(This was preached at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, CO on Sunday, February 3, 2013 as the first installment of a sermon series on “The Biblical Portrait of Marriage.” You may listen to the sermon here. Below are the notes I brought into the pulpit.)
I have a friend of mine who planted a church in Eastern Kentucky last year who is starting his own sermon series on marriage. He entitled it, “Weird Marriage.” Then I saw the promo video. The whole premise of the series is this: normal marriages in our country aren’t working. What are needed are weird marriages.
- By the age of 20, 75% of all people will have engaged in sex before marriage. By 30, that number increases to 90%–meaning activities that God designed for marriage are happening before and outside marriage.
- As we saw last week, 40% of all women will have had abortions—making it the 2nd largest surgical procedure.
- 1/3 of all men and ¼ of all women have had an adulterous relationship (that is, sexual relations with someone who is not their spouse).
- Add into it that 80% of all websites are pornographic and nature and the snare of that cyber world is almost frightening.
- Men are especially prone. There are approximately 150-200 ‘skin’ magazines like Playboy, Penthouse, Maxim, etc.—whereas only 3-5 skin magazines exist for women.
- And while we may have heard for most of our lives that 50% of our marriages are breaking up, we do know that those who put Christ at the center of their marriages and not themselves fair way better than the other.
The relationship/marriage system that the culture brings is broken. Yet, the culture seems adamant in holding on to their way, while looking at God’s design as outlined in the Bible as oppressive, repressive, and obsolete. The idea of a lifelong, monogamous relationship based upon Scripture makes many roll their eyes.
But we must also recognize that many have seen people who call themselves Christians not emulate a very Christian marriage. In fact, they may wonder if God’s design is the best design. It’s easy to get off track. As I was going through the various airports (Denver, Miami, and Port of Spain), you see the magazines. Plus, 80% of the websites on the internet are pornographic. Sports Illustrated has a swimsuit issue that sells more magazines than all of the other weeks put together. And now, the 50 Shades Trilogy which is now basically a pornographic novel for women—and many who are Christians are reading this: “It’s just a story after all.”
But these areas are destructive because it’s taking an image bearer of God (someone’s son or daughter—usually daughter) and instead of being seen as God’s creation, they are seen as an airbrushed object.
The purpose of this series is to recapture in our minds and hearts God’s grand design for marriage and his designed use for the vessel he gave us. For us as Christians, we must remember that our bodies are not our own, but as Paul told us in 1 Corinthians, “We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. You are not your own, you were bought with a price. Honor God with your bodies.”
1. God created all things by His Word—and His Word must re-create us.
In Genesis 1:1 (the very first verse of the Bible, mind you), speaks volumes in ten economical words: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” God created everything contained in time and space. John 1:3 says, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” At first, it was a dark and empty waste, but God through His Word brought it into form. Notice the pattern found throughout Genesis 1:
- And God said . . . (a phrase used ten times)
- And ‘it’ was so.
- And God saw that it was good (six times—one for each day).
- “And there was evening and there was morning…”
- Number/day (“the first day,” “the second day,” etc.)
How powerful is the Word of God! In Revelation 4:11, we see:
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”
The Word of God reflects the will of God. It creates and it exists based on His Word. And, again, how much did God create? “For you created all things” (Rev. 4:11). So, if God made everything, then everything created must be good! We must absorb this foundational proposition found in Scripture. God made all things and he made them good. “He saw that it was good.” Approximately 4,000 years later, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to young Pastor Timothy, reminding him of the goodness of creation—and helping him recognize how well-meaning but misguided people began to redefine what “good” was outside of God’s design:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (The Apostle Paul, 1 Timothy 4:1-5).
Notice how he describes these people twist the good things God made because of their devotion to “deceitful spirits and teaching of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (v. 1). Twisting God’s Word is demonic! In commenting on the word ‘seared,’ Warren Wiersbe defines it as ‘cauterized.’
Just as a person’s flesh can be ‘branded so that it becomes hard and without feeling, so a person’s conscience can be deadened. Whenever we affirm with our lips something that we deny with our lives (whether people know it or not), we deaden our consciences just a little more.”
How does this apply to our topic tonight? Simply put, the consciences of those inside and outside the church have been seared. Inside the church, we avoid the topic of “naked and not ashamed” because the world has hijacked this design in such an ugly way that we believe it’s ugly. We need to rescue this beautiful design from the world’s clutches because everything that God made, even the ‘naked and not ashamed’ aspect of creation, is good and glorious to Him.
