Issue #121 -------
April 27, 2004
What a grand thing, to be loved!
What a grander thing still, to love!
Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) once wisely observed, "A man without a wife is but half a man" (Poor Richard's Almanac, January, 1755). There are many such ancient sayings among the peoples of the world, each of which expresses the belief that there is divine design behind the union of a man and woman. An Ethiopian adage is -- "Woman without man is like a field without seed." In West Africa the older ones teach the younger: "One stone does not grind the meal." A noted psychiatrist, Irving Bieber (b. 1908), in an essay on living the single life, stated, "There is increasing recognition that bachelorhood is symptomatic of psychopathology." In other words, our Creator chose to create us male and female, and it was His intent that we find our greatest fulfillment in union with one another. Living apart from that divine design, unless there is some compelling reason to do so, is less than the Ideal. Perhaps the great reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) expressed it best when he declared, "There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage" (Table Talk).
To properly perceive the enormous worth of such a union we must return to the very beginning. After all, when men lost sight of God's original intent for marriage, Jesus sought to refocus their hearts and minds back on the Ideal by saying, "Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it has not been this way" (Matthew 19:8). Thus, to determine divine design we must return to the roots of this unique relationship.
When the Lord God brought to completion the formation of His vast physical universe, He then created man "from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7). This newly created being, Adam, was placed within a beautiful garden which had been prepared by God as his dwelling place; it "was toward the east, in Eden" (vs. 8). Everything seemed perfect. Adam lived in paradise, surrounded by the marvelous wonders of God's creation. The earth was at peace with itself and its Creator. What more could be desired? But, the creative work of God was not yet complete; something was missing: a vital element that would bring that which was good to a state of excellence. Adam needed a companion. The Creator reflected, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him" (vs. 18).
An extensive search was made throughout the various forms of life created prior to man, but "no suitable helper was found" (vs. 20). It was God's desire for man to clearly perceive, by means of this failed search among the different species, that there was NO suitable mate to be found there. Although some humans have since sought to mate with species other than their own, this was never part of the divine design, and, indeed, is viewed as an abomination by our Creator.
Since no suitable mate was to be found among the lesser forms of life, the Creator fashioned from the man himself a suitable life-companion, a female of his species, and presented her to him. Adam then observed, in a spirit of appreciation and awe, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man" (Genesis 2:23). The apostle Paul, commenting upon this special creation, states that man "is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman came from man; and man was not created for woman, but woman for man" (1 Corinthians 11:7-9).
What we here observe, and it dates back to the very beginning of human existence, is the eternal, infallible design of the Creator with respect to the intimate relationship between a man and a woman. God, in His infinite wisdom, declared it was not good for man to be alone. Personal fulfillment is only to be found in an abiding, intimate relationship with a suitable companion. Although the new world abounded with a wide variety of living beings, none of them were designed to fulfill the unique needs of man. It was the intent of the Creator for woman to be man's special companion for life .... and no other! "Male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27), and upon this purposeful design He stamped His seal of approval -- "God saw all that He had made, and it was very good" (vs. 31).
The Ideal of our God has always been, even from the very beginning, that man and woman would join together in an intimate relationship with one another, and that this union would endure throughout their lives. God created them to be "suitable" mates; thus, only they could properly and fully satisfy the needs of the other. Had such fulfillment been possible, or even divinely desirable, from a man-beast or man-man (or woman-woman) relationship, the Creator would have, and easily could have, so designed it. He did not! The "natural relations" (Romans 1:26-27) of a male with a female is God's design .... this is His divine Ideal.
After the creation of the woman, Eve, and her presentation to the man, Adam, "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number" (Genesis 1:28). One of the great blessings of this special union between man and woman is the ability to procreate. Indeed, the couple is divinely commissioned to create life to fill the earth; a command that cannot be obeyed, by the way, through either bestiality or homosexuality, thus demonstrating yet again how contrary these perversions are to the natural design of our Creator. The descendants of this first couple would ideally perpetuate such natural unions of male and female -- "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" (Genesis 2:24-25).
There is nothing shameful about the intimate union of a man and woman in covenant with one another and with their Creator (and in accordance with His design). However, the beauty and innocence of this original design has been brutally twisted and tarnished through the ages by the numerous abuses and perversions fallen men have inflicted upon it. The natural union of man with woman is being increasingly exchanged for unions which can only be deemed unnatural (i.e., against God's laws of nature). The sacred is being cast off in favor of the profane. That which is holy is being trampled underfoot in a senseless quest for immediate, though transient, self-gratification. Intimate relationships, which God designed to be permanent, are being defiled and destroyed by selfish, lustful, godless pursuits.
