Christian Marriage Sermon Notes
#2 Appearances Can Be Deceiving: Marriage as Mystery
Genesis 2:24 & Ephesians 5:31-32
Pastor Jeffrey J. Meyers
I left off last week encouraging you to mediate on the panoramic perspective set our for us in the creation narrative. This breathtaking vision ought to be the orienting context for understanding the mystery of marriage—marriage as it was meant to be. I made three points from Genesis 1:26-28:
First, we have a wonderful task to do as lords and ladies of creation, a task that makes us the chief servants (= rulers) over all of creation. We perform this service imaging God’s activity in creation. You and I image God when we speak and plan, take hold of creation, separate and fashion new things out of it, and then use those new things to glorify God in the service of others. Thus, the image of God is not something “in” you. This is why the New Testament speaks of the image of God being renewed. All men and women do these things and inescapably image God. But Christians are remade into a “new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Col. 3:10; see also Eph. 4:24). When the image is renewed it means that we now do these things according to God’s standards, giving thanks and praise to him all along the way. The image of God, therefore, ought not to be equated with knowledge or even righteousness, but it is renewed in these. Everybody images God, but not everyone does so according to right knowledge, and according to God’s standards.
Second, this cosmic program for humanity can only be accomplished by humanity as a whole, specifically humanity in both its fundamental modes of existence as male and female. Like God’s own work, humanity’s work of imaging God entails different, complementary tasks for men and women who nevertheless work together as partners. We have not yet defined these differences, but we will in due time.
Third, just as God is a community of love that opens out to include another, to find blessedness in creating and gifting another with life like his own, so too husband and wife are to image God as a community like God’s own that is not locked up, but opened out, pro-creating their own “images”—children. The work assigned to humanity cannot be accomplished apart from the multiplication and cooperation of societies of families.
This morning I am still laying foundation stones. We are not yet ready to pick up hammers, nails, saws, and boards and start building a structure. Before we get into the details of marital life, I am asking you once again to meditate, to imagine, to catch a vision of marriage’s place in God’s cosmic purposes.
I want you to hear two passages this morning. There are a great many lessons to be learned from the details of this passages, but we will save the details for later. Listen to the Word of God, first from Genesis 2:18-25:
And Yahweh God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Out of the ground the Yahweh 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. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. And the Yahweh God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his sides [not a “rib”-JM], and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the side which the Yahweh God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam 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 shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed (Gen. 2:18-25).
Next, turn to Ephesians 5:22-33. Again, this is a well-known passage with a great many important details. I want you to hear especially the last few verses.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband (Eph. 5:22-33).
Appearances can be deceiving, especially in marriage. Years ago, before I was a minister, while we were members of another church in another state—I need to make all of that clear so that you won’t make any erroneous connections—I went one Saturday morning to help a couple move. You know, a number of men from the church, following the lead of the deacons, showed up to help a family pack up and move out of their home. I will never forget that day. The couple had supposedly prepared beforehand to move on that day. The big U-Haul truck was in the driveway, and some men were milling around the garage preparing to load it.
I walked in the house, looked around, and immediately knew something was not right. Nothing seemed to be packed. And there was this smell. When a few men picked up the sofas and chairs from the living room, I cannot even begin to describe the filth underneath them—Food, dirt, cat urine, dog feces. It was amazing. I helped take down and out the master bedroom. What was under the box spring was unspeakable. They had used the underneath of their bed as an ashtray, and again, there was trash, food, urine and animal droppings. The place hadn’t been cleaned in years. When we went to move the refrigerator, they had not emptied it of any of the contents. I won’t describe the contents. What is worse, when some of the guys started to empty it, the man said—I kid you not—“Oh, don’t bother; just put it in the truck.” Someone said, “But it will all break and spill.” He said just strap it up and put it on. “Okay,” they said. So they strapped the fridge on the dolly, tipped it, and moved it out onto the truck, leaving a trail of liquid from the kitchen to the truck.
Well, I knew that this couple was a little odd, but I didn’t know them that well. Their house was in a nice neighbor hood. The man had a respectable job. The family was not poor. It was really a shock. But then, you see, appearances are often deceiving, especially in marriage.
