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Our Family Tree – Remembering Our Roots: God’s Gift of Marriage

September 15, 2013


Sermon:  Our Family Tree – Remembering Our Roots:  God’s Gift of Marriage
Text:  Ephesians 5:21-28; Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18, 20b-24


The series of messages I have planned for the fall is Our Family Tree – Remembering Our Roots.  We are going to look back at passages from both the Old Testament and the New Testament in order to trace our roots and examine our own families.  Of course the place is to begin in this series is with God’s gift of marriage.

I know that when we come to this issue many here have been married but are not currently married.  Some here have never been married.  Those people may ask, “What does this topic have to do with me?”  We are a family of faith.  I would encourage you to think about and pray for those married people you know.  Pray about marriages in trouble.  Most of us know some of those.  Pray about marriages under stress, as well as those that are doing well.

As we begin this series, I was thinking about weddings that are scheduled ahead.  Six wedding ceremonies have already been placed on the calendar with two this year for me.  Clare and I attended a wedding shower Friday night for a niece who plans to be married later this year.  The four weddings scheduled for 2014 include one for a nephew.  When you come from a family as large as ours, a wedding is usually somewhere on the horizon.

Marriage is the foundation of family living.  I have a very traditional view about marriage:  marriage consists of one man and one woman.  I know of variations on that perception, but that is the approach I will take in this series.

A couple stands before me during their wedding ceremony, and I ask them to repeat their vows – “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish and keep only unto you as long as we shall live” – or answer “I do” or “I will” after I read those vows.  Couples that are young really have no idea what they are promising.  How can they know what “for better or worse” means or what “sickness and health” means unless they learn through their rearview mirror?  The truth is that we learn about these situations as we go through them.  Marriage begins with this very serious commitment, a commitment that is fragile.  Many experiences over the course of a marital lifetime will assail those vows, bring them into question, and cause difficulty.  We will consider some of those factors in the sermons ahead of us.  For today we will focus on marriage as the foundation of the family.

Before God said it was not good for man to be alone, God probably felt that it was not good for Him to be alone.  He created people who could have fellowship with Him, people who could enjoy His presence.  The old catechism says that God created human beings to love Him and to enjoy Him forever.  That is a part of our reason for being as people.

It is a wonderful concept that God crafted us in His image.

When I walk into my bathroom early in the mornings and look in the mirror, I think, And this is the image of God, standing here in front of a mirror?  Is this what God really had in mind?  Psalm 139 says, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.”  I look at my reflected image and think, Boy, you are fearfully made!  I look at Clare and think, Boy, she is wonderfully made!  The notion that God created us in His image does not necessarily mean that we look like God.  It means that He created us to be creative and to have a sense of wonder.  It also means that God created us to join with Him in an effort to be good stewards of this world.  A part of that means being good stewards of the family.

It was not good for God to be alone, so He created us.  Likewise, God said it was not good for man to be alone.  As all the animals paraded before man, the scene in the Bible is similar to one from Dr. Doolittle.  Man had the privilege of giving the creatures Hebrew names.  If you extrapolate the English names, you can only imagine that rat, cat, dog, and pig were at the front of the line.  Rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and gnu followed at the end of the line.  God had to get those jawbreaker names in somewhere.  The point is that none of those creations was found to be a suitable companion.  God, who caused the man to fall asleep, extracted a rib, and created a woman was the first anesthesiologist and surgeon.

God did not create the woman from the man’s head to lord it over him.  Neither did He create the woman from the man’s feet to serve as his doormat.  God created the woman from the man’s side to provide him with constant companionship.  We are companions, a concept strengthened with this symbolism.

According to the NIV, Adam wakes up from his sleep and says, “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”  Guys, please do not write those words on an anniversary or Valentine’s Day card.  I love how the Living Bible words the first encounter between man and woman.  When Adam wakes up and sees Eve for the first time, he exclaims, “This is what I have been looking for.  This is it!”  Eve must have been beautiful in his eyes.

