Welcome to our Fall season of our Midweek Gathering where we will spend the next six weeks looking at what the Bible has to say about marriage. The schedule of what we will be addressing over those weeks is printed in your handout. Of course, there is much more we could say about marriage, but we are limited in our time, and we decided that it might be best to focus on what is most practically helpful in strengthening the current marriages in our church and in preparing those who would one day like to be married. You may notice that one subject we are not covering is sex in these six weeks, but that is just because our Sunday morning series through 1 Corinthians is right about to launch into several chapters that address in detail sex and marriage.
The Beginning of Marriage
I want to talk about the purpose of marriage today, that is, its main goal, its end. The Bible has much to say about marriage, but maybe most importantly, it makes the claim that God Himself is the creator of it, and as the creator, He is the one who has designed its purpose.
So, in the beginning we read of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth, of His ordering, filling, and beautifying creation. And, lastly, the crown jewel of His creation is brought forward: mankind, those made in His own image, who are to reflect God’s own beneficent, lovely reign in their subduing, filling, and dominion over the whole earth. Be fruitful and multiply! God blesses them. But, there is a problem. Seven times in Genesis one we are told the world God has made is ”good.” But, in Genesis two we hear of the first thing that is “not good.” “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him,” (Gen 2:18).
Why is it “not good” that man should be alone? Could it be that Adam was personally lonely? Quite possibly. But God didn’t give Adam another man or angel to serve as a companion. Could it be that Adam needs more help in working and keeping the garden? Possibly. But if that was it, then God could have given Adam a team of oxen or many other men to help in his task. Why does God give Adam a wife? Because the great commission given to mankind is, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” Adam cannot do that alone. A team of oxen, a group of male friends, or angels cannot perform the miracle of bringing new life into the world. For that Adam needs a helper.
What is a helper? Someone who has a power or ability that the one helped lacks. In English helper sound diminutive, like something we say as we pat the head of a child. But that isn’t how the Bible uses the word. God Himself is frequently described as Israel’s helper. What does Eve possess that Adam does not? Of course, she possesses the ability to bear children—which is probably why Adam calls her Eve at the end of chapter three, because “she was the mother of all living,” (Gen 3:20). This is how the earth will be filled with image bearers. But there is, of course, more than just the ability to procreate that is given to the woman. The clearest distinction between men and woman is a woman’s ability to bear and birth children, but this doesn’t mean that men and women are functionally the same, except one can get pregnant.
Notice two additional details from the story. First, notice that the woman is made differently than the man is. Adam is formed from the dust of the earth (his very name Adam, means dust). Eve (whose name means life-giver), however, is formed from the side of man: his rib (Gen 2:21-22). The different locations that each is created from correspond to their differing vocations and orientations. Adam is made from the dirt, Eve is made from Adam’s side, near his very heart. Adam alone is told by God to work the dirt from which he came, to labor and sweat over it—Adam’s orientation is outward, towards the conquest and mastery of the external world for God’s good purposes. Eve is given to Adam to help in the task given to mankind to be fruitful and multiply--her orientation is inward, towards the cultivation of the home for God’s good purposes. That interpretation is confirmed by the nature of each others’ curse: when the curse comes, Eve is cursed through pain in childbearing and in turmoil in her marriage (Gen 3:16), and Adam is cursed in his labor and work of the soil (Gen 3:17-19). To put this more simply, this means that men tend to be oriented towards accomplishing tasks, fixing problems, conquering goals, while women tend to be more oriented towards cultivating relationships, nurturing, and care.
Second, notice the language Adam uses when he first meets Eve:
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen 2:23)
The first recorded words of a human being in the Bible is poetry. When Adam sees his bride for the first time, prose will not do, silence certainly won’t fit, he must reach for beauty, for ornamental language, for a form of speech that corresponds to what is before him. At last…you are me, but not me, my bone, my flesh, but new. God made Adam from the dust, but God also made the dust. So Adam is dust refined, God’s second draft. But woman? She is taken from man who is taken from the dust, made from what God has made out of what God has made, thrice over, triple refined, the last flourish of God’s creative act. Here is what I am getting at: women are distinct from men not only in their ability to create life, not only in their different orientation towards cultivating the inner life of the home, but they are distinct in the fact they are beautiful in a way that men are not and those differences lead to praise and joy, not frustration.
