Series: Holy Matrimony
Message @ Jericho Ridge Community Church – Sunday, April 15, 2012
Text: Ephesians 5 // New Series: “Holy Matrimony”
Well good morning, friends. As that song was playing if you were of a certain generation you were likely thinking of Old Blue eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, the one who wrote that song. Now, Sinatra himself didn’t live up to ideal that the song expresses, however. If you are familiar with his life story, you know that he had several extra marital affairs and 4 wives throughout his tumultuous and very public relationship lifetime. If you grew up in another era, however, when you heard that song, you likely immediately thought not of Sinatra, but another man in troubled relationship: Al Bundy, of the TV comedy Married with Children, played by actor Ed O’Neil. Al was a hapless shoe salesman at a store named Gary’s Shoes and Accessories for Today’s Woman who mistakenly asked Peggy to marry him because he got drunk after he broke his leg which ended his college football career, and in Al’s mind, his life. I bring these guys up to say that though we have songs in the thousands that espouse the virtues of love and marriage, the archetypes or models of marriage in our society are not that great. There are some notable exceptions out there, but most of us have templates or role models that leave something to be desired.
And so as Pastor Keith and I were brainstorming about doing a series on marriage, we were wondering what to call it. We were contrasting cultural patterns and models with some of the language of marriage vows and ceremonies that we have been involved in. And what deeply struck us was that older phrase that you don’t hear too often anymore: Holy Matrimony. The idea being, of course, that marriage is God’s invention. Timothy Keller in his wonderful book “The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitments with the Wisdom of God” reminds us that “What [God] institutes, He also regulates. Therefore, if God invented marriage, those who enter it should make every effort to understand and submit to his purposes for it. We do this in many other aspects of our lives. Think of buying a car: if you purchase a vehicle… you will certainly take up the owner’s manual and aide by what the designers says the car needs by way of treatment and maintenance. To ignore it would be to court disaster.” And so our plan here in this 6 week series is explore what God says in the Bible about the following: Topic’s We’ll be Covering in this series:
The Purpose & Vision of marriage
Teamwork in Marriage
The Single Life
Love & Respect
We don’t often do this, but I want to put two disclaimers on this teaching series as we begin. Number one, if you are a part of our community and you are a single adult, you might ask yourself “why should I come for the next 6 Sundays and listen to teaching on something that doesn’t apply to me?” Which is fair. What I would say in response is that both married and single people need a realistic vision of what marriage is and could be. Most teaching on the topic of marriage is fairly trite and oriented towards solving specific problems in a marriage. But this series is primarily about building an architecture for marriage & relationships that is centred on God’s Word. This will hopefully help both single and married people correct mistaken views about marriage, and will hopefully help single adults think critically and carefully about who you might consider as a prospective mate, should your life move in that direction.
The second disclaimer is for those who have been in marriage relationships that have ended through separation, divorce or loss.
The root of our conversation will be Ephesians 5 and though I don’t normally do this, I want you to hear the whole context of the teaching on marriage in order to appreciate the specifics. So I’m going to read the whole chapter of Eph 5 from the Message Translation – the first 2 verses and then the final few will appear on the screen. As I read, I want you to listen for the Biblical framework for Holy Matrimony and contrast that with Sinatra and Bundy’s perspectives:
Eph 5:1-2 [note: keep this up for the rest of the reading till I get to…]
I love the way that Paul finishes his thoughts on marriage: “It’s a mystery!” And sometimes many of us feel that way, don’t we? But what is clear here in Ephesians 5 is that marriage has a template or a model, and that it may not be what we think. You see our culture has given us a unique and particularized vision of marriage and it sells a lot of romantic comedies, self-help marriage books, and Valentine’s Day chocolates. Some scholars even argue that marriage emerged in the late Bronze Age as a way to determine property rights. But the Scriptures give us a very different picture. The Bible is clear that marriage is God’s idea and therefore, what God says about its purpose and design is critical for us to understand. Let’s contrast our culture’s vision of marriage and the Biblical Vision of marriage, Holy Matrimony. Look with me at this chart for a minute:
In Ephesians 5, we see a part of God’s Ultimate Design: for marriage
- Marriage is a spiritual, not romantic, journey
This obviously doesn’t meant that Christian marriages are or should be devoid of romance, it just means that they are built upon foundation that is deeper and more secure and lasting. They have a different architecture.
