18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,
“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.”
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
So, how’s your marriage doing? How about your parents’ marriage? Your friends’ marriages? On a scale of 1-10, what would you rate the status of the marriages around you? And how confident are you in your grading scale? In other words, do you feel like you’ve got a good handle on what makes for a good marriage?
Last Sunday I preached on Genesis 2:18-25. In that sermon I made ten observations on the marriage recorded in that passage. The final observation was that God intended for this first marriage to serve as a paradigm for all future marriages. I tried to help you see that in this first marriage—untainted by sin—we find the foundation and example for all God-honoring marriage. For that reason, beginning this week (and spilling into next) I mean to expand on those points, focusing on their practical implications. Insofar as this first marriage truly was/is an example for us to follow, then, it’s absolutely critical that we understand it and how it applies to us today.
Therefore, my aim in all of this is to share God’s design for marriage, the most foundational of all human relationships, in the hope that an increasingly godly understanding of marriage would lead to increasingly godly marriages. That is, it is my prayer that as a result of this sermon God might be pleased to increasingly fill Grace Church with the kind of marriages that are built upon the word of God, for the glory of God, and are satisfying, fulfilling, and redemptive.
If you were here two weeks ago you will remember that I broke off of preaching directly from the text of Genesis in order to give a more topical sermon on work (in light of God’s command to Adam to tend to the Garden in Genesis 2:15). In that same way, this morning’s sermon is a more topical sermon on marriage based on the marriage of Genesis 2:18-25. Also, just as I mentioned two books that were of particular help to me in my sermon on work, I’d like to mention (and recommend) two books that were of particular help to me for this sermon as well: Love that Lasts by Gary Betsy and Ricucci, and No Ordinary Marriage by Tim Savage.
With that, let’s pray and then consider in more detail the nature of marriage as God instituted it and its implications for our marriages.
Lessions From The First Marriage For Your Marriage
There is a lot that could be said about marriage. Indeed, a lot has been said on marriage; some good and some not so much. One of the problems I’ve encountered is that when two young people are “in love” they don’t think about much besides their “love”. That is, they’re not really interested in digging too deeply into things because they’re too starry eyed to care. On the other end of the spectrum are married couples who are so embarrassed by their troubles early on and then so desperate later on that they will look for “help” (relief) wherever it might be anonymously found. That is, while they feel the need for marriage advice, they’re more interested in finding stuff that works now and secretly than they are in finding that which is true. In other words, unfortunately, I’ve not encountered a lot of people who want to think carefully about God’s design for marriage (at least not until they’re desperate from a difficult marriage).
Hopefully you all are the exceptions and are eager to hear from the only One whose voice on marriage matters: God, the author of marriage. And yet, let me say this as clearly as I can, if your marriage is struggling—and I can say this from personal experience—don’t wait to find help. Even if it’s just seeking prayer and biblical advice from a godly friend, find help. Look for help early and don’t stop looking until you find it. If you’re not sure where to start, please talk to your DG leader. Again, whatever form your struggle takes, please know that you will find a place of safety, kindness, and biblical counsel here at Grace if you are willing to have it.
With all of that, and to that end, let’s consider in greater detail four of the ten principles on marriage.
Marriage Is Designed and Instituted by God
Marriage was not Adam or Eve’s idea. Marriage was not instituted by Adam or Eve. And marriage was not Adam or Eve’s to define. It was God’s idea, instituted by God, and defined by God as well. God brought the woman to the man for marriage and over time gave instructions on it.
Genesis 2:22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
All of this means that marriage is a concrete, objective, fixed thing. It means that human beings are free to enter into it or avoid it, but we are not free to change or alter it. No matter how hard we try we simply cannot manipulate the true essence, meaning, nature, or practice of marriage. We can conform to what it is or play around with it in utter folly and futility.
What practical difference does that make? I have quick, funny story that I think will help answer the question. Several years ago my niece was looking out the front window of her house when she spotted something amazing. She started yelling for her family to come join her at the window to see what she was seeing. As my sister tells the story she caught the excitement and urgency in her daughter’s voice before she could make out the actual words she was saying. On her way to the window it dawned on my sister what my niece was saying. She was yelling out, “Kangaroo! There’s a kangaroo in the street”. My sister immediately knew two things. One, there are no kangaroos in Grand Rapids. MI. And two, her daughter saw something that she completely believed was a kangaroo; there was absolutely no doubt or deceit or humor in her voice. It turns out that it was a dear that had been hit by a car in the hind end and was squatting and hopping down the street.
