When I worked in Oxford a while ago, a story appeared in the Oxford Mail about a man who accidentally left his wife behind at a service station on the M40. They'd both gone in to use the loos; the man came out first, completely forgot that his wife was with him, and drove off. She came out, found him missing and (bless her) put the best possible construction on it and thought he must have been kidnapped. So she phoned the police. They found him pulled over on the hard shoulder 30 miles up the M40. The article ends: 'When police asked Mr Appleby when he first realise his mistake, he said, 'I asked my wife to unwrap me a toffee, and when there was no reply, I realised something was wrong.''
That story sums up all the promise and the pain of the relationship between the sexes - which is our subject tonight as we return to our series in Genesis.
So would you turn in the Bible to Genesis 2.18. As you do, can I say: I'm aware that I can't speak with a married person's insight - so forgive me that. But as always I'll try my best to let the Bible - the Word of God - speak, because it's God's insight that we most need.
So, what have we seen so far? Genesis 1 describes God's creation of everything. It's like a massive Turner landscape painting. And 1.31 says:
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Then, from 2.4, Genesis paints another picture of the same events - this time an intimate portrait - of the relationships between God, man and woman. And we pick up from last time at 2.18 with the astonishing statement that something is not good. 2.18:
The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
So, firstly, THE NEED FOR COMPANIONSHIP (vv18-20)
(Or if you wanted to give this a film title - Home Alone)
Look back to 1.27:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
So man and woman were created equal in the image of God. But then in chapter 2 come the first clues that man and woman were also created different. If you read what the apostle Paul says about the different roles of men and women in marriage and church (eg 1 Corinthians 11.2-10, 1 Timothy 2.11-15), he traces it back to Genesis 2. He says the description of man created first gives a role of headship or leadership to the man. And the description of woman created second gives her a role of helpership alongside him. So, equal (chapter 1) but with different roles (chapter 2).
What then follows is a kind of zoological episode of Blind Date:
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. (vv19-20)
So you can imagine the golden Labrador bounding up and giving him a big lick; the cat rubbing his ankles. And so on. But they're too different for the companionship he needs. They make pets but not partners. So:
Second, THE CREATION OF WOMAN (vv21-23)
(Or if you wanted to give this a film title - While You Were Sleeping)
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman', for she was taken out of man." (v20-23)
That portrait of the creation of woman communicates some profound things. Man finally recognises in woman a person like him, who he can relate to intimately. V23, 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.' Ie, 'This is like my own flesh and blood. This person could become family to me.'
So she's like him. And yet she's also unlike him. So he doesn't say, 'She shall be called man no.2.' But, 'She shall be called woman.' I don't know if you've seen the film of the musical My Fair Lady, where the Rex Harrison character falls in love with the Audrey Hepburn one. And Rex has one song called, 'Oh why can't a woman be more like a man?' And the answer is: because she wasn't created to be. One of the best-selling non-fiction books last year was Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus - subtitled, 'A practical guide for improving communication and getting what you want in your relationships.' That last bit gives away the world's perspective. But this says some useful things, not least that men and women are different - hence the title. Only it can't say why. But the Bible does. God made us different, so that when we come together, it's a mix of ingredients that complement one another. And we're to value the differences, not try to iron them out.
So woman is like man; unlike man; and also very exciting to man. So that the first human words recorded in the Bible are a love poem, v23. And you could more accurately translate 'This is,' as, 'At last!', or, 'Now we're really talking!' or even just, 'Wow!' Now it's important on the one hand to reject the Hollywood myth - the idea that you're only worth how you look and that physical attraction can hold a relationship together. But on the other hand, it's important to say: God did create attraction and 'chemistry'; and we shouldn't go to the other extreme and deny that those things matter.
