In Sickness and In Health

Posted by Keith Essex on October 27, 2019
In Sickness and In Health

On Friday evening, September 5, 1969, I recited the following words to Louise Kinnoin before God and over 300 assembled witnesses, “I, Keith, take you Louise to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, from this day forward. I pledge my love to you as unto Christ that whether in sickness or in health, in joy or in sorrow, in trial or in blessing, our lives may be an example of His great love for us. I also pledge my loyalty to you as commanded in the Word of God to cleave to you and to you only until the Lord comes or death shall part us.”

In the fiftieth year of our marriage, the Lord tested my love for Louise in sickness, trial, and sorrow. My wife had been a model of health for most of the forty-nine years of our marriage. However, on July 26, 2018, she began to experience muscle weakness in her arms; within eleven months she was with the Lord. Over the next few months after July, she slowly lost the use of her arms and legs. By the middle of October, I had to help her walk, dress her, feed her, and bathe her. In the middle of November, Louise was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease that progressively renders the muscles of the body inoperable. For the next seven months, I had the opportunity to serve the Lord by taking care of my wife as she continued to wither and ultimately die June 25, 2019. It was a great sorrow to see Louise progressively lose the ability to walk, swallow, talk, and finally, breath. But I had pledged to love Louise in a way that would be an example to the world of Christ’s great love to us.

"Though the days were difficult, it was a blessed time as I came to understand in a new and better way how Christ loves me as a member of His bride, the church."

In the months since Louise’s transition from our presence into the Lord’s presence, I have been asked by many Christian friends what I have learned through her sickness and death. The greatest lesson for me has been the reminder of the covenantal nature of our relationship with the Lord and of the marriage relationship.

Every Sunday as we take communion, we are remember the words of the Lord Jesus, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:25). Our spiritual bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the mediator of the New Covenant. He faithfully and sacrificially obeyed His Father’s will in shedding His blood so that forgiveness of sin and reception of the Holy Spirit might be bestowed upon His covenant partners. Since we are united to the covenant mediator, we as Christians now experience these spiritual blessings of the New Covenant.

In response to the covenant loyalty of Christ for us, we are called as His disciples to render loyalty to Him as faithful covenant partners. This is especially to be illustrated in our marriages, where a man and a woman pledge their love and faithfulness to each other by oath to be loyal covenant partners to each other.

The Bible clearly states that marriage is a covenant relationship (Mal 2:14; Prov 2:17). Further, the Lord used marriage as an analogy to describe His relationship with Israel under the Old Covenant. He declared that He was like a husband to Israel and she was like His wife (Jer 3:1; Ezek 16:32). Israel’s idolatry is pictured as spiritual adultery that led the Lord to divorce her until a future day when He will once again wash her and then remarry her (Hos 2:2-23).

Therefore, when a Christian marries, he or she enters into a covenant relationship with his or her spouse. A covenant is a relationship between two parties where each one pledges to loyalty to the other by sworn oath; each party agrees to act in a proscribed way for the benefit of the other. It was this understanding of my marriage covenant with Louise that directed my actions toward her during her illness. I had an obligation to fulfill based on the pledge I had given to her in my wedding vow; to have not obeyed would not only be an act of betrayal against her, but against God as well.

This sense of covenant obligation was the foundation that the Lord used in my life to help me put into practice the teaching Paul gave to Christian husbands in Ephesians 5:25-33. I had sworn to love Louise as Christ loved the church. I had pledged to sacrificially take care of her as Christ does the church. I had given my word to her before the Lord that I would sanctify her through the cleansing of the Word of the God; thus I read Scripture to her and prayed with and for her even when she could no longer read or talk herself. Thankfully, Louise was still able to hear and understand until a few days before she died. Though the days were difficult, it was a blessed time as I came to understand in a new and better way how Christ loves me as a member of His bride, the church.

I also realized that the majority of Christian men will never have the experience I had since most wives outlive their husbands. This was a special gift of God’s grace that allowed me the blessing of being an example of Jesus Christ as I took care of my beloved Louise. A year ago I was tasked with taking care of my terminally ill wife; it was an experience I will never forget because the Lord used it to make me a better man!

Keith Essex

Keith has been an associate professor at The Master’s Seminary in Southern California for over 25 years and recently moved to Spokane and now attends Faith Bible Church when he isn’t back in California teaching or in London working with GraceLife London.

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