Let’s imagine a couple, Kevin and Tracy. They’ve been married for three years. Neither one of them came from a Christian home. They got saved at the end of high school and met each other in their 20s through mutual friends.
When they married they had just moved and had no premarital counseling. They’ve heard no teaching on marriage.
They’re active in the church. They regularly ask for help from others in their small group as they go through life.
Recently their marriage has gotten hard. They used to fight every once in a while, but now it feels constant.
In their fights they find themselves acting like their own parents. Kevin goes into silent mode when he gets angry, just like his dad. Tracy attacks and finds ways to cut Kevin down, just like her mom.
As the fights have escalated, they feel more desperate. Changing feels impossible. They’re both so angry all the time.
Marriage tests all of us. Saying “till death do us part” on your wedding day feels obvious and almost silly. But when you get into the marriage like Kevin and Tracy here, it feels a lot harder.
Kevin and Tracy likely need to hear a lot of different words from the Bible. But one thing they almost certainly lack is a basic vision of what marriage is, God’s vision of what a marriage is to be.
This morning we’ll get a picture of that. We’ll do it using a scene from the life of Jesus when he gave God’s vision of marriage to a bunch of proud Pharisees. The passage is Matthew 19:4–6, the middle of his larger conversation.
Why this sermon this morning? One reason is Craig Cabaniss was scheduled to preach on the topic today. Even though he can’t, we want to hit the topic.
It also fits in with our Deuteronomy series. The Pharisees ask Jesus about Moses’ teaching on divorce from Deuteronomy 24. He responds with God’s vision for marriage. We’ll hit the Deuteronomy 24 text next week, Lord willing.
This series is God: the Center of it All. A marriage will never thrive without God at the center of it. The strongest and best and happiest marriages aren’t a marriage of two people but three: The husband, the wife, and God himself.
In this vision of marriage, we’ll see that marriage is about two people who are:
- Male and Female
- Leaving and Holding Fast
- Two Becoming One
Let me read Matthew 19:3–9 and then pray.
The scene is a confrontation. The Pharisees want to trap Jesus. Perhaps they want to see where he lands in one of the progressive–conservative debates of their day, which was divorce for any reason or divorce only on a limited basis.
As Jesus does so often, here he redirects the conversation. They ask about divorce, but he seizes the moment to give God’s vision for marriage. It’s only a few verses, but it packs volumes. It gives a vision that couples like Kevin and Tracy desperately need to see.
The confrontation is happening in the 30s AD about a law written by Moses in approximately 1500 BC. But Jesus tells these Pharisees, “You’re not going back far enough. You won’t understand Moses’ law unless you go back to ‘the beginning.’”
What’s there in “the beginning” isn’t a teaching on divorce but a vision of marriage. A vision they needed to hear. A vision we need to hear.
It’s easy to try and define marriage based on life experience. Or the experience of your friends and family. Or what the psychologists of our day say. Or what Gallup polls might say.
These visions of marriage are fickle and almost always miss critical truths. Jesus gives us these critical truths.
Jesus’ first critical truth is that a marriage is between two people who are CREATED. Look at Matthew 19:4.
Verse 4 is setting up the quotation in Verse 5, a quotation of Gen 2:24. But in setting it up he speaks truth we need to hear.
One thing here you don’t want to miss is what it says about the words of Genesis 2. Who was it who “said” the quote from Genesis 2:24? It’s God our Creator.
Few things will make as much difference to your marriage as believing that THE WORDS IN YOUR BIBLE ARE THE VERY WORDS OF GOD.
Then God said, “Let us make man 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.” (Gen 1:26)
Unlike the oceans and mountains, animals, sun, moon, and stars, human beings have the distinction of being made in God’s image and likeness.
This means we are LIKE him in many ways but also UNLIKE him, just like an image of you is LIKE you in many ways but also UNLIKE you in many ways.
We are like God in being able to think and speak and relate and be holy and do things according to his own purposes. He is all these to an infinite degree. We are LIKE that but in a very FINITE way. We can think, but he is omniscient. We can also think wrongly, but he can’t. As Christians we can be holy, he is always unfailingly holy. We can be unholy, but he can’t.
And then there’s Genesis 1:26. One of the key ways we are made in God’s image is that we have a measure of “dominion.” We rule over some earthly things, and sometimes we rule very badly. He is ruler over all things, and he always rules perfectly.
The key way this connects with marriage is in helping us orient ourselves. Remembering that we are MADE BY GOD reminds us that we are DEFINED BY GOD and ACCOUNTABLE TO GOD. If we lose sight of being MADE BY GOD we’ll also begin to think we DEFINE OURSELVES and we’re ACCOUNTABLE TO OURSELVES.
It is either not knowing or denying the createdness of things that is at the root of the darkness of modern man’s difficulties. Give up creation as space-time, historic reality, and all that is left is what Simone Weil called uncreatedness. It is not that something does not exist, but that it just stands there, autonomous to itself, without solutions and without answers. Once one removes the createdness of all things, meaning and categories can only be some sort of leap, with or without drugs, into an irrational world. Modern man’s darkness, therefore, rests primarily upon his losing the reality of the createdness of all things (all things except the personal God who always has been).