So, as Matthew Henry wrote over 300 years ago:
The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to top him, not out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved. (Matthew Henry's Commentary, Genesis 2)
The need for companionship. The creation of woman. Then,
Third, THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE (v24)
(Or if you wanted to give this a film title - The Wedding Planner)
I take it that by the end of v23, the man and the woman are married. God has both officiated and given the woman away - in the absence of a father of the bride. He's said to the man, 'Will you?' And he's said a resounding and poetic, 'I will.' And I take it the woman has said likewise. That was a unique event: God creating the first woman for the first man and bringing them together in marriage. But it was also a model for every future marriage, v24:
For this reason a man [any man, in any time and any place] will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
So, God created man and woman equal but different - so that they would have what's been called 'the universal urge to merge'. And for this reason, v24, God also created a structure, or institution, within which to live out their relationship - the institution of marriage.
Now calling it an institution sounds a bit clinical and unromantic. So maybe the picture of a house is better. Someone has said this: 'On their wedding day, a man and a woman move into the 'house' of marriage together, lock the door from the inside and throw away the key. They commit themselves to self-giving love as the only way forward, promising to resolve all problems inside the 'house' rather than reserving the option of leaving.' That's how God created marriage to be - a secure house in which to live out a relationship through all its ups and downs.
So what does the 'house' of marriage look like?
Well, it's heterosexual, not homosexual. That's plain from Genesis 2 and spelt out as the Bible unfolds (see, eg, Leviticus 20.13, Romans 1.24-27, 1 Corinthians 6.9-11). And then v24 spells out 3 things.
Number one, 'A man will leave his father and mother.' Ie, his priority commitment in life changes. Before marriage, it was to his parents. Once married, his wife takes priority over all other people. So that when weighing up other commitments, moves, jobs, plans, the crucial question is, 'How will this affect my ability to love my wife?'
Number two, 'And be united to his wife.' The original word literally says, 'be stuck' or 'be glued'. It's a commitment word, a 'this-is-permanent' word. Ie, marriage is commitment. It's a house built on the foundation not of attraction or chemistry, but promises. That's why on their wedding day the couple are asked not 'Do you love this person?' (which is usually fairly obvious) but, 'Will you love this person - until death you do part?' It's that, 'I will' which makes marriage a secure house.
I saw at the check-out in Asda the other day one of those 'Good Living' magazines with the cover article, '10 Tips For Keeping Your Man.' And outside the secure house of marriage, that's exactly the insecurity. How do I keep him or her loving me; interested in me? The writer Agatha Christie was married to an archaeologist and she once said, 'It's the best kind of husband you can find - the older you get, the more interested he becomes.' But marriage is a secure house because it's not about keeping your man or your woman but keeping your promise - for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part.
Number three, 'And the two will become one flesh'. Which includes sexual union, but means far more. It means the union of two lives into one. It goes back to v23 - 'This is... flesh of my flesh.' Ie, this is my own flesh and blood. Two people born as strangers become closer than brother and sister. So that it's now more natural for them to speak of the other as 'my other half.'
And God created sexual intercourse for that context alone. By its very nature, sex feels good. But the question is: in what context can we say sex is good and does good? It's a bit like asking the question, 'Is fire good?' Well, it all depends on the context. On top of candles or in the fireplace, yes. On the sofa or up the curtains, no.
So why is sex for heterosexual marriage alone?
Well for a start, sex is the body language of marriage. We use body language all the time. A hand-shake means friendly but formal. A hug means you're good friends, or brother and sister, or Tellytubbies. So what is sex? The sad fact is that almost everyone knows how to 'have safe sex' but so many haven't asked the question, 'What am I actually doing?' What are you saying with sex? According to the Bible you're saying, 'I give myself to you unreservedly, permanently, exclusively.' Here's a Christian writer:
To be naked with another person is a symbolic demonstration of perfect honesty, perfect trust, perfect giving and commitment, and if the heart is not naked along with the body, then the whole action becomes a lie… the giving of the body but the withholding of the self. Exposure of the body is like the telling of one's deepest secrets: afterwards there is no going back, no pretending that the secret is still one's own. It is in effect the very last step in human relations, and therefore never to be taken lightly. It is not a step which establishes deep intimacy, but which presupposes it. (The Mystery of Marriage, Mike Mason)
So sex outside marriage is to tell a lie with my body.
