When the president's bodyguard is on duty, you're not going to find him wandering aimlessly or staring off into space.
He's on high alert, constantly scanning for signs of danger, even during routine activities. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg explains why we need to be equally vigilant when it comes to protecting our marriage. Matthew chapter 19 and verse 1. When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea, to the other side of the Jordan.
Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason? Haven't you read, he replied, that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.
So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate. Why, then, they asked, did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away? Jesus replied, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives, because your hearts were hard.
But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman, commits adultery. The disciples said to him, If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry. Jesus replied, Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.
For some are eunuchs, because they were born that way, others were made that way by men, and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it. Amen. So what I'd like to do is address with you for a moment or two a subject which we cover in various ways in our church, but which I tend to say fairly little about and not out of any sense of purpose.
It's just so happened that way. And I want to address with you tonight the issue of marriage. And I want to set it up by giving you a couple of quotes. This is from Norman Wright, who describes a situation that had come to him in the course of his ministry.
He describes the circumstances as a man had unfolded them to him. During this time, a new woman came to work in our office. We struck up an acquaintance and began to talk each day over coffee. In time, she began to share the problems in her own marriage, and we found that we were both in a position of drifting away from our spouses.
We actually found that we communicated better together than with our own spouses. We looked for reasons to be together. We shared similar interests and hobbies. I had no ulterior motives, no sinister plans, but I enjoyed our time together as friends. We saw each other every day for a few moments, and once a week we went to lunch. In time, I began to compare Elaine with my wife.
I saw so many positives in Elaine. The more I compared, the more defects I saw in my wife. Then one day it hit me. I was in love with another woman. Me? No. I'm a married man with three children.
I'm chairman of our church board. This happens to others. Why me? Why did I let myself get into this mess? I felt confused. My work suffered. My relationship suffered. I tried to stop my involvement. Some weeks I didn't see Elaine that much. Other weeks I saw her every day. I had to.
Last week it happened. I am so torn up right now. What do I do?
What do I do? Second quote, Karen waved goodbye and closed the garage door, making a mental note to call the genie serviceman. It was only a matter of time before that noisy, vibrating door refused to work at all. She walked through the laundry room, ignoring the carefully prepared stacks of white and colored clothing. Coffee first, and then she'd climb the mountain. Although she'd been up since six, this was the first moment she'd had to herself. Her packed lunches were so good that despite the fact that the twins were high school seniors and could fend for themselves, they'd grown to expect and enjoy them.
Alan had also grown dependent upon her. His shirts and dry cleaning, necessary for another four-day business trip, had been in place on time. The routine was well grooved after all these years of practice. In the early days, she would drive him to the airport, often with the twins still in their pajamas. The three of them would be back in place Friday evening, awaiting the return of the conquering hero and hoping that he had enough energy left to talk and listen and buy them ice cream after dinner and walk to the park and push them on the swings. These days, he left the car in park and fly.
And on Fridays he would sometimes drive directly to the golf club if he managed to catch the early flight. Although Karen felt he needed the space those nine holes created, she still secretly wished it was a little more like old times. He was a good provider, didn't miss the school conferences, and certainly hadn't developed one of those dreadful pot bellies like many of her friends' husbands. It seemed a while since her heart had raced and her breath became short, but there was, she told herself, a lot to be said for good old faithfulness. Imagination had never been Ellen's strong suit, and predictability was better than nothing. It would be fun, she thought, just once to then catching herself, she reheated her coffee in the microwave.
If only there was a way to microwave their marriage. Ellen seldom boarded his flight until the last minute. He'd almost made a game of it, who's on last? He was on the phone as usual.
If we can wrap things up by, say, two o'clock, then I'm sure we can play eighteen holes before it's dark. As he spoke, he smiled at his traveling companion, who was draining the last of her first Evian of the morning. When his boss had told him that they'd hired a woman as the marketing director for his territory, he'd thought nothing of it. Initially, her responsibilities had been fulfilled from the home office.
Most of what she did was carried on by phone, and their involvement on projects was minimal. But since the turn of the year, that had changed. They had begun to travel together at least twice a month. She was eleven years his junior, and he felt a sense of brotherly protection for her, especially when he saw the stairs she attracted from other men. He couldn't remember exactly when it happened.
Perhaps when they were jammed together at the back of an overcrowded 727 en route to San Antonio. He wasn't sure whether he was deliberately pressing his knee against hers as they juggled the lunch on those loosely hinged tables, which had long since ceased to provide a solid base of operations. He could not deny the sensation, unsure whether he was imagining a slight responding pressure from her long, tanned legs. But by now, he was looking forward to these trips, to having someone to talk to, a person who had a life beyond laundry and lunches and homemaking. He had begun to compare and contrast Karen with his colleague, and although he had not fallen off the cliff, he was man enough to realize just how close he was getting to the edge.
