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Ten For Our Time: When Marriage Is A Many-Splintered Thing

Matthew 5:27-30

I wish to speak to you today about the subject of marriage.

I want to confess that I am rather hesitant to do this because I know that some of you are single, or widowed, or divorced. I do not wish to appear insensitive to either the values or the difficulties of singleness. Certainly, I am always aware of the fact that Jesus Himself was single. However, my study of the Scriptures leads me to believe that while all marriages are not made in Heaven, marriage itself was made in Heaven—and therefore I feel constrained by the Maker of marriage to speak of it today. Furthermore, I want to wrap our discussion of this subject in the language of the seventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Lewis Smedes was right when he said, “Marriage is what the commandment is about; adultery is what it forbids.” Well, I want to take that slice of truth and draw from it three thoughts…

The first thought is this: Marriage made in Heaven by the hand of God is a many-splendored thing.

You don’t have to be a sociologist, or a philosopher, or a theologian to understand the sanctity of marriage. There has never been a society which has not taught that when two people blend their lives together completely, there is a special splendor in that. It is no accident that in the Bible the relationship between God and His people is spoken of as a marriage. Notice, please, that in this marriage relationship God has never once proved unfaithful. Even when His chosen people, His bride, have sinned against Him, still He has remained absolutely faithful. Therefore in the Christian understanding, faithfulness is the essence of marriage. Indeed if there is a motto for the many splendors of marriage, it is this “Semper Fidelis—always faithful.”

I remember a young man who came to see me in deep anguish. He acknowledged that he had had a number of sexual relationships, and that he had told his wife that they were both free to have physical relationships with others. The problem was that now he was terribly distressed over the possibility that she might have had a relationship with someone else. I’ll never forget what he said. He said, “I don’t understand it. I was the one who insisted on sexual freedom, and now I can’t live with it. I guess I must really love her.” Right! When love entered the picture, when he began to care for her as a person not just as a plaything, promiscuity went out the window and faithfulness became important. Adultery can never know the joy and fulfillment of fidelity. Adultery is done is secret. It is done in risk. It has about it the possibility of discovery. Recently psychological tests were performed on a group of so-called sexual swingers. Deep feelings of anxiety and guilt were unearthed in every single individual. The only place where sex can be known in safety and thus in full joy and freedom is in marriage—and there has to be faithfulness to that. I say it again. If there is a motto for making a marriage for what God intends for it to be—a many splendored thing—that motto is this “Semper Fidelis—always faithful.”

But that leads me to a second thought. Marriage, in our time, has become a many-splintered thing.

There was a movie several years back called, “Casual Sex.” That’s an oxymoron. There is no such thing as casual sex. You see sex involves two people, and once you involve another person in anything, it is casual no longer—for you are dealing with another person whom God has made and there is nothing casual about that. Sigmund Freud was wrong about a lot of things but he was right about this: our sexual behavior affects every dimension of our human experience. When we violate the basic premises of true sexual relationship then all of the fear, guilt, and anxiety produced by that is going to burst through the trap door of our lives and begin to haunt us and when we are haunted, we end up spooking the society around us. When the sexual lives and practices of the people in any society have descended to the level of casual, meaningless, impure, and immoral then inevitably that society has crumbled. So when the reality of our time is that sex has become a sport, marriage has too often become what we might call “serial polygamy,” and fidelity is laughed at as being Victorian or puritanical, is it any wonder that hearts are broken, homes are smashed, children are bent, our society is decaying, and the splendid is being turned into the splintered—any wonder, indeed?

Of course, we in the Christian faith do not simply denounce the wrong headedness of what is happening, but we also proclaim the rightness of God’s ideal. We do not merely condemn the way in which many are walking, but we declare with fervor that there is a better way to walk. The Christian faith offers an ideal that the gift of sexual intimacy is intended by God to be shared only in the context of a life-long commitment between a man and a woman in marriage. This is not a lie. This is what is true. Sexual loving apart from marriage between a man and a woman is out-of-bounds, off-limits—not because sex is bad but because it’s holy. It is set apart for a special use. It is not now and never has been for casual indulgence. Paul says it so clearly in 1 Thessalonians 4. He writes, “It is God’s will… that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable.” That Christian ideal must be forcefully and forthrightly proclaimed.

That leads me to my third thought. The way to restore splendor to marriage is to listen to the Maker of marriage.

When God brought His bride, the chosen people, out of Egypt, He came down and with tenderness and loving kindness He presented to His people certain Commandments which would make them strong and enable them to become all He desires for them to be. One of those Commandments, the seventh, was this, “Thou shaft not commit adultery.” Jesus then took that Commandment a step further. Jesus said, “Anyone who looks at another lustfully has already committed adultery in the heart.” Now Jesus was not saying that when we are attracted to another person, that in itself is evil. It would be a strange thing if God made us attractive to each other and then told us not to notice one another. No. What Jesus was talking about was not being attracted but being captured! When we are possessed by our physical desires, when they begin to control us rather than our controlling them, that, Jesus says, is wrong. Let me then offer four suggestions for controlling those desires and maintaining God’s ideal.

