Is Marriage Really Made in Heaven?
Genesis 2:18-25; Hebrews 13:4
September 12, 2004
Since this is the first sermon in the God Speaks Today series, I thought we should answer a few key questions up front:
1) Why this series and why now?
We have come to a “hinge moment” in history where long-held beliefs are being challenged, and in some cases replaced. No one can argue that a fundamental change is underway in Western culture, especially in the area of marriage and the family. And the pace of change seems to be gathering strength. If you roll back the clock just 18 months, few of us would have believed that gay marriage would now be legal (in theory at least) in some parts of the U.S. It’s not just that things are changing. They are changing so fast that we can hardly keep track of all the changes around us. As Christians, we cannot ignore what is happening or pretend it will go away. If we do not respond biblically, we may end up being co-opted into accepting these changes as necessary and good.
2) What do we hope to accomplish?
Our goal is to do exactly what the series title suggests. We want to explain clearly what God says about marriage, the family, same-sex marriage, moral purity, hope for change, and Christ-like love. In order to arrive at the truth, we need to ask the right questions first. And the most basic question is, “What does God say?” Everything else is secondary to that. We want to learn how to look at the crucial issues of life from God’s point of view.
3) What do we ask of our readers?
We ask simply for a fair hearing, nothing more. Take notes, jot down your questions. And most of all, check everything I say by the Word of God. You don’t have to believe what I say just because I say it. The Word of God must be our ultimate authority.
The title of today’s sermon is itself a question: “Is Marriage Really Made in Heaven?” The answer is, it depends on what you mean. Marriage itself is made in heaven, but not every marriage is made in heaven. Not every marriage is a good idea. Some people shouldn’t get married—at least not to each other. But marriage itself is a good idea because it is God’s idea.
Here are two verses to consider as we begin:
A. Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
B. Proverbs 18:22 “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD” (KJV).
These verses offer a very positive framework for us to consider. Marriage is good and honorable, and deserves our support. Let every husband regard his wife as a gift from God, and every wife regard her husband the same way.
Marriage and the Glory of God
Before going further, I should tell you that this is not a sermon about how to have a happy marriage. And it’s not about “five keys” to a successful marriage. Those are worthwhile sermons, but not for today. Our subject is more foundational than that: What should we think about marriage? What were God’s intentions in giving marriage to the human race? Let’s begin with the following assumptions:
1. Marriage is of supreme importance because it is the first institution created by God.
2. Marriage is the foundation of the family and the cornerstone of civilization.
3. Marriage is what God says it is—not what man says it is.
4. Our marriages will not flourish unless we follow the divine blueprint.
Let me offer a further thought that may be new to many of you: Marriage is of central importance because it is one of the key ways in which God displays his glory in the world. The key word in that sentence is “glory,” which speaks of God’s greatness, his character, and his reputation in the world. God intends that your marriage display something of his character to the world. That leads us in some surprising directions:
*Your marriage is not primarily about you, your husband or wife, your children, or your family.
*Your marriage is not primarily about your own sexual fulfillment.
*Your marriage is about God!
Until we grasp this, we will never have a proper foundation for thinking Christianly about marriage. In the great debates convulsing our society, we must ask, “Where is God glorified in this?” It is never enough to say, “This is what I want.” Or “This is how I feel so it must be right.” We must ask, “How can we order our lives and all our relationships to bring the greatest honor and glory to God?”
Marriage is a witness to the honor and glory of God.
Marriage is a window in time through which the world grasps a glimpse of eternity.
