May 25, 2008 INTRODUCTION – Four State Supreme Court justices shocked the world last week when they decided in their infinite wisdom that homosexual marriages are just as legally justified as heterosexual ones, and thus should be treated as such in CA.
I have observed and read a variety of responses to this judicial decision. Homosexuals and lesbians wanting to be married to one another and wanting to be recognized by the government as such of course are elated. Various leaders of Christian activist groups are outraged, and are vowing to fight this to the end.
While I will be the first to vote for a marriage amendment to our state constitution that will override this judicial decision, I do not think that that – in and of itself will solve the ever deepening problem we are witnessing in our society. I submit to you this morning that the primary reason marriage is in such trouble in our society is because married believers have either not understood the original intended purpose and importance of marriage, and/or have been cavalier or complacent in pursuing that purpose and priority in their own marriages. And because we have either not understood God’s original intended purpose and plan, or we have not been passionate about pursuing that purpose for our own marriages, we have lacked the conviction, authority and passion necessary to help reproduce it in other’s marriages.
Put in a more positive light, I submit that the best and most powerful way to overcome the ever growing confusion and perversion of marriage in our society is to live out day by day God’s original purpose and plan for marriage in your own marriage, and in mine.
Two Sundays ago or so we determined from Matthew 5 that greatness in the kingdom of God is when a believer practices the word of God and teaches others to do the same.
From my ongoing study of scripture I believe God has called every one of you who know Him to a life of greatness. I believe God has called this congregation to a level of kingdom greatness that will in time mightily impact this Coastal region. But I submit to you that that will never happen if we do not discover God’s original purpose and plan for marriage, and give ourselves to that with a passion and zeal we have never had before.
One of the great tragedies of our time in the Western part of the world – is our society knows – when it comes to marriage – what the church is against. But I’m not sure they know what we are for. My objective this morning is to make sure you know what we are for when it comes to marriage; and then to motivate you to renew your commitment to this most sacred and most powerful relationship.
Turn with me if you would to Gen. chapter 1. The book of Genesis is a book that the church by and large is familiar with to the point of contempt. We know the stories, but we often have not understood what lies beneath the stories. And because we know the stories, we often do not see the need to revisit the stories.
Gen. 1 starts with the historical account of the creation of the world. By vs. 25 everything has been created except mankind – or humanity. God was pleased with what He had created so far, and declared it as good. But as gorgeous and awesome and as diverse as the universe was, including the plants and animals that swarmed the earth, the most significant aspect of God’s creation was yet to be manifested. Vs. 26, 27.
God the Father, God the Son & God the Holy Spirit had related to one another throughout eternity in perfect harmony, unity and love. I would have you note that this is the first time in the creation account that the tri-unity of our God is emphasized with the pro-nouns “Us”, and “Our”. While the creation thus far had been a demonstration of the power and creativity of God, nothing so far created could mirror and be an example of the relational unity of the Godhead, not to mention His love, compassion, mercy,etc.. There were no two planets, plants or animals that could be a living demonstration of what God is like as they relate to one another, and rule together. Planets, plants and animals – as much as I enjoy staring at them – cannot mirror as they relate to one another what God is like in all His glory and majesty. Only a man and a woman – brought together in holy matrimony – with God in their midst can pull that off.
Please note the repetition of image and likeness here. The law of repetition tells us – that very close to the heart and purpose of God is that His express and exact image is made known on the earth through marriages between a man and a woman. (vs. 26,27).
One of the primary, God designed means or ways for the watching world to know how Great God is, and what He is like – is by a man and a woman, who though because of biology and background and gifts and personality traits are as different as night and day – are able to walk together in harmony, unity and love. One of God’s primary methods of revealing His glory to mankind is through healthy, united, harmonious, loving, and productive marriages between a man and a woman.
You say, I thought the church’s purpose is to glorify and make Christ known?? Well it is, but the church was always meant to be made up of image bearing married couples. I submit to you that no church will ever accurately and effectively make God in all his glory and majesty and splendor known until it gives itself to developing healthy and godly marriages. The local church of any community will never be any more healthy and fruitful and effective than its marriages.
