The Beautiful Puzzle of Marriage, Part 1 of 4 in a Series on Marriage and Singleness, Genesis 2:18-25, 4/7/13

 Sermons  Comments Off on The Beautiful Puzzle of Marriage, Part 1 of 4 in a Series on Marriage and Singleness, Genesis 2:18-25, 4/7/13
Apr 072013
 

Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church

 

18Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man* there was not found a helper as his partner.

 

21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said,

 

‘This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;

this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man* this one was taken.’

 

24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

 

 

Read through the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 and you’ll find that it’s all good.  Heavens, earth, sun and moon, oceans and mountains, plants and animals, everything God makes is declared good.  Everything is as it should be.  All is in harmony.  The world is perfect.  It isn’t until the end of chapter 2, after God has surveyed all that he has created, that he finds one little problem.  The man that God made, the one he put in the garden to take care of it, is alone.  And this, God says, is not good.

 

Now understand, the man lives in paradise.  He has good work to do, a garden to look after.  He has friendship and fellowship with God, unbroken at this point by sin.  God has given him all of creation to enjoy.  He’s got his ESPN and his plate full of nachos.  He’s got his garage stocked with power tools.  He’s got his golden retriever by his side.  He has all this and yet it’s still not good because he does not have his partner.  You see, the man is just one piece of a two-piece puzzle and it does not take God but a second to recognize that something essential is missing from the picture.

 

It’s not that the man just needed another person.  It’s most specific than that.  The man needed somebody like him and yet, at the same time, unlike him, like one puzzle piece needs another puzzle piece that is similar in some ways but not similar in all ways.  And so God didn’t make for the man a golf buddy, or a dad, or even a son.  God made for the man a woman, a wife, one who was like him and unlike him all at the same time.

 

In beautiful poetic language, the scriptures say that God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep and then, while he was sleeping, God took a rib from his side and made from it a woman.  Unlike the animals before her, the woman is not made from the dust of the earth.  She is made from the flesh of man.  She is, in other words, the same as him.  She is like him.  In terms of value and worth she is exactly like him.  In terms of her status before God, she is exactly like him.  Woman, in many ways, is just like man.

 

And yet woman is also unlike man.[1]  As the French say, men and women are different and long live the difference!  The Bible first alludes to the difference when God says woman was made to be a helper to man.  Unfortunately, that word throws many of us because it sounds condescending.  It makes it sound like the woman was made to wait hand and foot on the man, to clean up his messes, to be dominated by him.  And while down through history human sin has tragically tried to make women helpers in these ways, this could not be further from the way God first intended it.

 

The Hebrew word for “helper” here is the word ‘ezer.  When it is found elsewhere in scripture it is usually used to describe God.  Psalm 33:20 says, “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our helper and our shield.”[2]  So, you see, woman is meant to be the sort of helper to man that God is to us.  This is the sort of helper who comes to do for you what you absolutely could not do on your own.  The man, in other words, is incomplete in his humanity without the woman, and vice versa.  One without the other is greatly lacking, even in trouble.

 

In a very memorable scene from the movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise says to Renee Zellweger, “You complete me.[3]”   All the women in the audience swoon and all the men in the audience groan, but there is some truth to what he says.  From the very beginning of time, our God has told us that woman completes man and man completes woman and that one without the other is, in important ways, incomplete.  As one writer puts it, “These are two puzzle pieces which fit together because they are not exactly alike or randomly different, but they are differentiated such that together they create a complete whole.”[4]

 

Now, I need you to understand that this cuts against a notion in our culture that is finding wider and wider acceptance.  Many people these days are coming to believe that even though men and women are obviously physically different, most of the differences end there.  As the thinking goes, we are basically the same people made with different body parts that make childbirth is possible.  Any differences beyond the physical, many would say, are just social constructs, put on us by our upbringing, our culture, our environment.

 

God’s Word teaches us something radically different.  As men and women, our gender is not incidental or secondary to who we are but is absolutely central to our identity.  In fact, the very first time that humanity is mentioned in the Bible gender is mentioned as well.  Genesis 1:17 reads, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”[5]  Don’t miss the beautiful and redemptive truth here.  The image of God could not be fully reflected in man alone, or in woman alone.  And we know this goes far deeper than the physical distinctions because the image of God in us has little if anything to do with our bodies because God is spirit.  Image of God doesn’t mean that we look like God.

 

You see, we were not made as generic humans who were later differentiated by our body parts.  From the very outset we are beautifully and wonderfully made male and female.  Every cell within us is either stamped XX or XY.[6]  And it is only together, and in loving, serving, honoring relationships with one another, most profoundly in marriage but not only in marriage, that we best reflect the true image of God placed on humanity.   If we lost all the women in the world we would lose something of great value that could not simply be gained back by adding more men to reinforce the troops.  The same could be said of losing all men.  And this has to do with much more than simply our ability as a race to reproduce, although that would be one crucial aspect.

