True Romantic Love

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6th Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 5:27-32

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Ah Valentine’s Day. The stores are full of romantic red hearts, cards, chocolate and flowers. Did you know that Valentines Day is the 2nd biggest card giving day of the year? Just behind Christmas. Where did Valentine’s Day come from? The origin is actually quite mysterious. According to there are several possibilities. In the 3rd Century apparently Emperor Claudius of the Roman empire found out that soldiers fought better when they didn’t have wives and families so he outlawed young men from getting married and apparently a priest named Valentine continued to perform marriages for young men and women in secret and was subsequently put to death. Another possibility is that an imprisoned Christian fell in love with a jailer’s daughter who would visit him and he would send notes to her and his last letter before he died he signed “from your Valentine.” Whatever the case may be, today Valentine’s Day is associated with romance, love, and relationships.

Interestingly the assigned readings for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany all have something to do with love and relationships and specifically the marriage relationship. What we’re going to look at this morning is a small part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Jesus has already said things like we looked at last week- how we, as His people, are to be salt and light for this decaying and dark world. Now Jesus is teaching us further what else it means to be a Christian, to be someone bought and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Specifically, in the portion we’re looking at, with regard to the 6th commandment.

Let me start off this way: if you were to ask most people in the world what it is that they want in life, what it is that they are after, what it is that drives them to do the things that they do, what will they say? The most common response you’re going to get is: “I just want to be happy.” Why do people lust? They think that will make them happy. Why do people commit sexual immorality? Why did David sleep with Bathsheba? Because he thought it would make him happy. Why do people get divorced or do things that break a marriage? What will their answer be? “I just want to be happy.” You’ve heard it, you’ve felt it. It’s as if the one guiding principle I have in life is: whatever I feel makes me happy, that is what I’m entitled to do. You see what that’s done? That’s made my happiness more important than anything else, made my happiness more important than God’s will, my happiness more important than God Himself. So everyone has this deep longing for happiness. But true happiness is only found in having true peace and true peace comes only from God.

And that’s foundational. You have to know that to understand God’s intention for marriage and what He wants marriage to be. What Jesus is building on here when he talks about lust and when he talks about divorce is what God has designed marriage to be. God designed marriage to be a covenant relationship. The sexual relationship is only to occur within that covenant relationship.

Well, what is a covenant relationship? It’s a relationship that is far more loving and intimate that just a legal relationship, but at the same time it’s also far more binding and enduring that simply an emotional relationship. You see, so many in our society treat marriage like a consumer relationship. You have a consumer relationship with a certain store you shop at. But if the quality of the product doesn’t meet your standard or the price goes up, you’ll bail on your relationship to the store. In a consumer relationship, you’re always looking for an upgrade. In a consumer relationship as soon as you have to put out more than what you take in, you cut your losses, you bail on the relationship. In other words, what you’re saying is, “My needs are most important, you keep adjusting to me, my needs are more important than the relationship, if I can get my needs met elsewhere, I’m gone.”

You see, it’s all about MY wants, MY needs, what I think will make ME happy. My wants are more important than the relationship. What is common about each one of the things that Jesus talks about here? What’s common about adultery, lust, and divorce? Each one is turning God’s incredible institution of marriage into a consumer relationship.

But the way God has designed marriage from the very beginning to be is a covenant relationship. In a covenant relationship the relationship is more important than my needs, wants or feelings. What a covenant relationship says is, “I will adjust to you, because I’ve made a promise, a vow, a commitment and the relationship is more important than my needs. My needs are less important than maintaining the relationship. That’s what marriage is. Now, if two people both treat their marriage like a consumer, it will fail. If one is a consumer and the other is a covenanter, the covenanter is going to be exploited. But if both are covenanters, think about that!

If you treat marriage like a covenant, think about what that means. First of all, you have a zone of safety. You can be yourself with your spouse. If you’re in a consumer relationship, you’ll always be trying to sell yourself, market yourself, you’ll need to perform, you need to meet the other person’s needs and if you don’t, they’re out. But in a covenant you can be yourself, there’s a commitment. Second, in a covenant relationship, ironically when you are committed to a person in spite of your feelings, deeper feelings grow. Here’s an example of this I think most of you will understand. The other covenant relationship other than a husband and wife is between parents and children. What do you do with children? You give, and you give, and you give, it’s not a consumer relationship at all! You adjust to them, you get up in the middle of the night for them, change their dirty, smelly diapers, help them when they’re sick, they drool on you, you give and give to them and they don’t really give you anything in return. But there develops a deep, rich love and feelings for them. See, so many people would have a much happier marriage if they just commit to their marriage like they do with their children, because if you commit in spite of your feelings, deeper feelings grow. Lastly, if you have a covenant relationship, you have freedom. If you’re in a consumer relationship, you constantly need to feel it, if I don’t feel the love, if I don’t feel this relationship is meeting my needs, I’m out of here.” You’ve really become a slave to your feelings, you’re puppet on the strings of your feelings. If you want to be free from the control of your feelings, you make a covenant, a promise, a commitment.

