Why God Hates Divorce

My sermon title today, “Why God Hates Divorce,” calls for some careful preliminary analysis. In fact, there are four things I want to point out by way of introduction. First, the title presupposes that God does indeed hate divorce. I feel confident in making that assertion because God Himself said so. Mal. 2:16 reads, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel . . . . So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.”

But second, I hasten to point out what the title does not say, namely, “Why God Hates Divorced People.” There is no such assertion in the Bible, and there are, in fact, many places where the Bible flatly contradicts such a notion. Now there are a few people who might be called “perpetrators of divorce.” By that I mean they consciously and intentionally use the divorce laws to free themselves of unwanted responsibility or to enable them to get into a new relationship that seems more exciting. Such individuals God may indeed hate. But I am convinced that most divorced people are victims, not perpetrators.

In many cases both spouses in the same divorce are victims–victims of Satan’s lies, particularly the myth of the greener grass, victims of ignorance concerning God’s principles, victims of a lack of resources to deal with the problems in their marriages, victims of a spouse who refuses to work on the marriage. They don’t want a divorce; they hate the thought of being divorced, but they just don’t know any way out of the trap in which they find themselves.

Now when I call these people “victims” I am not trying to relieve them of responsibility for their situation. Nearly all of them made some bad decisions somewhere along the way which led them into court. But I am trying to enter into their pain and grant to them the fact that in most cases this was not a willful act of rebellion toward God. In fact, so convinced am I of the pain and trauma that divorce produces that I have taken out of my vocabulary the term “divorcee”. I speak instead of “the one who has suffered divorce.”

Third, while God hates divorce, it is not by any means the only thing God hates.

Prov. 6:16 reads, “These are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

And there are more. I did a word study throughout the OT and discovered that God hates idols and images (Deut. 16:21,22), He hates all who do wrong (Ps. 5:5), He hates the wicked and those who love violence (Ps. 11:5), He hates robbery and iniquity (Isa. 61:8), He hates the burning of incense in the worship of other gods (Jer. 44:4), He hates religious feasts and burnt offerings when the hearts of His people are not right (Amos 5:21), and He hates the plotting of evil against a neighbor (Zech. 8:17).

Now the reason I mention these other things God hates is not to minimize the hatred God has of divorce, but to help those of us who have not suffered divorce realize that divorce is not a unique sin that makes a person unredeemable in the sight of God or unusable in the church.

Fourth, it is important to note that while God hates divorce, He does not forbid all divorce. In fact, under certain very restricted conditions God expressly permits it. I must assume that in those situations God hates what brings about the divorce (namely unrepentant sexual sin) more than He hates divorce. This morning I do not have time to talk about the exceptions to God’s principle of “no divorce,” but I have written a rather lengthy paper on the subject, which I would be happy to share with anyone who would like to study the issue. In fact, I have a few copies available here this morning.

There may be a tendency for some to think this subject is irrelevant to them. I think not. Those who have never married need to think about God’s hatred of divorce before they decide to make a covenant before God and man “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part.” God takes our vows very seriously.

Those who are now married need to know this before they even think about seeing a lawyer to solve their problems.

And those who are divorced need to realize that a second marriage is twice as likely to end in divorce as a first one, and God hates second, third, and fourth divorces too!

Even the secular world is beginning to wake up to the seriousness of the problem of divorce in our society. Every year over 1 million Americans get divorced, and the statistics get worse each year because the children of divorced parents are more likely to get divorced themselves. Larry Bumpass, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, projects that 60 percent of recent marriages will eventually end in divorce. (The Emmaus Journal, 1993, p. 23).

A Michigan state legislator is attempting to reform that state’s no-fault divorce law. The law is so lenient, he said, “it is easier to divorce my wife of 26 years than to fire someone I hired one week ago.” No-fault divorce laws allow a marriage to be dissolved for almost any reason, even if only one party wants a divorce. The result has been skyrocketing divorce rates. State Rep. Jessie Dalman has proposed reforms. If one partner wants to reconcile, then the one who wants a divorce will have to prove fault. Also, the law would give more power over the division of assets to the partner who wants to reconcile. If there are children, the parents would have to prove that the divorce is in their best interests.

But making it harder to get a divorce, while probably a step in the right direction, is not the only way to tackle the problem. On February 9 Clarence Page’s syndicated editorial in the Post Dispatch was entitled, “Easy Marriage, Easy Divorce.” After discussing the pros and cons of no-fault divorce, he wrote,

Fault or no-fault, divorce is no fun. But the solution is not to be found at the back end of the problem, which is bad marriages. Let’s look at the other end. Instead of making it harder to get divorced, I think we ought to make it harder to get married. Worse than the no-fault divorce is the no-sweat wedding. If easy divorce cheapens the institution of marriage, so does easy marriage. We have waiting periods for gun purchases, mandatory training for drivers’ licenses, but nothing at all for two people who want to do the most important thing human beings can do, which is to create other human beings and raise a family.

I appreciate what this Michigan State Legislator is trying to do, and I agree here with Clarence Page, but of far more importance to me is what almighty God, our Creator, has to say on the subject of divorce. What I want to ask and to answer this morning is this: Why does God hate divorce?

Because divorce violates His perfect plan for His highest creation.

Paul Stolwyk spoke very clearly and profoundly last Sunday about God’s blueprint for marriage: One man and one woman united permanently in a relationship of commitment, companionship, fellowship, service, and love. Divorce was never in the original blueprint for the home. Not only is that implied in the Genesis account, it is clearly stated by Jesus. He said in Matthew 19:8: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” It is also made clear in our primary text for today–Malachi 2:10-16:

Have we not all one Father ? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another? {11} Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the LORD loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god. {12} As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the LORD cut him off from the tents of Jacob even though he brings offerings to the LORD Almighty. {13} Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. {14} You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. {15} Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. {16} “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.

In this text the prophet takes the people to task for their spiritual unfaithfulness and for their unfaithfulness to their marriage vows. Spiritual and physical adultery are often linked in the Bible; indeed they almost always go together. A man in the process of divorcing his wife without biblical grounds recently told me, “I’ve never been closer to Christ.” Frankly, I don’t believe it, and there’s nothing in his actions or attitudes that would suggest fellowship with God. Yes, there are tears, but the tears remind me of the tears here in verse 13: “You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands.”

In Malachi 2:15 the prophet goes back to the beginning of creation and the institution of marriage. “Has not the Lord made them one,” i.e. one flesh? He had enough breath of life or creative energy to have made many wives for Adam. Why then did He make only one? Monogamy was His intended design, in order to raise up a godly offspring. The author’s point is that divorce clearly counteracts the original purposes of God to establish an extended spiritual family here on earth. “So,” says Malachi, “guard yourself in your spirit and do not break faith.”

God’s plan is, by definition, the best plan. How could it be otherwise? If He is the God of Scripture, the infinite, eternal, omniscient God of wisdom and power and love, would He devise a plan that would not be good for His children? Would He demand permanence in marriage if that permanence interfered with our welfare and our happiness? Jesus answered that question emphatically in the Sermon on the Mount. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” And marriage is one of the greatest gifts God has given to His creation.

