Friday, February 26, 2010

Marriage—A God-Plane Relationship (Part Six)

Moses writes in Genesis 2:24, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." As mentioned in the previous essay, this is the "leave and cleave" verse regarding godly marriage. Notice that Moses begins the verse with "therefore," which signals a concluding statement. In other words, a man leaves his parents and cleaves to his new wife "because she was taken out of Man" (verse 23). The marriage union, then, works to restore the unity—the oneness—of humanity; the man is incomplete without the woman, and the woman, without the man. Together, they are whole.

"Cleave" is a word that we do not use very often. It is a strange word, as it has come down to us through the centuries with two diametrically opposite meanings! These meanings descended from two similarly sounding Old English (Anglo Saxon) words, clēofan and cleofian, the former meaning "to cut asunder, split," and the latter meaning "to stick fast, adhere." Obviously, the meaning that is correct in this passage is "to stick fast, adhere," as the Hebrew word under it, dabaq, means "cling, adhere to." Modern translations render this Hebrew word as "be joined to," "cling to," "hold fast to," "unite with," "bond with," even "stick with." In every case, it suggests that the couple are "stuck like glue" to each other.

In our house, there is a table in our living room where our children do their homeschool work, and around it are some Windsor chairs. A few years ago, my son, Jarod, had a bad habit of rocking back on one of these chairs, and he rocked on it so much that its back broke completely off, creating a stool. Not wanting to throw the chair away, I decided to repair it. While inspecting the break, I was interested to see that the chair broke above the glued joint. The glued joint remained solidly connected to the seat of the chair. It stuck, adhered, or clung to the seat of the chair, while the rest of the back broke off.

This simple illustration helps us to see what God means in Genesis 2:24. When a man and his wife are joined together—when they cleave to one another—the joint should be stronger than anything else. The joint between a married couple is to be so strong that, if trouble visits the marriage, the union will survive. If a break comes, one of the spouses should "break" but not the joint, that is, one or the other should submit rather than break the bond. That is God's overall intention for the marriage union.

This is the first indication in the Bible that God intends marriage to be one man and one woman for life. Notice the apostle Paul's elucidation of this point in Romans 7:1-3:
Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.

The law that Paul is refers to here is not explicitly stated in the Old Testament; no verse in the Old Testament says a man and wife shall be married "until death do they part." In fact, those words are nowhere in the Bible. Neither is the phrase "as long as you both shall live," used in many wedding ceremonies, although it is implied here in Romans 7. Nevertheless, the principle is unquestionably in both testaments, showing the continuity throughout God's Word.

Paul makes God's instruction regarding the marriage union very clear. Marriage is for life, except for a limited number of circumstances that are explained by both Christ in Matthew 19 (and related places in the other gospels) and Paul in I Corinthians 7. God says that He hates divorce in Malachi 2:16, and He therefore provides only a bare minimum of "outs" from the marriage covenant.

The "marriage is for life" principle is definitely in the Bible. In I Corinthians 7:10, Paul restates the church's teaching unequivocally: "Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband." With all the authority of an apostle of Christ, Paul affirms God's desire for a lifelong union, this time positing it in the negative. It should be added that, despite his commanding the wife not to depart from her husband, "what is good for the goose is good for the gander," as the saying goes.

I Corinthians 7:39 again repeats the apostle's doctrinal statement from Romans 7, adding an interesting caveat: "A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord." The caveat concerns a person's conversion status. If a woman's husband dies while she is a member of the church, she is free to remarry, but "only in the Lord." In other words, she can marry only another converted member of the church, and without doubt, that is the best thing for her to do if she wishes to remarry.

Jesus comments on Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in Mark 10:6-9:
But from the beginning of the creation, God "made them male and female." "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh"; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.

Clearly, the Bible consistently emphasizes lifelong marriage—from the Book's opening salvoes in Genesis to Malachi, throughout the Gospels, in the epistles of the apostles, and even in the final chapters of Revelation. Conversely, human beings tend to try to find loopholes for splitting up. However, the Bible is not a book that provides many legal loopholes. In fact, it contains so few regulations concerning divorce that it takes a fair bit of scholarship to figure out exactly what Jesus and Paul, especially, mean when they give the few reasons for divorce. It is not simple but a matter that must be deeply considered.

Our God is a very positive God. Throughout His Book, He emphasizes His desire—His intent—for a man and a woman to remain married for life. As we see from Jesus' statement regarding marriage, the first two chapters of Genesis provide the core principles regarding marriage. Other biblical scriptures about marriage are based on what we read about the first human couple in Genesis 1-3. In the end, it comes down to one concept: that a man and his wife are to be one flesh joined together by God. Jesus sums it up by saying that, since "they are no longer two, but one flesh," they should not be separated.

