T-U-L-I-P-S: Six Words to Guide Your Marriage

In some of the most important words ever written about marriage, the apostle Paul roots the marital union in God’s creation design:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:31–32)

The first of these two verses quotes Genesis 2:24, which comments on when the first couple lived peaceably in the garden of Eden in the presence of God and describes how their relationship is relevant to all who would come after. The second verse then illuminates that God always, from the very beginning, intended the marriage relationship to reflect the union of Christ and His church. So when we speak of marriage, we’re not talking about a mere cultural construct or a convenient arrangement. Rather, we are approaching a mystery, once enshrouded but now gloriously revealed to us in Christ.

When we speak of marriage, we’re not talking about a mere cultural construct or a convenient arrangement. Rather, we are approaching a mystery, once enshrouded but now gloriously revealed to us in Christ.

If you want to better reflect and honor Christ through your marriage, consider these timeless biblical principles, which you can memorize in the form of a simple acrostic: TULIPS.

T — Theology

A happy marriage begins with theology—with God and what He has revealed about this blessed institution.

First and foremost, as Ephesians 5:32 plainly states, when two forgiven sinners live together in harmony, that relationship points beyond itself to the great mystery that God in Jesus would love those who by nature were indifferent to Him. In the marital union, the husband models this self-giving, cleansing love of Christ (5:25–27), and the wife demonstrates the church’s response to Christ as she submits to her husband (5:22–24).

In a fractured and broken culture like our own, a couple doing their best to live as God intends provides a peculiar apologetic for the grace of God. When Christ’s love compels and empowers the love a husband and wife share for one another, the mystery of the Gospel is on full display.

U — Unity

Remember that Ephesians 5:31 recalls for us the creation-based design for marriage: “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” We can glean more than a few important points on the unity in marriage from this weighty text.

Marriage is a voluntary union. You don’t get married by an act of Congress or Parliament. Even in arranged marriages, there is still the opportunity, in the best of cases, for a voluntary response to the choices or guidance of others.

Marriage is a union between one man and one woman from different families. The man leaves his family of origin and cleaves to his wife, who is from another family. It is heterosexual. It is monogamous. This is marriage, and nothing else is marriage. That’s what the Bible says plainly.

In one sense, the two remain who they were; but more importantly, they become united as one flesh. We tend to want to establish our own identities: “I have my own life; I have my own things to do. You do your thing, I’ll do my thing, and we’ll try to get together now and then.” But that doesn’t sound like a union, does it?

Once a couple declares their vows before the gathered witnesses, they have entered into a lifelong covenant commitment. Once you say “I do,” you are done. From that point forward, God desires your one-flesh union to endure until your dying day.

Individuality is not lost in marriage, but our individual lives are transformed, because we’re no longer what we once were. Once a couple declares their vows before the gathered witnesses, they have entered into a lifelong covenant commitment. Once you say “I do,” you are done. From that point forward, God desires your one-flesh union to endure until your dying day.

L — Loyalty

The theology that undergirds marriage and the covenantal unity that binds a couple should be accompanied by a loyalty between husband and wife.

Up until you get married, your loyalty is to your mom and dad. This is clear from the fact that the would-be couple leaves their respective father and mother and from the command to honor our fathers and mothers (Eph. 6:2, quoting Ex. 20:12 and Deut. 5:16). But on the day you are married, that changes. There is a new loyalty. Marriage does not break the filial relationship, but it does irreversibly change it. You must “leave” physically, emotionally, and financially to build your own family, and your parents must be prepared to relinquish their hold upon their son or their daughter. Under the Lord Jesus Christ, your greatest loyalty ought to be to your spouse.

I — Intimacy

Included in this one-flesh loyalty is a newfound intimacy. The order of Genesis 2:24 and Ephesians 5:31 (see also Matt. 19:5; Mark 10:7–8) is vitally important. It makes perfectly clear that the public promise precedes the private pleasure.

God has created moral boundaries, and He created them in order that we might enter into the fulfilling intimacy He loves to provide for us in the context of the covenantal union. The only safe and satisfying place for sex is within the security of lifelong companionship—not in the shifting shadows of a part-time, short-term experiment.

If you are not yet married, God’s grace can help you to live as He intends. If you have already made mistakes—and who among us hasn’t, in thought and desire if not in deed?—then God’s grace freely offers forgiveness and restoration.

P — Priority

Ephesians 5 also tells us about the new priority that comes with marriage: “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (v. 33).

In a nutshell, our priority in marriage is this: that the love of Christ for His church might be seen in the microcosm that is the husband’s love for his wife, and that the submission of the church to Christ might be mirrored in the submission of a wife to her husband. Put simply: love your wife, respect your husband. It’s wonderful and possible by God’s grace.

In a nutshell, our priority in marriage is this: that the love of Christ for His church might be seen in the microcosm that is the husband’s love for his wife, and that the submission of the church to Christ might be mirrored in the submission of a wife to her husband.

Husbands, instead of focusing on your status, your position, your rights—instead of thrusting obligations upon her—make it a priority to give yourself up in loving and leading your wife. And wives, instead of focusing on what you dislike about his leadership, make it a priority to be gladly and humbly led in godliness by your husband.

S — Sanctity

Finally, the intimacy and priority of the marital union provides the ground for marriage’s sanctity. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” In other words, we ought never to take marriage and its benefits lightly.

You may not know it from looking around at our culture, but God Himself instituted marriage in the garden of Eden, and it is a covenant commitment worthy of tremendous honor. If you are married, as you reflect on your own commitment to your wife or husband, remember that theology supports the one-flesh unity you now share. In that unity, your loyalty to one another is a source of deep and lasting intimacy. In that loyalty and intimacy, you have been drawn into the sanctity of a divinely appointed union. It will never be all roses, but with God’s help—and maybe even a few tulips now and then—your marriage can be a fountain of great joy.

This article was adapted from the sermon “Marriage: God’s Design” by Alistair Begg.

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