Summary: Transforming our attitudes to marriage to conform with Christian teaching
The relationship of marriage seems to be a pretty popular topic here at Padstow, with goodness knows how many engagements we have at the moment and maybe some more to come if what I see going on is any indication.
And this is a really good thing. The lifelong commitment of a man and his wife to each other is something special. God created marriage to bring joy and blessing to men and women, and to be the basis of a safe nurturing environment in which children can grow up. He intends for Christian marriages to be models of the gospel to the world around us, demonstrating in living reality the love of Christ.
You don’t get that impression from the world today, though, do you?
You don’t get the impression that marriage is something special when you read Dolly or Girlfriend or Cosmopolitan or Ralph or Men’s Health and get all the low down on how to jump from bed to bed without any second thoughts.
You don’t get the impression that marriage is something special when you look at the simple facts that in Australia today the average marriage only lasts for ten years and that 40% of all marriages end up in divorce. In the USA, which tends to be ahead of Australia by a few years in such things, the divorce rate has already reached 50%. Society has made it acceptable for people to live together without marrying, but for those who are silly enough to tie the knot it is easy to get out of it – why, in the US there is even one law firm that provides for people to do their divorce paperwork over the internet!
If you base your impression of marriage from the world around us you would get the idea that it is both optional and dispensable, rather than special.
My message tonight is that it shouldn’t be that way and that it doesn’t have to be that way for you. We Christians can and should fight back against the world’s way of doing things. Let’s not be squeezed into the patterns of behaviour that are modelled by those around us. Rather, let us be transformed by Christ and model to the world a far more excellent way.
1) We need a transformed attitude to marriage.
Although the attitude of the world around us is that marriage is optional and dispensable, God’s attitude to marriage is that it is essential. In fact, one of the first things the Bible talks about is the relationship between a man and a woman that we call “marriage”. From the very beginning, God has provided this relationship as a special expression of our humanity.
We human beings have been made with the need for, and the capacity to enjoy, relationships – both with God and each other. That’s a part of what the Bible means when it says that we are “made in the image of God” and it is why humanity has two genders. Adam was created first, but humanity wasn’t complete until Eve was also on the scene. “Male and female He created them”.
Jesus referred to these words in His teaching, too. In rejecting a free and easy attitude to divorce that had become common among the Jews of his day, He confirmed that God’s original and ideal purpose for men and women is the special relationship of marriage and that God’s intention was that this should be for life. “What God has joined, let no one separate”, was what He said (Matthew 19).
I need to make it clear at this point that I am talking about big picture things here, about the ideal that God has in mind. I am sensitive to the possibility that some of you have been affected by divorce. I am aware how painful and difficult that is. More importantly, so does God. I think that the church has often lacked compassion and grace in this respect, having been far too black and white about divorce in the past. God’s word does recognise the fact that, in this fallen, sinful world, sometimes two people can end up together in a relationship that is anything but one that “God has joined”. It is clear that under certain circumstances divorce is permitted in the Bible. Nothing I am saying, though it is quite “hard line” about general attitudes and principles, should be interpreted as me saying that God is not compassionate and merciful towards you in your personal circumstances.
What I am hard line about is what Jesus was hard line about – a free and easy attitude that means that marriage is devalued and degraded. You see, in treating marriage as optional and dispensable, our society is really treating US as optional and dispensable too. A free and easy attitude to divorce is really saying to you and to me that we don’t matter enough to make it hard for someone to walk out on us; it is saying to our kids that they don’t matter enough to make it hard for one of their parents to walk out the door. The decay of society’s attitude to marriage means that we are becoming less human by the day.