One Sunday a teaching-pastor dared to go where few pastors are willing to go. He called marriage, “work”, and had the audacity to compare a delicate bride and handsome groom to two dirty, bulky, yoke-pulling oxen. Of all the nerve!
In a day and age chock-full of Disney romanticism, post-modern liberalism, and LGBTQ fanaticism, he had managed to de-romanticize marriage in all its blissful glory and call it something few are willing to, only to illustrate his point with a picture that couldn’t have been further from Cinderella’s happily-ever-after ending. Every hopeless romantic in the room gasped for air, every lazy lover looked for the nearest exit, and I’m almost certain that some of the young single women fought back the urge to shout, “How dare you!?”
But you know what? The pastor was dead on. The illustration couldn’t have been more appropriate.
Marriage has always been a challenge and will continue to be in every generation. With so much at stake when it comes to marriage, we need to enter it spiritually prepared. It’s not easy but when you love someone and you’re dedicated to them, you’ll make it work. As laughable as a 300lbs hot dog eating contest winner thinking he can be an NFL lineman, is a biological man who thinks that because he is a biological man, he is ready to lead a bride and a home. The divorce rate takes no prisoners, an adulteress lurks at every turn, and a marriage made in heaven can quickly become a living hell when it’s put on cruise control.
When asked about divorce and marriage Matthew records Jesus’ poignant response as he declares, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6).
Look at how binary Jesus was when it came to marriage! From gender, to function, to format, God purposed marriage to be a life-long marathon that produces a generation of godly worshippers, sanctifies bride and groom unto holiness, and bears fruit from the work they put in to see it through. All that work means that unity will be essential to production. Not all marriages have a fairy tale ending but it’s not always due to malicious or conniving reasons that this happens. Sometimes people just grow apart and owe it to themselves to let each other go and pursue new relationships in the hopes of finding a new love that will last the test of time.
Many talk a big game when it comes to bible knowledge and marriage, but the real test is not how much you know but what you actually produce. Does your marriage resemble two oxen pulling a yoke in unity? Or do you find that it can be more like two oxen fighting to pull the yoke in their own direction? Whether it’s your first year, or your fiftieth, we can all learn a lot about marriage from those beasts.
Here are three things to consider based on the bold pastor’s illustration:
1. OXEN MUST BE PROPERLY YOKED TOGETHER
Unity is a requirement for oxen to be productive and marriage is no different. When two oxen are placed under a yoke it’s the farmer who brings them together, the farmer who lines them up, and it’s the oxen who stay in place – submitting to the farmer as he places the yoke upon them. Sounds a lot like the role that God plays in a proper marriage doesn’t it? Ultimately, two oxen won’t need to continually stop and be re-adjusted if they start by lining up straight in the first place. Another important thing to remember: the oxen need to be similar in size and kind or there’s little that can be done to make them productive. A donkey and an Ox aren’t meant to pull together. The Apostle Paul commanded, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14). It’s always wise practice to go with the God’s word when it comes to life long commitments.
2. OXEN ARE PURPOSED TO WORK
Farmers don’t yoke their oxen for show and they certainly don’t do it for fun – it’s an important part of their purpose. In short, they were meant for work! In the same way, marriage exists to produce. The “work” of marriage should produce holiness, it should produce godly children, it should produce a dependence on the grace of God, and it should produce a clear (yet still not fully complete) picture of Christ and the church. John Piper famously once write that “God designed marriage not to make you happy but to make you holy.” William Tyndale said, “Marriage was ordained for a remedy and to increase the world and for the man to help the woman and the woman the man, with all love and kindness.” Anyone familiar with Malachi 2:15 understands that God wants godly generations to come out of godly marriages. It’s safe to say that marriage is work and that work is our purpose for being yoked together. Talk about de-romanticizing the Disney version of marriage in a day and age where everything is about being happy and living happily-ever-after. Like it or not, it’s true. But don’t lose heart! Love is still as foundational as ever in marriage because who wants to do all that work with someone they don’t love? And all the hopeless romantics said, “Amen.”
3. OXEN ARE BETTER TOGETHER
Have you ever seen two oxen plowing together? A quick YouTube search will prove this simple fact to be true: they are better together! One 1500lbs ox can do some damage, but two yoked together are unstoppable. It’s amazing what oxen can do when there’s two – and marriage is no different. God intended for both men and women to accept their roles, follow His design, and stick to His purpose. There’s no success in a lone-ranger marriage. A true Christian marriage is a shared mind, shared body, shared emotions, shared goals, and shared direction. It’s you-win-I-win, you-lose-I-lose. In many cultures the concept of “better together” is so prioritized that as a symbol of unity they chain a young couple together during the wedding and sometimes longer. When Jesus said, “…they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6), He was making the commitment of marriage crystal clear. When a man and woman stand to pledge themselves to one another on the wedding day, they are partaking in a gracious gift God gave humanity, and receiving of His blessings. Consequently, when they break those vows, they are not consciously uncoupling or agreeing to disagree…they are offending God and turning their backs on their vows to Him as the One who declared, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16).
So there you have it. Marriage advice from the most unlikely of places. Thank God for oxen and thank God for grace!