What do we have in each of these three things Jesus talks about? Adultery, lust, and divorce. It’s all turning marriage into a consumer relationship. Any kind of sex outside of the covenant of marriage is only harming you. If you live together outside of marriage, you’re really basing your entire relationship on a condition.  It’s a consumer relationship. You need to keep proving yourself, auditioning yourself, marketing yourself. The reason most people live together before marriage is to see if they are “compatible,” but all that’s just a nice way of saying, “I’m trying to figure out if this person is good enough to marry or whether I could do better.” Adultery is putting my needs, my wants, my desires before the relationship. Think about lust, think about pornography – it’s totally self-focused, you don’t even have another person involved, and yet it causes deep problems with your spouse or if you’re single with any future relationship you may have. Think about divorce. Think about the person who breaks the marriage bond through sexual unfaithfulness or abuse of any kind. It’s totally operating with a consumer relationship mindset- my wants, my desires, my feelings are more important than the relationship.

And what’s the final result? What’s the final result for putting my needs, my wants, my desires, my feelings before God’s will, before what God wants? Jesus tells us, “It would be better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” That’s the outcome. If I commit adultery, if I have sex outside the covenant of marriage, and don’t repent, I’ll go to hell. If I lust, if I use pornography and do not repent, I’ll go to hell. If I break my marriage through sexual unfaithfulness, through abuse, through giving up on my marriage and do not repent, I’ll go to hell. And the word that Jesus uses for hell here is “Gehenna.” It pictured a place outside of Jerusalem that was the garbage dump, it was a place of constant burning. It gives the idea of a place of unquenchable thirst and unfulfilled longing.

You see, if we walk away from God, if we walk away from what Jesus says, if we lose God, if we view marriage from a consumer relationship point of view, if we’re driven by our feelings, what we get is unquenchable thirst and deep longing. You see, if you’re looking for happiness in life and you look apart from God, if you look to external things- like adultery, or lust, or divorce or anything in this life, you’re always going to be lacking, you’ll be doomed to a constant searching, a constant longing.

We’re all searching for happiness, but true happiness is found in true peace and true peace is found only in God. Only one thing is going to satisfy our deepest longings in life. If you want true happiness, don’t look to adultery or lust or divorce or anything in this life, look to Jesus. You see, He entered the ultimate covenant relationship with you. He didn’t say, “You adjust to my needs.” He adjusted to your needs for the sake of the relationship. He went to the greatest lengths to save you- taking on human flesh, suffering, dying on a cross. For what purpose? Not for His benefit, but for yours- to rescue and redeem you, to make you ready for the eternal wedding supper of the Lamb in eternal life, to be your true Spouse, to satisfy your deepest longings. That’s true romantic love! And when we have Him and when His love is the most important thing in our life, then we can be single well, we can be married well, and we can give true romantic love. Amen.

Marriage: A Precious Gift from God

20th Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 2:18-25

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His own blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father, to Him be glory forever and ever Amen! Do you have a priceless gift? Name whatever price you want, I’m never selling you the rifle my father-in-law (who’s in heaven now) gave me. Not doing it. You can offer me whatever you want but I’m not going to sell you the wood plaque my Grandpa gave me for my confirmation nor his 1935 postage stamp album. Offer to trade me whatever you want but I’m not giving up the office desk my dad gave me when he retired. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand those are just things and should God in His wisdom decide that I don’t need them anymore, I’ll continue to trust in His wisdom. But do you have any priceless gifts? Gifts you’re not willing to give up no matter what’s offered? Interestingly, it’s not so much the inherent value of any of those objects that give them their value to me, but the person who gave them to me.  All those objects will one day go away, but for this life they’re precious to me because the people who gave them to me are precious to me.