And with every inch, his anticipation mounted. Now, if we are ever going to be realistic in preventing in our own experience the tragedy and heartache and carnage of marital failure, marital failure, it is imperative that we recognize something that is absolutely fundamental. Namely, that when marriages disintegrate, it is not usually as a result of a bizarre event like the arrival of a Scud missile that has come from some unexpected source out of the blue and hit us like a ton of lead.
That's possible, but in most cases, what one discovers in dealing with it now over these years in pastoral ministry is that we discover that when the ceiling caves in on a marriage, it is on account of the fact that there has been a slow leak somewhere in the attic that has gone undetected for long periods of time. And it is for this reason that vigilance of the most careful sort is absolutely imperative in the most routine things of life. And that the way in which we approach the issues of marriage in anticipating it as young, engaged couples, in living the early days of it as young married couples, in weathering the middle years and then seeing it through to the end in the later lapse of life, it is absolutely imperative that we don't face it with some kind of superficial optimism or some dreadful pessimism, but rather with a realism. A realism which actually includes a healthy dose of skepticism in order that we can cultivate it in a way that God intends.
Now, in the time that I have tonight, I want just to dip into the subject with you. And I want you to notice, first of all, what is not a new thing to you, but it is simply this, that marriage is God's idea. That in the beginning, God determined that it should be this way. Marriage is of divine origin. This needs to be stated in our day when there is such rampant confusion which surrounds it. We have to let our young people especially know that marriage is not an institution which a man dreamed up. If it were something that man had simply dreamt up, then of course it could be revamped at will. It could be set aside in a moment.
And therefore, as so many people think today, we could be rid of this encumbrance, which is just a hangover from our past. But in actual fact, when we turn to the Bible, we discover that when we submit ourselves to the truth of God's Word, when we realize the origin of marriage, then we can begin to grip to grips with what it means to fulfill its purposes. Now, over the years, I've done, I don't know, hundreds of marriage ceremonies, and I always do them the same way. I do it the way Derek Prime did them, and I just said, that sounds nice, and so I copied it, and quite honestly so.
I mean, I don't do his sermons or anything. I've long since forgotten them, although I would be very glad to, and you would be blessed by them. But I use the framework that he established, and in my preamble to the marriage ceremony, I always remind the congregation—we are gathered here in the presence of God and before this congregation—to join together this man and this woman in marriage, that marriage is a special and unique relationship appointed by God. It is set apart in Scripture as honorable and all, and it conveys the wonderful spiritual union between Christ and his church. It's therefore not to be ended upon lightly or carelessly, but thoughtfully with reverence for God, with due consideration of the purposes for which it was established by God, which are three. One, the lifelong help and comfort and companionship which husband and wife are to give to each other. Two, the well-being of family life so that children who are a gift from the Lord might be trained to love and obey God.
And three, for the welfare of human society which can be strong and healthy only where the marriage bond is held in honor. Now, it is right back here in Genesis chapter 2 that we discover the origins of it. And if you have your Bible before you, you might just want to look at Genesis chapter 2. I want to affirm again the primary importance of the first eleven chapters of Genesis.
Certainly, the whole doctrine of redemption hinges on the veracity of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. The whole of salvation—"As in Adam one dies, so in Christ shall all be made alive"—the Lord Jesus himself was really clear in quoting these chapters. And having made Adam, God says in verse 18, "'It's not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a helper suitable for him.'" God made Eve as a human complement and partner for Adam. And from the very beginning of the Bible, it is absolutely clear that man was formed, men and women were formed, to be social beings and to be sexual beings. And on account of that, as Jesus says here in Matthew 19, God's blueprint for marriage calls for an exclusive relationship between one man and one woman as they enter into a covenant for life. A covenant for life. And the word covenant needs to be understood.
It needs to be understood as being vastly different from simply a contract—a contract which may be set aside by certain caveats or even at the whim of either party. We don't have time this evening to enter into this whole discovery of covenant, but if, for example, at your leisure, if you're so inclined, you can read in Genesis 15 as God establishes a covenant with Abraham, and the solemnity of all that is taking place is pictured by death and by darkness. And indeed, the covenant was to be entered inupon on the pain of death should that covenant be broken. And so what we find when we think in terms of God's origin for marriage is, if you like, a covenant of companionship. And it is a God-ordained covenant. I quote, "...marriage involves a covenantal agreement to meet all of your spouse's needs for companionship on every level—sexual, social, spiritual, intellectual, and so on—to meet all of your spouse's needs for companionship for the rest of your life.
It is therefore a final act. Christians, unlike non-Christians today who enter into trial marriages, annual renewable marriage contracts, and the like, need not live daily under the threat of divorce. The binding nature of the divine covenant assures them that divorce is not an option."
Now, that is a wonderful difference that Christians possess. The covenant is a life commitment. And so it is that in marriage, a man and a woman are joined together in a way that cannot compare with any other human relationship.
