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What Is Christian Marriage?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
February 6, 2023 12:01 am

What Is Christian Marriage?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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February 6, 2023 12:01 am

Many people today are wondering if marriage is an old-fashioned tradition that should be discarded once and for all. Today, R.C. Sproul considers the origin of marriage to discover God's purpose for the relationship between husband and wife.

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What was the very first thing that God saw in His creation about which He said, that's not good?

We find it in the 18th verse of the second chapter of Genesis where God looks down at His creation, He sees man, He sees the animals, and He says, it is not good that man should be alone. And so God provided a wife for Adam, and the first marriage was created. Fast forward to the 21st century, and it seems that marriage is on life support. For example, listen to this headline, Seven Reasons Marriage Will Be Dead in the 21st Century. Or how about this headline from a major newspaper, Reinventing Marriage for the 21st Century.

You know, when you think about it, that headline may explain the problem, people trying to reinvent something that God created. The solution then is to view marriage as God does, and Dr. R.C. Sproul is going to help us do that this week here on Renewing Your Mind from his series, The Intimate Marriage. One of the most interesting weddings I've ever attended, there were over 500 people there, the bride was gorgeous, but the thing that grabbed my attention at this particular wedding ceremony was the creativity of the wedding ceremony. The wedding lasted over an hour and the bride and the groom had brainstormed together with the pastor in order to insert new and different and exciting elements into the wedding service. And I enjoyed those, but right in the middle of the ceremony they inserted portions of the traditional classic wedding ceremony. And I noticed that when I began to hear the words from that traditional ceremony that my attention perked up and I was moved. And I thought to myself, I thought, there's just no way to improve on this. This is so beautiful.

Those words are so meaningful. Why can't we just stay with the traditional service? And then I thought, well, I'm probably just old-fashioned, one of these fuddy-duddy ministers and so on. And I thought, maybe the reason I like that traditional service so much is because I've heard it so many times. Most people only really hear it once when they get married or when they're participating in somebody else's wedding, but when you're a clergyman you have the benefit of doing it over and over and over again so that the words now become sharp in their definition. And as I thought of that traditional wedding ceremony I realized that a great deal of thought and care had been filled in each word.

And so we have a tradition that has developed in this wedding service. But you've all felt the tension in our culture as young people more and more are saying no to the traditional wedding ceremony and to the whole traditional concept of marriage. People have experienced pain in their own marriages and in their families. We know that more and more young people are coming from broken homes. And there's a fear that's emerged, a suspicion about the whole business of marriage. And so we see couples living together rather than jumping into marriage for fear that the cost of that kind of a commitment may be too much.

It may be too heavy and make themselves too vulnerable. And so we're at a point in our culture where one of the most stable and what we thought once permanent traditions is being challenged every day. I think most of us have seen the movie or the Broadway play Fiddler on the Roof. How many of you have seen that?

Okay. I particularly like the movie version of it where we have the story of that venerable Russian Jewish patriarch Reptavia. His whole life revolves around his daughters. Oh how he loves his daughters.

And he looks forward to their future. He plans for their future and he gets involved with the matchmaker in the village who is supposed to establish mates and the match for his daughters. But suddenly the girls one at a time come to their father and they say, Papa, but we don't love that man that the matchmaker has chosen.

I love the tailor or I love the butcher or whatever. And these girls begin to pull at the heartstrings of their father one by one and they say, Papa, please let me marry the man that I love. And poor Reptavia, he's torn apart by this because on the one hand he wants to make his daughters happy, but on the other hand, is it on the one hand? And on the other hand he wants to maintain his allegiance to the traditions. And so when he struggles with his daughters they say, no you can't marry the tailor or whoever. The daughter says, well why not? And he said, it's the tradition.

And he thought that was explanation. I said, you can't do it, it's the tradition. But then they ask the next question, but Papa, why is it the tradition? And Reptavia scratches his head and he says, why is it the tradition? It's the tradition, that's all. It's what my father did, that's what my grandfather did, that's what his father before him did, it's the tradition.