Isn’t that same thing true about the gift of marriage? What is your view of marriage? If you’re married, how do you view God’s gift of your marriage? If you’re not married, how will you view your future marriage or how do you view the marriages of other people?

When we’re looking at marriage it’s good for us to start at the very beginning, when God first gave marriage to the top of His creation, humans. What did He intend it to be? God has made the entire world, he made the first human male, placed him in the garden of Eden, gave him a living soul, even gave him a way to show his love for God by refusing to eat from a specific tree in the garden. But there is something that is not good. In fact, the way it is presented in the original is that it is the very opposite of God: Man is alone. Notice who it is that recognizes this, it’s God. Notice who doesn’t even know that he’s missing something? Adam! Adam is missing a helper “suitable” for him. He’s missing someone who corresponds to him physically, emotionally, spiritually. But he doesn’t even know it yet! But God knows. So what does God do next? We might think that if something’s not good that God would immediately do something to make it good. But notice what God does. He then brought all the animals to Adam to have him name them. What’s God doing by that? What is Adam going to notice as he sees all these animals? Perhaps two things: one – all the animals have a mate corresponding to them, second – none of these animals could be a helper corresponding to him. Do you see what God is doing? God awakens in Adam’s heart a conscious longing for the solution that God is about to provide.

Isn’t that how God works? God sees the need even before Adam realizes that there is a need, God then shows Adam the need that Adam didn’t know about, so that God can fill the need that He already knew about according to the plan that He already had in place! Doesn’t God do the same in our lives? He first allows us to see a need in our lives so that we know that there is a need so that we can appreciate how He fills that need when He provides the solution.

So here God causes Adam to fall into a deep sleep and he took a rib from Adam’s side or a part of Adam’s side out. Then the LORD God “made” a woman from it. Literally, it says that God “built” a woman out of the part of Adam’s side. It’s really a neat picture. Picture a fine craftsman who is constructing his dreamhouse – carefully picking out the best material, with interest and joy putting everything together just right, constructing ornate cabinetry, building it just the way he wants – that’s how God makes the first woman. And then God “brought her to the man.” Think about that. God could have simply turned the two loose in the garden and they would have figured it out sooner or later, but He didn’t! HE brought the two together. It’s as if God is saying, “Adam, here’s the perfect gift that I am giving to you. Eve, here’s the perfect gift that I’m giving to you.” In marriage, God takes a man and a woman and HE brings them together as His perfect gifts to each. Wow!

And how does Adam react to this gift from God? “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.” Can you picture the joy and excitement as He receives exactly what he was missing? He’s certainly not treating her as inferior or less important, nor as someone identical to him, but just the right answer from God for what he was lacking, a perfect complement to him.

And what was God hereby establishing? He was establishing the marriage bond. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Marriage is not a product of human progress or social development. It’s not something that humans can modify, change, terminate at will, or develop alternate lifestyles to take its place. Marriage is established before God by an unconditional mutual commitment of a man and a woman to each other to be husband and wife.

What’s the whole impact of these verses? 4 times throughout these verses we hear God’s name repeated: the LORD God. That’s LORD capitalized and throughout the Bible that’s God’s name that refers to Him as the God of full and free faithful love. In faithful love and grace and joy God brings a man and a woman together in marriage. What a sacred gift! What an awesome present from God! What an incredible treasure He gives to both of them!!

But as you know, in the very next chapter, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sinned, what happened to God’s precious gift? What do we see in our world and society? This sacred gift of God is maligned, trashed, ridiculed, mocked, degraded, and abused in countless ways. Whatever God establishes, Satan seeks to destroy. So what do we see in our world? The devil tries with all his might to get people to have sex outside of marriage and to get married people to stop being intimate with their God-given spouse. Pornography is a trillion dollar industry – wrecking lives, marriages, and minds. Homosexuality is not only accepted but publicly promoted. Divorce for any and every reason is the norm.

But honestly the reality is, we don’t have to look too far away from our own hearts to see the trashing of God’s gift either, do we? Imagine giving someone close to you, someone you love, something incredibly special to you as a precious gift to that person. That person at first received the gift with joy and excitement, “Thank you so much! I’m going to treasure this gift for the rest of my life! I’m going to be faithful with this gift! I’m not going to damage it in any way. I’m going to hold this gift up as a true treasure in my life.” You go away feeling really good about the giving this wonderful gift to your loved one. But a couple of weeks later you stop by. And what do you find? You find that this gift tossed around, walked all over on the floor, disregarded, abused, broken and the person is about to take it to the pawn shop to get rid of it so he or she could get what they really wanted. What would you think? How would you feel?

