We are going to consider a Scriptural framework for marriage with a subtitle, “Reversing the curse.”
Let me begin quickly with a short illustration of a case study. I got an email from a gentleman last spring. He said, “The pastor said I need to see you.” He had emailed the pastor and the pastor had emailed him back and had sent him to one of our other pastors on staff. The other pastor sat down with him and listened for a little while in the midst of a busy schedule, and he decided to run this man through the gospel. Then the man showed up at my office.
His wife had served him with divorce papers and he was absolutely bowled over. He had no idea that this was coming. I sat and I listened for about 30 minutes. I began to ask him some questions. One of the questions I asked him was what their Sunday School attendance and church attendance were like, and the conversation went like this:
Man: Well, we’re here about twice a month regularly.
Me: Okay. Is that Sunday School and Church?
Man: Well, if we come, we usually come to both.
Me (to myself in my thoughts): [That’s good.]
Man: Except in hunting season.
Me: Well, what’s hunting season like?
Man: Well, I usually only make it once a month during hunting season.
Me: Okay, let me run you through that. Tell me if this is what it sounds like: On Monday, you get up and go to work in hunting season, right?
Me: And what time do you get home?
Man: Usually around six.
Me: What happens then?
Man: Usually my wife gets home an hour before me, so she has dinner ready and we sit down to eat.
Me: After dinner, what happens?
Man: Well, I go lay down on the couch and watch television and she cleans up, and then she sits down with me.
Me: Okay, what happens on Tuesday?
We went through the whole week that way. Then, the conversation continued like this:
Me: Friday afternoon you get off at about three instead of five, right?
Me: And what do you do then?
Man: Well, I get in a pickup truck with my buddy, and we head south to Alabama.
Me: And what do you do on the way?
Man: Well, what do you mean what do we do?
Me: What do you do when you’re driving down there with your buddy?
Man: We talk.
Me: When you get there, what do you do?
Man: We cook a couple of steaks, and we eat. We take turns cleaning up.
Me: Then at about five in the morning, you’re out on the stand, right?
Me: At about nine-thirty, if nobody has shot anything, you come back in and you have a nice big breakfast, right?
Me: Then you can take a nap, right? Then at about two-thirty or maybe around three you’re heading back out on the stand.
Me: On Sunday, you’re back up out there on the stand early in the morning, and probably about two or three in the afternoon you’re heading home, right?
Me: What happened Monday?
I took him through the whole month that way. When we got to the weekend that he doesn’t go hunting, our conversation continued like this:
Me: Okay, what happened on Saturday morning this week?
Man: Well, I do all the things around the house that I don’t get done the rest of the month.
Me: And you get to church on Sunday?
Man: Yeah, we get to church on Sunday.
He was kind of excited about that. At that moment, the light went on. He started to understand where I was going. I gave him some homework and one of my homework assignments was that he was to sit down that week and write a letter to his wife to tell her just what he had understood just from that conversation in my office that day. Come Wednesday night, he was trying to write that letter. He just couldn’t get it written. He told me, “At about 9:30, I just stopped, tears running down my cheeks. I just said, ‘God, I can’t do this. I can’t write this. I need your help.’ About 10 minutes later, I started writing it and it all just kind of flowed.” Then he went to bed. At four o’clock in the morning, he woke up, sat up straight in bed, and shouted, “I got saved last night!”
A lot of you wouldn’t think that he got saved because he didn’t use the right words, but he did get saved. At five o’clock, he picked up the phone. He called his wife, who had not picked up the phone and had not answered any of his calls up to that point. She was on a business trip one thousand miles away. I think she thought that something had happened to their daughter and that’s why I think she answered. When she answered, all he said was, “I got saved last night. I got saved last night.” The next week they were both in my office. She said to me, “The minute that he told me that he got saved, all of my anger went away.”
I’ve seen him only three times over the last three or four months now, plus an email. They were selling a house and buying a house. He emailed me one day and said, “We’re selling a house and buying a house. It’s a little rough. Can you help me?” I sent him an email with about four or five things to consider about communication while they were going through this process. Then when I was in church the next Sunday, he winked at me and went on.
Folks, this is all about theology. This counseling we do is all about theology. Yes, you need methodology, but methodology minus theology equals failure. Keep that in mind as we think about this topic.