- Our template is Christ’s relationship with (and goals for) His bride, the Church
What are Christ’s goals for His church, therefore the primary things that will be happening in our marriage relationships? Ephesians 5 says that
- Sanctification (getting rid of “spots & wrinkles”) is in primary view
Tim Keller uses the analogy of a bridge to describe this aspect of marriage: “Think of an old bridge over a stream. Imagine that there are structural defects in the bridge that are hard to see. There may be hairline fractures that a very close inspection would reveal, but to the naked eye, there is nothing wrong. But now see a ten-ton Mack truck drive onto the bridge. What will happen? The pressure from the weight of the truck will open up those hairline fractures so they can be seen. The structural defects will be exposed for all to see because of the weight the truck puts on the bridge…
The truck didn’t’ create the weaknesses, it revealed them.
When you get married, your spouse is a big truck driving right through your heart. Marriage brings out the worst in you. It doesn’t’ create your weaknesses – it reveals them.” (139). God uses relationships to change us into the people that He wants us to be, and so it’s only natural that he uses our closest relationships for His ultimate purposes of sanctifying us. But Ephesians 5 doesn’t stop there. God’s ultimate purpose is also for:
– Cleansing (moving us toward purity; 5:26) –
There are things in our lives that we need to be rid of. I didn’t know, for example, how selfish I was until I got married. I didn’t know how much junk I carried with me from my past until I came into such close proximity relationally that I couldn’t hide stuff and the cleansing work of God began.
– Holiness (the re-shaping of our character; 5:27)
God’s ultimate desire for me isn’t simply an emotional feeling of happiness. That’s why He anchored marriage in a much deeper place. In his book “Sacred Marriage”, author Gary Thomas muses what if, as a result of the teachings of Ephesians 5, what if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy? It isn’t that happiness isn’t a part of the package; it’s just that happiness is hard to experience all the time.
What Is Marriage’s Ultimate Purpose?
If we find that the same kinds of challenges face every marriage we might assume that God designed a purpose in this challenge that transcends something as illusory as happiness.”
- Gary Thomas
So if marriage is about my sanctification, cleansing and holiness, which are all kinda fancy theological words,
What are the Implications? If God designed marriage to make me holy more than to make me happy how does that play itself out in my life? I think there are many possible implications so let’s focus on a few… Firstly for those who are married, I want to ask you a question:
- How would your marriage change this week if you believed that your spouse was a primary vessel God was using to help shape your character?
I don’t know about you, but I find that in my marriage, the smallest and often the strangest things can cause irritation and annoyance. When Meg and I were dating 14 years ago, I thought that all of the ways in which we were different were so cute and interesting. Then 13 years ago when we got married, suddenly those differences weren’t so cute anymore, they were annoying. The Mack truck had driven over the bridge and some of the structural defects were being revealed. I can remember the first time Meg made a comment about how I cleaned the kitchen but left the counter unwiped. And I remember thinking “but I never wipe the counter, you know that!” And I became angry and defensive. I leave my bathroom counter a mess and I’m not super fond of dishcloths so I have become OK with crumbs all over my countertop. And when you live alone, you can be as fine as you want with these things. But when you get married, they suddenly become issues. And they test and develop your character. There is nothing that has grown me a person more than marriage because in such close relationship, you have to learn to communicate, to adjust & set aside your personal preferences to work though little and big issues.
The challenge, however, is that if we built our marriage relationship on the cultural framework, the minute things stopped working for me or the minute Meg pushed too hard into an area of my character that needed to be shaped so that I could become the person that God desires me to be, then it’s game over. I’m still not 100% convinced that God wants me to wipe the counters, but I am convinced that my wife is primary tool in the hands of God to shape me into a better person. So my challenge to you this week is to change your perspective. The counter wiping conversation isn’t about the counters, it’s about how you are selfish and lazy (if you’re me, it is) and how God wants to get rid of those things in your life.
Whether the counters get wiped or not isn’t a big issue, so let’s go there for a minute. There are some of you who are in places of real trouble in your marriage and you’re not sure if it’s going to survive. And when we get into these places where there is serious anger and hurt, we often forget about the things that attracted us to that person in the first place and we wonder what it might be like to be rid of them altogether. To find someone who is more like us who “gets” me for me and who doesn’t want to change all of those things about me. When you begin to move in this direction, it’s a very dangerous place, friends, because then you begin to fantasize about escaping and finding that perfect person somewhere else.