But, you say, there’s nothing godly about my marriage. It’s miserable, it’s unhappy, it’s degrading. Do you mean to tell me that God wants me to stay in this for the rest of my life? Of course not! God doesn’t want you to be in a miserable, unhappy, degrading marriage for even five more minutes! But there is an alternative to ending a lousy marriage–that’s to find healing for it. I know there are a number of couples here this morning who have seen their marriages healed. I’m talking about marriages that were once in very serious trouble but today are solid, happy, and fulfilling. In fact, in a moment I’m going to ask some of you to stand as a testimony to God’s grace, if (1) your marriage was once so troubled that you thought about divorce, but (2) God has healed your marriage to the point that divorce is out of the question and you would call your marriage solid. If that describes you, would you be willing to stand right now?

Friends, does God heal today? We have some miracles standing before our eyes here this morning–miracles of God’s healing power. Thank you, please be seated. By the way, I’m sure many of these families would be happy to share with you how God healed their marriage. There is hope.

The spirit of our age is a spirit of shallow, temporary commitments and instant gratification. The spirit of our age demands that a marriage relationship meet our needs and achieve our goals quickly and painlessly. If it doesn’t, then we have the right to abandon it and find one that will. As followers of Jesus, however, we need to listen to the Spirit of God, not the spirit of our age, and the Spirit of God states that divorce violates His perfect plan for His highest creation.

Because divorce involves the breaking of a covenant.

The concept of a solemn covenant is at the heart of Malachi 2. There was a spiritual covenant between God and His people, and that covenant served as the symbol for the marriage covenant. All marriages whether civil or religious include the recitation of some kind of vows–statements and promises of mutual commitment before God and man. When a man and a woman marry, they do not say, “Till divorce do us part,” they say, “Till death do us part.” They almost always promise to stay together “for better or for worse.” Although the couple may be non-Christians, God hears the vows made and will judge them for promises not kept.

Do you know how serious covenant-breaking is to God? Listen to a few of the literally dozens of passages that speak about God’s attitude toward those who break covenants and vows. First, Lev. 26:14ff:

But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you. If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of the land yield their fruit.

Three more times that chapter goes on to say, “If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me . . . further evil will come upon you.”

Then consider Eccles. 5:4-6: “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, ‘My vow was a mistake.’ (Boy, I’ve heard that a bunch of time in marriage counseling!) Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?”

In order to illustrate all the more graphically the heinousness of divorce, Malachi uses three phrases in chapter 2, verse 14 to describe the victim of divorce: “Wife of your youth,” “your partner,” and “the wife of your marriage covenant.” One commentator writes,

She whom you thus wronged was the companion of those earlier and brighter days, when in the bloom of her young beauty she left her father’s house and shared your early struggles, and rejoiced in your later success; who walked arm in arm with you along the pilgrimage of life, cheering you in its trials by her gentle ministry; and now, when the bloom of her youth has faded and the friends of her youth have gone, when father and mother whom she left for you are in the grave, then you cruelly cast her off as a worn-out, worthless thing, and insult her holiest affections by putting an idolater and a heathen in her place.

Of course, this cuts both ways, for there are as many women violating their marriage covenants today as men. God hates divorce because divorce involves the breaking of a covenant.

Because He loves people and doesn’t want them to suffer the pain that divorce inevitably produces.

Divorce, friends, is ugly. Even under the best of circumstances it causes great pain. When a husband and wife get married they become one flesh. That’s the essence of marriage. When a husband and wife get divorced that one flesh is torn apart. There’s no painless way to tear one’s flesh apart. God knows that, and that’s why He hates divorce.

Researchers at the University of Chicago and the National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Md., categorized life’s most stressful events and found that divorce ranked third behind the death of a child and the death of a spouse. (Industry Week, June 23, 1980, p. 81). Some people I know who have experienced all three would rank divorce even higher.

What I do not understand is why so many will endure all the emotional pain, psychological pain, financial pain, family pain, loneliness, bitterness, and dozens of other kinds of suffering that divorce produces, but they won’t seek marriage counseling, or if they do, they won’t engage in the hard but rewarding work that can bring healing to a troubled marriage.

I think God has a special love for those who have been divorced against their will, as well as for their children. Listen to Psalm 68:4,5:

Sing to God, sing praise to his name,

extol him who rides on the clouds–

his name is the Lord–

and rejoice before him.

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,

is God in his holy dwelling.

God sets the lonely in families. (and one of those special families is the church).

Now tell me, do you think God is offering here to be a father to those made widows and orphans by death and not those made widows and orphans by divorce? God hates divorce because He loves people and doesn’t want them to suffer the pain that divorce inevitably produces.

Because He loves children, and children are devastated by divorce.

Children are the silent victims of divorce. Always. One mother I know who divorced her husband to marry another man tried to convince me that her children were doing well; in fact, she had convinced herself that her children were better off with their time and love divided between two homes than they would have been had she stayed in a loveless marriage. Leaving aside the fact I have already mentioned–namely loveless marriages can be healed–this woman is simply deluding herself. I know her children, and her children are hurting, and they are hurting more because of the divorce than they ever would have hurt had she stayed in the marriage. You could never convince me otherwise.

Children of divorce hurt when they are small. I had a little preschooler in this church come to me three weeks ago and tell me she thought she was going to die. I believe the trauma she was experiencing is related directly to the fact that her daddy has moved away and she doesn’t know if he is coming back. Every S.S. teacher and every public school teacher will tell you about the pain inflicted in the lives of small children when mommy and daddy go separate ways. In many classrooms today the number of children who live with both their natural parents in the same house is a distinct minority. And we are surprised at the behavior problems?

Children of divorce hurt as adolescents. Newsweek magazine, February 19, 1996, reported that teenagers from broken homes are more likely to drop out of school, have children out of wedlock and have poor mental health. This week Pastor Bruce has been working with a social worker in our church who specializes in counseling the adolescent victims of divorce in the public schools. They are working on establishing a thoroughly Christian version of that curriculum here in the Church so the children of broken homes can talk out their special issues and find support from one another.

Children of divorce hurt even as adults. My wife’s parents divorced when she was 8. As divorces go it was one of the better ones. Her parents remained civil and there was no attempt on the part of one of them to paint the other as the bad guy. They both lived in the same city so the children had plenty of access to both parents. Her mother and her stepmother became friends and to this day they remain friends, even though her dad died in 1994. We can all have Thanksgiving Dinner together and there is no tension or difficulty. Furthermore, Jan came to faith in Christ through her stepmother, so the best thing that ever happened to her was a result of her parents’ divorce. That’s why I say that as divorces go, this was one of the better ones.

