Genesis 2:24&25 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame."
One of the greatest challenges to Christianity in Wales today is what is called 'postmodernism.' Don't worry about that word. What it stands for is one of the many enemies of the Christian faith. The beast that comes out of the sea in the book of Revelation has got seven heads, but one of the most powerful foes the gospel is encountering today is this spirit of our age. Yet we have to remember that it is just one of the heads of the beast. What is it? How would we characterize the spirit of our age? In five ways;
i] Ignorance of Christian truth.
Our age has hardly any idea of what Christianity teaches except that it is moralism, that Christianity says, "Don't!" So it is profoundly cool towards the professing church; it is abysmally ignorant about Jesus Christ and the story of the Old Testament. I believe that there is nothing more important for anyone here who might have been unconsciously influenced by this spirit than for you to understand the narrative of the first three chapters of the Bible. It is unique, and it all flows from these words - the most profound statement that has ever been made - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." The risen Lord Jesus himself talking to two men on the road to Emmaus got them out of their despair by explaining to them the words of Moses in the Bible, and the living Christ is still doing that today.
ii] Openness to everybody's story.
Our age says, "Everything is relative; there are no absolute standards. Everybody should be able to have his or her own story and should have the right to tell it." The buzz word of this spirit is the 'narrative.' "We are not following some external Book that has been written down but we are true to our own narrative." That is the approach of politicians in the western world today. Why do they live in a culture of lies? Because they are being faithful to their own narrative and it is a fiction. We are saying that Genesis chapters one, two and three are God's story of how the world came about, who man is and what has gone wrong with mankind. This inspired narrative is told in a timeless, truthful, warm and personal way. There is no better place to begin explaining the mess that people are in than by reading and thinking about these chapters.
iii] An insistence that the thing has to work.
Today's spirit is pragmatic. The first question it asks is not, "Is it true?" No, it asks first of all, "Does it work?" It says to us dismissively, "You can elaborate your stories about human and cosmic origins and write them out in a book; they may be very pretty and striking, but do they have any relevance to us today? Does it work?" Our insistence is that these chapters of Genesis overflow with relevance, because God didn't finish what he had to say by describing the making of the world. God gave people a cultural mandate and the institution of the family. God opened up the theme of what men and women were to do with their lives in the creation he had made. Doesn't everyone agree that knowing this is very important? What is the good life? How should we live? Has God told us? Genesis brings us the truth very practically, not in some ethereal, mystical or philosophical way, but in terms of the benefits that come to people when they believe and obey the truth.
iv] Human relationships are all important.
Matthew Arnold composed a celebrated poem called "Dover Beach" about what he thought was the inevitable decline of Christianity. "The sea of faith . . . [is] retreating," he wrote. So what does Matthew Arnold put in its place? He says, "Let us be true to one another." There is no personal God who is a Father to his people. He doesn't exist, and all we have is one another. 'Community' - that's another buzz word - community is the answer to the vacuum left by the absence of God. "Belonging is all important; acceptance is what I crave," says the postmodernist. There was a popular American television series called "Cheers" based on the activities of a group of men and women who spent hours in a bar in Boston. The show's theme song spoke of a place "where everybody knows your name." How wonderful to belong to a place where they all know you! A theme of Genesis is God giving names to what he makes, and Adam giving names to the animals, and then when the woman is brought to him he names her Eve and knows her as his wife. There is nothing between them; they are naked but they are unashamed. In Eden human relationships were most important. Whereas postmodernistic beliefs have left the family splintered and shattered the Bible brings together what sin has rent asunder.
v] Personal experience is supreme.
"Follow your heart . . . go with the flow." Those are the cries of the spirit of our age. Man must never grieve his precious experiences by mortifying them. He is told, "Give in to your longings and hunches even if it means heartbreak for others. They will learn from them. Man's chief end is to please himself." How wretched it is; a man in power will seduce his own secretary or even his wife's sisters in total disregard for the feelings of others. In my youth you would call such a person a cad or a 'wrong'un.' These chapters in Genesis teach a great lesson, that the fulness of life is experienced when you know God personally. This is eternal life to know God and do his will. There is the possibility of being in a covenant relationship with the living God and knowing his life in you empowering and enabling. He makes himself known to us and justifies us freely by his grace, and then we may spend our happy days serving him.