But sex is also a bonding agent for marriage - part of what strengthens the commitment. I don't know if you've ever used any of that really powerful glue -Superglue. I used some a while ago, and I was standing back, admiring what I'd just mended, when I realised that I'd stuck my thumb and forefinger together. And I thought, 'What do I do now?' The instructions told me to seek hospital attention as these cases often needed surgical separation. Clearly I couldn't drive to hospital (although I could cycle - I just wouldn't be able to brake!). In the end I thought I'd deal with it myself. I closed my eyes, and ripped them apart. And it hurt.
And the Bible says if we have sexual union with someone and then pull apart, it hurts. And the more we do it, the less we end up being able to feel. There's a massive amount of bravado out there - especially in teenage and student circles - telling us to get on with it, telling us we're missing out. But underneath the bravado people are getting hurt.
But then sex is also the bringer of children. Back in 1.28,
God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it."
Sex is also for bringing children into the world - and that needs saying in our contraceptive society. Not that contraception is wrong. But the desire for childless sex and relationships is wrong. So the commitment to get married is also a commitment in principle to become a parent - unless the Lord overrules otherwise, and we're unable to have children. Because marriage is not just a secure house for husband and wife. It's also the secure house which children need to grow up in.
So, sex is the body language of marriage, the bonding agent of marriage, and the bringer of children into the married family. And for those three reasons, it's for heterosexual marriage only. V24 again:
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
One unit. Pulling together in one direction. Which is why the New Testament (NT) says a Christian must only marry a Christian. Here's the apostle Paul advising a widow on her options in 1 Corinthians 7:
A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. [ie, be a believer.] (1 Corinthians 7.39)
So: is it wrong in the Lord's eyes for a Christian to marry someone who's not a Christian?' Yes. It's wrong. But then how about going out with someone who's not a Christian? Well, the Bible doesn't explicitly address that, so this is Ian Garrett applying what it does say to what it doesn't explicitly address. You have to say: a Christian going out with a non-Christian is very unwise. Because certainly once you get into your twenties or so, going out becomes serious because, emotionally and relationally, you're in possible marriage territory. And I would say going out in our twenties or so has got to have some element of exploring whether a friendship might possibly lead to marriage. So is it wise to go out with someone whom we know we couldn't marry unless they came to faith in Jesus? No - because we can't know that they'll come to faith. So the chances are very high either that we'll have to break it off; or that we'll stay in the relationship and be pulled away from obedience to the Lord. Now, having said that, Christians who have married non-Christians need to know that although that original step of getting married was wrong in the Lord's eyes, the marriage itself is good and right and the Lord now wants you to be in it and live for him there just like anyone else.
But those of us who've not yet married need to hear the lines the Lord has drawn for our good. If I'm a Christian, I must marry only another Christian; only someone of the opposite sex; and only someone who's not married.
That's v24 - the principles of marriage for all people for all time. Then in v25 we return to the original couple:
The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
The word for shame isn't talking about guilt-type shame. It means they were completely at ease in a situation of total openness, honesty, nakedness. Which is why it's such a poignant verse. Because none of us will ever share that experience of perfect marriage. They were the only couple to know what it's like to have nothing to hide from the gaze of the other; and nothing to fear in the gaze of the other.
