I have really enjoyed the opportunities that God has given me to provide pastoral leadership and counsel to couples entering into marriage. The first wedding ceremony I led was for my sister and brother-in-law ten years ago. I have to admit that I had very little understanding of the significance of my role at the time. While I took my responsibilities seriously, my thoughts about the significance of marriage in relationship to the Gospel had only recently been conceived in my own heart and mind. I saw my role in their wedding as a mere formality. Yes, it was a privilege because it was, after all, my sister getting married. But I was ignorant of how I might be used my Redeemer as an instrument in their marriage. It wasn’t until I got married myself that I really began to understand the profound significance of covenant marriage between a man and a woman. Consequently, as I have been embracing the implications of the Gospel on my own marriage, it has significantly shaped the pastoral counsel and wisdom I’ve sought to pass down to couples about to enter into marriage.

I enjoy counseling with couples prior to the wedding, but one of my great joys in being a part of the wedding celebration is the God-given opportunity to present a charge to the bride and groom. A charge is an opportunity to encourage the couple and point them to God’s Word as the source of authority and wisdom for their marriage. My goal in every charge is two-fold: 1) Make it personal; and 2) Center it on the Gospel. As I stated, I’ve enjoyed every wedding I’ve been a part of, but perhaps my favorite charge comes from Barry and Lauren Carpenter’s wedding. I hope you’ll find it encouraging.

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Here are six ways to put the power of the Cross, the means of the Gospel coming into the world, to work in your marriage so that its purpose is gloriously achieved. Most of these principles will come easy during the first weeks and months of marriage. But as marriage becomes comfortable, like a pair of well-worn slippers, the real, selfish, proud, “you” will emerge, and honoring each other through the gospel will become much more challenging.

Grace. Show mercy and favor towards one another. You might not immediately see the connection to the gospel, but over time you’ll increasingly see the ugly side of your spouse called sin. It’s the same thing God sees in him or her. It will require grace to deal with one another compassionately and lovingly when our sin is as obvious as a grass-stain on white pants to us, yet confusingly oblivious to your lover. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1-2).

Obliterate Sinful Habits. (Rom 6:12-14; 8:13) This is equally important for both of you. Sin is serious. It is so serious that Jesus tells us that refusal to deal actively with our sin puts our souls in peril. There is no such thing as “sin” with a little s. But this is especially true for the husband. You are to love her in a way that leads to her sanctification. This can’t and won’t happen with a passive response to personal sin in your lives. In order to deal with daily temptation effectively you must look to the cross where ultimate victory over sin is already accomplished.

Servant. “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). If this is the mandate given by God for our relationships with others, how much more is this true in the way we are called to love and serve our spouse? Live as a servant to your covenant husband/wife. Jesus humbled himself unto death to redeem His bride.

Patience. Neither of you are what you were before Jesus redeemed and transformed you as you lived as an enemy of God, but neither are you what you will one day be in Christ Jesus. The gospel demands that we recognize God’s activity in one another’s lives as Jesus-followers and patiently wait for the work of the Spirit of God to have its full effect on our lives (Phil 1:6). Once again, a cross-centered marriage is ever-aware of the cost Jesus paid to purchase spiritual life for us, however incomplete it is this side of eternity.

Excuse the memory of past failures. “When the memory of past sins threatens to rob you of the joy of your salvation, look to the cross, where the penalty for those sins was completely and permanently paid” (CJ Mahaney). This is important, not only for your personal sins, but also for your transgressions against one another. You will fail and disappoint one another. And only the gospel will enable you to let go of those offenses against one another. Excusing the memory of past failures is not the same as making excuses. We don’t ignore the sin in each others lives because its effects are far too destructive to the health of marriage. However, when repentance is present, we must excuse the offense because it has been paid for on the cross, forgiveness must flow freely, and we must refuse the right to hold that sin over the head of our spouse.

Love. The Apostle Paul gives us a clear definition of true love in 1Cor 13. Love does not limit oneself to the object of greatest good. True love is expressed with patience and kindness towards one another. It is not full of envy, arrogance, or rudeness. It is not proud and does not insist on its own way. It is not easily irritated or resentful. It doesn’t rejoice in evil but rejoices in God’s truth. It believes, endures, bears and hopes for the best in all things. And this expression of love is most clearly seen in the cross. The cross is a reminder, not only of God’s love for us, but how you are called to love one another.