What Is Marriage?

The heart of the biblical idea of marriage is the covenant. It is not about the husband and wife adjusting to one another, but both of them adjusting to God together.

Transcript | Audio

Transcript

Good morning. If you want to grab your Bibles, go ahead and do that. We’re going to be in Genesis 2. If you don’t have a Bible with you, there is a hardback black one somewhere around you. Take that. If you don’t own one, that’s our gift to you. I joke often that if you want a nicer one, the lost and found is out here by Connection Central. There are some beautiful leather-bound Bibles there that you can grab ahold of if you would like.

Today, we’re going to start a three-week series on marriage. I want to just give you my outline, not just for today but for the three weeks. Then we’ll dive into today. Today, I have two things I want to accomplish. First, I want to show you from the Word of God that humankind has been designed by God for deep companionship with other humans. That’s the first thing.

Then I want to move, and I want us to get a view of marriage that is God’s view of marriage. If I could simplify that, I want to show us that we have a deep need for companionship. Then I want to do my best to define marriage for us in a way that is helpful. Next week, we’re going to talk about sex.

You don’t need to be nervous about that. You don’t need to shield your children. It’s nothing graphic. I’m not showing videos. I just want to talk about God’s purpose and design. Sex was God’s idea. He came up with that. It’s a gift from him to us that is to be enjoyed within the parameters that he created for our safety. We’re going to talk about that the second week. Week three, we’re going to talk about what I just call the long game.

What I mean by that is if we could just get in our mind’s eye being 75, 80 years old, surrounded by grandchildren and great-grandchildren and kind of enjoying being patriarchs and matriarchs and seeing the fruit of decades of faithfulness all around, I want to start with that and then kind of reverse engineer and say, “What do we need to be doing now that moves us in that direction rather than in the opposite direction?”

With that said, let’s just acknowledge very quickly from the front that I know I’m going to be touching on some extremely sensitive areas of our human experience. I just know that. I’m going to do my best to do that gently and compassionately but honestly, for our own good.

Two years ago, I started doing some research on marriage, and this is what I found. I just went to amazon.com, and I pulled up the search bar, and I typed, “Marriage,” in the search bar and hit, “Go.” What I found was that when I hit, “Go,” there were 151,000 books on marriage. That was two years ago, so add 40,000 to that. There were 27,000 books on dating, almost 12,000 books on attraction. What is a book on attraction? Chapter one: “Is She Pretty?” Chapter two: “You’re Attracted Then.” I don’t understand. Then there were 190,000 books on sex.

One of the things Amazon does that is a bit different than maybe other sites is other sites throw up ads based on your personal profile. Basically, the Internet is tracking your cookies. I’ll use this example. If you wanted to get a TRX performance trainer, and you Googled that and found one, then the next time you go to another website, do you know what is going to be there in the banner? TRX workout stuff.

This is the Man’s way of keeping an eye on you. What Amazon does that is a bit different is it lets companies and organizations purchase space based on what you search. When I searched that night two years ago in Amazon, “Marriage,” the banners were this. I just wrote them down. “Aggressive Divorce.” That was one of the links I could click on. Or, “Divorce Help for Women.”

As I started to dig, here is what is happening. First of all, it’s predatory in its nature. A marriage has entered into a difficult space, so someone has gone and typed in, “I need some help for my marriage. ’Marriage book.’ ’Search.’” What comes up? “Aggressive Divorce.” Then, to nuance it even more, they know that it’s usually (not always) women fighting the fight to hold their marriage together. Maybe the “Aggressive Divorce” is there for the men, but then you have the sweet, pretty ad for, “We specialize in helping women get divorced.”

Here, this and about a thousand other things lead me to this conclusion. We deeply and desperately want intimate, deep companionship with another, and we stink at it. We stink at it. We’re not quite sure how to do it. How do you write 190,000 books, not chapters but books, on sex? How do you write 151,000 books on marriage? These are not books that are going back to the seventeenth century. These are all pretty modern works.

What in the world has happened to us that we’ve lost sight of what God has designed as good and given to us as a gift of grace? As we enter the fray, let me lay in front of you some thing I know. I know we’re all over the map in here. I know some of you are single, and you’re like, “Oh great, a sermon series on marriage.” Okay. If you’re single, praise God that you’re single, but a lot of what we’ll talk about in this series has a lot to do with the deep need humankind has to connect with one another. There will be things for you in that.

Then there are those of us who are married, and we’re flourishing. We love our spouse. We’ve been married for like a month, and it’s going just the way… Whoa, whoa, whoa. Everybody does that. Give me a second to get to the other extreme. Or you’ve been married for a long time, and you, by the grace of God, have gone through the peaks and the valleys, and you have come out the other side being more committed to your spouse, more in love with your spouse, more of a legitimate partner in the call God has for you with your spouse than ever before.

