1 REALATIONSHIPS BY DESIGN UNITED BY DESIGN INTRO: In our Family Month, we re looking at God s design for life. What does the Designer Himself have to say about who we are, what we were made to be, and how we are to be in relationship with one another? There are magazines, blogs and books full of tips on how to successfully raise kids, how to have a stunning marriage, and how to more magnificently and authentically be you, whoever you are. There are of course an equal number of sources telling us that God is long dead and with Him went any ancient plans. In the absence of a Designer, you are not only free to decide but must design yourself filling in the blanks as creatively as you dare to the grand questions of origin, purpose and destiny. Why are you here? How should you be getting along in this world? And where is this all going? And these are splashed across our national conscious today. You can customize your Facebook gender to fit whoever you decide to be. Girl Scouts don t have to be girls and Minnesota is debating to end all gender distinctions in high school sports, including religious schools. The NY Times had a recent story titled The Changing American Family: American households have never been more diverse, more surprising, more baffling, which describes the increasing diversity and freedom to choose your own style through descriptions of blended families on second and third marriages, married dads raising six kids, and unmarried families raising children. There s a site modamily.com whose founder says, All a child needs to develop and grow is attention, encouragement and love. A modern family unit can provide that as well a traditional one. And this site will help you form a modern family by connecting you with a likeminded co-parent marriage not at all necessary. Which brings us to where we re headed today. As the Supreme Court decides what constitutes marriage we ve come into a clash of kingdoms the fact that the matter has to be decided means that the biblical definition has been discarded and the pretense that human judges are to be the arbiters means the Designer has Himself been discarded. Marriage is not merely being redefined or eroded but there are movements to erase an institution many find terribly obsolete. The director of Cornell University's Feminism and Legal Theory Project Martha Fineman argues strenuously for the abolition of marriage as a legal category. A manifesto of 2006 called Beyond Same Sex Marriage calls for a post-marriage society in which marriage has been dissolved by extending the definition to every conceivable family type.
2 Page2 University of Chicago and Harvard Law professor and Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (2009 to 2012), Cass Sunstein, has advocated strongly for the abolition of civil marriage and its replacement with contracts that would negotiate the terms of personal relationships. He wrote, Under our proposal, the word marriage would no longer appear in any laws, and marriage licenses would no longer be offered or recognized by any level of government.... Under our approach, the only legal status states would confer on couples would be a civil union, which would be a domestic partnership agreement between any two people. While some work to redefine or erase marriage, others have simply discarded it. As divorce rates stay high, the marriage rate in America has hit an all-time low. The 2015 U.S. Wedding Forecast reports that while Millennials in the next five years will have more of its members at a typical marrying age than any previous generation they are much less likely to tie the knot than any of their predecessors. Marriage the whole topic seems conflicted and confused. Is marriage outmoded and in need of an overhaul, repressive and in need of regulation, or simply not worth it? In a Valentine s Day interview, Nancy Pelosi summed the feeling of a growing number of people, Why would anyone get married? Let s turn to the Designer s own Word to figure that out. Read Matt. 19: The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason? 4 And He answered and said to them, Have you not read that He who created them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. 7 They said to Him, Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away? 8 He said to them, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (porneia), and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery. 10 His disciples said to Him, If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry. 11 But He said to them, All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: 12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.