Their one flesh union represents a kind of synergy.  All that one person brings to a relationship is added to all that the second person brings to a relationship.  We cannot just do simple math by adding this plus this.  Actually one plus one equals one in marriage.  This union, this one flesh union, creates a kind of strength, a synergy, enabling the two to do far more together than they can ever do alone.  Part of the reason God created marriage is to create synergy.

I know that some people cringe when we read Ephesians 5:21-28.  Turn in your Bible to this passage.  Many translations place a division between Verse 21 and Verse 22.  Most sermons on this passage from Ephesians 25 begin at Verse 22.  Textually that is impossible because Verse 22 contains no verb.  The verb is implied, but we must go back to Verse 21, which says, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives to your husbands, as to the Lord.”  The overriding principle here is mutual submission between husbands and wives.

Ancient traditions even here in the South would say, “The husband has to be the head of the house, the wife is subject to her husband, and the children are subject to the wife.”  Five times within the New Testament is the Domestic Code, which grew out of Greek and Roman society.  I have tried to understand why the Code is worded a little differently this time.  One possible reason is because this reference is one of the last written.  The Bible teaches marriage as a relationship having mutual submission.

I heard about a man who attended a Promise Keepers meeting several years ago.  When he returned home, he informed his wife, “I’ve been away at the Promise Keepers meeting, and I now know that you are to be subject to me.”

When he shared with one of his friends that he had told his wife she was to be subject to him, the friend asked, “How did that go?”

The man answered, “After three days I was able to open my right eye.”

The Bible teaches the principle of mutual submission in several places.  How does this notion play out in marital intimacy?  I know that your mind jumps immediately to sexual intimacy.  Let me define marital intimacy in terms of what Jesus said was the Great Commandment:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  Jesus gives here the four ways of loving God.  Those same four ways describe the four kinds of intimacy in marriage.

Sexual intimacy is a big part of physical intimacy.  Paul is very explicit in I Corinthians 7 where he says the husband is not the master of his body; his wife is.  He adds that the wife is not the master of her body; her husband is.  Paul gives only one reason why a person can say no to conjugal rights.  It is not Monday night football.  It is not even a headache.  Paul states, “Therefore you should not deny yourselves conjugal rights except for a season of prayer.”  The only excuse allowed is, “Not tonight, honey, I am going to pray.”  You can find the concept of mutual submission in marriage all through the Bible.

My grandfather and grandmother had a wonderful marriage.  Pappy took care of everything outside the house while Mammy took care of everything inside the house.  As time went along and several generations passed, those inside/outside lines became a little blurred.

I sometimes suggest to young couples that they ascribe a gender to everything in the house.  Is the kitchen sink masculine or feminine?  Most young couples would say it is neutral.  Anyone can wash dishes.  Is the lawnmower masculine for feminine?  People in my generation would generally say it is masculine though many females also cut grass.  Go to the toilet brush.  Is that tool masculine or feminine?  No one honestly wants to do some tasks in the house.  The couple may run into problems when they try to straighten out that division of labor.  Over time these roles may change.  I do some chores for Clare, now that she has arthritis.

About six months ago Clare said, “A light bulb has burned out in a lamp in the den.  Would you change it?”

I asked her, “You cannot reach it?”

“Yes, I can reach it.”

“Is it in too tight for you to get out?”

“No, I could get it out.”

“Why do you want me to change it?”

“You change all the light bulbs.  I have never changed a light bulb.”

“You mean that for forty-eight years I have changed every light bulb in our house?  I am the only one changing bulbs?”

“Yes, you are the only one.”

“Why is that?”

“Because when I was three years old I stuck my finger in a light bulb socket and got shocked.  I don’t change light bulbs.”

Each person in the marriage must be willing to adapt or compensate.

Physical intimacy is not just sex.  It is also touching, hugging, patting, and holding hands.  An old joke asks the question, What is the largest organ in the human body?  The answer is the skin, which allows us to experience everything around us.  Physical intimacy is simply a matter of being together.

The second kind of intimacy is emotional intimacy, loving with our heart.  In a good marriage, nothing is unspeakable.   A couple should be able to talk about everything.  A couple should be able to share every feeling.  Paul says that we are to speak the truth in love, not in anger, not in hate, not in an attempt to hurt another person.