I know you’re in here. Your marriage is flourishing. You feel alive in it. You feel safe in it. You feel known in it, and it’s a beautiful gift of God’s grace. That’s some of us in here. Some of us are single. Some of us are really flourishing. Some of us are floundering. Some of us got married, and we’re like, “Oh, my gosh. Is this it? We had so much hope put into what this was going to accomplish. Then we got into it, and we’re just so disappointed, but we can’t say anything to anybody about that disappointment.”

“How is it going?” “Man, I am totally let down. My whole life, I’ve been thinking this was going to do this or that, and now I’m married, and I feel like there has been a bait-and-switch here. Oh, gosh. Is this my life now?” Then for others, there has been serious betrayal. There have been events, cataclysmic events that have led to heartbrokenness, the feeling that the spouse can’t be trusted, this feeling of fear of how you might get hurt or wounded.

Many of you have come in here at a tipping point, not knowing how much longer you can hang in there or whether you should hang in there. My hope is that as we dive into this, I might be able to encourage you to see things maybe the way the Lord sees them and navigate really with lenses of what the Bible says marriage is as a way that guides you and drives you forward.

Lastly, I’ve said this for really… I’ve been your pastor for 15 years now this fall. I’ve said this from very early on in my time here. The first six or seven years of my marriage were awful. Whenever I say that when Lauren is in the room, I love it, because everybody who knows us kind of looks to see how Lauren is going to respond in that moment. Here’s what she does. She is always like, “Yeah. Yeah, they were.”

I mean bad bad. I would lay in my bed at night and think, “Oh, my God. Is this the rest of my life? Surely, this isn’t the rest of my life.” She was in bed next to me, not going, “Gosh, I’m so glad I did this,” but feeling some of the very same things I was feeling: trapped, unable to get out of one another’s way, unable to figure this thing out, lost, and not really knowing what to do.

I say that because I hope I can use my own story as a way to lay hope before you, regardless of where your marriage is today. I could introduce you not just to my own wife but to hundreds of couples here who have seen God work miraculously in their marriages to reconcile, to restore, to bring about the heart’s desire of the man and the woman as they try to navigate a very beautiful but difficult and complex space.

With those things said, remember what I want to do today. I want to show you that humankind is desperate for deep companionship, and that is rooted in creation. Then I want to talk about how we should think about and define marriage in a way that will help us, I think, kind of navigate the highs and lows of living with another person who is sinful. Let’s look at Genesis 2, starting in verse 15.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ’You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’ Then the Lord God said, ’It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’”

Now, let’s chat, because I know church baggage. This word helper in the Hebrew is the same word that is applied to God frequently throughout the Old Testament. This is not, “I will make him a servant.” This is not, “Man, I have given him this big task. Who is going to make him a sandwich? Who is going to wash that tunic?” That’s not what is happening in this text.

This word helper is applied to God. Who will come alongside and bolster up and strengthen? That is what is happening here. There are not subservient roles being woven into this text. There is helpmate, partner, the one who will come alongside and walk with. Side ramp back to it. Verse 19: “Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.

The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

Then the man said, ’This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

You see a really stunning thing occur in the creation narrative. To this point, everything has been either good or very good. Then God sees the man and says, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” He doesn’t do this because he checked in with Adam. He didn’t come and have this conversation with Adam and say, “What do you think? How is that Golden Retriever treating you, man’s best friend? Are you doing well? Are you lonely? Do you feel like you need something that is compatible with you? Are you cool?”

God, knowing the plans he had, knowing what he was up to in regard to both human flourishing and the glory of his name, sees, “This isn’t good.” Up until this point in the creation narrative, everything has something compatible that actually completes it. I’ll show you what I mean here. The skies without the sun, moon, stars, and even the birds, are incomplete. The sea without the fish and the other teeming creatures are seen as incomplete. Without mankind and land animals, the earth is incomplete.

God sees Adam and says, “This is not good.” Then you get this really strange… I think he is trying to prove a point to Adam. That’s conjecture. It’s not in the text. Then all of the animals start to come before Adam, and he’s naming them, and if we could get into the rhythm of the Hebrew versus the English, you have this moment where he’s like, “Not like me. Not like me. That’s really cool, but it’s not like me. Not like me. Not like me. Not like me.”

He goes to sleep. He wakes up. There is the woman. He says, “Like me. You are like me. This is like me. Oh, my gosh. You have thumbs. This is amazing.” Now there is a compatible partner. Now, you and I, according to the creation narrative, have been designed by God for deep, intimate companionship. This text is dealing with marriage, and marriage is kind of the foundation by which discipleship and human flourishing occurs.