Here’s the thing, tragedy made the deer look a lot like a kangaroo, but it was no more an actual kangaroo than you or I are; no matter how convinced my niece was otherwise. Without my sister’s wisdom and understanding, my niece could have spent the rest of her life entirely convicted that the animal in her front yard was a real kangaroo.
Let’s press this a tiny bit further. What would have happened if my niece had steadfastly refused to listen to her mom? What if she had tried to keep it as a pet (bear with me here)? I don’t know what kangaroos eat, but I do know that it’s probably different from a deer. Likewise, I don’t know exactly what kind of climate, habitat, sleep habits, etc. kangaroos need/have but again I know that they are probably at least somewhat different from a doe with broken legs. At best there’d be some overlap and my niece would be able to string the deer along while treating it like a kangaroo, but she’d never be able to care for it properly as long as she thought it was a healthy kangaroo instead of a severely wounded deer.
What does all of this have to do with marriage? Given that God made marriage in a certain, specific, and unchangeable way, relationships that do not conform to marriage as it actually is might experience some measure of health, but they will always be frustrating and deficient. Every married person in this room has experienced this whenever you or your spouse have failed to think, feel, or act according to God’s design. Let me be clear here: every marriage problem you have is on account of one or both of you failing to conform yourselves and your marital expectations to God’s design (whether knowingly or unknowingly).
Tragedy (sin) can make certain things that aren’t marriage look a lot like marriage. Likewise, tragedy (sin) can confuse, blind, trick, and make us unconcerned with what marriage really is. And yet tragedy can never make something into a marriage that isn’t, or an unhealthy marriage healthy. Tragedy can’t do these things to marriage any more than getting its hind legs broken can make a deer into a kangaroo.
What, then, is marriage? How did God design it? What must we understand if we are to be married in a way that is honoring to its Maker and fulfilling for us? The aim of the rest of this sermon and next week’s is to point you to God’s Word for the answers to those questions.
Marriage Is Covenantal
First, marriage is covenantal. The fact that marriage is covenantal is clearly taught in the bible and critical to an understanding of what marriage is. And yet many people are not very familiar with what that means. Tim Keller does a good job of making the meaning of covenantal relationships plain by contrasting them with consumer relationships. Of this, he writes (taken from The Meaning of Marriage),
Throughout history there have always been consumer relationships. Such a relationship lasts only as long as the vendor meets your needs at a cost acceptable to you. If another vendor delivers better services or the same services at a better cost, you have no obligation to stay in a relationship to the original vendor. In consumer relationships, it could be said that the individual’s needs are more important than the relationship.
There have also always been covenantal relationships. These are relationships that are binding on us. In a covenant, the good of the relationship takes precedence over the immediate needs of the individual
…the very idea of “covenant” is disappearing in our culture. Covenant is therefore a concept that is increasingly foreign to us, and yet the Bible says it is the essence of marriage…
Marriage, according to Genesis 2:14 (and later, more clearly in Ephesians 5:22-33), is covenantal in that it involves a promise between two individuals, before God, to remain together whatever might come…and here’s the key…as an expression of God’s unrelenting commitment to his faithful people. This is why we recite vows in our weddings.
I take thee to be my wedded Husband/Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth [promise you my faithfulness].
Our marriages, then, are meant to project a living, good, beautiful, and true picture of the gospel—the new covenant in Jesus. In fact, because God has made marriage immutably covenantal, our marriages are always speaking of the gospel…either goodly or badly, beautifully or ugly, and truly or falsely.
What practical difference does this make? It means that in marriage we have chosen to bind ourselves together with another person in a non-consumer way. It means that we cannot honor God in our marriages and treat our spouse like a vendor peddling our selfish desires or a commodity intended to keep us happy. Good marriages will result in mutual happiness, but that is not the purpose of marriage. Many, many spouses have fallen into this trap, believing that their spouse and their marriage exist to make them feel good.
In one sense, then, all of this means that the more each spouse acts like Jesus, laying your lives down for one another, loving sacrificially, and walking in holiness, the more accurate of a gospel picture your marriage will paint. In another sense, then (and I know that in a world filled with abuse we need to be careful here), all of this means that the less your spouse acts like Jesus, the more you’re able to paint an accurate picture of the gospel in your marriage as you respond to their ungodliness according to grace and mercy, according to your unwavering belief in the promises of God, and according to your covenant commit, rather than according to justice and selfishness.
In other words, the covenantal nature of your marriage means that you are not called to respond to your spouse as they respond to you, but as Christ does. It means that your primary aim in marriage is not your personal satisfaction, but Christ’s glory. And it means that there is real peace and contentment and even joy available to you regardless of how ungodly your spouse is because in covenant marriages, those things come from the cross and not your husband or wife. In these ways, then, it is not too much to say that understanding the covenantal nature of your marriage—even if your spouse doesn’t—changes every single thing about your marriage.
