Marriage in Creation and in COVID
Marriage in Creation and in COVID
Genesis 2:18 – 25
Ephesians 5:21 – 33
Marriage according to Twitter …
You may have seen in the news this week, two death notices published on the same page, of the same paper, for the same man, from 2, different, wives.
The same dates of birth and death,
Each woman apparently thinking, he was her husband.
And as you can imagine, Twitter had a field day!
What intrigued me though, was that the vast majority of comments, were along the lines of “well, if he managed to pull it off, good on him!”
“Why not be married to 2 different people at the same time”
“Marriage is only a cultural construct, and culture has moved on.”
That’s marriage according to Twitter.
Maybe it seems strange, in the middle of a pandemic, for us to be thinking about marriage, but surely this reminds us that it’s always a good time to hear of God’s pattern for marriage, because what we hear elsewhere is vastly different.
And this COVID pandemic we’ve been living with now for nearly a year, has put pressure on almost every area of life, including marriages, and singleness, and relationships.
Lots of us are tired,
Many are anxious,
We’re out of our familiar patterns, stuck at home, cramped in space with others, or spending hours on our own.
And so while some of us are feeling pressure on our marriages because of this, others among us are conscious of the unique pressures of singleness because of lockdown, and everything else.
So perhaps, there’s no better time, to hear what God says in his word about marriage and to reflect the implications of that for lockdown.
1. Marriage is God’s good idea for his purposes
We don’t get much further than about page 2 of the Bible before we see that marriage is God’s good idea for his purposes.
Grab a Bible, or device and flick to those verses at the end of Genesis 2
We’ve had that repeated refrain, “and it was good”, but now there’s a jarring contrast;
Verse 18 it is not good, for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Says God
Marriage is God’s good idea, for the problem of man’s “aloneness.”
But this is not about stopping the man from sitting on the sofa all by himself every night.
The problem with the man being alone, is that he’s unable to fulfil the task given to him by God;
We didn’t read it but it’s just a few lines up in verse 28 of chapter 1, God said “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.
One bloke on his own, can’t do that.
And so for that task, God creates a helper.
A helper suitable for him, literally a helper, “like, opposite” him.
Helper doesn’t mean someone who does all the stuff you don’t want to,
This is the label the Bible gives to God himself.
When Moses speaks of his victory over The Egyptians, this is the word he uses to describe God.
That is to say, when the Bible talks about a “helper”, it pictures an indispensable partner, without whom, you cannot do the task set before you.
Now, can a single person today play a part in that fill the earth and subdue it?,
But obviously if there was only ever just one single man, he wouldn’t be able to fill the earth and subdue it, exercising the kind of rule God wanted him to.
So God invents marriage. It’s his good idea, in order that his purposes for his creation might be achieved.
Marriage unites one man and one woman who are equal but different
Secondly, it’s clear that God’s intention is for the union of one man and one woman, who are equal, but different.
See verse 21, So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man,
Yes, there are some men in the Old Testament who had multiple wives. It starts with Lamech, which links this aberration to the evil line of Cain.
But when you read those accounts with their turmoil and relational havoc, you can see we’re told about their polygamy to warn us against it!
God’s pattern is one man and one woman.
And the marriage relationship is intentionally complementarian;, like, but opposite,
Equal but different,
Both made in the image of God,
But with different roles and functions.
And we see, one example of this difference as Adam exercises leadership and authority over his wife.
Just as God names things that he has authority over, he called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night, chapter 1 verse 8,
And God gives people new names like Abram/Abraham,
So also Adam names those he is to lead;, God brought the animals to the man, 2:19, to see what he would name them;
So within this pattern, for Adam to call his wife “woman”, demonstrates the leadership and authority that he has for her.
That leadership plays out in the very next chapter, when God demands an explanation from Adam after he and Eve eat the fruit.
Now, the distinction in role, by no means implies any distinction in worth, or value.
The fact that she is made from Adam’s rib or maybe “side” highlights this.
One Archbishop of Seville in the early 600s claimed it was the 8th rib, the one closest to the heart, ‘cause he said that rib is the “guardian of the heart”, and that’s what the wife is!
Which is sweet, but, entirely made up! The point is that they are made of the same human stuff.
There can be no argument about who is better, when she is made, literally from him.