That is the background of life today which has such influence on the people all around us, and on us too. We live between two worlds. These verses of our text describe one world; Eden, the world of God and man in harmony. The postmodernist world is Paradise Lost; man seeking to cope without God and failing. What does God have to teach us about marriage? They say that "a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame."
1. IN MARRIAGE A MAN LEAVES HIS FATHER AND HIS MOTHER.
When the Bible talks about marriage it usually talks to men about men. It puts the burden of responsibility for keeping marriage together on men. A man takes a decision to leave his father and his mother. So Moses writes, and Jesus quotes his words approvingly in Matthew 19 and the fifth verse. It does not mean that a man ceases to honour his parents; that is the abiding obligation of the fifth commandment, but in terms of provision, direction, consolation, comfort and security his marriage is a brand new beginning. Until marriage the man and woman find security and comfort within the circle of their parents' home, but now that former bond is severed at a pivotal point and a new bond is established.
I read some wise words of Joel Nederhood on this theme. He wrote, "The first thing men must understand about marriage is that marriage changes everything for them. This is expressed in the fact that a man is to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, that he must undergo a transition from one way of life to a way of life that is totally different. Now, the principle involved here applies not only to a man's father and mother but also to many other associations a man may have before marriage. A young man may have a wide range of activities and friends that contribute to his life and lifestyle before he is married. He may have regular places where he goes each week. But marriage changes everything for a man. At least it should. If it doesn't, he probably hasn't understood what marriage really is. A man who marries but who continues to try to live pretty much the same life he lived before he was married can run into serious difficulties. If he doesn't change and recognize that his first obligation is to his wife and marriage, the marriage may well collapse.
"Men must understand this and act accordingly, and their parents must understand this too. If parents want their children to have good marriages, they must earnestly discipline themselves not to interfere with their children's marriages. There was a woman who married the son of a television evangelist. The son remained in his father's employ, and the woman watched her marriage gradually dissolve. The reason for this, as she put it, was that her husband never really left his father when he married her. And the father never really left his son. It is so easy for a man to think that he will be able to marry and remain close to former friends and family - even to the point where these friends and family begin to control his wife's life. Situations like these often lead to deep distress.
"If you are a husband, let me ask you, have you made a clean break with your parents? Or are your parents interfering with your marriage? Are you allowing them to do so? Only if you have left your father and mother - and your friends and your former way of life - and made your wife the central focus of your life can you expect your marriage to succeed. You should make sure that your wife is not in a situation in which she feels obligated to follow the wishes of your family members in order to be devoted to you.
"Leaving father and mother and cleaving to your wife is very important. But please don't think that this means married people should not be close to their parents. On the contrary, married couples and their parents should be very close. But they and everyone must understand that their closeness should not be expressed as though the married man is still a child and is told by his parents what to do. In addition, there are instances in which a man can remain in the employ of his father and at the same time keep his marriage together. This can often work out well as long as parents and son and daughter-in-law understand that the younger couple is independent of the man's parents so far as marriage is concerned" (Joel Nederhood, "Men and Marriage," The Radio Pulpit, Back to God Hour, June 1985, pp. 37-39).
A husband leaves his parents. He does it publicly; he is making a statement. "I am leaving home to marry my sweetheart," he says. "If a marriage is to be successful the bonds between husband and wife must be stronger than bonds with parents or children. The public aspect of marriage is important; it enables a couple to take their place in a community where everybody understands the nature of their commitment to each other" (Nigel D. Pollock, The Relationship Revolution, IVP, 1998, p.122). Everybody knows their names, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." They are given a legal status and so marriage is quite different from cohabitation. Marriage is an openly declared and publicly witnessed arrangement involving well defined vows. What is cohabitation? It is a private and informal arrangement where the relationship and promises of the couple to each other are probably not very clearly defined at all.
Does it mean that it is wrong for the in-laws to live under the same roof? I would say that generally speaking it is not expedient. There are exceptions when the health of a parent may require it but there must be no intrusion from an older changed relationship into the new lifelong relationship of marriage.