But does that mean the divorce of her parents left no scars? Don’t believe it for a moment. Some of the toughest things we have had to deal with in our 32 years of marriage are the result of that decision of Jan’s parents long before I met her. She has done an amazing job coming to grips with those issues (to say nothing of the problems I brought into the marriage) and her healing is nearly complete, but the question I would ask is this: “Does a child deserve to pay that price so the parents can find a quick escape route from the pressures of life?” And remember, this was by no means a typical divorce. The scars left when mom and dad are bitter and angry or when one of them just abandons the family or even when one moves out of town are infinitely more severe.

God hates divorce because He loves children, and children are devastated by divorce. Now I wish to conclude with one more point:

Because God hates divorce, we should hate divorce and reject it as a solution to the trials we face in marriage.

I’m not talking here about the person whose spouse is guilty of persistent, unrepentant adultery. Jesus addressed that situation in Matthew 5:31,32 with some special instruction. Nor am I talking about the person who because of his or her commitment to Christ has been abandoned by an unbelieving spouse. Paul addresses that situation in I Cor. 7 with some special instruction. But I am talking to nearly everyone else. If God hates divorce, we should hate it. If God says “no,” we should say “no.” If God says, “With me all things are possible, I can heal your marriage if you are willing to live by my principles, invest the necessary effort, and trust me,” then we should say, “Yes, Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

I want to close today with a letter I received on Tuesday. I asked permission from this couple and they said I could read it to you. I showed it to Paul and after reading it he said, “You don’t even need to prepare a sermon. Just read the letter.” Well, I thought that was a bit drastic, especially since I had already prepared my sermon, but I do want to read the letter.


I wanted to drop you a note and let you know that I have really enjoyed the messages on the family the last couple of weeks. I also want to say that I appreciate your comments and your beliefs on the subject of divorce and how much God hates it! Having a degree in theology from a Christian college and having worked in the “arena” of (a certain evangelical denomination that shall remain unnamed), I have witnessed many ministers dancing around the subject. It is refreshing to see ministers stand in the pulpit and preach what God’s Word says, not worrying that someone will be “offended”–I think a better word is “convicted.”

Having been through a divorce I see the destruction that it does–not only to the two married individuals, but the children, the in-laws, brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, friends, associates–it seems to be a never ending “ripple” effect that touches so many people. It is a devastating move that cripples the family emotionally, spiritually, financially, educationally, etc. I have seen the effects on my 3 « year old son; it is so sad to see him grieve for our past mistakes.

My wife and I are still moving in the direction of reconciliation. We both feel very comfortable with each other and have worked through a lot of garbage and hope to put our family back together the way God intended it to be. Our counseling has gone very well and we really enjoy each other. There have been some arguments, etc., but we have actually been able to work through the situations very well. It has been work but it has been fun–we are making it fun!! I look forward to getting our family whole and healed!

Please continue to preach God’s Word as you have. I wish sometimes that I could stand on a mountain and shout a warning for people not to go down the road that we did. Thank God for giving us the opportunity to “make it right”–most don’t get that chance. Mike, please continue to warn the families at E. Free that God hates divorce and it is not the “way out” that most people think it is. I know there are cases that people are in danger and they need to be removed from a situation, but our society has made divorce look like a cure-all for marriage problems–it’s not! It just causes much more pain and destroyed lives.

God bless, and he signs his name.

This couple is here this morning, as they have been for most of the last two months. They were here together on December 31, the morning Ben and Debbie Mudd shared how God had brought Ben to his knees through their divorce, how he had accepted Christ, how he had prayed for reconciliation, and how their relationship was healed. The Mudds were remarried in November. God used that testimony to convince this couple that God could do it again. He is working in their lives and I look forward to officiating at a very special wedding in God’s time.

Marriage is like a garden. Neglect it long enough and it will become a jungle, replete with lions, tigers, and snakes. Friends, if your “garden” is looking a little shabby, now is the time to pull some weeds. If it seems beyond you, get a gardener. There is much at stake. If you see friends of yours that are in trouble, encourage them to get help and get it now.

Reconciliation between two people, whether they are in a troubled marriage, or already divorced, or whether they are just co-workers who can’t get along, or church members who have a personality conflict, or individuals who have racist feelings toward one another,

reconciliation between two people is possible only because God has first reconciled us to Himself. In II Cor. 5:17-18 we read, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

God sent His one and only Son to the Cross to pay the penalty for our sin. When we put our faith and trust in Jesus’ sacrifice, God extends to us the free gift of reconciliation–He becomes our friend. But He does more–He gives to us the ministry of reconciliation, the privilege of bringing others to the Cross, but also the privilege of breaking down the walls that separate us and finding healing for all our relationships.

Modeling: Sharpening The Arrows In Your Quiver

Malachi 2:15

For six weeks we have been discussing ways to remodel our houses into homes. We started by seeing that the basis of a successful marriage is our character. Then we looked at God’s master plan behind marriage and some of the reasons God hates divorce. We’ve also seen that significance and security in the home starts with Jesus first and our spouse second, and we have learned to love and respect one another.

We are going to shift gears a bit this morning and focus our attention on the other relationships that make a house a home relationships between parents and children. It has been good to discuss these marital issues at length because a good marriage relationship is crucial to a good parenting relationship.

The best thing you or I can do for our children is to love our spouse. Your relationship with your husband or wife is the primary relationship in the home. When God created a family, he started with Adam and Eve. Not Adam, Eve, and Jr. The demands of raising children often get this fundamental issue out of alignment. Even with a boatload of kids, the most important relationship in the home is husband and wife, father and mother. Not mother-daughter, father-son, father-daughter or mother-son. If your marital relationship is struggling, continue to work diligently on it. There must be oneness between you and your spouse before there is oneness in your parenting.

Since I have been a parent only three years, I decided that I was still a bit lacking in personal experience to try to fake it and become First Free’s version of James Dobson. In fact, James Dobson could use some of my parenting skills as negative examples for his program. So lacking anything pithy to share, I turned to the Scriptures to see if God had some wisdom for parents concerning the raising of children. In the overview study that I did on Monday, I found that

Regarding parenting, the Scriptures are long on principle and short on method.

There are only a few passages that teach us directly about parenting. In Deuteronomy 6 and 11, the people of Israel are admonished to teach their children the precepts of God by talking about Him to their children as they go about their daily business. In Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21, fathers are admonished to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Along with these three clear commands, there are a half dozen Proverbs that give broad wisdom concerning the value of children and the discipline of children. Also in the account of Eli in 1 Samuel 14 there is a useful negative illustration of what happens when a father fails in his responsibilities. In addition, a few verses in 1 Timothy 1:4 and 5 illustrate what happens when a mother and grandmother (Lois and Eunice) build God’s Word into the lives of their children.

Despite the relative shortage of biblical material, there are three foundational principles that need to be highlighted.

The goal of parenting is raising godly children. (Mal 2:1016) Malachi is the last Old Testament book and comes just before the first Gospel, Matthew, about two thirds of the way from the front of your Bible. Four weeks ago Mike preached from this passage to help us understand why God hates divorce. After rebuking the men of Israel for breaking their marriage covenants, Malachi raises a rhetorical question in verse 15, “Has not the Lord made them one?” The obvious answer is “yes.” They should know from Genesis that the Lord does make two people one when they are married. Malachi states this in the next sentence, “In flesh and spirit, they are his.”