Next time, we will look more closely into the concept of "one flesh."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Marriage—A God-Plane Relationship (Part Five)

As Part Four illustrated, a chief purpose of marriage and family is to teach proper, godly government. It provides a conducive environment to learn both how to submit to authority and how to oversee others in love. Even in the "marriage chapter," Ephesians 5, Paul makes frequent use of governmental terms (italicized below) to describe the ideal marriage relationship:
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. (Ephesians 5:22-29)

Submit is a governmental term, as the governed person surrenders, gives in, or yields to the one who is in authority, and the apostle later uses subject in the same way. Paul employs the word head to denote one who has authority over an institution, just as the head directs the body. In God's scheme, the husband has authority over his wife and family in a similar way to Christ's authority over His Bride, the church. Again, we see the physical/spiritual parallel.

Perhaps the most significant governmental term in the whole passage is love. To many, love and government seem like odd companions, for most governments do not practice love but sheer, unfeeling power. But God's government is different. Love—outgoing concern for everyone and everything—is the very basis of His government and way of life. Paul illustrates this by pointing out that Jesus Christ governs His church in love, giving us examples of how His love is manifested to us: by sacrificing, sanctifying, cleansing, glorifying, nourishing, and cherishing it. The apostle turns these into instructions to the person in authority—the head, the husband—on how he must work to produce a happy, successful marriage.

Throughout this passage, he emphasizes the fact that the marriage union has a greater purpose, and a major one is to teach and practice proper governance. He stresses the authority and the loving care of Christ, the Head, as well as the submission and eventual glory of the church. In the husband's role, authority is finely balanced by loving care, and in the wife's role, her present submission is compensated by her ultimate glorification.

Many people think of government negatively, but good government offsets its use of power with an appropriate amount of love, combined with humility, and the promise of reward or blessing. These elements do not always take place at the same time, but this mix of virtues will eventually produce some form of glory, that is, a wonderful, magnificent result. In the case of marriage, it should produce enduring, harmonious, loving mates; happy, productive children; and sterling, righteous character in all parties involved.

These days, authority is disrespected and maligned, and Paul—actually, the whole Bible—teaches that this should not be. God is the ultimate authority, and He gives it to governments, institutions, and men as He sees fit (
Romans 13:1-7; see Daniel 4:17). Those so endued are responsible for wielding their power justly and fairly, balancing it with kindness and concern. In the church, especially, we should have a better and more proper understanding of how government should work. Sometimes authority is not always used properly even in the church—yet in some of these cases, we make such a judgment because our perspective is skewed by various factors. A patient person will often find that it produces good fruit in the end.

Paul continues his teaching in
Ephesians 5:30-32:
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.

Just as Jesus reached back to God's instruction to Adam and Eve in His teaching about marriage in Matthew 19, the apostle similarly refers to Genesis 2:24, when Eve is first presented to Adam. This verse, often called the "leave and cleave" verse, reveals that there should be a definite break between one's life as a child and life as an adult spouse. To put it another way, a man's life under his father and mother should be completely separate from his new life in which he is over his own household.

According to this verse, the newly married couple should set up a house on their own because to do otherwise confuses the roles and responsibilities that God desires to work on through this relationship. If a man remains under his father and mother, he cannot be the lord of his own manor, as it were; he cannot really be a head to his wife. In the same way, if the couple lives in her parent's home, the wife has divided loyalties. Who is really her head: her husband or her father?

For the marriage to work best, the couple should not remain in the home of either set of parents because it does not allow for the intended relationship between husband and wife. It is one thing if some sort of hardship forces the couple to live with the parents for a short time, but to fulfill God's command and purpose in
Genesis 2:24, a newly married couple should set up their own household as soon as practicable.

A man should be king of his own castle and his wife, his queen without interference from parents or in-laws. The parents can be there to give needed advice, to lend a hand, and to watch the children from time to time, but for the couple to grow and develop the character that they need both now and for God's Kingdom, they should be on their own.

This means that, barring other complications, a couple should not marry if they are unable or not mature enough to set up a separate household. They should put off marriage until the husband can support his wife financially and emotionally. Paul does say in
I Corinthians 7:9, that if a man and woman cannot control themselves, "it is better to marry than to burn with passion." However, that piece of advice has frequently been abused by people who are unwilling to practice self-control—a sign that one or both of them is indeed immature.