The Nature of God's IDEAL
What exactly IS the original intent ... the divine design ... of our Creator? What IS this universal Ideal He purposed for the male-female relationship? What are the individual, identifying marks of approved marriage in the sight of our heavenly Father? Is His will in this area of our lives discernable, or has He left us to muddle through our interpersonal relationships without any spiritual guidance? The answer, of course, is that our God has given us perhaps the greatest Marriage Manual of all time in the form of His written, inspired revelation -- The Bible. By searching the Scriptures, we can come to know His will for marriage. From that revelation, note the following key qualities:
FIRST --- As has already been stated, marriage is first of all, by God's design, a male-female relationship ... and none other! Having already sufficiently established this point above, we shall not belabor it here.
SECOND --- It is a God-ordained event in which a man and woman are joined together, thus becoming "one flesh." The apostle Paul writes that marriage is a state created by God, one that is good and not to be rejected, but rather received with thanksgiving in our hearts (1 Timothy 4:3-4). It is a union blessed by God Himself; one divinely designed to be permanent, and thus not to be dissolved except by the death of one or both partners. Thus, the Creator's Ideal is -- One man for one woman for life. "He who created them in the beginning made them male and female," said Jesus (Matthew 19:4). "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate" (vs. 5-6).
In the beginning, when the Lord formed Eve from out of the very body of Adam, it was never His intention that the two would be separate or independent of one another. The very manner of the woman's creation, as well as the intricacies of her physical design, clearly indicate the interdependence of man and woman. They were divinely designed to form an intricate and intimate union with one another, and to rely heavily upon the various strengths and abilities of the other. They were created to find their fulfillment in togetherness. "Woman is not independent of man, and man is not independent of woman" (1 Corinthians 11:11). The Ideal is achieved when the two become one; when they share their lives, allowing the strengths of one to compensate for the weaknesses of the other; each giving themselves fully to serving the other in love. Such completion of one another can only be achieved and maintained through union, not separation.
THIRD --- An integral part of this intimate union between a man and woman will be sexual in nature. Although this may come as a shock to the system of the Puritans among us, humans were nevertheless designed by God to practice, and even enjoy, sexual intimacy. There is nothing shameful about this arrangement. "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame" (Genesis 2:25). This blessed state of blissful innocence is hardly characteristic of the countless sexual escapades of fallen men and women down through the ages, however. Having forgotten, or willfully ignoring, the boundaries within which God has given the privilege and joys of sexual union, "perverse" and "shameful" become far more appropriate depictions and characterizations of their practice.
Although highly scorned as "out-dated" and "old-fashioned" in our various permissive societies, sexual expression is nevertheless restricted by the Creator's design to the marriage relationship. "Marriage must be respected by all, and the marriage bed kept undefiled, because God will judge immoral people and adulterers" (Hebrews 13:4). Having lost sight of this Ideal for acceptable sexual expression and demonstration, men and women have inflicted unnecessarily a host of tragic consequences upon themselves. How much simpler it would be, and certainly more conducive to personal happiness and fulfillment, to simply live according to God's eternal purpose for our lives! Living the Ideal leads to ideal living!
When we depart from God's design, we only open the door for Satan to tempt us with actions and attitudes which are less than ideal. That is why Paul urges husbands and wives to take great care to fulfill the sexual needs of one another. To fail a mate in that area of our relationship could prove costly. Paul cautioned married couples with the following sound advice: "Because of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. A husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise a wife to her husband. A wife does not have authority over her own body, but her husband does. Equally, a husband does not have authority over his own body, but his wife does. Do not deprive one another -- except when you agree, for a time, to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again; otherwise, Satan may tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (1 Corinthians 7:2-5).
FOURTH --- Ideally, the marriage relationship is further characterized by emotional nurturing. In his powerful epistle to the Ephesian brethren, Paul penned one of the most moving testimonies to God's Ideal for marriage found anywhere in the inspired writings: Ephesians 5:22-33 (which I would encourage the readers to take time to read at this time, and then pause to reflect upon the thoughts conveyed). Consistent with the example of Jesus, Paul directs the hearts and minds of his brethren back to the Genesis account and to God's original intent for the marital relationship (vs. 31). He further likens marriage to the relationship between Jesus Christ and the church, thus emphasizing anew the sacredness and preciousness of the union between a man and a woman.
FIFTH --- Ideal marriage is a forever union between a man and a woman, and is to be characterized by faithfulness to their covenant with one another. Note carefully the words to the following biblical marital pledge -- "I will take you to be my wife forever. I will take you to be my wife in righteousness, justice, love, and compassion. I will take you to be my wife in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord" (Hosea 2:19-20). These marvelous marriage vows give us additional insight into God's eternal design for this most blessed of interpersonal relationships. It is a forever union of a man and woman, characterized by two hearts focused as one. The focus is upon the other mate, and their vision is one of everlasting love. It is a walk together through life in righteousness before their God, and a walk in faithfulness to one another. It is a compassionate interweaving of two lives into a caring, nurturing whole.