3 Page3 This morning we will see how Christian marriage is: United in Design, United by God, and United for Mission UNITED IN DESIGN So we start with questions. The religious leaders come to Jesus with a question about marriage. Our culture is full of questions on the subject. And we should becoming with a whole lot of questions If not on the very nature of marriage, we are asking about our marriages Are we doing this right?, we come with questions about dating, about sex, divorce, and profoundly questioning how in the world do we answer a nation now deciding what marriage is and share the truth with those convinced marriage can be anything we design it to be? Can a man divorce his wife for just any reason? Jesus has this brilliance for dealing with questions, for getting behind the question and the questioner, and for listening to what is really going on. For Jesus, intent is always prior to content. He is listening not just to the words coming out of the mouth but the motivations pouring forth from the heart. Why do you want to know? Do you even know what you re asking? So often Jesus is telling us, You re asking all the wrong questions. He wants us to ask a different question. He wants us to ask the right questions, the true questions that get at what is really going on in the world and what is Kingdom is up to in this world. This is why often it appears that Jesus is not answering the question directly. They ask, On what grounds is divorce permissible? What can we get away with in marriage? How far can we stretch it and redefine it? But Jesus forces us to shift the paradigm What is marriage in the first place? What s the very nature of it? And how do we know? Who is it for? And what s the purpose anyway? Actually, if there is fruit in our nation s recent debates, shifts and questions over marriage it is that we can no longer take the institution or design of marriage for granted. It is good that people are asking questions. We must answer. And we must ask if our answers match those of Christ. Perhaps we ve grown up just knowing marriage is between one man and one woman and it s serious and should be for life. But do our Christian marriages look like God s design or are they not that noticeably different than those of our neighbors? Are they filled with His kingdom purposes? Do our kids see a difference between our marriages and those of their unchristian friends parents? Perhaps the question you have right now is, Why should I care? Marriage might seem far off for you or not even a thought right now. But as we look into the design
4 Page4 we see the Designer. God does not only reveal what marriage is but in marriage we see who God is and what He made us to be revealed. PURPOSE & DESIGN It shouldn t be a surprise that Jesus responded to His questioners by appealing to God s intentions for marriage in creation. At the heart of Jesus mission and teaching was the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. As God s kingdom broke through in the ministry of Jesus, His merciful and perfect redemption would be demonstrated by glorious evidences of the doing of God s will. Over the centuries, God s intention and creation, the creation He called good, had become obscured, distorted and tainted in sin. But here comes the King in and through whom God s will would be once again perfectly seen and done. Notice Jesus isn t interested in getting into a debate on the Deuteronomic legislation that was at best a concession to human hardheartedness. Or the layers of further concessions that had been slapped on top of those by men. Instead He demands His listeners, especially His followers, to go back to God s creational purpose for marriage and in so doing to discover the amazing beauty in His perfect design as well as sense the deep tragedy involved in the shattering of even a single marriage. So the creation story lies at the heart of Jesus approach to marriage. He refers to Genesis 1:27 From the beginning God made them male and female. Gender as we ve seen is not something to be overcome or avoided, something to be redesigned or put up or taken for granted. Your gender is not an afterthought. It is essential to who you are as designed by God for His purposes for your life. In the short economy of space in ancient writing, each word counts a lot. Jesus gives us a triple dose of gender which means this is crucial. God created them male and female (1) for this reason a man shall leave his mother and father (2) and hold fast or cleave or be joined to his wife (3). A man, produced from the marriage of a male and female will then go forth and start a new family with a female by God s very design.
5 Page5 We noted in that design the complementarian nature of the male/female dynamic. Eve was built by God as the perfect complement to the male Adam to be a divinely constructed partner suitable for him. Nothing in the animal kingdom would do and neither would a copy of Adam. Instead, God designed the female to balance and complete Adam and bring unique and necessary skills to the table in order that together they might fulfill God s purpose for creating humanity in the first place. When God brings forth Eve, Adam breaks out in poetry and exclamation of relief and joyful satisfaction: At last! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh She is woman who was taken out of man. The Hebrew words there are similar in sound, a play of the intimate interwovenness of male with female. They are distinct but equal, closely related but not identical, they have different roles but none is superior or inferior. They are less when apart and more when together. Together the Genesis narrative tells us they are designed together and made to go together. There is harmony is this union. As in the Trinity, there is unified diversity and diversified unity. Two distinct but equal persons join to make one whole. THE ISSUE WITH HOMOSEXUAL UNIONS I have heard countless times from very intelligent people that while the Old Testament might say this and Paul might have said that, Jesus was silent on the issue of homosexuality and so we should be too. I have heard that ancient cultures had no working definition of long-term monogamous homosexual unions as we do today so the Bible couldn t possibly speak to such issues meaning that any prohibitions the Bible may make have nothing to do with loving committed homosexual relationships we have today. I have been asked numerous times, what is so wrong about any two people who love each other joining together? To be clear, though my heart goes out to people who feel they are attracted to the same gender [and we ll have to save the details on the biblical picture of same sex attraction for another time], the Bible knows nothing of what we have crafted as gaymarriage because even that very word is not merely offensive to God, it is absurd. It is like pleading, Why can t I have a square circle?