Then the prophet asks the question, “And why one?” The answer is given, “Because he was seeking godly offspring.” God makes two people one flesh in order to meet their aloneness needs but also because he wants godly offspring. And the best way to produce godly offspring is to put them in a loving home with two godly parents. From God’s perspective the goal of parenting is not to raise a Princeton grad or a world class swimmer, but to raise godly children. This is important to God because godly people worship Him.

The responsibility for raising godly children belongs to parents. (Deut. 6:49, 11:1621; Eph 6:14; Col 3:20,21) Now this may seem obvious, but I wonder how many of us “outsource” this responsibility to the church. We outsource math, science and literature, but the moral character and spiritual development of our children is our responsibility. AWANA, Passport to Adventure, and Junior and Senior High youth groups are here to support your ministry with your children. They offer your children models that reinforce what they are learning from you and provide further instruction.

One of the ways we should respond is by being as involved in our children’s spiritual education as we are in their math and science education. Simple things like knowing their Sunday School teacher, praying regularly for them, and sharing our own process of discipleship with our kids are ways to begin taking this responsibility.

Let me mention one other observation that was a bit startling to me. The New Testament addresses parenting twice. In both instances, Paul addresses fathers but not mothers. I believe he does this not to minimize the importance of mothers but instead to whack men across the side of the head and remind them that they are to be the spiritual pacesetters in the family. Not to do so, the New Testament implies, is a sure way to irritate, discourage and cause bitterness to well up inside our children.

Our inner cities are showing the marks of what happens when fathers are physically absent. But I wonder if some of the problems we are seeing even in our suburban homes is also because of absent fathers–perhaps we are there, but too often we have a remote control in our hands and are emotionally distant from our children.

The methods of raising godly children vary. This is true for two reasons. First, the Scriptures do not give us systematic methods for rearing children. And second, it just would not make sense to assume that one method can work for all families in raising godly children. Just as there are many different ways to disciple people who have come to faith in Christ, so too there are any number of good directions parents can take to intentionally develop godly children. You cannot apply a rigid formula to relationships.

There are a number of great resources in our library on parenting. I encourage you to read widely and draw from the experience of any number of wise parents in developing your own method of raising your children. Kevin Leman, Jim Dobson, and Ken Huggins offer great practical help. Two books from which I have drawn good principles are Christian Parenting by Dr. William Sears and the work of Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo in their “Growing Kids God’s Way” series. I have a pet peeve with both these books, however. Dr. Sears in his introduction says that he is presenting what he believes to be “God’s design for parenting” (Sears, p. xix). I find that a bit arrogant to assume. I have the same problem with the title to the Ezzo’s series. I do not believe that they have necessarily found God’s way of raising godly kids. They both present great principles and practical advice, but I think it is stretching it to assume they have the definitive works on the subject.

Rather than focusing on teenage rebellion or sleep schedules or the merits of time-out versus spanking, I want to look at raising godly children from a different perspective. The problems and pitfalls of raising godly children in our homes are similar to the problems of raising godly people in the church, but on a smaller scale. In his letters to the various churches, Paul reveals some of his discipling principles for turning ungodly people into godly people. I want to try to explain these principles and relate them back to the home. I believe that if they work in the local church they can transfer equally well into the context of our homes.

One of the most powerful ways to learn is by imitating the examples provided by other people. In the church, Paul knew that people would become godly if they imitated good models of Christian living. In the home, the same truth applies. Parents are examples to their children in everything. We have no choice in the matter.

Modeling godly attitudes and behaviors are critical in helping our children attain godliness.

In fact godly children can only be produced by godly parents who are modeling their walk with God and offering appropriate instruction as they go. Let’s start looking at Paul’s principles for training by modeling. Turn with me in the New Testament to 1 Thessalonians, chapter 1, verse 5. Paul is recounting how he saw these believers come to faith in Christ. Then he writes, “You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit.”

The Thessalonian believers came to faith in Christ in the midst of significant persecution. Despite this persecution, they received the Gospel with great joy. Paul attributes their joyous response to imitation of himself. He modeled a joyful response to the persecution he experienced. Luke tells us in Acts 17 that Paul was persecuted in Thessalonica and was run out of town by an angry mob after only four weeks of ministry. We see from this that

People learn by imitating behaviors and attitudes they see lived out in other people. (1 Thess 1:6) We learn most of what we know about living life through imitation. We see this easily during early childhood. My daughter imitates my facial expressions. My son imitates every movement I make. But this kind of learning continues even as adults. Do you want to see a good example of this? Just look at my outline in today’s worship folder. Have you ever seen an outline like this before? This is a Mike Andrus sermon outline, isn’t it? For 10 years, I have been sitting under Mike’s teaching. He has been the most consistent, biblical teacher I have had. I have learned to think through a sermon by imitating Mike. This is a scary realization, isn’t it? I have joined the Twelve Step recovery group Brad Harper founded to break myself of this dysfunctional behavior. Seriously, Mike is a wonderful model to follow in this regard. Today’s sermon outline reflects the fact that I have imitated what has been modeled for me.

Right now, our children are learning and imitating behaviors and attitudes they have seen lived out in us. Do we love people and use things, or do we love things and use people? Our children will imitate our values. Do we follow God’s priorities, or do we expect God to follow our priorities? Our children will imitate our faith. Is our prayer life a constant discipline, or is it just a mealtime ritual to ask God to bless our food to the nourishment of our bodies? Our children will imitate our prayers.

Look at what Paul says next in verse 7: “And so you became models to all the believers in Macadonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia your faith in God has become known everywhere.” After imitating Paul’s and Jesus’ example of joyous grace under fire, these believers become an example to other churches. They would never have been an example to others unless they had a model to imitate in the first place.

People who imitate good models become good models for others. (1 Thess. 1:79) What we model to our children will last through generations. Today in our homes girls are learning how to love their husband by watching their mother. Boys are learning to be fathers by watching their dads. They are learning ways to resolve conflict by watching us either talk it out, fight it out, or avoid it altogether. Someday our children will imitate us in these areas. They will sit in a pastor’s office for premarital counseling and bring with them a host of expectations about marriage and family which they learned from us. They will pass on our examples, both good and bad, to our grandchildren. Sobering, isn’t it? But there is hope.

Turn over two pages to 2 Thessalonians 3:6ff:

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.

Paul made a decision at some point to intentionally live a certain way in the hopes that his example would be followed.

Parents must intentionally model a godly lifestyle for their children. (2 Thess 3:9, 1 Cor 4:16, 1 Cor 11:1, 1 Peter 5:13) One of my professors at Trinity said this to a class filled with future pastors, “You are an example. You have no choice in the matter. You can choose, though, what kind of example you will be.” That holds true for you as a parent as well. You can intentionally choose the kinds of things you want to model for your children.

