Genesis 1:26-28, 2:18-25
A young, newlywed woman was preparing the first Thanksgiving Dinner since her marriage. As she was getting everything ready for Thanksgiving Day, she reminds herself to let the turkey finish thawing in the kitchen sink overnight. So, before she went to bed for the night, she placed the turkey in the sink and then placed an empty dish rack over it. About the time she’s doing this her husband walks in. He asks, “Hey, honey, why are you putting the dish rack over the turkey?” “Oh,” she said, “my mom always did that to help the turkey thaw.”
On Thanksgiving morning, the mother of this young bride calls to see how things are going with the meal prep. Her daughter tells her things are going well and then adds with a bit of pride, “I even remembered to put the dish rack over the turkey last night.” Her mother was silent for a few moments and then asked, “What are you talking about?”
“Mom,” the daughter replied, “I remembered that you always put the dish rack over the turkey to help it thaw when it was in the sink.” There was another pause on the line and then the mother said, “Yes, that’s true honey, but I did that because we had cats!”
You may have heard an account like this one, or even had an experience like this one. The moral of this story? It’s important for you and me to know WHY we’re doing WHAT we’re doing. The young bride’s lack of understanding didn’t make any difference in how the turkey turned out. The turkey would’ve thawed with or without the dish rack. But I remind you, there are many people who make similar mistakes in areas of much greater consequence.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, your claim automatically obligates you to accept the Word of God as the standard for your life. Jesus said, “If a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” Yet I discover in my own life, and among other Believers, a disturbing reality. In many areas we follow man’s ideas about what the Bible teaches instead of following the Bible.
If that statement makes you uncomfortable, good. It makes me uncomfortable too. When I stand before God to give an account of my works, God’s Word will be the standard of measurement, not what someone else thought God’s Word meant. I’ve observed in my brief lifetime that all too often, we Christians take our cues from the culture around us rather than the Holy Scriptures. We try to bring our culture to the Scriptures and make it fit. Instead, we should be taking the Word of God to our culture and changing our lifestyle to reflect God’s commands. I’m not saying that making the Gospel culturally relevant isn’t important. I’m saying that the culture and practice of those who profess to follow Jesus must conform to the Scriptures, not the other way around! Following Jesus will make you counter-cultural.
There are numerous areas of life and practice where you and I as Christ-followers have strayed quite far from what God’s Word teaches. The area I will address in this study is at the very core of our existence. It impacts our lives as individuals, families, churches, communities, and nations. It affects us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. It is the area of marriage.
As we begin this study, I want to make one thing clear. I’m speaking primarily to those who are followers of Christ. That’s not to say that the principles of God’s Word will not work for unbelievers, they will. But most unbelievers will not follow those principles because their hearts and minds have not been transformed by the power of the Gospel.
Today there are widely differing opinions over what marriage is and how it is expressed in our current culture. One reason for these differences of opinion and the confusion they create is because we’ve lost a biblical understanding of the PURPOSES of marriage. One author I read stated it succinctly. “Millions of pages and numerous books have been dedicated to offering help on how to save, better, grow, or even end a marriage and many more go as far as to describe the roles in, the tasks of, and the reasons for marriage, but it is difficult to find many pages that offer the purpose for marriage, and even fewer that offer God’s purpose for marriage.”
Can you see how important it is for us to answer the question, “What are God’s purposes for marriage?” Until we answer that question, we have no foundation upon which to build the structure of marriage. As a result, there is contradictory teaching about marriage today in Christian circles; we are not all starting at the same place. Only as God’s people come to understand and embrace His purposes in instituting the marriage covenant can we become more unified in our teaching about what a godly marriage looks like.
To learn what God’s purposes for marriage were and are, let’s begin at the beginning; the union, or marriage if you will, of Adam and Eve. Our study will focus primarily on Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:18-25. It will also include the New Testament writers understanding and application of these texts and the principles they contain. Obviously, we’re not able to cover this subject in one program, so I’ll be reading portions of our text from Genesis as we go along. I begin by reading Genesis 1:26-28.
Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18-25
God’s Word reveals several PURPOSES for which He instituted the covenant of marriage.
The Primary PURPOSE of Marriage is,
Sanctification is holiness. It is being set apart by that holiness so that we can be used by God. This sanctification is produced in us by the Holy Spirit. While we are created in God’s likeness, our sinful, unredeemed nature causes us to move in the opposite direction from God. At conversion, we are reborn through our covenant relationship with God through Christ. We are sanctified in our spirit as God’s Spirit resides there and controls our choices. The process of our sanctification then begins. This takes place in soul (mind, will, and emotions) and our body. God’s great purpose for every life (according to our text) is that we would be like Him and glorify Him! Marriage is one of the tools God uses to accomplish His desire.
This concept of sanctification, of being set apart, appears in the initial record of man’s creation by God, Genesis 1:26. Human beings are created in the image of God! That is, we were originally created to be like God. Not in the role of usurper, like Lucifer, but in the role of reflector or messenger, a tangible expression of God’s person and character. The text uses two different words to describe this concept. God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness… “At no other place in the Scriptures are these words used in tandem like this.
The word image is the Hebrew tselem. It’s used fivetimes in these opening chapters of Genesis with reference to the creation of man. But it’s also used twice in the book of First Samuel in reference to the golden copies of the mice and the tumors that the Philistines made as an offering to God after they desecrated the Ark of the Covenant. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says this word most often referred to an idol.