But he couldn't give a reason for the establishing of the tradition in the first place. And there was the crisis. They had a tradition that was hanging in midair.

It was precarious. What was the title of the movie? Fiddler on the Roof. What in the world did a fiddler on the roof have to do with this story of this old man and his daughters who wanted to get married? You remember at the opening scene in the movie as the soundtrack gets moving and we see this little man dancing and playing his fiddle on a steeply pitched roof.

That's the symbol for the entire movie. The message is contained right in that because here is a man dancing and fiddling on a steeply pitched roof in a position that is highly precarious. At any second, we expect that fiddler to slip and to slide down the roof and crash into the ground. And the whole point of that image is this, that a tradition that is not understood, a tradition that is empty of its roots is as precarious as a man trying to dance and fiddle on a roof like that.

Sooner or later, it will fall and it will be destroyed. Now the Christian has to ask this question, why do we have a traditional order for marriage? Why do we have marriage at all? One of the things I like about the traditional wedding ceremony is that in the wedding ceremony, words are mentioned that explain to us why there is such a thing as marriage. We are told in that wedding ceremony that marriage is ordained and instituted by God. That is to say that marriage is not something that just springs up arbitrarily out of social conventions or human taboos. Marriage is not invented by men. Marriage is ordained and instituted by God.

Let's take a moment and look back at the origins of marriage. We go to the earliest chapters of the Old Testament, to the opening chapters of the book of Genesis. In the first chapter of Genesis, of course, we read the creation account, the narrative by which God creates the world, and He does it in stages. First He cries out, let there be light, and then He divides the light from the darkness, and then the next day He may divide the dry land from the seas and the oceans, and then He begins to fill the earth with vegetation, with flowers and trees and so on, and then He adorns His creation even further by making beasts of the field and birds of the air and fish that swim in the sea.

But then as we go through that narrative, we see that the creation story reaches its crescendo with the crowning act of creation where God scoops down into that earth and grabs a piece of clay, and He begins to shape it and form it and mold it, and then He breathes into it His own breath, and we read that man becomes a living soul. Now we also notice something going on here, that at every stage of God's work of creation, God utters a benediction. Now we're all familiar with this word benediction.

We hear it every Sunday morning in church. It's the end of the service, and some of us can't wait for that to happen, see that minister raise his hand and say, Lord bless you, and keep you knowing, go home and eat, or do whatever, particularly if the sermon was boring. So the benediction to us means the end of the service. But what's going on in the benediction is, as we see in the word, the root here bene means well or good, and diction, we know what it means to have good diction or poor diction. It has to do with speaking, so that a benediction is a good word where someone wishes you well, and so we see God's benediction being pronounced over each stage of His creation. As He creates the seas and the mountains, He looks at what He's made and He says, that's good. And as He makes the animals and considers them, He looks at that part of His creation and He says, that's good. So we see this benediction being repeated throughout chapter 1 and into chapter 2 of Genesis, but suddenly something ominous comes into this story of creation in the middle of chapter 2.

There's a very subtle mood shift. For the first time in the history of the universe, God notices something that provokes from His mouth not a benediction, but what we call a malediction. A malediction means speaking evil. A curse, for example, would be a malediction, a statement of judgment. Think for a moment and ask yourselves, what is the thing that provoked the first malediction from the mouth of God?

What was the very first thing that God saw in His creation about which He said, that's not good? We find it in the 18th verse of the second chapter of Genesis where God looks down at His creation, He sees man, He sees the animals, and He says, it is not good that man should be alone. His first malediction is directed against the situation of human loneliness. And so we ask, why marriage? God provides an answer to human loneliness.

I remember the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard who wrote frequently about the pain of human experience. And Kierkegaard said that there's a time for solitude. There's a time when each person needs to get alone, to be by himself, to collect and gather his thoughts, to reflect, to meditate. We remember how Jesus Himself from time to time found it necessary to withdraw from the multitudes and the groups and just get away by Himself. And so solitude is something we need, but we don't want it in large doses.