So, here we have two persons who are alike—they are both created by God, made in the image of God, and commissioned and blessed by God. But they are different, a man is not a woman, and a woman is not a man. Nevertheless, their difference results not in frustration, but cooperation: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed,” (Gen 2:24-25).
Here the blueprint for marriage reaches its conclusion: men leave their father and mother’s home—as in, they become independent enough to provide for a wife and the marriage relationship now supersedes other familial relationships—and then “hold fast” to their wife, “and they shall become one flesh.” The “one flesh” union of a husband and wife is ripe with meaning. In the story of Genesis, Eve was taken from Adam’s flesh, and so their marital union is literally the union of one flesh, it is Adam’s “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” returning to him. As Adam is the head of his bride, so too is she a member of his body. But this speaks beyond Adam and Eve. Jesus cites this passage from Genesis 2 to demonstrate that the design of marriage—which Jesus still believes to apply today—is an indissoluble union of two individuals whom God has joined together (Matt 19:5-6). A husband and wife are one flesh in the sense that where there once was two separate lives, there is now one. The husband and wife have given themselves to each other fully and totally, emotionally, physically, spiritually—they are one flesh. The sexual act, the consummation of marriage, is itself a picture of both the difference between the man and woman and their fundamental unity, the two becoming one. Men and women are different. Men and women are united.
This is God’s blueprint for marriage: a man and woman coming together in a permanent, exclusive, comprehensive unity, using their complementary gifts, strengths, and vocations to fulfill God’s purposes to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the world with more image bearers of God.
If we are to enjoy anything appropriately, we must use it according to its purpose, its design. You could use a violin to paddle your canoe, but you shouldn’t. Why? Because that is not what a violin was designed for. Not only will it prove to be fairly ineffective in paddling upstream, but—more importantly—there will be a whole world of elegant music you will be deprived of.
The Problem of Marriage
But here is the rub: the blueprint doesn’t always seem to work. For as wonderful as the Genesis design seems, it doesn’t seem to translate over neatly into real life. There are many of you here who feel like your marriage may be the biggest source of pain in your life. What’s wrong? We could blame the world around us and how they have denigrated marriage, which certainly has an impact, but there have been problems with marriage since the dawn of time. Right after the first wedding in the Bible ended, Eve disregards her husband’s teaching about the tree, and is deceived by the serpent. Adam, for his part, silently sits by and does nothing while his wife is being led into destruction and decides to join in her rebellion. Sin enters the world and immediately Adam and Eve become aware of their nakedness and sense a sudden urge to hide. Remember, the husband and his wife were “naked and unashamed.” Their sexual unity and liberty were emblematic of their whole-life unity. But now, rather than freedom and liberty there is shame and isolation. Even worse, when God confronts Adam about his sin, he doesn’t admit his wrong—he blames his wife and shirks responsibility.
The 20th century didn’t ruin marriage, it has been a battle we have been battling since Eden. But let’s consider a particularly modern problem with marriage: We expect too much and too little from marriage.
One of the strange consequences of living in our current world today is that while we may see institutional religion receding in the modern West, that doesn’t mean that people have become less religious. If anything, broken out of the traditional bounds of religion, the religious fervor and excitement has seemed to become heightened. Only now it is flailing around, grasping at anything that has the faintest whiff of transcendence about it, whether that be politics, social activism, artistic expression, self-discovery, psychedelic experiences, and, most popularly, sex and romance.
Romantic love is the closest thing many people feel towards what religion once conferred upon them: a loving relationship where you are accepted and embraced, known and loved, and the magnetic, quasi-mystical experience of sexual attraction. We long to be given a solid sense of identity and meaning, and hope that the one, our soulmate, the missing puzzle piece will make us whole. So, naturally, we put an enormous amount of expectations upon our partner or potential partner. This is where young single people stay single for a long time because they have astronomically high standards. They are looking for the one and so they must find someone who not only is very physically attractive, but also shares their same views on everything, and who has compatible life goals, and accepts them just as they are, and has no serious problems themselves, no family baggage, no annoying ticks, gets along with all their friends.
