Sunday, October 11, 2015

Marriage

We've gotten Adam to the point of becoming a husband. And in response to that he sings a lovely song to his bride. Moses then adds a comment.
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. Genesis 2.24,25
And the institution of marriage is created. That's what we're going to take a look at this morning. I think that you'll agree that it warrants another look because of what's been going on in our culture. It is my hope that, in time, the Church will be able to rebuild this institution. But to be able to do that we need to understand it better.

So, let's start with a simple definition. Marriage is a unique relationship between a man and a woman.

Now, so much hinges on one word here, 'unique'. What is so unique about this relationship? There are many kinds of relationships between men and women. Here think: siblings, parent and adult child, co-workers, neighbors. What makes this one unique? Moses tells us with these words:
… they shall become one flesh.
So, what's that about? The temptation is to think of it in terms of emotional or even physical attachment. These do exist in a marriage, but that's not what Moses is talking about. When two people marry, something invisible happens, something you might even call mystical. And I get that from something Jesus said when He explained Moses' words.
So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.
God does something when there is a marriage. He joins these two people together in a way that goes beyond psychology or sociology or even biology. He makes them one. You will never read of this sort of thing happening in any other kind of relationship - except for one: Jesus' relationship with the Church. And that makes sense since marriage is designed to be a picture of that relationship.

So, something invisible, mystical, happens when two people are wed. But that invisible something is tied to something very visible. The Scriptures also view marriage in terms of two people making a covenant with each other. From Malachi:
… the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
A wedding ceremony is the making of a covenant where a man and a woman make commitments to each other. He vows to be a husband to this woman as God defines that. She vows to be a wife to this man as God defines that. This covenantmaking is witnessed not only by God but also by the community. And that's important because the community is involved in helping this couple to keep those vows, just as God is. And both God and the community will stand as witnesses against any who break those vows.

This helps to explain those times when the Scriptures declare a divorce legitimate. It's when the marriage covenant is broken. But it's God and the community that determine when that is the case, not the couple on their own.

The time of covenant making is the visible part of two becoming one. It reflects the invisible part: God mystically joining these two together, making them one flesh.

Now, this relationship, once established, is just like a newborn. It needs to be nourished and cared for so that it can mature. Proper development isn't automatic in newborns or marriages. So, how does that happen? Moses tells us.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife…
There are two things to notice here. The first has to do with leaving. Once the marriage has been established, the nature of the relationships that the new couple has with their parents changes. What was once the primary relationship in the lives of these two is knocked down a notch. Parents are still loved, but the spouse now takes first place. Too many marriages are marred when apron strings are not cut and emotional ties with a parent interfere with the new marriage. That's important to get straight, and the husband, as the one responsible, needs to make sure that the change happens.

The second thing to notice is that phrase, 'and hold fast to his wife'. The verb here shows up in Ruth.
Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth held fast to her.
Ruth would not let her mother-in-law go. If that was true in that mother/daughter relationship how much more should it be the case in a husband/wife relationship? And yet, how often, after a couple of decades of marriage, do we see couples no longer holding fast to each other? There's no obvious sin. It's just that they have drifted apart.

There are many things that work to separate what God has joined together. Here are two that are especially dangerous in our day: the job and children.

Jobs today can create great difficulties. Employers sometimes demand much from their employees. Sometimes it's the number of hours, but it can also be the emotional drain of the job. The job can devour time and energy that a marriage needs if the two are going to continue to hold to each other. This is an area that you need to watch. Sometimes there isn't much room to make changes, but even minor adjustments can help.

The other thing that can separate a couple is their children. You'll notice that there is no mention of children when marriage is created. Adam and Eve would go on to have children, but those children were not a part of the definition of their marriage. Children are a blessing from God, but they are that only as long as the affections of their parents are first given to each other. We are continually and subtly told that we need to be sure that the kids get a great experience of growing up. And that usually means being involved in lots of things. Again, we're talking about time and energy. And you've only got so much of either of those. A marriage is a unique relationship that cannot be replaced by any other. It needs to be nourished and protected.

