Today’s Bible passage takes us onto a battleground. Our verses from Genesis deal with one of the great debates in contemporary culture – the subject of men, women and marriage.
If you were here last week you will know we thought about what makes human beings so special. We discovered the answer is that we are made in the image of God. We are all made to reflect and represent God on earth. We all have a God-given role to care for his creation and rule it responsibly. But, God didn’t just make us human. He made us male and female too.
But perhaps this was a big mistake? After all, gender difference seems to be a cause of great confusion and consternation in our society today. There is allegedly a “battle of the sexes”, there is controversy over gay marriage, and there is much suffering caused by marriage breakdown, domestic violence and divorce. Wouldn’t things have been so much better if God had made us all the same?
Thankfully, God has given us Genesis chapter 2 to explain his thinking. He has given us our passage this morning as a guide to gender. A guide to the plan and purposes God had in mind when he created us male and female. Genesis 2 also describes God’s design for marriage, and points us to a perfect marriage that is yet to come.
- Men and Women – Equal but different!
As we rejoin Genesis this morning, God has completed his act of Creation and placed the man he has made in the Garden of Eden. Verse 15 tells us that Adam began to work on the land and take care of it. In other words, as we learnt last week, Adam began his God-given vocation to care for creation and rule over it. He was even given the responsibility and privilege of naming the animals God had made.
But something was not right. There was an imperfection in creation. Listen to the Lord’s words in verse 18: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” None of the animals were Adam’s equal. Man could not find a true companion, comforter and co-worker among the all the wild animals on the ground or among the birds in the sky. Adam’s life was incomplete without Eve.
And so Genesis says God graciously made a suitable helper for Adam. Look at verse 22 with me: “the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.”
Whether you take this account as literal history or a poetic parable, this story is undoubtedly teaching us an important truth. It is reminding us of the equality of men and women. Men and women are equal in value and equal in essence. This truth is well-summed up in this famous quotation from Matthew Henry: “Eve was not taken out of Adam’s head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.” No wonder verse 23 tells us Adam was delighted to see her: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” Or as we might say today: “Hooray!”
Male and female are both made in the image of God. Men and women, girls and boys are equally valuable in his sight. There is no excuse for sexism, discrimination or denigration of the opposite gender. It is tragic, for example, that in many parts of the world girls still get worse access to education than boys. Both male chauvinism and radical feminism should be ruled out of court.
But as well as being equal, men and women are also different. We are equal in value, but different as well. God didn’t clone or copy Adam, but made a complementary companion for him. In our politically correct Western societies, gender differences seem to be increasingly regarded as either an inconvenience or an irrelevance. But Genesis says they are a God-given invention. Men and women have been given many different yet complementary qualities.
We don’t have time this morning to discuss and debate the precise physiological and psychological differences between men and women. But whatever they are, they were made by God for a purpose. Men and women were made to complement each other, most obviously in marriage and in the raising of children. God has given men and women the characteristics we need to care for each other, to care for children, and to care for our world.
Before we think more about marriage, its worth pausing to recognise that this model of equality and difference isn’t just confined to men and women. Even God contains equality and difference within himself. There is equality and difference between the persons of the Trinity. The Bible is clear that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are equal in their eternity, power, status and value. But it’s also clear that the three divine persons are different and distinct. The Father is not the Son and nor is the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Bible we see the three persons of the Trinity occupying different roles and responsibilities, yet working in harmony to save humankind.
Thirty of us from St. Michael’s went to see the spectacular “Love Beyond” musical at Wembley Arena earlier this month. And one of its most attractive qualities was the way it depicted Father, Son and Spirit as equal yet different, as three people in an eternal relationship of mutual co-operation, love and respect. The type of relationship every man and women - and especially every husband and wife - should aim for.
- Adam and Eve – A model for marriage!
Marriage has been a political football over the past few years, with the passage of legislation to recognise gay marriage. In Parliament and in the media, the nature of marriage has been a subject of intense debate and speculation. Fortunately for us, Genesis gives us revelation not speculation. Genesis chapter 2 gives us God’s definition of marriage, a definition that Jesus himself quoted when he faced questions on the subject. This definition comes in verse 24, so let me read it: “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
That brief sentence sets out the key elements of marriage. It describes the essential characteristics of marriage as God created it:
- Firstly, marriage is an exclusive relationship – Genesis says marriage is between a man and a woman, and no more. Monogamy is God’s plan for marriage, not polygamy, promiscuity or adultery.
- Secondly, marriage is a heterosexual relationship - it should be clear that God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman, not between two men or two women. It is for this reason that the Church of England opposed our Government’s recent gay marriage legislation, and it’s why Anglican clergy like myself cannot legally perform gay marriage ceremonies. (It may be that there are some here this morning who disagree with the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality, or even struggle with same-sex attraction yourselves. If that’s you, can I encourage you to look at the new website called Living Out. Living Out has been designed to support and guide Christians who are challenged by this issue.)
- Thirdly, marriage is a public relationship – verse 24 reminds us that every marriage has implications for other people. Every marriage should be witnessed by wider society and supported by it. Above all, every marriage has an impact on the couple’s parents. Marriage means that the new husband and wife “leave” their parents and “unite” with one another. Of course this doesn’t mean that newlyweds should abandon and ignore their parents. But it does mean that from now on they should turn first to one another for emotional and practical support.
- Lastly, the ideal marriage is physical and it is permanent – That’s what verse 24 means when it says husband and wife “become one flesh”. In God’s mind, marriage is the only right and proper context for sexual intimacy. And marriage was meant to be a union so strong, so tight, that it is like husband and wife have one body, one flesh. A union so tight that it would last a lifetime. Divorce is sadly necessary in some situations, but is always a consequence of human weakness and sin - it was never part of God’s original plan for mankind. Every Christian couple should enter marriage with the ambition and intention that it is ‘until death us do part’!
After all that about marriage, I should say something about singleness. Singleness is certainly not a sin and it is good and right that many people remain single for all or part of their lives. Jesus himself was single, and the New Testament describes singleness, as well as marriage, as a two different gifts from God. The apostle Paul was single too, and he wrote that a single Christian faces fewer distractions from God, and can find it easier to serve and follow the Lord (see 1 Cor 7:32-34). So please, please don’t feel second-class if you are single. You are not! A former clergy colleague in Liverpool, Kate Wharton, has just written an excellent book for single Christians, called Single-Minded, which I would recommend.
- Christ and his Church - The perfect marriage!
As I finish, this morning, did you know that Adam and Eve’s is only the second most famous marriage in the Bible? Because the New Testament tells us that an even more important marriage is yet to come. It tells us that relationship between Adam and Eve, and every other husband and wife is merely a foretaste of the relationship between Christ and his Church. The wedding in Eden was just a shadow of the wedding that will take place in the world to come. The love that every good husband has for his wife is a reflection of the love that Jesus has for all his people.
In passages like as Ephesians chapter 5, the New Testament describes Christ as a groom and compares the church to a bride. Heaven will be like a wedding feast, the celebration of the marriage of Christ and his church, when the Lord and his people will be united forevermore. A perfect relationship without the stresses, strains and sadnesses that sometimes characterise married life today.
So if you are a Christian here this morning, whether married or single, remember that you are engaged to Christ. One day we will all have the perfect spouse. One day every Christian will celebrating their union with Jesus. One day we will all enjoy a wedding feast with our Saviour!