Genesis 1:27, 2:24
The amazing thing about the Bible is that it addresses nearly every area of human life. Money? It’s in there. Death? There’s plenty about death in Scripture. Sickness? The Bible talks about it. Joy? Sadness? Friendship? Salvation? God talks about those, too. Today, let’s talk about a biblical topic that preachers often avoid. Today, let’s talk about marriage and sexuality.
II. MARRIAGE AND SEX: THE ORDER MATTERS
The first thing you’ll notice is the order. I could have said “sex and marriage” and that’s often how people address it. Sex first – our world says – and then maybe we’ll get around to marriage. But God’s plan is the other way around. Marriage is to precede sex.
In the Bible, the Song of Solomon is a celebration of sexual love. But notice it’s sex within a covenant, within the bond of marriage. It’s a bride and a groom longing for each other. Some want to overlook the obvious and make that book a parable of Christ’s love for the church, but I think that is reading the Bible backwards, imposing the New Testament upon the Old. Instead, the Song of Solomon should be seen for what it is, a long poem celebrating the God-given physical aspect of married love. So today, the Christian ethic draws on the Jewish ethic, and affirms that God made sex very good, so good that it is worth protecting as something sacred, and that’s exactly what the covenant of marriage does.
III. OUR SEX-SATURATED SOCIETY
But let’s face it: This is 2018. In a thousand ways, music, television, movies, social media, radio, newspapers and more sell sex, and it’s not married sex that they’re promoting. Sex outside marriage is so taken for granted that when someone preaches a sermon like this, it may sound cutting-edge! You might say today’s message is so old that it’s new. Knowing that Africans appreciate the wisdom of the elders, let me sing for you the chorus of a song from yesteryear:
Love and marriage, love and marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage.
Mother said to Father:
“You can’t have one without the other.”
I love that song, because it summarizes so beautifully God’s timeless plan for marriage and sexuality. What God has joined together, let no one separate.
IV. LOOKING AT GENESIS 1:27, 2:24
Besides the Song of Solomon, another area of Scripture that is foundational is Genesis 1:27 and 2:24. (And by the way, Jesus in Matthew 19:1-12 reaffirms the validity of the verses in Genesis, so there’s no question of the New Testament modifying an Old Testament teaching. They speak with one voice). And what is that voice? Let’s consider several principles that God lays down for us:
- To be male or female is very good.
It’s not an accident that the phrase “male and female he created them” appears just before God in v. 31 pronounced human beings as “very good.” God is blessing the order that God put in place, an order in which the coming together of male and female produces offspring. Maybe science will one day figure out some elaborate work-around, but for now at least, you have to have a male and female for a species to continue. A good example is the sea turtle. Because of the changing climate, marine biologists are worried that the sea turtle might become extinct. When the sands in which the eggs incubate grow too warm, only females are produced. Right now, very few males are hatching; almost all sea turtle hatchlings are female. That’s a problem. And so God has set up the created order to be self-reproducing. To be male and female is very good, and by implication, sexual activity is a positive, life-giving force that we should celebrate as part of God’s good plan.
- Marriage – the context for coupling – is male/female.
Genesis 2:24 affirms: “This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh.” The term “one flesh” refers to the joining together of male and female in sexual intercourse. Who is joined together? Two men? Two women? No – a man and woman are joined together. Jesus blessed this divine arrangement when – according to John 2 – one of the first things he did in his ministry was to attend a wedding in Cana of Galilee. On the other hand, deep friendship between two men or two women is also blessed by God, and we call it brotherhood or sisterhood. It is David and Jonathan or Ruth and Naomi, both relationships positively portrayed in Scripture. But let us not confuse two kinds of love, the non-sexual nature of friendship and the sexual nature of marriage.
- Marriage is not just pro-creative. It is unitive.
We’re in Kenya, and we understand the great value that Africans place upon having children. Of course, Africa is not alone in this. Many cultures throughout the world treasure children and what they bring to our lives. Psalm 127:3 reminds us: “Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him” (NLT). Yet the purpose of marriage goes beyond procreation. It is unitive, meaning it is for mutual health and well-being in every way.
There’s a Haitian prayer that says: “God, may we be like coffee and milk, once mixed together, impossible to separate again.” And that same image can be applied to marriage. To be “one flesh” means joining forces in every way. So even when age inevitably tamps down the fire of sexual desire, husband and wife can still thrive together, united in love that goes beyond the physical. That means that even if a husband and wife bear no children, their marriage is a positive force, providing well-being to each other through their sexual union but also their union in so many other ways. We should never pressure married couples to separate if they appear to be unable to have children. Marriage is more than procreation. Men, your value goes beyond whether you can impregnate your wife. Women, your value is greater than whether you can carry your husband’s child. You have infinite value because you are a human being created in the image of God, full stop. Let’s not put undue pressure upon married couples who are having trouble conceiving. Let us love them and support them regardless of whether they increase the size of our clan. For if we want to be strict, we could never accept Jesus of Nazareth as our savior since he never married and never fathered children.
- Marriage is for one man and one woman, for life.
Another lesson from Genesis 2:24 is monogamy. Marriage is not one husband and several wives nor is it one wife and several husbands. Rather, a man (singular) leaves his father and mother and is joined with his wife (singular). The Old Testament does speak of many who had more than one wife. David and Solomon are two such examples. However, their departure from God’s monogamous design is just that, a departure. We shouldn’t point to them as a license to do the same.
When my wife, Amy, and I were missionaries serving in Benin (West Africa), one of the first individuals who showed interest in the church was a man who once had 11 wives. He told me that he now only had three. Even with just three, it struck me how his every waking moment was taken up with scheming how he could possibly support such a large family. Ironically, though he had 3 wives, I never met one of them. He seemed to have distanced himself from everyone! Another man in our church had two wives, and had to maintain separate houses for both (and their children) since wife # 1 and wife #2 couldn’t get along at all.
In the Church of the Nazarene, we don’t encourage those who have more than one wife to divorce the others. We understand the damage that can cause when a wife is cut off from her husband, and the collateral damage that can cause for children. However, we point our people back to God’s design for the family, that one husband and one wife remain faithful to each other, monogamous and committed to the welfare of their spouse, as long as they both shall live. As many Africans move to the city with its high costs, polygyny is becoming less of an issue, but in the church we must remain clear: Faithfulness within monogamy is God’s intention for God’s people. And in an age of HIV-AIDS, where disease spreads through sexual networks, it’s not only a godly choice; it’s a healthy choice.
Pornography is another way that the one man, one woman marriage principle is violated. Sexuality is meant for husband and wife, yet viewing porn injects virtual strangers into the bedroom. And the irony of pornography is that it bathes the human brain in dopamine and — over time — this makes a husband unable to respond to his wife sexually. Porn can be as addictive and harmful as drugs. It’s time we name the problem and seek God’s solution.
Marriage is between one man and one woman, for life. When we say marriage is “for life,” we’re talking about divorce. In Matthew 19:1-12, Jesus notes that divorce was never part of God’s plan, but instead was a concession that Moses made because of people’s hard hearts. Marriage should never be entered into lightly, but once it is, let’s give all the support we can to couples so that their marriages will be strong.
- Marriage is the place where you can fully know another human being, and be fully known.
We know Genesis 2:24 well, but often overlook the verse that immediately follows: “Adam and his wife were naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25). Shame would come later in Genesis, once they had sinned against God, but here there is no shame. In marriage, God provides an arena where we can be fully known by another human being. To be naked and feel no shame symbolizes a level of transparency between husband and wife that pleases the Lord. I’ve learned as a husband that nothing promotes transparency better than taking the time to talk with your spouse, and to listen. Paul says in Romans 12:15 (NIV): “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.” We can only know how to rejoice and how to mourn as husband and wife if we are transparent with each other, if we are “naked and not ashamed.”
V. CONCLUSION: A PLACE OF BEGINNING AGAIN
So what have we learned today? First, God wants us to keep sex for marriage. Secondly, to be male or female is very good. Third, marriage is a male-female arrangement. Fourth, marriage is both procreative and unitive. Fifth, marriage is between one man and one woman, for life. Finally, marriage is a place where we can be naked and unashamed, fully known by our husband or wife, living in transparency before each other and before the Lord.
It’s likely that some here today might respond: “But it’s too late. I’ve already stepped out of bounds.” I’m glad that we serve a God who loves us. God offers us forgiveness for our sins and a place of beginning again. Whatever may have happened in the past, this is a new day, fresh with possibilities. Jesus stands with his arms outstretched, and offers his grace. By the power of God’s Holy Spirit living inside you, all things can become new. Are you ready for a fresh start?
Rings: By Aliaça (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Male/female symbol: By Fibonacci (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Holding hands: By Maryam Mgonja (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons