Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Biblical Marriage

On Sunday morning I was preaching from Genesis 2, on the way in which God provides in his wonderful creation. Now in every sermon situation, there is always more material than can be fitted in to the allotted time. There might be some really interesting asides and pieces of information and gems that just don't fit into the sermon as preached. And if that's the case on a regular sermon, then how much more in Genesis 2. By focusing on the God who provides, it wasn't possible to unpack everything the passage says about men and women, and marriage.

Now, if you've been around the internet on blogs or Twitter or Facebook, you might have seen a campaign picture that looks a little something like this:

The point being made is that there are lots of different permutations and combinations of marriage in the Bible, and therefore Christians are wrong / bigots / dumb to insist on one man and one woman in a mutually exclusive public union until death.

The fact is that although we're told about Abraham's dealings with a concubine or David's many wives or Solomon's 700 wives and 300 concubines, those pieces of information are presented as that - information, not recommendation. Those accounts are descriptive, telling us how it was; but they are not proscriptive, telling us how we should do it. You only have to follow the story to see the mess they get into by going their own way.

Abraham (Abram) and Sarah (Sarai) have received the promise of a son from God, but they don't believe it will happen, so Sarai takes matters into her own hands, giving her servant Hagar to Abraham. Ishmael is born, but he is not the child of promise.

David falls into adultery by a slippery slope of 1. not going to war to lead his people in battle; 2. spying Bathsheba bathing naked on her roof; 3. committing adultery with her in his head; 4. committing adultery with her in his bed; 5. murdering her husband to cover up the affair.

Solomon's many foreign wives lead him astray from the worship of the Lord by their idolatry, sowing the seeds of Israel and Judah's fatal split, and eventually Jerusalem's ruin.

We're told of these various permutations of relationships and the ways in which some of the Bible's leading characters messed things up, not out of approval, but as a warning.

In order for us to understand what marriage is, we must go back to the Creator's original plan, as revealed in Genesis 2:

'But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

"This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man."

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.'
(Genesis 2:20-25)

God is the first matchmaker, bringing together man and woman, Adam and Eve, in the first marriage. In the mathematics of it, one plus one equals one. One man and one woman, publicly joined together become one flesh.

We know this is the key text on marriage because it is the foundation for everything else the Bible teaches about marriage:

This is the passage Jesus turns to when he addresses human sexuality, marriage and divorce: 'Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female...' (Matthew 19:4) In this passage Jesus continues by pointing out that divorce was only permitted later, by Moses, because of the hardness of the hearts of the people. The Creator's intention is that marriage is lifelong: 'What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.' (Matt 19:6)

This is also the passage that Paul turns to in Ephesians 5 as he advises wives to obey their husbands, and husbands to love their wives - because Genesis 2 is the pattern of human marriage, which itself is a picture and patterned on the relationship between Jesus and his church. The eternal unity of Christ and his church is displayed in God's pattern for marriage, a coming together and unity of husband and wife.

When we call for biblical marriage, this is what we're looking to - God's design for marriage, according to his purpose and plan, instituted before the Fall. We acknowledge that we don't always get it right, but we know that the pattern points to the Lord Jesus who loved his bride so much that he gave his life for her - for us - so that, despite our sin, we might spend eternity with him at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

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