It is absolutely unique. It is not a tenuous arrangement. It may not be forsaken at will. It is a binding commitment that involves legalities, physicalities, emotion, and the spiritual dimensions. Now, loved ones, despite the fact that I'm covering very familiar territory tonight, despite the fact that the Bible speaks with great clarity in this matter, many Christians are living confused lives. Recent surveys reveal that as many as two-thirds of those interviewed in the Christian population saw divorce as, quote, a reasonable solution to a problem marriage. Now, while we ought not to be surprised by that kind of perspective amongst non-Christians, it is absolutely tragic to realize the extent to which the external framework of our culture has bled into the heart and soul of the Christian church, and the salt is losing its savory. Two-thirds of those interviewed were prepared to regard it as an easy out. Now, in contrast to that kind of thinking, the way to live in marriage, the way to be successful through difficulties in marriage, is to settle clearly in our own minds at the very beginning, that when we enter into this, divorce is not an option.
We're not entering into a deal whereby unless if things just don't go according to plan, we can always slip out. In the way that you go down those mountain roads in the Carolinas, and every so often you come, and I remember seeing it for the first time, I didn't know what they were at first, but you come around a bend and through one of those tunnels, and you start down the road, and all of a sudden there are these things going up on your right-hand side, almost perpendicular. And I remember I saw the first one, I said, I wonder why they would bulldoze that thing up like that. It came around another bend and down a hill as I realized how fast I was going, and saw the second one, I said, aha, now I know.
So you lose your brakes, you go up there. Now, the Bible gives to us ways in which to deal with runaway lives, but does not provide the option of divorce, except in a couple of express instances to which we'll never come this evening. You see, and we need to teach this, especially to our young people. I wrote a whole chapter in the book under the heading, Before We Say I Do, and I wrote it as if I was talking to my own kids, because my heart is so exercised for our teenagers, being overwhelmed by rubbish, unmitigated nonsense, supplemented by all kinds of confusion in magazines and songs and in everything else, and being offered as an alternative just a form of moralism.
Just say, no, that's moralism. What our teenagers need is the transforming power of a new affection as a result of the divine inflow of the Spirit of God, and then as a result of the Spirit of God taking of the things of God and making them real, they then have a submission to the Word of God. For the Spirit of God always comes to underpin and underscore and unearth the truths of God's Word. And we need to be saying to them again and again that our submission to the design of God in relationship to marriage in particular has to be total and wholehearted, irrespective of whether we can see the pragmatic benefits of it or not. One man, one woman, forever.
That's the plan. When we become captive to the Word of God, then we discover true freedom—the freedom of a lifelong commitment, the freedom of marrying a believer in the Lord, the freedom of a husband's joy in putting his wife first, the freedom of a wife's fulfillment in becoming husband-oriented in all she does, the freedom that comes from the security of having rejected divorce as an option. Now, for this reason, it's far better not to vow than to make vows and not fulfill them.
One of the funniest times for me is in meeting with couples and asking them about the vows they plan to use in their wedding ceremony. Because in Scotland, it was familiar for me simply to be doing the same thing all the time. And I'd never come across the sort of novelty factor that is part and parcel and creativity factor that is part and parcel of life here. It's not a bad thing.
It's just a different thing. And so it is that I always ask the question, are you planning on using the traditional vows, or are you going to write some of your own? And every so often you come across some real beauties, you know? And it is a very delicate dialogue, because often it is the girl who has, in the late hours of the evening in her college dorm, put together all of these wonderful statements of her love and affection for her betrothed, and she just can't wait to memorize them or read them or disburse them on every listening ear, not least of all her fiancee, who if ever he got to hear them before it happened, would be sorely embarrassed to say the least. But in most cases, they do not fulfill what is necessary in the vows, because they are all expressive of feelings. And the vows are not about feelings. The vows are about acts of the will.
A successful marriage requires watchful protection and a lifelong commitment. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. I often mention the letters and emails that come to us from people all around the world, who write to us and tell us how grateful they are that all of Alistair's teaching is available free on our website and through our mobile app.
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To join the team, visit truthforlife.org or call us at 888-588-7884. When you sign up as a truth partner today, we'll send you a welcome kit that includes the encouraging devotional written by Alistair called Truth for Life, 365 daily devotions. Each daily reading includes a scripture passage followed by insights from Alistair.
It's a great way to start or end your day in God's word. We also invite truth partners to request two books each month, books we select carefully and offer to you as our way of saying thanks for your partnership. Our current featured book is Alistair's Lasting Love.
It's the perfect supplement to this series, We Too Are One. In fact, Alistair mentioned a chapter from the book today titled Before We Say I Do. While most of the book is about protecting your marriage from failure, this one chapter asks the hard questions that will help you make wise premarital decisions based on a realistic understanding of marriage. God didn't design the marriage covenant to be broken, but too often separation becomes the first option when couples experience hard times. In the book Lasting Love, Alistair outlines potential pitfalls in marriage, how to avoid them, how to repair them. Learn how to build a relationship that lasts a lifetime. Request Lasting Love when you sign up to be a truth partner or you can request it with a one-time donation to Truth for Life at truthforlife.org slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. We hope you enjoy your weekend and are able to worship together with your local church. Monday, we'll discover how we can find true freedom by becoming captive to the word of God. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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