- Francis Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time1
A couple will never thrive as a husband and wife if they move through life in this “uncreatedness.” You only thrive as you live as someone “created” and in relationship with your Creator.
That’s where Jesus starts.
II. Male and Female
Then Jesus adds a second element from the Creation account. This God who created them also “made them male and female.”
This also comes from the first chapter in the Bible, “the beginning.” With three short sentences we learn volumes about humanity:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)
There is a play on words throughout this chapter and the next. “Man” is the Hebrew Adam. But sometimes “man” means “humanity” or “mankind.” In this verse Adam refers to “humanity” or “mankind.” Mankind is made in the image of God.
But mankind isn’t just male. It’s “male and female.” All we learn here is that there are two genders, two sexes. In our day it’s important that there are exactly two genders. Gender and biology go together. This isn’t to deny that our mind and emotions can twist things. There’s no reason to deny a person can feel “Gender Dysphoria” or have symptoms of what’s being called “Gender Identity Disorder.”2
The key truth is that gender is a God-defined aspect of what we are that’s rooted in our biology. To use Francis Schaeffer’s term, gender is part of our “createdness.” It’s reality. Losing our grip on this takes us away from truth and reality.
Mankind as “male and female” is developed much more fully in the slow-motion creation account we get to in Genesis 2.
In some ways Genesis chapter 2 is taking that phrase “male and female he created them” and giving us the frame-by-frame review. Back when we had the NFL the refs would make a call (or not!) and then sometimes action would stop and they’d review it. “The play is under review.” The refs would go to a camera and watch the play again in slow-motion.
That’s what Genesis 2 is. He made them “male and female,” how?
In 2:7 he forms man from the dust and then “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”
Then in 2:15 the LORD God took Adam and “put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
Rick Phillips in The Masculine Mandate develops these ideas of “work it and keep it” as summary statements for what men do. He writes,
Work: To work is to labor to make things grow…nurturing, cultivating, tending, building up, guiding, and ruling.
Keep: To keep is to protect and to sustain progress already achieved…guarding, keeping safe, watching over, caring for, and maintaining.
- Richard D. Phillips, The Masculine Mandate3
Adam has a job from the LORD God. He is to be a Gardener. As a Gardener, the LORD God entrusted to Adam this realm of responsibility. Adam was to steward this responsibility as a WORKER and PROTECTOR.
So far, so good. It seems like this is a picture of completeness and blessing. In many ways it is.
But then in 2:18 the LORD God speaks a Word that seems almost confusing:
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Gen 2:18)
This isn’t the first word about the female. Remember 1:27, “in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The first word on the female has to do with being made in God’s image.
Then the man and woman in chapter one are entrusted with a vocation to “be fruitful and multiply…and have dominion” over the earth” (Gen 1:28).
But when we get to Genesis 2:18 we realize that in this joint venture of having dominion the man and the woman have different roles.
The man is commanded to “work” and “keep” the Garden entrusted to him. The woman is made to be alongside him in that work as “a helper fit for him.”
“Helper” is no demeaning term, any more than being a gardener is demeaning for Adam. God calls himself our “Helper” in Ps 54:4. It has to do with providing what is needed in the moment of need.
She is his personal help from the LORD God to accomplish what is before him. The whole earth was explored to find “a helper fit for him” and nothing was found. So God took a rib from Adam’s side to make Eve. Where Adam is from dust in a field, Eve came from his side.
Matthew Henry saw something here that pointed to who Eve was to Adam:
The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.
- Matthew Henry
When Adam saw his new helper he was a happy man: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23).
Jesus was alluding to all of this when he spoke of the first couple being “made male and female.”
Then Jesus cites the best one-sentence vision of marriage in our Bibles.
III. Leaving and Holding Fast
When Jesus looks back to marriage in “the beginning” (Matt 19:5) he cites Gen 2:24:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Gen 2:24)
From the moment God said, “Let Us make man in our image,” the creation account has been building toward this first marriage. With the marriage inaugurated, then God “saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31).
That reminds us marriage is not our idea, it’s God’s.
Ray Ortlund on this says:
Marriage is not a human invention; it is a divine revelation.
- Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel
This first marriage is summarized through three ideas, “leave,” “hold fast,” “become one flesh.” Leave, Cleave, and Weave.
I’m combining “leave and hold fast” into this adjective of “loyal.” The loyalty of the couple shifts from the household of their parents to a new household. Such a loyalty first requires “LEAVING”: “A man shall leave his father and his mother.”
The Leaving is critical. It’s not as simple as finding your own place to live. Sometimes that’s a part of it, sometimes not.
The key is understanding that the two are forming a new family.
It’s a statement that the man is now responsible for this new family. The wife and any children that the Lord may bring to them are under his care.
It’s also a statement of where allegiance lies. We will always have obligations to our parents and grandparents, and sometimes we ongoing responsibilities with siblings or extended family.