At the same time as we need those moments where we have our own space and we can be by ourselves and think, still the worst punishment that we can conceive of giving people who are incarcerated apart from physical torture and so on is to consign them to solitary confinement, cutting them off from all human fellowship and the warmth of companionship with another person. And I think it's also true as we see in creation that God creates man and man and woman as sexual creatures. Male and female created He them so that there was a certain attraction between the male and the female, a certain complementing of each own individual humanity found in a relationship of intimacy between two people, a man and a woman. And so there in the garden, God as a special act of creation makes the woman. She's not an afterthought.

She's not inferior in dignity to her husband. In fact, there's something special about the creation of the woman. When God sees that it's not good for man to be alone, God brings all of the animals and parades them past Adam. And Adam is looking for a helpmate. Adam is looking for a partner. And he sees the kangaroo hopping by and he says, it's not what I had in mind.

Right? And then God brings this beautifully well-groomed German Shepherd. And Adam looked at that and he said, wow.

He said, that is a magnificent animal. I can see how that dog could bring my slippers to me in the morning. And on a cold night, I could snug up against him. We would call it one dog night. And if it's really cold, I could have a couple more. We could have a three dog night.

He said, but it's still just not quite what I was looking at. So then God brings this palomino pony riding down the street. And Adam says, now that's interesting. I can ride on that one, save me a lot of labor. It can pull my plow, get me from one town to the next.

That would be a tremendous labor-saving device. But God, it's, I don't want to be picky, but it's still not what I had in mind. And so God said, all right, you don't like anything here. I'm going to put you to sleep. And God puts him to sleep. And while Adam is experiencing the first anesthetic, okay, he has open chest thoracic surgery. And God takes from his side a rib and he fashions that and creates a woman. And then Adam awakens. And he looks at this special act of creation.

And I don't know what his exact words are, but I think they went something like, he saw her and he said, whoa, man. And that's where the name came from. That's apocryphal.

I'm making that up, folks. But I think he was beside himself when he saw that first woman and he said, that's it. That's now bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh. And God said, and the man shall leave his father and his mother and he shall cleave to his wife. God ordained marriage, not as punishment, not as ball and chain bondage, but for human fulfillment, for intimacy, to have the finest expression of what it means to be a human being in this world. Now I notice that when young people come to me and they want to write their own wedding ceremonies, and I appreciate the spirit behind them when I ask, why do you want to write your own ceremony? They'll say, because I want my marriage to mean something. I don't want it to be an empty tradition. I don't want to just say meaningless words and sign a piece of paper and have that be that.

And so I say, fine, that's a great spirit. Go ahead, try your hand at it. Be creative. Write the wedding ceremony. But the only proviso I give is that it must be an authentic ceremony. All of the elements of real marriage have to be there or I can't perform the ceremony. And I've seen wonderful wedding ceremonies written by young people.

They come back with all kinds of creative things. But you know, there's one thing I have never seen in a homemade wedding ceremony. I've seen them say, everyone acknowledge that marriage is instituted and ordained by God. But I've yet to have a couple express that marriage is regulated by God's commandments, which of course is an integral part of the traditional ceremony where we acknowledge that not only does God create marriage and give marriage to us as a gift, but when He gives it to us for our well-being, He does not abandon thereby His sovereign authority over marriage. God regulates marriage and He institutes it in a certain format.

The first thing we have to understand about this regulation is that God creates marriage in the form of a covenant. Now, dear friends, the whole idea of a covenant is rooted very, very deeply in biblical Christianity. In fact, we even divide the Bible, don't we, between the old covenant and the new covenant. Our redemption is based on the concept of a covenant. Well, what is a covenant? A covenant is simply an agreement, a contract between two or more persons, and at the heart of a covenant is a promise. On biblical terms, every covenant had stipulations. It had provisions, rules, if you will, that had to be kept for the covenant to stay intact. And there's something else I wanted to note in terms of biblical covenants. In the Bible, there was no such thing as a private covenant.

A covenant was something that was undertaken in the presence of witnesses. How many times have you heard young people say, why do I have to go through a marriage ceremony? Say a few words, sign a piece of paper.

