Staying Married Is Not About Staying In Love

September 4, 2008

 

Genesis 2:18-25

18Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." 19 Now out of the ground the LORD God had 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.

Between our more substantial sermon series I am taking up a few subjects that seem to me to be urgent. Marriage is always urgent. There never has been a generation whose view of marriage is high enough. The chasm between the biblical vision of marriage and the human vision is, and has always been, gigantic. Some cultures in history respect the importance and the permanence of marriage more than others. Some, like our own, have such low, casual, take-it-or-leave-it attitudes toward marriage as to make the biblical vision seem ludicrous to most people.

Jesus' Vision of Marriage

That was the case in Jesus' day as well, and ours is vastly worse. When Jesus gave a glimpse of the magnificent view of marriage that God willed for his people, the disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry"(Matthew 19:10). In other words, Christ's vision of the meaning of marriage was so enormously different from the disciples; they could not even imagine it to be a good thing. That such a vision could be good news was simply outside their categories.

If that was the case back then with the sober, Jewish world in which they lived, how much more will the magnificence of marriage in the mind of God seem unintelligible to the world we live in, where the main idol is self, and its main doctrine is autonomy, and its central act of worship is being entertained, and its main shrines are the television, DVD and the cinema, and its most sacred genuflection is the uninhibited act of sexual intercourse. Such a culture will find the glory of marriage in the mind of Jesus virtually unintelligible. Jesus would very likely say to us today, when he had finished opening the mystery for us, the same thing he said in his day: "Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. . . . Let the one who is able to receive this receive it" (Matthew 19:11-12).

The Biblical Vision of Marriage

So I start with the assumption that our own sin and selfishness and cultural bondage make it almost impossible to feel the wonder of God's purpose for marriage between a man and a woman. The fact that we live in a society that can even conceive of-let alone defend-two men or two women entering a relationship and with wild inconceivability calling it marriage, shows that the collapse of our culture into debauchery and barbarism and anarchy is probably not far away.

I mention all this in the hopes that it might possibly wake you up to consider a vision of marriage higher and deeper and stronger and more glorious than anything this culture-or perhaps you yourself-ever imagined. The greatness and glory of marriage is beyond our ability to think or feel without divine revelation and without the illumining and awakening work of the Holy Spirit. The world cannot know what marriage is without learning it from God. The natural man does not have the capacities to see or receive or feel the wonder of what God has designed for marriage to be. I pray that this message might be used by God to help set you free from small, worldly, culturally contaminated, self-centered, Christ-ignoring, God-neglecting, romance-intoxicated, unbiblical views of marriage.

Marriage Is the Display of God

The most foundational thing to see from the Bible about marriage is that it is God's doing. And the most ultimate thing to see from the Bible about marriage is that it is for God's glory. Those are the two points I have to make. Most foundationally, marriage is the doing of God. Most ultimately, marriage is the display of God. Let us allow the Bible to impress these things on us one at a time.

1. Marriage Is God's Doing

First, most foundationally, marriage is God's doing. At least four ways to see this explicitly or implicitly are here in our text.

a) Marriage Was God's Design

Marriage is God's doing because it was his design in the creation of man as male and female. Of course, this was plain earlier in Genesis 1:27-28, "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.'"

But it is also clear here in the flow of thought in Genesis 2:18-25. In verse 18, it is God, not man, who decrees that man's solitude is not good, and it is God himself who sets out to complete one of the central designs of creation, namely, woman and man in marriage. "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." Don't miss that central and all important statement: God himself will make a being perfectly suited for him-a wife.

Then he parades the animals before him so that he might see that there is no creature that qualifies. This creature must be made uniquely from man so that she will be of his essence as a human created in God's image as Genesis 1:27 said. So we read in verses 21-22, "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. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman." God made her.