A Paganized Culture
Marriage today is in crisis in our society. There are many causes, including materialism, secularism, greed, and rampant selfishness. Many young people have seen so much divorce, they doubt that a lifelong marriage is possible—or even desirable. The current debate over same-sex marriage is not the problem. It’s only a symptom of a much deeper pathology in American culture. And it is not new. Read the Bible. Check out the Old Testament. Read Deuteronomy. Read the history of ancient Greece and Rome. The things that shock us today aren’t so new after all. The problem today is that Christians have been sleeping while the world has changed around them. Dr. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, says that we live in a “paganized culture.” Although we like to think of America as a “Christian nation,” in many ways we have adopted wholly pagan values. We treat holy things as lowly, and lowly things as holy. No wonder there is such enormous confusion about marriage and the family. The world has no idea what to think about sex. On one hand, the world corrupts it into the most degrading form possible. On the other hand, the world elevates sex and begins to worship it as the highest expression of human experience. Both extremes are equally wrong.
And despite the controversy and confusion, marriage endures as a human institution because there is something in us that craves the companionship of a husband or wife. Deep inside, down deep in our spiritual DNA, that part handed down from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we were made for marriage. Here is the proof: Most people will be married at some point in life. And nearly everyone wants to be married. Many people so greatly desire marriage that they get married again and again and again. Leaving aside any other judgments, that demonstrates the truth of what God said in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone.”
Our task in thinking about marriage is to speak of holy things in holy ways. We want to be holy people who think God’s thoughts after him, and so bring glory to him in all that we do.
Back to Eden
With that as background, we turn now to Genesis 2, the most basic passage in the Bible about marriage. Here we learn about God’s involvement in the very first marriage. If this were all we had, it would be more than enough to teach us what we need to know about marriage. Before jumping into the text, please note these two points about the context: 1) This story takes place before the fall. That is, the first marriage took place in paradise, in the Garden of Eden. It shows us what marriage is meant to be as it comes from the hand of the Creator. 2) We see God’s intimate involvement in the first marriage. Adam doesn’t happen to meet Eve under the cherry tree. He meets her because God orchestrates every part of their relationship.
Let’s highlight six key facts from the passage.
A. God takes the initiative to show Adam his loneliness (v. 18a).
It is God who says to Adam in verse 18, “It is not good for a man to be alone.” Adam doesn’t figure that out by himself. After all, he’s never been around anyone else so being alone is all he’s known. You can imagine God saying, “It’s not good for man to be alone,” and Adam saying, “It’s alright, Lord. I’m good with the way things are. I may be alone but I’m not lonely.” And the Lord says, “Adam, listen to me. You’re alone, and that’s not good.” “But, Lord.” “Adam!” The point is clear: God sees Adam’s need and moves to meet it even before Adam realizes he has a need.
B. God takes the initiative to meet Adam’s need (v. 18b).
God promised to make a “helper” suitable for Adam. That helper would be Eve who will “complete” him and complement him. She will make up what is lacking in him, and together they will be stronger than if they were apart.
C. Adam learns about loneliness by naming the animals (vv. 19-20).
Having said that God will make a “helper” suitable for Adam, we might expect that the next verse to say something like, “So God created Eve.” Instead we get the story of Adam naming the animals. What’s that all about? Just this. As Adam names the animals, God is preparing him for marriage. He is teaching him to be a leader. The power to name is the power of authority. “That’s a giraffe, that’s a monkey, that’s an armadillo, and that’s a whippoorwill.” By giving Adam the right to name the animals, God was training him to be the king of creation, the vice-regent of the earth, answerable only to God. He is also teaching Adam that humanity stands above the animal kingdom. The evolutionists would have us believe that we are merely the most evolved part of the animal kingdom, but that’s not the biblical view. Adam named the animals; they didn’t name him.
God was also training him to be a lover. As Adam surveyed the animals he saw Mr. Giraffe and Mrs. Giraffe, Mr. Crocodile and Mrs. Crocodile. And so it went throughout the animal kingdom—always male and female. But where in all creation could he find a counterpart for himself? God was creating within Adam a gnawing hunger for a life partner, a hunger God would soon meet in the creation of Eve. Adam is not ready for Eve until he sees his own incompleteness. Naming the animals was Adam’s premarital counseling session.