2. IN MARRIAGE A MAN CLEAVES TO HIS WIFE.
What is being envisaged is a union that lasts for the whole of life. In other words when you enter marriage there is no back door through which you may slip out if you don't feel happy. There is no back door, and anyone who is planning to marry with such an attitude must think again. You get married knowing that separation is impossible. You are going to cleave to one another until death separates you. What is this cleaving? David Feddes has broken it down into five areas.
i] First, God designed marriage as a sexual union, not just as a friendship or partnership of different individuals. At times it's been suggested that sex was the forbidden fruit in paradise. But Genesis says otherwise. The one-flesh union of the original marriage was beautiful and wholesome. Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. God blessed them with a mandate to multiply and have babies. The Bible says a wife's body belongs to her husband and a husband's to his wife, and Scripture commands them to give their bodies to each other and satisfy each other's needs (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). An entire Bible book, the Song of Songs, celebrates the love between man and woman and their delight in each other's bodies.
ii] Second, God designed marriage as a union between humans, not the union of a human with an animal. Sexual contact between humans and animals perverts God's design and is cursed in Scripture (Leviticus 18:23; Deuteronomy 27:21). Genesis says that no animal was suitable as a spouse for Adam. He needed someone who shared his humanity.
iii] Third, God designed marriage as the union of a man with a woman, not the union of a man with a man or a woman with a woman. Homosexual activity perverts God's design; the Bible calls it "detestable" and "unnatural" (Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:26-27).
iv] Fourth, God designed marriage as the union of one man and one woman, not a union with many partners. Polygamy, having more than one spouse, perverts God's design. A few notable men in the Old Testament had multiple wives, but it led to no good. The Lord put up with it for a time, but he never endorsed it. God brought one woman to Adam, not two or more. This rules out polygamy in marriage. It also rules out promiscuity outside marriage. The "one flesh" reality of the original marriage means that any temporary live-in relationship, any one-night stand, even something as empty as involvement with a prostitute, involves becoming "one with [that person] in body" (1 Corinthians 6:16). Sex is not just a fun activity between people who want to "make love" and go their own way. God designed sex for one man and one woman to become one in body and one in spirit through marriage (Malachi 2:15).
v] Fifth, God designed marriage as the lifelong union of a man and a woman, not as a disposable relationship. Divorce perverts God's pattern of permanence. The Old Testament law of Moses included some rules for divorce proceedings, but did this mean God approved of divorce? No, God said, "I hate divorce" (Malachi 2:16). Moses never encouraged divorce. He only permitted it because people's hearts were hard. "But it was not this way from the beginning," insisted Jesus, pointing to the first marriage. "Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." When a man is united to his wife, "they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate" (Matthew 19:6,8-9).
In keeping with Jesus' teaching and the original marriage, the New Testament declares, "A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife" (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). It's terribly wrong to use divorce as a way of trading in one spouse for another. If you and your spouse can't get along and feel you have to separate, God forbids you from simply writing each other off and looking for another spouse. Either live with no partner at all, or else find a way to overcome the differences between you and your spouse and be reunited. The Creator of the original marriage does not permit you to abandon your marriage anytime you like.
God's pattern cannot be reinvented without serious consequences. If you go against God's pattern, you're not just being immoral. You're fighting reality, and you cannot win. You cannot violate God's pattern and flourish. God designed marriage as the lifelong sexual union of one man and one woman (David Feddes, "The Original Marriage," The Back to God Hour, November 2000, pp.6-8).
3. IN MARRIAGE A HUSBAND AND HIS WIFE BECOME ONE FLESH.
These words are fundamental to the whole of the Bible's teaching about marriage. For example when Jesus talks about divorce in Matthew 19:3-6 he quotes these words of Genesis in his reply. When Paul writes about prostitution in I Corinthians 6:15&16 he is referring to these words when he says "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, 'The two will become one flesh.'" Or when Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus about the marriage of Christian Gentiles then once again he quotes these words of Genesis 2 in Ephesians 5:31, "they will become one flesh."
Marriage is a legally recognized, lifelong union between one man and one woman involving psychological, sexual, social and spiritual bonds. Why is sexual experience outside of the marriage union sinful? We need no other answer that this: God never intended that man could find the true meaning of his sexuality in any other relationship than that of the total self-giving involved in marriage. In this complete union is the purpose of God realized.
