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Sacred Union

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Marriage is a glorious thing, but its hard.
It’s a burning joy and strength, and it’s also blood, sweat and tears.
It’s filled with humbling defeats and exhausting victories.
The only phrase that most of us really understand from Paul’s discussion of marriage in Ephesians 5:31-32 is this last little bit:
Ephesians 5:31–32 (ESV)
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound...
Sometimes, you fall into bed after a long, hard day of trying to understand each other — sometimes feeling like you’re the only one trying anything — and you can only sight and say, a successful marriage is a profound mystery.
At times your marriage may feel like an unsolved puzzle with pieces all broken apart and lying around. You might even feel like some of the key pieces are lost forever.
And yet, there is no relationship between human beings that is greater or more important than marriage.

Family Photos

Joelle and I met when she was a student at SOULS West in Arizona. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight, but over the course of two years we started to notice each other, and eventually I gathered up enough courage to ask her out.
A year later we were married.
Most marriages start out with grand expectations of what the bond of marriage will do for their relationship. But then reality hits and you realize that you are two imperfect people trying to figure each other out. Like everyone, we had a big learning curve as we started our life together.
We shared lots of experiences, but none more life-changing that having children.
And then Maxwell.
Children are a blessing and they do change the marriage relationship, but they aren’t a replacement or substitute for the oneness God designed to be just between a husband and wife.
Joelle and I have a lot of growing to do, but each year as we learn a little more about each other our love grows.
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Why talk about marriage?

This is my second message in a series on the Beginnings of humanity. God made Adam, and then the next thing He did was make marriage.
But there are some listening to this message who aren’t married —
children who aren’t old enough to even consider marriage,
young people who are wishing they could be married soon,
people who have declined to pursue marriage,
people who have experienced broken marriage,
and People whose marriage has ended with the death of their spouse.
So why talk about marriage to such a diverse audience?
Besides the fact that valentine’s day is just 9 days away — gentlemen, mark your calendars, order your flowers, and reserve your seats at the restaurant…
First, God designed marriage on the 6th day of creation—it’s an institution that’s a day older than the Sabbath, and one God wants us to pay attention to.
Second, there’s likely no relationship between human beings that is more significant than marriage, and all of us have been impacted by married love, or it’s absence in our lives.
And finally, the biblical principles undergirding marriage are important for every human relationship.

The Creation of Marriage

So let’s go back to the creation story and see what God has to say about marriage.
It’s the sixth day of creation. The sun, moon and stars are in place. The earth is beautiful and verdant with living things. Birds are chirping and flying around, insects are humming, animals are lying around and swinging through the trees and there is Adam, just now stirring after receiving the breath of life from God.
God was aware that Adam needed a partner, a human companion. But Adam wasn’t yet aware.
So God orchestrated a parade to help Adam see his need for a mate.
Genesis 2:18–20 NLT
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” So the Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one. He gave names to all the livestock, all the birds of the sky, and all the wild animals. But still there was no helper just right for him.
As the animals paraded in front of Adam he was confronted by a deep yearning for companionship—someone like him.
What emotional needs and desires do you have?
God knows your needs for companionship, someone to walk beside you, and share life with you. And while some of those needs will be or are being met in your marriage, He also knows that our spouse is incapable of fulfilling all our needs. He says,
Psalm 37:4–5 NIV
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this:
Adam was incapable of fulfilling his own god-designed needs, but God stepped in and did what Adam couldn’t do.
God placed the desire in Adam’s heart, and then He fulfilled the desire.
Genesis 2:21–22 ESV
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
The fact that Eve was created after Adam or that she was designed as his companion or “helper” doesn’t mean that she was in any way inferior to Adam. She was his partner—his equal.
Genesis 1:27 ESV
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
God, in His wisdom, created man and woman equal in His sight. Together, in marriage, they would reflect the equality of the Father, Son and Spirit.
Husbands and wives are to give each other respect, appreciation and understanding as equal partners. But that doesn’t mean that men and women are the same. God created them MALE and FEMALE.
There is not only an equality, but a diversity between them.
Eve was different than Adam. But the differences were complementary not contradictory.
They were like two puzzle pieces, each filling the god-designed gaps in the other so that together they would make a beautiful picture of God’s character.
The Bible says that she was “a helper fit for him.” (Gen 2:18)
That’s the same word as Psalm 46:1 uses to describe God and His relationship to us:
Psalm 46:1 ESV
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
The word “helper” doesn’t imply that Eve was somehow less than Adam. That he was the CEO of earth and she was merely his assistant. The term helper describes a godly characteristic of support for Adam.
And so, on the evening of the sixth day, God presented Eve to Adam, like the Father of the Bride walking her down the isle on her wedding day. God brought Eve to Adam.
When the man saw the woman for the first time he broke out in poetry:
Genesis 2:23 NLT
“At last!” the man exclaimed. “This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.’ ”
Hebrew experts say that Adam’s response was thrilling, joyous astonishment, “finally! I have someone who will be my companion.”
Everything in the text proclaims that marriage, next to our relationship with God, is the most profound relationship there is.
Learning to know and love God takes time, and keeping your relationship with Him strong, takes effort. Similarly, marriage takes times, and is sometimes difficult and painful. But these two relationship—God and our spouse—are the most rewarding and fulfilling relationships in life.
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Modern Marriage

