Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
Family Classics Series
A Marriage Made in Heaven
Jesus quotes that passage of scripture and then adds a statement to it. Most wedding ceremonies conclude with those extra words. “What God has put together, let no one tear asunder.” Both Jesus’ words and Christian wedding ceremonies emphasize a central truth of our text. Marriage is not only a good thing. It is a God-thing. Jesus teaches us that a marriage is made in heaven, not just the one described in our text, but every marriage!
We turn to that truth today because on this Sunday in our Season of the Family (Mother’s Day to Father’s Day) we pay tribute to the long-term marriage in this church. We have many. . . .
None of our folk have yet set the Guinness World Record for a long marriage. That record still belongs to Percy and Florence Arrowsmith. Percy, of Hereford, England, died in 2005. He was 105. He and his younger bride of 100 had been married eighty years when he passed away. Percy and Florence met at church. He sang in the choir, and she was a Sunday school teacher.
According to the Guinness World Record authorities, the couple held the record for the longest marriage, as well as the oldest aggregate age of a married couple. "Couple Mark 80th Anniversary," The San Antonio Express-News (6-2-05)
Just for fun let me share three my favorite marriage stories. I would call them jokes but I don’t want to set expectations to high:
Number 1: A judge was interviewing a woman regarding her pending divorce, and asked, "What are the grounds for your divorce?" She replied, "About four acres and a nice little home in the middle of the property with a stream running by." "No," he said, "I mean what is the foundation of this case?" "It is made of concrete, brick and mortar," she responded. "I mean," he continued, "What are your relations like?" "I have an aunt and uncle living here in town, and so do my husband’s parents." He said, "Do you have a real grudge?" "No," she replied, "We have a two-car carport and have never really needed one."
"Please," he tried again, "is there any infidelity in your marriage?" "Yes, both my son and daughter have stereo sets. We don’t necessarily like the music, but the answer to your questions is yes." "Ma’am, does your husband ever beat you up?" "Yes," she responded, "about twice a week he gets up earlier than I do." Finally, in frustration, the judge asked, "Lady, why do you want a divorce?" "Oh, I don’t want a divorce," she replied. "I’ve never wanted a divorce. My husband does. He said he can’t communicate with me."
Number 2: The day before Thanksgiving an elderly man in Phoenix called his son in New York and said to him, "I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; 45 years of misery is enough. We’re sick of each other, and so you call your sister in Chicago and tell her." Frantic, the son called his sister, who exploded on the phone. "Like heck they’re getting divorced," she shouted, "I’ll take care of this." She called Phoenix immediately, and said to her father. "You are NOT getting divorced. Don’t do a single thing until I get there. I’m calling my brother back, and we’ll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don’t do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?"
The man hung up his phone and turned to his wife. "Okay, honey. The kids are coming for Thanksgiving and paying for their own flights."
Number 3: A man left work one Friday afternoon. But instead of going home, he stayed out the entire weekend fishing with the boys and spending his entire paycheck. When he finally appeared at home Sunday night, he was confronted by his very angry wife and was barraged for nearly 2 hours with a tirade of his actions. Finally, his wife stopped the nagging and simply said to him "How would you like it if you didn’t see me for 2 or 3 days?" To which he replied, "That would be fine with me!
Monday went by and he didn’t see his wife. Tuesday and Wednesday came and went with the same results. On Thursday, the swelling went down just enough where he could see her a little out of the corner of his left eye.
Unfortunately, the state of marriage in our society is not a joking matter. It is not easy and it is getting tougher all the time. The State of Our Unions 2005, an annual report put out by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, highlighted the difficulties facing families in our society. Among the findings:
Only 63 percent of American children grow up with both biological parents, the lowest percentage among Western nations. The U.S. divorce rate has declined over the past 25 years, but that was off set by the even greater decline in marriages. Instead of marriage, couples are living together. Yet cohabiting couples have twice the breakup rate of married couples.
Co-author of the study, David Popenoe, said, "Cohabitation is here to stay. I don’t think it’s good news, especially for children. As society shifts from marriage to cohabitation—which is what’s happening—you have an increase in family instability." According to Popenoe, the result of that instability is that "the United States has the weakest families in the Western world." Sharon Jayson, "Wedding Bells Aren’t Ringing, but Neither Are Phones of Divorce Lawyers," USA Today Online (7-18-05); submitted
We live in a time of growing confusion about marriage—both its worth and what makes it work. Politicians debate the definition. Families struggle with the reality. Our long term marriages probably don’t need to hear. But many do. We need the reminder of our text. It reveals the Bible’s original blueprint for marriage. This is an important passage because of where it is found---in the Scriptures opening pages that outline the foundations of all of life.
