Marriage: A Covenant, Not a Contract
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Marriage: A Covenant, Not a Contract

From Series: We Two Are One

Matthew 19:1-12  (ID: 1885)

It is important to remember that God is the author of marriage. Marriage serves three purposes: it is a lifelong companionship, it is necessary to establish a family unit, and it also benefits society. When a man devotes himself to meeting all of his wife’s needs, he finds fulfilment—and vice versa. Alistair Begg reminds us of the importance of our vows and how they reflect a true understanding of what it means to love, honor, and keep for life.


Sermon Transcript: Print

Matthew 19:1:

“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 in this evening hour 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 relationships 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[’m] so torn up right now! What do I do?[1]

Second quote:

Karen waved goodbye and closed the garage door, making a mental note to call the Genie service man. 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 ’N 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 potbellies like many of her friend’s husbands. It seemed a while since her heart had raced and her breath become short, but there was, she told herself, a lot to be said for good old faithfulness. Imagination had never been Alan’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.

Alan 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 stares 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, 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 in seeing it through to the end in the later laps 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 the way that God intends.

When we submit ourselves to the truth of God’s Word, when we realize the origin of marriage, then we can begin to get to grips with what it means to fulfill its purposes.

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, not least of all in all the prevailing talk of same-sex marriage, which is probably, at this point, an inevitability in this country, we having opened the door to it by virtue of conversation and other things. I will be very surprised if we do not pass it into law before the end of the century. I hope not, but I will be surprised if not.

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 get 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 in all and conveys the wonderful spiritual union between Christ and his church; it’s therefore not to be entered 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,[2] 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] die[s], … so in Christ shall all be made alive.”[3] The Lord Jesus himself was really clear in quoting these chapters. Isn’t it interesting that when Bill Moyer starts his thing on Genesis and he launches that, you know, diatribe of heresy, you’d almost think that it was satanic, wouldn’t you? And you’d be right! Satan’s insinuation has always been, as in the garden of Eden, “Are you sure God really said that? Are you sure that should really be in the Bible?”[4]

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.”[5] 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. And 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.[6] And indeed, the covenant was to be entered in upon 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.”[7] 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 “a reasonable solution to a problem marriage.”[8] 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 savor.[9] 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’d 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, “Wonder why they would bulldoze that thing up like that?” I 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,[10] 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.

Now, for example, it’s not difficult in an environment that is riddled with sexually transmitted diseases to commit to the idea of monogamy, but to commit to it not because of a divine mandate but to commit to it because of a human benefit. When we adopt that kind of approach, then we’ll only do as we’re told when we’re able to recognize the benefit to us. So if we don’t see any immediate benefit in doing what you’re told, then we won’t do what we’re told: “Monogamy seems like a good idea, because you could get really messed up and die. Therefore, we’re for it.” So we’re for it because it has a benefit that we can immediately see. But that is not the submission of heart and mind that sustains marriage and develops the kind of quality relationships which will be dramatic at the end of the twentieth century. It is a flat-out, unreserved commitment to the divine mandate of God: one man, one woman, forever. That’s the plan! Now, I’m not talking about exceptions this evening. And I don’t want to dishearten some of you who already know yourselves to be outwith that plan. Thank God for his forgiveness and for the message this morning—at least, if not for the message, at least for the thought that was contained in the message.

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.

While I was working on this, I came across, in my Tabletalk daily Bible reading program, this comment:

In their commitment to the unity of marriage, the couple [promise] to be faithful to each other if poverty and disease should come upon them. They vow before God and man to be faithful if they meet a more attractive, a more intelligent, a more compassionate person. The wife vows to be faithful if her husband loses his high-paying job, his esteem before men, his mental faculties, or his youthful vigor. She commits to him even when he doesn’t measure up to the standard God has set for him, even when he doesn’t love her as Christ loves the church. The husband vows to be faithful if his wife loses her beauty, her charm, or her tenderness. His commitment remains steadfast, even when she is unsubmissive, disrespectful, and unable to manage the household well. Through it all, the two remain one flesh.[11]

That’s quite a statement. That’s biblical marriage. That rings in your head a little bit, doesn’t it?