Suggestion #1—Beware of vulnerable times. Remember, please, that temptation in and of itself is not a sin. Jesus was tempted. It may shock you to think about this but Jesus was single, and therefore Jesus was tempted sexually. It says in the Letter to the Hebrews 4 verse 15 that we have a Christ “Who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” There is no temptation which we face which Jesus has not already faced—the difference between Jesus and us is that Jesus did not yield to the temptation. Paul, at least at this point in his life, was single. Paul knew temptation. That’s why I believe he says so forcefully, “Avoid sexual immorality. Control your own body.” To be tempted towards sex is not a sin, but to yield to that temptation is sin. I love what Martin Luther once said about temptation, “We can’t be held accountable if a bird lands on our head, but we certainly are accountable if the bird builds a nest there.” We need to recognize that there are times when our physical desires are running at the flood, and at that time we are most vulnerable to yielding to temptation. At such times, we must be especially on our guard.

Suggestion #2—Choose the right friends. Surround yourself with other people as friends who share your view of the proper role of sex and marriage in the Christian faith. It doesn’t mean you can’t have some non-Christian friends along the way. It does mean that you will build your deepest friendships with people who share your own values and your own faith. If you are around friends who regard no-commitment sex as no big deal, if you are around people who see divorce as harmless, if you are around people who think that a faithfill lifetime commitment is not very important, then I promise you you will catch those values just as you would catch a cold. Choose the right friends.

Suggestion #3—Behave sensibly with the opposite sex. Hear this, please, appearance is everything. When you take care of how things look, then you take care of how things are. One of the secrets of Dr. Billy Graham’s amazing success for Christ is the fact that at the beginning of his ministry he made some hard, fast commitments to those to whom he was accountable. One of those commitments was that he would never find himself in a situation where he was alone with another woman other than his wife, Ruth. He will tell you today that he has never had so much as a meal with another woman alone. Jerry Jenkins says, “Two’s company, three’s security.” Mark that down. If in the course of your daily life you have to be in the presence of a person of the opposite sex for a meal, or a meeting, or a trip, then regardless of the cost or inconvenience take a third person. “Two’s company, three’s security.” Behave sensibly. When you take care of how things look, then you take care of how things are.

Suggestion #4—Reject improper invitations or advances. When someone invites or encourages you to do something wrong, it is not a compliment. It is instead an attack upon God, upon our faith, upon our society, upon our nation and upon us—therefore it must be rebuked and rejected. The only answer is to just say no. Do you remember Joseph in the Old Testament encountering a woman with immoral designs upon him? What did Joseph do? He ran out of the house. It cost him his job, and it cost him time in jail, but he kept himself right for the service of God. Therefore, when you are confronted with an opportunity for wrongdoing, reject it and run away. Don’t look back. Run. That’s not the chicken’s way out; that’s the Christian’s way out.
I’m not calling us here to be perfect. I’m sure not perfect—none of us are—but with Jesus and with Paul, I am calling us, imperfect though we are, to be consistently obedient to the Seventh Commandment and to be constantly striving to reach God’s ideal for the way we are to live and the way we are to love.

Well, let me finish with this.

Back in the early 1800’s, the famous explorers Lewis and Clark set out to blaze a trail across the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. They took with them a French guide. His name was Toussaint Charbonneau, and he brought along his Indian wife named, Sacajawea. Life was tough, harsh, lonely, and demanding in the untamed wilderness. Each night Charbonneau, who wasn’t much of a man, actually would offer his wife to the other men for a price. Each night Lewis and Clark would refuse. At a critical point in the journey, the expedition needed fresh horses and supplies and so they approached the chief of a nearby Indian tribe for help. The chief replied in broken English, “No help white man. White man lie and cheat.” At that moment Sacajawea stepped forward and said, “These men are different. They keep their promises even to their wives back home.” She then told of the nights by the campfire and the refusal of these men to do wrong. The chief then gave them the supplies they needed and ultimately they reached the Pacific Ocean. Their mammoth achievement was based on their morality. Women and men with that kind of commitment to God and that kind of commitment to goodness have made this nation great. Now in the midst of a society where anything goes and where standards are all but gone, I long to see among us that kind of commitment to God and that kind of commitment to goodness. I long for others to be able to point at us and say, “These people are different. They keep their promises to the Lord and to each other.”

By the power of our faith in Jesus Christ, may it be so for you and for me.

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