This text terminates in verses 24b-25 with the words, "They shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." In other words, it is all moving toward marriage. So the first thing to say about marriage being God's doing is that marriage was his design in creating man male and female.

b) God Gave Away the First Bride

Marriage is God's doing because he personally took the dignity of being the first Father to give away the bride. 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." He didn't hide her and make Adam seek. He made her; then he brought her. In a profound sense, he had fathered her. And now, though she was his by virtue of creation, he gave her to the man in this absolutely new kind of relationship called marriage, unlike every other relationship in the world.

c) God Spoke the Design of Marriage into Existence

Marriage is God's doing because God not only created the woman with this design and brought her to the man like a Father brings his daughter to her husband, but also because God spoke the design of marriage into existence. He did this in verse 24: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." Who is talking in verse 24? The writer of Genesis is talking. And what did Jesus believe about the writer of Genesis? He believed it was Moses (Luke 24:44) and that Moses was inspired by God so that what Moses said, God said. Listen carefully to Matthew 19:4-5: "[Jesus] answered, ‘Have you not read that He [God] who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said [Note: God said!], "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh"'"? Jesus said that Genesis 2:24 is the word of God. Therefore, marriage is God's doing because he spoke the earliest design of it into existence-"A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."

d) God Performs the One-Flesh Union

Which leads us to the fourth way that marriage is God's doing: Becoming one flesh, which is at the heart of what marriage is, is a union that God himself performs. Verse 24 is God's words of institution for marriage. But just as it was God who took the woman from the flesh of man (Genesis 2:21), it is God who in each marriage ordains and performs a uniting called one flesh that is not in man's power to destroy. This is implicit here in Genesis 2:24, but Jesus makes it explicit in Mark 10:8-9. He quotes Genesis 2:24 then adds a comment that explodes like thunder with the glory of marriage. "‘The two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man separate."

When a couple speaks their vows and consummates their vows with sexual union, it is not man or woman or pastor or parent who is the main actor. God is. God joins a husband and a wife into a one-flesh union. God does that. God does that! The world does not know this. Which is one of the reasons why marriage is treated so casually. And Christians often act like they do not know it, which is one of the reasons marriage in the church is not seen as the wonder it is. Marriage is God's doing because it is a one-flesh union that God himself performs.

So, in sum, the most foundational thing we can say about marriage is that it is God's doing. It was His doing:

  1. because it was His design in creation;
  2. because He personally gave away the first bride in marriage;
  3. because He spoke the design of marriage into existence: leave parents, cleave to your wife, become one flesh;
  4. and because this one-flesh union is established by God Himself in each marriage.

A glimpse into the magnificence of marriage comes from seeing in God's word that God himself is the great doer. Marriage is His doing. It is from Him and through Him. That is the most foundational thing we can say about marriage. And now we will see that it is to Him.

2. Marriage Is for God's Glory

The most ultimate thing to see in the Bible about marriage is that it exists for God's glory. Most foundationally, marriage is the doing of God. Most ultimately, marriage is the display of God. It is designed by God to display His glory in a way that no other event or institution is.

The way to see this most clearly is to connect Genesis 2:24 with its use in Ephesians 5:31-32. In Genesis 2:24, God says, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." What kind of relationship is this? How are these two people held together? Can they walk away from this relationship? Can they go from spouse to spouse? Is this relationship rooted in romance? Sexual desire? Need for companionship? Cultural convenience? What is this? What holds it together?

The Mystery of Marriage Revealed

The words "hold fast to his wife" and the words "they shall become one flesh" point to something far deeper and more permanent than serial marriages and occasional adultery. What these words point to is marriage as a sacred covenant rooted in covenant commitments that stand against every storm of "as long as we both shall live." But that is only implicit here. It becomes explicit when the mystery of marriage is more fully revealed in Ephesians 5:31-32.

Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 in verse 31, "‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'" And then he gives it this all-important interpretation in verse 32: "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." In other words, marriage is patterned after Christ's covenant commitment to his church. Christ thought of himself as the bridegroom coming for his bride, the true people of God (Matthew 9:15; 25:1ff; John 3:29). Paul knew his ministry was to gather the bride-the true people of God who would trust Christ-and betroth us to him. He says in 2 Corinthians 11:2, "I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ."

Christ knew he would have to pay the dowry of his own blood for his redeemed bride. He called this relationship the new covenant-"This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood"(Luke 22:20). This is what Paul is referring to when he says that marriage is a great mystery: "I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." Christ obtained the church by his blood and formed a new covenant with her, an unbreakable "marriage."