Now, for this reason, it’s far better not to vow than to make vows and not fulfill them. One of funnest times for me, since I’ve been here these last thirteen years, 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 disperse them on every listening ear, not least of all her fiancé, who, if ever he got to hear them before it happened, would be sorely embarrassed, to say the least.

But in most cases—and I can think of maybe two exceptions in thirteen years—in most cases, they do not fulfill what is necessary in the vows. Because they’re all expressive of feelings. And the vows are not about feelings; the vows are about acts of the will. And many times, the couples have never conceived of that. Because so much of what has prepared them for this time has been the discovery of romantic love. And so, on the basis of this romantic feeling, they have written these, you know, things: “Oh, the first time ever I saw your face, Colin, I felt the earth move in my hands,” you know. And I’m saying, “I don’t know if you honestly want to say that, you know? There’s maybe another way of going at it.” And it hasn’t always been a fun time.

But I say to the couples, “You know, there’s a reason why these vows have lasted so long.” You know, and I always say to them, “Give me a synonym for the word cherish, to love and to cherish.” And it’s virtually impossible for people to quickly come up with a single synonym. So they’ll use phrases, or multiple phrases, to say, “I cherish you.” And I say, “That’s why we use the word cherish, ’cause it’s just taken you seventeen words to try and say the same thing. So why don’t you just use the word cherish? It’s a good word. It was good in the seventeenth century, eighteenth century, nineteenth century. Now it’s the twentieth century. Try it! You’ll love it!” When’s the last time you turned to your wife and said, “Hey, honey, I cherish you”? It’s a great word!

Now, this addresses the fact that nowhere in the Bible do we discover romantic love as being made the foundation or basis for marriage. In fact, in the Bible, the more biblical model is akin to that of arranged marriages, which we see far more in Eastern cultures and in some African cultures. In arranged marriages in those cultures, the family members determine just who is best suited to their son or daughter, brother or sister. Now, just hold that thought for a moment. You get together at breakfast one morning and you say, “Sometime in the next month, as a result of family dialogue, I’d like you to choose my partner in life for me.” Would you trust your brother to choose your husband for you? Would you let your sisters pick your wife? And since you think your father’s nuts, are you really going to listen to his idea of who would be a good wife for you?

When a marriage is grounded in friendship and companionship and the awareness of an unending covenant, no matter what, then the possibilities of survival are markedly improved.

But you know, we have something really goofed up here. Because these children grow up under our care, and they come out, and they say, “Does this go okay with this? Should I get this? Will I get that? Could you help me with this? I’m interested in that. Can I have your advice on this?” And then all of a sudden, they walk through the door, and they say, “This is Jane, and she’s going to be my wife!” You say, “Where in the world did you come up with her? You never gave me a chance to comment. I’m your dad. I know you! I know you so intimately you don’t even like how much I know you. Now don’t come walking in here with Jane or Fred or Bill, or whoever it is. This is not a good idea.”

And you see, it is at that point that many parents bottle it. (This is an aside now.) Because their instinctive reaction is “Whew, this is bad!” But then they have all these cozy feeling towards their kids, you know: “Oh, but poor Fred. You know, he really hasn’t had many girlfriends. And oh, I saw the way he looked at her.” Hey, let me tell you something. (I’m talking to myself right now.) The day that happens, just hit your head right off the kitchen door. Firmly! Just, like, boom! Like that. Really hard! Because the chances are you’re about, as a parent, to make a major mistake that you will live with through all the years of what is about to ensue with your children. Believe me! I may not be very old, but I have lived through so many times of this. I can count on my one hand the parents who’ve been brave enough to intervene. I could name them for you. It was one of the most painful experiences that I’ve ever been involved in. And they worked on the principle “Cry now, smile later,” rather than “Smile now, and we’ll all cry later.”

Now, obviously, we trust our children, after having been reared, to make choices. We don’t really believe in arranged marriages. But we do want to say that when marriages are founded and grounded on emotional surges and physical attractions, then they are wide open to the possibility of disintegration when the feeling is gone and the body succumbs to the ravaging effects of gravity. But when a marriage is grounded in friendship and companionship and the awareness of an unending covenant, no matter what, then the possibilities of survival are markedly improved.