And that situation was blown away by the events of Genesis 3 - the 'Fall' - where the man and the woman rebelled against God and dragged all of us into that rebellion with its consequences in every area of life. So, fourthly, lastly, we have to think beyond Genesis 2 and look at the implications of the fall:
Fourth, THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE FALL
Well, to start with, marriage is now painful as well as joyful. Because just as it brings a man and a woman closer together than any other relationship, simultaneously it brings a sinner and a sinner closer together than any other relationship. So we need to be realistic about it. Those of us about to enter the house of marriage need to realise that our other half is just as sinful as we are. And that putting us together with them is going to be one of God's chief ways of exposing our sinfulness and making us more like Jesus. Those of us already in the house don't need to be told that. And those of us currently on the outside mustn't idealise it. There's as much potential for loneliness and discontentment and disappointment inside marriage as outside. Marriage isn't leaving all our problems behind. It's swapping one set of problems for another - as well as one set of blessings for another.
Next, marriage may not bring children. We all live under the physical consequences of the Fall - Christians included. But as it says, 'in all things, God works for the good of those who love him.' (Romans 8.28) And I've seen Christian couples who've been unable to have biological children who've had literally dozens of 'spiritual children' - younger folk they've led to Christ and built up in Christ.
Next, we now know that right from the start, God meant marriage to be the great visual aid of the relationship between Jesus and us. Here's the apostle Paul again, this time in Ephesians 5:
25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… [as we remember in this communion service. And Paul goes on to quote Genesis 2:]…31"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." 32This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the church. (See Ephesians 5.21-32)
Ie, he's not primarily saying, 'Jesus' love shown on the cross is a great example for marriage' - although he is saying that. He's primarily saying, 'Marriage was intended right from the start to be a visual aid which would enable us to grasp Jesus' love shown on the cross.' The idea is that in Christian marriage people can see reflected there the Saviour's love for sinners and the sinner's trustful submission to the Saviour. So if you're married, your marriage is a very powerful evangelistic gift - let non-Christian people see it; let them into it through hospitality and the use of your home.
Next, marriage is not our greatest need. It wasn't - even for Adam in Genesis 2. His greatest need was his relationship with God - that No.1 relationship which alone can give us the security and self-esteem that we need. (And we'll bleed human relationships dry if we try to get from them what only God can supply). And this side of the Fall that's even clearer. Our greatest need is to be forgiven back into that No.1 relationship with God - and Jesus died on the cross to pay for that forgiveness. And if you want to know more about that, please pick up one of these booklets, Why Jesus?, from the Welcome Desk at the back of the building. It's not the end of the world if we never get married. It is the end of the world if we arrive at judgement day still on the wrong side of God.
Next (and this is the last but one): singleness is good. It's still true, Genesis 2.18, that: "It is not good for the man to be alone." But: here's Paul again in 1 Corinthians 7:
Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.
(1 Corinthians 7.1)
And he goes on in 1 Corinthians 7 (the Bible chapter on singleness and marriage) to explain why. He assumes that in a fallen world, believers will care passionately about reaching others with the gospel. But we all have finite time and energy. And if we're able and willing to be single - at least for now - then the time and energy that would otherwise go on marriage can go on things that help spread the gospel and build the church. In that sense, singleness has great advantages (see 1 Corinthians 7.29-35). In that sense, singleness is 'better' (see 1 Corinthians 7.38). It's been said in teaching here that all of us should support marriage. But we should also support singleness. And those of us currently single need the support not just of other single friends, but also of married friends. We need your hospitality because a married home is qualitatively different from our homes (even with housemates, etc). We need inclusion in families - to be able to relate to children (and you probably need a break from them, anyway!). We especially need you to encourage us to use our singleness to the full for the Lord - whether we're single by choice, by circumstance, by being widowed, by being divorced, whatever.
Last implication: marriage is only temporary. It's only till death us do part. As Jesus said, there will be no marriage in heaven (Mark 12.18-27). No human marriage, that is. The Bible begins in Genesis with a marriage between a man and woman. It ends in Revelation with a marriage between A Saviour and all those he's saved - Jesus and all who've ever trusted him. And in heaven we'll know an intimacy with him, with his Father and with one another that we've never known before.