For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”(Ephesians 5:31).
That statement comes in the middle of some teaching that the Apostle Paul was giving the Ephesian Christians on the whole subject of marriage and family. You’ll notice, however, that the quotation that he gave is incomplete because it starts out by saying, “For this reason…”
Now if you’re thinking when you read the Bible – and you should always do that – you’d be immediately asking yourself the question: for what reason? And that would take you back to Gen. 2, where we have this foundational statement: “From the beginning of creation God created male and female; for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.” It’s interesting to notice that Jesus quoted that same Genesis passage and added to it “whom God therefore has joined together, let not man put asunder.”
So, take those three Scriptures – the one in Ephesians 5, the one in Genesis 2, the one in Mark 10 – and you’ve got a basic statement: “From the beginning of creation, God created male and female, for the reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. Whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
Now why am I taking the trouble to reiterate that statement? The answer is that the institutions of marriage and family are coming under very powerful attack at the present time. There are very erudite, highly motivated forces that are extremely powerful who are setting out to redefine marriage and to restructure the family. If you’ve been following recent events in American culture, you will be well aware that there are some states which have taken steps to bring in legislation that, frankly, redefines marriage.
Other states are recognizing this and are concerned about it, for there are laws in the land that suggest that what is accepted in one state should automatically be accepted in another; so a number of state legislatures have been trying to adopt legislation which would counter this attempt to redefine marriage.
In fact, the Congress took the extraordinary step of bringing into law the Defense of Marriage Act, which includes a very basic, unmistakable attempt to define what marriage is and what by definition it isn’t. This is what it says: The word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman, as husband and wife. The word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex, who is a husband or a wife.
Now there are those who would say, “That is the position that historically, traditionally and biblically has been held in Western Civilization.” There are others who are saying, “It’s time that we redefine marriage and the family.” So the lines of demarcation are clearly drawn, and it is incumbent upon each one of us to arrive at some very, very specific convictions and conclusions as to what we personally believe in this matter.
Because of this situation that we confront in our culture, I want to spend a few weeks with you looking into the Scriptures to find out what the biblical, historical and traditional view of marriage and family is.
G. K. Chesterton said, “Never remove a fence until you understand why it was erected in the first place.” I want to spend some time helping you remember why the fences were erected in the first place. From this passage of Scripture we can draw out four simple propositions.
The first thing I want you to notice is this:
Marriage is a God idea!
Now you may have thought that that was a typographical mistake. I did not intend to say that marriage is a good idea, though it is! I want to go further than that, and I want to say, marriage is a God idea. This is a point of basic contention. The contemporary view that is abroad in our culture, and is leading to the demands to change the definition has been around for some time in academia, but has recently been embraced by the man on the street.
I remember approximately twenty years ago, when our daughter Judy was doing her doctoral studies at New York University in sociology and psychology, that I was enjoying reading some of her textbooks. In one of the textbooks, I was shocked to read what academia really believed about the institutions of marriage and family. In a nutshell, this is basically what they were saying: Over the course of the millions of years of human experience, human beings have looked at the whole business of living together, and over the course of time, have developed different theories as the best way to do it. Over the course of time, they eventually arrived at marriage as an idea. For a considerable amount of time it worked very well. However, if you look at contemporary society, they said, it is perfectly obvious that marriage is no longer working.
Look at the incidence of divorce! Look at the number of people who are going through multiple marriages. It was a good idea, it worked very well for a long time, but clearly, it’s now “broke.” Now if something is “broke,” you fix it! They said: Because human experience evolves from one stage to a higher and better stage, we have to recognize not only that marriage is a human idea, but it is in the process of evolutionary change, and we must embrace the changes which are coming because they will enrich our experience.
That was what academia was teaching twenty years ago. It was simply regarded as an established fact. Well, we’re no longer simply dealing with academics in ivory towers. Now we’re dealing with ordinary people who are saying, “My parents had such a bad experience in marriage, no way am I going to go into that!” So they “shack up!” They simply live together without the benefit of marriage; eventually they may get married, but if they’ve lived together before they get married, the chances of their marriage surviving are much slimmer than if they did not do it that way. So the situation is this: that the general consensus of so many people is “marriage is broke, so let’s fix it and move on to different lifestyles.” Compelling arguments are being made for that approach.
In contrast to that approach is what we would call the biblical view – and accordingly the traditional and historical view – and it is this: Marriage is not a human idea, it is a divine idea. Marriage is not something that is subject to evolutionary change; marriage is a creation that is as fundamental to the well-being of society, as the law of gravity and the law of thermodynamics is fundamental to the physical universe of which we are a part. This is true for one very good reason: God, from the beginning of creation, created male and female. The biblical view is that this is something that God ordained; that it is a fundamental principle for human society.
The biblical view is that like a physical law, if you embrace it, it does you good; if you abuse it, it will allow you to be harmed. So by the same token, the sociological laws that are ordained by God from the beginning of creation – these laws of marriage and family – are for our good, and if we abuse them, and we will be harmed by the abuse.
What’s your position? Do you embrace the biblical, historical and traditional view of marriage and family? Or do you subscribe to the contemporary view that it was only a human idea, it worked very well for a long time, but it doesn’t work for me so we’ll try something else? We will redefine the whole thing because we are going through an evolutionary process. You’ve got to find where you stand on this issue!
As far as the Scriptures are concerned, there’s an unequivocal statement: Marriage is a God idea. From the beginning of creation God created male and female.
The second proposition is this:
Sexuality (or gender) is divinely ordained.
Remember our text again, “From the beginning of creation God created male and female.” It’s very important that we notice this because it was all part of God’s plan. When we look at the language of Genesis that explains to us in this pictorial and dramatic language how God created things, we read that toward the end of His creative activity, in the initiation of our universe as we know it, He created something called “a man.” It was a male man.
Now this male man and God got along very well together. They had a good time. We are not told for how long, but it apparently worked very well. One day man happened to notice something, he had been put in paradise, but you will notice, he was put to work as well. Most people think paradise is a tropical island, sipping a cool drink under a swaying palm. No, paradise is being put to work in harmony with God. Now as he is going about his work, the man is given a very interesting job. He is given the job of noticing all the different animals and giving them names. While he was noticing the animals, he noticed some of the things that the animals were getting up to, and he’s introduced to gender. Then he looks at himself, and he says, “I think there’s something missing here.” So he has a word with God, and complains mildly about it, and God agrees with him and says, “It’s not good the situation you are in.”And so God made a woman, and everything changed immediately!
Let me explain what I mean by that. When God created woman, we are told quite specifically that she was unlike the man, who was created from the dust of the ground. That’s easy to understand – our bodies are made up of normal minerals that you will find lying around the place – but God did not make woman from this dust of the ground; He took her from the side of man.
Old Matthew Henry says, “He didn’t take her from his head, so she would dominate him; and He didn’t take her from his feet, so that he would trample all over her; He took her from his heart, that they might be one.” She was made of exactly the same substance that he was – there was a unity of being – but it became abundantly clear immediately that there was differentiation as well. She was described as somebody who was parallel to, equal with, complementary to him. In other words, you take a male man, and a female man – using man in the generic sense – you put them together, and you’ve got a whole that will in some way reflect the image of God. That’s what it says.
One of the key things that we have to do is recognize that there is a oneness of maleness and femaleness, and there is a differentiation. As the French would say: We must learn to proclaim “viva la difference,” enjoy the difference, embrace the differentiation and recognize how the male and the female compliment and complete each other. This is the high view of marriage that Scripture teaches.
Now you see why we’ve got to be very careful before we take down the fence, particularly if we don’t understand why it was erected in the first place. I’ll grant you that there are problems with maleness and femaleness. If we do not embrace the differentiation, and we do not take the trouble to understand why He made us differently, instead of there being complement, there will be competition. There will be conflict instead of conjugal joy.
Deborah Tannen is a linguist. She wrote a book on the difficulties which we have in communicating through conversation. She complained, as she went on the talk shows, that while she had written twelve chapters in her book, they only wanted to talk about one of them, and that was the difficulties men and women have in communicating in conversation. So she went back and did more study on this particular subject of male and female communication, and wrote a second book. The titles of her two books are That’s Not What I Meant! and You Really Don’t Understand. I’m just sorry I did not write the books!
