January 31, 2016

A Higher Purpose

I have a little quiz for you this morning.  I hope you studied.  There’s just one question, though, so you don’t need to get too worked up over it.  Are you ready?  What is this thing in my hand?  It’s a hammer.  Here’s a bonus question for extra credit: What is a hammer?  I know it’s tempting to say something like, “It’s a tool used for driving nails into wood,” but that is not the correct answer.  No bonus points for you if you were thinking something along those lines.  That tells me what a hammer is for.  I asked what a hammer is.  Two different things there.  Had you stopped after the word “tool,” you would have been more correct.  Had you wanted to be more specific you could have said something like, “A hammer is a tool, often made of shaped steel, with a round, flat peen opposite a divided claw located at the end of a shaft which is often covered by an easy-grip material to serve as a handle.”  That’s what a hammer is.  But, because our brains are wired for purpose and meaning we often define things according to their intended purpose.

Well, last week I gave you a definition of something that stopped at identity and promised that when we gathered again this week we would talk about its purpose.  That thing was, of course, marriage, and I’ll be honest: as I was working on giving form to the definition I gave you last week I had to stop myself several times from defining it according to its purpose.  Several times I started writing something like, “Marriage is a God-designed relationship for…” and then had to stop because I was getting into this week’s topic.  I suspect too that some of you felt the definition we settled on last week wasn’t totally complete because it didn’t say anything about purpose.  I mean, to know that marriage is a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman established by God in creation is good, but as with simply knowing what a hammer is there’s a big part of us that naturally stretches forward to know what marriage is for.  So God designed this incredible relationship at the tail end of creation…why?  This morning we’re going to try and tackle that question.

This morning we are in the second part of our series, I Do.  The whole idea for this series is that while many of us have said, “I do,” at some point in our lives, not as many have done that and then known what to do.  Now, that doesn’t mean we all just wander around in the dark for most of our marriages, although some people do.  No, most of us figure out a system that works at least pretty well and get by on it.  The problem, though, is that while “pretty well” may carry us through for quite a while, if “pretty well” doesn’t get us to the heart of what marriage is for then we run a great risk of missing that.  And if we miss what marriage is for, then while we may be accomplishing a lot of things being married people—having and raising kids, serving in our communities, working jobs, and so on, we’ll necessarily be missing out on and the centerpiece of why we’re doing what we’re doing.  And if you miss that…what’s the point?  You’ll either end up in a relationship that isn’t serving either of you well; out of a relationship that didn’t need to end, it just needed to be used properly; or else in a kind of copycat relationship (for example, living together and acting like you’re married even though you’re not) that’s not nearly as good as the real thing and ends up hurting you by driving a wedge between you and God which always ends up being a wedge between you and other people because whenever we take a good thing God has given us, distort it, and don’t use it according to its purpose we come out the losers.

Think about it like this: Say you go out and buy a hammer.  But, you never use the hammer for driving nails.  Instead, in those early days when you’re really excited about the hammer and you’re trying to have it with you everywhere you go, you discover that if you beat on a piece of wood long enough with it you can break it in half.  What’s more, you discover that it will break big rocks into little pieces too.  And, if you hold it at just the right angle, the claw on the back can drive a flathead screw into something.  You have a multi-functional tool on your hands!  It’s a good thing, too, since you’re getting ready to build an addition onto your house and you don’t have a screwdriver or a saw or access to any kind of fill gravel.  But that’s okay because your hammer will take care of all those things.  But as you start working you quickly discover that it takes a lot longer to get some of the individual steps of raising up this new addition accomplished, that after several smaller projects the hammer is not in very good shape anymore, and that you’re getting pretty tired of the whole thing too.  And then just before you throw it away in disgust a wise friend comes over and asks a simple question: If you weren’t going to use it for what it was made for, why did you buy it in the first place?  But, since you have it, what makes more sense?  To throw it away and start over?  Or to fix it and learn to use it as it was always meant to be used?  After all, which would you rather come out with: a lesson you may or may not apply to the next hammer you buy or a product that’s doing for you what it was designed to do?

So then, what’s marriage for?  Well, that’s a big question.  It’s a big question with a lot of potential answers.  Some folks argue that one of the central purposes of marriage is procreation—having kids.  After all, the stable home headed by a biological mother and father is by far and away the best environment for the raising of children who are emotionally, relationally, physically, mentally, financially, spiritually, socially, and other adverbs you want to add to that list healthy.  (By the way, that’s not just me thumping on you with the Bible, there’s a mountain of sociological research to back that up.)  But, not all couples have kids.  And while the reasons for that are many, to place procreation at the center of what marriage is for means there are not a few couples for whom that experience is out of reach.

Other folks will argue that marriage is mostly about personal fulfillment.  This makes it something that all couples can reach, but if you think much about it, personal fulfillment seems to be too small a goal for marriage.  For example, my best friend in the world is Jason Pinder.  We’ve been best friends nearly since birth.  If I really needed him he would be on a plane tomorrow to get here regardless of the cost.  I’d do the same for him.  My goodness, we both married girls named Lisa, both Lisas have business degrees, both Lisas work part time while mothering fulltime, we’re both active in our respective churches, and we both have three boys under the age of 8!  As far as relationships go, mine with Jason is incredibly fulfilling…but it’s not a marriage.