Let me suggest that you sit down with your spouse, or by yourself if you are a single parent, and write out the godly character qualities, godly attitudes, and godly behaviors that you would like your children to have when they leave your home at age 21. Then intentionally seek to build these attitudes and behaviors into your own life and begin living them out before your children. Most important lessons are caught rather than taught. Your children will catch something from you. You can have control over what they catch.

When Paul wrote Timothy, a young pastor shepherding a church in Ephesus, he encouraged Timothy this way, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” This gives us our fourth principle on modeling.

Parents must set an example in speech, life, love, faith and purity. (Mal 2:15; 1 Tim 4:12) Last week I was having a little talk with my son about the tone and volume of his voice. I told him I didn’t like it when he yelled or used a disrespectful tone of voice, and I asked him to work on it. Then he said to me, “Dad, I don’t like it when you raise your voice.” Rebuked by a three year old! In my spirit, I wanted to justify my behavior and tell him that I needed to raise my voice in order to get his attention. But that wasn’t the point. He was asking, “How come I can’t raise my voice but you can raise yours?”

I was trying to instruct without modeling. Thankfully the Lord showed me my hypocrisy. So I thanked Matthew for telling me and then I told him I wanted to change. Then I asked him to help me. So we are working together on our voices. He helps me and I help him. He’s a lot better, I’m still struggling. As you make your list of qualities, attitudes, and behaviors, start with these five categories-speech, life, love, faith, purity. That covers a lot.

But modeling is not enough. Paul coaches Titus, another young pastor on the island of Crete, this way: “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness.” (Titus 2:68a) Notice that Paul tells Titus to demonstrate with his life and then teach. His counsel to Timothy followed the same sequence.

Parents should follow up their example with integrity filled teaching. (Titus 2:7) Two extremes need to be avoided in the areas of modeling and teaching. The first extreme is instruction without modeling. This will work with younger children, but as soon as kids get to their teens, they will see it for what it is, hypocrisy. Teenagers are smart; they can smell a fake a mile away. One of the quickest ways to embitter your children toward you and God is to establish a rule that you don’t follow or that you occasionally change when it becomes inconvenient. The second extreme to avoid is modeling without instruction. This leads to confusion by putting the responsibility on our children to guess what the real motives behind our actions are. As children grow up they need patient instruction so that they understand the motivations and mindset behind the model they see.

One other caution is to be very careful how we use God’s Word. Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. But it is not useful for winning arguments. If we pull out a verse in the middle of a conflict with our children, even if we are right, we will lose because we are using the Word for our advantage, not their advantage. We should instruct with God’s Word to equip them for every good work, not to beat them.

These are the five principles I see Paul employing in discipling ungodly people toward godliness. One important fact I haven’t mentioned is that these principles are given in the context of people who have placed their faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. So Paul, Timothy and Titus are using these principles with people who have the Holy Spirit residing in their hearts. This gives them a distinct advantage. One of our elders, Heinz Bockle, has wisely observed that having the Holy Spirit in your children helps tremendously in parenting because the Holy Spirit works from the inside out. I encourage you to diligently pray for God to open your children’s hearts to their own sinfulness and to Christ so that by faith the Holy Spirit can come in and transform their hearts.

So what about those of us whose kids do not show signs of personal faith in Jesus? Thankfully for us Jesus was well acquainted with the problem. Jesus took ungodly disciples without the Holy Spirit and transformed them into godly leaders for His Kingdom.

Jesus’ relationship with His disciples models the training relationship that parents can have with their children.

Jesus prioritized his relationships with the twelve disciples. Jesus spent time with twelve men who were impulsive, loud, quick-tempered, slow learners, smelly and disobedient. He gave his priority time and effort to these few. He did not neglect his ministry to the masses but he deliberately gave those few disciples the greatest majority of his time over the length of his ministry.

Why did Jesus focus so much attention and spend so much time with so few? His ministry was relationally driven, not content driven. Jesus understood that it was in his presence that they could learn all they needed to know. The essence of Jesus’ training of the twelve was that they would learn simply by being around Him. Jesus was a living sermon. He was the curriculum. This kind of ministry takes a lot of time but it is highly effective.

Our kids need a relationship with us. We have to intentionally spend large amounts of time with them, not just quality amounts of time. We need to be available to them when they are ready to learn.

Jesus gave himself to the Father first, and then to the Twelve. The controlling principle in Jesus’ life was obedience to the will of God. So, often Jesus would get away by himself to be alone and to pray. The Twelve would eventually learn that to be godly, they would have to be sold out to God. After spending time with His Father, he gave himself completely to his disciples. He gave them his joy, his peace, his love. He denied himself comforts and pleasures for their sake. He accepted humiliation and poverty for their sake.

If we are not sold out to the Father, we will not raise children who are sold out to Jesus. If our faith is casual, then we cannot expect our children’s to be anything more. Remember what Malachi said earlier, “Guard yourself in your spirit,” that is, love God with all your heart, soul and strength and also love your spouse.

Jesus demonstrated attitudes, priorities and disciplines to the Twelve. In the short term this didn’t have a lot of payoff. The disciples were constantly failing at living out what Jesus demonstrated. Peter was the ultimate rebel when he denied Jesus three times. But Jesus’ model was quickly imitated once the Spirit came on the disciples after the resurrection.

Luke tells us in Acts 1:14 that after Jesus ascended into heaven, they all joined together constantly in prayer. How did they know to do this? Well, they had seen Jesus pray countless times as he healed the multitudes, as he feed the 5000, and as he blessed the children.

Immediately after the Holy Spirit comes and fills the disciples in Jerusalem, Peter explains to the crowd the meaning of the strange dialects they are hearing. In Acts 2:15 Luke records Peter’s message, “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel . . .” He then quotes five verses from Joel chapter 2. Where did he learn to use the Scriptures like that? He had spent three years with Jesus. Over and over again, he would watch Jesus using the Scriptures to correct and rebuke the culture of his day, to build up the broken and the hurting, and to stand strong in the midst of temptation.

Throughout the book of Acts the disciples fan out over all the earth reaching out to all kinds of people, including Gentiles. How did they know to do that? They had seen Jesus reach out to all kinds of people sick people, poor people, untouchable people, grieving people, immoral people, forgotten people, short people and materialistic people. Jesus was in the people business. And they had learned the family business by watching the founder

We cannot control when God will open our kids’ hearts to the gospel, but we can still model for them what to do when the Spirit does come upon them.

Jesus instructed the Twelve in the context of real life. Most of Jesus’ instruction was done on the fly in the midst of real life situations. He did not try to create teaching environments. Deuteronomy 6:7 tells parents to impress the commands of God on their children. “Talk about them when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” There are many opportunities to teach children the precepts of God throughout the course of a day.

Jesus gave the Twelve controlled opportunities to fail. Jesus knew he would have to help his disciples move from being renters of the truth to owners of the truth. The way he did this was to give them opportunities to fail in controlled environments. He would give them things to do that would intentionally stretch them. Often they failed the test, but failure created a laboratory for learning.