6 Page6 The design of marriage does not spring from Old Testament Hebrew culture or first century Palestinian or Roman culture. It is not crafted by governments or need of redefinition by one now. It was created from the beginning by God for all people. Ancient cultures did know about loving, monogamous homosexual relationships and Jesus surely knew they existed. He is not silent on the issue but again asks us to ask the right question: Who designed marriage and for what purpose? If there is a designer, then to follow His plans is not narrow-minded or bigoted, it is freeing, and life giving. If there is a Designer, then biblical norms are not arbitrary, but are based on God s design for human flourishing. Sin isn t just bad; it is harmful as it contradicts the very design. It is life malfunctioning. Love for my neighbor compels me to fight against that harm, and to point the way towards life more abundant. Our culture has offered an alternative genderless marriage. The question on the table is, Does gender even matter? Do men need women for marriage and do women need men? Jesus answer is a resounding Yes to all the above. Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning There is a Designer and He is not us. Jesus, The One who spoke creation into being, you, me, the stars, the animals, the seas, the One who was there at the beginning now calls all listeners back the beginning, to the original design. UNITED BY GOD Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. Jesus takes us back to something grand in God s plans marriage was not only designed by God but it is God who unites us in marriage. Marriage is the joyful companionship of male and female in a one-flesh (re) union joined by God.
7 Page7 ONE FLESH UNION As humanity was once one and from one became two, in marriage the two reunite to become one again. This is not a metaphor but a spiritual reality in marriage the male and the female are fused together as one entity, they are now a new creation together. In this unity, there is a one flesh union of unashamed sexual, personal, and relational intimacy. Adam and Eve were completely naked in front of each other with all that means, with no shame. This union means there is no longer me but everything is about us. There is no longer any mine but only ours. For Christians, this is not only practical or legal talk. It is a spiritual reality united together, we have one vision, one life, one schedule and agenda, one dream for our marriage. There is none of me I can withhold not secrets, not wishes or desires. There are no plans that I get to come up with alone. Also there are no personal struggles I can deal with alone my sin, my issues, my problems are all ours and as one body we have to deal with these together. And this is precisely why divorce is such a big deal to God if marriage is the sacred God-ordained coupling of male with a female into one unit, then divorce is tragic. It shatters the very design by ripping apart two lives glued spiritually together. The tragedy is that it separates what cannot really be separated like two pieces of paper glued together, when pulled apart you have pieces of one paper all over the other, so when you ve tried to separate one into two you are left with less of both; one flesh ripped into two shattered lives. In the picture Ephesians gives us, where husband and wife are the head and the body, divorce is decapitation. It is a headless body and a bodiless head. And this is one flesh union is also our great clue about sex. Why is it only for marriage? In short, marriage is the only institution strong enough to contain the fire of sex. Again we don t have time to go into the details today our culture has said sex is merely something you do with your bodies or at most your bodies and emotions. The Bible says sex is something you do with your souls. We have inherited a Greek idea that our bodies and souls are not related. So we pretend that we can unite our bodies with others and then move on without any lasting consequences. It s all good as long as everyone is consenting and no one
8 Page8 gets hurt. But that s God s big problem with sex outside the bond of marriage everyone is getting hurt whether we realize it yet or not. Like that glued paper, when we unite and separate sexually we have left our souls all over each other, and our hearts are much less for it. Sex outside of marriage speaks a language God doesn t get it says I pledge to you my body but not my all. You can have this but not that. I will give you some of me but not all of me. I will undress physically but not be naked and vulnerable and united with you in all the other ways marriage s one flesh union calls us to be. I will have what I want from you and retain all I want about me for myself. No matter how much we feel we love that other person, sex outside of marriage really says I don t love you that much. I don t love you the way God wants me to love a spouse. It is at the heart of what went wrong with humanity in the first place selfishness and self-idolatry. For it says, I will have what I want on my own terms. And it turns to the Designer of sex and marriage and says, I don t really believe you. I m going to try this my way. It s worth mentioning that this is where living together outside of marriage gets it wrong too for it says I want to play house with you but not be united with you. It says I will do life with you but not give you my life. I will do a lot of married kind of stuff with you but without God forging our lives together. UNITED FOREVER COVENANT This is why Jesus language is so crucial. He tells us marriage was not by man s own initiative. Just as we didn t create it, we don t control the union-- What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. If God has put it together, then we must follow through on His terms. And that might be where our culture has the biggest issue what do you mean follow through? What do you mean commit forever? There is a word gaining buzz that defines a growing segment s feelings on marriage monogamish. We are sort of monogamous. We are committed until, well, something better comes along or this just isn t fun anymore.
