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Marriage to the Glory of God

Category Articles
Date May 30, 2003

None of our family relations will be right unless we fear God. This is the soul of godliness – fearing Him


In marriage sin and reconciliation operate in its communion, in the fellowship of the ring. Paul’s view of marriage is that the church exists as the bride of Christ. We love our wives as Christ loved the church. There is a redemptive structure to marriage as the grace of God shapes two people. One of the spheres in which that glory operates is in the conjugal relationships of marriage. The relationships of a husband and a wife reflect the image of God, something that belongs to the very nature of the Trinity itself. The Godhead’s fellowship is reflected in our communion with each other. Nowhere is the fellowship of God expressed more intimately than in Christian marriage.

What should a Christian marriage look like? What does Psalm 128 teach us about it?

i] Marriage and family are the ideal lifestyle (though we do not bend the singles out of shape). This psalm is about marriage and family and work. What a blessed life it is! We are drawn by the gifts and glamour of other lifestyles, but this psalm says that the epitome of blessedness is to be found with your family around you. A cameo portrait is given here and we are being told that it doesn’t get any better than that. Unless God gives us the gift of singleness then this is the ideal life. It is about the routine of life, marrying, having children and raising them. This is God’s plan from the opening pages of the Bible, and so a man ‘knowing’ a woman is the only way of having children. That was God’s approach. There was desire and union before the fall. Marriage was seen as necessarily the image of God. God could have created a race of androgynous beings, but he did not. So Psalm 128 is a wonderful portrait of a blessed life, with wife and children.

ii] The principle of companionship. Twice the psalmist uses the word ‘blessed’ in the first verse, and at the end of the psalm. The principle place where we can strengthen family life is by reintroducing the centrality of the meal table. Nothing is more important than this. Happiness is found in companionship, wife, children, talk, laughter and fun. In Genesis 2:18ff is the account of the creation of the woman. All the animals are brought to man and he calls them different names. He finds a word for them all. Yet there is no helper found suitable for Adam. Eighteen years ago one of Derek Thomas’s elders who worked on the railway all his life lost his wife. He was a man who prayed so powerfully. "Are you going home tonight?" I said to him after a meeting. "It is just the place where I live now," he said. Your wife is your best friend. Eve was from Adam, like him, and yet different from him.

iii] The pattern of male leadership in the home. The perspective in the psalm is from that of the husband and father. It is not a politically correct and post modern and 21st century perspective. It is about male leadership. It is, of course, challenging because there are bad moments, yet the church badly needs leaders in the home and family. Wives especially want to see this; she is a weaker vessel and we are to treat her with honour and dignity. Nothing is to hinder your prayers, says Peter, and so you treat your wives like royalty. Within the sphere of our marriages the way we treat our wives will affect our relationship with God. Our fellowship with Him can never be right if our relationship with our wives and children are wrong. The devil will gives us success in our pulpits and over our churches but Satan insists on taking our homes, and then we are destroyed.

iv] The primacy of the fear of God. None of our family relations will be right unless we fear God. This is the soul of godliness – fearing Him. When your marriage is governed by this fear of God it means that you will revere the eternity of God, and his illimitable knowledge, his authority over everything in heaven and hell, his providence over every hair on our heads, his power over the waves and winds, his purity, trustworthiness, justice that renders all moral accounts on the cross or in hell, his atoning mercy, his wrath that one day we will give an account to him, his grace that forgives the penitent and so on. That is fearing God, and blessing comes to the church by marriages like this.


2 Samuel 11 contains the history of the fall of David and there is a certain solemnity to it. Why is Bathsheba so attractive to older men? Divorce is all too common in our evangelical circles, and in many marriages the spark and joy has gone. Then one of the spouses meets someone else, and when they get close they are approaching a precipice. Why is Bathsheba so attractive to older men? What a painful question! There must not even be a hint of sexual immorality, says Paul. Job had kept a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully at a girl. But why is Bathsheba so attractive to older men?

1. It happens because we fail to see that sin rarely ‘just happens.’ Adultery does not just happen. The seeds of David’s sin had already been sowed. The desire was there and the only thing that prevented it from fruition was the lack of opportunity, and that is the most frightening thing of all. The overruling providence of God has kept us – that is all. David ‘saw’ her . . . he ‘sent for’ her . . . he ‘lay with’ her. It is a bit like "1066 and All That" in the summary of the Roman invasion – David came; he saw; he conquered. James gives us the morphology of sin, how it operates. You conjugate the verb to sin in James 1:14 . . . It begins in the mind. David has lost his head. He has allowed thoughts to grow. He lost sight of God in the sight of this very beautiful woman; he lost his mind. Short term gratification was somehow worth it. Where it would lead to, David did not think. The seeds of every known sin lie within every one of our hearts. There is a progression to sin. Why was she so attractive to David? Because he failed to see that sin rarely just happens.

2. We can so easily rationalize sin and make it appear something beautiful. True repentance begins when you leave your self-deception. "A very painted hypocrite … a miserable half hearted sinner" were the ways that Bradford the English martyr signed off his letters, and he meant those sentiments. Treat younger women as sisters with absolute purity, Paul tells Timothy. There is scarcely a word or image in the more famous fashion magazines that has not to do with sex. How narrow and alluring an attitude, and we are called to live with absolute purity in this impure world. We as ministers are all committed to utter purity for our daughters, but what of our own minds? Adultery is like casting Jesus Christ as the title role in an X-rated movie.