I. Design and Creation of Marriage: God’s Declaration and God’s Pedagogy
God’s declaration in Genesis 2:18 is, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper fit for him.” God looks down from heaven on His creation. Everything was good, and then He says, “It is not good that man is alone. Let us make a helper (helpmate) for him.”
Then God has some wonderful pedagogy—some wonderful methodology of teaching—because the next thing in Genesis 2 is not the creation of Eve. The next thing in Genesis 2 is an assignment to name the animals. I always have a little comedy with this when I’m talking about it to people in a counseling session. I say, “The next thing that God did was get on the back of the stallion, round up all the animals, and tell Adam to get a dozen #2 pencils, a stack of yellow pads, and a milking stool and go sit in a crevice because He was going to bring all these animals He had created by Adam and Adam was to name them. Whatever Adam named them, that’s what they would be called.” What do you think that Adam realized by the time he was finished naming those animals? Most likely it was something like this, “There was nothing like me.”
God taught Adam a good counseling principle. You can tell people what they need, but it works much better if you help them see what they need. That’s what God did with Adam. He helped him see what he needed.
II. The Nature of the Woman and Marriage
Helpmate, helper, suitable, help fit for. All those words can flow out of the Hebrew word that’s used there.
Hebrew has two words that describe the woman, helpmate and suitable.
- Helper: to come beside to get the job done
- Suitable: a compliment, harmonize with, to match, to go together, like unto.
The English words will help enhance and fill out the intent of the Hebrew word.
Over the years, I’ve had women from time to time say to me (and I’ve seen it in print) ”the word helper is not a good word because that’s diminutive. That means she’s less than.” No, that’s not the case at all because that same word is used to describe God on several occasions, such as in “God is my helper.” It’s not a diminutive word. It’s simply an adjective describing a role. Adam cannot do life alone. He needs Eve to make the doing of life possible. The word tends to focus on tasks—on getting the job done together.
My wife has not taken up a profession over the years. She was a speech minor and an office administration major. She has worked in both those fields a little bit and she has worked for me twice over our lifetime—once for four years and once for three years when she ran the counseling offices that we operated. She’s very efficient at doing that kind of thing. When I introduce her, somebody always turns and asks her, “What do you do?” My wife will say two possible things. Sometimes she says, “I’m the vice president of minutiae.” Other times she’ll say, “I’m the CFO.” They both describe what she does. She takes care of the details in our life and makes it possible for me to have the time to write, teach, and do other ministries that I do. I would not get a lot of it done if I had to do all that she does. I told her, “Before long, you’re going to have to sit down and walk me through where everything is filed because if you go before me, I’m going to have a mess.” Usually, it’s the other way around, but my wife does that part of our life. She makes it possible for me to do what I do.
The idea with the word compliment is “like unto, the same as, yet different than I.” This word seems to focus upon relationship or companionship. One like me, that can speak like me, that can understand how I feel, that can commiserate with me and bring encouragement and joy, and that can help me in that task of raising children and give them the feminine to balance my masculine side.
I think that the literal rib represents both the body and the animation that goes with the body. Now, this is my supposition here, I know that. I tend to think that when God took that rib out of Adam that made Eve, He took the literal rib and created the body, but I think He took half of what he made Adam and put it in her. That’s why you have feminine and masculine, which you can recognize wherever you go in the world. There will always be those differences because they’re created differences. I think they are just part of the whole. When you get married, what do you do? What does the preacher pronounce you when you get married? One. You brought those two halves back together.
B. The Wedding and the Structure of Marriage
When God brings Eve to Adam, the Hebrew justifies the interpretation that Adam’s response to the bride was to be absolutely awestruck. Obviously, she was probably the prettiest woman ever made, but it wasn’t just physical beauty. It was the wonder of one like unto me to share life with that person. That was what resulted in that response from Adam.
Then God officiates and God sets the parameters. He sets the parameters pre-fall, and He never changes them:
Leave father and mother geographically (out of the house), emotionally, and economically
Cleave unto (think of two magnets coming together)
Weave must be intentional becoming one that God initiates with the wedding/consummation
With regularity, I have counselees who have been married 10 or 15 years, and one or the other—and sometimes both—have not left and have not learned how to cleave to one another because they haven’t begun to leave and to weave. There is stuff that one just needs to get rid of. It is necessary to cease dependency. You must choose to turn it off and you must determine to choose to cleave and weave that new relationship of interdependency with the mate.
My wife and I were married on September 1st, 1962. We got in the car the next day and we drove to Johnson City, Tennessee where I had been accepted into a master’s program in guidance and counseling. We began looking for a place to live. She began looking for a job to support her new husband while he went to school. We could not find an apartment. We lived in a hotel for the first week and then the owner graciously connected us to his mother who took us into her home. We lived with her for two weeks.
The second Sunday that we were in that gracious lady’s home, she said, “My grandson is going to be christened today. Would you please come to church with me?” She knew that we were believers. We agreed and we went to the Methodist church downtown, the big ritzy Methodist church in town at that point. The man got up and preached 16 minutes—I timed him. At the end of it, for his closing illustration he said, “Folks, you understand that now we see through a glass darkly. My three-year-old granddaughter at breakfast one morning said, ‘Mama, how do we go to heaven?’ There I sat, a minister with 30 years of experience and my son a recent graduate of our finest seminary, and we couldn’t give her an answer. Then her mommy responded, ‘Sweetheart, you just go to sleep, and you wake up there.’” I was fresh out of Bob Jones University, and I wanted to stand up and yell, “Give me equal time!”
During that week, that experience haunted me. The lady we were staying with had beautiful gardens behind her house. By the end of the week, I got up on Saturday morning and said to my new bride, “I’m going out into the garden to pray.” That was at nine o’clock. I came back in at three o’clock. I said, “Honey, we’re not staying here. I’m going to go to seminary if they’ll still let me in.” I don’t know why I had even applied to seminary, but I had. I picked up the phone. I called and got ahold of the registrar at home. His response was, “Oh, yeah. I remember you. Your grades weren’t all that bad. Come on and be here at quarter till nine on Monday.” I looked at Pam and this was our conversation:
Me: We’re going to Philadelphia.
Pam: Can we go home and see Mama and Daddy first?
Pam: Can I call?
Her mama answered and after Pam told her that we were going to Philadelphia for me to attend seminary, her mama said, “Praise the Lord.” Three hours later, I had everything packed in a trailer and we were on our way to Philadelphia. Not the way to start your marriage, right? Well, in one sense, yes, it was. It was clear where God was going, and she had been raised by a mother who taught her: “You leave us, and you cleave to your husband.”
We were off. When we got to Philadelphia, we were 800 miles from her parents. We were only about 60 miles from my parents, but I had left home long before, so I wasn’t connected to my parents. Being 800 miles away gave us a great opportunity to be on our own and begin to weave.
Leave, cleave, weave. That’s God’s pattern.
III. The Fall and the Impact on Marriage
A. Immediate Impact
I’m going to go over some of these things quickly without going into every detail, but rather trying to pull out the important aspects.
- Self-deception & Hiding:
Adam & Eve thought that they could make everything right by sewing coverings together. People are still doing the same thing. With great regularity you find people coming into counseling and they’ve got some fig leaves on. They’re hiding from God. They’re camouflaging themselves from each other. Self-deception hasn’t changed. They’re really hiding, thinking, “If you don’t face the wrong, you don’t have to face the wrong.” It doesn’t work that way.
Often in marriage, people fear their mate. They fear reprisal. They don’t trust one another. It shows up in a lot of different ways. I have a case with a couple right now and when they came into the marriage, the wife had a lot of assets. The husband had some assets. She wanted to make sure that her assets stayed available, so she kept her finances separate. He said, “That’s a good idea,” so he kept his finances separate. She paid this set of bills and he paid that set of bills. That system worked for them until his business collapsed and suddenly, he could not pay his side. She wasn’t willing to pay his side. She would think, “That’s your responsibility.” The result was they were not pulling together in a marriage to make life work together. She was standing back saying, “Come on, boy. You need to carry your responsibility.” It was a business deal; it was not a marriage. They were afraid they couldn’t trust each other.
You know the old story by now. I’m sure you’ve heard somebody say it along the way. God said, “Where are you, Adam?” Then Adam said, “I’m over here in the bushes, God.” God replied, “So what are you doing in the bushes, Adam? Did you eat of that fruit?” Adam answers, “Well, yeah. It’s kind of this way, God. That woman that you gave me, she gave me and I ate.” Blame shifting hasn’t changed.
