Christian Marriage Sermon Notes

#1  Marriage & the Image of God

Genesis 1:26-28

 

Pastor Jeffrey J. Meyers[1]

 

Back in the 20th century when I was a teenager. . . in 1973 when I took Driver’s Education classes at Lindbergh High School, in order to get a passing grade we were all required to watch Highway Patrol films that featured, for our viewing pleasure, in full living color, the gory results of all kinds of car accidents.  Do you any of you remember those movies?  I wonder it they do that anymore?  I thought of those films because Lauren begins her Drivers Ed classes at Lindbergh this coming week. 

Viewing these films was supposed to deter you from driving DUI, speeding, and breaking other highway safety rules.  They were supposed to scare you into obeying the law. I remember it working. . . for a time.  But they were not sufficient. Motivation by fear and gross out is never adequate.  One needs something more—some positive vision: the benefits of safe driving, for example.  I doubt this kind of thing would work very well in Driver’s Ed classes.  Imagine trying to motivate teenagers with a film of a happy, well adjusted motorist obeying the all the rules.  The same kind of “scare tactics” have been used in an attempt to motivate kids to say “no” to drugs, remember.  This is what will happen to you if you do drugs.  This is your brain on drugs.  You’ve seen the ads.  It’s largely true of course, but as experts are beginning to recognize, it doesn’t really work.

Now with marriage, the same kind of procedure could be followed.  I could begin a series on marriage by frightening you with the horrible results that follow upon fractured marriages.  Marriages that fail are still quite messy, often horrible, but one problem with this is that the consequences are not as appalling as they used to be.  The social pressure that would exile and mark, for example, men who cheated on their wives and divorced them for dishonorable reasons has all but disappeared.  You can do almost anything you want to your wife and face no community chastisement whatsoever, even in the church!  If you have no conscience, modern American society is not likely to help you form one.  Our legal system used to be a restraining force in marriages, holding troubled marriages together for long periods of time simply because of the fear of the law and the social stigma of divorce.  Sadly, this is not longer the case.

That means that believers will not have the benefit of these social barriers to restrain them. True, we still have the threat of God’s judgment at the last day.  Nevertheless, if we are to maintain faithful, Godly marriages, we will have to develop a more proper foundation, a positive vision for marriage in God’s overall plan of creation and redemption.  So before we start trying to tinker with the details of our marriages, we must get the big picture.  And especially before we begin to analyze everything that goes wrong in marriages after the fall of humanity in Genesis 3, it is absolutely imperative that we understand the original model and intention of God for marriage.  For that we must turn to Genesis one and two. This morning I will not ask you to do anything.  I will lay no other burden upon you than to catch this cosmic vision laid out for us in Genesis 1.  Let it sink in.  Allow it to work its way into your consciousness and do its work.

 

The Image of God and Humanity’s Task on Earth

First and so foundational, from the immediate context we understand humanity’s “imaging” God as an active mirroring of God’s activity displayed for us in Genesis 1:1-25.  Mankind, under God and like God, is Ruler, chief servant over and therefore for all of creation.

 

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26).

 

The image of God is not something “in” man—his reason, soul, intellect, or whatever.  Rather, man himself is God’s image.  That is, man mirrors God in some way.  What else could this refer to than God’s own work in Genesis 1:1-26? Man (an inclusive term which encompasses humanity as male and female) images or reflects God by doing what God does in creating the world.  What did God do?  We can conveniently (but not exhaustively) analyze God’s creative activity under 5 summary headings.  In each case we will correlate God’s work with man’s active imaging.

1. God speaks the creation into existence (“let there be”).  God’s speaking is the implementation of his intelligent design for what was initially unformed, unfilled, and dark matter (Gen. 1:2); and so also analogously man stands over creation speaking his plans for it’s use.  Before we begin any project whatsoever we will either mentally or audibly verbalize our plans.  Just as the world began to be with words (even the Word, John. 1:1), so also what humanity accomplished will also always begin with words.  In order to keep this down to earth I will use the example of a mother’s cooking throughout.  Here, the mother made in the image of God, before she ever starts preparing her food, will form some idea in her mind (using words) about what she would like to cook. She may even verbalize this to her husband or children.