 

While the trend in our culture at this time is to deny this truth, those who are willing to look honestly and closely are able to recognize it immediately.  Parents raising both boys and girls quickly understand that the differences between the two go far deeper than body parts and toy preferences.  This isn’t true in every single instance, of course.  But most of the time it is true.

 

Those of us in marriages trying to share our whole lives together quickly discover that as men and women we are just hard-wired differently.  I was with a group of couples not long ago when one of the women informed those of us men present that when our wives tell us that they really don’t need anything special for Valentine’s Day that  our wives actually don’t mean what they are telling us.  For us men this information was extremely valuable but, at the same time, extraordinarily bewildering.  Why don’t women just tell us what they want?

 

From the other perspective, a wife will say to her husband, “You’re mad, aren’t you?”  And he’ll reply, “No, not at all.  I’m fine.”  But then three days later he will come back and admit, “You’re right.  I was furious and resentful.”  And the wife will think to herself, “How is it possible for a grown adult to be so completely out of touch with his feelings?”[7]

 

In marriage we learn just how different from one another we really are.

 

Noted feminist psychologist Carol Gilligan created quite a stir when Harvard published her 1982 study on gender differences in a book called In a Different Voice.  Gilligan insisted that female psychological development, motivations and even moral reasoning were different from those of males.  She found that while there are certainly exceptions to the rule, men generally have a gift of independence.  They look outward.  They initiate.  They seek to mature by detaching themselves.  Women, on the other hand, generally have the gift of interdependence.  They are inwardly perceptive.  They nurture.  They seek to mature by attaching.[8]

 

Amazingly, even those who would not say that they generally subscribe to the Bible’s teachings come to recognize biblical truth in this area of gender differences.  In so many ways we are the same.  And yet, we are also profoundly different.  And though these differences can be, at times, maddeningly frustrating and intensely mysterious, they are ultimately meant as a gracious gift from God.

 

Listen to me.  Those of you men here who are married, your wife was made for you.  And wives, your husband was made for you.  Your partner was meant to compliment you, to complete you, to bring wholeness to your life.  And even for those of us who are not married, we would be incomplete without one another.  Even before I was married, the loving relationships I had with women in my life – in my family, with friends, with co-workers – added a richness to my life that I do not believe I could have gained any other way.

 

Speaking specifically to those of us who are married, we would do well to begin to consider that the differences we see in our spouse are a gift from a God who loves us and wants the absolute best for us.  That means we must not reject this gift.  The distinctions that my wife brings to our marriage are there not just because she is a different person but because she is a different gender and even if they remain mysterious to me I need to learn to see those differences as beautiful gifts to me.  I am a better and more complete person with her than without her, and she with me.

 

This is why the scriptures teach us that in marriage “a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”  The marriage relationship, for those who are called into it, is to be the absolute primary human relationship.  And many, many marriages suffer or fail because they never do what God commands us to do, which is to leave the rest of our family and cling, or as the old versions say, cleave to our husband or our wife.  And frankly, I think that the biggest obstacles to husband-wife relationships are parent-child relationships.  And it happens at both ends, with our parents and our children.

 

On one end, some people never leave their own parents when they get married.  Sure, they may move out and live with their spouse, but their hearts, in many ways, are still devoted to their family of origin.  And all it takes is that first conflict when one person in a marriage is being pulled one way by their spouse and the opposite way by their family of origin and they favor their family of origin and the other person suddenly realizes, “Wow!  I’m not so sure that my husband’s ultimate loyalty is with me.  I think it’s with his parents.”  That’s when things are in trouble.

 

It may seem silly, but the initial test in a marriage usually comes that first Christmas or Thanksgiving.  Now that we’re married, where are we going to spend the holidays?  Well, my family really wants us to be with them.  But it’s tradition that my family always gathers together.  And you know what the wise couple does?  They say to both families, “Listen, we love you all, and we hope we will have many more holidays together in the future, but this first Christmas we want to spend it together, just the two of us, and create some traditions for our new family.”  That would send a big message to everybody, including one another, that things are different now.  This relationship, you and me, this is where my primary loyalty now lies.  If you’re married, can you honestly say that is true of your marriage?

 

On the other end, some marriages struggle for the same reason when children come along.  In our kid-centered culture, it is far, far too easy for married parents to begin to make their children the focus of the family.  The shift is subtle and can hide beneath the radar for years, but then one day the last child leaves home and a husband and wife look at each other and realize that their marriage has for so long been secondary to their parenting that little, if anything, is left of their marriage.