If all continued to be as it was on that first day marriage was inaugurated, we’d be telling a different story right now. But because Eve and then Adam bought the lie of Satan, even the best marriages get hit pretty hard by sin.
People say that marriage is either the best part of heaven, or the worst kind of hell. Without the transformative grace and forgiveness of God marriage leads to misery.
Which is probably why the last 40 years has seen such an uptick in the rate of divorce, and a decline in the rate of marriage.
The divorce rate today is nearly twice the rate it was in 1960. And Baby Boomers (those 60+) are divorcing at a much higher rate than any other generation.
According to Barna Research Group the rate of divorce among born again Christians is even higher than among those who are not Christians.
But the rate of divorce is a little misleading since Christians are more likely to marry in the first place.
In 1970, 89% of births were to married parents. Today, only 60% of births are to married couples. And if you stretch it out a few years, you find that only 18% of the families in the US fit the married with children pattern.
As of December, 2021 there are just 23.1 million American homes with the “nuclear family”— the fewest since 1959.
One of the biggest reasons for this decline isn’t divorce, but delaying marriage. In the 1950’s the average age for a marrying woman was 20.4 years old. Today that average is 28.6 years old. Of those who get married, men are averaging 30.4 years old.
According to The Daily Mail, Americans are living alone at a higher rate than they ever used to. Nearly 37 million adults live alone—only 50% of American adults live with a spouse. That’s down from 87% who lived with a spouse back in 1960.
All this shows a pessimism about marriage in our culture. Traditionally marriage was seen as a framework for lifelong devotion and love where me was set aside for us. But today its the me marriage.
People are looking for partners who will compliment them.
The National Marriage Project conducted a study in 2002 entitled “Why Men Won’t Commit.” Answers included:
They face few social pressures to marry.
They are more willing to live together than marry.
They can get sex more easily without marriage.
They want to avoid the financial fall-out of divorce.
They are waiting for the perfect soul mate.
There were a few more answers, but I want to focus in on that last one. Men were less likely to commit because they were searching for that perfect person who would be compatible with them.
The study found that “compatibility” was about finding a woman who would “fit into their life.”
One man said, “If you are truly compatible, then you don’t have to change.”
Ladies, do you think there is any man on the planet who doesn’t have deep needs and flaws?
If every man were perfect, then this arrangement would work fine, but the problem is, there are no perfect men.
Marriage is two flawed people coming together to create a space of stability, acceptance and love.
Me-marriage, a marriage based on self0fulfillment not on self-denial is doomed from the start.
Everyone knows that they are a work in progress. There are plenty of things about each of us that need to be changed. But our society is so focused on “accept me as I am,” that they fail to realize that life requires learning, maturing, and growing. “Don’t change me” can never be the foundation of an effective friendship or marriage. “Be a safe person for me to change with,” is a much better ideal.
No two people will ever be perfectly compatible because any two people who enter into marriage are spiritually broken by sin. Don’t get me wrong, life is a whole lot easier when the two of you enjoy similar things. An outgoing, life of the party person can get pretty miserable if they marry a hermit who hates being with other people. But if your idea of compatible means that they will always want to do what you want to do and there can’t be any room for negotiating life, or compromising plans and ideas, then marriage is going to be hard.
And that’s why making a good marriage is hard. Harder than most anything else you’ll likely do in your life.
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NBA Hard

It’s harder than athletic or artistic or scientific prowess.
Raw talent doesn’t make a Most Valuable Player in the NBA.
Raw talent doesn’t make a great writer or musician.
Raw talent doesn’t make a nobel-prize-winning scientist.
These things take grit and determination. They take hard work and time. They require discipline and sacrifice and enormous work.
Why would it be easy to live lovingly and well with another human being in light of what is profoundly wrong within our human nature?
People who have mastered athletics and art and science have failed miserably at marriage.
We’re sinful human beings, living in a sinful world.
The trouble is not with the institution of marriage, but within ourselves.
Marriage is hard… but we can’t discard it. It’s too important.
What if God designed marriage to make us holy, more than to make us happy?
Passion and fulfillment and shared activity and romance are all good. Essential even. But marriage can’t survive on these alone.
God didn’t create marriage for personal pleasure.
He didn’t create it to populate the earth, or rear children and socialization.
Bigger than these, God made marriage as a holy place, a relationship that proclaims His love to this world.

