I’ll Walk Beside You
Hebrews 13:4, Ruth 1:16-18
I read to you today but a single verse from the thirteenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews and then a couple of verses from the Book of Ruth. This is the Word of God. “Let marriage be held in honor among all. And let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and the adulterous.”
And then from the Book of Ruth, Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following after you. For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people. And your God shall be my God. Where you die, I will die. And there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if even death should part me from you.”
Soli Deo gloria, to God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, and our Redeemer. Amen.
I speak to you today from the theme, I’ll walk beside you. I have chosen that title deliberately because it seems to me to capture something of what the ideal of Christian marriage really is, the picture of a man and a woman walking together side by side, linked together for life, for time, ah, and for eternity. But what is happening to that ideal in our society today? Permit me please to set before you a word picture, which I hope will accurately portray the problem.
The young couple sat in my office. They were both devoted Christians. They were very much in love with each other. And yet they said because of the rising divorce rate in our society and because of the breakdown in traditional family values, they had come to the conclusion that marriage as we know it is virtually meaningless. And so without benefit of a proper ceremony, they had simply taken some vows in private before God, and they had moved in together. Now, had you been in my shoes, how would you have responded? More to the point, how do we as Christians respond to the growing rejection of marriage in our time?
Let’s use the case in point as the example. We might well have responded to this young couple by saying to them, “You are living in sin.” And yet, I want to remind you they were devoted Christians. They believed they were being faithful to God. And they believed that God had blessed their relationship. And you and I would be very hard-pressed indeed to find any place in all of scripture where it says that you’ve got to have a marriage license and blood tests and a public ceremony, that you’ve got to be married by a minister, that you’ve got to have a gown and cake and flowers and all the rest of it. You see, the Scriptures do not tell us one thing about how we are to be married. The Scriptures simply say that marriage is a man and a woman pledging their love to one another for life and then offering their love for each other to the God who made them both. That’s what scripture says.
And so if we were to adopt the posture that what these individuals are doing is totally sinful, the chances are that they could use the Bible itself to support what they are doing. And besides that, a judgmental attitude at that point would have served only to alienate them. Well, then perhaps we could have said to them that in light of the fact that they were doing this, that while it may seem all right in their own eyes, that they needed to understand that there were other people out there who would see what they were doing and might then be led to make a mistake and to stumble and fall. And Christians, even they do it unintentionally, for Christians to lead someone else astray is a dreadful sin. The Scriptures do make that clear. And so we could say to them, “You need to be aware of the effect that you are having on other people around you.”
You know, the catch-phrase of our day is do your own thing. And out of that attitude has come the belief in our society that anything, absolutely anything at all, is permissible as long as there are consenting adults. That’s rubbish. That’s absurd on the face of it. And it is totally anti-Christian. The Bible makes it quite plain that God holds us responsible not only for ourselves but also for those around us whose lives we touch and mold and shape and affect and influence. And so we could say to these young people that they ought to be legally married in order to avoid any possibility whatever of ever leading someone else astray. And that’s a good argument. It makes a lot of sense. The problem is that that kind of argument rarely changes a mind that is already made up.
Well then, ah, perhaps we could say to them that in light of the fact that they are Christian, that they need to be legally married in order to uphold the laws of society. And that’s true. I mean, the Bible makes it quite plain that we as Christians are, indeed, to uphold the laws of society unless those laws contradict the law of God. And we have laws concerning marriage. They’re good laws, and they are on the books for good reason. And so we could say to this young couple, “Part of your Christian responsibility is to uphold the law. Therefore, you ought to be legally married.” And that’s true. That’s a good argument. But once again, that is an argument which it is easy to rationalize away.
You see, the problem with all of these responses is that they aim to reach the head when, in fact, what we are trying to do is to reach the heart. In a case like this, we are not out so much to win the point as we are to win the person. So it seems to me that the clearest response that we as Christians can make to the growing rejection of marriage in our time is to present the ideal of Christian marriage so beautifully, so powerfully, so positively, so winsomely, so effectively, that people will want very much to be a part of it. And that is what I want to try to do today, but I cannot do it alone. I need your help. I need your whispered prayers as we proceed.
This is a tough subject. And I do not wish to be insensitive to those who are single, to those who have been hurt by marriage, to those who have experienced divorce, to those who have lost a partner to death. So I need your help. I need your whispered prayers to say again and again for these next moments, “Lord, help me to say it, and help me to say it right.” Please do that for me.
Most of the people who reject marriage in our time do so because they see how marriage has been abused and disfigured by some who engage in it. You know, there are three great words that stand at the heart of our concept of marriage. Those three words are, compromise, subjection, fidelity. And yet, those words have been so twisted and so tarnished in our time that they have begun to lose their real meaning. Let’s look at them, and I’ll show you what I mean.
The first word is compromise.
Oh, how we’ve abused that word in marriage. We have a tendency to think of it that compromise in marriage means that – well, just as an example, that if the couple want to go see the movies, and the husband wants to see a western, and the wife wants to see a musical, that they ought to compromise and go see a comedy. Now, my friends, that kind of compromise may work in politics, but that doesn’t work in marriage because, you see, you wind up then with two unhappy people instead of just one. Compromise for the Christian is so much more than that. You see, the Christian in marriage can never say, “I’ll go only halfway.” The Christian in marriage can never say, “If we don’t do what I want to do, then we’ll not do what you want to do either.” Oh, how we’ve abused that marvelous word.
The second word is subjection.