D. God brings the woman to the man (vv. 21-22).
Note how God takes the lead in all that happens. He puts Adam to sleep, then he takes a rib from his side, then he fashions Eve, then he brings her to Adam. God is the author of the first marriage, and he is intimately involved in every aspect. Verse 22 tells us that God “brought her to the man.” As a pastor it has been my privilege for 26 years to watch as proud fathers escort their daughters down the aisle. That is precisely what happened in Eden. God was the father of the bride and he personally brings her to Adam. There was no courtship and no dating. The first marriage was an arranged marriage. God himself performed the first ceremony as minister, father and witness.
E. Adam recognizes Eve as similar but different (v. 23).
God’s answer to Adam’s loneliness is simple and profound. He created a partner for Adam—like him, from him, yet different. The Hebrew words tell the story. The word for man is “ish,” for woman “ishah.” The difference is the same in English and Hebrew:
Verse 23 contains a poetic exclamation in Hebrew that unfortunately is lost in our modern translations. The first three words “This is now” actually mean something like “This is it!” Imagine the scene. Adam is flat on the ground, just beginning to awake from the divine anesthesia. As he opens his eyes, he sees the Lord and next to him a beautiful, blushing creature looking at him in wide-eyed anticipation. As he runs down his mental list, he can’t connect her with any of the animals he has seen. She’s definitely not a giraffe. Not a rabbit or a porcupine. Who or what is she? She looks like him. In fact she looks a lot like him but clearly she’s very different in several important ways. Then his brain says, “This is it!” and he blurts out, “Wow!” or “Amen!” or something like that.
F. God’s intention for marriage is plainly stated (vv. 24-25).
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:24-25). In these two verses we find the four essential components of Christian marriage:
LEAVING—leave his parents
CLEAVING—be united to his wife
INTIMACY—become one flesh
TRANSPARENCY—naked and not ashamed
Leaving means breaking away from your parents to establish a home of your own. Cleaving means being glued together so tightly no force can tear you apart. Intimacy involves growing together over the years so that while you are still two people, in a deep way you have become “one flesh.” It includes sexual relations, but it is more than that. Transparency means having a relationship built on such trust that you can let down the barriers and allow another person to know you deeply—body, soul and spirit. A healthy, happy marriage is as close to heaven as we will get on earth.
One Man, One Woman</font size></font color>
In marriage there is true equality and true difference. Woman is not less than man, nor is man greater than woman. But the man is not the woman, and the woman is not the man. Both are made in the image of God, yet they are very different from each other.
Two women cannot do this.
Two men cannot do this.
Only a man and a woman can make a marriage as God intended. Eve was the answer to Adam’s loneliness. The answer was not another man or a group of men. No man was ever meant to find his deepest satisfaction in his hunting buddies or the guys at work. As a matter of fact, no man was ever meant to find it in women in general or in one woman after another. The answer to the loneliness every man feels is one woman—given by God—with whom he can spend the rest of his days.
All of this is by God’s design and for his glory.
The difference between man and woman is God’s glory.
The sharing in God’s image is God’s glory.
The completing of each other is God’s glory.
The satisfaction of the woman in the man is God’s glory.
The satisfaction of the man in the woman is God’s glory.
The rejoicing of the church in Christian marriage is God’s glory.
Making love as husband and wife is God’s glory.
Bringing forth children in marriage is God’s glory.
Showing our children the goodness of marriage is God’s glory.
Preparing our children to be married is God’s glory.
Giving our children in marriage is God’s glory.
Keeping your marriage vows is God’s glory.
Walking in purity is God’s glory.
Staying faithful is God’s glory.
Honoring your spouse is God’s glory.
Loving your wife as Christ loved the church is God’s glory.
Submitting to your husband as unto the Lord is God’s glory.
Treating your wife with kindness is God’s glory.
Respecting your husband is God’s glory.
Staying together for a lifetime is God’s glory.
Celebrating your 50th anniversary is God’s glory.
Staying married for better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad times, never giving up, never walking out, but always being there for each other, this too is God’s glory.