The importance of what I've told you this morning becomes clear when you consider this question. What is the goal of marriage? And what is the popular answer of the day? The goal of marriage is happiness, right? So, the man and the woman say to themselves, 'I want to get married so that I can be happy'. It's not even, 'so that we can be happy'. No, our selfcenteredness has no bounds. And that's why so many divorce. 'I'm no longer happy with this person. It's time to find someone new so that I can be happy again.' And that's also why, in some cases, the children become so important. 'My spouse no longer makes me happy. Maybe the children will.' Here's a sobering fact that we all need to take to heart: Happiness that endures and fully satisfies the human heart will not be found this side of the resurrection. Coming to grips with that fact will save a lot of heartache.

The purpose of marriage is not happiness. It never was. The purpose of marriage is the same as the purpose of the rest of life: to make God look good. So, some words from Paul, slightly altered:
So, whether you eat or drink, or [get married or stay single], or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
It's only when that is the target that a successful, enjoyable marriage is possible. Life works best when we aim for that goal.

Now, there are a number of ways that people might respond to what I've said this morning. I'm just going to consider two. There's the response that says something like, 'Leave parents, hold to one another, watch out for things that interfere. Got it. I can do that.'  No, you can't. A person thinking like this does not understand sin. Sin is subtle; it's powerful; it's sneaky. And it's all of those things because it isn't about how you behave. It's about the attitudes that you bring to a marriage. And there are so many ways in which our attitudes are so sinful - but we don't even see them. And it is these hidden attitudes that can destroy a marriage. I hope that none of you ever thinks, 'I can do that.' The only way to have a good marriage is by the grace of God and a lot of hard work. It will take both to uncover and get rid of the hidden sins that destroy marriages. Apart from grace and work there is no hope. One of the more important areas where American Christians need to do some serious work is in understanding better the true nature of sin. We do not understand our enemy.

Then, there is the other possible response to what I've said. 'Well, thanks for reminding me that my marriage isn't working. Thanks for pointing out more of the ways that I'm failing as a spouse. I'll keep at it, but I'm not very optimistic.'

So, what do I say to this kind of response? It's actually the same problem as the first response. Christians don't understand sin. In this case, what's misunderstood is the power of the Spirit to get rid of sin, to rip it out by the roots, so that it really is gone. And again, it will take the grace of God and a lot of hard work for that to happen. But it can happen. And the key is this: believing Jesus when He says that He can change your life, including your marriage. Once again, we're back to believing the Gospel.

Now, am I promising a perfect marriage? No. You will never have that. But can you have a good marriage? Oh, absolutely. But be careful here. Am I talking about being happy? No. I'm talking about a marriage that makes God look as good as He is. And if that disappoints you, it says a lot about your attitude about life. What’s the goal? But let me also say that when you have the right goal you will experience more happiness than when the goal is happiness itself.

Here, I want to get a little specific on one possible area of your marriage to consider if you actually do believe Jesus' promise of change and are ready for some hard work. This is where that last sentence comes in.
And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
So, what's this about? Here's one big part of it: no secrets. A husband and wife are to hide nothing from each other. Nothing. And what's the opposite of keeping secrets? It's talking, a lot, about everything. And we're back to honest talking, something I spoke about a couple of weeks ago.

Not every conversation needs to be about deep secrets. It can be about very ordinary things, how the day went, what you're reading, just stuff and things. But if you aren't having conversations about ordinary, everyday things, you're not very likely to have the 'I need to tell you something really personal and really important' kind of conversation. So, you need to talk. You need to have that time when you're just together, talking. Honest talking. Will that revolutionize your marriage overnight? Probably not. But Jesus will use it to begin to change it and make it more like what it's supposed to be: something that makes God look good.

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