Does God not have a right to be righteously angry with us for how we treat marriage? For how we treat the opposite sex? How is it different when we pollute our minds with lust or when we say unkind things to our spouse or when we get easily angered with our spouse – how is that different from taking God’s precious gift and trampling it all over the floor! How is it different when we get angry and use the silent treatment or some other device in order to “punish” our spouse for the hurt they’ve caused us, how is that different from taking God’s precious gift and spitting on it? How is it different when husbands not only NOT show love to their wives but rather act in incredibly selfish and unloving ways? How is it different when wives not only NOT respect their husbands but act in very disrespectful ways to the head of their family? How is that different from taking God’s precious gift and wiping your feet all over it? How is it different when one spouse or both destroys a marriage by being unfaithful or deserting the marriage not willing to put any effort into improving the marriage and wanting a divorce, how is that not different than taking God’s treasured gift and pawning it off? May God lead us to repent of our sin, our abuse of His precious gift of marriage, our neglect of the sacredness of holy matrimony, our disregard of God’s precious gift of family!

But perhaps the worst casualty of our disregard of God’s gift of marriage is the beautiful illustration that God provides us in Ephesians between marriage and the relationship of Christ and the Church. (Wives, ignore this part) When husbands are not self-sacrificing, when husbands’ work or hobbies or interests are more important to them than their wives they are trashing and spoiling the awesome picture God wants marriage to be. When husbands lose the godly priority system of God first, wife second, children third, and everything else last, then everything else in life is skewed. God’s design for husbands is that by their self-sacrificing example they might model for people the incredible love Christ has for the Church. That means willing to give up themselves for their wives, willing to rearrange their entire lives to keep God first and their wife second – yes, even above themselves. That means husbands are to lead their families in the best interest of their wife and children. You know what that means? I see it in myself and I see it you: husbands that care only about their own wants, their own dreams, their own plans, they don’t think about their wives, they don’t communicate with their wives, they don’t think about what’s best for their wives. Again, that’s smearing mud all over the beautiful picture God wants husbands to be of Christ loving the Church.

And then there’s wives (husbands ignore this part). Again, God wants the way wives interact with their husbands to provide an awesome picture of how we, the Church, respect Jesus. When wives complain or nag or try to control their husbands is that not trashing the picture of the church willingly submitting to Christ? When wives use the bedroom to try to control, punish or manipulate their husbands is that not smearing and trashing God’s precious gift?

And perhaps it all comes down to this: we look to our spouse to give us what only God can give. We create an ideal in our mind of the perfect wife or the perfect husband, we expect them to meet certain expectations that they can’t possibly meet. We’re not in Eden anymore. God didn’t make Eve to replace Him, nor did He make Adam to replace Him. But when we look to our spouse to fulfill what only God can – we doom them to failure and we doom ourselves to misery!

Wow! How God ought to be done with each of us! How He ought to get rid of us and find other people who will actually do what He wants! How He ought to abandon us to our own self-focused destruction in hell!

The reality is, you can never be saved by being a good wife or being a good husband or being a good single person. Marriage is a gift that we didn’t ask for or deserve. But God’s given us a far more precious gift. For unloving husbands, for disrespecting wives, for rebellious children, for sinners, God sent His own Son. Who with a self-less love that could originate only in God He offered Himself up for every sin of all time – yours included. Jesus won your salvation by His death on a cross and by His rising from the dead! So that you could be His true bride, so that He could look at you and see not your sins, but His righteousness that covers you and say to you: You are “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” He did for you what your wife cannot do for you, He did what your husband cannot do for you. He did what He alone could do for you.

A Christian marriage is something absolutely unique in this sinful world. In the world, marriage is simply a contract – you fulfill my needs and I will in turn fulfill yours. It’s based on pure selfishness. Well, what more can we expect from the world? But a Christian marriage is something entirely different. A Christian marriage is based on Christ and His love.  I love my spouse – not because of who she is or what she can do for me – but I love her because in marriage I have an opportunity to reflect the unconditional love of Christ for me to another fellow human being. My love for my wife isn’t based on her and what she does for me, it’s based on the unchanging, unconditional love of Christ and what He’s already done and continues to do for me.

Treasure first God’s precious gift of your salvation and through it be filled with joy and excitement to treasure God’s precious gift of marriage! Amen.