Therefore a man shall leave his father and 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 (ESV)
We read in Genesis 2 that God made Adam first, then put him to sleep, took one of his ribs and made the woman from it, and then brought the woman to the man (verse 22). In His great wisdom, God has given to mankind the wonderful gift of sexuality and marriage. From the Scriptures we read that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. Let me make it very clear that this is the only way marriage is defined. Any other way is outright rebellion against God. Do not call a “union” between a woman and another woman marriage, neither a “union” between a man and another man. It is not so according to God’s Spirit-inspired, absolutely true and inerrant Word.
Today (June 20, 2012), Beth and I celebrate 20 years of marriage! I can’t believe it has gone by so quickly. In August of 1989, God “put me to sleep” and brought this amazing woman to me. At age 18, when I least expected it, Beth and I met at Toccoa Falls College. Almost 3 years later we would marry. Beth is absolutely a gift from the Lord. “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). At the time we married, I thought I could never love her more than I did then. Was I ever wrong! As we have grown and matured, so has our love one for the other. Beth and I can take no credit for this. We know that it is only by His grace that this is true.
We spent much of our afternoon today talking about the things, biblically speaking, that make a godly and Christ-honoring marriage. We actually thought of a scenario: if a young man comes to me or a young woman comes to Beth and asks us what makes the difference in our marriage, what would we say? First of all, let me say that Christian marriages should not only look different, but really BE different from those in the world. I’m not after how your marriage “looks”. You and your spouse can give the appearance of harmony and love when in reality it’s just not there. We are masters of the cover-up. I’m talking about how your marriage really is. There’s a huge difference!
Well, what would we say if we were asked that question? I will let you in on our discussion: What would we say if asked what makes our marriage different and attractive?
First of all, it is of greatest importance to understand that marriage is a covenant union. A covenant is not a contract. A contract is based upon distrust. We draw up contracts because we want to protect ourselves from the other party’s negligence or lack of trustworthiness. A covenant is based on promise.
A covenant union is a primary union. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife.” As we see from the text, the man is the initiator of the covenant, he leaves mom and dad, and his new primary union is to his wife. The newly married man and woman are certainly thankful for all that mom and dad did for them (generally speaking), but they realize that they now no longer answer to mom and dad! They have made a covenant before God and they now cleave one to another.
A covenant union is a precious union. God designed the man and the woman to fulfill His command to fill the earth through the means of procreation – which means, sex! The fruit of sex is babies! In addition to this, God gave sex for pleasure! That’s right! Many of the early Church fathers taught that couples should only have sex for procreation. Thank God for Martin Luther and the Reformation. From the Reformation came a recovery of Biblical marriage as well as the Gospel. God designed sex for marriage, and our sexuality is a precious gift of God. The two become one flesh. They are naked and unashamed. Further, God designed sex for protection. It protects the partners from temptation and from pursuing immorality. Married couples should have sex even when they don’t feel like it. They should not withhold it from each other. If you only have sex when you both “feel” like it, you will find that those times don’t happen very often, meaning that sex doesn’t happen very often, leading to a lack of intimacy in the marriage. There is something powerful in sex that protects your heart in many ways. Maintaining the intimacy will lead to greater affections. I encourage all the married couples out there: “Give it a shot!” For many years I taught abstinence classes in the local Junior High and High schools. I used to tell them, “I don’t believe in abstinence!” They would say, “Why are you here?” I would say, “You see this ring on my finger? I believe in abstinence until marriage, but sex inside of marriage is a most wonderful thing and I would encourage you to wait until you make that covenant commitment. Sex outside of marriage only creates more troubles and heart break. Sex within marriage is a sweet symphony that brings great pleasure to a married couple.”
A covenant union is a permanent union. It’s “until death do us part.” It is not disposable, like the baby’s diapers! It goes beyond your feelings and gives the proper foundation for your marriage. Beth and I talked again about the covenant union we made 20 years ago. When we go through difficult times, we don’t threaten to leave and we don’t point the finger of blame. That’s immaturity and manipulation. These are ungodly responses that reveal a selfish heart. Rather, by grace we press on, remembering the promise we made to stick together, work things out and trust God through difficult times – even if my affections are weak. The covenant will see you through!
