I feel grossly inadequate to speak on the subject of these verses, and let me explain why.
My wife and I have been married forty-one years. Neither of us had a serious relationship with anyone else. We were virgins when we married. We have had a nearly ideal marriage. Though we have had difficult times, our relationship has remained strong.
Yet as the years go by, the rarer our marriage pattern becomes. There are very few of you who share our circumstances. Many of you are single today, and many of you have endured at least one divorce—or else your spouse has. The overwhelming majority of people are not virgins when married. Many have had multiple sexual partners. This is called “the new normal”--which or course means that couples like my wife and myself are abnormal. Some envy our relationship, but frankly, most just think we’re weird.
So how do I say what God says marriage was intended to be, when most of the world knows it as something else? It’s not that people are in rebellion against God, it’s just that what is normal is so far from God’s ideal that most would not recognize it.
The marriage is foundational to all other relationships. It was the first relationship between two people in the world.
The first reference to it comes from Genesis 1:27 “God created man in His own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them.” The Bible uses “man” to include both sexes--co-equal and complimentary. Men are incomplete without women, and vice-versa.
Then in Genesis 2: 18, we see, “It is not good for man to be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him.” The point here is that it isn’t good for us to be alone. We need others. Loneliness is the first thing that God says isn’t good. We were created for community. This statement is as true for single as well as married. Marriage is a special gift that is not given to all, but community is for everyone.
One of my friends recently had a conversation with a man he led to Christ. He asked whether he was in a church. The man proceeded to tell him what was wrong with every church he visited, and how they were idolatrous and doctrinally incorrect, and how he couldn’t submit to any of them. He said his home was his church. This man was convinced that he only needed God, not others.
This man was a fool. He claimed obedience to God, yet freely became trapped in the first activity God said was no good—being alone. He was alone not because there were no Christians or people around, but by his own choice, out of pride of his own opinions.
We were designed for sharing our feelings, thoughts, and actions with others. We share it all electronically through phone, television, and internet. But while these devices help us to link together, they also keep us apart. They give the illusion of closeness, without actually sharing.
We ae not close when we meet, either. Superficial relationships do not really fulfill the deep need we have for intimacy. We need heart relationships, not just head relationships.
God brought all the animals to Adam and he named them. They became his pets. Pets are good, but they are not people. We cannot have an intellectual discussion with a poodle or get advice from a Siamese. We need people in our lives more than we need pets.
People meet us as equals not subordinates. They teach us and we teach them. They correct us when we go astray, comfort us when we hurt, and sympathize when we have hard times
Marriage is the first institution where coequals come together. All other institutions—families, churches, villages, etc., are represented in this first institution. There are many forms of coequal intimacy apart from marriage, but they all started with marriage. It is the coequal nature of marriage that sets the stage for all community relationships.
Just as we can’t treat pets as people, we can’t treat people as animals. When I hear a man call his wife ‘the little woman” or treat his kids as appendages of his own ego, or see a woman treat her husband as if he only exists to make her happy, then I see us treating people as some kind of lower life form. Inferior, not equal. It’s an inadequate understanding of human relationships.
People need other people, so God created a second person. The term He uses for her is ezer, “helper,” most often used for God himself as in “The Lord is my helper.” If we think God intended women to be servants to men, then we also must believe that God Himself is a servant to us. This relationship is not subordinate, but complementary. It is only when sin comes that the human relationships become corrupted by domination and control. God’s ideal in marriage is mutual respect and appreciation--two people thinking, feeling, and acting together. The same is true of every other relationship. People are not pets, slaves, or work animals. We are free and independent parties bound together by love of God and our loving commitments.
When Eve appears, Adam appreciates her beauty. She is literally the most beautiful woman in the world, because she is the only one. There’s no one else to compare to her. That implies something very profound, not just in marriage, but in all our relationships.
Relationships are based on commitment, not comparison. I have the best friends in the world, because they are my friends. I have the best children in the world, because they are my children. I live in the best country in the world because it is my country. I have the best wife in the world, because she is my wife. She doesn’t have to be more beautiful than her neighbor, because I’m not looking at my neighbor. My country doesn’t have to be the best, because I am not comparing it to other countries, either. This is where my home is and where I’d rather be.
Modern relationships are based on shopping. We shop for the very best in friends, jobs, or spouses. If our wives or husbands don’t suit, then we can throw them off and find another one. But most of the time, when we think the other will be better, we are wrong. Our feelings about them are the result of our inner unhappiness, they are not caused by our feelings.
Relationships are covenantal, not contractual. We love others for God’s sake, not for their own.
I cannot speak for all marriages--I can speak for my own. When my wife and I got married we both loved Jesus first. God has come first, not each other. That’s why we’ve stayed married. Putting God first before marriage was the best choice we ever made.
There are there reasons for this. First, because covenanting with God gave us a platform of stability in our lives, on which we built a strong family. Our children never had to worry about our divorcing. Their lives had an unshakeable foundation. Children need safety, and when they see their parents coming apart, they become fearful and afraid. It is important to keep that bond strong. Faith in God anchors marriage in something stronger than us.
Second, I always have someone to whom I can communicate. With all the moves we have had to make, we’ve always had each other.
Third, there is someone always with whom I am not afraid to be myself, not who I appear to be in public. Friends, family and spouses know us, whether we like it or not. Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. Your spouse is the one person who sees you naked and doesn’t snicker.
In verse 24, the writer of Genesis breaks out of the story rhapsodizes about marriage “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Here he gives us the secret of a successful marriage.
Leave your folks. That means your birth family and the attitudes of that family. You are made part of a new creation--a new family. If you’re not willing to leave, don’t cleave. If there are habits or commitments that interfere with your marriage, be prepared to forsake them. Burn them addresses of your former girlfriends and never call them again. Don’t cling to the past, but embrace the new reality of your position.
Cleave to your spouse. Do it, not because they are good providers, or because they are beautiful, or because they are funny, witty or handsome. Hold on because God says hold on! What part of “Till death do us part” do you not understand? We change much over the years--personalities change, good looking people turn ugly, ugly people improve, happy people get depressed and depressed people get happy. It’s only our commitment to hold on that keeps a marriage going.
Be one flesh. You are two heads on the same body. Respect your individuality as a left hand respects a right hand, and give each other room to real, but always keep this in mind that if you hurt one, you hurt both. Divorce is sometimes necessary, but when it happens it is not is not a liberation—it’s an amputation. It is far better to find a way to stay whole than heal broken flesh.
Knowing full well that some of you have already failed, and some of you may fail, even so there is really nothing else to say. The marital ideal is what God intended, and I know it works.
But when marriages fails, God doesn’t. When we are single and don’t want to be, God has not forsaken us. Christ’s death on the cross covers all our sins, and always promises us a new beginning. It’s not past mistakes we need to look to, but future triumphs. If you are single, then take the lessons of Genesis 2, and use them in all your relationships. Be faithful to the community where God has placed you. If you are married, or if God brings someone later into your life to marry, then start by putting God in the center. Let your marriage be a covenant before God, started off right with Godly standards, and enter in for a lifetime as one flesh.
Stay faithful and God will be faithful. Forget to put God in the center, and likely as not, you will fail.