The most ultimate thing we can say about marriage is that it exists for God's glory. That is, it exists to display God. Now we see how: Marriage is patterned after Christ's covenant relationship to the church. And therefore the highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display. That is why marriage exists. If you are married, that is why you are married.

Christ Will Never Leave His Wife

Staying married, therefore, is not about staying in love. It is about keeping covenant. "Till death do us part," or, "As long as we both shall live" is a sacred covenant promise-the same kind Jesus made with his bride when he died for her. Therefore, what makes divorce and remarriage so horrific in God's eyes is not merely that it involves covenant breaking to the spouse, but that it involves misrepresenting Christ and his covenant. Christ will never leave his wife. Ever. There may be times of painful distance and tragic backsliding on our part. But Christ keeps his covenant forever. Marriage is a display of that! That is the most ultimate thing we can say about it.

Genesis 2:25 says, "And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." Why does the biblical story of the foundation of marriage end on that note just before the Fall? The answer will lead us, I think, to some very practical counsel that I pray will help us in our marriages fulfill the great purposes God has for us.

Would you pray with me that God will replace in the church and in our land self-exalting, marriage-destroying, unbiblical commitments to cater to our emotional desires with Christ-exalting, marriage-honoring, biblical commitments to keep our covenants?

Marriage and the Gospel

Marriage is more wonderful than anyone on earth knows. And the reasons it is wonderful can only be learned from God's special revelation and can only be cherished by the work of the Holy Spirit to enable us to behold and embrace the wonder. The reason we need the Spirit's help is that the wonder of marriage is woven into the wonder of the gospel of the cross of Christ, and the message of the cross is foolishness to the natural man, and so the meaning of marriage is foolishness to the natural man (1 Corinthians 2:14).

These are the tragic words of "the natural man." Those who regard Christ and his incarnation and death and resurrection and lordship over the entire universe, upholding it by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17), as parochial, will not see the wonder of marriage woven into this gospel. But by grace you might see it. I pray that you do. I believe God will reveal it to you if you will look steadfastly at the revelation of it in God's word and seek the help of the Holy Spirit to enable you to see and savor the glory of Christ and his blood-bought covenant with the church, which is reflected in marriage.

Marriage Is the Doing of God, to the Glory of God

Previously we saw that the most fundamental thing we can say about marriage is that it is the doing of God. And the most ultimate thing we can say about marriage is that it is the display of God. The reason it is the display of God is that in Christ, God has made a new covenant with his people. In it he promises to forgive and justify and glorify all who turn to him from sin and receive Christ as the Saviour and Lord and Supreme Treasure of their lives. Marriage between a man and a woman was designed from the beginning to be a reflection and display of that covenant relationship.

That is why Paul quotes Genesis 2:24-"A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh"-and then says, "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:31-32). Leaving parents and holding fast to a wife, forming a new one-flesh union, is meant from the beginning to display this new covenant-Christ's leaving his Father and taking the church as his bride, at the cost of his life, and holding fast to her in a one-spirit union forever (1 Corinthians 6:17).

So, I concluded, staying married is not about staying in love. It is about covenant-keeping. If a spouse falls in love with another person, one profoundly legitimate response from the grieved spouse and from the church is, "So what! Keep your covenant." Now it is time to probe more deeply into what this covenant keeping look likes and what it means.

Naked and Not Ashamed

To help us, and to lay a fuller foundation, we turn to the last verse in our text that we did not comment on before: Genesis 2:25, "And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." What is the point of that verse? Consider these two possible reasons why they were not ashamed. First, is the reason that they both had perfect bodies. So since their appearance was perfect, they did not have the slightest fear that their spouse would disapprove of them. In other words, their freedom from shame was because they had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Is that the main point?

It is certainly a true observation. When God created man he said that his creation was "very good" (Genesis 1:31). So the man and the woman were perfectly beautiful and handsome. There was no flaw and no blemish. Is that the point of Genesis 2:25? I doubt it. For three reasons.

Not Because of Perfect Bodies

First, no matter how beautiful or handsome your spouse is, if you are cranky or ‘picky' or selfish or unkind, you can make comments in a way that shames the other person. Not being ashamed in a marriage relationship takes more than being physically perfect; the one who is looking at you must be morally upright and gracious.

