I enjoy being asked to preach at weddings. Over the years different couples have asked me to speak on a variety of passages. Getting the opportunity to talk from Song of Songs at a wedding recently was a particular highlight.
However, nobody has ever asked me to speak on Ecclesiastes 9:9. I am somewhat disappointed by this. Here it is:
“Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun- all your meaningless days.”
It seems to me that the best way to understand the word translated “meaningless” through Ecclesiastes is to see it as referring to “breath”- it is temporary and transient. So the point of Ecclesiastes 9:9 is not that marriage is not good or enjoyable but it is only temporary- like everything else in our breath like existence.
The apostle Paul makes the same point in 1 Corinthians 7. In the context of speaking about marriage he says that “this world in its present form is passing away”. Marriage and singleness are temporary.I have to confess that I haven’t read it yet but I rather like the title of John Piper’s book on marriage- This Momentary Marriage.
We are to live as Christians with our eyes fixed not on what is seen but on what is unseen for what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:18). That’s certainly the case when it comes to being single. The only reason I was disappointed that Songs of Praise didn’t include me is that I would have loved to point out that the Christian hope is that all those who trust in Christ will be married one day. The goal of the Christian’s life is to be married- to Jesus. The Wedding Day of the Lamb will be the greatest day that any human being has ever known and it will make the best human wedding look utterly insignificant by contrast.
I don’t know whether you have a favourite Psalm. If you pushed me I would go for Psalm 45. It was a treat to be able to preach it just after the Royal Wedding last year. It displays the bridegroom as the most excellent of men and the New Testament (in Hebrews 1) picks this up as describing the Lord Jesus. But then you see the description of the bride in all her finery. And what is clear is that the bridegroom desires the bride. “The King is enthralled by her beauty.” For many who are single there can be a sense of insecurity- why has nobody chosen to marry me? And yet the Christian knows that they are chosen by the Lord Jesus who wants them to be part of his beautiful bride. And we will be married to him for much longer than an earthly marriage- indeed for all eternity. There is one day left in Jesus’ diary- his wedding day and he is looking forward to it. In his very helpful book on Marriage Christopher Ash writes these words about the ultimate wedding day:
“The most climactic and rapturous delight in sexual intimacy by a married couple in the history of the human race cannot hold a candle to the delight of that union.”
So what are the implications of this? I want to say that we must avoid making human marriage the main goal in life. It’s wrong for several reasons:
– It is unrealistic about the challenges that marriage brings.
– It means that we think one other human being has the power to solve all my problems in life which borders on idolatry.
– It results in us spending all our energy in that which is passing away
That’s important for those of us who are single to understand and for those who are married to appreciate. It seems to me unwise for married couples to be pressing their single friends to sort themselves out and find a husband or wife. It’s not what life is about.
More significantly, though, I want to encourage all of us to live as those who are engaged to Jesus. Over the last few months I’ve seen a number of friends go through the process of engagement. Everything seems to be about the wedding day- flowers, invitations, wedding lists, photographers, cars and so on. For the Christian- single or married- life is about being ready for the ultimate wedding day. We live now for Jesus our Bridegroom as we look forward to the day when singleness will be no more.