What Makes a Marriage?
April 18, 1999
It was a hot night when we got married. Late August in Phoenix, Arizona, is always hot but by the time our wedding started, the temperature outside had cooled down to a balmy 97 degrees.
There weren’t very many people at our wedding — less than 100, I think. Except for my family they were all local people. My father was my best man and my three brothers stood up for me along with my friend Ricky Suddith. The ceremony was short. We were in and out in about 15 minutes. My brothers claim that during the recessional I yelled “All right,” but I don’t remember that, either. It happened so fast that the whole thing is a blur in my memory.
This year we celebrated our 32nd anniversary. As I ponder the way our marriage began, two thoughts come to mind:
We had no idea what we were getting into.
That was probably a good thing.
We had to learn about marriage the hard way, which is the same way most people learn about it. As wonderful as marriage is, no amount of premarital counseling can fully prepare you for what you are about to experience.
Marriage Under Attack</font size></font color>
We all understand that marriage today is under attack. Many young people doubt that a lifelong marriage is possible. They’ve seen so much divorce that it seems normal to them. They are right in one sense. Divorce happens. It happens in the world, it happens in the church at large, and it happens in this particular local church. Sometimes Christian people behave irresponsibly. Husbands and wives don’t always keep their vows. Sometimes they walk out and sometimes they just drift apart.
After making full allowance for all the problems we face, it’s still true that God’s way is the best way. When you buy a new car, you take the owner’s manual out of the glove compartment and you read it. We need to do the same thing today. The Bible is the “owner’s manual” for marriage. Perhaps if we were more attentive to the instructions of the Designer we would find that marriage works much better.
A Challenge and a Blessing</font size></font color>
Marriage is a gift from God but we don’t always see it that way. This week I’ve been collecting funny stories about marriage. A seven-year-old girl saw the movie Cinderella and was talking with her friends about it afterward. “I know how it ends,” said one, “Cinderella and the Prince live happily ever after.” “Oh no they don’t,” she replied. “They got married!”
One of my favorites involves a young minister performing his first wedding ceremony. Fearing he might forget something, he sought counsel from an older preacher. The experienced man told the young minister everything he needed to do and made one final suggestion: “If you ever forget what you are supposed to say, just quote Scripture.” The ceremony went smoothly until he pronounced the happy couple husband and wife. At that point, his mind went blank. That’s when he remembered the advice of the old preacher to quote Scripture. So he quoted the only verse that came to his mind: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
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.
Not everyone who reads these words is married, and not everyone who is married is in a healthy, growing relationship. In some ways it doesn’t matter what your particular situation might be. We all need to hear what God’s Word has to say.
I. The Problem: Busy but Lonely
“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found” (Genesis 2:18-20).
Context is always crucial when you study the Bible. In this case we need to know that this passage takes place in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. It describes a world none of us has ever experienced — a world without sin. It is a world of created perfection with no hint of moral contamination.
We plug into the narrative with God speaking in verse 18: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” This tells us two crucial things. First, God was moving to meet the problem of Adam’s loneliness. Even in paradise Adam was lonely. He was the king of creation, yet something was lacking. The perfection of Eden could not satisfy the void within. In all of creation, only one thing was not good. It was not good for Adam to be alone. Second, 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. That is the most basic purpose of marriage.
When God says he will create “a helper,” many people picture someone who sweeps the floor, makes the beds, prepares the meals, and in general does the housework while the man of the house sits in his soft recliner with the remote control in his hand flipping from one channel to another. That’s not what the word means. In the Old Testament this particular Hebrew word was often used of God himself (see Psalm 46:1). A “helper” in this context means one who supplies what is lacking in another person. God created Eve to do what Adam cannot do by himself.
Having said that, 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.
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. Naming the animals was Adam’s premarital counseling session.
Throughout the long afternoon of the Sixth Day of creation, Adam named the animals. But “no suitable helper was found.” Unless that need were met, Adam would live forever and still be lonely in paradise.
Without a woman, a man could never be in love.
Without a wife, he could never be a husband.
Without a queen, he could never be a king.
He had no one to talk to, no one to laugh with, no one to taste the ripe peaches with him, to run through the meadows by his side, to laugh as he leaped in the air, and no one to nestle with him in the evening.
This week I read about the famous stage actress Gertrude Lawrence who once announced to her friends that she would like to get married. They were shocked. She had everything she could want or need. Why would she want to get married? “It is because I want so desperately to have someone to nudge,” she replied.
II. The Solution: A Partner Who Completes
“So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man’” (Genesis 2:21-23).
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:
Man — “ish”
Woman — “ishah”
Adam’s deep loneliness is met by a woman created by God. From this we learn that the gift of a wife comes from God himself. When God brought Eve to Adam, he showed his sovereignty over the most intimate areas of life. And we learn that God can be trusted to provide a mate at the right time and in the right way. Anxious single men and women need to hear this word from the Lord.