3. It is a failure to implement spiritual disciplines. Ten years maybe have passed since his coronation and David is not the man he used to be. It is a time of war yet he has stayed behind in Jerusalem. It is a time of neglected duty. David sent Joab to battle and he remained in his bed. It is a time of dampened zeal. David tries to get Uriah to sleep with his wife because Bathsheba is pregnant. It is all such a contrast with the man after God’s own heart who has written Psalm 23. How could David do this? He is not the man he used to be. He is backslidden. There are two little statements that bring us to the essence of it all 12:10 tells us what has happened in David’s heart: "you have despised me" says the Lord to David. He counted his own satisfaction of greater worth than the glory of God. There is a reflex verse too. Something has happened in God’s heart too. It "displeased the Lord" and God’s heart is broken. When David would lose his son Absolom he would cry "My son, my son," and God is saying, "My son David how could you do this against my love and grace?"

1. Sometimes concerning dealing with this sphere of men-women relations there is a nervousness in the church, yet the people who are frightened to allude to this subject are usually the people who need to hear it. This is the very area of their own temptation and downfall. There is an incident recorded in John 7 when a women is dragged before Jesus. She has been caught in adultery, and the men ask. "What do you, Jesus, say we do?" They thought they had him in a cleft stick. But Christ said that the man who never lusted after a women might think of picking up a stone and casting it at her. They all went away one by one from the oldest of them to the youngest. Would you have a right to pick up a stone and throw it at her? Are you perfectly pure in thought and act? What a fearful instrument the Internet is. It is one of the most intense pastoral problems facing the church today, the sheer availability of pornography. But those accusers who all left the woman were also leaving the only One who could show the lavishness of his grace and mercy to them.

2. Proverbs 5:18 exhorts us to rejoice in the wife of your youth. A father is speaking to a son about sexual matters; the older wiser man is telling the younger to rejoice in his youth. When children leave the home it is a crisis point. My mother said to me on the steps of Alfred Place Aberystwyth on my wedding day in 1976, turning to me . . . saying, "Never forget Rosemary is your friend, because when the children are gone she will be your only best friend." Kierkegaard said of Luther that it is only important that he did get married. It was not important whom he married – he could have married a doorpost! But how crucially important that a celibate clergy was ended and Luther took a wife.


Hebrews 12:1ff

In a recent book on marriage I came across an account of a divorce between a dentist and his wife. She had filed because in all the 18 years of their marriage he had only spoken to her by way of commandments, and he had only given to her two gifts, one of which had been a potato peeler. How different was Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’ marriage. Derek read an extract from a very moving final letter which Edwards wrote to one of his daughters mentioning his wife.

"Growing Old Gracefully in Marriage," is the theme of this third address. The kind of perseverance we display in our Christian lives we need to show in marriage. The Christian life is a long distance race, a marathon. There are pain barriers – ‘walls’ – that have to be run through. Consider what can happen. A couple can be sustained by their interest in their children while themselves drifting apart. A mid-life crisis is when you bet the whole store on the first half of your life. A Christian life is rather a long distance race – endurance is essential, persevering to the end. Intense effort is needed.

It will require self-control over the sins that beset us easily. What might that sin be in the context of marriage? A selfishness about communication. Men can get into the habit of communicating with their wives through their children, and after the children have gone to college or moved away there is a deafening silence in the home. Men can also take their wives for granted. They are to live with their wives with consideration and in an understanding way, showing honour to the women as the weaker vessel. That sin can cling to us, of taking our wives for granted.

The Christian life includes a measure of opposition from the world and remaining, and that will also focus on our marriages. "The cross is the way to victory and death is the way to life, so God has ordained from the beginning," said John Calvin. Opposition and difficulty is a positively dangerous experience. Specifically the writer to the Hebrews brings out this context of these dangers, fainting or losing heart, growing weary (v.5), drooping hands and weak knees (v.12). This is what lurks in the background of our entire lives. It is the psychology of what stress, difficulty and anxiety can do – produce a lethargy or paralysis – a sense of inescapable hopelessness. People feel trapped, and so there are huge problems in the co-existence of two people who have become strangers.

Another response is the root of bitterness (v.15) which can cause trouble. Why does this happen – old people growing bitter? They nurse a belief that life has treated them unfairly, much worse than they deserve. But trials are designed to cause us to cast ourselves on him, more and more. The way to glory is by the path of difficulty and trial. A bitter response to a trial can make a bitter person. Perhaps your dreams have not come true and you live with that every day, and somehow you have to find the way of doing the Christlike thing in those circumstance

3. The Christian life is to be lived looking to Jesus. Familiar territory again. Christ suffered intensely and in our struggle against sin we have not suffered to the point of blood. Jesus was the trail-blazer and perfecter of our faith. This life is but a stepping stone to the world to come. It will do two things to marriage.

Firstly that pattern of Jesus’ suffering and looking to the joy and being seated there – that pattern gives us the answer to the question as to who is in control. The answer is the Lord Jesus even in the most difficult circumstances, when cancer or other fearful diseases come malforming the beauty of the one you love. The Lord is in control of everything. How sweet the name of Jesus sounds.

Secondly it provides the pattern of how we are to relate to our wives. The pattern is self-emptying, kenosis, making himself of no reputation for the sake of others – that pattern of incarnation to exultation, of not standing on one’s dignity – that the Son of God was prepared to be born in Bethlehem. How dare you then stand on your dignity in your relationship with your wife. "I give myself to you wholly and for ever," is the attitude. When you pout you are putting yourself first. "What is in it for me?" is your attitude. To the world you may just be one person, but to one person you are the world. Look to Jesus, knowing that union with him in his death and burial means also union with him in his ascension and glory. That is the way to live in our marriages. He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

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