God's Perfect Provision
Well, actually, my tongue is firmly planted-in-cheek, and I hasten to add that these church members are being absolutely obedient to the Bible in telling me: “Pastor, we’re going on this romantic cruise, and you are staying home. This boat is a sanctuary of love and there are no third parties allowed.”
We’re in our third week of Bible study on the topic of relationships and marriage, and the issue of oneness keeps coming up. A married couple cannot have complete oneness—physically or any other way—when their parents or their pastor are in the room, and what we want to explore today is very simple: God’s Plan For Oneness. In a way that goes far beyond honeymoons, God has a divine plan for you and your spouse to truly experience transparent openness with each other.
I appreciate the fact that the Christian faith is meant for mature, thinking men and women. Children can understand it, but Christianity is meant for the adult mind and heart. We have to sometime weigh, not conflicting goals, but principles that must be held in tension.
Here’s the for instance of this week. Exodus 20:12 gives us a command so central to our happiness that it’s one of the Ten Commandments. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. It is right for you to take your children to go and see Grandma and Grandpa, to honor them, to take care of them, to be a continuing source of happiness and strength to them. You honor them by continuing to be faithful Adventist Christians as they raised you to be.
At the same time, we have this biblical command that a husband and a wife are to leave those same parents they are honoring. Genesis 2:24: For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh. And this is talking about more than a sexual uniting of bodies; it’s also talking about more than the fact that we leave the nest and get a new address with this woman. We leave the world where our first loyalty is to parents; they are no longer our highest priority. Now our spouse is our highest priority.
I mentioned last Sabbath that my wife comes ahead of my gospel duties, my missionary efforts. Now she doesn’t come before God, but she does come before some of the outreach duties I perform for God. In the days of Israel, when a man got married, he didn’t even work or go to war for that first year. He just stayed home kissing his wife and playing the flute for her and giving her back rubs.
So, ironically, the first part of God’s three-pronged approach to giving us oneness is very simple: leave. We must leave the world where we obey and serve our parents; now we love and serve our mate.
In a rather ancient pastoral book entitled Letters to Philip, Charles Shedd tells about a young man named Peter, newly married, who got home one night and saw that his mother had come to visit. Now, he hadn’t seen his mom since the wedding; his wife, of course, he’d seen that very morning before going off to work. What did he do? He walked past his mom, kissed his wife, then turned and greeted and kissed his mom. And his wife said: “That was one of the biggest thrills of our first year together.” You emotionally leave your parents and you put your spouse in first place.
I hope it won’t sound self-serving to say that while you must always maintain your ties with your original families, most of you now have this new family of which you are co-leaders. Your place now is not in your parents’ church; it is to be here in this church with your spouse. Your highest spiritual priority is to be a growing, vibrant family unit here; making sure that your partner is happy and content and nurtured in his or her faith is your highest aim. You have admitted to me, “Pastor, we haven’t really quite had it sink in that we are the parents now; that this place is our church and not our parents’ responsibility.” But this Bible idea of cleaving to your wife, I think, includes carving out a unique Christian identity within your own new family.
So God’s first principle is that we leave. Secondly, we cleave. What does this mean?
Would you agree that nothing happens spiritually until we feel a need? If people are doing well in their own secular existence, they don’t seek God. They don’t think they need Him. And in the garden of Eden, God created Adam to feel a need. He noticed that his life was incomplete. Genesis 2:20 has God assigning to Adam the task of naming all the animals. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. Back in verse 18 we already discover God’s plan even before this felt need: Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”
Some people say, “God is all you need.” Actually, God Himself says no to that. He builds into us a need for a kind of companionship created and blessed by Him, but which is not Him.
Sometimes when my wife and I are at a ballgame, they have on the DiamondVision TV screen something called the “Kissing Cam.” Have you seen that? If the camera closes up on you, you give your beloved a kiss in front of 45,000 people. Some people do so willingly; some are more reluctant. A few people are inappropriately enthusiastic. I’ve been waiting for several years to strut my stuff, but it hasn’t happened yet. But this Kissing Cam just is a sweet way of reminding us that the need to have someone love us is built in by God.
So God creates this need. And now God fills this need. Verses 21, 22: So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.