- For the troubled: It’s tempting to think we need a new marriage; but what we really need is a new perspective on our existing one
There are obvious exceptions and so if you are suffering physical abuse or marital infidelity you need to come and talk to us as your pastors and we’ll make sure you get the professional help you need. But for many marriages who are just starting down the road into trouble, remember that you have fractures in your bridge too and so the likelihood is that they will show up over time in any new relationship as well. What I would implore you to explore is that if marriage is about discipleship and character development and not just about emotional happiness, then perhaps you would consider sticking it out and taking a new look as your existing relationship. Get honest. Go for counseling and get some help, by all means, but don’t jump ship too early looking for greener pastures.
I said at the beginning that there will be content for the non- or un-married as well during this series, and I think that Ephesians 5 speaks to this as well. The fact that
- For the single adult: Character matters!
God’s ultimate design and intent for our lives as individuals is holiness, purity and cleansing. And these are things that marriage certainly does, but there are other ways to engage these processes as well. The classic spiritual disciplines, for example. Why not take a friend to lunch this week and ask them a courageous question: are there any aspects of my character that you think I could be working on? You may not like their answer and you may disagree with it, but God tends to work through community and so if the person really loves God and they really love you, don’t be too quick to discount what they are saying. They may just be an instrument of God’s grace to you in developing your character.
And finally, for those who have experienced the pain of separation, divorce or the loss of their spouse. Sometimes in the church, this process can make you feel like damaged goods. Like everyone is watching you and is wondering what you did to make the marriage fail. Often people whom you were friends with don’t know what to say or do, particularly if they were couple friends. But I want to say two things, one, that there’s a place for you here at JRCC. It may look like there’s a lot of couples running around here but it is on my heart to say we love you here and want you to be a meaningful and vibrant part of this community. Help us learn together and grow and teach us what God is teaching you through this process. That’s not from Ephesians 5, that’s just from my heart. But there is an application from Ephesians 5. And that is that if ultimately, that God’s highest purpose for your life is sanctification, cleansing and holiness, then if your spouse is no longer in the picture, that doesn’t mean that God is no longer in the picture. Because
- For the hurting: God’s ultimate purpose in your life hasn’t been thwarted
He can and will still do the work of cleansing, healing, and restoring. God’s will and plan for your life has not been destroyed by the actions of someone else. You can and will still become the person that God wants you to be. Keep on pursing purity and holiness, devote yourself to serving God meet Him in His Word and keep on inviting others into your life to help you grow. Don’t shut down and shut yourself off from community because of your hurt and your past and pain.
As we close out our opening week in Ephesians 5, I want to ask you a simple question:
Why did you get Married?
One of the great spiritual writers of the 17th century, Francis de Sales, was asked by a young woman once whether she should get married or stay single. De Sales wrote back saying to the young woman that marriage is the toughest ministry she could undertake. He reminded her that
“The state of marriage is on that requires more virtue and constancy than any other… It is an exercise in perpetual mortification… From this thyme plant, in spite of the bitter nature of its juice, you may be able to draw and make the honey of a holy life.”
- Francis de Sales
In order to spiritually benefit from marriage, Gary Thomas reminds us we have to be honest: It’s hard work! “We have to look at our disappointments, own up to our ugly attitudes, and confront our selfishness. We also have to rid ourselves of the notion that difficulties in marriage can be overcome if we simply prayer harder or learn a few more principles... Because there’s a deeper question that needs to be addressed beyond improving our relationships. What if God didn’t design marriage to be easier? What if God had an end in mind that went beyond our happiness, our conform and our desire to be infatuated… What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?
- Being served up and down the rows for you to participate in your seat today. You don’t have to wait until everyone is served to partake
- If you are married, take this opportunity with your spouse to serve it to each other. Look each other in the eye and say “I appreciate how being married to you is shaping me.”
- We are reminded in I Peter 3:7 again of how our marriage and our spirituality go hand in hand: “In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together…Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered.” If there is anything that is coming between you as a couple, take some time to initiate a dialogue, let the trays pass you by and make the time today to attend to it so that your horizontal relationship health doesn’t interfere with your vertical relationship health.
- If you are unmarried or here by yourself, the next verse in I Peter says “be tenderhearted and keep a humble attitude”. Ask God to use this opportunity to point out any aspects of your own character that need to be shaped and invite Him into that process today.
- For all of us, God’s ultimate invitation and desire is to be holy, but we don’t get there on our own merit or efforts. It is solely by what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross and rising again to new life. So this bread represents His body, broken for you and me. This cup symbolizes his blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins. As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we declare that God, who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it. You can remain seated as we respond in worship in song and take the communion elements together.