Defining Your Marriage: Commitment
Today we begin a new series entitled Divorce Proof. I want to tell you some of what the Bible says about a truly biblical marriage and how you can apply that truth to keep your marriage strong and your family together. Today we begin at the beginning. We will seek to define marriage.
Now, as I do that, I realize that there are all kinds of people out there who have already formed opinions on the topic. For instance, Groucho Marx said “I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.”
Someone else said: “When a man steals your wife, there is no better revenge than to let him keep her.” Someone else said, “To be happy with a man you must understand him a lot and love a little. To be happy with a woman, you must love her a lot and not try to understand her at all.” Still another said, “Love may be blind, but marriage is a real eye-opener”
Zha Zha Gabor said, “A man is incomplete until he’s married. After that, he is finished.” Rodney Dangerfield said, “My wife and I were happy for 20 years – then we met.”
Someone else said, “Before marriage, a man yearns for the woman he loves. After marriage, the “y” becomes silent.”
Mickey Rooney (married several times) said, “Always get married early in the morning. That way, if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted a whole day.”
That basically describes how society at large looks at matrimony. It is a tired institution which has now become all about the perfect dress and the most happening DJ, not about the meaning of the vows that are taken. Honestly, people may still say forever, but at least half of us do not mean it. And, since marriage is just a ceremony to most people, folks are abandoning the expense and ritual for co-habitation. A British Newspaper reported way back in 2003 that the number of divorces in Britain were leveling out, but not for the reasons you might think. Fran Wassoff, the co-director of Edinburgh University’s center for family and relationships said that the lower number of divorces resulted from the fact that there were fewer marriages. She said, “We have seen a huge cultural shift from marriage to co-habitation. That is a permanent change, and also explains why the divorce rate is levelling out." That sentiment reflects American attitudes. Two-thirds of adults in the “thirty-something” age range believe that co-habitation is fine. Those who do marry expect divorce to happen and their subsequent break-ups often fulfill their self-prophecy.
The scary thing is that I find this philosophy invading the church. We used to have people join our church by simply coming down and shaking the preacher’s hand, giving their testimony that they had been saved and baptized. A few years ago we had to stop that. Why? Because we were getting a large number of people who were presenting themselves for membership as faithful followers of Christ who were living together and not married, directly in contradiction to what the Bible teaches.
Now, understand today, if you are here and are involved in co-habitation, I, in no way am seeking to hurt you or put you down. All of us have sins in our lives that we need to confront and deal with, and if you are involved in this one, I come to you today humbly, not arrogantly, realizing that I’m just one sinner talking to another.
But that really is the point. It is sin! That’s what the Bible calls it. And if you’re involved in it, I don’t want to put you down, I want to lift you up. I want to encourage you. I want to make a case, quite frankly, from the Word of God why marriage, not a ceremony, but the biblical institution of marriage, makes sense for you, and I want you to listen. See, I believe two or three things have happened to us which have caused us to begin to stray from where the Bible tells we should be on this issue.
First, some of us have been distracted by attraction. Our over-sexed, under-committed society has so focused on sexual attraction till we have substituted our libido for biblical love. The result has been an increasingly self-centered approach to the marriage relationship which unrealistic expectations and unsatisfiable desires. Since our relationships are based on the wrong foundation, incompatibility is the inevitable result.
Others of us are deceived by “freedom.” Notice that “freedom” is in quotation marks. It’s not real freedom, it’s actually false freedom. We’ve been told that real love can only happen if we have no commitment. When I was just a boy in the 60's and 70's, the free love movement came into existence. It’s mantra was “Love means never having to say you’re ___________(what?) That’s right: sorry. Love means never having to say you’re sorry. The implication was that love was this totally free experience with no strings attached. Again: that’s unbiblical! Love is all about commitment. I want you to listen this morning and allow the Holy Spirit to point out those areas of your marriage where you may have begun to run from commitment. Allow God to work in your heart.