These are not small things. These are huge issues. And God is involved in all of them.
Moving Against the Tide</font size></font color>
Marriage is a challenge in the best of circumstances but it can also be a great blessing. In a society like ours, where healthy marriages are the exception and not the rule, if we can build marriages that move against the prevailing tide, we will have a fantastic base from which to share the message of Jesus Christ with our friends and neighbors. Nowhere will the difference between Christianity and modern secularism be more clearly seen than in a truly Christian marriage.
There is much more to be said about marriage, but we have come to a stopping place. What do we learn from Genesis 2 about marriage?
1) Marriage was God’s first gift to the human race—to be held in high esteem.
2) Marriage is older than the church, the school, or human government.
3) The desire for marriage is noble and right and good.
4) We were made for marriage—and we should teach that to our children.
5) We ought to encourage marriage at an early age.
Early Marriage</font size></font color>
I pause here to say that when I preached this on Sunday, that last statement generated quite a bit of discussion. By saying I favor “early” marriage, I do not mean quick marriages, or forced marriages, or hasty courtship, or thoughtless relationships, or getting married just to get married, or getting married to get out of the house or to solve your problems. And I’m not thinking of a particular age when you should be married. I certainly don’t think it’s wise to rush into marriage. Not everyone should get married. And many people will be single, then married, and then single again over the course of a lifetime. Others are single, but not by their own choice. They truly expected to be married by now, but for whatever reason, it just hasn’t happened. And singles can serve God without the distraction of marriage, a point Paul makes in I Corinthians 7. They are not “second-class” citizens in the church.
What I’m getting at is the principle that marriage should be more than just an “option” for our children, like choosing to be an architect or a forest ranger. We ought to pray that our children will be married in the will of God, and that they will find godly mates. And we ought to talk to our children about this, and encourage them to pray for godly mates, and to be ready at the right time (which will differ from person to person) to find God’s mate, and to marry that person. Dr. Mohler has some helpful, pointed words to say on this topic:
My concern is that the sin of sloth has invaded the Christian church on the issue of marriage, so that many young adults think of marriage as something I will get to eventually. One day I hope to be married, they think, but it will come after this and after that and after the other thing. In the meantime, they think that singleness comes with all kinds of pleasures and a freedom from responsibility. The single life has no diapers. It lacks responsibility that comes with marriage. It lacks accountability. For most of us as Christians, marriage is one of the most crucial issues of our accountability before God. It is one of the most crucial issues in our discipleship, and so we should first of all understand that our responsibility as a counter-cultural people, claimed by God’s grace, purchased by Christ’s blood, is not just to be men and women, whatever that means in this society, but to be husbands and wives and fathers and mothers. It means that you, in this generation, must understand that marriage is not a lifestyle option. Marriage is not something you should merely look forward to at some point in your life when you think that you are ready for it and you have made partner in the law firm. Marriage in Scripture is an expectation. Without the gift of celibacy, adulthood equals marriage. Obviously, that is not the definition honored in our society.
I think Dr. Mohler is right in what he says. I Corinthians 7 makes it clear that there is such a thing as the “gift” of celibacy. And God bless those singles who wish to be married, and who while hoping to be married some day, continue to serve the Lord right now. He goes on to say that the problem is not the Christian single women. By and large, godly women are ready and willing to make that commitment. As one woman said to me after the service, “Where are all the good men?” Mohler says that the Christian single men don’t want to grow up and take a wife. He adds these words to single men:
I want to speak of one sin that I think besets this generation. It is the sin of delaying marriage as a lifestyle option. This is a problem shared by men and women, but it is primarily a problem for men. We have established a boy culture in which boys are not growing up into men. Guys, God has given us a responsibility to lead, to take responsibility as a man. Does that mean having a job? You bet it does. Does that mean being productive? You bet it does. It means also taking the initiative to find a godly wife, to marry her and be faithful to her in every way, and to grow up to be one who is known as “husband,” and by God’s grace eventually as “father.” Sometimes, men think they will put off being a husband and father until they can establish their professional identity. I would beg you to rethink all of that. What is the ultimate priority God has called us to? Is the crucible of our sanctification going to be our jobs? No, the Scripture is clear that God will sanctify us largely through our marriages. (All quotes taken from his message, “The Mystery of Marriage.”)
