Summary: God gives marriage to show the greatness of his love and to work out the glory of his grace.
If I ask you what is most like half the moon, is it half an orange? half a basketball? a round of cheese? The answer is the other half of the moon! So if we ask what is most like a man, the answer is a woman. And what is most like a woman? a man. Men and women are different, and vive la différence [ vēv-lä-dē-fā-räⁿs ]. But we are more alike than anything else in creation. (Adapted from Boice, Genesis).
God makes for Adam a woman, a friend with whom to be united in the deepest and most self-giving love. Thus, marriage is a high and holy privilege, and we do well to study its beginning in Genesis. We will also add a saying of wise King Solomon.
A husband and wife come for counseling. The pastor asks, “What seems to be the problem?” The wife answers: “It all started when he wanted to be in the wedding photographs.”
G. K. Chesterton claimed that the only topics worthy of humor are the most serious. Marriage is the most serious of all human relationships and sometimes we must laugh at ourselves and the messes we make of this divine institution. At the same time, none is untouched by some hurt related to marriage. Whether difficulties in your own, or that of a friend or family member, we all have wounds from marriages that failed to meet expectations or expectations of marriages that failed to materialize. Even if we do not recognize it, the frequency of divorce impacts everyone, by its long-term consequences on society, especially in children.
No wonder Ken Myers said: “Our time is one of the most confusing in human history in which to think about marriage.”
Some suppose marriage itself is the problem and suggest we eliminate this old fashioned and outdated tradition. But that would be like removing the levies since they could not hold back the storm surge from Hurricane Katrina. The levies did not cause the problem, the hurricane did; and the only hope is stronger levies, not removing them. Marriage controls and constrains; it holds back the waves of sinful passions and desires so that people enjoy one flesh in spite of our nature. We must not eliminate marriage, but build it up, strengthen the institution, and exalt it as a great gift from God!
Two cautions as we begin. First, we must be careful of only focusing on mechanics. God does define our roles in marriage and describe how we should relate. And as we obey the Scriptures (by grace and through faith), we reveal the greatness of God’s gift, and the goodness of his ways. But if we stop there, we risk making marriage an end in itself.
Pastor John Piper explains this in his article, “The Surpassing Goal: Marriage Lived for the Glory of God,” (Building Strong Families, p. 96): “But there is another deeper, more foundational level where the glory of God must shine if these roles are to be sustained as God designed. The power and impulse to carry through the self-denial and daily, monthly, yearly dying that will be required in loving an imperfect wife and loving an imperfect husband must come from a hope-giving, soul-sustaining, superior satisfaction in God. I don’t think that our love for our wives or theirs for us will glorify God until it flows from a heart that delights in God more than marriage,… when the glory of God is more precious to us than marriage.”
We may not make a happy or even well-functioning marriage our goal, as desirable as that may be. God is the goal of marriage, never the other way around.
My second caution is to remember that we all have fallen short. Sometimes couples want to hide the high ideals of marriage so they do not feel so acutely the pain of failures. As tempting as that may be, faith in God requires that we glory in the greatness of the gift, so that we are drawn closer to the Giver, and so that we will depend more and more on him for both the grace of forgiveness and the grace to remake our marriages to the standard. So let’s begin.
1. We Honor God’s Gift of Singleness
Even though this sermon is on marriage, I do not want the unmarried to nap. I think understanding this can draw you closer to God and help you better love your married friends. At the same time, I should make some observations about singleness (and I draw much of this from John Piper, “For Single Men and Women (and the Rest of Us),” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, xvii-xxviii).
First, I admit that I “do not know what it is like to be single as you know it,” especially in the church. Margaret Clarkson describes life as an unmarried adult (So You’re Single): “Because married people were all single once, they tend to think that they know all about singleness. I suggest this is not so…. There are times when such a depth of loneliness wells up within us, such a sense of alienation engulfs us, that we cry out to God in anguish at the apparent waste of his endowments. Rich personalities that know no blending with another; brilliant minds that know no kinship; full hearts that find no union with their kind—to what purpose is such waste?” I recommend Farmer, The Rich Single Life: Abundance, Opportunity, and Purpose in God, Sovereign Grace, 1998.