One result of the dominance of the postmodernist mind set is to emphasize passion at the expense of permanence. When two people fall in love, why should they go to the church and make vows when instead they can go back to the flat? Why should they make lifelong promises when they can simply indulge their passions for the moment? In the movies, sex without marriage, passion without permanence, looks like a great love story. In real life it's usually just a lust story.
In that deceitful movie Titanic, for example, after Jack fornicates with seventeen-year-old Rose, he's willing to die for her. In real life, when a young man fornicates with a seventeen-year-old girl he's just met, he doesn't die for her; he dumps her. On the real ship Titanic, it was not the fornicators who died for girls they hooked up with the night before. It was hundreds of husbands who died so that their wives and children might live. See the list of survivors - overwhelmingly women and children. See the list of the 1,523 who perished; it was overwhelmingly men. They chose to lay down their lives for their wives because that was a gospel influenced age not a postmodern age. On May 6, earlier this month, the last survivor of the Titanic who could remember that horrible night died (apparently there are two other survivors who were too young to remember what happened). The woman's name was Lilian Asplund and on that night of April 6 1912 she lost her father and three of her brothers. The men gave the places in the lifeboats to their wives and children. You would never have learned that from the wretched movie. Lilian's last sight of her father was of him holding her twin brother Carl with her other two brothers standing either side of him. Her mother never recovered from that night's events. In the movies unmarried passion is marvelous and exciting. In the real world, unmarried passion leaves a trail of burned out lovers, broken hearts, nasty diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and a damaged capacity ever to enjoy the permanent passion of marriage. So if you're single, don't fall for the lie that sex before marriage is okay. Don't seek passion apart from permanence - one flesh for ever.
When you hear the words "one flesh" you think of the sexual intimacy of marriage, but that accounts for only part of the full concept. The "one flesh" of marriage is the union of a man and woman on many levels whereby each completes the other. One in convictions, one in affections, one in goal, one in interests, one in devotion to God and one in body. One flesh is a total commitment to intimacy in all of life together, symbolized by the sexual union of one flesh.
When I look at my wife, I am not just looking at somebody else, but I am looking at myself, for our persons are intertwined to the point where we together enable each other to live as image bearers of God, and she must look at me the same way. People may say, "this is nonsense; no one can look at another person that way." Ordinarily we never look at another people in that way; everyone else is objective; everybody else is "somebody else" - but not your wife, not your husband. When you are married you are one flesh. You are one, and in the light of the Bible it is possible to see this.
Men in particular must guard and maintain the marriage relationship, keeping it holy and wholesome. Once a man is married he is not free to flirt or to develop relationships involving various degrees of intimacy with other women. Why? Because he is one flesh with his wife. Wherever a husband goes, no matter how far he may be from his wife, he is always the husband of his wife. He may never forget this. He must keep communication with her; he must be sensitive to her needs as to his own needs. If she goes through difficult times, physically or emotionally, he does not abandon her but cares for her with great attention. He does this realizing that he is mysteriously united with his wife as one flesh. Christians need to show one another constant forgiveness. Nowadays marriages have to go through a lot, much more than in the past. We ask our members of parliament to live by themselves for years in a flat in London with time on their hands, going home to their families for the weekends. What a disastrous scenario! It is no wonder that the media commonly report the breakups of their marriages or their affairs. There is no joy in that lifestyle; no joy is found in the religion of postmodernism.
4. IN MARRIAGE NAKEDNESS CAUSES NO SHAME.
The second chapter of Genesis ends with the words, "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame" (v.25). Adam and Eve were innocent and completely open in their contentment with the Lord and his provision. They had not yet been seduced by the Serpent; their sexual differences were not at all threatening or embarrassing. They had complete faith and trust in one another. What was there to be ashamed of? They had no past. They had no guilt and no remorse. The verb is actually in the imperfect and frequentative use meaning that as they lived together day by day there was no single moment in which they were ashamed. Their lack of shame was a sign of their strength and goodness. Why is it that sex outside of marriage, and before marriage often results in feelings of disgust and betrayal and distrust? A new biography of the playwright John Osborne has appeared in the past month. He was married five times. I read of the depression he experienced - he once wrote down these words, "I am empty, dumb, ignorant and afraid." That is the fruit of nakedness without marriage. God is saying to us that marriage is the place of nakedness without shame.