To dispel the idea that man is an exact copy of God in the miniature, the text adds the word, likeness. The Hebrew word is demut. It amplifies the idea that man is not merely representative of God but representational. That is, he is “the visible, corporeal, representative of the invisible, bodiless God. He is an adequate and faithful representative of God on earth.”
In this position, man is obligated to be holy, to be set apart for the task assigned. Repeatedly throughout the Scriptures God calls us as His representatives to holiness of life. “Be holy for I am holy.” Holiness is the basis of our fellowship with God. Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden of Eden in intimate fellowship. When sin entered the human family this image of God was marred, and the fellowship was broken. But God had already planned a way to restore the divine image. Holiness was so important to the representation of God’s image that He was willing to sacrifice His only Son to restore that image and likeness.
I conclude therefore that Godlikeness, holiness of life, is God’s supreme goal for everyone He creates. If that’s true, and I firmly believe it is, then the underlying, bedrock purpose of marriage is to sanctify us, to make us more holy, to conform us to the image of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. This understanding will have a major impact on how we view the marriage relationship. And how does this understanding work out in daily living?
Gary Thomas in his book, “Sacred Marriage,” asks, “What if God had an end in mind that went beyond our happiness, our comfort, and our desire to be infatuated and happy [in our marriage] as if the world were a perfect place?” Isn’t that the prevailing view of many professing Christians that marriage is about my happiness and the meeting of my needs? Thomas continues, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” Ponder that!
God created the first couple and brought them together so their differences would complement each other. But He also had full knowledge of their impending choice to reject His leadership. One consequence of sin entering the human family was that now their differences became a point of conflict, an irritation. And ideally, God will use those irritating differences as opportunities for each marriage partner to accept His grace and grow in His likeness.
Some time ago, I heard of a pastor who was counseling a woman who was going through a difficult time in her marriage. He told her that “since it is God’s will for you to be happy, if you’re not happy in your current marriage, then you’d better get out of it.” I’d like to know where that pastor found Scripture to support his counsel. He obviously didn’t understand that the primary purpose of marriage is sanctification! If he had, he would have counseled the woman to seek God’s grace to grow in the difficulties she was facing.
What many people don’t understand is God’s greatest desire is to make us holy, to make us like Him. He will bring us into situations and relationships that He can use to chip off the rough edges of our character. If we resist Him, or (as the pastor suggested to the woman in the troubled marriage), run away from the situation, guess what? God will see to it that we find ourselves in a similar situation until we learn the lessons of holiness and character development that He has for us. If you wonder about the basis for this concept, just observe the lives of certain Bible characters like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and others.
And you know something? God doesn’t give up! Many people who have left their marriage partners and are living in adulterous relationships will tell you that the person they are with now is more like their original partner than they ever imagined – or care to admit. During the initial time of unfaithfulness, their lover seemed to be the most caring, gracious, thoughtful person on the face of the earth. But eventually, they either changed or their true character was revealed as God continued His quest to conform the resisting one into the image of His holy Self.
Let’s note some New Testament Scriptures that support this purpose of sanctification. Consider Philippians chapter two; it’s all about Christlikeness. While marriage is certainly not the only way to develop a servant’s heart, if one responds to the grace of God, it is a very effective way. The 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week commitment gives ample opportunities to surrender our desires and grow in selfless love for our spouse. Like Christ we can lay aside our reputation, we can learn to serve instead of expecting to be served, and we can learn that as we truly humble ourselves before God and our marriage partner, God will exalt us in His own time.
Ephesians 5:15 to 23 give us very practical teaching on marriage. Here, the focus is on the husband learning to selflessly love his wife as Christ loves the church, and the focus for the wife is learning humble submission. Neither of these comes naturally, even to those who are genuinely born again. They are the work of God’s Spirit in sanctification, bringing our soul and body into harmony with our redeemed spirit.
There is also Paul’s instruction in First Corinthians seven about what to do when you find yourself in a difficult marriage. He doesn’t say, “If it gets too difficult, just call it quits.” No, Paul’s counsel is for the believing partner to be faithful to the unbelieving one. And he specifically mentions the sanctifying influence of the believing one. As I said earlier, this teaching is not popular in our day; but it is Scriptural.
First Peter chapter three gives further teaching about the need for sanctification in the lives of husbands and wives. Prayers become more effective, and hearts are won to faith in Christ by those who demonstrate a meek and quiet spirit by sacrificial love and honor.
Do you see how important this purpose is and how it will affect the answers we give to others’ marriage questions? Sanctification focuses on what God desires to accomplish in my life, not on what the other person is doing that is wrong or maybe just plain annoying.
Most of us can think of some quirk, some habit, some peculiarity that our spouse has that annoys us. But I’ve found that as you grow in love you often come to the place where you no longer notice that thing that formerly irritated you. Or sometimes when you get over it, they grow out of it. Or it becomes one of those things that make your spouse uniquely special. What has changed? You have! That same process works on issues of much greater importance too.
As we close our discussion of this purpose for marriage, I remind you that God never intended you to find everything you need in your marriage partner. If you did, you wouldn’t need Him. We all have needs that our spouses, no matter how godly, cannot meet. Reb Bradley put it this way. “The challenges offered in marriage are capitalized on by God to help shape and mold us into the image of Jesus…God knows that as we grow into the image of Jesus our greatest needs are met.” Just as our covenant relationship with Christ produces the sanctification of our spirit, so the covenant relationship of marriage, lived according to the principles of God’s Word, will produce sanctification of the soul and the body. It will call forth in our lives that which is holy, just, pure, and good. It will prepare us to be the spotless bride of the Lord Jesus Christ!