That can’t be argued. The family unit is the seed by which humanity grows into something beautiful. If you destroy the family, you destroy the beauty of humanity very quickly. Although this is going to introduce Eve as the solution to this problem, throughout the Scriptures, you see a call toward community, a call toward companionship. We have been hardwired to know others in a deep and intimate way.

When I’m using intimate there, I’m not talking about sexually. I’m talking about knowing and being fully known. We crave that. We want that. The issue of our day is we live in a society that is thin. You have a thousand Facebook friends, and you don’t know anybody. You know everybody without knowing anyone. It’s a paradox that has never really occurred before. It’s a scary day in which you and I live. We have to have a companion.

We’re hungry for it. We’re lonely when we don’t have it. You can see this in a couple of… I think one of the places you see this clearly that might make you giggle is if you ever saw the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks. Do you remember this movie? He’s stuck on this island for I think about a decade. He’s trying to light fire, and he cuts his hand, and he freaks out. You don’t do that. You’re more sanctified than that.

He hurts himself, and he freaks out. He slaps this Wilson volleyball, and the blood from his hand forms what appears to be a face on the volleyball, and Wilson becomes Tom Hanks’ character’s best friend for the decade that he is on the island. Then, in this brilliant cinematography, this kind of manipulative sense of our souls, what they do is… Tom escapes the island on this raft, and he goes through a storm, and Wilson, who has been tied to a stick with VHS tape, falls off into the water.

I don’t know if you caught this, but there is no music in the movie until Wilson hits the water. Then Wilson hits the water, and some strings start up. Tom Hanks is like, “Wilson!” He thinks about untethering himself from his life raft to save a volleyball. If you have a soul, you might have even teared up a bit as he freaking out about Wilson. It’s a volleyball, but the drive to be known, to speak, to interact, and to know intimately is so powerful that a man stuck on an island ends up with a best friend that is a volleyball.

Now, because of the thinness of our day, here is one of the big ways we get robbed of companionship. With our culture pressing us to always be put together and always have all of the answers and always… We early on start to fear rejection, fear being found out. What we do… I think everybody does this. You kind of project strength so you won’t be rejected.

You’re like, “I’m great. I’m doing fine. Grades are great. Relationships are great. I’m not afraid. I’m not anxious. I’m not nervous. I don’t feel like I’m going to get outed as a failure at any moment.” You’re going to project this image. “I’m together. I’m happy. Things are going great. I don’t worry about much. I’m at peace. God and I are cool. All of my friends and I are great.”

You project this image, and it’s not true, and you become a slave to the image, and the image of strength without vulnerability will always drive you into isolation and loneliness. The more you project that you’re awesome and that everything in your life is awesome and that you’re not afraid of anything and that you’re not anxious about anything and that you don’t have any worries, the more you enslave yourself to isolation and loneliness.

It’s one of the great tragedies of our day that the very way to get into deep, intimate companionship is the one thing we simply cannot allow ourselves to be, vulnerable. I want you to think like this. You’re human. You’re a human. Do you know what humans do? They realize they’re fragile. They tend to get anxious. They tend to get nervous. They tend to get afraid. They tend to fail.

This is what humans, all humans, do. You have never met a human being who doesn’t fail. You have never met a human who doesn’t get scared. You have never met a human being who is not, in specific areas of their life, weak and afraid. You and I are in a culture where that is unacceptable, and the projection of strength is the norm.

Of course, we can’t get into the companionship God has for us. Of course, we can’t walk in intimate relationships. I’m not just talking about marriage right now. I’m even just talking about deep friendships. The more you can’t be weak, the more you isolate yourself in self-determined loneliness for your soul.

It’s such a shame because vulnerability is the one thing that actually ushers in this stuff. I don’t know if you saw this. Brené Brown did a TED Talk. I think 60 jillion people have watched it. At the 10-minute mark of her TED Talk… She’s a brilliant, brilliant sociologist. She’s just a great mind. At the 10-minute mark, she starts to be very vulnerable about her own fears, about her own failures.

What you saw collectively… It hit a string apparently because of the number of views. What you almost felt in the audience that was live was this, “Okay, thank God. Her too.” We have this tendency to kind of create superhuman people who we see, and we’re like, “Oh, they don’t struggle. They’re amazing.” The reality is we’re all human beings, and that comes with a set of experiences that are universally true.

We all get afraid of stuff. We all fail. We all tend to get anxious. When you let people into that, real companionship is possible. The more you feel like you have to manage that, the more you enslave yourself to a faux image that needs to be managed because it’s not actually who you really are. Are you tracking with me? Okay.

On this, what we’re talking about here is now marriage and how this idea of the need for deep, intimate companionship plays out in the marriage. Here is what I want to do. I want to talk about the way I think marriage tends to be viewed in our day and age versus how God has built marriage to work. I think that by and large, our consumerism has put on our eyes the lenses of consumerism, even as we think about marriage.

I keep saying this because I want you to be so aware of it because I think the rest of the world, when you’re not in here, is trying to disciple you down this path. I’m trying to do my best to help us. We live in a day and age where the rights of the individual are ultimate. What you want is what you must have, and ultimate freedom and happiness can only be found in your individual desires being fulfilled.

Humankind has never thought like that. This is new. This is a new form of idolatry that is absolutely gutting our ability for relationships and for flourishing. We tend to view marriage through the lenses of consumerism. We live in a day and age where individual happiness is the ultimate value, so marriage becomes primarily an experience of romantic fulfilment. Marriage, in our day and age, is primarily about romantic fulfilment.

It’s not about partnering for something. It’s not about coming together to make something beautiful. It’s just about romantic fulfilment. Self is at the heart of marriage through these lenses. It sees the individual as supreme. Now, think about the breakdown that we already have going into the marriage. If the husband sees himself supreme, and the wife sees herself supreme, and you put two supreme rulers in the same house, historically, that starts wars.

When you see marriage through the lens of, “What I want is supreme,” and your spouse sees marriage through the lens of, “What I want is supreme,” you’re already in a bad way. The mantra of marriage via consumerism is, “You adjust to me, or I’m out.” It’s driven by feelings and passion and has no room for duty or promises.

You’ll oftentimes hear people say, “I fell out of love.” That is this version of marriage. Man, if you have said that or if you believe that, I promise I am trying my best to not be offensive except for where the truth might actually offend. What you have just said is, “I have no room for duty. I have no room for keeping the promises I made. I don’t feel anymore. I don’t have emotion anymore, so I’m out,” as though love were some sort of ethereal feeling and not thicker than that.

I want to use this definition for our series together. I started to try to work on one. Then I realized Tim Keller has one. He’s just smarter and better and older and wiser. He’s like Yoda, for you Star Wars nerds. Here is what Keller said. “Marriage is a lifelong, monogamous relationship between a man and a woman.” Then he begins to unpack the purpose. “According to the bible, God devised marriage to reflect the saving love for us in Christ.”

I want to stop and talk about that. If you watch little boys and little girls… I usually talk about this at weddings. They grow up not really interested in one another but interested in their own kind. My youngest daughter’s birthday is tomorrow. We celebrated her birthday with her friends on Saturday. When Norah gave me the list of friends she wanted to come to her party, do you know who was on it? Ten 7-year-old girls. That’s who was on it.

It wasn’t like, “And Brayden.” That wasn’t on there. It was ten 7-year-old girls. We had ten 7-year-old girls over to our house. My son right now, even at 11… They’re just gross, right? “No, thank you. Just give me the guys.” There is a day coming, a day I call the day of epiphany. On the day of epiphany, you’re like, “No, no, no. Yes, please.” All of that turns. You’re like, “Gross. Cooties. No, thank you. I need one of those.” You will sell out your guys so quickly.

You’re like, “Jennifer Aniston movies. That’s ridiculous. What do you want to see? A Jennifer Aniston movie? Let’s go see that movie. I can’t go now tonight.” You will just sell out your crew after the day of epiphany. It’s this moving toward… What Tim is alluding to is something that is taught in Ephesians 5. God, longing to paint on the canvas of creation his love for us, his pursuit of us, his zeal after us, puts it into the heart of the man to pursue the woman.

If you’re like, “Well, I appreciate what you’re saying, but I think it’s testosterone doing that,” I would totally agree with you. I would say there is a God behind the testosterone. There is a God behind the biology. The biology does not disprove God. It actually proves that there is a God behind it. After this day of epiphany, we pursue. In that pursuit, every time you see a man pursue a woman, every time you see a wedding, you need to be reminded that what we’re witnessing is a picture of God’s romantic pursuit of us.

If you’re a man, and you’re like, “It just kind of bothers me to think about God romantically pursuing me,” let just chat for a second in all of your masculinity. There is enough in the Bible to offend everyone, so if women have to deal with being sons of God, you have to deal with being the bride of Christ. There is just enough in the Bible to offend all of us.

He says, “Not only is it true that marriage is there to reflect the saving love for us in Christ, but it’s also there to refine our character,” and all the married people said, “Amen.” Yeah. He also says it is there to, “…create stable human community for the birth and nurture of children, and to accomplish all this by bringing the complementary sexes into an enduring whole life union.” This is the definition we’ll be working off of.

What Keller is talking about here is really marriage as covenant. Earlier, we talked about marriage as consumerism. It’s driven by the individual self. Its mantra is, “You adjust to me,” and there is no place in that for duty or promise because its purpose is romantic fulfilment. In covenant marriage, things are the exact opposite. They’re not purely opposite, but let’s talk about it.

The heart of biblical marriage sees God as supreme, not the individual self as supreme, but God himself as supreme. The mantra is, “We adjust to God together.” It’s not, “You adjust to me.” It’s, “We adjust to God together.” When all is said and done, it doesn’t just lean on duty and promise, but when God is supreme and not the individual or even the family itself, that truly frees you up to live a life where both promise and passion exist and where both feelings and fulfilment come into line with one another.

I’ve been with Lauren for 20 years, been married for 18. Here is what I can tell you. I think my wife is a physically stunning woman. I still can’t believe this has happened. I’m not kidding. I’m gangly and awkward. I’ve only gotten less of those things as I’ve gotten older. In one of my high watermark moments of being gangly and awkward, this stunningly beautiful woman said she would marry me, and she did. It wasn’t a joke. She said, “Yeah,” and I was like, “I hope she shows.”

She showed. I thought the doors would open, and it would just be my dad going, “Sorry, bro.” It didn’t. She came down, and we have been married. Here is what I can tell you. As much as I find her physically stunning, watching her come alongside of me to serve the Lord is easily one of the more sexy things she does. I know we don’t tend to have those categories, like godliness equals sexiness, but godliness is sexy to godly people.

Let me give you a recent example. My son does this thing. I’m just going to leave it at that. He did it. When he does that thing he does, it gets on my nerves. It bothers me deeply, which probably says more about me than him, but it does something bad to Daddy’s soul. To watch Lauren just walk over there and get on her knee and just go, “Hey, buddy. What is going on? Are you angry or are you sad?” “I don’t know.” Already a man.

Then my wife will follow it up with asking, “Does it make you want to break something or does it make you want to cry?” “It makes me want to break something.” “Okay, that’s anger. That feeling of wanting to break something is anger. Let’s talk about why you’re angry.” Just to watch her navigate those feelings, I’m like, “Oh, my gosh. That’s unbelievable. I want to mouth kiss you.” Is that too far? Where is an elder? I need an elder to give me a head nod. There are none in here? I’m safe.

This is what happens. I watch her live a godly life, and there is commitment and duty and passion. This is how it works. She has come alongside of me. I have come alongside of her. We have been given this mission by God to make much of Jesus, make God be supreme, and create an environment in which children might flourish and grow into the fullness of what God has for them in Christ. That is our task. That is our goal. We’re partnering to see it accomplished.

It’s not, “Well, I have this task to do, so let me do it. You’re really kind of gross to me, but I’m going to…” That’s not what is happening. There is this thing that happens to our souls being knit together as one as we seek to serve and make much of Jesus. The best way I think I can explain this to you is via language around covenant.

There is this moment in every wedding where you have the exchanging of vows. What happens in that moment is the bride and groom turn and face one another. Before God and their community, they begin to exchange vows. They begin to make promises to one another. The language is always covenantal. “For better or for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, till death do us part.” That is covenantal language. That’s, “I’m not going anywhere.”

Can you imagine how mortified you would be if you went to a wedding, and the vows were consumeristic and contractual? Can you imagine if you were in the wedding? You wore the wedding clothes. You found them in the closet and put them on. Now you’re sitting out there. They turn and face one another. The wife says, “You will need to make over $60,000 a year,” and he responds with, “You’re going to have to stay the same weight.” Oh, that was too real? Do y’all want me to lie? If y’all want a lie, you’re in the wrong place.

Then he counters with this, and she counters with that. Let me tell you. I’m up, and I’m getting my gift, and I’m out. You will not find your second shot at singleness with my microwave I bought you. I’m going to go eBay that thing and take that money back because you can see in that moment, “This isn’t happening. There are too many outs.” Covenant love doesn’t work that way. Covenant love says, “I’m not going anywhere.”

Think about how crazy it is that on your wedding day, you said out loud, “This could go bad. For better or for worse, I’m in.” Wait, what? For worse? Haven’t you guys gotten to the bottom of that yet? Why would you say yes to marriage if “for worse” was a possibility? You say it out loud. It is this crazy moment of covenant promise. “I’m not going anywhere.” That’s covenant marriage. That is God’s view of marriage.

Partnering together to glorify God, serving one another, adjusting to one another before God for the flourishing of your home, the flourishing of your children, the flourishing of your neighborhoods, towns, cities, countries, world. That’s God’s big plan. If you’re like, “That’s huge,” it’s not huge. I have a wife and three kids. That’s where I’m going to work. I’m not working like, “I have to really do something about this state.” No, I don’t. I really don’t.

“What are we going to do about America?” Do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to really try to love my wife as best as I can like Christ loved the church. I’m going to create this environment where my children might flourish and grow, and I’m going to preach the Word to the church that he has called me to as my vocation. That’s what it means to fulfil God’s calling in my life.

This isn’t huge. This is, “Be where you are. Be present. Do these things that God has called you to.” Now, I need to put a little asterisk on this. It’s covenant. “I’m not going anywhere.” If you are in a marriage that is abusive, violent, emotionally manipulative, and you’re anxious for your safety, I am not telling you to stay, and I am not giving your very broken husband permission to continue to bully you, scare you, emotionally manipulate you, or make you feel unsafe.

Husbands, I’m not trying to shame you. You are a broken soul in desperate need of help. You are battering and bullying a daughter of the King of the universe, and if you think there will be no repercussions for that, then you are a fool. Not to mention the generational carnage you are unleashing in your depravity.

Ladies, I also did not say to run out and get a divorce lawyer. I did not say that. Let’s create some space for you. Let’s get you into safety, and we can work on your marriage where you don’t have to worry about getting beat up or bullied. I think the church has to start adding this in this conversation. One in three women live in this kind of environment, according to the recent data, which means there are quite a few of you in the room.

I will not give your husband permission to use the Bible to bully you. It’s not what God intends. It’s not what he has. If that is you, we have spent a year now being trained and getting ready to kind of help in these spaces. If you want to loop us in… I know that in and of itself is terrifying. If you want to loop us in, we’re more than willing to come alongside of you and walk with you. Just know that when I’m saying these things, it is not God’s heart for you to stay in a place where you feel unsafe, bullied, manipulated, and abused.

Now, I also want to add this caveat. Where men tend to use their size and strength to bully, manipulate, and abuse, women tend to use more emotional tactics, more manipulative tactics. This is certainly not a one-way street. Although the majority of abuse is perpetrated by men on women, there are plenty of cases where that road has actually gone the opposite way and it is women abusing their husbands. It’s not physically. It’s rarely physically.

Here is something I realized years ago in my own marriage. Because of the nature of what I do, it is not uncommon for me to be put on blast by some guy who doesn’t like what I just said, some man or woman who thinks I’m an idiot. I’ll just get these length, crazy emails. “I hope you die.” Man, if you want to send me that, I will literally respond to you by saying, “I’m far worse than what you’re describing. Don’t worry, I will die one day.” I will send it to you, and we can move forward.

What I mean by that is this. Over the course of 27 years, I have developed some really, really thick skin to critique and attack from people who are coming from broken spaces. I want to learn from my critics as best as I can, and where it’s sane and reasonable, I want to take that and learn, but the world sometimes is not sane and reasonable. I have just learned… I don’t know what you could say that would penetrate my thick skin and really send me into a tailspin.

Do you know who can crush me with a sentence? My wife. You can put me on blast and send me a nine-page document of just how terrible of a human being I am, and I’m going to have lunch and get a cup of coffee in the afternoon, finish my work day, and I’m going to go to sleep, and I probably won’t think about your email again. I’ll just lay that before the Lord. If there’s nothing true in it, I’m just going to move on with life and sleep well.

My wife can say a sentence that can undo me for weeks. There is an unbelievable amount of power in the words of a woman. The Bible says some crazy things about men who live with women who are kind of always tearing them down. I’m not making this up. The Bible says it’s better for a man to die in the desert than to live with a contemptuous woman. Ladies, that is God saying that, coming to your husband and going, “All right, man. Just head out into the desert.”

“Do I need to get some water?”

“No. It’s going to be better. Don’t get any water. Just go.”

“Am I going to die out there?”

“Yeah. It’s going to be slow. Probably, before you die, a vulture will start to eat your flesh. Listen. It’s better than where you are, bro. Get out. Just go. Go. You’ll be home soon. It will all be over. Just get out into the desert.”

It equates living with a contemptuous woman to water torture, like a dripping faucet. Again, I’m not saying that if you’re in such a toxic relationship, the emotional, physical, spiritual damage occurring in that marriage should be something you just sit in and go, “I guess this is what God has for me.” No, no. I’m saying that to get help, sometimes you have to get some space.

I’m not teaching on covenant so you might stay in an abusive relationship. I’m teaching on covenant because there are seasons of difficulty where our impulse is to see only ourselves, and we might, in a moment, say something foolish, or we might, in a moment, freak out. These things are few and far between, and they’re not a pattern, and they’re not a habit.

I’m leaning into covenant because every marriage will go through some dry seasons or just ordinary seasons. I need to just lay before you that we stay and push through those seasons. We don’t bail on those seasons. We don’t fall out of love because we think love is also a decision of the will. We think love also has to do with promise and duty as much as it has to do with feelings and passion. I don’t want to give permission for abusive men to abuse and manipulative women to twist the knife all the more in their husbands’ spirits.

I want to encourage you to let us help, whether that’s coming to our recovery groups that are built around this stuff or coming up and being prayed for and connecting with one of our biblical counselors. Just don’t stay in the dark with where you are. That is that projection of strength that robs you of genuine companionship and intimacy, the thing God is trying to usher you into.

If you pay attention to the Bible, there are covenants everywhere, covenants between men, covenants between nations, covenants between families. What makes the marriage covenant so spectacular to look at is you have a covenant being made between God and the couple and between the couple and the couple in front of their community.

There is this promise to one another that is rooted in their relationship with God, where the community of faith is holding them accountable to those vows that they made to one another before God. It is this beautiful moment where community, divine presence, and commitment to one another wrapped in passion, happens in a marriage, in a wedding. It’s this beautiful reality that we get to work through and in and at all of the days of our lives.

I want to chat with you about how I want us to think moving forward. Here is the first thing. I think on this topic, the temptation is to always hope your spouse is listening. Look right at me. I’m going to try this. You make a terrible Holy Spirit. If you want to undo anything God has been doing in the heart of your spouse, get in the car after that and go, “I hope you heard what Pastor Chandler said.”

Men and women do not change via the nagging and griping of their spouses. They might try to conform the best they can to keep the peace, but they won’t be transformed. Only the Spirit of God can do that. What you need to do is prayerfully ask the Spirit of God to engage, to be gracious and gentle, and make your request be known. I’m not saying you have to be silent and hope things work out. I’m saying there is a way to approach it that is helpful, and there is a way to approach it that is not helpful.

I think you should be an expert in the strengths of your spouse more than you are an expert in their weaknesses. If I gave you five minutes right now, what could you name more of, where they’re weak and you wish they would get better or where they’re strong, and you’re so grateful that God gave them to you? If you become an expert in the strengths of your spouse, you would be surprised at how just… This is going to be a radical idea.

You may have never even thought of this. This is crazy. Listen. You should tell them. You should be able to say, “I love this about you.” I just can’t see how that is going to lead to a fight. If you pull your husband aside today and say, “When you do these things, I’m just so grateful. I just love how you bring this to…” He’s going to be like, “Are you serious right now?” That’s just not going to happen.

If you pull your wife aside and say, “Hey, I love this about you, when you do this.” Listen. You know your relationship. If it’s so toxic and broken that even that can lead to a fight… I’ve seen it. You’re like, “Hey, I just noticed this about you, sweetheart. When you do this, I just can’t tell you the difference that makes.” “Oh, is that all I do? Is that all you’ve ever seen?” You’re like, “Oh, gosh. Okay. Chandler!”

Maybe you just coach it by adding a simple, “One of the things…” You navigate your environment with wisdom, but be an expert in the strengths of your spouse, and you should share that. Throughout this series, whether it’s the idea of covenant and consumption, whether it’s sex or the long game, you need to worry about you and not them.

The second thing I want to just lay before you as we start to wrap up our time together today… The category I didn’t address up front, which is actually a pretty frequent happening, is that one of the spouses will think the relationship is flourishing, and the other one will think it’s floundering. I want to just be bold enough to say this. Look right at me. If your spouse thinks you need counseling, you need counseling.

One flesh. It’s one marriage. That’s what it is. It’s not your marriage. It’s one marriage. If the other half of your body stopped working, you wouldn’t be like, “We’re fine.” It’s not going to happen. You’re one body. Husbands, if your wife has come and said, “I’m struggling. I don’t know how to navigate this. We need help,” your response cannot be, “We’re fine.” Your wife just told you that you’re not fine.

If your husband comes to you going, “I don’t know how to navigate this. I’m trying, boo. I don’t know what to do. We need to get somebody to help us,” ladies, your response can’t be, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. We’re doing great.” Listen. That is that projected strength that is going to destroy you. It will take from you the one thing you so desperately want.

You want your spouse to fill it. They’re not filling it. You refuse to be vulnerable about that, so you can’t move past it into the space God wants to usher you in, all because, “I don’t want to see a counselor. We’re not the kind of people who see counselors. Look at my Instagram feed. We’re on dates all the time.” Listen. We have to stop. It’s madness. Step into the light.

