Like many of you, I was blessed to have been influenced by devout Christians in my youth. One of them was John Ashbrook. He was pastor of one of the Christian day schools I attended in the 70s. He finally went to be with the Lord a couple of years ago. He once said, “If you want to know what God loves, find out what Satan is attacking.”
I doubt anybody will dispute that today that includes the family. Extramarital sex, radical feminism, immature machismo (“he-man-ism”), pornography, recreational contraception, abortion, federal social policies that incentivize laziness, and much more. Satan is targeting the family — your family and mine, and too often he’s been dramatically successful.
If you want to know why I preach about the family so much, why Cornerstone stresses the family so much, that’s a big reason why: we want to be attacking Satan where Satan is attacking what God loves. We want to love what God loves, and God loves the family.
It occurred to me last summer that every main thing we need to know about marriage we can discover right at the beginning of the Bible. So I thought we’d survey the first two chapters of Genesis to discover God’s truth about marriage for us.
A pre-redemptive institution
The first truth I want us to note is that marriage was instituted in Genesis 1–2, before Genesis 3. What happened in Genesis 3? Man and woman sinned. This means that marriage is a pre-redemptive institution: it was in God’s plan before sin showed up. This is isn’t true of the church or the state, two other of God’s institutions for man. If man had never sinned, we wouldn’t have a church or state — at least not like we have them now. But we would have the family — many families.
This means that the family isn’t a concession to sin. This means the family isn’t designed to help redeem man from a bad situation. It means that the family is the way God meant things to be from the very beginning. This means that the family is for man as man, not just redeemed man. Christians sometimes ask whether non-Christians are really are married in God’s sight. Yes, they are. Only Christians should marry only other Christians, but marriage doesn’t depend on whether you’re a Christian. Marriage and the family are for humanity made in God’s image, not just Christians.
God is not enough for the man
God first made man, the male, Adam. God placed man in the perfect environment. Adam had splendorous, lush garden; the best food; no hard work; the animals as companions; bliss, daily fellowship with Triune God!
But all of this wasn’t enough for Adam. God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). I want us to think hard about the implications of that statement. Adam wasn’t alone, was he? After all, he had God, didn’t he? We sometimes might think, “I don’t need anyone but God,” but that’s not what the Bible teaches.
God was not enough. Man needs someone like him (like him, yet different). So, God created woman. Man in the garden had God, but God wasn’t all he needed. He needed someone like him, yet different from him.
He had God, but God isn’t a temporal, bodily being like man. Man had the animals. They are temporal and bodily beings, but they’re not made in God’s image. What man needed was a being made in God’s image like he was, and yet a being just different enough from him fill the void in his existence.
In other words, he needed a woman.
So God created woman, Eve, from Adam’s side, near his heart. I suspect there’s symbolism in this act. God didn’t fashion Eve from his feet, so he could trample on her. He didn’t create her from Adam’s head, so she could dominate him. God created woman from man’s side, near his heart.
Husbands, make sure your wife stays right there at all times: near your heart. Young single men, that’s what you’re getting with a a godly wife: a woman who can stay hear your heart at all times. A woman with whom you can share your deepest goals and longings and fears and hopes. A woman with whom you can be utterly transparent.
This is implied in Genesis 2:25: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” They were utterly open with each other — nothing to hide. Full intimacy, not just physical intimacy.
After a wedding this summer I was chatting informally with some of the young married couples. I said, “Most husbands think that if they show any fear or weakness or vulnerability to their wives, their wives will lose respect for them. They obviously don’t know women very well. Wives — the right kind of wives — cherish intimacy. The wife cherishes being able to help a man be what he cannot be without her. So, when you share your innermost thoughts with your wife, you’re not just meeting her needs, you’re helping yourself.”
And all the young husbands were staring at me warily while all the young wives were vigorously nodding their heads. A godly woman would never lose respect for a husband who shares his very life with her. She looks at that husband as a man she can trust — as her champion.
Adam saw Eve and said: “This at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my
flesh” (Gen. 2:23). He knew the significance of where God had taken her from: from his very body. And this is why the act of marital intercourse is such a profound act. It’s not just a unity of bodies but a unity of beings, of lives. And this is why all extramarital intercourse is so tragic. It robs us and one another of a communion that can only be experienced as it should between a husband and a wife. The woman was created from the man’s body and joins the man’s body — and his heart and emotions and mind and history and will and his very life.
Husbands: sacrifice for this woman. Put her needs first. Trust her with your very life. Ever man who marries, implicitly acknowledges that he’s incomplete, that he’s lonely, that he’s not self-sufficient.
And that’s a good thing.
The husband is the leader
Man was created first, before woman, to lead — not dominate, but lead (1 Tim. 2:11–13). That’s a weighty obligation: to lead a woman (and often children). The husband is responsible for his wife’s material care, as well as her spiritual oversight. Husbands, your job is to lead your wife into grace and freedom and obedience and in the church and in the culture. That job is yours, not hers.