9 Page9 More and more people are wondering if is possible to be satisfied by one partner for their entire life. What if things don t turn out like we wanted? What if they don t change into I planned for them to become? What if I don t feel like staying with them? What if it is just too hard? What if I wake up one day after the kids have gone off to college and I suddenly wonder, Do I even love you? What if someone else can complete me better? What if I just got this wrong? With clarity and finality, Jesus said, Let no one separate what God has united. This one-flesh union was designed and brought together by God Himself. And we re not to separate that by legal divorce but also anything that comes between this being a true union of two into one that means emotional separation, sexual separation, separation of trust and fidelity, and separation by seeking fulfillment in another human being. Throughout the Bible, God is clear about the significance of permanent, binding relationships. The entire salvation history, the story of the Bible, is a series of irrevocable covenantal relationships between God and human beings. God is a God of covenant and designed His people to be covenant people. A covenant is simply a sacred, God-witnessed, public, mutually binding, irrevocable relationship between two parties who willingly promise and undertake to live by its terms. God chooses to relate to all creatures, to Israel and the church, through covenants. How significant then that God s inspired word also uses the language of covenant to describe the nature of marriage! If the most ultimate meaning of marriage is to represent the unbreakable covenantlove between Christ and his church (Eph. 5:22-33), then no human being has a right to break a marriage covenant. When the impossible day comes that Christ breaks his vow, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20), then, on that day, a human being may break his marriage covenant. This explains why Jesus does not settle for the divorce provision of Deut. 24:1-4 (Mk. 10:3-9). Since God is the one who decisively makes every marriage, only God has the right to break a marriage. And he does it by death. Which is why the traditional and biblical marriage vows have one and only one limitation: till death do us part, or, as long as we both shall live.
10 Page10 Covenant is hard because it not through our power that the commitment happens. Christian marriage is not natural in the sense that we are not naturally monogamous, naturally selfless, naturally committed in covenant. It is supernatural. It is a spiritual fusing together of two lives into one by God. Paul calls this a great mystery. And it takes God s good grace to not only come together but to stay together. The covenant is between three people and it is lived out and supported by three people. The third person is the real key because it is through God that we have our strength and our hope. No matter how bad things get, He is committed to us staying together and He will uphold His part of the bargain. We serve a God who turns dry bones into living flesh, who created the perfect world out of nothing and is restoring the world we ruined back to its original beauty. We are united by a God who transforms dead rebels into living sons and daughters. Think then what this God can do for your marriage. God does not know any irreconcilable differences. He doesn t know beyond hope. He doesn t understand unfixable. He is Life and Resurrection. Just as silly and strange as it is to pretend we can design marriage to be whatever we want it to be, it is sadly odd to think we can live in marriage without His constant sustaining. We need Christ to be both our Redeemer and Rock in all facets of our marriage. UNITED FOR MISSION Which brings us to our last part. I was talking to a friend this week that is getting serious in a dating relationship and contemplating marriage. I asked about the other person, what is their goal? What are they really after? What makes them wake up in the morning? The answer came back: loves the career, wants to be happy in love, to be with someone forever. Covenant is hard to keep without knowing what we are committed for? It is hard to follow the Designer s plan if we don t know the purpose of the design. God created marriage to be a certain way to fulfill a very certain purpose. God made humankind in the divine image and both male and female are imagebearers. In the biblical context the image of God primarily refers to particular Godgiven tasks to be lived out. Male and female together represent God by accomplishing the purposes of God on God s behalf and at God s command.