2. Next, God takes hold of the raw stuff of creation, divides it up, and recombines the material to fabricate something new.  What was beforehand merely raw material is now divided out as “light” and “dark” or land” and “sea”  God gives names to these new entities: “day” and “night,” for example.  And just so man also grasps, divides and recombines the creation into all sorts of new objects that he gives names to.  Casseroles, cookies, cars, cities, and computers.  After mom thinks and plans, she begins grabbing things from the cabinet and refrigerator.  She separates chicken, broccoli, cheese, bread crumbs, mayonnaise, butter, salt, pepper, etc. and recombines it all into something new.  All of these new ingredients are now combined to make what is called by her a “chicken & broccoli casserole.”  And if she made it in her own distinct way (which she always does), then this dish has never existed before.  It is something new.  Made by her and unique in that sense.

3. In doing his work, we may also note that God brings forth out of creation’s own potential that which is potentially there, but needs to be coaxed out and developed: “Let the earth bring forth” and “it was so.” (see Gen. 1:11, 24).  So man, too, draws out the latent potential in creation, carefully using various materials as they are fit and appropriate for various projects.  It is as if these distinct raw materials in creation are perfectly suited to function as frying pans, pencil leads, fabric for clothes, or computer chips.  Mother knows precisely how to use each separate ingredient, according to its unique properties, in making her casserole.  Even though these procedures may become “second nature” to her, nevertheless, she has learned how to take advantage of each of these created substances (meat, minerals, vegetables, even ceramic and heat) to produce this casserole.  The same is true of woodworkers, mathematicians, engineers, doctors, etc.  As God’s images we discern the best way to use God’s creation in order to display something of its rich, glorious variety in the service of God’s kingdom.

4.  God, then, having bountifully fabricated such variety out of the raw material of his original creation, now distributes that which he makes to other creatures, gifting them with the results of his work.  And so humanity also, works as a service to others.  All of man’s work is service to others.  Even in a fallen economy, those who serve best are rewarded.  The mothers casserole is served to her husband and family.  They evaluate it and (hopefully) bless her for her loving work. 

5. In fact, all of these acts of planning, speaking, fabricating, and distributing on the part of God is the way in which he functions as king and Lord of creation.  To be Lord means to be chief servant. There is no hint here in Genesis of an authorization to exploit, abuse, or selfishly violate the creation either in God’s example or in his mandate to humanity to be a servant-ruler over the earth.  This is what the Bible everywhere says: “to rule means to serve.”  Jesus rules over all because he became a servant to all (Phil. 2:5ff.).  We rule when we serve well, as Jesus explained to his disciples when the asked to have places of power at his right and left hand: “whosoever would be first among you, shall be servant of all” (Mark 10:44). This also humanity’s calling. We sometimes call it the “cultural mandate” because man is to cultivate the creation.   Humanity is given to rule over the whole earth, which in context again means that he will serve creation and one another by bringing out creation’s full potential so that it will serve to manifest the fullness of the glory of God latent within it. Humanity, is created to rule the earth by serving it as God has done.   This is God’s master plan for his creation. This is where how human history was meant to proceed: from glory to glory under humanity’s servant-ruling leadership!  Whatever else we think about marriage, the institution must be understood as one of the fundamental means to this glorious end (as will be evident in the next verse).

All of this, then, according to Genesis 1:1-26, is what it means to image God, to be made in the likeness of God—partly.  There’s more.

 

Male and Female He Created Them

II.  Now on to my second bedrock truth from this passage.  It is clear from our text that this extraordinary privilege and task of serving the creation was given to humanity as a whole, specifically as male and female.

 

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27).