But once a couple is married their first allegiance is to one another. Their first loyalty is to one another. In terms of human allegiances, no allegiance is above our spouse. We have other allegiances—children, employers, churches, extended family, civil authorities. But our spouse needs to have a clear place above all these.
Our allegiance to Christ is the singular allegiance above our spouse. Our allegiance to Christ is what helps us navigate the right way to honor our marriage amidst all our responsibilities.
So that’s the first, LEAVING. The second part of this loyalty is CLEAVING.
The ESV uses “hold fast.” The verb is a strong one. It means to “stick to” or “cling to.” In one passage it talks about diseases that “shall cling to you” is you disobey the LORD (Deut 28:60). It’s a forceful one.
The verse is prophetic in a way. It was spoken in the Garden of Eden where there weren’t yet any forces pulling a couple apart.
But soon all kinds of forces would enter into their lives to pull them apart. The Serpent and Sin would come with the wave of destruction they brought. Then “holding fast” would become even more important.
Ancient marriage contracts. One from AD 126 Palestine by the husband, “You will be my wife according to the law of Moses and the Judeans. And I will feed you and clothe you and I will bring you into my house.” Then goes on to say, “If you are taken captive, I will redeem you, from my house and my estate” (Instone-Brewer, “Jewish Greek and Aramaic Marriage and Divorce Papyri,” 231).
The basic provision of the husband is borrowed from Exod 21:10, where the husband is obligated to provide “her food, her clothing, [and] her marital/conjugal rights.” This triad is found in most 1st century marriage contracts.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. (1 Cor 7:32–34)
IV. Two Becoming One
The rest of Genesis 2:24 that Jesus quotes speaks of the “one flesh” union of the man and the woman, “and they shall become one flesh.”
They are two people, but these two join together into “one flesh.”
“Two” into “one” is true physically through marital intimacy.
It’s true relationally. Marriage is to be a lifelong companionship. Marriage is two minds and two hearts having a lifelong conversation filled with interruptions.
It’s a companionship that evolves over the years as you both change. In that companionship you share dreams and ideas and memories. You make thousands of plans. You work through financial decisions. You do things together that you enjoy.
Marriage is far more than a friendship, but it is a friendship. It’s two people doing things and talking about the things they have in common.
Of course marriage is TWO-becoming-one. Sometimes we’re more aware of the TWO than the ONE. In that “lifelong conversation filled with interruptions,” sometimes the response is shock and awe. You both realize how differently you approach a problem or situation.
TWO-becoming-one also has romance as part of it. Biblical romance is intensely loyal. But it’s also intensely passionate. The Bible invites married couples—and only married couples—to intense joy in their romance.
Ray Ortlund unpacks a little of the fullness of what it means that “the two shall become one flesh”:
“One flesh” is the biblical definition of marriage in two brief but freighted words. This expression names marriage as one mortal life fully shared. The word one bespeaks a life fully shared, and the word flesh suggests the transient mortality of this life. So in the one-flesh union of marriage, all the boundaries between a man and a woman fall away, and the married couple comes together completely, as long as they both shall live. In real terms, two selfish me’s start learning to think like one unified us, building a new life together with one total everything: one story, one purpose, one reputation, one bed, one suffering, one budget, one family, and so forth. Marriage removes all barriers and replaces them with a comprehensive oneness.
- Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel
The hardest thing about marriage is something Jesus mentions in Matthew 19, “your hardness of heart.”
Marriage in the Garden of Eve at the end of Genesis 2 was marriage without sin. There was no yelling at each other. No fighting. No impatience that escalates into a full-blown marriage conflict.
There was no pornography. No drug addiction. No other people for any extra-marital entanglements.
They had all the normal differences between a man and a woman but without any of the sin.
But our marriages are lived out this side of the Fall. Our “hardness of heart” is part of the equation. We’ll see more of that next week when we look at the subject of divorce.
But here in this sermon on a vision for marriage it’s important to be realistic. Sin is in your heart. Sin is in your spouse’s heart. That sin will absolutely affect your marriage.
Sin can take opinions on paint colors and leave one of you walking out of the house and slamming the door.
If there’s a skill that all couples need to learn, it’s how to apply the gospel to their very real sinfulness.
The gospel is the good news that God did not leave us in our sin but sent Jesus Christ to die for it. He died, was buried, rose again, and then ascended to the Father’s right hand. Then he poured out the Holy Spirit on his people.
That good news is essential news for any couple. Without that good news, no marriage counselor is good enough, no book was the secret.
But when both of you really get the gospel, your marriage has a massive source of strength.
How does it work?
The sin event.
The gospel frees you up to be honest about your sin.
The gospel has a place to put things, serious things. When you sin against your spouse, you’ve done something terrible. Without the gospel, there’s no real way to deal with this. With the gospel, you have a path forward.
You can identify your sin. You can repent of it. You can get help to stop walking in that disobedience. You can work to understand why you continue doing it.
The gospel frees you up to ask for forgiveness and to extend forgiveness.
The gospel also helps you keep your marriage in perspective. The good news about Jesus Christ is about eternal life. Not all marriages will be happy ones in this life.