Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Seventh Commandment (Part 2)

The Command to Love Marriage (Part 2)
Deuteronomy 5:18; Ephesians 5:22-33

In the beginning God created a wonderful garden. In that garden he placed a man named Adam. This man was a unique creature. God formed him from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and Adam became a living being. He was personal in every sense of the word. He had conscience, and a God-consciousness. God gave him the task of taking care of the garden. In fact, God wanted him to exercise dominion over the entire earth. But something was not yet right. It was not good for him to be alone. So God did a wonderful thing. He put Adam to sleep and from his side God created a perfect counterpart to him – a female human being.

God created another garden that day. He designed a garden of human relationships with fertile soil which could produce abundant fruit. But one thing was absolutely necessary for that garden. It had to be pure in order to be productive. In order to accomplish the purposes for which God designed it, it had to remain pure.

The seventh commandment is designed to guard the sanctity, the purity, of the marriage relationship. In order to fully understand why God gives such a strong prohibition against adultery, and by extension any form of sexual impurity, we must understand the nature and purpose of marriage.

I hope that in doing this you will be able to see the beauty and glory and goodness of what God has given us in the institution of marriage. So many people, not knowing God’s plan for marriage, have experienced pain, heartbreak, and disillusionment. Many observers of our society today regard this as a factor in the growing trend of co-habitation. So many young adults have watched their parents fight, bicker, and eventually divorce, and they have a deep suspicion of marriage. Many have grown up in one parent homes, so they don’t have a clue about marriage. These young adults also believe that there is nothing wrong with physical relationships outside of marriage (less than half of Americans consider this to be sinful, according to recent polling data). Sadly, they are hugely mistaken, and we are seeing the results in our society. Because the purity of marriage has been forsaken, people are living in a social desert with sandstorms of bitterness and without the water of companionship. Instead of that, I want you to see today that marriage is an incredibly beautiful garden, and when it is cultivated according to God’s instructions, it will produce an abundant harvest of delightful fruits, colorful flowers, fragrant meadows, and laughing streams of water.

What is marriage?

Genesis 2:18-23 tells us how God made mankind as male and female. But if we stopped at v. 23, we would not know how the male and the female are supposed to relate to each other. Do we just experiment to find out how males and females are supposed to relate to each other? No. The Bible gives us in vv. 24-25 a theological commentary on the story so that we will know exactly what God wants us to learn. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his morther and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

Right away we learn that a man is supposed to form a committed and exclusive attachment to one woman. We call that marriage. Later on in Scripture, we see this relationship called a ‘covenant’ relationship (Prov 2:17; Mal 2:14). A covenant is a solemn commitment guaranteeing promises or obligations undertaken by one or both parties, sealed with an oath.[1] It is because marriage is a covenant relationship that it is a 100% deal for both spouses. It is not 50/50. When we choose to get married, we obligate ourselves to that relationship in a way that is not dependent on how well the other spouse does his job. In fact, in a biblical view, God himself holds the parties to the marriage covenant responsible to fulfill the obligations of marriage. Marriage is designed to be an exclusive covenant relationship between one man and one woman for life.

I think you can already see why God gave the seventh commandment. If marriage is designed by God in its nature to be a lifelong committed relationship, then adultery strikes at the very core or essence of marriage. Adultery is like sowing salt in the garden of marriage. It is like spraying the whole garden with Roundup®. It is an attack on everything good that God designed marriage for.
So what did God design marriage for?

What is the purpose of marriage?

I believe we can see in Scripture four interrelated aspects of the purpose of marriage.
1. To rule earth together for God (Gen 1:26-27). God made Adam and gave him a job to do. But Adam couldn’t do it alone. He needed a helper who was suitable for him. God provided precisely that in Eve. Male and female were needed. The husband and wife are a team who work together to accomplish God’s good purposes. On this team of two, each partner has covenant responsibilities.
The husband is responsible to be the leader. Now, that means that he is ultimately responsible for the marriage. That’s what leadership means. It means taking responsibility for the good of our wives. So how does the Bible describe this leadership responsibility? Tyrant? Dictator? No. Love. Love means caring for someone enough to do what is best for them. As he loves his wife, the husband will serve her in order to equip her to be her best in their common mission of serving God together. Therefore, the husband is the provider and the protector. He is the direction setter, especially in the spiritual realm.
The wife is the “right-hand woman.” She is to be the complement to her husband – emotionally, physically, spiritually, intellectually, parentally, domestically, and in ministry. That’s why the Bible instructs wives to be submissive to their husbands and to reverence them and to love them.
When a husband/wife team operates this way, they can harmoniously accomplish God’s good plan for humanity.

2. To reproduce God’s image-bearers (Gen 1:28). In order for mankind to rule the earth for God, it is necessary to reproduce. Marriage provides the divinely approved context for having children. But the goal is not just to have children, it is to train them to follow God (Mal 2:15). God expects our marriages to produce godly offspring. That is why he designed marriage.

3. To rejoice in one another as God’s good gift (Gen 2:22-23; Song of Solomon). God not only made marriage functional, he made it beautiful. In marriage, companionship replaces isolation as a man and woman mutually complete one another. This is the opposite of self-centered individualism.

4. To reflect the relationship of God and his people. Several times in the OT, God uses adultery as a metaphor for the way Israel had treated him. Marriage is a human analogy of the divine-human relationship. In our day, this particularly relates to Jesus and his followers, his bride, the church (Eph 5:22-33). This is the ultimate goal of marriage. In fact, I do not believe it is too much to say that the church is the end-times extension of the family.[2] When we truly have this perspective, I believe we will honor marriage as a means of honoring God. We will protect its sanctity and its purity, because it is pointing us to the union of ultimate fulfillment in God.

When we think about the seventh commandment, many in the modern world think of it only as a restriction on their freedom. However, it is really a guide to true freedom. It is a guide to a productive, happy, satisfied life.

But more than that, it is an opportunity for us to experience first hand what it means to love God and to know him. Here at our church, we say that we want to glorify and enjoy God by knowing him and making him known. God calls us to himself like children and gives us a living example of what that means when he gives us marriage. He says, “Come here, my children, and I will give you an idea of what it is like to live in my garden, in a relationship with me. Come to my garden. The sun is shining and the dew is on the grass. The flowers are blooming. You can work here with me, tending my garden, and I will be your all-in-all.”

Furthermore, in marriage God is giving us an opportunity to express to others the truth of Christ and his church. Husbands, as you are loving leaders, and wives, as you are submissive helpers, God can use you as a great testimony for others who are wandering in the desert of sin. They can see in your faithful and pure marriage the freshness and bounty that Christ gives to his people. And they will be drawn to that beauty.

One day, marriage itself will be done away with. It will have served its purpose. But what it points to is the true story of living happily ever after. That’s why it is so important to remember, "You shall not commit adultery."

[1] Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath, NSBT (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 43.
[2] Andreas J. Kostenberger, “Marriage and Family in the New Testament,” in Marriage and Family in the Biblical World, ed. Ken M. Campbell (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 277.

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