Still others are not distracted by attraction or deceived by freedom, they are trapped by desire. What I mean is this: They have substituted sex for intimacy. Instead of pursuing a “soul” connection with their mate, they’re just pursuing a “sex” connection. The confusion of sex with intimacy destroys many marriages.
And here’s what we need to know: The Bible addresses all of these deceptions in its definition of what a genuine marriage is to be. That definition is implied in the account of the very first marriage that ever existed. Read it with me: TEXT: GEN 2:18-25. In this passage you can find the three implication that come from a biblical definition of marriage. The first is this:
D1: COVENANT MARRIAGE CONQUERS LONLINESS
Now, the first thing we have to understand is that, when I speak of marriage, I am not talking primarily about the legal contract which is recognized by the state; I’m talking about HOLY matrimony. I’m talking about the institution God has ordained, so I call it “covenant” marriage. By the way, I’m borrowing the term. Many states within the union have actually created “covenant” marriage laws which make divorce more difficult. That’s really not what I’m talking about. I use the term “covenant” marriage to specify the biblical idea of matrimony that God has ordained.
This kind of marriage began a long time ago. You can tell from our text that its origin flows out of the very beginning of our existence. 2:18 begins with the first negative statement God ever makes in the Scripture. v 18 says, And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; God looks at man and sees a need. Man’s need is stated by God. It is not good that man is alone.
Well, God sees the need and states it, but then something interesting happens in the text. vv 19-20a read: Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. It’s almost like the Bible writer loses his train of thought and goes off on a tangent about Adam naming all the animals, but I don’t think he’s off point at all, actually. The Bible describes Adam’s job here: He is given the job of naming animals. I think God gives him this job for a very significant reason: Naming all the animals causes Adam to realize that he is alone. Just think about it. He sees two bears, a male and a female; he sees two wolves: a male and a female; he sees two rabbits: a male and a female. Then he sees himself. He’s alone. You see him come to that realization in the last phrase of 2:20 where it says, But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. It’s like Adam’s asking the question, “where’s my partner? There’s nobody like me.” You see, the need is stated by God, but God causes the need to be recognized by man.
And once the need is stated by God and recognized by man, the solution is provided by God. In v 19 God says, “ I will make him a helper comparable to him.” The word “comparable” literally meand “as in front of,” or “corresponding to.” Thus God says that He will make someone who “corresponds to” Adam. vv 21-22 describe how God does this: And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. The word “rib” here actually means “side.” If we translate it “side” rather than “rib,” then the passage states that woman was created from an undesignated part of man’s body. I think this is important. Thomas Aquinas said, “For since the woman should not have ‘authority over the man’ (1 Tim 2:12) it would not have been fitting for her to have been formed from his head, nor since she is not to be despised by the man, as if she were but his servile subject, would it have been fitting for her to be formed from his feet.” So she is formed from his side so that she is his partner.
But, perhaps, the most poignant part of the story comes in v 23. There, God’s solution is recognized by man. I love the exclamation that burst forth from Adam’s list. The Hebrew behind that phrase, “This is now,” gives us this more complete sense: “This at last is” or even better, “At last, here is one of my own kind!” Then he goes on to elaborate, “This is at last “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” That phrase keeps popping up throughout the Old Testament and, when it does, it usually speaks of a covenant. For instance, when David visits Hebron at the beginning of his kingdom and the people pledge their loyalty to him, they say, “we are your bone and your flesh.” They were saying, “We will support you in all circumstances.” If you take it this way, Adam is making a commitment to Eve at this point. He is saying, “I will remain loyal to you in all circumstances. I make this covenant to you.”
You can sum it up like this: Since marriage is the solution to our greatest human need (loneliness), and since it takes real commitment to conquer that need, we must learn in our relationships to seek commitment over attraction. Let’s face it: It is very easy to find someone we are immediately attracted to. For men, it’s a sexual thing. Give us the right images and we’re immediately attracted. For women, in most cases, it’s a romantic thing. Get the right lighting, the right music, the right words, and the right cologne, and there can be attraction. But so often, the pursuit of commitment and the pursuit of attraction lead you in two different directions.