So, you see, the vows are very, very important, because they aptly summarize the commitment that is involved, and they provide the necessary walls of protection when the winds and waves begin to beat upon the house. Husbands and wives have an abiding responsibility to live in faithfulness to those vows which one day they made in the presence of God and before a congregation of their family and their friends.

There’s a lady who sings songs on a CD. I always have to ask my wife who she is, and I can’t remember even now. But she has a wonderful song with the words,

Faithful heart,
What more can one life ask?
One hand to hold along life’s path.
Share with me this vow,
And for all time
Our souls will be entwined.

I give this love, I live this love;
No greater joy is mine.
Storms will come, but we will never part
For each of us bequeath a faithful heart.[12]

And that’s why, you see, the minister asks, in the marriage ceremony, these questions of intent. He’s asking them, “Do you want to get married?” And since they’re only about three minutes away from being married, everyone’s hoping that the answer is yes. But that’s what those questions are, before they make their vows to one another. And the questions of intent need to be pondered carefully. Because many marriages could be avoided purposefully if people understood what it was they were about to get into.

And for that reason, what I determined to do was then to work through these questions that are addressed to people. And I’m just going to give you two of them, and then I’m going to stop. And I’m not even going to take them in order. I’m just going to pick two of them.

For example, both of them are asked, “Will you love, honor, and keep her” or “love, honor, and keep him?” Now, again, it’s absolutely imperative that we understand what love means in a circumstance like that. If we view love simply in terms of the words of the pop culture—a kind of secondhand emotion—then we’ll be constantly in danger of throwing in the towel. However, if we understand love as it is conveyed to us in the Scriptures, as being expressed in actions which fulfill our vows, then we will be freed from the tyranny of the constant emotional ups and downs.

You see, it’s very, very hard for a couple on their marriage day to believe that this is even part of the question. I mean, when you stand this close to couples (my colleagues would confirm this) and you say to them, “Will you love her?”—it’s kind of like the guy’s eyes are going, “Are you kidding? I mean, goodness! What kind of question is that, for goodness’ sake? Let’s get on to another question. Yes, yes, yes!” It’s inconceivable! They’re bursting with all kinds of desires to express their emotional, romantic feelings towards one another. But you see, it’s on a cold, rainy afternoon somewhere in, you know, the outback of Toledo, when the gas has gone off, and the car won’t start, and when the rent isn’t paid, and when the kids are not clothed, and when everything is coming down on your heads—that’s when that question really kicks in. Because, you see, the love is accompanied by honor and by keeping. That’s why these things are so very, very crucial. Can a husband fulfill the requirement of honoring his wife simply by being a good financial provider, while at the same time serving his own selfish interest in the pursuit of his hobbies?

Somebody wrote to me not so long ago and said that in twenty years of marriage, the pattern has reached the point where the husband’s approach is to give his wife five days a year in New England, and that is supposed to compensate for the fact that he has spent his last twenty wedding anniversaries fishing with his father and his brother. He has not been with his wife in twenty anniversaries. “After all,” he said, “I take you to New England, don’t I?” I’d like to punch his nose—very graciously! I’d like to hit his head on the kitchen door—compassionately and purposefully! You’re nuts! You’re wrong! The Bible says you’re wrong! And too many wives have put up with that kind of nonsense year after year after year, and some crazy crackerjack husband has got the idea that he can justify this by some weird manipulation of the Bible. Not for a moment!

For the husband to honor his wife means putting her first, considering her interests before his own, finding his greatest joy in seeing her blossom within marriage to the fullness of all that God intends for her. And for the wife, it will mean becoming husband-oriented in all that she does. And when a man and a woman commit to that kind of honoring of one another, it saves them from the contemporary idea of “being my own person” and allows them to discover the wonderful dimensions of the two becoming one.

You see, this is the covenant of companionship, the hedge of protection, saving our spouses from foolish choices, taking responsibility for each other’s well-being. “Will you love her and honor and keep her?”

And how about “in sickness and in health”? For some of us, this may prove, in the totality of life, to be little more than dealing with routine sickness. For others, the challenges may appear to be almost overwhelming. Eventually, we’ll grow old. Wear and tear will affect us. We will sag and drag and wear out. We recognize that as a fact of life.