One of the parents in our church was trying to decide last spring if she should let her young daughter go to Haiti with the youth group. She did let her go and she came back changed. The opportunity gave her daughter the chance to see God work in very personal ways. It is those kinds of experiences with God that will help a child move from renting her mother’s faith to owning it herself.

Jesus knew they would reproduce what they saw. He knew that the model he gave would last through the generations. The steps Jesus took with the disciples can be steps we take.

The Master’s Mind Behind Marriage

Recently I purchased a piece of furniture from a catalog. When I opened the box, the first thing I noticed was that it was in about 30 pieces. I got a sick feeling in my stomach because I knew what I needed to look for next was the instructions. I dug those out and saw the phrase for which I have great contempt, “read directions completely before proceeding.” Being more on the intuitive side, I find instructions like this very limiting. My normal mode of operation is to plug in my glue gun, look at the pictures and “feel” my way through it, just gluing pieces together. This usually leads to all kinds of sin, because I begin to get really angry that it does not assemble the way I would have designed it.

My usual standby is to blame the manufacturer for hiring second rate engineers. Any engineer worth his salt would be able to design this stuff so an intuitive guy like me could just build it. This spring, Carol and I will have a garage sale where we are going to rid ourselves of all the items I have intuitively assembled. We are looking for a bigger garage where we can hold that sale.

This propensity on my part has cost me on a few occasions. How often has the warning, “read directions completely before proceeding” been ignored to your detriment? It is unfortunate that many people approach marriage the way I approach assembling furniture. The building of a marriage is infinitely more important than a piece of furniture, yet people often ignore the instructions provided by the Manufacturer. This morning, let us walk through the directions given by the Manufacturer of marriage.

Turn with me to Genesis, the first book in the Bible, beginning with the second chapter. We will discover why God created marriage, what he designed marriage to look like and what keeps marriage from being everything God designed. When Mike and I discussed how to approach this series of sermons on marriage, we recognized that there are almost an infinite number of books being written on the subject of marriage. We felt that the best service we could provide would be to clearly, simply and carefully teach what God has told us about marriage from his Word. Whether we are contemplating marriage or in the midst of it, we must align our understanding and practice of marriage to coincide with God’s.

I know that God’s word is the power of God for salvation. If God is powerful enough to raise Jesus from the dead, He is able to apply salvation to my marriage and resurrect it, too. In order to understand God’s design for marriage, we have to go back to the beginning. The first three chapters of Genesis tell a dramatic story. Genesis 1 gives the account of a perfect creation, Genesis 2 lets us see the wild meeting of two people who become one, and Genesis 3 shows us what brings the disintegration of their relationship with God and with each other.

Where Genesis 1 gives us a complete narration of creation, Genesis 2 retells the story in order to fill in the details concerning human existence and specifically, marriage. Look at verse 24 of chapter 2. Moses writes, “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” The phrase “for this reason” tells us that what preceded verse 24 answers the question, “Why do men and women get married and why did God create men and women so that they desire to get married?” As we look back, we this important truth:

Marriage is created by God to meet our core need for companionship. (Gen. 2:1823)

In verses 414 of Genesis 2, God creates Adam, breathes life into him and then creates the garden where he will live. Let us pick up the story at verse 15.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden: but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for when you eat of it you will surely die.’ The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'”

This is a remarkable statement by God. Six times in Genesis 1, after each major creation event, God looked at what he created and Moses tells us that “God saw that it was good.” But now in this expanded account of the sixth creation day, there was a moment when things were not good.

God declares the lack of human companionship “not good.” Human isolation, human aloneness, is the only thing that God declares not good in the whole of creation. God sees companionship as a core need. So what does God do? Does he make the suitable partner that He knows Adam needs? Not yet, look at verse 19:

“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.” (1920b)

Instead of making a partner, God puts Adam to work on a big zoology term project. God works by his side bringing animals of every species and kind. Adam studies them and gives them a name, cow, duck, horse, lama, tapir, condor, platypus . . . on and on he goes. Why do you think God does this while there is still something “not good” that needs to be addressed?

Look at the end of verse 20, “But for Adam, no suitable helper was found.” We already know this, Moses, you told us this already in verse 18, so what else is new? A lot is new. Between verses 18 and 20, Adam discovers for himself what God already knows. He is living in paradise where he has everything his heart could want–a dog named Lassie, a good job, and a sinless relationship with God. But Adam has also discovered a very important fact:

Abundance, work and a relationship with God are inadequate substitutes for human companionship. Now Adam appreciates what God appreciates and will appreciate the way God provides for his need. So in verse 21, God sets out to address Adam’s need for companionship:

“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 bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman” for she was taken out of man.'”

God creates a partner for Adam from his own flesh. Having come to appreciate his need, he wakes up from his sleep. Now Adam doesn’t say this in a church voice. There is a bit of excitement here. “Whoa man! This is good! Whooo Wheee! This isn’t a duck. Got any plans on Thursday?” He knows he is not alone. Isolation has given way to relationship and partnership.

A marriage partner, for most people, is God’s provision for aloneness. Now for those of you who are not married or who have the gift of singleness, there is a broader principle that applies to you. Aloneness and isolation are viewed as not good and companionship remains a core need. That is why you date; it is why you have special friends. God provides for your aloneness through multiple people now, rather than a lifetime partner. So until marriage, develop intimate relationships with people. Get beyond just having surface acquaintance with a few people. Develop close friendships with other adults, both single and married, to meet your needs for human companionship.

For those of you who are married or will be getting married shortly, God has provided for your aloneness primarily through your spouse. Your job, your ministry, your relationships are inadequate substitutes to meet the need you have for companionship.

Carol and I recently had a good heart to heart talk after the kids went to bed. We talked through some lingering issues that were keeping us isolated from one another. We talked for over an hour about many things. About 45 minutes into our conversation, I had a wonderful sense of satisfaction that what we were doing at that moment was it. Even though it was a difficult conversation, a tear-filled conversation, our relationship was more satisfying than even Kingdom work, more satisfying than anything I could ever imagine owning, and more satisfying than my relationship with my children. Companionship with Carol is it. That is my core human need.

Now that we know why God created marriage, what did God design marriage to look like?

Marriage is designed to be the most intimate of all human relationships. (2:2425)

In these verses, we can see God’s original design specifications for marriage. The first design specification is this:

The husband wife relationship is to be the primary human relationship in our life. This principle comes from the phrase, “a man will leave his father and mother.” The word “leave” is a very strong word that is translated “forsake” in other places. Intimacy in marriage cannot occur if parents hold equal or greater access to the heart than does the husband or wife. (Intimate Allies, p. 218). God intends that our greatest delight is to come from the opinion or desires of the person whom we marry, not from the parents of origin. In order for intimacy to have a chance, each spouse must choose to disconnect themselves from loyalty to their parent’s priorities, traditions, rules and influence. Then, after disconnecting, they need to reconnect with their parents as a husband and wife, instead of simply as a son or daughter.