And I can hear what you may be saying: “Well, Rusty, are you trying to tell me that I should marry someone to whom I am NOT attracted?” Well, I must admit that sounds a little crazy, but I believe if you are choosing between the two, attraction should come second! Let me illustrate:
The brother of Ravi Zacharias said this: “Love is as much a question of the will as it is of the emotion. And if you WILL to love somebody, you can.” That was not just a meaningless statement for him. He actually experienced it. You see, Ravi’s brother married the woman arranged for him by his parents, the custom in India where he was from. He says of this that, while our culture idolizes feelings as the ultimate barometer of love, the Bible does not. In fact, 1 Cor 13:3-7, the love chapter, speaks of actions rather than feelings. It speaks of commitment rather than attraction. Ravi says of this:
“William Doherty begins his excellent book “Take Back Your Marriage” with a powerful illustration. His office is located in St. Paul, Minnesota, not far from the farthest point north on the Mississippi River. He describes the river’s formidable but silent current that drives its waters southward. ‘Everything on the water that is not powered by wind, gasoline, or human muscle’ heads south.
Then he adds these words: ‘I have thought that getting married is like launching a canoe into the Mississippi at St. Paul. If you don’t paddle, you go south. No matter how much you love each other, no matter how full of hope and promise and good intentions, if you stay on the Mississippi without a good deal of paddling — occasional paddling is not enough — you end up in New Orleans. Which is a problem if you want to stay north.’
“But this kind of commitment does not come easily. Only if it is taken seriously does it become a sheer delight of the heart. I will also add that this kind of commitment is not seen much in the times in which we live. The reason we have a crisis in our gender relationships is not that we are culturally indoctrinated but that we would rather be served than serve. We would rather be the head than the feet. Reversing that trend requires commitment and a decision of the will.
“The playwright Thornton Wilder said it well: ‘I didn’t marry you because you were perfect. I didn’t even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn’t a house that protected them; and it wasn’t our love that protected them — it was that promise.’”
And it is that promise that makes a covenant marriage; not attraction, not compatibility, not romance: covenant. It’s a promise. So let me kind of give you some logical results of having a truly covenant marriage. Let’s try to understand the practical truths that flow from this concept. First, when I have a covenant marriage, I understand that it is sacred. Simply put, this kind of marriage is not your thing, its God’s. He instituted it, he designed it, and by the way, He defined it. Listen, no matter what activists scream, the president says, or the ninth circuit court of the state of California may rule, marriage, in God’s economy, always unites a male and a female. A “same-sex union” is an oxymoron. Covenant marriage is the bringing together of God-described components in a God-designed union. You can say, “That’s not fair. I ought to be able to redefine it if I want to.”There’s only one problem with that: It’s not your thing, it’s God’s! It’s sacred.
Secondly, covenant marriage is a mutual thing. When I join this union, I have to understand that It’s not my life, it’s ours. This passage makes it clear that the two become one flesh. There is a self-giving which must take place, and the focus must remain on giving not on taking. Inevitably, when I counsel couples who are going through marital difficulty, there is always, without exception a decision on the part of one, the other, or both to become more of a taker than a giver. That reflects the statement that the Genesis writer makes about marriage. We must leave our father and mother (another way of saying that I must leave what I am used to and what is focused on me) and cleave to my spouse (I must become focused on the life and the needs of my spouse). It’s a mutual, shared life. It’s not longer my life, it’s ours.
And all of this flows out of my commitment. And as I make this commitment and really begin to share myself, regardless of my attraction, I begin to know what it means to truly have the fellowship that bars loneliness from my life. That’s the first implication of the biblical definition of marriage. Covenant marriage conquers loneliness. But here’s the second implication:
DIV 2: COVENANT MARRIAGE SEEKS FAITHFULNESS
One of the greatest summary statements in the scripture is found in Gen 2:24. There the Bible says, Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. This succinctly summarizes covenant marriage. Three elements are evident. First, making this covenant requires decisive separation. A man is to leave his father and mother. We mentioned this earlier, but I want you to understand it clearly. Coming together in marriage means leaving life as you know it! Yes, this involves your previous family commitments. When it comes to what you prioritize, these must be given up. You’ll now have a higher commitment.