This is the sort of thing which she explains in her book: A husband says, on one occasion, “I’ve got a headache.” The wife immediately says, “Ah, honey, I had the most awful migraine yesterday. It was just dreadful. My head was just thumping; I couldn’t bear any light, I had to draw the drapes, I lay on my bed for six hours. I was sick to my stomach, I was totally nauseated. I tried to stand up to go to the bathroom, the room was just spinning, it was awful, and the whole of my body felt as if a Mack truck had run back and forwards over it.”
While she is going through this litany of woes, she notices that he is becoming very agitated and very irritated. Now she gets very upset because his response to her is agitation and irritation.
What’s going on here? They’re going to have a fight about a headache! The problem is very simply this: He’s a man and she’s a woman. That’s all! Because he’s a man, he’s a competitor. Life is a series of challenges that demand that you compete.
He says, “I’ve got a headache!” So what does she say? “I’ve got a migraine.”Now, he thinks to himself, “Oh, all that I’ve got is an ordinary, common, garden-variety headache, but she has a migraine!” Not only does she have a migraine, she’s got to go on and on and on about this migraine. “Oh yeah, that’s a typical woman; they’ve always got to be competing!”
Now she is looking at this irritable brute who does not understand that she is empathetic and she’s trying to say, “I understand perfectly what you’re going through. I went through this yesterday!” But until he understands that she isn’t competing, she’s empathizing; until she understands that he is competing and doesn’t understand empathy, there will be clashes! We can laugh about it, but it’s one little example of the differentiation between male and female.
Deborah Tannen goes on to observe: The wife says, “I’ve got a splitting headache.” Husband says, “Take a couple aspirins.” She gets very upset; who does he think he is! Does he think that I am so stupid that I don’t know that if I have a headache, I should take a couple of aspirins? He has no sensitivity at all. All she is looking for is what a little T.L.C. That never occurs to him – T.L.C., what’s that? Life is a series of problems to be fixed! We have a problem here: the little lady has a headache, fix it, two aspirins, next! Do you get my drift? It’s called differentiation of gender! We’re supposed to recognize that there is a completeness in the melding of the two, rather than agreeing to conflict and battle of the sexes, because you see, “from the beginning of creation God created male and female” and He knew what He was doing!
Proposition, number three:
The marital union requires leaving and cleaving.
Your text doesn’t use the word “cleaving.” It says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother, and be united to his wife, and the two will becomes one flesh.” But I like to use the word cleaving because it comes from the Old English of the King James Version of the Bible, and I use that when it suits my purposes. Here it suits my purposes, because “leaving and cleaving”has a nice ring to it. There’s only one problem with the old English word “cleaving,” and that is it can mean two things which are mutually exclusive. Cleaving can mean sticking together, or it can mean what happens when you pick up an ax or a cleaver and you split things apart! The old word “cleave” however, doesn’t mean splitting apart, it means holding together!
Now notice this proposition: That the marital union requires leaving and cleaving. “For this cause, because God created male and female, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.” What that is saying is that when a couple determines that they wish to be married, according to the principle that God ordained for the well-being of human society, when they decide that that’s the way they want to go, they’ve got to understand two things. Number One: It means that they will voluntarily walk away from the benefits and privileges of the single life. Number Tw they will unite themselves and commit themselves unreservedly to the primacy of the new relationship. If these things are not done, once the pressures come, once the difficulties come in marriages, the immediate reaction is to bail out or redefine, or restructure, or do it another way.
What does it mean to leave the old life? It means to learn something that is one of the most difficult lessons for a human being to learn. Do you know what it’s called? It’s called, unselfishness! Selfishness is the death knell of any relationship, particularly marriage!
Now there are very definitely some advantages to being single. I remember being single. I thoroughly enjoyed being single. I had a whale of a time being single. Nobody held a gun to my head. Jill’s father did not come to me and say, “I’m a car dealer; I’ll give you a car, if you’ll take my daughter off my hands.” He did not say that!
I came across Jill and I had the funniest feeling inside me that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her; and I didn’t want anybody else to get the chance to do it. I was going to get ahead of them, and I was going to win this woman to me. Nobody forced me, nobody twisted my arm, nobody held a gun to my head. It was purely voluntary, and so committed was I to this new idea, that I was prepared to abandon the wonderful feelings of being totally free to do what I wanted as a single person, and I was going to commit myself to this new union! And I’ve been spending the rest of my life learning what I go into…without regrets!