But here is the catch, even if you are lucky enough to find someone who makes it through all the sifters and screens, and you get married, it will only be a matter of time before you discover some hidden flaw in them that you didn’t realize. And here is a maxim to live by: those you idolize, you eventually demonize. If you expect someone to function as a Savior and God over your life, it is just going to be a matter of time before they fail you, and when—not if—but when your spouse does fail you, you will go from adoring them to despising them, even hating them. It wasn’t supposed to be like this! I have been so faithful, I have been so good to them, how dare they treat me like this? I deserve better.
In the Church, sometimes we can so emphasize marriage that individuals wrongly think that if they just get married, life will fall together for them, and they don’t realize that they smuggled into their marriage a whole trunk of idolatry with them—they have unconsciously and unwittingly begun to assume their spouse should be their Redeemer and Savior. And it doesn’t take long before you find out that your spouse isn’t Jesus, isn’t the spouse you thought they were going to be, and that you aren’t the spouse you thought you would be.
Here is a diagnostic question for you: if your spouse lets you down in a non-covenant breaking way (i.e. not adultery, abuse, etc.), will you be able to respond like you are filled with the Holy Spirit?
There are lots of ways our culture at large cares too little about marriage, but lets keep it in house for now and think about the church. Spouses can care too little about marriage usually as a boomerang effect of expecting too much. They are burned out and so decide that complacency and cynicism are emotionally easier. This looks like cold, sexless marriages; this looks like spouses keeping a list of wrongs; this looks like complaining behind your spouse’s back; making passive-aggressive comments, sniping at each other. Or, guys, much more simply, this looks like not caring that much. It looks like letting the kids or work or hobbies or friends begin to just eat up all of your time so that there is no emotional energy or time left for your spouse.
Here is a diagnostic question for you: when was the last time you did or said something to your spouse that let them know that they are delight to you?
The Redemption of Marriage
The first miracle that Jesus ever performed was at wedding. According to the gospel of John, Jesus “manifested his glory” by helping a young couple not have to face the embarrassment of running out of wine for the celebration. The same author of that gospel as wrote the last book of the Bible, and there he sees a heavenly vision of the remaking of the whole world and it looks like…a wedding. God’s glorified people who have been beautified by his grace are described as “a bride adorned for her husband,” (Rev 21:2). The Bible begins with a wedding and ends with a wedding. Why does God care about weddings and marriages so much? Why would Jesus choose a humble setting like a wedding in Cana to be the first act to reveal His glory? Because the story of the Bible is a story of marriage.
When Paul cites Genesis 2:24 in his letter to the Ephesians he explains: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church,” (Eph 5:32). What is Paul saying here? He is saying that the blueprint of marriage is given to point us towards Jesus’ relationship with the Church. Which means that marriage isn’t ultimately about marriage, but about the gospel.
This provides the double cure to those who expect too much and too little from marriage.
If you expect too much from marriage and are banking on your spouse to be your Savior, you can remember that you only have one Savior, and He will never let you down, never hurt you, never sin against you. Your spouse is given to you, not to be your Savior, but to point you to Him. So, when your spouse sins against you—or you sin against your spouse—you both can go directly to your all-sufficient Savior who heals and forgives. Maybe your marriage is being strangled because you have essentially cut Jesus out of it.
If you expect too little from marriage and simply are not putting in effort, not pursuing your spouse, holding onto sin and using it as a weapon, then remember that the ultimate model for your marriage is Jesus’ love of His Bride. You are to extend to your spouse the love, care, forgiveness, intentionality, creativity, and grace that you have received in Jesus Christ. This is why your marriage exists.
Just to give one practical example: Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet says this: Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds. What does that mean? It means that love is not real love if it goes away when changes come, either in circumstances or the beloved. Love is constant it “looks on tempests and is never shaken.” But how do you love someone like that? What happens when your spouse becomes a different person than the one you married? What happens when you don’t feel loving? You ask yourself: How have I been loved in Jesus Christ? How did He pursue me? Was I lovely when He came for me? Was I deserving? Was I easy to reach, or did it cost him?
And then, out of the overflow of what you have first received in Jesus Christ, you extend love, no matter what.
What do we all want? To be known and loved.
What do we all fear? To be known and rejected, or to be loved but never known, to feel like people love a false version of us.
What does Jesus know about me? Everything. And yet, He still loves me.
That makes me incredible secure emotionally and psychologically and free to give love without expectation of return.