Our second response would be that love and covenant must go together. Many people today are cohabiting, even some who are members in evangelical churches! And they think nothing of it! How sad this is. Why? Because, when couples cohabit rather than make a covenant in marriage, they are saying, “I will not close all available options. I will keep the door open for someone or something else.” This type of attitude is not love, is it? No!! Real love is when a man asks a woman, “Will you marry me? I want to make a covenant between God and you that I will be yours and yours only until death do us part.” Now that’s love. Some say, “All I need is love. I don’t need a piece of paper.” Well, the covenant gives evidence that you really do love. To neglect the covenant is to be a user of the other person. It makes a mockery of marriage and makes the relationship self-serving. Beth and I long for Christ to be glorified in our marriage. We do not want to use each other for our own selfish ends. We want to love from the heart and seek, by God’s grace, to honor the commitment we made to each other.
Our third area of discussion would be on the importance of living in our God-designed gender roles. This is huge and could occupy many more posts. Genesis 3 tells us how the entrance of sin brought a corruption of gender roles. “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” I could talk a lot about this but for now let me make clear the following: the Bible teaches that the man is the head of the wife. He is to love His wife as Christ loves the Church. He is to provide, nurture, tend and protect his wife. He is to be gentle with her and love her in words and deeds. O how desperately we need men to repent and seek forgiveness for neglecting to fulfill their God-given role. Also, women must be subject to their husbands in everything. They are to honor and respect their husbands and they should be careful to fight an independent spirit. Ephesians 5:22-33, must however be seen in light of its context. In verse 18, all believers are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit,” and then there are four evidences that this is the case given in verses 19-21. I find very often that when couples have issues, it is because they are not walking with Lord and are not filled with the Spirit as they ought to be. They don’t read their Bibles, they neglect prayer, they neglect fellowship and accountability with other believers, and Christ is not the center of their thoughts or their lips. We cannot submit one to another (Ephesians 5:21) if we are not controlled by God’s Spirit.
Lastly, Beth and I would say that the greatest factor contributing to the strength of our marriage is the transforming power of the Gospel. We are two sinners that have said, “I do.” As Dave Harvey titled his book, When Sinners Say ‘I Do’, that is absolutely true of us. We are sinners by nature and inclined to evil. Our only hope to restore what sin has corrupted and distorted is the Gospel. Only through the Gospel can our marriage picture the love Christ has for His Church. By His Grace, God saves sinners and imputes to them the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ as they come to him by faith. It is not enough for two people simply to profess that they are Christians and think that they will have a great marriage. On the contrary, many who profess Christ have no idea how the Gospel applies to their lives. They give very little thought to it. They do not seek to uncover the hidden sins of the heart, confess and forsake them, and find forgiveness in Christ. After all, who likes having their evil heart exposed? That’s why churches preaching a “feel good” message are full. People run from churches that call believers to search deep within, confess and forsake their sin, and learn how to fight using the Gospel. Understanding the doctrine of justification by faith is critical in the fight for your marriage.
I know that Satan will do all he can to destroy our marriages. We have an adversary who despises the biblical picture of marriage. He cannot stand to look upon a union that pictures Christ and His Church. So, I encourage all of us to guard our hearts and our marriages. Please do not take them for granted. Remember the covenant you made before God, your friends and family, and each other. Look to the cross! Mortify the flesh and put off anger, bitterness, resentment, selfishness, unkindness, rudeness, unforgiveness, etc., and put on love, forgiveness, understanding, gentleness, graciousness, and humility. Time is too short to hold on to resentment, pettiness, and unforgiveness. Renounce those things and fight your tendency to go in that direction. Learn patience and fight for genuine, deep affections. I want our marriages to be different, to picture the Gospel. Our community and our world is watching us. Do our marriages reflect the difference the biblical Gospel – the Doctrines of Grace – has made in our lives?
How do I know if my marriage doesn’t just look healthy, but actually is healthy? Try this: have someone ask your spouse how you really are doing, telling the spouse not to try to protect your image. To tell it straight. Can your spouse do that in absolute truth or does the spouse have to lie to maintain your good image?
Every day that Beth and I share is a gift of God’s grace. It is a great privilege and joy for me to go on this journey of grace with her. Jonathan Edwards dubbed his union with his wife Sarah as an “Uncommon Union.” Our lives and our marriage are in His hands and for as long as He will grant, I want this to be true of us and of you.
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 Notice in Genesis 2:24 the mention of “father and mother.” Remember, Adam and Eve did not have a human father and mother. But children would naturally be the fruit of the union between a man and a woman! It is this pastor’s opinion that couples should marry with the intention of bearing children. God, in His providence, may not open the womb for His sovereign purposes, but couples should seek to procreate. It is my view that deliberate childlessness is a sin against God’s design for marriage. In other words, my position is that it is a sin for a couple to get married and then do all they can to prevent conception because they simply do not want the inconvenience of raising children. No – biblically, we get married to have sex and have children!