Next time, we will delve further into God's instruction in
Genesis 2:24.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Marriage—A God-Plane Relationship (Part Four)

Psalm 128 illustrates how properly honoring and working with God within marriage and the family produces the finest product for His Kingdom:
Blessed is every one who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. The LORD bless you out of Zion, and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life. Yes, may you see your children's children. Peace be upon Israel! (Psalm 128:1-6)
Notice how positive this psalm is! The whole process begins with a proper fear of the Lord, and from that foundation, blessing radiates out to the whole family. When the fear of the Lord forms the basis for a marriage, the couple is starting out their marriage properly, and they can expect good results—positive fruit—in time.

Because a man and his wife begin on the proper footing—and it is assumed that they continue in it—they will find happiness, satisfaction, unity, and of course, blessedness. There is even the good possibility of a long, fulfilling life. God presents a family that is content and fruitful, full of potential for growth and expansion.

Moreover, the last sentence in Psalm 128 suggests that such families bring peace to the whole nation!
James 3:18 reads: "Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." An environment of peace—what is found in a God-fearing home—provides the ideal setting for the growth of righteousness and its fruit. Such homes produce upstanding, productive individuals who build society, not tear it down with hostile acts that disturb the peace. Ultimately, the entire nation benefits from the godly fear practiced and taught in Christian families.

This is what God wants. He is looking for a home for His offspring in which this peaceful environment will be created in order to produce children in His image—godly seed. In
Malachi 2:13-16, God is quite displeased with His people because their marriage relationships had degenerated to the point that husbands were treacherously divorcing their wives for inconsequential reasons, breaking the covenant, the vow, that they had made. They were not creating the proper environment for producing godly seed for His Family.

This third purpose for marriage is a very important one—to produce the right environment for raising children, not for just one's own family, but for God. Again, we see that the physical mirrors the spiritual in this relationship. Even though we are physical beings, God has given us a spiritual component that makes us different from the animals, and when He calls us into His church, He gives us an additional element, His Spirit, that elevates our purpose to a far higher plane. Thus, there is always a higher purpose in everything that we do. We cannot avoid it, as it is the overriding purpose of God Himself.

A fourth purpose for marriage is also found in
Genesis 1:28: "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.'" The two key words here are "subdue" and "dominion," both of which are terms of command and control. The fourth purpose, then, deals with marriage providing a basis for proper government.

"Dominion" has thrown many people off-track, assuming that God means autocratic, despotic rule. However, any dictionary will show that dominion is nothing more than "supreme authority" or "sovereignty." The Hebrew word, rādâ, implies exercising authority over those who are under one's control, whether a king over his kingdom or an employer over his employees. It does not necessarily suggest harsh, cruel governance.

"Subdue" (Hebrew kābaš), however, can have this implication. Nevertheless, subjecting creation to human benefit or people to God's way does not have to be done with rigor. Severity should be applied only when there is steadfast, defiant resistance, and then only as necessary. The two words together provide a wide range of means for mankind to order and govern what he has been given. Of course, God does not intend for humanity to go beyond the authority He has entrusted to it, either in terms of scope or of application.

So, as these opening instructions to mankind indicate, God uses marriage to teach us how to govern. Marriage teaches us how it is done best, specifically as God Himself governs. God is a Father, and He has a Son who is the Head of the church. We in the church comprise the Son's wife, His Bride, and we are learning how to rule with the Son forever in His Kingdom. A primary institution that God created to teach us this is marriage, the very same institution into which we will soon enter with His Son. Again, we see the physical blending into the spiritual.

In our physical lives, most of us begin to live within the family as a child, and from that position of weakness and immaturity, we learn how to be ruled, to submit, and to learn and grow as a subordinate. We learn what it is like to be under authority. Later, as we grow in maturity, we take on more responsibilities and experience more freedom. If we are alert and smart, we learn many facets of how to rule ourselves and thus how to govern others.

When ready, we take up the challenge of living at the next level of authority as a husband or wife. We learn, in that role, other things that teach us about government and how best to handle situations. First, we must become accustomed to living with our new mate, ruling ourselves and providing direction to a developing family as a spouse.

Then, sometimes suddenly, we have to learn how to govern little ones. As they grow, we learn different ways—better ways—to govern them at their various levels. The diverse situations that arise in life lend themselves to learning new and different approaches that will lead to better outcomes. The family and our changing roles within it teach us how to do that.

The godly family, beginning with marriage followed by the rearing of children, teaches us how to govern. Along with the Bible, it gives us most, if not all, the necessary instruction that we need. These experiences over time become part of our characters, which we will carry through the grave. We will have those experiences to draw upon when similar instances arise among those who will be subject to us into God's Kingdom.