A question remains: Why did God make everything? Simply put, to point to Him and bring glory to His Son. Those who say that they would believe if God would show Himself are speaking out of ignorance. God has shown Himself.
2. God created us male and female in His image.
When it comes to humanity, let’s look at Genesis 1:26-31:
26 Then God said, “Let us make man[a] in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
The relationship that man and woman have comes from an overflow of the relationship of the Godhead (“Let us make man in our image”). This is a shadow of the reference to the doctrine of the Trinity—one God in the Three Persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Robert Smith spoke recently at Southern Seminary conveyed a beautiful thought regarding the Trinity from the lips of Jonathan Edwards, whom Smith calls the greatest theologian born on American soil: “God has forever known himself in a sweet and holy society as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The Trinity is one in essence, though three in persons. By the Trinity making man Imago Dei, we see that male and female, though two, are in the covenant of marriage joined together as one, as the sweetest and holiest society found on planet earth by two created beings.
Charles Spurgeon said it right:
Matrimony came from Paradise, and leads to it. I never was half so happy, before I was a married man, as I am now. When you are married, your bliss begins. Let the husband love his wife as he loves himself, and a little better, for she is his better half. He should feel, “If there’s only one good wife in the whole world, I’ve got her.”
We shall develop this as we delve into Genesis 2 and how woman was made from man, exemplifying the closeness and intimacy of the man and woman. But for our purposes, we recognize that the Genesis 2:23-25 passage is built on the foundation laid in Genesis 1:26-27.
So what does this entail? What does it mean that we are image bearers of God? First, we are called to engage in procreation. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” God commanded the male and female to use their bodies in the marriage covenant to procreate so they may populate the world with image bearers. How? Through a sexual uniting of the bodies God made in His image. This uniting serves a number of purposes.
First, this sexual union between a man and woman in a covenant relationship is an act of worship—a way for us to know God in Christ more fully. In his book Desiring God, John Piper insightfully shares:
His goal in creating human beings with personhood and passion was to make sure that there would be sexual language and sexual images that would point to the promises and the pleasures of God’s relationship to his people and our relationship to him. In other words, the ultimate reason (not the only one) why we are sexual is to make God more deeply knowable. The language and imagery of sexuality are the most graphic and most powerful that the Bible uses to describe the relationship between God and his people—both positively (when we are faithful) and negatively (when we are not).
By God providing our spouses as an avenue for procreation, protection, and pleasure, He gives us also an avenue of understanding the intimacy found in a way among the Trinity who created us in His image, but also a depth of understanding of the intimacy that may be found in Christ. It was not by artistic license that the apostle Paul noted in Ephesians 5:28-33:
28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body.31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
So, an earthly marriage is a portrait of the heavenly marriage of Christ and His bride, the church. As image bearers of God by virtue of creation, and as followers of Christ by virtue of the New Creation, our relationship in our marriages (for good or for ill) put on display the type of relationship Christ has with His bride.
If we use our bodies for sex without the triumvirate of procreation, protection, and pleasure as happens outside the covenant of marriage, it matters not how much one “plays house,” the sexual union in these types of relationships (from one-night stands to living together, or ‘shacking up,’ as my father used to say) runs counter to whatever objective you may have. One-night stands are designed for pleasure without responsibility. Living together may lead to procreation, but not in the fruitful kind of way. Multiplying, yes—fruitful, no! Protection? Living together usually happens because of one of two things: (1) There is a low view of marriage that deems the civil construct of this unnecessary; or (2) they are taking their relationship out for a test drive to see if it will work—and if not, no covenant has been made, so the next thing to do is dissolve the arrangement.
We could go on in regards to abortion, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and other forms of sexual activity outside of the covenant of marriage—which we will soon. Right now, planet Earth houses seven billion people—that’s billion with a ‘b.’ Each person came on earth as the result of a male image bearer of God and a female image bearer of God coming together in sexual union—from a myriad of different circumstances. But regardless of how you came into the world and by what circumstances, nothing changes that you
We are to engage in domination and cultivation. Genesis 1:28 also“… and subdue it, and have dominion . . . .” God has called His image bearers to take care of the earth He gave them. “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food” (Genesis 1:29).