Marriage involves a permanent, public commitment, and sexual union.
Notice also that marriage involves a permanent, public commitment, and sexual union.
See verse 24 24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
The old Bible translations used to use the language of leaving and cleaving. The man leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife.
It’s about the permanent nature of the marriage union, and also, because it’s permanent, a new family is created.
One state in Mexico recently passed a law enabling temporary marriages, which can be renewed, if both parties want to, every 2 years!
But that’s not a leaving and uniting is it?
You’re unlikely to be united to someone if the clock’s ticking like that! If you got married this time last year, you’d have spent half of your entire marriage allowance under pandemic and lockdown!
The Church of England prayer book describes marriage as creating a “foundation of family life”, and enriching society, strengthening community, because of this permanent commitment.
Think of the discussions our society’s had about consent recently. Important issues, but consent deals with immediate physical safety and present intent, it’s got nothing to do with commitment to the other person’s long-term well-being and flourishing.
You can give your consent to someone who has no intention of speaking to you ever again.
God’s pattern, with its permanent commitment and new family, provides for personal flourishing and strengthening whole communities.
Marriage also involves a sexual union.
That’s part of what it is to become one flesh verse 24.
This is about unity more broadly;, a husband and wife are so united, that it’s as if they’re, made out of the very same stuff, which we saw, Adam and Eve were.
And the sexual relationship symbolises this.
But sex on its own is not marriage.
Marriage involves this public commitment, which, for Adam and Eve wasn’t really very public, but as God’s Word unfolds, we see that marriage includes a public, legal, culturally appropriate acknowledgement that this man and this woman have started a new, permanent family.
That’s why, in the Old Testament law, if a man and a woman slept together, everyone didn’t just act as if they were now married, the man still had to pay the bride-price, Exodus 22.
Now, we don’t do the bride-price thing, but that was the public, and legal recognition that these two were married. And without that, they weren’t married.
I read a news article about marriage this week that concluded with the line, “Why would I want the government involved in my romantic life? Eww.”
And yes, part of marriage is private. But the public commitment of marriage,
– contributes to the broader purpose of marriage as we’ll see in a moment,
– It has that function of fostering stability in communities,
– And all manner of other benefits, including that when someone is publicly married, there’s clarity for everyone about what they’re signing up for.
One of the great tragedies of sexual relationships and unmarried couples living together, is the ambiguity about that situation, often, even for the people themselves.
We all know of relationships where the man has one set of expectations and hopes, and the woman, completely different.
Marriage has this public commitment, to go as far as is possible in making sure everybody, those inside and outside, know that we now have a new, permanent, family unit.
Marriage is God’s gift to all humanity, from creation forwards
And finally here in Genesis 2, let’s realise that all that we’ve seen of God’s design for marriage, is built into creation and so is for all of humanity.
This is before Israel,
This is before the Law,
This is before sin enters the world.
Which is why the Church of England marriage service describes marriage as “a gift of God in creation”
So the headship of a husband, the complimentary design of one man and one woman in marriage, none of that is as a result of sin, or an attempt to smooth out the effects of sin.
This is God’s creation intention for all humanity.
Which means marriage is for all of human life;, and for all seasons of human life,
Including this season, a 21st Century, post-truth, both-sidism, me-too, crisis of masculinity world,
A COVID world.
There is nowhere you can point to on the map, where God didn’t intend this to be what marriage looks like.
And part of the reason for that, is because marriage has always been intended as a picture of something else.
2. Marriage reflects the relationship between Christ and the Church
So turn with me, if you will, to Ephesians chapter 5.
Ephesians, you may know, celebrates the wonder of God’s people being united with Christ, and in the second half of the letter, Paul explains how people united to Christ ought to live.
Including, verse 21, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Now, this is not everyone submitting to everyone else all the time, how could that even work?! Like 2 Christians trying to get through a door, “After you”
“No, after you”, ad infinitum!
No, Christians are to submit according to the patterns that God has established. And these verses show what that looks like in a marriage, because as Paul explains here, marriage reflects the relationship between Christ and the church.
He flips back and forth between talking about husbands and wives and Christ and the church, doesn’t he?
Look at verse 23 for example,
23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
The headship of a husband in marriage, which we saw in Genesis 2, is a reflection of Christ’s headship of the church.
And a wife is to submit to her husband, just as the church submits to Christ.
Of course Christ never leads the church into sin, or into anything that’s not good for the church, so that gives us the shape of a wife’s submission, it’s not without exception, it doesn’t include following her husband into disobedience.
But just as the church submits to Christ, for its good, for its care, so a wife will submit to the sacrificial, loving, spiritual leadership of her husband.
Now some people react immediately against this idea of submission and headship, and yet when this headship is to be a reflection of Christ’s headship of the church, what a beautiful and attractive picture!
Look at the very next verse;, 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
And in verse 26 and 27, we see that the point of this costly love is a wife’s holiness;, that she might become more and more like Jesus.
The thing a husband will most be concerned about for his wife, is her holiness and spiritual growth, just as that is Christ’s primary concern for his bride:, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church,
We can’t unpack all the detail of what Paul says here, but the order in the marriage relationship is what was established at creation.
But we must see here that God created human marriage in order that it might reflect the eternal relationship of Christ and the church.
See where Paul ends up;, In verse 31 he quotes from Genesis 2, those words we’ve been looking at, 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” e 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Genesis 2:24 is about more than human marriage;, it’s about Christ’s relationship with his people.
That’s the mystery;, back in Genesis 2, this is what God had in mind, even though we don’t see it in God’s unfolding revelation until this point.
God’s intention with marriage, is to point people to the relationship between Christ and his people.
And Paul keeps flipping between the 2;, sometimes talking about human marriages, sometimes talking about Christ and the church, because that eternal relationship is both the model we follow in our marriages, and the motivation for our conduct in marriage, for those of us who are married.
Marriage is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church.
If you’re married, God intends that your marriage will communicate something of the relationship of Christ and the church to a watching world and into the spiritual realms.
If you’re not married but hope one day you will be, this is what you’d be signing up for.
When those watching in the spiritual realms see a wife submitting to her husband;, her reverence for Christ enabling her to follow his godly leadership, that’s intended to point them to the wisdom of God’s gospel purposes
When a husband is seen loving his wife to the point of giving himself up for her, that shouts to the spiritual realms of the power of the gospel at work in people’s lives.
Of course it’s only partial, and imperfect.
But God has created marriage for this purpose.
Which is why this section isn’t some last minute add-in by Paul, trying to deal with some out of control marriages in Ephesus, as some people try to tell us so we don’t have to obey it.
The whole letter is about being united with Christ, and our marriages are to illustrates that.
3. Some reflections on marriage in a pandemic
But what are the implications of all this, in the midst of a pandemic which has increased stresses on our singleness and our marriages.
Well here are 7 very brief reflections on marriage under COVID. They won’t all be your experience, but perhaps you’ll find encouragement in some.
#1 COVID has highlighted some of the unique struggles of single people.
Number one. Lockdown has highlighted some of the unique struggles of single people.
We’ve been confined to our homes, and many of those in our church family who aren’t married have found the isolation particularly difficult.
Some who wish they were married, find that isolation emphasises that unmet hope.
So we need to be creative in working out how to care for those who are feeling especially isolated or lonely;, we can’t just drop in for a coffee, but there are lots of ways we can express our shared identity of those united, in Christ as Ephesians says. We’re united to him, and therefore to each other.
How are we going to express that unity and care for others whose experience of lockdown might be different to ours?
You might enjoy not going into work every day, but for some who live alone, every working hour at the kitchen table can highlight loneliness.
Perhaps in this time when, again, some, not all, of those who are single among us are conscious of loneliness and isolation, it’s time for others of us to ensure single people don’t just feel welcome in the body of Christ, but wanted.
#2 Strains in our marriages or singleness can make us long for the great wedding feast to come.
Number 2;, Strains in our marriage or our experience of singleness now, can make us long all the more for the great wedding feast to come.
Revelation 19 pictures the wedding of the Lamb, the wonderful union between Christ and his people reaching its fulfilment, the very thing that our earthly marriages point forward to.
And to be aware of our struggles in marriage today, to realise how we fail to reflect the gospel through our marriage, reminds us to set our hope all the more on that great day, and to long for the reality that our marriages point to.
Our relationship with Christ isn’t based on our performance, so our confidence in sharing in that wonderful celebration doesn’t depend on how well we do in our marriage now.
And being loved by Christ as his bride when we don’t deserve it, being forgiven freely and repeatedly, means we’re able to love and to forgive.
This goes for those who are feeling the unique pressures of singleness, also.
Not all of us will get married, but all of us can set our hearts on the celebration of this marriage, when we’re presented as a bride to Christ.
When these days are hard, let’s long all the more for that day, and live in the light of it
# 3 COVID pressures can make us self-centred instead of other person centred
Thirdly, COVID pressures can make us self-centred instead of other-person centred.
I feel, in this situation, nothing ever goes the way I want it to!
I can’t do my job the way I know how,
I can’t meet with the people I want to see,
I’m supervising 3 children’s schooling at home,
Expectations on me keep changing,
I can’t even go and sit in Costa for an hour to give my brain a rest!
So when given a chance to make something, all about me, that temptation is pretty strong!
I remember a friend once, exasperated, telling off their toddler for being selfish, saying, “It’s not always about you!”
And the little kid replied with big wondering eyes, “but sometimes it can be about me, can’t it?”
And maybe that’s us.
When you’re exhausted from working at the kitchen table all day, or supervising children, or going in to work, and facing crowds of people, perhaps the costly love of laying down your life doesn’t really appeal!
Submitting to the leadership of a husband who’s tired and frustrated, not to mention frustrat-ing, who wants to do that?
Again, I know that not everyone is tired and exhausted, but lots of us are, and that makes being an Ephesians 5 kind of husband or wife hard work.
We have to choose to act this way in our marriages with the help of the Spirit of God, because it doesn’t come naturally to us.
We need this reminder that our marriages are signposts of the gospel.
I need to hear Christ’s command to love my wife,
I need the reminder that God is communicating to the heavenly realms through my marriage.
And I need my reverence for Christ, Ephesians 5:21, my right fear of him, to reset my priorities and lift me from wallowing in my selfishness.
I’m not saying neglect self-care,
I’m not telling us to be foolish with our capacity or health,
I’m asking, “Will you remind me, and will you let me remind you if you’re married, that contrary to much of what we hear around us, marriage isn’t about my personal needs and desires being met.”
#4 Whether we’re married or single, COVID-19 might strip away distractions and idols.
Fourthly, It may be the case that for some of us, the restrictions we’ve faced recently have stripped away some of the distractions and idols that have been affecting our marriages.
Or perhaps for those among us who are single, if the idea of marriage itself has become an idol, then the lessons learnt in this time of isolation might remind us that Jesus is enough.
If we’ve allowed ourselves to become convinced that we can’t possibly be satisfied unless;,
I can achieve to a particular level at work,
Or exercise my freedom and autonomy,
Or even, unless I find a husband or a wife,
Then we haven’t truly grasped hold of who Jesus is, and what he offers us, and it’s likely that our marriage, or our contentment in our singleness is suffering, as we pursue these other things.
Think of the idol of my autonomy,
Maybe, lockdown life, in stripping away these things, is removing distractions and idols that have been hindering our marriages.
Perhaps, those of us who are married, can thank God for taking away things that have got in the way of us loving our spouse as we ought.
#5 COVID-19 is not the only source of pressure on marriage & singleness
It’s also worth remembering, of course, that COVID is just one among many current pressures on marriage and singleness as God intends them.
We pray for an end to this pandemic, but when, under God, we get to that point, if you’re a husband or wife, your role isn’t going to get easy overnight, and your efforts to live out your marriage according to God’s pattern aren’t going to be suddenly welcomed by our culture.
We’ve seen that marriage is a reflection of gospel truths. And yet we live in an age when gospel truths are increasingly marginalised and ignored.
So we shouldn’t be surprised when marriage is viewed with scepticism and suspicion.
Our society doesn’t want to hear, what marriage is intended to communicate. So let’s not be under any misapprehension, about the pressure our marriages will continue to be under after lockdown.
It’s why we run Marriage Matters, not just this year, but every year!
And the same applies to those among us who aren’t married. While lockdown has brought it’s own stresses as we noted, you don’t need me to tell you, once life gets back to “normal”, there’s still pressure;,
You’ll still encounter the myth that marriage is the goal, That singleness is somehow deficient.
There’s a new book out from sociologist Nicholas Christakis, in which he predicts that this pandemic will be followed by years of sexual licentiousness;, as people “let their hair down.”
It’s being called another sexual revolution.
Being a faithful, single, follower of Jesus in the next decade, will put you under enormous pressure to conform to what this new sexual revolution says about singleness, and sex, and relationships.
Whether we’re single or married, our understanding of what it means to live out of reverence for Christ, will come up against opposition.
Are we convinced from God’s Word, that his pattern for marriage, relationships, sexuality, is both right and good for us?
#6 Wives, your husband probably deserves your submission less than usual, but that’s not the point!
Number 6. If you’re a wife, your husband probably deserves your submission, even less than usual, during lockdown. But that’s not the point!
Christ’s call on you to submit to your husband, within the limits of obedience to God, as we’ve seen, doesn’t depend on whether he deserves it or not.
But because of God’s lofty intentions for marriage, he’s established this order of headship and submission.
So wives, let me gently remind you;, You’re not called to submit if he’s earned it,
You don’t stop submitting because he’s not doing a very good job of leading you into increasing holiness, Ephesians 5:26.
Jesus calls on wives to submit to their husband’s godly and protective leadership, because it’s wired into creation that this is the way for marriages to thrive and to achieve their intended purposes.
#7 Husbands, dying isn’t the only way to show love
And finally, while we’ve seen that husbands are to love their wives to the point of laying down their lives, let’s remember guys, that dying is not the only way to show love to your wife.
Sometimes it’s a lot less dramatic.
In fact, almost always, it’s a lot less dramatic.
Sometimes it’s cleaning up after yourself!
Sometimes it’s helping the children with their school work.
It’s definitely prioritising her holiness and spiritual well-being.
Just because you’d go under a bus for her, doesn’t mean you’re loving as Jesus commands you to.
Loving your wife, as Christ loved the church, Ephesians 5:25, is costly.
It means loving her when you don’t feel she deserves it.
It means dying to what is easy, and convenient, and preferable to you, even though as we’ve noted, lockdown can make us really cling to what’s easy, and convenient, and preferable.
Remember, the whole thing of being a husband is based on Christ’s love for us, and we certainly didn’t deserve it, and Christ didn’t stick with what was easy, and convenient.
You’ve probably heard of the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset”, it’s a proposal to rebuild the world economy sustainably after COVID-19.
Of course that language has led to all sorts of conspiracy theories, but husbands, what about a “small reset”?
What if this disruption to patterns of life and work, gave us the opportunity to reset?
As life, we pray, gets back to something we call normal, what if we could commit, to asking for God’s help to begin anew, to love our wives, seeking her good, and her holiness, even when it’s costly?
To be Ephesians 5 husbands?
They’re calling the pandemic a one in 300 year event.
That means we have a rare opportunity, to make the most of disruption and subsequent reorganisation, to renew our foundation, and put things in place;,
In our diary,
In our thinking,
In our words,
In our priorities,
In our disciplines
That the spiritual well-being of our wife, might become our primary concern for her, and one for which we are willing to bear the cost.
And with that kind of commitment, undergirded by prayer and a whole-hearted desire to have our marriages shaped by God’s Word, it won’t just be the holiness of our wife that benefits,
But since this is the way marriage is intended to work, it will be more able to achieve all those purposes for which God created it.
Some of you will be aware of Richard’s book on Ephesians, which is a really helpful read. I even owned it before I worked here. That’s saying something!!
But have a listen to what Richard says to us blokes.
“Since the husband is the “head” of his wife, the health of a marriage will depend primarily on the husband getting his act together.” P 165
Husbands, this pandemic has brought all kinds of change.
How sad it would be to waste this opportunity for a small reset, to get our act together, if that hasn’t been the case, and to love our wives, as Christ loved the church.
Father we thank you for marriage, for it’s blessings and benefits, both to a husband and wife, and to our community.
We thank you especially for the picture of the relationship between Christ and the church reflected in marriage. Help those of us who are married to live out this high calling.
Equip us all, we pray, whether we’re married or single, to persevere in these challenging times, and those to come, that through our submission to Jesus and reverence for him, we might demonstrate the goodness of living as those united to him by faith.
Help us long for that great day of the wedding feast of the lamb, may that shape our lives today, and every day, for glory, amen.