A part of each one of us wants to fix problems.  If someone has a broken heart, we want to fix it.   Emotional intimacy does not necessarily mean fixing everything.  The deep grief that couples go through cannot be fixed quickly.  Those emotions flow like a river.  Husbands and wives grieve in different ways.  I do not want to present a stereotypical view, but men generally bury themselves in their work during periods of grief.

Clare and I grieved deeply after the death of our son Erik.  Clare said she gave up mascara and learned to cry in the shower because it was less messy.

One day she said to me, “I just don’t think you loved him like I do.”

I said, “Clare, why would you say such a thing?”

“I don’t see you grieving.”

“Honey, I grieve by myself.”

She answered, “It’s not fair to leave me out of your grief.”

She was right.  We do have this emotional intimacy, and I need to include her in my grief.

A kind of silent companionship exists in a marriage that has endured a lot.  The couple can just be close together, just touch each other and not fill the air with words.  Silence is enough.

A third kind of intimacy in marriage is intellectual intimacy.  Each person is different.  Couples are not required to agree on everything or vote for the same candidates.  Each person needs the freedom to disagree.  Children, however, need to see a united front between parents.

Consider Matthew 19 when Jesus, in talking with the Pharisees about divorce, says, “What does the law say about divorce?”

They answered, “Moses allowed divorce.”

Jesus explained, “Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of your heart.”

One physician said to me, “That is the worst kind of sclerosis.”

One version of Matthew 19:8 translates Jesus’ explanation as, “Moses allowed divorce because you refuse to learn.”  The relationship is in trouble when one partner decides that he or she has nothing else to discover in marriage.  Marriage is a constant process of learning.  You know the slogan “The mind is a terrible thing to waste.”  A mind is wasted when a person refuses to learn, and a marriage is weakened.

My mother used to say, “Two heads are better than one, even if one of them is a knucklehead.”

The truth is that in marriage the husband and wife need to be intellectual equals.  They need to regard each as intellectual equals.  That is not to say that they have the same expertise in all areas.  It is to say that they can learn from each other.  In a good marriage, both are teachers and both are students.  Marriage is a lifetime of learning together.

The fourth area of intimacy is spiritual intimacy.  When we repeat the marriage vows, we agree to begin a pilgrimage together under the sovereignty of Christ.  A plaque on the wall in our home reads, “Christ is the head of this house.  He is the unseen guest at every meal.  He is the silent listener to every conversation.”  If Christ is the head of our house, we certainly want to consult him when we make big decisions.  You understand that Christ presides over the course of the marriage.

This long, long spiritual journey may go through dry and weary lands, through desert stretches.  Both husband and wife must be prepared to nourish each other.  Sometimes one person carries a canteen that holds enough nourishment for both.  If both people are parched and dry, both will die.  A couple should be in the process of refilling their spiritual canteens all along the journey in order to have enough water to get through those desert times.

How does this spiritual intimacy happen?  First, a couple must read the Bible together.  I do not mean reading the Bible as a daily devotion and then dismissing it.  I mean talking together about the Scripture.  Praying together is also essential.  Clare was a Methodist when I met her.  I must tell you that she is still a Methodist.  That heritage is so important for her.  Her mother taught her to read the Bible and to pray, though not in public.  Nothing touches my heart more than to hear my wife pray for our children and now our grandchildren, except hearing her pray for me.  When I hear Clare call my name in prayer, I know we have a special bond of intimacy that is possible only because we pray together.

Spiritual intimacy is higher math.  Jesus performed a miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  I like to believe that Jesus performs a miracle with every marriage.  He takes two people and makes them one, a process that takes a lifetime of work.

Physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, and spiritual intimacy define the biblical view of marriage.

How would you describe your marriage?  I do not want to put you on the spot publically, but I do want you to examine your relationship with your marriage partner.  What can you do to make your marriage more like what God intends?

Only Christ Jesus can help you accomplish that goal.  The starting place is acknowledging Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  If you have never accepted Christ as your Savior, respond to the invitations of God.

Kirk H. Neely
© September 2013

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