Well if that is so, what would those healthy marriages look like?
Well first of all, they would be marriages wherein the husband and wife know what their ultimate purpose is, which is to glorify God and make Him known through the way they relate to one another and work together. That’s what the image talk is all about in vs. 26,27.
Second, by capitalizing on the diversity of gifts and temperaments they bring to the table – they would seek God for what He wants them to rule over and/or manage in His creation. Vs. 26b. The obvious things would be their immediate family and their home and property. Beyond that – I believe God meant for a husband and wife to rule over and manage their ever expanding clan. I believe He meant for them to work together in their jobs – – if not directly like owning and running their own business; then I believe He wants them to help each other in any way they can run and manage their businesses or job responsibilities in an effective way. I believe God expects husbands and wives to rule over their neighborhoods – eventually seeing God use them to help some of their neighbors come to Christ, and helping all of them form community, and care for one another.
Third, such a marriage would be characterized by the producing of children. Vs. 28a There is a growing trend in the West to view children as bothersome instead of as blessings; and as irresponsible in light of over population issues in some parts of the world. I do not want to ignore the significant over-population issues we have in some of our primarily Asian cities. But young parents and future parents – God should have the final word in this respect – – not your sociology professors.
Fourth, such a marriage would be characterized by the managing and ruling with their children of whatever responsibilities God gave them as a family. (vs. 28 c)
Please note that only after God created the first married couple did He see what He had made and declare that it was “very good.” (vs. 31) This relationship of a man and a woman in God’s eyes was the primary building block of society. It was the one relationship upon which all other relationships would depend and flow out of. It was the one relationship or entity on the earth that had the potential to reveal God in all His majesty and glory.
Well that brings us to chapter 2. In this chapter we get the first glimpse of the concept of the restoring or renewing Sabbath rest – that will re-appear many times throughout scripture. This was to be one of the ways marriages would survive the challenges and demands of life. You read about that in the first few verses.
Then a good portion of this chapter is devoted to the description of the absolute paradise that God placed them in (vs. 4-14). Perhaps one of the reasons God wants us to know of the beauty and bounty of the garden of Eden is so we can appreciate how reasonable it was for God to restrict them from only one of the many fruit bearing trees in that luscious garden.
I hope that every one of you are fruit lovers. Can you imagine living in an area that might be compared to the Los Osos valley; and it had every fruit tree you can imagine, and none of them had worms or fruit flies, and you were encouraged to eat as much as you wanted as often as you wanted except for one little tree? If the Nash family had lived there our blender would have been going non stop – providing we could have come up with electricity and ice cream or yoghurt.
Earlier I asked what those healthy marriages would look like? What did God expect of married couples based on the original pattern? Well chapter 2 vs. 15 tells us that God gave to man the responsibility of cultivating and caring for the earth, and specifically the plot of earth God loans to him and his family. Originally, in Adam’s case, he was given this responsibility before God created Eve. And by the way, the prohibition regarding eating of the one tree was originally given to Adam according to vs. 17.
We don’t know how long Adam lived alone. But we know from vs. 18 that God eventually decided it was time to end Adam’s aloneness, which God had always planned to do; so God decided the solution was to make him “a helper suitable for him.” Please note that the Lord God said this to someone. I believe He spoke this to Adam, since He had been speaking to him in vs. 16,17.
Now we know from chapter one that God had already created all of the animals that He is getting ready to list here in vs. 19,20. What He seems to be emphasizing here is that this parade of animals that He was bringing to Adam to name and consider had one thing in common. All of them were made from the ground (vs. 19 “Out of the ground..”). I believe God wanted Adam to see that even though elephants and horses had proved to be of great help to him, and dogs had proved to be great companions for him – – none of these animals had the capacity to be helpers “suitable for him.”
