Questions and Answers About Marriage, Part 2

Title: Questions and Answers About Marriage 2

Text: Genesis 2:18, 2:22-24, Malachi 2:16

Time: May 23rd, 2013

I’m trying to teach on the subject of marriage because there is so much confusion in our society today about it. Not only is the institution of marriage in decline due to the extremely high rate of divorce, but it’s very foundations are beginning to crumble with this new thing called gay marriage. People are genuinely confused about marriage today. Most young couples don’t even bother to get marry today, but instead just live together in what used to be called “living in sin.” It’s not that marriages are merely failing – that’s bad enough – but also that the whole concept of marriage is being questioned like never before. Some people seem to feel that marriage is something whose time has come . . . and gone. It’s no longer useful for society anymore, so they say. However, from a strictly sociological point of view it’s way too early to even make a judgment about whether the demise of marriage is a harmless thing, as some think. From a Christian biblical viewpoint, marriage is not only important; it’s essential to the plan and purpose of God for men and women. Last week I raised and tried to answer three important questions about marriage that are relevant today. This morning I’ll try to answer three more questions that people ask about marriage in the modern world. First, if marriage is so important in God’s plan, why is it failing so badly today? Second, if marriage is so important in God’s plan, why is so little said about it in the Bible? Third, if marriage is so important in God’s plan, why is there so much divorce in the Christian church? It’s clear from the Bible that marriage is very important in the plan of God for men and women on earth. Starting in the very first book of the Bible, Genesis, we see God bringing together Adam and Eve into holy matrimony. No, there is no wedding ceremony per se described in the Bible, no ritual or traditional vows like we are familiar with today, and no well developed theology of marriage that after two thousand years of reflection has been produced; but nonetheless, there is clearly the concept of men and women coming together under the authority of God and before witnesses in order to make life-long promises of love and faithfulness to one another. We must not be misled by the absence of specific details of marriage in the Bible to conclude that the Bible doesn’t teach the essentials of marriage – it does. God hasn’t left men and women in the dark concerning this most primary of social relationships. Everything essential that we need to know about marriage is taught clearly in the Bible, although we must also thank God for the important work of systematic reflection that theology has done over the last two thousand years. We might say that God has given us his wedding gifts in the Bible, but it is for Christians to open these up and use them to his glory. So we might say God gives us the essential resources concerning marriage in the Bible, and then the Christian church unpacks these gifts generation after generation to apply the truths in culturally relevant ways. So what’s wrong with marriage today? Why are so many marriages failing today? We must address these and other questions in order to make sense of the importance of marriage today. Like I said before, we need to teach all the more about the basics of marriage today because, frankly, even in the midst of a highly educated society, there’s a lot of ignorance about the basic truths of marriage. Let’s look at three questions that are raised today, and hopefully appreciate in a greater way God’s will for marriage.

First, if marriage is so important in God’s plan, why is it failing so badly today? Genesis 2:18, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” And Genesis 3:6, “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.” One of the peculiar developments that has come along in the last fifty or so years is that people have almost completely forgotten about sin – and particularly, original sin. People talk and think today as if there is no such thing as sin, or that there was no such thing as the original first sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, or that the stain of sin hasn’t been passed down from generation to generation through humanity to the present day. People act as if men and women are essentially innocent, maybe ignorant or confused, but not really bad or sinful – except maybe a few really bad people, like terrorists, murderers, and the like. This biblical ignorance, in turn, causes them to question marriage today through this kind of reasoning: if marriage were so important in the plan of God for mankind, why then is God permitting marriages to fall apart so badly today? In other words, if marriage is so important, why isn’t God doing anything about the horrible state of marriage today? Even non-believers point to marriage and divorce statistics; even secular people can determine that something is happening to the institution of marriage that is radically different from the many generations before our time. Over one-half of all U.S. marriages end ultimately in divorce. Think about that. More marriages fail than succeed in the United States and other western world nations. We’ve grown so used to it that we don’t see it as any big deal, but it’s really a tragedy. If marriage is essential for God’s plan for men and women in society, if it’s a prerequisite for healthy and stable child raising, if it’s the glue that holds society together, then why is it failing so badly today? The answer is simple, although the details are complex – the answer is sin. Marriage was given by God before sin entered the world, which means that marriage in itself is good, but as a result of the Fall, that is, the fall into sin, the disobedience of man and woman, sin has spread to every aspect of human life and culture. That means marriage has been afflicted by sin and selfishness all throughout history. But the difference today is that men and women more and more are rejecting a biblical understanding of sin and selfishness. Many today are embracing sin and selfishness as a fundamental right of freedom. As a result, marriages are crumbling as men and women pursue their own selfish and sinful agendas apart from the will of God for their lives. Whereas in the past sinners at least acknowledged wrong, felt guilty about it, and made some effort to confess and repent; today, sinners embrace sin and pridefully pursue their own stubborn self-will without guilt or shame. God could, of course, intervene; but instead, he’s allowing couples to “have it their way,” or pursue their sinful paths that lead to marriage failure. So then we see that marriage is today still very important, even though it is failing like never before. It’s not due to marriage being irrelevant or out of date; it’s due to sinners unwilling to conform their wills to the will of God concerning marriage. It ultimately comes back to a spiritual failure or spiritual sickness. If we were to see a genuine Christian spiritual revival, we’d also see a marriage revival as well. Let’s pray that we do.

