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.”

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