What kind of help did Adam need, that only a wife – made not out of the ground – but out of his rib – could provide? Well the key to understanding that is understanding what this term literally means. If you look in your Bibles, some of your Bibles will have a little 1 before the word “suitable.” That 1 points you to the margin (middle in my Bible) where I then look for the bold number 18, and then the 1 again. What does it say there? “lit corresponding to”. What does “lit” stand for? Literally. When God created Eve, He created her corresponding to Adam. In other words, He created Eve to fill the holes in Adam’s life – or to bring completion or wholeness to Adam’s life. God’s ultimate will for Adam and for every other human He has created since is to see them become increasingly “conformed to the image of His Son” – Romans 8 tells us – – that is – through relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ – every man, woman and child is to be a walking mirror of who God is and what He is like. When they become adults, God’s primary way of bringing this kind of growth and character about is by joining them with someone of the opposite sex, who has opposite strengths and weaknesses – – so that when the two are brought together – they can be far more together than they ever could have been alone. Marriage is the ultimate iron sharpening iron principle in action.
An obvious illustration of this principle is what would have happened if you called me 14 and a half years ago as a single man to come and pastor this church. Now I might have come fully committed to pour out my life for this church and this community. But at best – it would have been a half life poured out. Some of you who know and have watched my wife over the years – would probably maintain that it would have been a 1/3 life. Without Anne to sharpen and compliment or complete me, I would have been far more impulsive, far more quick to judge, far more sexist, far less creative, far less patient, far less children oriented, far less appropriate in the way I related to women, etc., etc., etc.
When our Sovereign God brings a young man and young woman together – He makes sure that their weaknesses are off set by the other’s strengths – – He makes sure that their gifts and personality traits are complimentary. Because God expects married couples to build the families and clans that can bless their communities and provide those communities with the social fabric that can solve any problem and overcome any obstacle.
Unfortunately many of us have gone into marriage not understanding how badly we needed the constant sharpening and rounding off rough edges our spouse was meant to provide. Thus we tend to build resentment when they challenge us, and perhaps jealousy when they surpass us in certain things, and instead of thanking God for the things they bring to the table that we do not and cannot, we start looking around for a different model – – or we just develop a hard heart towards them and kind of tolerate them until the kids are out of the house – – at which point – – we think we can rid ourselves of this irritant and obstacle to our freedom and enjoyment of life.
Please note in vs. 24 that it is “For this reason,” that “a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh”, which speaks of spiritual, mental, emotional, and sexual oneness. You may have had wonderful parents, who love you and are committed to you. But they weren’t taken from your rib; and they weren’t created uniquely “corresponding to you” and they can never fulfill the role – your God appointed spouse can. And your God appointed spouse can never fulfill that role if you are maintaining a co-dependent relationship with a parent or both parents that prevents you from truly bonding with your spouse.
My, my did Adam and Eve have it made! They were uniquely designed for each other; they lived in absolute paradise; they had absolute sexual freedom without any shame or embarrassment issues according to vs. 25 – – no sin and selfishness – no children or parents or in-laws to interfere; and we don’t know how long they enjoyed this ecstacy. But my guess is they did for a while.
Now let me ask you something. If you were Satan; and you hated God with a diabolical passion; and you wanted to ruin His plans and thwart His purposes on the earth; how would you seek to go about it? Well let’s read ch. 3 vs. 1-5 and see what we can learn from it.
Please note that Satan did not try to get them offended at one another. He went straight after their trust in God’s goodness and righteousness. Satan knows (often better than we) if he can shake our confidence in the goodness and righteousness of God towards us – – our foundation is shaken and everything else will be adversely affected.
Satan has an amazing ability to shield us or to get us to forget about all of the good things God has given us and done for us; and to instead get us to focus on the one thing He has withheld from us – – and get us to then deduct that He is a kill joy; that He is holding out on us; that He is unreasonable; and that we are better off taking life into our own hands.
Up to this point, Adam and Eve experienced on a daily basis the joy and security and peace that comes from knowing God and walking with Him and trusting Him and His word and His will and way. In these first two chapters He speaks to them freely and often; they hear His voice, know His will, trust His way, and enjoy His presence. Ch. 3:8 is evidence of that – – There were probably a variety of sounds in the garden or valley they lived in; but one they grew used to and looked forward to was that of the Lord’s. Why Adam and Eve were so willing to give up so much for so little – – well again you have to give some credit to the enemy of our souls and our marriages. He knows that a marriage without the foundation of an ongoing daily relationship with God, will never know and experience the power and authority and influence that God had originally intended for it. So He is relentless in attacking God’s character – and sowing doubt in our minds of His goodness.