One of the cruelest ways a husband can treat his wife is to leave her alone and abandoned — not just physically, refusing to provide for her, but spiritually and emotionally. To shut her out of his life. To force her alone to make the decisions about finances and church and living arrangements and vocation and the children and future plans.
The wife is designed to be led — longs to be led — by a kind and loving and sacrificial husband. Every decision takes on increased importance.
Like Joshua, you husbands, must say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Jos. 24:15). That’s your job, and you may not shirk it.
God made woman as a help worthy (suitable) to her husband: “Another like him, yet different.” Not like the animals, but one close to his heart with whom he can share his life.
The wife was created to assist the husband
We read in 1 Corinthians 11:9 that the woman was created for the man: not for his exploitation or amusement or objectification but to assist him in his God-called task. The man is called to steward God’s creation for the Lord’s glory and according to his standards, and the woman is called right along with him (Gen. 1:27–28). God calls every husband to a specific task, and the woman is to assist him in his life’s work. This isn’t limited to vocation, though it includes that. It means his entire God-given task of starting a family (which he can’t accomplish without a woman anyway!), of providing for their well-being, of supporting a church, of helping aged parents. The woman is to be there and a vital part of this task at every step of the way.
The wife is called to the husband. She is called to sacrifice her goals and aspirations for his. That’s not a popular idea today, but it is the biblical idea. The Bible does support the idea of the “career woman” for a wife, unless she understands that her husband is her career.
This obviously doesn’t mean that the woman can’t be employed or produce income (Proverbs 31 is obvious about that). It means that the wife cannot have a career track separate from her husband. She may not make plans about her future that are not subordinate to her husband’s plans.
The woman was created to be the man’s suitable help. Wives, that is God’s calling on your life.
The wife must submit to the husband
The Bible also teaches that the wife is called to submit to her husband — from the very beginning (1 Tim. 2:11–13). That just means she’s called to trust his leadership. He may never treat her as a doormat. He may never bulldoze her. The wisest husband always consults his wife and cherishes her counsel and no doubt follows it much of the time.
Godly wifely submission simply means that she trusts God with her husband’s leadership. If she disagrees with him, and he overrules her on some point, she trusts God that, if she’s right, God will change her husband.
There are so many times when God has changed me and vindicated Sharon’s counsel. Sometimes I disagreed and I was right. And sometimes not.
To live a life of submission is to live a life in faith. Wives, you don’t need to control or manipulate you husbands to guarantee that God will care for you and do right by you. In other words, God is sovereign in your husband’s life.
This is why godly submission is exhibition of of strength, not weakness. It’s proof of a woman who’s strong in faith and trusts her husband with God. And the godly husband who sees this submission never assumes he call bulldoze her. Why? Because she knows God is her great sovereign advocate and protector. A godly husband has great reverence and respect for a submissive wife, because he knows that God will move mountains to honor her obedience and to protect her against any usurpations of power.
The Husband and Wife
Marriage starts a new family
Moses writes, “[A] man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Our parents leave a heavy imprint on our lives. This is just what God intends.
But marriage starts a new family, a new covenant. A husband and wife honor their parents, but they are not submitted to their parents.
Parents of married children: love them and pray for them and help them, but know that you have no authority in their marriage. Married folks: never allow your parents or in-laws to dictate in your marriage and family. They have no God-given authority to do that. And God will not honor your family if you allow parents to dictate in your family.
You must leave father and mother and cling one another. You may not run home when hard times arrive. And parents: you may not allow your children and sons- and daughters-in-law to run back home when hard times arrive. Hard times in a marriage that are properly addressed in that marriage by the husband and wife only make that marriage stronger. Parents, if you keep interfering, you’ll rob your children of the victories that can be won only when they are forced to deal with big issues. Let God work in their marriage.
Marriage is permanent
Finally: Jesus once said to the Pharisees: “‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so'” (Mt. 19:8). Divorce is a concession to human sinfulness. Divorce isn’t God’s creational way. Divorce is not a part of the design plan.
We live in a divorce culture. (Christians divorce almost as widely as non-Christians.) This is one consequence of today’s cult of autonomy: “I get to decide how I’ll live my life and make myself happy, and if a wife or husband gets in the way, I’ll just throw him/her on the trash heap.”
People’s lives are destroyed and children are scarred for life and investments are lost and churches are ripped apart and businesses are disrupted all because somebody was willing to sacrifice anybody and anything on the altar of their own gratification.
But the God who created man and woman alone knows what gratifies them. God’s plans for marriage are designed not just to please him but to please us. God desires to share his communion with us an joyous people — joyous as he is joyous. So his law for our lives is a joyous law — it makes us joyous when we obey.
And sacrificing for the gratification of other people — just as God the Father and Son and Spirit do for each other and for us— makes us joy-filled. A life of autonomy is not a life of joy.
So, in depravation, failure, illness, and incapacity — hang onto each other. Death alone should sever a marriage. Determine for yourselves that divorce is not an option for a Christian marriage.
“Out of two, one.”
What we learn about the first marriage is just as true today: God’s holy way is always right and good, and man’s sinful ways are always wrong and bad.