Marriage is God’s idea, institution, and his to define, and the first piece of that is that marriage is covenantal.
Marriage Is Heterosexual
Next, marriage is heterosexual; between a man and a woman. I imagine that this is not news to most of you, but it still needs to be said in today’s culture. Because God made marriage and made it something specific and immutable (as we saw earlier), we can no more alter this fixed reality than we can turn a deer into a kangaroo. This is not unique to those trying to expand marriage to include homosexuality, but it does include that.
21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
God made man and God made woman. And God made marriage for man and woman alone.
But we need to be careful here. We need to be careful on two fronts. On one front we need to be careful to find our understanding of human nature, morality, and marriage in God’s word. We cannot take our cues from or be intimidated by the culture around us. We cannot be more concerned with being well thought of by unbelieving outsiders than being faithful to God. “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God” and anything other than heterosexual, covenantal marriage wants of conformity and transgresses the law of God. So again, we need to be careful of being carried away by the powerful current of our culture, of fearing man, and of living out of a desire to avoid appearing mean or intolerant, or anything else.
But we must also be careful on another front. We must be careful here to avoid being disgusted by other people’s sins, but blind to our own. We must be careful of elevating one particular marital want of conformity or transgression above others. We must be careful of thinking of “those sinners”. We must be careful of ignoring the marital plank in our own eyes for the planks in others. The main problem marriage faces is Christians failing to live out the gospel in their marriages, not non-Christians entering into marriage in non-Christian ways. Our primary response to the sins of others in marriage (or anything else for that matter) should be the same as our response to our own sins in marriage: pointing them (and ourselves) to the gospel in love.
Practically, all of this means a few things. First, it means that to love someone involved in a “homosexual marriage,” means calling them to repent and find forgiveness and love in Christ. As I said earlier, there is no way to alter marriage as God has made it (in this way or any other), and honor God in it. Second, it means that we need to love those who struggle in this area just as we want Jesus to love us in our rebellion (whatever its particular form in our lives). And third, it means that in order to help people see this, we cannot start with marriage. Rather, we need to swim further up the Genesis stream to help them see that God made the heavens and earth and everything in them, that God made man and woman and marriage for them, and because God alone did these things, he alone has the right to define marriage. Only within that story is covenantal, heterosexual marriage rightly seen as good, beautiful, and true. In any other story this view of marriage is seen as tolerable at best and hateful at worst.
Marriage Is Human
Marriage is from God, covenantal, and heterosexual. Finally, marriage is also human.
18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them…20 … But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.
There was no suitable wife found among the animals. I don’t intend to say a lot about this point as I’ve never heard a serious argument against it even by the most secular person, but I do intend to say this: not many years ago homosexual marriage as a God-honoring form of marriage was nearly as inconceivable as animal marriage is today. Many people have rejected God as the author of marriage throughout history and therein felt free to marry (or not marry) however they wanted, but only recently did people who claimed to believe in the God of the bible start claiming God’s pleasure in homosexual marriage. Again, my point is this: once we detether marriage from the nature of God as revealed in His Word it will eventually become whatever we can conceive of in our pride, worldly wisdom, and selfish desires.
Practically speaking, then, either we will settle on the fact that marriage is God’s and in the bible God tells us what it is, or we will never be able to honor God in our marriage. In that way, any and every rejection of God’s design is the same as bestiality. Practically speaking, then, let’s humble ourselves of any and all rebellion against marriage as God made it. Let’s take God’s Word and carefully and prayerfully press our marriages up against it. Where we find that they fall short of God’s design, let’s be quick to confess, repent, and walk in righteousness. Let’s pray for the marriages of Grace Church and all of God’s people. Let’s live in light of the gospel ourselves and make lots of room for it in the marriages around us.
As far as I can remember, this is the most cultural commentary I’ve ever given in a sermon. And yet, if you leave this sermon thinking mainly about the cultural commentary or the “sad state of marriage in the US today” or the sinful marriages of others, then you’ve entirely missed the point. The point, once again, is this: As God’s people we must continually fight to conform our expectations for marriage and our marriages to the will of God. Marriage is rooted in the nature of God and explained in the Word of God. In coming to understand these things we have a chance to show the world the grace and mercy of God in our marriages now more than ever. Biblical, covenantal, heterosexual, human marriages aimed exclusively at projecting the gospel to God in worship, our spouse, each other, and the world around us will stand out more than ever before perhaps. Thanks be to the Father for sending the Son to give fullness of meaning to marriage and to die for our marriage sins, and for sending the Spirit to empower us to live as He requires. Amen.