Second, Genesis 2:24-25 is intended to provide foundational wisdom for marriage long after the fall of man into sin. We can see that by the way Jesus makes use of verse 24. So it does not seem to me that the main point would only relate to the pre-Fall situation, namely, the perfection of their bodies.

Third, verse 24 creates the relationship where verse 25 can happen. And the emphasis falls there on the covenant commitment: These two are holding fast to each other in a new one-flesh union that is not an experiment. It is a new committed union. That is what creates the context for a shame-free marriage-not their perfect beauty.

Because of Covenant Love

So consider a second possibility for why they are naked and not ashamed. My suggestion is that the emphasis falls not on their freedom from physical imperfection, but on their fullness of covenant love. In other words, I can be free from shame for two reasons: One is that I am perfect and have nothing to be ashamed of; the other is that I am imperfect but I have no fear of being disapproved by my spouse. The first way to be shame-free is to be perfect; the second way to be shame free is based on the gracious nature of covenant love. In the first case, there is no shame because we are flawless. In the second case, there is no shame because covenant love covers a multitude of flaws (1 Peter 4:8; 1 Corinthians 13:5).

I know that in Genesis 2:25 the fall into sin has not yet happened. So there are no flaws to be covered. But my point is that verse 25 flows out of verse 24 because the covenant relationship established by marriage is designed from the beginning to be the main foundation of freedom from shame. Admittedly, until sin came into the world and all kinds of physical flaws came with it, Adam and Eve did not have to exercise their covenant love to cover any sins and flaws in each other. But that was God's design. Marriage was designed from the beginning to display Christ and the church, and the very essence of the new covenant is that Christ passes over sins in his bride. His bride is free from shame not because she is perfect, but because she has no fear that her lover will condemn her or shame her with her sin. This is why the doctrine of justification is at the very heart of what makes marriage work. It creates peace with God vertically, in spite of our sin. And when experienced horizontally, it creates shame-free peace between an imperfect man and an imperfect woman. I hope to look more fully at this.

Declaring Independence

But first we need to finish looking at what the text has to say about nakedness and shame. In Genesis 2:17, God had said to Adam, "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." I take the "knowledge of good and evil" to refer to a status of independence from God in which Adam and Eve would decide for themselves apart from God what is good and what is evil. So eating from this tree would mean a declaration of independence from God.

In Genesis 3:5-6, that is what happens:

[The tempter says,] "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

The first effect of this rebellion against God and this declaration of independence is recorded in verse 7: "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths." What does this mean?

Suddenly they are self-conscious about their bodies. Before their rebellion against God there was no shame. Now, evidently, there is shame. Why? There is no reason to think it is because they suddenly became ugly. That is not the focus of the text at all. Their beauty was not the focus in Genesis 2:25, and their ugliness is not the focus here in 3:7. Why then the shame? Because the foundation of covenant-keeping love collapsed. And with it the sweet, all-trusting security of marriage disappeared forever.

The Foundation of Covenant-Keeping Love

The foundation of covenant-keeping love between a man and a woman is the unbroken covenant between them and God-God governing them for their good and they enjoying Him in that security and relying on Him. When they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that covenant was broken and the foundation of their own covenant keeping collapsed.

They experienced this immediately in the corruption of their own covenant love for each other. It happened in two ways. And we experience it today in these same two ways. And both relate to the experience of shame. In the first case, the one viewing my nakedness is no longer trustworthy; so I am afraid I will be shamed. In the second, I myself am no longer at peace with God, but I feel guilty and defiled and unworthy-I deserve to be shamed. Think about these one at a time.

Vulnerability to Shame

In the first case, I am self-conscious of my body and I feel vulnerable to shame because I know Eve has chosen to be independent from God. She has made herself central in the place of God. She is essentially a selfish person. From this day forward, she will put herself first and others last. She is no longer a servant. So she is not safe. And I feel vulnerable around her, because she is very likely to put me down if that puts her up. So suddenly my nakedness is precarious. I do not trust her any more to love me with pure covenant-keeping love. That is one source of shame and self-consciousness.