After the service, my wife Marlene and I talked about the concept that marriage is a major part of our sanctification. That’s a new thought for most of us, but it makes sense. Marriage is the place where the “real you” is revealed. You can hide from lots of people, but your spouse knows the truth about who you are. And all the hidden weaknesses that others never see aren’t hidden in marriage. They all come out sooner or later. And with that revelation comes friction, pain, and eventually, spiritual growth. Spirituality is all about “growing up” and where better to “grow up” than in the marriage relationship?
They Came Out Together</font color></font size>
God planned the human heart for love, marriage, companionship, home and children. The only thing man brought with him out of Eden was marriage. Ponder that thought for moment. When Adam sinned, he and Eve lost everything except each other. The angel blocked the way back in, but thank God, Adam and Eve came out together. Marriage, even in a fallen world, is thus truly “Holy Matrimony” and the only touch of paradise we will ever know this side of heaven.
Marriage is not a man-made institution. We are not free to change it as we like. We are not free to discard it or to redefine it in favor of something we like better. And it is wrong to downplay marriage or act as if it is optional. We should encourage our children to expect to be married, to look forward to marriage, to prepare to be married, and to actively seek a mate according to God’s will.
From the ancient story of Adam and Eve we learn God’s plan: One man and one woman joined in marriage for life. We need to teach these things to our children and to encourage them to look forward to the day when they too will be married.
A little boy sat through a Sunday school class and learned about the time Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine. “And what did you learn from that story?” asked his father. The boy thought for a moment and answered, “If you’re having a wedding, make sure Jesus is there.” That’s good advice for all of us.
Don’t Badmouth Marriage</font color></font size>
So where does that leave us at the end of this message?
A) We need to recommit ourselves as a church to the high value of marriage.
B) Let no one here speak a disparaging word about marriage. Do not slander the Lord who has given us the gift of marriage. This is especially important for those who have been divorced or are in a bad marriage now or have loved ones in a bad marriage. A friend whose marriage collapsed because of his infidelity sent me this note:
Thank you for telling me never to badmouth marriage just because it was a disaster for me. She was (and is) a wonderful woman, and a wonderful Christian mom. She was not the reason our marriage didn’t work.
God bless that man—and he will because my friend has the right attitude about his past.
C) To our young people: You should plan and expect to be married and should pray for God’s mate.
We need to reclaim the high view of marriage as a gift and as a holy obligation. Let every married couple go for the maximum display of God’s glory in their relationship.
Let marriage be held in the highest honor. Let the marriage bed be undefiled. May God be greatly glorified in our marriages, and in our attitude toward marriage itself.
Father, we thank you for the gift of marriage. We acknowledge that your ways are perfect and that you make no mistakes. We gladly confess that without you we can do nothing. Help us to submit ourselves to you completely with no strings attached. May we become a church of happy Christian homes where Jesus Christ can be seen in our closest relationships. We pray for those who are hurting and lonely that they might receive a fresh touch from your Spirit. Grant healing and hope to us as we pray.
We ask for our children that you would grant them a holy excitement about marriage. We pray for godly desire for marriage, and also for godly spouses for our children.
We thank you for those who are single. Thank you for their willingness to serve you. We pray that they would seek God’s best every day so that they might glorify you with thankful hearts.
We lift up all the marriages in our congregation and pray that each one might be strengthened. We stand united by faith against everything the devil would do to destroy those marriages. We pray that none would be lost, that all would be preserved. And we thank you for husbands and wives who love you and who love each other. Grant that our marriages will not merely endure, but that they will grow and prosper and be filled with joy. May our marriages glorify you, and be a testimony of your grace to the world. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.