Note that it happened while Adam slept. That means he had nothing to do with it other than supplying the raw materials. It’s not as if God asked for his input or allowed him to place an order: “I’d like her to be just over 5’6”, dark hair, brown eyes, with freckles.” Nothing of the sort happened. God created the woman while Adam slept. Which teaches us men that God doesn’t need our help in designing a wife suitable for us. Blessed is the man who doesn’t try to “improve” upon God’s gift to him.
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, “Oh baby! Where have you been all my life?” Or something like that.
This is love at first sight. Do such things really happen? Certainly. Adam and Eve fell in love from the first moment they saw each other. Adam rejoices in God’s provision for his need. He doesn’t waste any time looking around or seeing if he could get a better deal (not that there were any other choices available at the moment). He accepts God’s gift on the spot. Proverbs 5:18 instructs young men to “Rejoice in the wife of your youth.” And Proverbs 18:22 reminds us that “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.” So Adam rejoices in God’s blessing from the very first moment.
Nearly 300 years ago Matthew Henry explained the text this way: “The woman was not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”
Father, Minister and Witness</font size></font color>
Verse 22 tells us that God “brought her to the man.” As a pastor it has been my privilege for 20 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 led Eve gently through the flowers and presented her, with her fast beating heart and the blush of first love on her cheeks, to Adam. God himself performed the first ceremony as minister, father and witness.
From this story we learn that God planned the human heart for love, marriage, companionship, home and children. The only thing man brought with him out of Eden was marriage. 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.
We also learn that marriage is older than the church, the school, or human government. It is God’s first gift to the human race. Is a young man wrong to feel a desire for a young woman? No. Is it wrong for a woman to desire the companionship of a man? No. Sometimes men and women make poor choices and live to regret it. But the desire of a man to spend his life with one woman and the desire of a woman to spend her life with one man — that is not wrong. Far from it. That desire is placed in the human heart by God.
III. The Design: Intimacy and Transparency
“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).
The closing verses of this passage are an editorial comment on marriage. They teach us that marriage is not a man-made institution which we can discard whenever we like. 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.
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.
In our world, we can’t walk around naked. What would it be like to go to church this Sunday if everyone came naked? The very thought is hard to digest. Nakedness is the blessing we can hardly bear. We like to be noticed; we hate for someone to stare at us. It makes us uncomfortable, as if a stranger is trying to peer into our soul. But in marriage a part of that original transparency can be regained. In the security of a lifetime commitment, a husband and wife can relax and feel comfortable together and slowly the walls can begin to come down. It is the work of decades. And that’s why you can be married 20, 30, 40, 50 years and still discover new things about each other. You are recapturing some of what Adam and Eve experienced in the beginning. That’s what it means — at a very deep level — to be naked and not ashamed.
Stick to One Model</font size></font color>
This kind of marriage is possible only when there is an exclusive commitment to another person. In our culture we symbolize that commitment with a wedding ring. Someone has said that the wedding ring is a small piece of jewelry on your finger that cuts off your circulation. Erma Bombeck said that no personal possession has given her more value for the money than her wedding ring. “For years, it has done its job. It has led me not into temptation. It has reminded my husband numerous times at parties that it’s time to go home. It has been a source of relief to a dinner companion. It has been a status symbol in the maternity ward. It has reminded me every day that I have someone who loves me.”
Someone asked Henry Ford, maker of the Model T, to explain the secret of a good marriage. “The same formula as the making of a successful car,” he replied. “Stick to one model.”
Make Sure Jesus is There</font size></font color>
Let’s wrap up this message with one final thought. A healthy marriage is the work of a lifetime. God has ordered the universe so that it is simply impossible for newlyweds to fully enter into a transparent relationship. That comes after years of hard work. Being newly married does have its own rewards, most notably the joy of taking the first few steps on a journey that will take a lifetime to complete. But God has seen fit to ordain that a good marriage gets better with age. That one fact ought to give hope to every struggling couple reading these words. God fully intends that your marriage be better next year than it is this year. Before you give up on your marriage, why not give God a chance to see what he can do?
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.
When I preached this sermon, I asked the congregation to stand at this point. Then I asked those couples who were together in the service to join hands for a prayer of recommitment. As you read these words, may I ask you to join me in this prayer?
If you are married, take a moment to recommit yourself to your spouse.
If your marriage is in some difficulty, pray for God’s healing power to come into your relationship.
If you are a widow or a widower, thank God for the good memories. Ask him for the grace you need this week.
If you are single because of divorce, pray for an intimate relationship with God to fill the void in your heart.
If you are a single parent, ask God to be the missing parent for your children.
If you have never married, pray that God will bring his best to you in his own time and commit to the Lord that you won’t settle for second best.
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 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. Give grace to each couple that they might serve the Lord together joyfully as long as they both shall live. And when the time to leave this life comes, may they still be together, still in love, still faithful, and still believing in the promise of eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.