You may walk into church every Sunday maintaining a very presentable front that effectively hides not only what has happened on the way to church, but the ugly reality of daily marital strife. Many couples have marriages that are just barely existing. Worse than that, one or both of the spouses are positively bored, lonely, empty, angry, afraid, frustrated, exhausted, or just confused. Sometimes nice smiles at church conceal an underlying contempt, even hatred for each other. Like that filthy house, the outside appearances hide the shameful reality.
Marriages are under assault, but there are defenses. And even more than defenses. We don’t need merely to defend against the onslaught of competing loyalties and priorities in modern culture, the seduction of sexual freedom, or the idolatry of individual rights. Marriages can grow. Marriages can be fulfilling and enriching. They can be fun. Couples can enjoy one another and grow together. And, yes, spouses can be faithful. Even more they can find fulfillment in being faithful to one another. Husbands can change. Husbands can learn to love and ask for forgiveness. Wives can change. Wives can learn to respect and submit to their husbands. God can change us! Unity and romance can be restored and enjoyed in marriage. We need to remember the promise of 1 Cor. 10:13:
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
Marriage as a Mystery
But there’s another sense in which appearances can be deceptive in marriage. “Deceptive” may not be the best word. What I am want to say is that marriage itself is much more than we are used to thinking. A deeper, richer reality lurks just beneath the surface appearance of this seemingly simple social institution. A major part of the problem in contemporary marriages, even with Christian couples, is that we have no appreciation, no clue sometimes even, for how deep, how profoundly rich the marital relationship is designed to be. It is so much more than a convenient social arrangement. In fact, humans didn’t create marriage at all. The Creator did. And he didn’t create it merely for social, utilitarian purposes.
The fact that God in the creation narrative spends so much space—such prominent space, too—to describe the circumstances leading up to the union of the first husband and wife, means that marriage itself has an enormously significant place in the life and history of the human race. Some have called it the glue that holds together human culture in all its richness and complexity. And don’t be too quick to turn me with off with a contemptuous sniff all this stuff about “history” and the “human race.” Such an attitude may be part your problem. You haven’t learned to put your petty problems into perspective, into God’s cosmic perspective.
There is something about this bond, this union, this relationship, this covenant between a man and a woman—something that is inexpressible, even mystical, like the bond between the Persons of the Godhead. And also like the bond between God and his people. . .
Martin Luther once said, “There is no estate to which Satan is more opposed as to marriage” If Luther is correct, and I believe that he is, why would Satan be so concerned to subvert and soil the estate of marriage? What’s the big deal about marriage? The answer is found in Ephesians 5:29-32:
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31-32).
The estate of marriage, according to the Apostle Paul, is a profound mystery. So why should Satan care if marriage is a great mystery? Well, that depends upon what Paul means by “mystery”? When we hear the word “mystery” we think of tabloid papers and late night T.V. shows like “Unsolved Mysteries” or the “X-files.” A mystery is a enigma which man is unable to logically penetrate. A mystery can be unnerving or spooky.
But as spooky and unnerving as marriage can be, that’s not at all what Paul means when he uses the word “mystery.” By mystery Paul means that the estate of marriage from the time of creation was invested with hidden meaning that was only finally made known in the Son of God’s relationship to his church. (You can see that this is Paul’s understanding by looking at how he uses “mystery” in Eph. 1:9; 3:3, 4, 6, 9; 6:19.) Marriage discloses something about God’s relation with man. Marriage is revelatory.
St. Paul clearly teachings in Eph. 5:22-332 that God has ordained, from Adam and Eve, that the marriage bond between the husband and his bride symbolize the Divine/human union between the Son of God and his human bride, the Church. This is one of the chief reasons why Satan as the enemy of God and his people works so strenuously to sabotage and subvert the institution of marriage. To undermine and destroy the Christian institution of marriage and a large number of particular marriages would be to deface the mystery of Christ and his church in any culture. By means of the way you live together, men and women, as husbands and wives, specifically how you relate to one another as husband and wife, by this means the mystical union and relationship between Christ and his bride, the Church, will be proclaimed (made manifest) to the lost and needy people with whom you come in contact.
The Greek Orthodox churches ritualize these truths by crowning the bride and groom during the wedding ceremony. While various Scriptures are being read, crowns are held over the heads of the two, symbolizing the fact that Christian marriage restores God’s purposes for man and woman constituting them as kings and queens under God. The redeemed couple then becomes the “icon” of God the Son’s love for his human bride.
Marriage, therefore, does a kind of double duty. On the one hand it looks back to creation uniting a man and a woman so that they can live happily, prosperously, and productively on earth. It is one of the means of fulfilling God’s cosmic mandate to mankind. On the other hand, this earthly, marriage covenant was intended from the start to be an earthly reflection of, an earthly image of God’s own love relationship with his people. (For more Scriptures that speak of the feminine face of the people of God and God as the divine lover, see the following passages. Note that some of these speak of the harlotry and whoredom of Israel’s affairs with other gods: Exod. 34:13-15 [cf. Num. 5:11-31; Lev. 17:7; Deut. 31:16, 21; Ps. 78:58; James 4:4] Psalm 45; Isa. 1:21; 57:3; Micah 1:7; Jer. 2-3; Hos. 1:1-9; 2:2-13; Ezekiel 16 & 23; Matt. 9:14-15; 22:1-2; 25:1; John. 3:28-30; 1 Cor. 6:15-17; 2 Cor. 11:1-3; Eph. 5:31-32; Rev. 14:4; Rev. 19:6-9; Rev. 21:1-3, 9-10).
No Mere Social Contract
The mystery of marriage is that it is not merely a social or cultural arrangement which humanity has created. It is not an institution that developed as part of the evolutionary progress of the human race, one that may perhaps be replaced or set aside as human culture advances. Neither is it natural in the sense that some kind of expedient social arrangement had to be conceived in order to insure the propagation of the race. Rather than adopt these developmental, anthropological and cultural speculations about the origin of marriage, Christians must see marriage as a God-ordained, covenantal relationship. And even more, God’s creation of the husband-wife relationship has a glorious purpose that transcends these merely pragmatic, cultural ends. Overshadowing all else—especially every pragmatic, utilitarian, purely functional conception of marriage—the covenanted, marital union between a man and a woman has been designed to image, to mirror the divine-human relationship between Christ and his bride, the church.
God is the supreme lover. Humanity has been created as his bride. Thus in some significant sense, all of humanity relates to God in a feminine way. As we progress in the Bible, we begin to understand this better. The Father intends to gift his Son with a bride, humanity. Humanity is created to enter into intimate (marital union) with the divine Son and thus be brought into intimate communion with the Divine Family (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The Holy Spirit is the divine matchmaker, who comes alongside of humanity as one who will glorify humanity and maker her ready for union with the Son. Here then you have the philosophy, or better, the story of human history. The Bible tells of a love story, the love story between God and his people. It is intended to frame our existence. Each one of us. Married or not. We have a divine lover. The Son of God.
But, of course, as the Scriptures relate the progress of this divine-human relationship, it’s not a pretty picture. It is not an idyllic marriage. The bride has been unfaithful. Beginning with Adam and Eve, God’s people have had affairs with other gods. We have abandoned our first love. We have went loved whoredom and spiritual adultery, as Tommy reminded us from Lamentations last week. The divine human marriage begins with fresh romance, but quickly devolves into a divorce, but then through the consistent, faithful, never-ending love of the Divine lover, ends with a wedding. So that the Scriptural story uncovers for us the heart of our divine Lover even as it exposes our own insane abandonment of him for other created lovers. I will have even more to say about this, as we progress through the Scriptures.
This is the mystery of marriage. This is what it reveals. This is why it must at all costs be subverted, effaced, and defamed by Satan. It is simply too close to, too revelatory of the good news, the Gospel of God’s love for us through his Son. What discerning Christian can doubt that Satan has largely succeeded in soiling the clarity of the mystery of Christ’s authority over and love for his bride, the church, and that he has done so indirectly through his attack on the institution of marriage in our culture. This is why guarding the institution of marriage and teaching the proper role relationship between husband and wife must always be a major concern for the Church of Jesus Christ. Appearances are often deceiving, especially in marriage. What looks like simply a social, utilitarian social relationship actually manifests something much more profound.
This is how the Bible works on us, or how it ought to work on us. There is no book in the Bible called “The How-to Marriage Manual.” I can’t stand up ask you all to turn to a chapter in the Bible that lays out a list of how-to’s for marriage. Some people think that this is a flaw. It’s not. Manuals can be helpful, but they cannot give you the motivation, the global vision, the sheer wonder and astonishment at the monumental cosmic significance of each and every marriage on earth. I submit that one of the reasons why marriages today are in such danger is that it is precisely this vision, this overarching narrative story of God the lover’s pursuit of daughter humanity that has been eclipsed.