And it reaches beyond the family. Men, you must reprioritize your lives. You must put your wife ahead of your hunting homeboys, your golfing associates, your fishing friends, and your basketball buddies. Ladies, your husband has to come before your shopping sweeties, your Mary Kay maids, and your gabby girlfriends. The covenant creates a separation. A man shall leave . . .
And then the covenant requires a public commitment. One person commented on this passage: “Finally, this “leaving” and “uniting” involves a public declaration in the sight of God. Marriage is not a private matter. It involves a declaration of intention and a redefining of obligations and relationships in a familial and social setting.” When the text says, “and be joined to his wife” there seems to be public involvement implied. This union is not some behind the scenes sexual dalliance; it is an intentional, forever, public commitment of one person to another.
Which leads to the third element that is evident in this summary of covenant marriage. Not only does it involve decisive separation and public commitment, it also requires complete union. The verse concludes, and they shall become one flesh. That statement says a lot! Yes it does mean that, within the context of marriage there is to be a physical, sexual union for the pleasure of the couple and the procreation of children. But that union is more than just sex. It involves spiritual and emotional union as well. Fully committed to one another, a man and his wife are to be fully united to one another in body, soul, and spirit.
This is what I mean when I say “faithfulness.” I do not mean that a couple simply stays together in a marriage for ever. That’s not faithfulness, that’s a rut! Real faithfulness is having an emotional, spiritual, and physical union that brings a unity that cannot be achieved in any other relationship. It provides true satisfaction, but it does not make that satisfaction it’s goal. It seeks faithfulness first; that is it seeks to be united in body, soul, and spirit so that genuine satisfaction is produced.
I saw this lived out in my in-laws. As many of you know we lost my wife’s mother to alzheimers back in 2003. She was a sweet godly lady who, like my wife, loved to cook and shop. I always loved going to Kathy’s house for Christmas because she baked some of the best desserts. Anyway, as she was beginning to drift into the fog of alzheimers, we saw the frustration that terrible disease causes. She would be so disoriented at night that she would cry because she wanted her daddy (who had been dead for decades) to come and pick her up. She was so confused that, instead of taking her medication and swallowing it, she would just keep it under her tongue until it started tasting badly and she would spit it out. She was not safe to leave alone so someone always had to get up with her. The only problem was that, when she would get up in the middle of the night, Kathy’s Dad would have to get up with her which meant he got no sleep.
To say the least, it was a difficult time for them both. I know there were times when he wanted to just give up and put her in a nursing home, and all the family was, in fact, encouraging him to do just that, but he refused. Right up till the end, even though he could hardly communicate with her in any meaningful way, he took care of her. And despite all the trials, they still had a connection.
I still remember staying with them one night, laying in the bed in the next bedroom over and hearing Kathy’s dad say in a gentle voice, “I love you honey.” Now there was a man who was choosing faithfulness, and, even though he had lost part of his wife to alzheimers, there was still such a vibrant connection there that it could not completely be lost. She still satisfied him. Why? It wasn’t because of sex or that she could even cook him a good meal. It was the covenant. It was the promise. He sought faithfulness and he found love.
Do you? Is your marriage about the satisfaction that flows from faithfulness, or is it about the sensuality that flows from selfishness. One will lead you to a soul connection; the other will lead you to a disappointment. You see, there are just a couple of things you need to understand about this faithfulness. First, it’s not temporary, it’s forever. This vow is permanent. No divorce permitted except in the case fornication as Matt 19:6 says. You see, here’s the deal. The only way for real satisfaction to take place is within the focus of faithfulness. If you have a take or leave it attitude towards faithfulness, you’ll never develop the trust and confidence needed to experience true satisfaction. This covenant is forever.