The basic tools, provided to us through God's instruction and applied in the Christian family, prepare us to rule in God's Kingdom and to teach the right and proper way to live.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Marriage—A God-Plane Relationship (Part Three)

Last time, we saw that it is God's involvement that provides the blessings and advantages to the Christian marriage. He makes Himself a party to the marriage covenant, binding the agreement and elevating it spiritually so that it can function as a superior environment for character growth and preparation for the Kingdom of God. With God participating in our marriages, the power is available to make it successful.

However, this does not imply that an individual is a failure if his or her marriage does not work; sometimes the odds are stacked against a person's success. Not every marriage is going to be perfect and work out perfectly—in fact, very few will be absolutely seamless because we are, after all, still human. Yet, a Christian has a clear advantage over others since God's power, gifts, and blessing are there for the asking and use.

Those of us who are married should take this to heart and grab onto this blessing as if it were a lifeline. It is there as a cushion and a help for us in our marriages because, no matter what two people they are and how much they have in common, the couple who makes a vow to share their lives until death parts them are quite different as individuals. They will never agree completely on everything. So, to make the marriage work to its fullest potential, God's blessing and involvement are absolutely necessary.

We have seen that God blesses marriage in the first chapter of Genesis, and it is interesting that as the Book nears its end, in Revelation 19, marriage and His blessing on it once again take center stage. Clearly, the institution of marriage has a far higher purpose than just the physical union of a man and a woman.

And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, "Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready." And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, "Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!'" And he said to me, "These are the true sayings of God." (Revelation 19:6-9)

Here we have a prophetic portrayal of the ultimate marriage, and God's blessing goes out to those who comprise the wife—the bride—of Jesus Christ. This blessing in Revelation 19:9 gives the blessing in Genesis 1:28 its true context. Our human marriages are types of this greater spiritual marriage. The experiences that we go through during a blessed physical marriage are designed by God to prepare us for our part in the ultimate intimate relationship with our Savior.

Marriage is a representation on the human plane of union between God and man. A similar intimacy exists in both relationships. Just as the sexual bond between a man and woman makes them "one flesh" (
Genesis 2:24; see I Corinthians 6:16), a close, spiritual unity between God and a converted human being—which Jesus says is "to know" God in John 17:3 (compare this term to the sexual imagery of Genesis 4:1)—makes them "one spirit." On this, the apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 6:17, "But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him" (see also Ephesians 4:4). Physical marriage, then, can teach us how to be spiritually one with God.

Just as surely as God will bless the union between His Son and the Bride, He will also endue the physical type with the ability to fulfill its purpose—that is, to create unity between marriage partners to prepare them for union with God.

A third purpose of marriage is found in
Genesis 1:28: "God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth. . . .'" God provides marriage to produce children, and evidently, He wants many of them! The Catholic Church teaches that the primary reason for marriage is to produce children, but spiritually, it is secondary to God's higher purpose. Certainly, marriage is the only union so authorized and blessed to produce children. This purpose contains all the sexual aspects to marriage relations, as regulated by the seventh commandment, "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18).

Children produced outside of the marriage union will automatically be burdened by severe disadvantages. Beyond the emotional troubles inherent in illegitimacy, single-parent households are typically poorer than the average and are powerless to improve. The harried single parent is forced to work long hours at his job or several jobs, decreasing the precious time that every parent needs to give to his children. In this situation, children often spend a great deal of time alone and undisciplined, frequently finding themselves in trouble with teachers and administrators, neighbors, and law enforcement. As a result, they often feel unloved, abandoned, and at odds with the world, and many end up repeating the sins of their parents.

Only within marriage and the traditional family can children have the best environment to produce, not just secure, peaceful, useful lives, but also the discipline and character to have the image of God created in them. This does not preclude a child produced outside of marriage from God's calling, although it can make matters more difficult. By the same token, not every child who grows up in a traditional Christian family will answer God's summons to belief and repentance. However, marriage provides the best and the only God-sanctioned relationship for the conception, bearing, and rearing of children. If a child begins his life in the proper environment, he has a head start on reaching both his physical and spiritual potentials.

These purposes of marriage always seem to return to the idea that God is reproducing Himself. The lawful union of man and wife is a vital first step in this process. Once God binds them together and they conceive a child, they bring into being another individual who has the potential to be a member of God's Family. This is the way God intends the process to begin.

Then, after parents train them up in the way that they should go (
Proverbs 22:6), they turn them over to God for further development as His children. This is one of the great ironies in all of creation: that God gives often young, immature, inexperienced human parents "first crack" at producing children in His image. He places upon them the tremendous responsibility to mold and shape the next generation into the moldable clay that He can work with to shape righteous sons and daughters for His Kingdom.

Nonetheless, it all begins with marriage, the best environment to turn out the ideal product for God to use in reproducing Himself. In Part Four, we will examine a fourth purpose of the marriage institution.