I think this is a great Bible truth. God made Eve for Adam. He made Eve exactly right for Adam. He made Eve to be the perfect fit for Adam. The one man in the world who should never have said, “You’re not my type,” is Adam. God was the originator and founder of eharmony.com. And the Bible says God presented Eve to Adam all wrapped up in a bow.
I see Christmas commercials sometimes where someone gets a new car for Christmas, and there it is in the front yard with a big red bow on it. I would love to do that for my wife, but it’s just too intimidating a concept. What if it’s not the exact kind of car she wants? This is too risky. But God makes the perfect woman for this man.
Now here is the deep, powerful spiritual truth we need to embrace. Adam received Eve as a gift from God. And you and I need to do the same thing, not just on our wedding days, but on an ongoing basis. I think this is one of the most compelling disciplines we can embrace: to daily think of our spouse as coming to us from the hand of God.
Again, the world does not think this way. I found this woman; she is mine. This is my achievement. Bill Cosby has a cute line where he says: “In finding Camille, I drew to an inside straight, queen high.” That’s nice, but notice who takes the credit?
I invite each of you husbands to think right now about the reality that when you were a ten-year-old boy, God had already placed a special girl on this planet who would grow to be your chosen mate. She may have lived across the country or around the world from you, but she was in His holy plan. During your loneliest times, when you felt the hurt of insufficiency, when you needed an unconditional friend, God was getting her ready for you. God brought into this world the perfect girl for you. He shaped her personality, her values, her spiritual core. And then He brought you together. Every day now that you live together, both of you need to remember that this wife didn’t just show up. God made her for you.
This marriage manual, Weekend to Remember, suggests that Adam had an accurate perspective of God, which enabled him to rightly receive Eve as a divine gift. He knew God had made her; he knew this was no chance discovery, that there didn’t just happen to be this hot chick under a banana tree. Here is a great line from the syllabus: We must CHOOSE to receive our spouse as God’s PERFECT provision for us. Secondly, we must focus on God’s character and His goodness in providing our spouse.
Sometimes on these cold winter nights, I like to just snuggle under the covers and then say a brief good-night prayer to the Lord. And as I lie there, I always say to Him, “Thank You for this special woman. I know You gave her to me; I know she’s Your perfect gift. She really is. And I want You to know that I consider her as having come from Your hand, just like You made Eve for Adam.”
This same Dr. Shedd tells a second story in his Letters to Philip compilation. He had a woman come into his office one day, and she said: “I know you are always looking for good-husband stories, and I have one for you.” Okay.
She told him there was one thing she had always felt bad about. She had legs like tree stumps. In fact, she stood up and showed him. See? And they really were. These were not twigs; she was standing on two giant sequoias. All her life—grade school, high school—kids had teased her to death.
Then Mark came along and began to go steady with her. Those two thick legs were the proverbial elephant in the living room, but he never once said a word. It was like he didn’t notice. But she brought it up—in fact, several times—hoping for some reassurance. One day he took her hands in his and said: “Honey, I want you to stop knocking yourself. You are God’s gift to me, and the Lord happened to give you a pair of sturdy legs. They give me a solid feeling and I like them.” She burst into tears.
A little while later he took her home to meet his mama; it turns out she was a cripple. Her legs were all twisted and destroyed, and she limped around with braces and special shoes. And this woman, who had been made to feel like a queen, said to Pastor Shedd: “I looked at him and he looked at me and I think I loved him right then like nobody ever loved a man before.”
I reread that story this last week and I resolved to do better than ever at praising God for the wife He gave me, and to always let her know that this is exactly how I consider her: a Christmas present from the Lord with a big red bow on her.
Here’s another point. Adam accepted Eve because God was trustworthy, not because Eve was worthy. Now, in this world, we’re going to fall in love with someone largely because they strike us as worthy in this way and that. But our deeper embracing of this gift needs to come because we have a mature faith in God. This is also a weapon to use against the shifting winds of our opinions and our resentments from day to day. My wife is still God’s gift to me on the days when the wrapping paper might appear torn or the included batteries are perhaps low on juice.
There are three barriers which make this business of receiving a difficult assignment. The first one is natural differences. This syllabus mentions six: gender, perspectives, temperaments, backgrounds, preferences, and roles. Now, gender is a very pleasant and popular difference, but we tend to get into arguments over the other five. There’s a gospel song out there about the fact that iron sharpens iron, which is actually a line from Proverbs 27. We are improved by being around different people and coping with those differences. In fact, this curriculum takes the view that differences are God’s tools to teach us to trust in Him.
There was a great hidden-camera moment when Ronald Reagan was President. He was a natural communicator, but he always did it best when he had cue cards or a Teleprompter. And one day reporters asked him some question about a difficult foreign-policy concept. Mr. President, what are you doing about such-and-such? He kind of cocked his head, as if to say, “Uh, where are my advisors? I can’t tell you without a little electronic thingie in my ear.” But Nancy Reagan, who was standing next to him, whispered: We’re doing all we can. And Reagan gave his beautiful smile and said to the reporters, “You know, we’re doing all we can.” I probably would have turned to my wife and gone: What? But we have a spouse whose skills and differences and fresh perspectives can be used to make us better people.
The second barrier is weaknesses. Here’s another list of six. Being: impatient, indecisive, overly talkative, disorganized, critical, or demanding.
It’s always nice to find stories about others instead of ourselves, and I was reading about an Adventist pastor who grew up as a painfully strict neat-nik. He made his bed like he was in the Marines. You know how when you get a new pair of socks, sometimes they come with a tiny plastic hanger-gizmo? He kept that little hanger and used to hang up that pair of socks on it. And one day burst into tears when the hanger broke and the socks fell on the floor.
Well, this fastidious fellow fell in love and married his polar opposite. Felix Unger, meet Oscar Madison. His wife is as sweet as can be, but keeping a house neat and clean just is not her thing. But she is still God’s unique gift to him. The interesting thing is that he has finally learned to live like her. He compromised by selling out; now he’s lucky if he can find a pair of socks anywhere in the house, let along on a hanger.
Weaknesses are hard to cope with, and it’s easier to see others than our own. But Paul once writes about a weakness he had; in II Corinthians 12 he describes it as his “thorn in the flesh.” If he had been married, that would have been Mrs. Paul’s thorn too. He asked God three times to take it away, but the divine answer was no. My grace is sufficient for you, God told him, for My power is made perfect in weakness. We learn to accept grace and forgiveness by acknowledging our weaknesses, and we learn to be like God in accepting our spouse’s weaknesses.
The third barrier is self-centeredness, and Paul has some counsel for us here too. This is in Philippians 2:3: Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself. Marriage is not 50-50 or 60-40; it is thinking of your partner as the one who should receive 100%. I know how hard and unrealistic it sounds, but again, scorecards do not belong in the Christian faith.
I want to add a quick comment here as we sum up about this challenge to cleave to our spouse and to receive them as a gift from God. Anytime we mentally or verbally reject our partner, we are doing four things. First, we’re rejecting God—at that moment—and His provision for our life. King David had a beautiful wife which God had given him. But he lusted after Bathsheba and he sent for her as a replacement toy. That was a moment of failed trust.
Two: rejecting our spouse is going to negatively reflect on God’s character. The Barna Research Group points out that, statistically, born-again Christians get divorced just as often as non-believers. Both come in at around 35%. And it’s a real black mark against our faith and our God that we allow our marriages to fail.
Three: rejecting our mate demonstrates unbelief and disobedience toward God. This is a tough teaching, but if my wife is God’s gift to me, and I turn away from that gift, am I failing to obey God? It’s been suggested that Adam faced a hard moment when Eve sinned and took the apple. He knew she had fallen; he wasn’t fooled by the serpent as she had been. Now was she going to die? Should he obey God or cast his lot with this beautiful woman he desperately loved. He didn’t have sufficient faith to believe that God could somehow resolve the dilemma of Eve’s sin and her lostness and decided to go down with the ship and her.
Four, when we reject our spouse, we are failing to help fulfill God’s overall plans and purposes for marriage. We’re part of a great cosmic demonstration where our collective marriages, our many couples in this church, are proof of heaven’s goodness and wisdom. When we give up, we have a part in thwarting that galactic experiment.
So here’s the conclusion: As an act of your will, you must receive (not just accept) your spouse as God’s gift made personally for you to meet your specific aloneness needs.
