.” Here’s the hardest one of all: “Jesus loves you.” When was the last time you said that to someone? We need it! Let’s practice: “Jesus loves you.”
Remember, those words aren’t just for marriage. God’s talking about Christians everywhere dealing with other people. As you head out as a new couple to a new ministry in a new place, may Jesus’ love help you overcome evil with good. When it’s hard to fit in… Overcome evil with good. When criticism comes… Overcome evil with good. When you feel rejected or worthless… Overcome evil with good. When the devil works hard to turn you against each other… Overcome evil with good. When the ones you love the most hurt you the most… Overcome evil with good.
I got a random call at our church this past week. A man I had never met was on the line: “I’m at the hospital. My wife is dying, and I don’t know if she believes in Jesus. I need a pastor to come and help her believe in Jesus.” So I went to the hospital. The woman was unresponsive. The man told me her story. They had been together for 20+ years. She had lots of problems with alcohol and drugs. That’s why she was dying. In his words, she hadn’t been a very nice person. But as he watched his wife die, he said, “Pastor, you have to tell her how Jesus has forgiven all of her sins. Tell her that Jesus died to forgive her for everything. I just want her to be with me in heaven!”
That is how you love someone deeply. It’s not about money or trips. It’s a man in tattered jeans standing next to his dying wife saying, “Jesus loves you. Jesus forgives you. Jesus is taking you to heaven.” I pray that God give you that kind of marriage. That’s how you love someone deeply. You point each other each day to your Savior Jesus who will never leave you or forsake you. To the wedding supper of the Lamb. I want you there! So remember: Jesus loves you deeply. Jesus overcame evil with good.