SIXTH --- As mentioned above, marriage is a covenant between a man and woman; a covenant made with God as their Witness! This is seen very clearly in a passage where those who have dealt treacherously with their wives are rebuked for their sin -- "The Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have acted treacherously against her, though she was your marriage partner and your wife by covenant" (Malachi 2:14). One dictionary defines "covenant" as a "contractual agreement sealed with a solemn promise or vow." That would certainly apply to marriage. Two people, before witnesses, vow to one another their love and devotion "until death do you part." They solemnly promise to be faithful through sickness and health, for richer or poorer. They are parties to covenant, and any breaking of those vows, or dissolution of that marriage, is literally a breaking of covenant.
SEVENTH --- One must never fail to include, in any discussion of God's divine design for marriage, the quality of mutual faithfulness to the Lord. Paul clearly cautions the people of God against being "yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Corinthians 6:14). Although this injunction can validly be applied to various situations in the life of a believer, this in no way discounts or diminishes the marriage relationship as one of those situational applications. A spiritually mixed marriage has within it the seeds of its own destruction. It is a rare couple indeed who has not reaped a harvest of struggle and sorrow over such a union (believer joined with unbeliever). Too often the point is reached when the unbeliever will no longer tolerate the faith and commitment of the believing spouse, and will depart, thus breaking covenant with their spouse. Paul addresses this very matter in 1 Corinthians 7 --- For an in-depth examination of this counsel of Paul to the saints in Corinth, I would refer the readers to my article: Advice For Troubled Marriages --- Reflections #93.
Ideally, husbands and wives will share a common faith, and they will work together to achieve the goal of everlasting life. A passage of Scripture I always use in wedding ceremonies I perform is 1 Peter 3:7 in which the apostle Peter refers to husbands and wives as "heirs together of the grace of life." I think that expresses the Ideal of God quite well.
As one studies and reflects upon the inspired Scriptures, the Ideal of God for the marriage relationship can be clearly and frequently detected. Our Creator repeatedly holds it before us lest we lose sight of His glorious goal for our lives. It is found throughout the laws given unto/by Moses, it is immortalized in the glowing tribute to the wife of noble character in Proverbs 31, it is encountered again in the Song of Solomon, which is a moving love poem overflowing with heartfelt expressions of mutual adoration and devotion. The divine design is discerned in the depth of God's own commitment to His bride Israel, and is perhaps epitomized in the sacrificial love of His Son, Jesus, for His bride: the church.
The eternal purpose of our God for marriage is so vital to our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being that we must never lose sight of it. It must ever be kept before our view. An appreciation of what our God has created for us to achieve will perhaps make us that much more aware of the tragedy of failing to achieve it. Perhaps, additionally, with that increased awareness, will come reassessment of our lives, and recommitment to His marvelous Ideal. May we never forget that our loving Creator desires us to be happy in our interpersonal relationships. Indeed, we are divinely designed to delight in one another. The Ideal IS attainable and maintainable, if we will keep it ever before us and if we will follow the pathway to its acquisition which God has so graciously provided.
From a Reader in Texas:
Richard Rogers used to say, "I love to be the weaker brother because others have to give in to me." How true it is.
From a Reader in Missouri:
Thank you, Al. Your article "A Safety Valve for Steamed Saints" is ONE of my favorite Reflections you have done so far!
From an Elder/Minister in New Jersey:
Now you've shone your true colors. Not only are you a "blazing liberal," a "heretic," and a "blasphemer," you are also a TEXAN and a CONFEDERATE. Surely you must see the error of your ways and roots! Repent! (All in jest!) I was born in Clarksburg, West Virginia and have stood at the bronze statue of Stonewall Jackson on the Court House plaza. I own a retirement place just three miles from the boyhood home of Stonewall Jackson. If there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, in Christ, I guess there are not any Yankees or Confederates either!! I love you, brother. Keep up the good work.
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Bro. Maxey, I was so surprised, and grateful, to get a response from you ... and less than twelve hours after sending you my question! I gave my minister two questions -- and I got a response two weeks later. Your response to my "false teacher" question was so Scriptural, logical, and easy to comprehend that I wondered why I had not perceived the same. I am so grateful that there is an Al Maxey to reach out to folks like me. Although the following word does not convey the full measure of my gratitude -- Thanks! I look forward to reading your Reflections on false teachers, and all your other articles. May the Lord bless you for your wonderful work.
If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. I would also welcome
any questions or comments from the readers.
The Archives for past issues of Reflections is: