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By Tony Evans, Christopher Reese
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2010 Anthony T. Evans
All rights reserved.
Transcendence: The Origin of Marriage
For far too many people, the subject of marriage is like a three-ring circus. First, there is the engagement ring. Next comes the wedding ring. Then, there is suffering.
One lady said that she got married because she was looking for the ideal but it quickly turned into an ordeal, and now she wants a new deal. One man said that he and his wife were happy for twenty years ... and then they got married.
Many people today are disappointed with marriage. They wake up one morning only to discover that the reality they live in looms far from what they had once dreamt or imagined. Because of this, some are getting out of marriage almost as quickly as they got into it.
On top of that, the breakup of a marriage these days doesn't seem to carry the same gravity that it did in the past. So-called "no-fault" divorces offer the option of an amicable split. My question is, if things are so amicable, then why not stay married? What we are experiencing today is the ending of marriages without even a hint of remorse.
It reminds me of a guy who went to the Super Bowl. The stadium was packed, but the seat next to him sat empty. The man behind him questioned him about the empty seat. He answered, "That seat was for my wife. She would have been here, but she died."
The other man offered his condolences and asked him if he didn't have a friend that he could have asked to come with him rather than let the seat remain empty. The man replied, "I do, but all my friends said they wanted to go to the funeral instead."
Now, I realize I'm making light of a weighty subject, but I'm doing so to illustrate how the seriousness of the wedding vows seems to no longer be honored. Statistics remind us what we already know, either from personal experience or from our friends, and that is that over 50 percent of all marriages will end in divorce. Over half of every promise made that "until death do us part" gets broken.
Because of this, what I would like to examine is the nature of the agreement we make when we get married. If we do not understand this agreement, then we will not be prone to protect it. What's even worse is that neither will we be apt to benefit from it.
One day a boy lost one of his contact lenses. He spent a significant amount of time trying to locate it, but he couldn't. Eventually, he told his mom. The boy's mom began looking for the contact lens with him and found it in only a matter of minutes. The boy asked, "How could you find that contact lens in just a few minutes when I must have looked for twenty minutes?"
The mom said, "That's easy. You didn't find it because you were looking for a contact lens. I found it because I was looking for $250."
It all depends on how you view it.
Our marriages today are deteriorating at such a high rate not because we no longer get along, but because we have lost sight of the purpose and prosperity of the marriage covenant.
Most people today view marriage as a means of looking for love, happiness, and fulfillment. Make no mistake about it, those things are important. Those things are critical. They are just not the most important, or the most critical. Yet because we have made second things first, as important as second things are, we are having trouble finding anything at all.
Before we conclude our time together in this marriage guide, I want you to view marriage from a different perspective. I want you to see it differently.
Marriage is a covenant. It is a covenantal union designed to strengthen the capability of each partner to carry out the plan of God in their lives. Marriage matters.
God's Description of Marriage
Let's begin by looking at Malachi. In the book of Malachi, God is complaining against His people because they have wandered away from Him. They have taken a detour from God's plan for their lives.
One of God's complaints is found in chapter 2, verses 13 and 14. We read,
This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. Yet you say, "For what reason?" Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
Did you catch that? The passage specifically identifies marriage as a "covenant." The term "covenant" used to be regularly attached to the concept of marriage. The word has gotten lost in our contemporary language, but it is the biblical description of marriage used throughout Scripture.
The problems come when we don't realize that marriage is a covenant, nor do we know what a covenant is. Because if we do not know what a covenant is, then we do not know what we are supposed to have, develop, or protect over time. It's like trying to hit a bull's-eye without a target.
For most people, a covenant is simply some sort of formal contractual arrangement. While this is true about the nature of a covenant, a covenant is also much more than that. In the Bible, a covenant is a spiritually binding relationship between God and His people inclusive of certain agreements, conditions, benefits, and effects.
Whenever God wanted to formalize His relationship with His people, He would establish a covenant. There are a number of these agreements in the Bible such as the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the new covenant. These are formal arrangements that are spiritually binding in a legal capacity between God and His people.
Marriage is another form of a covenant that God has established.
What we are going to do throughout this and the remaining chapters is to delve deeper into the purpose and practical aspects of marriage, as well as the three fundamental facets that make up a covenant: transcendence, hierarchy, and ethics.
If you can grab, own, and apply these truths in your life, you will have a God-centered perspective on marriage that can impact not only the rest of your life but future generations to come.
First Covenant Facet: Transcendence
The first facet of a covenant is a big theological word called transcendence. (We'll cover the other two facets, hierarchy and ethics, in later chapters.) Transcendence simply means that God is in charge. Covenants are both initiated and ruled by God.
Now, that might seem like an obvious statement and one that we don't need to spend too much time on, but transcendence is a key principle in a covenant. In order for a covenant to successfully function, carrying with it both the benefits and security that a covenant supplies, it has to be set up according to God's expectations and regulations.
Covenants can never operate without the ongoing involvement of God. Biblical, spiritual, and theological covenants assume God's integration into every aspect of the covenantal relationship in order for that covenant to work.
When the practical realities of God are dismissed from the marital covenantal relationship, it becomes an invitation to the Devil to create havoc in the home. This happens because there has been a departure from transcendence.
Since God is ultimately in charge of the covenant of marriage, the first place to look to gain insight into the makings of a purposeful marriage is God's viewpoint on marriage.
God's Perspective on Marriage
Most people learn about marriage from an illegitimate source. They learn about marriage from the television, their friends, or the home that they grew up in. If you grew up in a functioning home, then that would be fine. But many did not, so the home—along with the media and friends—often merge together to form a distorted perspective on the covenant of marriage.
Without a divine frame of reference, we will stray from God's formula for a healthy, productive relationship. What is this divine frame of reference? God, as far back as in the garden of Eden, gave us His perspective through the very first marriage.
One of the rules of studying the Bible is called the Law of First Mention. The Law of First Mention simply states that if you want to see what God says about a matter, look at the first time He brings it up. You do this because the first time He brings it up will typically tell you how He thinks about it. Everything else will build on that first time. While it may add to it or expand it, it doesn't cancel out His first mention unless He says that it does at a later point.
Marriage starts off in the book of Genesis. Before there was sin, there was marriage. Marriage was put in a sinless environment created by God. It was put there for a purpose, which we will discover as we dig deeper into the opening chapters.
"Let Them Rule"
Looking at the book of Genesis in chapter 1, we read that God has been very active creating many different things. He has created the heavens and the earth in such a way that they are functional, vibrant, and pulsating with life.
On the fifth day, God formed the creatures that would live upon the earth. Then on the sixth day, He came to the paramount of His creation purposes—the creation of mankind.
Let's look at a few verses in Genesis chapter 1. We read,
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Genesis 1:26–28)
Notice that in verse 26, we read that "God said ..."
In verse 27, we see that "God created ..."
And in verse 28, we find that "God blessed ..." God said it. God created it. Then, God blessed it. Don't lose sight of that because it demonstrates that the issuance of the marriage covenant comes directly from God. That is an integral point to remember, as you will see later on.
The first thing God said was that mankind will be made in "Our image according to Our likeness; and let them rule ..." Be careful not to skim over that too quickly because what we have just read is a staggering statement. It is a statement that stretches beyond comprehension, yet it is often so easily missed.
Here we have God creating man, male and female, and after doing so, He gives them a common goal. He says your common goal is to exercise dominion over the world in which I have placed you.
God says that mankind will mirror His image on earth, but then He says that there will be more than that for them. He is going to "let them rule." He is going to let humanity exercise dominion and authority.
What we see in verse 26 is God delegating to mankind the full responsibility for managing His earthly creation. God decides to indirectly control the affairs of earth by letting mankind exercise direct dominion. He has placed an agent on earth to serve as His representative to carry out in history His desires from eternity.
Not only does God proffer the delegation to rule, He also grants the freedom to rule, the responsibility to rule, and the right to rule on His behalf as owner. But what He does not do, please notice, is force man to rule. He says, "Let them rule." He does not say He is going to make them rule.
What that means is that you can have a happy marriage or a miserable marriage depending on whether your rule is reflecting His image. God isn't going to make you rule. He isn't going to make you have a happy marriage. He sets up the fundamentals of a covenant, and gives you the option of utilizing them.
Oftentimes, the well-being of the home is determined by whether the man is reflecting God's image in his role, or the woman is reflecting Him in her role. Once that mirror gets broken, the reflection that is supposed to happen in the relationship gets broken with it. Virtually every time there is a marital breakdown, it is because one or both parties are functioning outside of the covenantal fundamental of transcendence. They are functioning with a broken mirror.