This passage is also important because is quoted so often by the New Testament. In three different contexts, the New Testament appeals to this passage. Each highlights a different one of the three key words in the original passage. Each term reveals the key biblical ingredients for marriages made in heaven. Let’s quickly survey those three quotations and those three terms.
The first term is highlighted in Ephesians 5:31. The term “leave” emphasis the need for undivided love in a marriage made in heaven. Obviously the original statement was intended for a wide audience than just Adam and Eve. The first couple had no parents. But they still needed to hear these words as do all couples. It is a call for Adam (and every husband and wife) to him to leave the past in the past, to grow up, and become solely devoted to his partner.
The first clue as to the meaning of the term “leave” is found in how Paul uses the passage in Ephesians 5. The passage is part of the Apostles appeal for family life to reflect the new life found in Christ. He tells wives to live in respectful submission to their husbands. He then tells husbands to love, honor, and cherish their wives as Christ does the church. This is a high calling. It leaves no room for dictatorial, self-serving abuse. It requires sacrificial devotion. Paul cites our text to support this appeal.
The context of Genesis two supports that appeal. Eve was a special creation. She alone was a fitting helpmate for Adam. She wasn’t just a beast of burden like the animals. She wasn’t a lesser creature designed to serve his needs. She was part of him. His devotion to her had to reflect that unique relationships. Everything and everyone else must be left in the background for Adam to give Eve the love and affection she deserved.
This brings us to our second New Testament quotation and the second term in the trio found in our text. Jesus quotes our text to emphasize the permanence of marriage made in heaven (Matthew 19:31). A husband and wife are to “cleave” to one another. The original term was a strong word that meant to adhere or literally “to be glued” to each other. That’s why Jesus adds that extra statement. “What God has joined, let no one tear apart.” God intends for marriages to stay together.
I heard of a couple who, as they were paying for groceries in the check-out line, were discussing their soon to be 50th wedding anniversary, when the young cashier interjected by saying, "I can’t imagine being married to same man for 50 years!" The wife wisely replied, teaching the young girl a lesson at the same time, "Well, Honey, don’t get married until you can."
Jesus’ quotation comes in response to a question about divorce. Someone asked his opinion about the just cause for a marriage breakup. In essence, he said, “We would better off if we spend more time talking about how to keep marriages together rather than arguing about the right justification for divorce. Divorce happens, but God never intended it.
These were strong words then just as they are now. Jesus’ disciples recognized that. Their response---if that’s the case, who would ever want to get married. Jesus’ response—maybe so!
The teacher asked a fourth grade Sunday School class, "What does God say about marriage?" Immediately one boy replied, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
In the days of Henry Ford (the first) and the Model T, someone asked him to what formula he attributed his successful marriage. He said, "The same formula as the making of a successful car: stick to one model." That’s what Jesus emphasized.
Most wedding vows emphasize the same thing. Husbands and wives pledge themselves to one another “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” To cleave to one another reflects a permanent joining of two lives. That’s God’s intention.
The third New Testament quotation of our original text emphasizes the third term in the passage, “they will become one flesh.” Some rightly emphasize that this describes a weaving of the two lives into one. Leave—cleave—weave. Listen to the third quotation in 1 Corinthians 6:16. The phrase has reference to the physical intimacy between husband and wife. But it is more than that. It describes a complete loyalty of mind, soul, and body!
Comedian Rodney Dangerfield once quipped about his marriage, “We sleep in separate rooms, we have dinner apart, we take separate vacations– we’re doing everything we can to keep our marriage together.” That’s not the unity of a marriage made in heaven.
God knows best. His principles for marriage, as with all of life, is for all good always. The current confusion about the definition and importance of marriage can only lead to one thing—greater and greater unhappiness and social breakdown. Worst of all, the next generation of children reap the devastating consequences.
Conclusion: Our text drives us to some clear conclusions. Marriage is God’s idea. It is not just a social convention or human invention. God also provides the definition—one man, one woman for life. The Bible leaves no room for redefinition or compromise.
I again voice our appreciation for the long-term marriages around us. You have done well. We all benefit from your example. May God bless you with many more years of happiness.
One final word—unfortunately we live in a world where long-term marriages are more and more rare. Marriages break up for lots of reasons. The consequences are seldom good. But grace must abound. The God who invented marriage is also a God of grace and forgiveness. He can put life back together. He offers second chances. He can heal the hurts of the past. That can happen for anyone who will open his or her life to God and say, “God, make of me what you want me to be.”
***Dr. Roger W. Thomas is the preaching minister at First Christian Church, 205 W. Park St., Vandalia, MO 63382 and an adjunct professor of Bible and Preaching at Central Christian College of the Bible, 911 E. Urbandale, Moberly, MO. He is a graduate of Lincoln Christian College (BA) and Lincoln Christian Seminary (MA, MDiv), and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary (DMin).