 

Let’s be very clear on this.  God did not put a parent and a child in the garden.  God put a husband and a wife.  In my family, the most important relationship is the one I have with my wife.  In fact, one of the best things I can ever do for my kids is put my wife first and them second.  She’s the only human I have ever promised before God, “Till death do us part.”  I did not promise that to my kids, nor they to me.

 

If you are married and have kids, here’s what I suggest.  Regularly and intentionally leave your kids out.  Go on dates, vacations, wonderful places without them.  Take them with you some of the time, of course.  But not always.  Recently my wife and I took a trip to Hawaii and, much to their chagrin, we left our kids at home.  Perhaps someday we’ll take them along, but not this time.  And it was wonderful.  And I would say to those of you with kids, if you are not regularly leaving your kids out and taking significant time just for one another, there’s a good chance that your devotion lies more with your kids than with one another.  In the long run that will be devastating for your marriage and it won’t be much good for your kids either.

 

If you are married, ask yourself this question.  Who has my heart?  Who am I clinging to?  If over time your spouse does not consistently sense that he or she is, other than God, the first priority in your life, then your marriage will slowly die.  You may stay married, but the marriage will only be a shell of what it was meant to be.  Your marriage partner is not just a sexual partner or a financial partner or a parenting partner.  That person is meant to be your life partner, your best friend, the object of your attention and affection.  If you are married, no human being or human endeavor should ever get more of your love, energy, industry and commitment than your husband or your wife.

 

Genesis tells us that in marriage God makes a husband and wife “one flesh”.  That word “one” there is the Hebrew words ‘echad, and it does not mean “one” in the solitary sense, as in something that is alone, by itself.  Rather, ‘echad means “one” in the unified sense, as in two things that have now come together as one.  In fact, the very same word is used in the most famous verse in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:4, which reads, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”  God, in other words, is not one in the solitary sense but in the unified sense.  As Christians, of course, we understand that even in the heart of the Old Testament we are learning about the deep unity of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – three persons lovingly and mysteriously united as one God.

 

Don’t miss the point.  Scripture is comparing the unity between a man and woman in marriage to the unity of the three persons of the Trinity in God.  There is a union God creates in marriage that is deeper and more mysterious and more sacred then we can ever even begin to imagine.

 

It’s humbling.  Marriage is such a high calling that, in some ways, it makes you want to stay single.  And if you’re already married and sitting there considering all this, listening to these words I’m speaking, maybe you’re feeling a bit like I was feeling when I wrote them.  To be honest, as I’ve studied what God’s Word teaches us about marriage I’ve been reminded just how much I have to learn when it comes to my marriage.  I can’t lie to you, I do not always place my wife, Esther, in the place of devotion that she is worthy of receiving.  I do not always appreciate her God-given uniqueness as a woman in a way I know God wants me to appreciate it.  I do not always give the deep unity of marriage the sacred honor it is worthy of receiving.   Like all of you who are married, God still has work to do in me and in my marriage.

 

But the gracious truth which I see revealed here in scripture about this mysterious gift of marriage inspires me, as I hope it inspires you, to become a student of marriage as God intends it, to invest in marriage as much as anything else in life.  I hope you are inspired not only for the sake of your marriage, but for the sake of your life, for the sake of your soul.  For you see, I have come to believe that this most foundational of all human relationships is meant to point us, married and unmarried alike, to the most foundational of all relationships, our relationship with the One who made us in the first place.

 

Scripture has lots of ways to describe our relationship with God.  The one which comes to mind first for many of us is that of parent and child.  God is our Father and we are his beloved sons and daughters.  But when scripture speaks about our relationship with Christ, instead of parent child language the Bible uses the language of marriage.  Jesus himself often talked about the church as his bride and compared his coming again one day to a wedding feast when God and his people would be forever and lovingly united.[9]  In Revelation 21, we are given a vision of the end of time when God’s Kingdom is fulfilled on earth and John describes God’s people there as “a holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,”[10] who is Christ.

 

Could it be that marriage is such a priceless gift because this loving and unified relationship between husband and wife points us, married and unmarried alike, to the loving and unified relationship we were ultimately made to enjoy with Christ.  In marriage we find another who is like us and unlike us all at once and that points us to Christ who is also completely like us and completely unlike us all at once.  In marriage we find that there is another who completes us and that points us to Christ who, in an even much deeper way, makes us whole again.  In marriage we begin to learn what it means to give your affection and devotion to one person above all other people and it prepares us to come and devote our life – heart, mind, soul and strength – to Christ above all else.  In the end we see that marriage, like all good gifts from heaven, ultimately points us to Christ.

 

Let me end today where our passage ends, with what I think is one of the most beautiful verses in all of scripture.  Clinging together, and having been completed and united by God in marriage, the scripture says that “the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”  What a stunningly beautiful picture of marriage.  Here are two people standing before one another completely exposed, not just physically naked but naked in their hearts, their minds and souls, and in that utter nakedness they feel no shame whatsoever.

 

I would ask you, is there any relationship in your life where this is true?  I would guess not.  Even with those closest to us we hold back.  You do not let anybody, even your spouse, see every thought, every motive, every part of your heart.  Of course marriage, as it was created and before it was ruined by sin, was meant to be this.  And though no marriage on this earth will ever completely achieve this, our marriages are meant to get us closer to this than any other relationship.  Your spouse, the person who has seen the most of your nakedness, is called to be the person who still loves you completely and unconditionally.  Marriage is as it is meant to be when both husband and wife stand before each other totally exposed and yet without shame.

 

And here once again we see how marriage points us to Christ.  For in Christ we can, even now, stand completely naked before God, our very souls bared in all their beauty and ugliness, and Christ, though he sees it all, does not turn away.  By the grace of God he calls the enemy a friend.  He welcomes home the rebellious child as a beloved son.  He turns the cheating whore into his beloved bride.  And in the grace of Christ we stand before God finally and forever free of shame and in the knowledge that nothing in all creation can ever separate us from the love of the One who chose us as his own.

 

Amazing!  Never underestimate the beautiful and mysterious gift of marriage and all that it was meant to point us to.

 

Amen.

 

 

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The Next Step

A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application

 

 

Read Genesis 2:18-25.  What do you notice here?  What questions come to mind?

 

God makes woman to be a “helper” to man.  The same word “helper” is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe God in relationship to us.  What does it mean that woman is a helper to man as God is a helper to humanity?  Is man also to be a helper to woman in the same way?

 

Not everybody agrees that men and women are fundamentally different in ways that go far beyond the physical.  What do you think?

 

How have relationships with the opposite gender (in marriage and otherwise) made you a richer person?

 

Why is God so insistent that husbands and wives leave their families and cleave (i.e. cling) to one another?  What happens if they don’t?

 

How can our church promote the sorts of marriages that God intends husbands and wives to have?

 

What do you think marriage is meant to teach us about God and our relationship with God?

 

Are you able to stand “naked and unashamed” before God?  Why or why not?

 

Questions over Coffee (or ice cream, or glass of wine, or plate of nachos, etc…)

 

Our encouragement is to take time this week with your spouse over a cup of coffee or whatever else is your preference to think together about the marriage God has given you and how He wants to see it deepen and grow.  Perhaps these questions will help get things started.

 

  1. How have the differences you bring to the marriage as a man and a woman been difficult?  How have they been a blessing?

 

  1. In your marriage, have you “leaved and cleaved” the way Jeff talked about?  Do you feel like your spouse is more deeply devoted to you than to his/her family of origin (parents, siblings, etc.)?

 

  1. If you have kids, do you regularly “leave them out” so that you can invest first in one another and in your marriage?  Think together of one way you could leave them out to have more time just the two of you.

 

  1. Could you honestly say the following about your partner: “I truly feel that I am the object of his/her attention and affection.  Nobody/nothing gets more of his/her love, energy, commitment than I do.”

 

  1. What do you think your marriage is teaching you about God?

 

 

 

 

 

Suggested Scriptures for the Week: Taken from the Seeking God’s Face resource our church is using daily.

Monday:              Psalm 73 ~ John 20:24-29

Tuesday:               Psalm 74 ~ Revelation 1:4-8

Wednesday:         Psalm 75 ~ I Peter 1:3-9

Thursday:             Psalm 76 ~ I Peter 1:10-16

Friday:                   Psalm 77 ~ I John 1:1-4

Saturday :             Psalm 78 ~ Ephesians 3:7-12

Sunday:                                 Psalm 79 ~ I Corinthians 15:50-57

 



[1] Elizabeth Eliot once wrote, “In what sense is red equal to blue?  They are equal only in the sense that both are colors in the spectrum.  But beyond that it is almost meaningless to talk about equality.”

[2] Also see Exodus 18:4, Deuteronomy 33:7, Psalm 115:9-11, Psalm 124:8.

[3] I think that when the man first sees the woman he has the same reaction.  “At last!” he says.  “At last here is one who is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”

[4] Kathy & Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, (New York: Dutton, 2011) , p. 174.  I drew quite a bit from this resource in the preparation of this sermon, particularly on a chapter called “Embracing the Other” (chapter 6) which was written by Kathy Keller.

[5] Emphasis mine.

[6] Keller, p. 172.

[7] Keller, 189.

[8] Cited in Keller, p. 180.

[9] See, for instance, Matthew 25:1-13 & John 3:29.

[10] Revelation 21:2, NRSV.