11 Page11 Through marriage and family, God enables human beings to participate in His creative activity and redemptive purposes. (Stassen and Gushee) What this means is that we are united in marriage for mission. We are not a married couple who happens to be two Christians, but Christians united by God so that together we can express and complete His purposes on the earth. That s pretty huge. Our essential question is not How can I be a better Christian in my marriage, but how can my marriage more fully live out Christ s design for marriage itself. The mission of marriage is given to us in Genesis 1 and 2. It includes procreation propagating the human species in a creative act and by extension child-rearing in the safety and carefully-constructed nest of marriage. It also includes the day to day stewardship of God s creation and His creatures. The picture is of men and women together doing the work of God in God s creation. The image bearers are God s divinely appointed vice-kings and queens living for Him and by Him. The central purpose of marriage, as with all of life, then is to seek first the reign of God (Mt. 6:33). Have you asked yourself, why did you really get married? Why do you want to get married? Even in loving, committed Christian marriages, we have to ask is this about our selffulfillment and happiness? Or is there a God-ordained mission in our marriage? I know that in marriage I have already learned so much more about what it means to love, to show mercy, to be forgiving, to be forgiven, to speak the truth in love, to be patient and long-suffering, to turn the other cheek and to sacrifice, to lay down my own life for my wife. In this way, I have already learned so much about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus than I did single. But I believe even this doesn t answer the question. Mission in marriage isn t simply conducting my marriage in a Christian manner but being used together by God to fulfill His redemptive plans. Just as I was made and remade for good works Christ designed just for me, I was united to my wife to personally bring forth God s plans. With mission, suddenly how I communicate, how I forgive, how I show mercy, how I love are not merely practical tools to sustain my marriage but means for my marriage to fulfill God s divine plans. And the flipside of that is that when I do not do these things it is not only my marriage that suffers but God s kingdom work is less because of my failings. Since my marriage was not my initiative but God s plan, then it is also not just my personal problem to fix or give up on it is part of a wider, beautiful mosaic of believers in God s kingdom when my marriage suffers, so does the kingdom. When my marriage flourishes, so too the kingdom.
12 Page12 This is the understanding of marriage Jesus wanted to lift up to His hearers. Kingdom living in the area of marriage entails building and preserving joyful, companionable, just, faithful, permanent, covenant partnerships committed to fulfilling God s purposes for marriage. Where such a marriage exists, God s will is done and His kingdom is advanced. Where a marriage such as this is saved from temptation that could ruin it or conflict that threatens it or a rupture that poisons it, God s will is done. Jesus is saying to His followers, Do God s will for marriage and stop asking when it is permissible to do less. Jesus redirects our question. He sidesteps legalism and our heart s perpetual problem to know just how much cross we need to bear daily. It is interesting that in Matthew, this revelation on marriage is set next to the story of the rich young ruler. Jesus disciples echo Pelosi, If this is how it is, then who in the world would get married? People have asked Jesus, What can I get away with, and He s answered Nothing. It s too tough, the disciples say. You ask too much. The ruler also seeks Jesus approval Tell me I ve done enough, or let me know what else I need to do. Jesus redirects, you don t need more on your to do list, you need me. And by Me, I mean accepting me and following me for who I am and for why I came. This is too hard, the man says and in one of the saddest stories in the Bible he walks away. In both cases, people turn to the Designer to say, If that s the way it is, I d rather not. I ll go my own way. And in both cases when we reject God s call on our lives or His design for marriage we miss out on the amazing flourishing the Designer has in store for those who will be united with Him and united for Him. Christ says be emptied and I will fill you up. Lose your life and you will gain it. He calls us to the same in marriage try my way, sacrifice as I have for you and receive all I made you for. Let me unite you and sustain you. APPLICATION - What does this mean for us? UPHOLD the vision and purpose of God s design for marriage - working together to teach and live out marriage for all it should be in Christ, reflecting His perfect harmonious design.
13 Page13 ANSWER the confusion of our culture that pretends genderless marriage is possible, has suppressed the design, and turned marriage into idolatry and seeks to erase the biblical definition. There is a hurting world living upside down in both homosexual and heterosexual unions. Truly loving our neighbors means we are peacemakers who seek shalom and that involves prayer, intervention, care, and love which all seek to return our neighbors to His plans for their lives. MISSION our marriages for His kingdom (and not ours). This means my marriage is not about my personal happiness or goals, but His. This means that simultaneously everything in our marriage is of amazing significance and consequence nothing just is, everything supremely matters because each detail is part of God s ministry through my marriage and we must be kingdom focused with no time for petty disputes or selfish pursuits. This also means we must answer: When people see our marriages do they see Christ? Are our marriages attracting people to marriage or stumbling them? Are our marriages blessing others as vehicles for His kingdom work? And as a church we should be asking: How shall we participate alongside God in creating, nurturing, and preserving marriages that reflect God s intent for this holy covenant that last a lifetime? This leads to two other questions: 1) What are some of the attitudes and behaviors that destroy marriages? 2) What concrete practices must we develop as spouses and a church to help deliver us from marital discord and alienation, and strengthen and preserve marriages to help advance God s kingdom? Let us now go forth by always looking back as our Creator did to His own creation, noting its purpose and His design Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?