What difference does it make? Why can't I just have an agreement with my girlfriend? Friends, it's one thing for a man to whisper into the ears of a woman in the back seat of an automobile where nobody hears it, where nobody is going to call him into account for what he has promised, and to stand up in a church or in city hall where in front of your parents, in front of your friends, in front of the civil authorities, and in front of the ecclesiastical authorities, in front of every authority structure in your life, you stand there and publicly, before God and these witnesses, make a promise.

You take vows, sacred vows, holy vows, and you make a commitment that if you don't take it seriously, maybe your parents will take it seriously, or your friends. I once was involved in counseling a divorce case that involved a triangle, and I was pleading with this woman who was involved in this triangle to break this relationship and return to her husband. And she says to me, hey, who am I hurting?

I want to be happy. This is just between my husband and me and my lover. The church doesn't need to be involved with it. And I showed her my appointment book, and she couldn't believe it, that I had spoken to and made appointments with 28 people who were directly affected by this relationship. I had to meet with both Seth's parents, the children, the next-door neighbor, the friends, uncles and aunts, employers who were all upset about the sea of devastation that was going on with one broken marriage. And in those cases, this woman's friends cared enough about her.

Her church cared enough about her to get involved, but she wanted it to be a private matter. But covenants aren't private, and we need to understand that, that there's a big difference between whispering something privately and signing a piece of paper and doing it formally in ceremony at a significant moment and a significant occasion where we mark that moment and we make that sacred vow. Then, you see, we have a covenant. I say that marriage is the most precious of all human institutions we have. It's also the most dangerous. It's dangerous because it's into our marriage that we pour our greatest and deepest feelings of expectations. That's where our emotions are on the line. That's where we are most vulnerable, as we will see in the lectures that will follow this one. That's where we can achieve the greatest happiness, but it's also where we can achieve the greatest disappointments, the most frustration, and the most pain. That's why if I am going to enter in to a relationship where there's that much at stake, I need something more than a superficial, hey, yeah, I'm committed.

Yeah, I'll love you. Stick with me, honey. Because even with the formal ceremonies, even with the authority structures being involved, we're at the place now where roughly 50 percent of those who are married dissolve the marriage, and the statistics are much higher if we would ask this question, if you had it to do over again, would you marry the person you're married to? It's tragic to hear how many people answer that question without even hesitating.

They say no. I mean, I realize I'm in it and I'm stuck, but boy, if I had it to do over, if I could just be free. But something has been lost about the sacred and holy character of the vow and of the covenant that is regulated by God's command.

It's for our happiness, but it's also for His glory. The cracks in our society, the lack of stability and happiness that we see all around us can be attributed to a great degree to the breakdown of marriage. We'll hear more this week from Dr. R.C. Sproul's series, The Intimate Marriage. We're glad you've joined us for Renewing Your Mind. On this Monday, I'm Lee Webb, and the confusion, unfortunately, that we see about marriage today isn't just a societal problem. It's crept into the church as well, and that's why we're airing this important series this week with practical and pastoral care.

Dr. Sproul helps us form a biblical view of marriage. We'll also provide you with a digital download of the series, along with a PDF of the study guide with an outline of each lesson, along with questions for discussion. Simply give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries when you call us at 800-435-4343, or you can make your request online at And I hope you'll take a moment to let others know that we're airing this series this week.

You can do that by hitting the share button on our website. Perhaps you have a loved one or a friend who's getting married. This series would make a thoughtful and enduring gift for them, as would a subscription to our monthly devotional magazine, Table Talk. The daily Bible studies and thoughtful articles will provide them with a much-needed biblical perspective as they begin their lives together.

To give a gift subscription, just go to Well, as we look ahead to tomorrow's message from Dr. Sproul, here's a question to consider. Why were Adam and Eve ashamed after they ate the fruit in the garden? Dr. Sproul will show us why marriage should be a safe haven where shame doesn't exist. I hope you'll join us Tuesday for Renewing Your Mind. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-06 02:34:36 / 2023-02-06 02:44:31 / 10

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