 

First, pay careful attention to how this passage necessarily implies humanity as community.  The cosmic assignment that we have been describing is given to generic “man,” not merely men, males.  Furthermore, humanity is given this task not simply as a collection of individuals. . .and not even to humanity as a whole in some abstract sense (like “human nature”), but to humanity acting concert with one-another.  The task demands human society, human community/ies.  This much is clear from God’s astonishing words in vss. 26 and 27.  “Let us make man in our image. . . male and female he created them.”  Do not overlook the “us” and the “our” and the “them” in these statements. Sinclair Ferguson notes that the only way this reference can make any sense is to go back and look at the previous context and see that a plurality within the Godhead is already evident in Genesis one (The Holy Spirit, pp. 20-21).  This interpretation is an ancient one and with the renaissance of trinitarian theology in the 20th (and 21st!) century theology has been widely endorsed.  We have the “Spirit of God” mentioned in Gen. 1:2 (and 2:7).  And we have some kind of implied personal agency latent in the power given to the Word of God in Genesis 1. Later inspired commentary on Genesis one will make it clear that Father, Son (Word), and Spirit all combined as Lord to serve creation together. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. . .all things were created through him. . .” (John 1:1ff.).  The Bible as a whole witnesses to the unified activity Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in creation. 

What does this have to do with the image of God and the accomplishment of humanities cosmic project?  To put it economically, there was a division of labor in the work of creation.  And yet all three were united in their goal of creation.  In classical Trinitarian theology we say opera trinitas ad extra sunt indivisa (“the works of the Triune God outside of himself are indivisible, yet distinguishable”). The creation came into being by the Father, through the Son, and according to the imminent indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  The precise way in which the Bible describes this united work is not our concern here. What is important is to note that the Triune God acting together created the world.  Just so, God created humanity to image his work, to act as he did, in unison with one another, as a community, in their ruling over the earth. Let us make humanity in our image to be a created reflection of the community that we are and to accomplish precisely as community the completion of the work which we have begun. 

Now, what on earth does this have to do with man and woman and marriage.  Oh my, much in every way!  The first and in some sense the most fundamental form of human community, as specified in v. 27b is the male-female bond.  The image of God is specified as male and female. Thus, according to God’s design in creation, men cannot accomplish the cosmic project alone and neither can women accomplish God’s purposes without men.  They need each other to succeed. They need each other to fully manifest the image of God.  This basic, all important distinction between male and female is absolutely necessary for the accomplishment of God’s purposes for all of creation and for the full manifestation of the image of God in humanity.

Now, follow me as I unwrap the significance of our discussion of the Triune society’s work for the male/female differentiation. Put all of this together with me:  Just as The Father is not the Son, neither is he the Holy Spirit. The Father does what the Father does, according to his distinguishing, eternal, personal characteristics. The Son does what the Son does, according to his eternal personal distinctives as well. So also the Holy Spirit does not do with the Father does and does not simply replicate what the Son does, he has his own works to perform.  Moreover—and this is crucial—as our Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, perfectly in keeping with the universal church’s understanding of the biblical text: each of the three Persons of the eternal Godhead “are the same in substance,  equal in power and glory.”

So too men and women!  The same humanity, fully image bearers, equal in power and glory.  And yet man is not woman and woman is not man. You might say, “No duh!”  But in our egalitarian culture this needs to be said.  Men and women are physiologically different as well as psychologically distinctive in their masculinity and femininity.  They have different roles and tasks to do in their mutual service as Kings and Queens of creation, according to their distinguishing, created differences. This is God’s design from creation, and as we shall see, the fall of man and woman involves a serious distortion in the distinct roles that each should pursue.  But we will get to that in due time.

These, then, are the first two visionary truths from this passage: 1) We have a wonderful task to do as Lord’s and Ladies of creation made in the image of God, and 2) This entails, like God’s own work, different, complementary tasks for men and women.  So far so good?

 

One, Two, Three. .  Presto!  A Society of Families

III.  But, now, there’s even more.  And this is the third leg of this vision: Just as God’s love would not be contained, but ventured forth to create another outside of his inner eternal fellowship.  And just as the three Persons of the Godhead were not content to hoard their blessedness but opened their community outward and created another being, man, to share their life. . . so too in marriage, following God’s own lead, the man and woman are to be fruitful and increase in number.  They are to be fruitful and multiply.