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
This is where the church has, by the authority of Scripture, the wherewithal to address environmental issues. This does not give humanity license to abuse God’s good creation. He has called us to be good stewards for the benefit (but, again, not the abuse) of the image bearers he created. Some believe that since the Scriptures say God will ultimately usher in a new heaven and new earth, where the old one will pass away (Revelation 21:1), why bother worrying about the condition of this earth? Why waste time in such a futile area, when we know from God’s Word that He will burn it up (2 Peter 3:7)?
Others go completely to the other extreme, almost in reaction to the ways previous generations abused and raped the land. Global warming, the polar ice caps, preservation of vast areas of land (with the related refusal to allow other actions such as oil drilling or landscaping for the sale of real estate, etc.), animal protection, etc., are some areas of emphasis. Whereas the former group thought it was a waste of time to preserve the earth, the latter group felt there was no time to waste—for in time, the earth would be destroyed due to continued negligence.
Michael Horton provides a helpful balance:
Believers with the same commitments to Scripture and its teachings will differ on their interpretation of the data and the best agenda. Nevertheless, I still hear some conservative Christians say that God’s sovereignty means that the world can’t be destroyed; humans can’t ruin it. Therefore, never mind global warming. That’s not just bad politics, in my view, but bad theology. God always works through means. He is sovereign, but I still think I should take a bath. He’s not going to take one for me. God has called us to be prophets, priests, and kings in his Son, the Prophet, Priest, and King. If you think it’s all going to burn anyway, who cares? But if you’re looking forward to “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” in a renewed creation, we should anticipate that new age now by our daily actions.
Communication. (Genesis 2:23-24). As God communicated in time and space to create everything, and even man (Genesis 1:26-27), so as image bearers of God we may communicate. The type of communication in which His image bearers engage provides a sophisticated type of communication that’s not simply utilitarian, but emotional, purposeful, and even philosophical. As God used words, so we, too, use words.
God used words to communicate to His creation, but more specifically to His prophets. Conveying God’s words through our words was such a high premium that a false prophet who misled God’s people with false prophecies (by either denying, adding to, or taking away from God’s Word) would be executed (Deuteronomy 13:5, Revelation 22:7-19). In Paul’s last words to young pastor Timothy, he charged him in the sight of God to “preach the Word, in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). Jesus even tells believers we will be held accountable for every idle word we say, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (see Matthew 12:33-37). Why is this so important? By virtue of God’s intention for creation, we are to use the mouth (fueled by the heart) to speak that which is appropriate for one made by God.
3. God created us to leave and cleave—becoming one flesh.
While I intend to spend more time on this next week than this week, it’s important for us to understand a vital cog in God’s design for marriage. But keep in mind this practical truth along with a gospel truth. God has called us to worship him as our primary relationship. No relationship in the universe is more important than our relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing trumps that. But in the economy of God, and by His perfect design, the most important earthly relationship on the planet is that between you and your spouse. Up until that point, the most important relationship is of that with your parents. But once you leave and cleave to your spouse, you are now one flesh.
You say, “How is that? I still have my name. I have my own clothes. I have my own SSN. Do I lose myself?” No, you complete yourself. Or should we say, God completes you. But we must realize that everything in this world is working to break up your marriage. The apostle John talks about the unholy trinity of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-16). All of these items converge as tools in the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged. This is why I tell married couples and couples in premarital counseling, “It’s you against the world.”
But Ephesians 5 tells us that marriage is a portrait of Christ and the church. Just as marriage is the most important relationship on the planet, no relationship trumps Christ. At times, we put our spouses in place of Christ. We expect them to follow our standards, meet our needs, fulfill us fully—and when they don’t, we believe something is wrong with them and with our marriages. Not so! Our spouses are not meant to serve as our Savior—only Christ can do that. But they are to serve as those who help “Christ be formed in” us.
Have you surrendered to Christ this morning? Or is there an idol or a standard which you are worshiping to give you your identity and that which you think will be your Savior?
Robert Smith, Preached at the E.Y. Mullins Lectures at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, 24 April 2012
Charles H. Spurgeon quoted in Larry J. Michael, Spurgeon on Leadership: Key Insights for Christian Leaders from the Prince of Preachers (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2010), 131. Quoted (again) in Justin Buzzard, Date Your Wife: A Husband’s Guide (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 13.
John Piper, “Sex and the Supremacy of Christ: Part One” in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, eds., John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 26.
Michael Horton, Environmental Stewardship vs. Environmentalism. Accessed 14 January 2013; available at http://theresurgence.com/2010/04/07/environmental-stewardship-vs-environmentalism [on-line]; Internet.