Second, if marriage is so important in God’s plan, why is so little said about it in the Bible? Genesis 2:22-24, “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 now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” It is surprising how very little there is said in any way of the technical details of marriage in the Bible, or so very little said about the specific wedding vows or the wording of the lifelong covenant of marriage. I think most people are shocked to find out how little the Bible actually says about marriage details. So then where do we get most of our traditional ideas about marriage, about weddings, about life together as man and wife? Probably from Christian church tradition – which isn’t a bad thing! Most of our traditional church customs about marriage come in part from the Bible or from ideas that are related to the Bible. Yet most of what we think about marriage is not directly from the Bible, but from church tradition; although what is from the Bible is very important and weighty. In other words, the Bible tells us the very essential things about marriage that God wants us to understand; the cultural and specific details he leaves to our own traditions. For example, in traditional Jewish weddings, the bride and groom usually smash a glass underfoot. Christian weddings usually don’t include breaking a glass to signify the conclusion of the wedding ceremony. It’s just a traditional Jewish thing. But other things are more fundamental, such as the vows to love and be faithful to one another. Now while the Bible doesn’t go into details about marriage, it covers the basic and essential parts, such as, again, that the wedding vow is a promise not only made before the gathered witnesses on earth, but it’s also something witnessed by God from heaven. So that makes it extremely important. Which is another reason why it’s probably not a good thing to get married in Las Vegas – it kind of cheapens the importance of the whole wedding ceremony to have an Elvis impersonator officiate! So then why doesn’t the Bible talk more about the exact details of the wedding vow or specifics about marriage? The answer is, the Bible doesn’t treat marriage as any different in respect to holiness and love and relating to others as it does any other kind of relationship. 1 Corinthians 13 is usually read at wedding ceremonies, but the Apostle Paul wasn’t writing it specifically for married couples only, but for all Christians. In other words, the whole Bible contains enough general instructions about love, truthfulness, holiness, and so forth, to inform married couples how to act towards one another; it doesn’t need to specifically address married couples because they can and should apply the same teachings that all Christians need to learn from the Bible to their individual and married life. The way some churches and pastors teach you’d think the Bible has a specific blueprint for marriage contained therein; it doesn’t. It has a specific blueprint for all Christians about love, relationships, and so forth, that married couples can and should apply to their lives together. The problem today is that married couples (as well as singles) aren’t applying Bible truths to their lives. Some people have asked me, “Pastor, why don’t you teach more on marriage?” I say something like, “I teach the Bible and the Bible teaches us all we need to know whether single or married.” And it does. Again, 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, applies to married couples and singles. The Bible mostly teaches about marriage without announcing it. It’s interesting that as more and more people depart from the teachings of the Bible, the more and more marriages fail. See a pattern?