B. Enduring Impact
- On the serpent:
He will crawl on his belly, he becomes the ongoing enemy of marriage because of what he did, and he will ultimately be defeated and taken down by Christ in the future.
- On women:
Genesis 3:16: “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.”
The line has an exact parallel in Genesis 4:7 where the phrase clearly means “a desire to entrap or have dominion over.” God says to Cain, “You need to deal with this because if you don’t, sin is crouching at your door and will have dominion over you.” It’s the exact same phrase that’s used in Genesis 3:16. The parallel is so profound that it is impossible to take Genesis 3:16 in a different sense. The desire of the woman is not a loving or sexual desire, and the rule of the man is not a benevolent, but a selfish desire. In other words, a tendency for women is to take control one way or another. A tendency for men is to squash that and run the show—not lead but run the show and there is a difference. It could be translated, “You will try to trap or control your husband, but he will dominate you.” That’s what you see happening in marriages all the time. That’s why I said that it’s theological. No matter what you’re dealing with, it’s theological.
In other words, because of sin, married life will be a war instead of a joy. Women will try to control, and men will selfishly suppress and ignore to gain their own selfish ends. As biblical counselors, these foundational realities provide us with understanding. We are not surprised when we see these factors portrayed in our counseling cases. The case study that I started with about the couple where the husband was a hunter is a great example of this. She was determined that she was going to gain control of this situation. Her final way of doing it because she hadn’t been able to get it done was to file for divorce. He was going merrily on his way, following his own selfish desires. It ended with a critical moment finally hit a flashpoint.
- On men:
The enduring impact for men is toil with pain and opposition. You will be combating thistles. Obviously, the word of God was written in an agrarian society, so it speaks about these things in terms of an agrarian society. Our thorns and thistles today—for most of us at least—aren’t thorns and thistles in the hayfield like I had growing up. When I was growing up, there would be an infestation of thistles in the alfalfa hay and it would drive you goofy trying to get rid of them. We’re not struggling with that. What we’re struggling with is not being able to take advantage of things in our workplace or putting up with somebody under or above us who is a constant thistle in our side. Another example could be if your company is getting bought up by another company and you’re getting squeezed out. We’re living in a different type of environment, but it’s the same principle. God says basically, “In a fallen world, you will always be troubled by weeds.” You’re going to be struggling with those thistles, those thorns, those other weeds, and those bugs.
I like knockout roses. I had some beautiful ones right outside the big window in the back of our house. But I must keep a real good eye on them near early May because I can guarantee you that if I don’t, they’re not going to be pretty. Those beetle bugs get on them and just eat them to pieces. It is important that I go out there and spray every eight days for about a month, and then we’ve killed off the beetles and my roses are okay.
We are always going to have these things going on in life, but these things going on gain our attention and take our energy. They divert us from leading our families. They divert us from carrying out loving our mates as God has called us to love them because we get caught up with the thorns and thistles and the pain that goes with them. A lot of times in counseling, we must help men reprioritize and learn how to deal with these things so that they can be the loving leader that God has called them to be.
A summary of marriage post-fall: Women tend to be preoccupied with childbirth and child-rearing and often develop a desire to control their husband who tends to dominate them. Men are preoccupied with their careers where opposition is the norm, with endurance giving way to control.
I have several Old Testament examples, but for sake of time, I’m just going to talk about one: Jezebel and Ahab. Remember Jezebel and Ahab? Who wore the pants in that outfit? Jezebel certainly did. But who wanted to control and have things his way? Ahab did. Jezebel was smart enough to realize that if she was going to control Ahab, she needed to give him what he wanted while she controlled how he got it. It hasn’t changed. You can see it in Abram and Sarah, Moses, and Zipporah, and—of course—Ahab and Jezebel.
IV. Reversing the Curse
How are we to do marriage? Again, I’m back to my theme song: it’s theological.
A. Resurrection Unto Life
When the unbeliever comes into marriage, how are they coming into marriage? They’re coming into marriage dead. They’re spiritually dead. The first thing one needs to make a marriage work right is a resurrection unto life. We need to be made alive in Christ. That’s what happened to the young man I mentioned in the case study at the beginning: he became alive in Christ. (Ephesians. 2:1-7, Romans 6:1-13).