You know what the problem is? The problem is very often some people want their cake, and they want to eat it. They want the benefits of the marital union, and they want the free selfishness of the single life; or they want to have a re-negotiable contract, rather like a professional athlete who signs a contract knowing full well that if he can’t get a different contract, while he’s still in the course of the one he’s got, he’ll refuse to train and he will blackmail the team. No, they’re to leave and cleave.
I had a remarkable experience of this with a couple I was ministering to in Premarital Counseling years and years ago. It was obvious they’d had a fight on the way to see me, so I began to talk to them about this. The gal was crying, and he wasn’t even talking to me, and the atmosphere was not conducive to marital counseling.
So I said, “Let’s talk about this fight you had. She said, “You won’t believe what he just told me!” I said, “What did he just tell you?” She said, “He just told me, that ever since he was a little boy, he’s always gone deer hunting, he’s never missed a year of deer hunting. And he’s just told me, that our wedding day is on the opening day of deer hunting. And he wants us to go for our honeymoon, deer hunting!” Well, I understood that, he’s from Wisconsin!
So then he enters the conversation, rather reluctantly. He says, “I go to the Symphony with you, don’t I?” And I realized we had a problem here! I said, “Well, marriage is all about ‘give and take’ and you will have to ‘give and take’ a little bit here.” I said to her, “Look, he loves shooting things, and you love music. So go with him while he shoots things, and take your boombox and play Mozart in the woods.” And he said, “It will frighten the deer away!” I said, “Well, that’s not all bad!” He said, “No, that wouldn’t work!”
I said, “Okay, I won’t give up that easily.” I said to him, “You like shooting things, and she likes music. Get two tickets in the balcony, take your gun, and see if you can bag a cellist.” She didn’t approve of that either.
So they obviously had a problem here, but then a wonderful thing happened. I saw a ghost of a smile and then a little chuckle, and then they actually started to laugh at their own incredible childishness and selfishness. I said to them, “Why in the world, do you two want to get married? You are so incredibly selfish. It won’t work! You’ve got to leave and say that this new union is what we are now about.”
And you go to cleave. The word for cleave that is used in the New Testament comes from the word for “glue.” I often tell a young couple when they’re going to get married, “Listen, what this means to you, young man, is this: If you choose to go through with this wedding, you are going to stick with her through hell or high water!” Now we don’t say that in the service – we do say, for “richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health” – but that’s what it means. You have got to stick with her!
Then I say to this sweet little gal, who is going to leave her mama and everything that she’s understood, and she’s going to be married to this great big character, and I say, “Honey, you are now stuck with him! And if you are not ready for that, don’t do it!” Because you see, you don’t mess with marriage. It’s not a human idea that you experiment with; it’s a divine idea that you don’t mess with! From the beginning of creation, God created male and female. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
God is busy at a wedding and active throughout the marriage!
People will tell me, “We’ve decided to tie the knot!” No, you haven’t! You’ve decided to yield to God joining two people together, and there’s all the difference in the world between two people deciding to tie the knot, and two people yielding to allow God to make two people one!
Wedding arithmetic is very odd: one plus one, equals ONE. Take hydrogen and oxygen, two colorless, odorless gases, mix them, put an electrical charge through them, you’ll make a liquid – cold water! If you understand the principle of electrolysis, and don’t blow the roof off your house, you can actually get the water broken down into two colorless, odorless gasses.
You know what marriage is: Jill Ryder and Stuart Briscoe, two young single people being joined together by God 46 years ago, and spending 46 years discovering a deeper and a richer relationship of mutual comfort, of mutual support, of mutual encouragement, of mutual understanding! And I want to tell you something, you young people – my heart bleeds for people who bail out too soon! “Because you don’t know the blessings of mature love, and that’s what God intended because marriage is a God idea!”
“Lord, bless these married people here, elevate their understanding of marriage. Bless those who are struggling in their marriages. Give them your Spirit that they might be what they have been called to be. Bring blessing to those who have failed in marriage. Bring them, where necessary, to deep repentance. Bring them, where necessary, to healing and to strength again. Bless those who are contemplating marriage. Don’t let them become another statistic. Speak, Lord, to those people who are so eager to tear down the fence without having understood why it was erected in the first place. We believe with all our hearts that society can be strong and healthy only where the marriage bond is held in honor. Bless our land, we pray! And now may the grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all! Amen!” ?