The Temple Mount

Have you heard the rabbinical story about how God chose the location of the temple?
It goes like this:
Two brothers worked a common field and a common mill.
One brother was single, and the other was married with children.
The single brother decided that his brother with a family needed more grain than he did. So, at night, after they had brought in the yield from their field, he would take some of his share over to his brother’s granary and give him an extra portion.
Meanwhile, the married brother thought about his single brother and how he had no children to provide for him in his old age. And so, at night, he would take some of his grain and bring it over to his brother’s granary and give him an extra portion.
One night, the brothers met halfway and realized what the other was doing.
They embraced, and as the story goes, God witnessed what happened and said, “This is a holy place—a place of love—and it is here that my temple shall be built.”
God made marriage to be that “holy place.” A temple built of self-sacrificing love.

The Bride and Bridegroom

It’s no wonder that God uses marriage as a symbol of His relationship to the church.
Isaiah 62:5 (ESV)
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
Jesus called Himself the Bridegroom (Matt 9:15-ff)
The kingdom of heaven is pictured as a wedding banquet (Matt 22:1-4)
At the culmination of human history, the book of Revelation describes the wedding of the lamb with His bride, the church, who has made herself ready (Revelation 19:7).
According to this concept, reconciliation is the highest aim of marriage.
A married couple displays, although imperfectly, the commitment between Christ and the church. Paul makes this analogy in Ephesians 5. He quotes the final verse in the Genesis account of marriage:
Ephesians 5:31 ESV
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
And then he says,
Ephesians 5:32 ESV
This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
The mystery—this extraordinarily great, wonderful and profound truth that can be understood only with the help of God’s spirit—is that a husband’s love for his wife is a picture of christ’s love for His church. And a wife’s love for her husband is patterned after the church’s love for Christ.
What did Jesus, the divine Husband, do for the church? He gave himself up for us. Jesus, the one equal with the father, gave up his glory and took on our human nature (Phil 2:5ff)
And more… He willingly went to the cross and paid the penalty for my sin and yours, removing our guilt and condemnation, so that we could be united with Him (Rom 6:5) and take on His nature (2 Pet 1:4).
He gave up His glory and power and honor and became a servant. He died to His own interests and looked to our needs and interests instead (Romans 15:1-3).
Jesus’ sacrificial service to us has brought us into a saving union with Him.
And that, Paul says, in the key to not only understanding marriage, but to living it too.
When God designed marriage, he saw the relationship between Christ and the church. He already had Christ in mind. Therefore, marriage only “works” to the degree that the couple relate to each other according to the self-giving love of God in Christ. It only works when the gospel is being acted out by both spouses.
Do for your spouse what God did for you in Jesus. Do that… and the rest will follow.
Live marriage as a picture of God’s love for you. Or, as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 5:9 “So we make it our aim to please him.” (NIV)
The first question I should ask myself when doing anything is, “Will this be pleasing to Jesus?”
The first purpose of marriage—beyond happiness, sexual expression, childbearing, companionship, mutual care and provision, or anything else—is to please God.
Rather than asking, “what (or who) will make me happy?” we ask, “What will make God happy?”
Paul underscores this a few verses later in 2 Corinthians 5:15 “and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
That is Christianity. That is God’s design for marriage.
I owe it to Jesus… to live for Him, to make my consuming passion and the driving force of my life, Him, His honor, His praise, His glory.
Marriage is not about me.
My relationships are not about fulfilling my personal desires.
God promises that He—the creator of our need—will fulfill us.
The reason that marriage is so painful and yet so wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful all at once.
The gospel is this: I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe. Yet at the very same time, I am more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than I ever dared hope.
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The Olympic National Park on the west coast of Washington is home to some of the largest spruce trees in the world—the sitka spruce. They can grow almost 330 ft tall with a trunk diameter that exceeds 16 ft.
The spruce trees in Olympic National Park are able to grow so big mainly because they live in a temperate rain forest and are regularly doused with water. A traditional forest will have lightening initiated fires every fifty or sixty years, but in this temperate rainforest it could be more than 200 years between forest fires.
Every marriage, at one time or another, will be struck by lightning—sexual temptation, communication problems, frustrations, unrealized expectations. But if the marriage that is heavily watered with the unwavering commitment to please God above everything else, and to love each other as we are loved by God, then the conditions won’t be ripe for a devastating fire to follow the lightning strike.
So, what do we need to make marriage work?
We need to know the mystery, the secret, the gospel, God’s saving grace in jesus, and how that gives me both the power and the pattern for my marriage.
The gospel, the story of God’s self-sacrificing love for us, is the pattern for marriage, and for every relationship in life.
The lived-out gospel will help us experience loving relationships with our brothers and sisters, with our classmates and work associates, with our teachers and supervisors, and even with our enemies and bullies.
Relationships show us how much we need God, His strength, His transforming power and daily renewal.
And the good news, God’s unconditional love for me, will help me experience deeper and deeper union with my spouse, closer friendships with my peers, and better working relationships with my classmates and work associates.
A good marriage is the gospel lived out in real life.
Closing Hymn, Love Divine, 191
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