God says, "I am in charge. I have made man in My own image. And now I am letting him call the shots within the parameters I have declared." That is my contemporary Evans translation of this passage in Genesis.
But don't confuse what God is saying. God is not giving up ownership of anything by relegating rulership. Psalm 24 tells us plainly, "The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it" (Psalm 24:1). God still claims ownership. But while He claims ownership, He also grants freedom.
This truth explains a lot of things that people often ask about. Things like, "If God is God, then how did this terrible thing happen?" Or, "Why did that bad thing happen?" Or, "How is there chaos if God is a God of order?"
Things happen and there is chaos because God has said, "Let them rule." God has given man the freedom, and responsibility, to rule—for good or for bad, for yes or for no, and for positive or for negative impact.
What Satan tries to get us to do is to either relinquish our rule by handing it over to him through deceiving us into believing that he has authority, or he tries to get us to rule poorly based on our own judgments and distorted views. It isn't until we rule with wisdom under the transcendence of God that we will become the rulers He intended. It is then that we enter into the complete realization of God's design for our lives.
Parameters for Ruling
God reigns over all, but He has delegated dominion at this unique juncture in history when mankind lives on the earth. We see this in the book of Psalms. Psalm 115 says, "The heavens are the heavens of the Lord, but the earth He has given to the sons of men" (vs. 16).
What this means is that God has decided to respect your decisions, and that much of His action will be determined by your action. Most people are sitting around waiting on God to act, but God is often waiting on man to act. While He has maintained a base of sovereign boundaries, a sphere He will not allow men to trespass on, He has simultaneously opened up a field where we get to call the plays, leaving Him to respond accordingly.
He has not relinquished His sovereignty, but He has given us an enormous slice of dominion.
Leaving chapter 1 and moving into chapter 2 of Genesis, we discover more about this rule: "The Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die" (Genesis 2:16–17).
I want you to notice what God says we can have in this passage first. God says that from "any tree of the garden" we may freely eat. What we often do, and what legalism often does, is look at that passage, or passages similar to it, and focuses on the thing that we cannot have. We do this all the while ignoring the hundreds of things God has just told us are free for us to enjoy.
Whenever our list of "can't haves" or "can't do's" exceeds our list of what we are free to do, then we have gone far beyond what Scripture is saying. The essence of the Christian life should be measured by what you get to enjoy, not by what you are denied.
God says, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat ..." In other words, you are free to enjoy everything God has to offer you, other than the one thing that will open up to you the opportunity to determine for yourself what is good or bad, right or wrong. That rule is not an option. We are to live by divine revelation rather than human inclination. This was the limitation put on mankind not only to protect and guide us, but also to remind us of our subordination underneath God.
Keeping the Garden
This brings us to a staggering reality about marriage whose implications are far beyond what you might have expected. We looked earlier at Genesis chapter 1 where we saw that God made man in His own image. Chapter 2, as we will discover, comes back around to tell us how God did it, what He did, and why He did it. Chapter 2 explains the details of the summary given in chapter 1.
God has made a garden. He has made a unique place of service, and He has given Adam a unique calling within that sphere. Unlike the animals, which God created in groups, God didn't create man that way. He created man in a distinct process for a distinct reason.
We read about this process in chapter 2: "Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him'" (Genesis 2:18). The first thing I want us to note from that passage is that it is God who is giving the directive. We don't hear Adam complaining. Adam isn't saying, "Oh no, I'm twenty-five and I'm not married yet. Why don't you send someone to help me! I'm so alone!"
No, up until then Adam has been functioning as a successful single. What makes him so content and satisfied? He is content because he has been fulfilling his calling. He has been operating in his garden. He has been doing what he was created to do within the sphere God had created for him.
Please notice that before God ever made a woman, He made Adam and gave him a job. The first thing He did was tell Adam to go to work. This way, Adam knew responsibility under God before he was given responsibility over a woman.
When a man has not learned responsibility under God—men, I'm talking to you right now—he will be irresponsible concerning the one he is placed over. When a woman then comes underneath an irresponsible man, she has opened herself up to a very frustrating life. That is why the very first thing God did when He created Adam was to give Adam a calling and a responsibility.
Excerpted from Marriage Matters by Tony Evans, Christopher Reese. Copyright © 2010 Anthony T. Evans. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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