The Broken Covenant with God

The other source is that Adam himself, not just his spouse, has broken covenant with God. If she is rebellious and selfish and therefore unsafe, so am I. But the way I experience it in myself is that I feel defiled and guilty and unworthy. That is in fact what I am. Before the Fall, what is and what ought to be were the same. But now, what is and what ought to be are not the same. I ought to be humbly, gladly submissive to God. But I am not. This huge gap between what I am and what I ought to be colours everything about me-including how I feel about my body. So my wife might be the safest person in the world, but now my own sense of guilt and unworthiness makes me feel vulnerable. The simple, open, nakedness of innocence now feels inconsistent with the guilty person that I am. I feel ashamed.

So the shame of nakedness arises from two sources and both of them are owing to the collapse of the foundation of covenant love in our relationship with God. One is that Eve is no longer reliable to cherish me; she has become selfish and I feel vulnerable that she will put me down for her own selfish ends. The other is that I already know that I am guilty myself and the nakedness of innocence contradicts my unworthiness-I am ashamed of it.

They Clothed Themselves

Genesis 3:7 says that they tried to cope with this new situation by making clothing: "And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths." Then in Genesis 3:21, God made better clothes for them from animal skins: "And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them." What are we to make of this?

Adam and Eve's effort to clothe themselves was a sinful effort to conceal what had really happened. They went on and tried to hide from God (Genesis 3:8). They were no longer innocent but were rebels against God. Their nakedness felt too revealing and too vulnerable. So they tried to close the gap between what they were and what they ought to be by covering what is and presenting themselves in a new way. From their standpoint, this was the origin of hypocrisy. It was the first attempted-and totally unsuccessful-cover up/snow job.

Then God Clothed Them

So what does it mean that God clothed them with animal skins? Was he confirming their hypocrisy? Was he aiding and abetting their pretense? If they were naked and shame-free before the Fall, and if they put on clothes to minimise their shame after the Fall, then what is God doing by clothing them even better than they can clothe themselves? I think the answer is that he is doing something with a negative message and something with a positive message.

Negatively, he is saying, You are not what you were and you are not what you ought to be. The chasm between what you are and what you ought to be is huge. Covering yourself with clothing is a right response to this-not to conceal it, but to confess it. Henceforth, you shall wear clothing, not to conceal that you are not what you should be, but to confess that you are not what you should be. One practical implication of this is that public nudity today is not a return to innocence but rebellion against moral reality. God ordains clothes to witness to the glory we have lost, and it is added rebellion to throw them off.

And for those who rebel in the other direction and make clothes themselves a means of power and prestige and attention getting, God's answer is not a return to nudity but a return to simplicity (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:4-5). Clothes are not meant to make people think about what is under them. Clothes are meant to direct attention to what is not under them: Arms and hands that serve others in the name of Christ, "beautiful" feet that carry the gospel to where it is needed, and the brightness of a face that has beheld the glory of Jesus.

The Significance of Clothing

Now we have already crossed over to the more positive meaning of clothing that God had in his mind when he clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins. This was not only a witness to the glory we lost and a confession and that we are not what we should be, but it is also a testimony that God himself would one day make us what we should be. God rejected their own self-clothing. Then he did it himself. He showed mercy with superior clothing. Together with the other hopeful signs in the context (like the defeat of the serpent in 3:15), God's mercy points to the day when he will solve the problem of their shame decisively and permanently. He will do it with the blood of His own Son (as there was apparently blood shed in the killing of the animals of the skins). And He will do it with the clothing of righteousness and the radiance of His glory (Galatians 3:27; Philippians 3:21).

Which means that our clothes are a witness both to our past and present failure and to our future glory. They testify to the chasm between what we are and what we should be. And they testify to God's merciful intention to bridge that chasm through Jesus Christ and His death for our sins. He will solve the problem of fear and pride and selfishness and shame between man and woman with His new blood-bought covenant.

Marriage Is a Display of the Gospel

Marriage is meant to be a display of that covenant, and that gospel. Therefore, what we will look at next time, God willing, is how a husband and a wife embody the new-covenant gospel of justification by faith and so create a new safe and sacred place where it can be said again: They were both naked and were not ashamed. I pray that you have been truly blessed by this teaching message. AMEN.