Second, it’s not you and, its you alone. This means that this vow is exclusive. You cannot divide your loyalties with another woman men, even if that woman is just on face book, on some pornography site, or in Playboy. Ladies, the same goes for you, you can’t have a divided heart because some guy at work makes you feel all gooey inside. This vow is not temporary, its forever.
That’s because satisfaction will flow from faithfulness, true soul-level faithfulness. Covenant marriage seeks that kind of faithfulness, it conquers loneliness and then,
D 3 COVENANT MARRIAGE PROVIDES INTIMACY.
Gen 2:25 concludes this definition of covenant marriage with this statement: And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. Notice that their intimacy comes after their covenant, and, indeed, is a result of it. Their physical nakedness indicates sexual union, but I believe it goes much further. They experienced a depth of emotional union that can only come when there is no sin in the world and there is no reason to cover up. This is complete intimacy. As much as I dislike the term because it is so misused today, it fits here. Adam and Eve were “soul mates.” They were connected in complete freedom because they were not seeking any advantage. They were in perfect harmony. The cheap and tawdry had not yet entered the world. Sex for selfish gratification was not even a passing thought in Adam’s head. Sex as a means of controlling her husband through the intensity of his need was not even a temptation for Eve. There was no thought of intimacy as a means of selfish gratification.
In that context, then, Adam and Eve experienced the greatest human joy possible. It was in the context of their perfect covenant marriage. Now, I know that such contentment has been largely spoiled in our day by the intervention of sin, but there is still a glimmer of that contentment in the marriages of those who, through the process of years, learn to develop this kind of intimacy. These old soldiers of marriage have discovered that covenant marriage really is the greatest source of human joy because they have learned to seek true intimacy over their own selfish gratification.
And that is why it grieves me to see the millions of couples who are substituting gratification for intimacy today. You see, God placed sex within the boundaries of marriage, not to test your self-control. He did it to maximize your joy. True intimacy takes time to develop. Sex in the context of true intimacy brings great satisfaction and the greatest opportunity for real joy. Engaging in sex apart from this intimacy leads to great disappointment ultimately.
Dr. Desmond Morris, well-known researcher and author, spent many years studying the institution of marriage and the factors that contribute to long-term intimacy. A relationship that fails to survive, he said, can usually be traced to the dating days when the bond between a man and a woman was inadequately cemented. And what interfered with the bond? It is likely to result from physical intimacy occurring too early in the relationship. Instead of taking the time to know each other—to talk and laugh and share lovers’ secrets—the couple engages in early sexual activity. Such familiarity interferes with intimacy and weakens the marital bond ever after.
One person wrote of this that it reminded him of his efforts to build model airplanes as a kid. He said that his friends made wonderful planes out of balsa wood, but he could never get one finished. Why? Because he was too impatient to wait for the glue to dry. He just couldn’t keep my hands off the pieces long enough for them to congeal. He concluded:
Romantic relationships that began with too much physical intimacy in the early dating days do damage to the bond. So if you want to enjoy an intimate friendship that will remain vibrant for a lifetime, the key is simple: Just keep your hands off one another until the glue dries.
How can you get this kind of intimacy in your marriage today or, if you’re single, in the future? Well, the key is to start before marriage. You may have seen this illustration. This is a piece of tape. I have just pulled it off of the roll, so it will stick pretty well to anything. This is the way it’s supposed to be. I, as a marriage partner and supposed to be intimately stuck to just one person (stick the piece of tape to the piece of paper.) When I do it God’s way, a good connection is able to form. But if I engage in intimacy with many of the people I date what happens. Well, it’s like this piece of tape. After I stick it to several things several times, the tape will no longer make a good connection. So here’s the deal. You have to begin seeking the right kind of intimacy by having a hands off policy before marriage. You must start before marriage.