Erma Bombeck, that great commentator, says,

Illness has to be one of the tests of a marriage. That’s why they put it in the marriage vows. Everyone sorta glides over it, but it’s important. For the first time, you[’re] caught naked with your pretenses down. … You[’re] vulnerable and you[’re] dependent. Neither of you married to have the partner “take care of you.” You were supposed to be a team. And now you are being seen in a compromising scene with your head hung into a toilet bowl at 2 a.m. while another person stands over you, taking away any shred of modesty or mystique [that] you [might] have left.[13]

It’s true!

Now, that’s not to diminish in any way the particular strains which are placed upon a marriage relationship in later years, to minimize the financial impact which can be devasting. But the fact is that the early onslaught of illness when our hopes are high, our dreams are fresh, and our children are rich with potential is a great and sore trial. Not everyone does it. I can introduce you to people in our church who, as a result of the onslaught of illness, have not only lived with the illness but have lived in isolation from their marriage partner ever since, because as soon it became apparent to the wife that her husband would no longer be the provider and the performer, she was gone in an instant, leaving him behind in a wheelchair to live as a quadriplegic.

One of my best friends, with whom I played soccer for all the years that we were together in college, Frank Gamble, who seldom showed up at lectures at LBC before half past ten, whose hair was well down his back and whose fingers moved ably over the frets of a guitar with the expertise of a budding Eric Clapton, who was one of the funniest kids you could ever meet—in July, I went to his house purposefully, with one of my other friends, to find him in his wheelchair, crouched absolutely double, like this. And when he spoke to me, he had to raise his head in this way. Glenda, his wife, cutting his food, putting his drink in the right place, moving the straw for him. For ten solid years out of twenty-two years of marriage, she has been an absolute treasure in that guy’s life. And some of you who sit out here have entertained thoughts of making a run for it. ’Cause your porridge was burnt? Because he was working seventy hours a week? Don’t be so silly. There are others who live with partners who have bouts of depressive illness, blindness, multiple sclerosis, and they remain to us a living testimony to their commitment to covenant companionship.

And Jesus said, “Haven’t you heard that at the beginning he ‘made them male and female.’ And for this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” That’s marriage. It’s not fornication. It’s not adultery. It’s not homosexuality. It’s God’s divine mandate.

And here in this book we have the plan and pattern for living life at the end of the twentieth century in a way that I believe is going to be so radical in its implications that one of the greatest statements for the transforming power of the risen Christ in a life and in a home will be in men and women prepared, through thick and thin, mountains and valleys, failure and success, to say no to the slip roads and yes to God’s plan.

Let us bow in a moment of prayer:

God our Father, we thank you for the extreme practicality of your Word, that it addresses our lives—teenagers sitting here, thinking about the prospect of it, hearing all the horror stories, reading the magazines, watching as various marriages crumble in the dust, and saying to themselves, “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” Lord God, I pray that you will fill them with such a desire to live in purity before their marriage that they may live in fidelity during their marriage and that they may know the joy and the freedom and the fullness that comes in giving themselves up unreservedly to your divine pattern and plan. Bless us, then, we pray, to this end. Help us. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.


[1] H. Norman Wright, Seasons of a Marriage (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1982), 121–22.

[2] See Psalm 127:3.

[3] 1 Corinthians 15:22 (KJV).

[4] See Genesis 3:1.

[5] Genesis 2:18 (NIV 1984).

[6] See Genesis 15:12–21.

[7] Jay E. Adams, Solving Marriage Problems: Biblical Solutions for Christian Counselors (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 24.

[8] George Barna and William Paul Mackay, Vital Signs: Emerging Social Trends and the Future of American Christianity (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1984), 13.

[9] See Matthew 5:13.

[10] See Lasting Love: How to Avoid Marital Failure (Chicago: Moody, 1997).

[11] “One Flesh,” daily study for Wednesday, March 15, Tabletalk 19, no. 3 (1994): 31.

[12] Beth Nielsen Chapman, “Faithful Heart” (1993).

[13] Erma Bombeck, A Marriage Made in Heaven… or Too Tired for an Affair (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), 30–31.

Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.