We need to walk in good works (Ephesians 2:8-10), and we need to abide in Christ. What does it really mean to abide in Christ? What does that look like? How do you teach people to abide in Christ? What practical way do you go about that? Those are great questions, and the answers aren’t necessarily the same with every person with whom you work. It varies somewhat. But I would summarize abiding in Christ as walking through my life day by day—if you prefer, moment by moment—viewing myself as walking with Christ walking by my side. I sometimes surprise counselees who are rebellious and whose language isn’t always the best in the counseling office. Every once in a while, I’ll look at the counselee and say, “Sam, do you realize that Jesus is sitting over here in this other chair?” I get this silly look most of the time. Then I say, “No, I’m serious. Jesus is sitting over here. Every word that came out of your mouth, He was sitting there. Every one of those nasty things you said, you said right in front of Him.” It involves helping people begin to realize that every place they go, everything they do, Jesus is right there.
Now, abiding in Christ isn’t just recognizing that He’s there, but also acknowledging that He’s there and responding to it. The way I respond to my wife is conditioned by the way I’m walking with Jesus right now. Now, I understand that there’s more to it, like being in the Word and being in prayer. I know all those things, but I’m trying to get you to think in terms of helping people to practically see and think of the reality of Christ walking with them and then walking with Christ moment by moment.
B. A New Life, a New Power, and a New Purpose
We no longer live in marriage according to the fall because we have a new life, a new power within, and a new purpose for the way we live.
Sometimes when you have a Christian couple sitting in front of you, you need to take them back to first base. Sometimes, you have people sitting in front of you who think they are believers. They will check on their PDI form, “I’m a believer” or “I’m a Christian.” I heard Rich Ganz say one time, “Love believes everything, and love doubts everything.” I think in one sense that’s what I would say in this case. I would think, “If you come in and you put on your PDI form that you are professing to be a believer, I believe you, but I also doubt you.” In other words, I want to see evidence of it in your life.
Therefore, sometimes even though they’re professing Christians, I later go back to square one and talk about the reality of being alive in Christ, being empowered by the Spirit, and, as a result, having a new purpose in life because it makes a difference in the way you do marriage.
C. Marriage: Choosing God’s Way
For men, love your wives as Christ loved the Church. I know that you probably know that phrase but read on for a second. Love your wives as your own body. Love your wives with the same goal as Christ with the Church. Christ’s goal for the Church is that it would advance in sanctification, so love your wives with a goal of enabling them to advance in their sanctification. Love her the way Christ did when He walked on the face of the Earth. In summary, provide the loving leadership demonstrated by Christ to His Church as He walked on the face of the Earth. How do you do that?
I tend to take men back to the Gospel of John and walk them through 10 different aspects of how Christ did that. I’m just going to cite three of them: how Christ listened, taught, and prayed with and for His Church.
I ask men: What do you think Christ did with His Church to love His Church when He walked on the face of the Earth with His Church? He walked with those apostles and with those people who were gathered. That was His Church. He was walking with them on the face of the Earth. What does that look like?
If you don’t want to embarrass a man (though it is important to do so) that you are counseling, don’t ask him how often he prays for his wife. An even harder one, don’t ask him how often he teaches his wife or how often he really listens to her. But if you look at the Gospel of John when Jesus walked with the disciples, note how He listened to them, how Christ taught them, how Christ prayed with them and for them. You begin to get a picture of how it looks for a man to love his wife as Christ loved the Church.
For women, submit to your own husband as to the Lord. Honor your husband. Also, use 1 Peter 3:1-13 to instructed wives to counter their natural tendency to control (thinking back to that Genesis 3:16-17 passage discussed earlier). It’s interesting to me that Peter uses—and the Spirit of God uses through Peter—a very clearly flawed gal, Sarah, to illustrate that.
Similarly, there is the instruction in 1 Peter 3:7 to husbands to counter their natural tendency to be disengaged by living in an understanding way, realizing the tendency of women, treating his wife with respect in spite of it, and granting her the created place as his complement and as his fellow heir in the grace of life (or just look at it from the standpoint of a fellow human being).