The rest of chapter 3 describes the penalty or judgment God directed towards the evil one, towards the woman, and towards the man.
Rather than go into that, I want to explore with you why – if marriage is so important – if the marriage relationship between a man and a woman is God’s primary tool or weapon to establish His kingdom upon the earth and to make Himself known – – why have we struggled so much in the church to experience and walk this out?? (a couple of reasons)
1. Pastors are increasingly afraid to speak to this because there is so much shipwreck in the marriages in our churches. Even as I was preparing this message, I struggled with being too emphatic on some of these points because of how those who have gone through divorce might feel. Somehow we have got to find a way to continue to minister to the divorced and broken families in our midst ,and yet at the same time hold up high the biblical standard of God’s original purpose and plan for marriage. I sometimes hear people say, “revival is going to come in the younger generation.” Well it might. But it certainly won’t last if the church has not aggressively prepared our young people to thrive in their marriages according to the biblical pattern and standard. Because whenever there is a move of God, Satan and his demons will immediately go after the marriages to diffuse it.
2. Pastors have been reticent to speak to this because their own marriages were far from the ideal. Perhaps because in general we pastors are more aware of how high the Biblical standard is, & how huge the ramifications are when our marriages are not what they ought to be – – we find it very difficult to handle our own brokenness in this area. On the one hand, I think we need to just humble ourselves and realize we have all fallen short and we are all in process. On the other hand, I think church members – especially those who have walked closely with a pastor and his wife over a period of time – – need to get more proactively involved – – and not take for granted that their pastor and his wife are investing the time and energy into their marriage that they really need to. For all of you who have done that with us – we are eternally grateful. Don’t stop.
So what can each of us do to help the church rise to the challenge of building and reproducing healthy, Christ centered, fruitful, community impacting marriages? 1. If you are married, you need to realize that as Dennis Peacocke says, “the normal state of a garden is weeds.” Applying that to marriage – the normal state of a marriage is deterioration. If a garden is not continually watered, weeded, and cultivated, it will not produce what you want it to produce. If your marriage is not continually nurtured through dependence upon the Lord and obedience to His commands, your marriage will deterioriate. You may not get divorced, but you will not achieve the intended purpose and fruit of your marriage relationship. Marriages take more work and effort than any of us bargained for on the front end. And the spouse in the marriage that realizes that the most is the one that has to work the hardest. Do not leave this building today if you are married with the intention to help your spouse see how much he or she needed to hear this message. Deal with the log in your own eye first and foremost.
2. If you are not married and you have the potential and desire of getting married some time down the road, you need to give yourself immediately to developing a lifestyle of humble dependence upon the Lord and interdependence upon the body of Christ, so that you can develop the kind of relational skills and characteristics that enable a marriage to be all that God has called it to be.
3. If you are not married and probably will not get married before you die, regardless of why you are in the state you are in, you must see yourself as part of the solution – – and not as someone on the sidelines. And you must do whatever you can to encourage and support the budding marriages around you. Does this mean that everything in the local church must revolve around married couples? No it doesn’t. But it does mean that you cannot claim that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and that you are committed to seeing the local church accomplish its purpose in the community – – and not care about the state of the marriages in that church.
A lot of people in our culture are giving up on marriage because of the shipwreck they have seen perhaps with their parents’ marriage or perhaps with their own or perhaps with their friends’ marriages. We members of Christ’s church must not give up. It still is the best idea God ever came up with for building communities and sustaining life on the planet ,and for demonstrating God’s character and ways to a lost and dying world.
As we continue as a congregation to pursue kingdom greatness together, may the Holy Spirit give us divine strategies and divine passion to 1st make our own marriages what God intended them to be, and then to help those in our sphere of influence do the same. Matt. 5:19 “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”