Third, if marriage is so important in God’s plan, why is there so much divorce in the Christian church? Malachi 2:16, “’I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel.” It is pretty embarrassing for the Christian church to report about the same divorce rate as the general public. Why? Because Christians are supposed to be better than that, and do better than that. Not that we aren’t all sinners, but as Christians we have the resources of God and the knowledge of God to empower and guide us along the path of life. Supposedly, when we attend church on Sunday, when we read the Bible, when we pray, when we live lives of obedience to God, our lives reflect a brighter light in all areas than our non-Christian counterparts. But sadly, it isn’t often the case. Why not? Because generally speaking the Christian church is failing in its mission to faithfully teach God’s Word and make disciples of Jesus Christ. Matthew 28 describes Jesus leaving his disciples with their mission, which is to make disciples on earth. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done, especially today. We live in a world of unending distractions and competing and conflicting agendas. Christians are usually going off in a millions different directions, following a million different agendas in life – sadly, many of these paths are totally incompatible with biblical teachings. Christians often marry the wrong person for the wrong reasons. Then these same Christians get divorced, often while at the same time attending church every Sunday. What’s the problem? Pastors, generally speaking, aren’t teaching the Word of God faithfully, or if they are teaching the Bible, they aren’t teaching all of it. For example, it’s not unusual for pastors to give sermons on marriage, but they usually consist of little more than tips and techniques on how to “improve communication” or “resolve conflicts” or “manage finances,” and so forth. So while addressing marriage topics, the truths aren’t exactly coming from the Bible as much as from secular psychology or business management. Consequently, the real profound and important truths about marriage from God’s Word don’t get taught. For example, the Bible teaches very clearly that in a marriage relationship if the man and woman can’t agree on something, then ultimately it’s the man’s responsibility to lovingly make the decision (Ephesians 5:24). Now this one truth from God’s Word would help avoid countless conflicts that lead to divorce – if it were only taught and followed. But pastors are often reluctant to teach such truths because it’s not “politically correct” or “culturally acceptable” since the 70s feminist movement. So then pastors usually take the tips and techniques approach in teaching, give out some pretty harmless advice, while neglecting the really marriage-saving truths that would really make a difference. This is just one example. Again, it’s very embarrassing for Christians to admit that with all the spiritual resources of God they still can’t seem to stay married any better than the pagan non-believers. It’s going to take courageous church pastors and denominational leaders who are determined to faithfully teach the Word of God, even if it offends some people. For the good of the Christian community, and especially for the good of married couples, our churches simply must teach the full counsel of God concerning marriage, and stop dancing around the more controversial truths. If God’s Word teaches it, let’s teach it. That’s not to say there isn’t a place, perhaps, for a few truths of psychology to be included in a sermon; but this steady diet of non-biblical teaching is actually hurting Christians. God put the truths in the Bible he wanted taught; so let’s do that – let’s teach what the Bible teaches. At least, let’s prioritize Bible truths in our churches. That would greatly help Christian marriages to stay together.

As you can see this is a big topic. We could spend all day going back and forth as to the best way to correct the terrible state of marriages within the Christian community. Another important truth that needs to be emphasized, although it again is highly controversial – but are there any important truths from God not controversial today? And that is the fact that, according to the Bible, “God hates divorce,” Malachi 2:16. The problem is, it seems, is that Christians and the Christian leaders and the church in general doesn’t seem to hate divorce. In fact, from the looks of things people tend to like divorce, or at least they like to keep all their options open, including divorce. I recently read in the news the TV broadcaster Pat Robertson caused controversy because he tried to counsel a woman to try to save her marriage after she found out her husband had cheated on her. Evidently the secular news media picked up the story because they felt it was outrageous that anyone would counsel a woman to minimize the damage of an affair instead of blow it out of all proportion. The secular wisdom today tells women (and men) to feel free to divorce for any reason at all; and men and women are doing so. Whereas in the past married couples tended to attempt long-suffering perseverance in marriage. Not today. The philosophy today is that life is short, so there’s no time to waste in a difficult marriage, just divorce the jerk and start over, no problem. And people are doing that by the millions. It goes without saying that this secular philosophy does not reflect God’s attitude towards divorce. The tragedy is that even Christians are caught up in the secular divorce culture. They too divorce for any or for no reason at all. They too use any excuse to get out of an uncomfortable marriage. They listen to the secular sirens of culture rather than the Word of God. Now God’s Word doesn’t strictly forbid divorce. There are a few very strict grounds for divorce that I’ve outlined elsewhere, so there’s no need to go into that whole topic now. But just to say that there are a few strict grounds for divorce doesn’t mean that it’s ok for Christians to go ahead and divorce, as if looking for any legal loophole for it. If God hates divorce, then so should we. And if we as Christians really hated divorce – hate is a very strong word, remember – if we really hated divorce like God hates divorce, then we wouldn’t see Christian marriages failing at the same rate as general culture. So pastors – it often comes down, almost always comes down to pastors – if they would simply teach God’s Word faithfully against divorce, and reinforce biblical marriage, we’d see a lot less divorce among Christians. Again, it takes courage and sensitivity, because after all, lots of Christians are in fact divorced. So there’s a lot of pain and sensitivity in the church about divorce. But that shouldn’t stop us from teaching against it, just because so many people have done it! We need to be loving but firm, and say that, like God, we oppose divorce, we hate divorce, but with God’s help one can even be forgiven for the sin of divorce, as any other sin. But let not that be an excuse to treat it carelessly and casually like we sadly see today. Again, it all comes down ultimately to a renewal and revival of faith in God. If we are close to God we’ll love his Word, and teach his Word, and live by his Word. That’s where we need to return in order to turn the terrible plague of divorce around, and so once again see marriages last a lifetime. Let’s pray that we can see a revival of faith among God’s people again soon, so that many of these problems, including divorce, can be corrected. Amen.

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