 

Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

 

The man and woman are to look not only to their own interests but, like God in some sense, from their intimate unity they are bring forth others to love and serve—children. And, once again, the blessedness of God is that he does not hoard his love and good gifts, but he freely creates others outside of himself upon whom he can communicate his love and goodness.  So Adam and Eve are created as the children of God.  Right?  Do I have to cite passages to prove that humanity is called “sons and daughters of God”? 

Just as God is a community of love that opens out to include others, to find blessedness in creating and gifting others with life like his own, so too husband and wife are to image God as two Persons covenanted like God, which means that they will not lock up their love and blessedness, but opened outward, pro-creating their own “images”—children.  Of course, the analogy is not perfect—it is just an analogy, but it is a God-ordained analogy! Just as we shall see in Genesis 2, it is not good for man to be alone, so also it is not good for a husband and wife to be alone.  They need another to serve and love.[2] 

The grand project that God has given us to do as his images requires more than one family; it requires a society or people to work together as one.  Children eventually leave their father and mother, marry, and create new families.  All of these families must learn to work together if the earth is to be turned into a theater for the display of God’s glory by humanity, according to our original task.  The mother who plans a casserole, reaches out and takes hold of that salt shaker to season her dish. . . did she discover the mineral deposit that was used to make the salt?  Did she finance the process that produced the iodized salt in her shaker?  Did she design the artwork for the container in which she purchased the salt?  Did she create the linguistic signs, the alphabet that enables her to distinguish between SALT and CUMIN in her pantry?  Did she conceive of using salt to season food?  Do you get my point?  Everything we use in making everything we make we receive from someone else.  Other families, other men, other women, someone else’s children, maybe even someone centuries ago, worked in such a way to enable us to benefit from the use of that one tablespoon of salt in our chicken casserole. 

My intention in this sermon has been to do what is too often neglected—to situate marriage in its first and most fundamental context laid out for us in Scripture, namely, that of the image of God and humanity’s global project of servant rule over God’s creation. In doing so I have laid out for you the fundamental vision, the all-important context for understanding the mystery of marriage—marriage as it was meant to be, particularly the cosmic purpose for which marriage was instituted.  At least so far, according to Genesis one. We are not finished with creation. We have Genesis 2 to investigate.

You could do a lot worse for your marriage than meditating on this panoramic perspective set out in the creation narrative.  Properly grasped and even imperfectly understood it ought to take your breath away.  And more significantly, such a vision ought to alter not only the way you understand your own marriage, but the way you go about living as Christian husbands and wives, parents and children.

 

O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth,

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,

The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,

What is man that You are mindful of him,

And the son of man that You are mindful of him?

Answer: You have made just him a little lower than the angels,

And You have crowned him with glory and honor.

You have made him ruler over the works of Your hands;

You have put all things under his feet,

All sheep and oxen--Even the beasts of the field,

The birds of the air, And the fish of the sea That pass through the paths of the seas.

O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:3-9)



[1]Please don’t expect polished, nicely edited volumes of sermon notes.  I’m not going to spend valuable time looking for subtle spelling and grammar errors.  Don’t hold it against me if you find a number of small typos and mistakes. If the computer spelling/grammar check doesn’t pick it up, that’s tough.

[2] Children are God’s normal plan for marriages.  We have not yet discussed the fall and the curse of God upon humanity and human families.  Obviously, some marriages will be childless.  Some men and women will not be able to have children.  Some may not even be able to adopt.  Others will forgo children and some may even forgo marriage “because of the present distress,” as Paul puts it in 1 Cor. 7.  None of these circumstances necessarily implies that these marriages are any less godly and God-honoring.  We will discuss these matters in due time.  I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me, however, at this early stage of my teaching on marriage.  I am not advocating a Roman Catholic understanding of marriage such that procreation is the purpose for marriage.  Procreation is the normal fruit of marriage. Genesis 1:28 is a general truth about humanity as a whole and God’s intention for marriage in human society at large.