Leaving is perhaps one of the hardest steps for most couples and it is a step where failure leads to many problems later in married life. Leaving doesn’t mean that we cut off communication with our parents. Nor does it presume that we can just wipe the slate of our past clean and start brand new with our spouse. But with honor and respect to our parents, couples must move away from them and from the past that defined who they were and what they did. Then they should relate to their parents as a new family.

Marriages run into trouble when the goals, rules for relating, and family priorities continue to be dictated by one or both families of origin. Some families are very difficult to leave. Through my counseling I have observed three types of parent- child relationships that are very difficult for married children to leave.

The first involves an insecure or overly controlling parent who uses guilt to get their married children to respond in ways that focus their child’s attention upon themselves. The married child finds himself expending tremendous energy meeting the emotional needs of the insecure parent. This energy is taken from the limited resources that are intended to be directed toward the needs of the spouse.

Married children have to decide which emotional needs of their parents they will try to meet so that power of guilt can be deflected. Then working with their spouse, they must develop clear boundaries and rules which they will follow in their relationship with their parents. If possible, they should discuss those boundaries with their parents and then live by them.

The second is an emotionally absent parent who never told their children that they were proud of them simply for being who they were. Having experienced a lack of affirmation from a very significant relationship, married children may continue to orient their priorities in order to gain approval and acceptance from their parents. Married children orient their careers, their parenting, even their decorating in hopes that maybe their mother or father will finally be impressed and say, “I’m proud of you!” The married child needs to leave this family by recognizing the underlying motivation and to accept that this need for approval may never be met by their parents. Then they must choose to seek and receive their significance from Jesus first and their spouse second. (Pastor Andrus will be focusing an entire message on this issue on March 3).

The third kind of relationship is an overly protective or overly indulgent parent. Both parents fail to change the emotional, financial and relational locks on their house after their child gets married. They often unknowingly continue to meet the emotional needs of their child that are to be met by the child’s spouse. When life get tough for their children, the parents make it too easy for them to return and receive praise, financial help, or inappropriate emotional support. The married child needs to leave this kind of family by choosing not to return and transferring their trust to their spouse. They need to do without the things their parents still provide.

Each of these are difficult families of origin. But our text teaches us that our responsibility is not to change our family of origin but to leave our family of origin. The key to making marriage work begins by courageously leaving the loyalties, priorities and roles of our family of origin as best we can. Your family of origin may not like it, they may not change, they may not know how to have a mature adult relationship with you. You cannot change your mother using guilt. You cannot make your dad tell you, “atta boy!” But the power of the Holy Spirit can help you change. You can choose to make your relationship with your spouse the primary relationship and you can choose to respond differently to your family of origin. Living this way honors your family and is honoring to God.

The uniting of a man and a woman in marriage creates a new unique family unit. God did not begin society with a nation. He did not begin with a corporation. He did not begin with the church. He started with the relationship between a man and a woman. I’ve officiated at a few weddings and attended a number of rehearsal dinners and wedding receptions. In almost every one, the father of the bride or the father of the groom will stand up and toast the couple and say something like this, “We are so happy for Bob and Julie on this special day. Alice and I are overjoyed to welcome a new daughter into our family.”

Now I realize that dads are not trying to make a theological statement with their toast. I know their words are motivated by love. I will probably say the same thing when my kids get married. But from a theological standpoint it is wrong. When two people get married, they are not joining their respective families. In God’s eyes they are leaving the families of their youth and coming together as a brand new family. Distinct. Separate. No longer under the authority of the parents. I would love to hear our fathers say at the weddings of their children, “Bob and Julie, we share your joy this day with you. Today, you are leaving our family. God had made you into a new one. Alice and I are just thrilled with the opportunities for our families to fellowship together and share life and support one another.”

I’ve taken some time on this issue because it is crucial for the steps that follow.

The husband/wife relationship is to be a permanent relationship. This principle is derived from what happens after men and women leave their families of origin. The text tells us that the man is “united to his wife.” In older versions, the word was translated “cleave,” meaning that two people are bonded or glued together. The union is so strong that it takes something extremely violent to dissolve it.

Marriage vows are vows of permanence. “I, Paul, take you, Carol, to be my wife from this day forward, for better or for worse, whether rich or poor, in sickness or in health. I vow to love and cherish you till death parts us.” I made a permanent commitment no matter what the circumstances.

To develop a permanent bond, a man and a woman will need to weave themselves together in their minds, in their hearts and in their bodies. They must develop their own stories, make their own songs, and be transformed by the same incidents. They are to be united in the greatest of triumphs and the most heart wrenching disappointments.

The spirit of our age is a spirit of temporary commitments and instant gratification. The spirit of our age demands that relationships be perfect, without any pain, any struggle, any work. If it doesn’t come quickly, if the relationship takes me away from my goals then I have the right to get out of it. The spirit of our age has led our society to enact laws that make divorce very easy. As a follower of Jesus, we need to listen to the Spirit of God not the spirit of our age.

I have spoken to a few people who told me they got a divorce simply because they didn’t get along or they married the wrong person. They just threw in the towel. It was easier to start over. They bought the lie put forth by the spirit of the age. They didn’t take the time to talk with anyone else to see that every couple struggles and some days are better than others and it takes work to break barriers that get built up. But the breaking of barriers brings great joy. If you think your marriage isn’t what you would like it to be, join the club, get in line, queue up behind me.

The husband/wife relationship is to be characterized by oneness. This principle comes from the phrase, “one flesh.” Oneness is the day-to-day unity a couple experiences as they live life together. They experience oneness emotionally, spiritually and physically.

To begin experiencing oneness in marriage, a couple needs to be in agreement in two ways. First, they must be in agreement with God’s will, plan and purpose for marriage. Together, they must desire to align their marriage with God’s plan and to seek to honor God through their love for one another. Second, on an ongoing basis, they must be in agreement with one another concerning the specific goals, purposes, and direction of their relationship. You need to agree in areas like career, parenting, finances, long term investments, relationship with each other’s parents, commitments to ministry, how leisure time is spent, and how conflicts are resolved. Making a unilateral decision concerning one of these areas without consulting your spouse and having them on board is one of the quickest ways to develop bitterness and slowly erode the oneness of your relationship. Oneness demands that two people communicate, listen, and ask questions on a continuous basis.

Imagine being in a three-legged race where you are united at the ankle with another person, but when the gun sounds you both head off in different directions believing you know the way to the finish line. What happens? You will either kill each other or the stronger of the two eventually will get to their finish line, dragging their companion behind them. Many marriages are like this. They lack oneness.

Oneness is not necessarily unanimity but it is unity. When Carol and I decided to spend the summer in Russia in 1994, I was much more sure about us doing this work then she was. It took us a couple of weeks to talk through all the issues involved for both of us to be on board. Carol did not feel as passionately about the ministry opportunity as I did. On the other hand, I was not as concerned about logistical issues as she was. But I would not have gone if there had not been oneness of heart that this was the right thing for us to do. Being an intuitive person, my natural response is, “trust me, things will work out OK.” I could have seen it as a lack of respect for my person when she initially raised some objections and I could have pulled out a submission verse and beat her over the head with it. But that wouldn’t be oneness. Instead, we talked through it until I was satisfied that we had oneness at the core, even though our passion about the ministry would not be identical.