Now, here is God’s third purpose in establishing oneness. We have to leave, and then cleave, and now this: creating intimacy by becoming one flesh.
What does this mean? One flesh? There’s an obvious meaning, and I hope all of you who are married will be diligent and creative in keeping that part of your marriage relationship vibrant and happy. Years ago I was working in an office, and for some reason one day, several people in a discussion just had it tumble out that the physical part of their relationship had dried up. They were busy; they were tired; their spouse was tired. People were resentful and impatient over the fact that sexual oneness had dissipated on them. So ask God to help you keep that part of your relationship growing and always renewed.
But what else does this mean? Physical intimacy, this syllabus says, is the expression of complete oneness (body and soul) in marriage. Being “one flesh” means openness, time together, transparency, communicating.
In the town of Chiang Rai, in northern Thailand, the Adventist Church operates a small group home for young girls. These are not rescued prostitutes; instead, they’re young children rescued from the prospect of being driven into prostitution.
And I think about what it must mean to exploit an eight-year-old village girl for physical pleasure. Which short-circuits all thought of oneness, of communicating. I visualize a planeload of one hundred businessmen from Europe, flying to Bangkok on a so-called “sex tour.” They buy a girl they can’t speak to; they spend foreign currency purchasing a drink she doesn’t want; they borrow her body for pleasures she cannot feel, and they ignore a mind and a soul that they never even encounter. That is nothing short of an obscenity. And I imagine many of us here today could confess to some story where we did something that was less than holy, and which subverted God’s invitation for us to seek oneness.
Genesis tells us that Adam and Eve were naked. Okay. We have all these Powerpoint pictures where the bushes and lions are placed just right. But let’s not be snickering teenagers. They were transparent; they trusted each other. They shared secrets. Before sin came, there was no idea of lying to each other. Adam didn’t blame Eve for anything until after he ate the apple.
We need to make it a goal that we will be emotionally naked, spiritually transparent, with the spouse God gives us. That’s hard to do. We all have hidden places and dark closets we don’t open up for our partner’s inspection. But God’s plan is for us to be able to share and know the freedom of having a confidant in life. An old Arabian proverb says: “A friend is one to whom one may pour out all the contents of one’s heart—chaff and grain together—knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” I can unfortunately remember accidentally saying something which stung my wife. I told her I was sorry, and she forgave me. I still felt bad, but a half hour later she told me she honestly couldn’t remember what I had said. That is true grace.
Last concept—and this is so beautiful. “One flesh” intimacy is built on a foundation of sacrificial love for each other. A godly man will sacrifice for his wife; he will die for her. The night Titanic went down, Dan Marvin was newly married. He had to put on a cheerful front in front of his bride. “It’s all right, little girl. You go and I’ll stay for a while.” He blew her a kiss as she got into a boat. A Mrs. Douglas said to her husband, “Walter, you must come with me.” And there were men getting into boats, especially some who were older. But Mr. Douglas knew that the lives of many women were at stake, including that of his own wife. He stepped back from the boat with this great statement: “No, I must be a gentleman.” Do we have gentlemen here who will die for their wives and support this church for the sake of their families?
I read a World War II story once where Nazi soldiers just took over someone’s house, commandeered it. Kitchen, living room, bathrooms. The family, which had a couple of young girls, was shoved to one back bedroom. Early in the morning, someone in that family woke up and went to the door of that bedroom. There they found the dad of the house, sleeping on the floor next to that door. Any Nazi soldiers coming in to hurt or molest his family were going to have to go through him first. That is one-flesh sacrificial love.
Some of you here today aren’t married, and maybe these ideas have been frustrating to hear. I want to encourage you; you’re an equally valuable part of this church. I believe God meets our needs here. But sometimes people leave if they don’t think it’s going to happen within these four walls. It’s my conviction that as we seek God first, as we look for oneness with Him and mature fellowship with Him, it may open the way for Him to then lead us to discover oneness and His heavenly plan with that person who is His chosen gift to us. Please trust His plan and also His timing. Shall we pray?
Lord, we are Your needy children. You have given many of us wondrous blessings, but all of us struggle to see them as Your gifts and to trust in You to fulfill us. Give us patience and also eyes to see Your loving hand in the moments where we are most loved. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2008. Click here for usage guidelines.
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