D. Practice Christian Protocols
These one-an-other passages are the protocols for Christian relationships and those protocols apply that much more intensely when you come to the relationship between a husband and wife:
- Give preference to one another in honor (Romans 12:10)
- Regard one another as more important than yourself (Philippians 2:3)
- Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
- Do not judge one another and do not put a stumbling block in a brother’s way (Romans 14:13)
- Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
- Speak the truth to one another (Ephesians 4:25)
- Don’t lie to one another (Colossians 3:9)
- Comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
- Encourage and build up one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- Pray for one another (James 5:16)
Obviously, there are others. A homework assignment that I sometimes will give counselees is to take maybe three or four of these and think them through during the week and come back with a paragraph (three, four, or five sentences) on how they can perfect this in their relationship with their mate. I’ll pick the ones that are particularly applicable to their arena of struggle.
V. Biblical Framework for Marriage and Family: Counselor Takeaways
1. Marriage is God’s idea; He designed it. Marriage is God’s idea. We won’t destroy it. We may destroy it in terms of it being a core value in our society, but we won’t destroy it.
2. Marriage is flawed because of sin. Your marriage and my marriage is never going to be perfect.
3. God prescribes the fix for the flaw. The flaw is the impact of sin; the fix is the administration of grace.
4. We are God’s instruments through which He applies that fix. That’s a role that God has given us: to be the channels through which the knowledge of God’s Word, the theology of God’s Word, and the theology of marriage are delivered to God’s people so that they can hear it and they can begin to learn how to practice it.
5. Marriage is intended to be a picture of God’s relationship to His Church.
6. The effects of sin reversal will make a delightful relationship possible.
My wife and I have had a delightful life together—not a perfect life—but we’ve had a delightful life together. We’ve ministered together. We did youth work together. She has administrated two different counseling centers for me but actually worked for me for a total of seven years. We’ve raised two children together. We’ve had people live with us during 18 of the 54 years that we’ve been married. We’ve had a great time. God has taught me a lot through her about what’s wrong with me. By the grace of God, we’ve been able to pass that on to our children and to a lot of other people’s children in the process.
We can make a difference in this country and in this world. You are God’s instrument to establish marriage on the right foundation to start with, to help people dig out where the walls are leaking and there are holes in the walls, and to rebuild foundations where necessary. You will be doing the work of God in the process.
Some years ago, I developed a friendship with a couple. I got to know their son as he was growing up. I got to do the premarital counseling for one of their daughters. I went to the daughter’s wedding, and I recently went to the son’s wedding.
Their son is an artistic fellow. He’s an actor and very much a singer and a dancer. His dad is very much of a He-Man. It has been very hard for his dad to adjust to this son who is a dancer and a singer and has an artsy side. But because I’ve had a friendship with the family and I had a friendship with this young man as he was growing up, I have the privilege most every Wednesday morning to spend about an hour on the phone with the son. It’s not counseling per se, I don’t look at it that way. I’m coaching him. I’m coaching him on how to make the adjustment to marriage.
He has no idea how to manage his money. He has no idea how to take care of his car. When he was going someplace once, he had a blowout. He got to the side of the road, got out his cell phone, and called his dad to ask, “So what do I do?” I’m not criticizing his dad. His dad drives about one hundred thousand miles a year in his business, so he’s on the road a lot. He wasn’t there to teach his son some of these things. It’s just part of what happens in this world we live in today.
As a result, I coach him, and we talk through those kinds of things. He was asking, “How in the world do you have a quiet time with your wife when…” and he continued to share the contingencies that were going on. We talked through that. We found some spots where we could plug him and his wife in together. Then the next question was, “Okay, now what do we do when we get there?” Then I walked him through some of those things. When I get off the phone after these conversations, honestly, I’m exhilarated. It takes a lot of my energy, but it’s a great conversation. It’s fun to hear how he takes and is beginning to move and do some of the things that we discuss.
Folks, that’s what we’re about. In one sense, I probably didn’t cover much of anything that you didn’t already know. I hope I just framed it in a way that made you stop and think: “This is the structure. This is the framework of what we do in marriage and family counseling. This is what undergirds it. This is what gives us wisdom and direction. This is what teaches us how to show people to practically carry out these things that God has laid out.”
That’s what it’s all about.