Paul writes, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And that’s a noble statement. The problem is that in our time that word, subject, has come to mean something different than it meant in Paul’s time. In our time, we think of it in terms of being submissive, be subject, that means that the wife is to be submissive to her husband. That’s not the way Paul saw it. That’s not what the word meant when Paul wrote it. In Paul’s time, that word, subject, meant cooperation, coordination. That’s what it meant. As an example, when two oxen were yoked together pulling a cart, they were said to be subject to one another. Or when an army divided itself into a right flank and a left flank in order to attack the enemy, those two flanks as they moved forward in coordination against a common enemy, those two flanks were said to be subject to one another.
The point is that in marriage, a man and a woman are to be moving in coordination. The Bible tells us quite plainly that God has made us male and female. And He has made us different. And thank God for the difference because, you see, where one is strong, the other is weak. And where one is weak, the other is strong. He has made us so that we are a perfect complement to one another. We are, in fact, a perfect fit. We are different, yes, but we are equal in God’s eyes. And therefore, a man and a woman in marriage are to be moving constantly in harmony and in coordination with one another, always moving towards some common goal and purpose, bound together inseparably by the yoke of their common love, being subject to one another.
And the third word, fidelity.
Here in our American culture today we’ve had a tendency to forget that stinging little verse from the Letter to the Hebrews, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God shall judge the immoral and the adulterous.” So what do we do? We foolishly listen to the advocates of open marriage in our society. And we say that we’re liberated in marriage, and that means that we can do whatever we please. And we try to excuse the infidel by saying that, well, the husband or the wife just couldn’t meet the needs that exist. And we try to rationalize the whole thing away by saying, “Well, what does it really matter? All that really matters is how we feel about one another.” We even go so far as to permit the kind of infidelity that allows a husband to be totally devoted to his work and the wife to be totally devoted to the children of the home or even her own work so that they live in two different worlds, and their devotion to one another takes second place at the very best. My friends, that is infidelity.
So people look at what we’ve done with marriage in our time, and they say, “I want no part of that.” But to such a person I would hold up a fourth word, a word even more important than the other three, a word that provides the clearest answer I know to those who think that marriage in our time is dying and will soon disappear.
That word is the word commitment.
Commitment. Commitment means a man saying to a woman, “I offer myself totally to you and to you alone asking only that you help me to become everything that God intends me to be.” Commitment is a woman saying to a man, “I offer myself totally, all that I am, and all that I ever by God’s grace may yet be, I offer myself totally to you and to you alone.” That’s commitment. And my friends, that kind of thing does not take place in private or in a back room somewhere. You see, I’m not talking here about something that’s taken lightly. I’m not talking here about something that’s temporary. I’m talking about something that lasts. Commitment means never saying we ought to have an escape clause here so that each of us is free to do his own thing. Commitment means always saying, “Our relationship with one another is life to me, and no matter what problems we may have to face, no matter what our future may hold, I pledge myself to see that we shall be together.”
You know, when God came to us in Jesus Christ with his great all-consuming love, there was no escape clause written into the contract so that later on he could slip out when things got tight and avoid Calvary. No. He came committed, totally committed. And he announced that commitment publicly, and then he proceeded to live by that commitment, to live by it to the uttermost even to the point of dying on a cross. And He is our pattern.
If you’re not married now, but you think that someday there’s a possibility you may be, then you begin right now to center down on the deep meaning of that word commitment. If you are married now, then no matter what mistakes you may have made in the past, it is not yet too late to begin to experience the awesome power and joy that commitment can bring to a marriage. If you’re older, living in the sunset years of a marriage or even if your partner has preceded you into the Kingdom of Heaven, then as a legacy to those who follow after you, please, I beg you, please share with those whom you know and love, what commitment has meant in your own marriage.
Why is that so important? Well, because there are people like Hugh Hefner. Do you know what he says? He says love is giving whatever you have to give in order to get whatever you want to get. That’s sin, pure and simple, and it tears away at the heart of love. It tears away at the faith we hold dear. And that means that you and I as Christians, must stand in opposition to that kind of thinking in our world. It means that you and I as Christians, must stand for Christ and for His kind of love. And the best way for us to do that is to constantly affirm the great value of the marriage ceremony, to sign on whatever lines have to be signed, to publicly before family and friends and Almighty God Himself, to publicly affirm our love for one another and our commitment of our love to the God who made us. The best way for us to do that is to affirm the great traditional ceremony of marriage, a time when we commit ourselves to the Lord, and the Lord blesses us for life.
You know, sometimes, in a wedding ceremony, I use those words from Ruth. There are a lot of people who think that’s inappropriate. They say, “Well, you know, those words were addressed from a daughter-in-law to a mother-in-law. They’re not really appropriate at the time of a marriage.” I don’t buy that for a moment because Ruth’s words, some of the most beautiful words in all of scripture – Ruth’s words speak of a commitment that is total, a commitment that lasts. Do you know them? You do, don’t you, by heart, “Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following after you, for where you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people. And your God shall be my God. And where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. And may the Lord do so to me and even more if even death should part me from you.” That’s the kind of bond that will enable a man and a woman to walk side by side into eternity, linked together for life and for all time.
That’s the kind of bond we see so clearly in the little verse that I love, a verse I hope you could come to love too. It goes like this, “Should you go first and I remain for battles to be fought, each thing you’ve touched along the way will be a hallowed spot. I’ll hear your voice. I’ll see your smile. Though blindly I may grope, the memory of your loving hand will buoy me on with hope. Should you go first and I remain, one thing I’d have you do, walk slowly down that path of death for soon I’ll follow you. I want to know each step you take that I may walk the same. For one day, down that lonely road, you’ll hear me call your name.” My friends, that kind of marriage in Christ, that kind of marriage will never, ever die.
Let us pray. Dear and most gracious Lord, enable us to see in the love of Jesus Christ a parable for every home that we may live the love that Jesus loved, and that we may love the life that Jesus lived. In His name do we pray. Amen.