Lastly, as we wrap up our time today, laying this as a foundation next week on sex and the week after that… What we’re talking about, the idea of covenant versus consumption, has a ton to do with how we approach sexual intimacy. If your spouse is there to be consumed, that’s a problem. You shouldn’t expect really beautiful, intimate, soul-knitting stuff. I can’t preach that sermon. That’s next week.

You can’t approach your spouse like they exist as some servant for your pleasure. What I want you to do is just to spend a couple of moments here. I’m going to just pray and give it to us. I want you to think about how you view your marriage. Do you view it through the lens of covenant, that we adjust to God or are you viewing your marriage through…

I think a lot of difficulty is birthed by entering a marriage where your lens is, “You adjust to me. You fulfil me. You fix me. You make me happy. You put me back together. You solve all of my daddy issues. You handle all of my fears. You take on all of my anxieties. You make this work. You complete me. You make me work.” It’s just a terrible way to enter a marriage relationship.

Or are you seeing through the lens of covenant? I don’t want to be overly romantic. Most of the best marriages I see have a strong covenantal push and always have a little sprinkling of consumerism in them. Any time I’m preaching on stuff like this, I’m just bracing. Earlier this week, Lauren and I got in this huge fight that was so insane.

What happened was I was seeing through this kind of individualistic lens. The last month for me has been crazy, the pace of it. It has just gone long. A lot of really long days, a lot of late nights, a lot of things that needed to get done, needed to get finished, needed to get tied off, needed to get pushed to the next person who needed to take something that has been created and move it down.

A lot of that stuff has been going on. In all of that, I was unable to see that Lauren was dealing with all of the end-of-school madness. Her days were long, and they were complex, and she was trying to get ready for this and this and this and this. She had this, and this was going on. I just couldn’t see into that.

I was just like, “Why are you not being more grateful for me, and why are you not making life easier for me right now? Do you not see that I’m the one who is getting up at 5:00? You get to sleep in until 6:30. Are you not seeing that I’m not getting home until 7:30 at night? Are you not seeing that I haven’t had a day off in three weeks? How can you not see?”

I’m the one who couldn’t see, like an idiot…again. Although I would say that God has restored in miraculous ways the first six or seven years of my marriage, and I am best friends with my wife… I say this all the time, and I really mean it. I hate leaving, and I love coming home. We laugh a lot, play a lot, rejoice in one another, understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, understand the partnership God has put us in for God’s glory and our good.

But every once in a while, we have one of those. It’s me 80 percent of the time. It is. Listen. I’m not trying to manipulate with vulnerability. I’m saying that 80 percent of the time, I’m the one who gets caught up in my life and what I’m doing and what I’m trying to get done, and I lose sight of God’s call on her life and what God has asked her to do. Then I just start getting resentful.

Then I say something stupid, and then we’re off to the races. I’m guessing you’re giggling because you’re with me, right? What is the driver? Is it covenant or consumption? What is driving your relationship? See, a fight like that every once in a while is great. A fight like that three times a week is trouble. Are you seeing your spouse through the lens of covenant or are you seeing them through the lens of consumption? Is it, “You adjust to me,” or is it, “We adjust to him”? Let’s pray.

Father, I thank you for these men and women. I ask, for our singles in here, your grace. I pray that if they desire, that you would give them a spouse who loves you. Give them a spouse who longs to partner with someone to make much of the name of Jesus. I pray that you would give them contentment in the stay but that they would want that and not feel guilty about wanting that.

That’s a good gift, something to be desired. I pray that they would operate in contentment while they pursue, while they pray, while they long. I pray for our marriages that are flourishing in this place. I pray that you would encourage them today all the more in their flourishing. I also want to pray for those who are floundering, those who are in difficult spots. I pray that today, maybe some clarity would be given, a way of seeing might be introduced that helps them.

I pray that they would grow in their expertise of the strengths of their spouse. I want to pray for any woman in this room who is nervous and afraid, who lives in fear, who feels exhausted and weary and terrified. I pray space and freedom for them. I pray your peace over them. It’s not meant to be like this. I pray that where they feel crazy, you would give them eyes to see that they’re not.

I pray for men who are just emotionally and spiritually battered. I pray that you would give them the courage to be honest about, “Man, I don’t know what to do here, and I’m broken and lost and heartbroken. I feel like such a weak man because this is my story.” I pray that they would walk into the light and find the healing and rescue that you have promised them.

I pray that The Village Church would be known for its marriages that have been rooted and established in you. Understand that they are partnerships fused together, filled with passion and duty, delight and commitment, to paint a picture of your pursuit of us in Jesus, and to create safe environments for human flourishing. Help us. We need you. It’s for your beautiful name, amen.