The husband/wife relationship is to be a private kingdom of significance and security. This principle comes from verse 25 where we read that they “were both naked, and they felt no shame.” Marriage is an incredibly intimate affair. In marriage you cannot hide your flaws, the flaws of your past, the flaws of your bodies, or the flaws of your character–all of which can produce shame. They are all there for someone else to see. Marriage makes you very vulnerable. God’s intention is that marriage be a relationship where we can safely be transparent and vulnerable without fear of being put down for whom we are. He wants a relationship in which there is love and acceptance, where normally there would be shame.

One of the ways couples violate this design is by making mean spirited comments to their spouse that belittle, degrade or shame them. This kind of behavior is nothing less than exploitation. It is taking advantage of insider information and using it to their advantage to win an argument or to temporarily salve their insecurity by giving them a feeling of power. When this occurs inside the home, it is a repugnant distortion of God’s plan and creates great damage. When it occurs outside the home in a public context, it is even a greater distortion and significantly more damaging. Using intimate information for ridicule or shaming acts like Roundup on a person. It is a slow but very effective killer.

So far we have seen why God created marriage and what he created it to look like. When Moses puts the period at the end of chapter 25, the music begins to play because now everything is good. The man and the woman are both naked and unashamed. Fortunately, Moses didn’t put his pen down. Following closely after chapter 2 is, get this, chapter 3. The third question Genesis 13 answers is, what hinders God’s design for marriage? Why do we continue to experience isolation instead of oneness? Why do we continue to feel alone?

Marriage is corrupted and destroyed by sin. (3:111)

Genesis 3 begins with the serpent appearing on the scene. He twists the truth in order to deceive the unlearned Eve to disobey God’s command and eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. So why does the serpent come now? Why does he come to the woman and the man and not some other part of God’s creation? These are good questions. There are also good answers:

Satan stands against the purposes of God in marriage. People are the creative high points of God’s creation. In Genesis 1, verses 2627, Moses reports, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’ . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Satan stands against marriage because man and woman are like no other creatures on earth. We alone bear the image of God. Dogs don’t. Trees don’t. The stars don’t. They declare God’s glory but they do not reflect it in their character and their being the way you and I do. Each of us reflects, though sometimes ever so faintly, the character and nature of God in our being.

Satan picks out the man and the woman because they alone bear God’s image. And he cannot stand it. He is set against God and seeks to destroy the image of God from the face of the earth. If Satan can destroy a marriage, he knows he destroys two people who bear the image of God for the price of one. And possibly, if there are some kids, he may be able to destroy a few others who bear the image of God.

Marriage is lived on the battlefield, friends, not merely in the bedroom. Satan recognizes the image of God in your spouse and in you. Unfortunately, many spouses fail to recognize what Satan sees. Satan is set on destroying the image of God. Are you playing into his hands?

Carol and I are vastly different. She is detailed and ordered. I am “big picture” and intuitive. At times, these differences create great tension in our home. We could let these differences erode the permanence and oneness of our marriage or we can recognize that these qualities are reflections of God’s character and learn to work through the differences respectfully. Let me encourage you to make a list of the qualities you see in your spouse that reflect the character and nature of God. Then thank God for those qualities and think about them more than you think about the deficiencies you see.

Personal sin is the greatest enemy in marriage. One of my Trinity professors eloquently said, “Sin wrecks everything.” He’s right. The serpent goes after Adam and Eve to disobey God, but look at the context in which this occurs, verse 6 of chapter 3, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Who is at fault here? Sin takes place while they are together. They are still on their honeymoon. They can’t get enough of each other. The serpent deceives Eve and she takes some fruit and lovingly offers some to her spouse. Who is at fault? Eve? Well, Adam is right next to her. They are one flesh.

Then look what happens in verse 11 where God addresses Adam. “And [God] said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?'” In other words, “Did you disobey me, Adam?” What should his response be? “Yes.” Look at what he says instead. “The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.'” In other words, “it’s not my fault. It is not my character that is out of whack!”

Adam needed to hear last week’s message, “It’s character, Adam!” Moses continues, “The Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?'” In other words, “Did you disobey me, Eve?” What should her response be? Look at what she says. “The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me and I ate.'” Eve needed to hear last week’s message, too! “It’s character, Eve!”

What are they doing? They are blaming everyone but themselves. Like five year olds, they point the finger somewhere else rather than at their own hearts. Rather than working toward oneness by confessing and accepting responsibility, they isolate themselves from one another and blame the other guy. God holds each of them accountable and they suffer the consequences for their disobedience against God.

Everett Worthington, a counselor and professor at Virginia Commonwealth University has written:

“The root cause of systemic marital discord is sin and selfishness . . . Sin and selfishness create me-centered communication, in which the partners do not think of each other’s needs; each attempts to manipulate the partner to meet his or her own needs. Sin and selfishness frustrate conflict resolution because they establish a win-lose mentality. . . Sin and selfishness whisper accusations against the partner and prime the ear to listen to and believe the accusations. At the center of all these relationship difficulties is an attitude of self-righteous self-justification that proclaims, ‘I’m right. My partner is wrong. My partner is to blame.’ Finally sin and selfishness erode commitment.” (Worthington, p. 30)

There is last week’s message again. It’s character, Jim. It’s character, Mike. It’s character, Paul. Listen to the tape again if you have forgotten. But Worthington goes on and writes, “At the center of every successful marriage is each spouse’s capacity and willingness to confess his or her own inadequacies and to ask forgiveness.” (p. 60) This is the hope for us.

Confession and forgiveness are the steps toward healing. Every marriage has enough sin to go around. But renewal in marriage takes place when we stop blaming someone else, own up to our sin, and take responsibility for it ourselves. We are each experts at our spouse’s sin, as Adam and Eve illustrate. But healing begins when we examine ourselves and recognize the shortcomings in our own character that have hurt our spouse and confess them to our spouse. Confession is one’s sincere recognition of his or her part in marital tensions. Confession is an abandonment of self-centeredness and self-righteousness and humble acceptance of personal responsibility. Confession opens the floodgates that bring healing.

Forgiveness is not forgetting the sin against us. Rather, it is an attitude and a decision to not hold our spouse’s actions against them anymore. Forgiveness breaks down the dam that holds back healing and replaces bitterness and resentment with freedom and love.

I encourage my premarital couples to practice the verbalization of confession and forgiveness. I tell them to get in the habit of saying, “I’m sorry I’ve sinned against you by. . . .” and returning the confession with a verbal expression of forgiveness, “I’ve been hurt, but I forgive you and I won’t hold it against you.”

Again Worthington has written, “Sincere confession and forgiveness and assurance of forgiveness are the keys that open the gates to other aspects of healthy marriage closeness, communication, conflict resolution . . . and these in turn lead to contentment, which strengthens commitment.”