But then, you must focus during marriage. Real, soul level intimacy must be developed. It does not begin with physical intimacy, it begins with emotional intimacy. What exactly is emotional intimacy? Emotional intimacy occurs when there is enough trust and communication between you and your spouse that it allows you both to share your innermost selves. Deep emotional intimacy is when we feel wholly accepted, respected, and admired in the eyes of our mate even when they know our innermost struggles and failures. Emotional intimacy fosters compassion and support, providing a firm foundation for a marriage to last a lifetime. IN SHORT, EMOTIONAL INTIMACY IS THE “GLUE” OF MARRIAGE!
And you must value this intimacy enough to really work at it. Let me give you some practical ways to do that. First Pay attention to your own emotions. Many of us have two words to describe our emotions: happy or angry. But there are dozens of emotions that fall in between those words. Become familiar with emotions by reading up on the subject and paying attention to what really goes on inside of you.
Become familiar with your "inner self." What are the messages that run in your mind throughout the day? Where do you feel you don't measure up so you fear being vulnerable? How has your pace of life been a false place of safety for you to keep an emotional distance from others because there just isn't time?
Evaluate your past. Take a walk back to your childhood and consider the emotional connectedness of the family you grew up in. Was it ok to express feelings in your home? Did your family really know one another or were they simply operating as roommates living under one roof?
Determine to be a "safe" person for your spouse to share hisher emotions, thoughts, and feelings with. If you are characterized by criticism or trying to fix your spouse, you will close the door on inviting himher to share. Accept them as they are and refuse to criticize them for being honest about how they feel.
Increase the time you spend together as a couple. Intimacy can't be created without spending time talking not just about the events of the day, but also how you feel about the events of the day. Take the time.
Deal with conflict swiftly. Don't resort to the silent treatment or snide remarks. Learn to "fight fair" by getting the issue out on the table and dealing with it with respect. This will grow trust and deepen intimacy.
Get help. You may find that a marriage counselor is helpful in launching you and your spouse into new emotional territory. If you struggle with emotional intimacy more than your spouse, a few private counseling sessions might help you learn some things about yourself and move from where you are to where you want to be.
And I know that, as soon as I said all of that, many of us men are internally “rolling our eyes.” WE don’t think we need to do that and even talking about it makes us want to run from the room pulling our hair out. But listen, guys. This whole intimacy thing was God’s idea. It was God who said that it wasn’t good for man to be alone. It was God who created woman from man so that he would have this deep connection to her. It was God who said to leave your previous connections and become one flesh with your wife. And it was God who said that you should be intimate and not ashamed. This intimacy idea is God’s idea. He’s not asking this of us, men, because He is trying to make us uncomfortable, He’s asking it of us because He knows what can really make us happy.
Hey, what could happen in your marriage if you traded in your legal union for a covenant marriage? Well, for one thing, apathy would be dying because reverence would be rising. Instead of seeing your marriage as a prison sentence that is taking away your freedom, you could begin to see the fingerprint of God on your union. You could begin to see that the primary avenue you have for bringing glory to God is by holding sacred the wonderful union He’s blessed you with.
And then, if we truly embraced covenant marriage, divorce would be decreasing because exclusiveness would be increasing. Seeing your promise as inviolate would bring a new confidence in your relationship. You could disagree and even fight without resorting to the “D” word, because divorce would be off the table. Some of you, who are living together and not married, would finally find the courage to get married because you finally realize that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, you really can make a promise that God will help you keep.
And in the context of this reverent, exclusive covenant, joy would be growing because intimacy would be deepening. This is the key! This is the payoff! God wants you to experience deep joy in your marriage, but you can’t get to it without experience complete intimacy, and you can’t experience complete intimacy as long as you are selfishly pursuing your own gratification.
So, how’s your marriage doing this morning? Are you on the brink of disaster? Are you truly intimate, or is there a wall between you? Are you truly committed, or are you actually considering divorce? Are you really excited about this mate God has given you or are you just bored. God wants marriage to be the greatest, most fulfilling experience of your life, but you have to do it His way. You have to trade the cheapened substitutes of our culture for the real thing. You must pursue a covenant marriage.