Once the fall takes place everything changes and the man and woman have a different view of their sexuality. They make coverings for themselves out of fig-leaves (Gen. 3:7). They are self-conscious and embarrassed. God makes clothes for them. Their bodies, like their words and minds, become servants of sin. Fallen man needs an exhortation like Paul to Timothy, "I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety" (I Tim. 2:9&10). The Bible is saying dress decently and sensibly so that people won't look at you as a sex object or a showoff but can focus on who you are and what you're able to do. We are living outside Eden in a world where the Serpent is still tempting men and women. Clothing sends out signals, so it's important to send the right signals. God doesn't give us a detailed dress code in the Bible. Some Muslims insist that women hide behind veils, but we find that abhorrent. Character matters more than clothing, but there is suitable clothing for sleeping, and swimming, and gardening, and running round on the beach or playing soccer, but such clothing is not suitable everywhere. Always dress decently, God says. You can dress wonderfully attractively and yet modestly. Why dress like a bimbo?
One thing I appreciate about Marks & Spencer is that it doesn't dress women up as if they were prostitutes. There are other corporations such as Victoria's Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch who specialize in immodesty and their publicity photographs dress women like whores. For many people, dressing like a prostitute simply means dressing like a favourite singer or movie star. It means displaying your body in such a way that makes others want you in bed and suggests that you might be willing. It can mean tight clothing that emphasizes every contour of your body. Dressing like a hooker can mean low necklines that reveal too much. It can mean dresses that hide too little. It can mean jeans that ride low and look as if they could come off at any moment. It can mean thongs for both men or women on the beach that hide less than a decent pair of underpants would.
The Bible says, "Dress modestly, with decency and propriety." Is this a standard you try to live by? If you don't follow Jesus or care what the Bible says, then all this talk about modesty may sound silly. Your motto may be, "If you've got it, flaunt it," and you may think there must be more important things to discuss than modesty. I won't argue with you. If you're not connected with God, there is something more important- your need for a relationship with God. You need to get right with God before you worry about anything else. If you're not a Christian and you want to focus on something more important than modesty, then the first thing you should do is focus on how you can get to know Jesus as your Saviour.
But what if you already know Jesus and believe the Bible as the Word of God? Are you dressing for success in line with the Bible's teaching? Maybe some of you who are Christians may be thinking I'm making a big deal about nothing when I talk about dressing modestly. But let me ask, if modesty didn't matter, would God talk about it in the Bible? The Bible says clothing should be appropriate for those "who profess to worship God."
Some Christians really do love the Lord, but their clothing (or lack of it) sends the wrong signals. They may be genuine Christians, but they may also be spiritually immature and unwise in how they dress. They may even purposely want to turn heads and stir up desire in members of the opposite sex. Others may not consciously try to do that; they just want to be in style - and they don't seem to notice that sometimes the latest style makes them look more like a hooker than a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.
What sort of clothing do you wear? What impact does your appearance have on others? When people look at you, does your appearance protect them from sinful thoughts and help them take you seriously as a person who knows God?
There is an American Christian called Melody Green involved in different forms of Christian outreach, and she has firsthand insight on this matter. She says, Many Christians are either oblivious or uncaring about the effect they have on others. They may even appear to have a real excitement and love for the Lord - however, their body is sending out a totally different message. I know, because I have done it - partly in ignorance, but mostly in rebellion. I can remember thinking, "Well, it's not my fault if they can't keep their eyes off of me and on the Lord. They just aren't spiritual enough. Why should I have to change just because they are weak?" But the Lord showed me that it was my fault. I was responsible for causing my brother to stumble, and it had to change. Once I really saw the damage my selfishness was doing to others and to the Lord, I was really ashamed of myself and embarrassed that I had been representing Jesus in such an unbecoming way (quoted by David Feddes in his sermon "Dress for Success", Back to God Hour, May 2003).
In marriage nakedness causes no shame, but outside of marriage it can seduce and destroy. Whatever postmodernism says through its narratives, its ignorance of the Bible, and its championing of human experience. Human relationships can be wonderful if they are a living out of the Bible, and are fueled by the Scriptures.