So again, then, what is marriage for?  Grab a nearby copy of the Scriptures and find your way to Ephesians 5 we can answer this question together.  Starting in v. 22 Paul writes some of the most important words about marriage ever written.  In our culture today they are also some of the hardest ever written.  We’ll come back in a couple of weeks to deal with the culturally hard part, but for this morning I want to draw your attention to an idea that’s slightly more implicit when you first read it.  I’ll start reading at v. 22, but we’ll get closer to the heart of things about v. 25.

Listen to this: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”  Still with me?  Pay close attention to this next part.  “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife love himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”  Let’s stop there.

Now, the stuff there about wives submitting to their husbands is hard to understand, but really important, so we’ll come back to that in a couple of weeks.  But when Paul turns and starts talking to husbands, where does he go when describing the kind of love we should have for our wives?  He compares it with Christ’s love for the church.  And, according to Paul here, what does Christ’s love for the church do?  It cleanses her.  It makes her beautiful.  It enables her to stand before Him in perfect, spotless splendor.  In other words, it draws her to Him to become fully who He designed her to be.

Stay with me here.  A husband’s love for his wife should result in her becoming more fully who Jesus designed her to be.  To put that another way, a husband’s love for his wife should result in her becoming more like Jesus.  And, because of the principle of mutual submission which, again, we will talk about in a couple of weeks, a wife’s love for her husband ought to do the same.  So what we have here is that according to Paul, marriage is a relationship in which each partner should be drawn—moved if necessary—closer to Jesus.  It points them to Jesus.

Come a little further now.  If someone is successfully moved in the direction of Jesus, what happens?  They become better people, sure, but beyond them, more people are drawn in the same direction.  When you take a light and plug it in in a dark room where people are gathered they will naturally gravitate toward it.  When you take a person and plug her into Christ such that His light shines through her and then put her in a dark place in the world where people are gathered they will be drawn to her; or perhaps when you take a person shining dimly with the light of Christ and turn up the wattage so he shines even brighter people will be drawn to Him.  And the great likelihood is that from there they’ll plug into Christ.

In other words, while we can say a lot of things about the purposes of marriage, from what Paul describes here the most central purpose of marriage is to point people to Jesus.  The purpose of marriage is to point people to Jesus.  That’s what marriage is for.  Marriage is a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman established by God in creation.  Marriage is for the purpose of pointing people to Jesus.  The purpose of marriage is to point people to Jesus.

In light of that, then, let me offer you a challenge and some encouragement.  The challenge is this: If your marriage is not resulting in you moving intentionally in the direction of Jesus you’re not doing it right.  Now, that could be your fault.  It could be his or her fault.  More probably there’s enough blame to go around.  Where the problem is with you, you can fix that.  Commit to connecting yourself more fully to Jesus and let His light shine more brightly through you.  This will alter the way you view and behave toward other people most especially your spouse.  If it’s them…well, you can’t fix them.  You can encourage them and work to move them toward Jesus by your example (which sometimes works), but you can’t force them there.  And sometimes—especially in situations when a believer is married to an unbeliever—the unbeliever walks away and as painful as that is you can’t do anything about it.  Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 and makes clear that this does not indicate a failure on the part of the believer.

But, if you are both followers of Jesus and in this situation where everything is not fully as it should be here’s the challenge: You’ve lost the central purpose of marriage.  The purpose of marriage is to point people to Jesus starting with the husband and the wife and you’re not doing that.  Begin taking the steps you need to in order to begin moving each other in the direction of Jesus.  And very first step is to get yourself moving in the direction of Jesus again.  You need to be ruthlessly intentional about seeking your Lord each and every day.  You need to spend time in His word…every day.  You need to spend time in prayer learning to love and follow your Lord more fully.  You need to spend regular time fellowshipping with other Jesus followers especially those who can give you encouragement and accountability.  You need to be intentional about pursuing the spiritual disciplines (silence, giving, serving, praying, studying, celebrating, fasting, and so on) to create a climate of constant spiritual growth in your life.  And then you need to take all that you gain from this process and direct it toward your spouse in order to move him or her in the direction of Jesus.

Here then is the encouragement: When you do this—and you can do this—and when he or she does this—in fact make a commitment to each other to do it together and hold each other accountable—you will gradually find yourselves enjoying the marriage relationship you always wanted.  You will so find yourselves because the purpose of marriage is to point people to Jesus and you’ll be doing that.  You’ll be doing it for each other which is the first goal, and then, when other people see what you have they’ll want the same thing.  They’ll want the same thing and they’ll move in the direction of Jesus in order to get it.  Your kids will see it and they’ll move in the direction of Jesus in order to get it.  Come on, come on: imagine if we as a church developed the reputation of being the place, not where everybody has a perfect marriage because no such place exists, but where couples can come and be equipped to experience a revival in their marriages.  Imagine if every married couple here grasped the central purpose of marriage and put that into practice.  We would move not only ourselves, but our whole community in the direction of Jesus.  Think about it: how many married couples in this community are struggling right now.  I’d wager the number is pretty high.  What if they heard about this local place where couple can go, experience no judgment of their issues, and come out stronger than when they went in?  We’d have to bar the doors to keep them out!  Imagine if we had such a healthy marriage culture here that single people started coming because they knew they would receiving the training—both explicitly and observationally—they needed to have a great marriage when their time came.  Imagine if even single people for whom marriage was not in the cards for one reason or another flocked here because our deep grasp of the central purpose of marriage resulted in their experiencing a more fulfilling relationship with Jesus as a single person.

These are the kinds of things God made marriage for.  This is the central purpose of marriage put into action.  The purpose of marriage is to point people to Jesus.  If we grasp that and practice that these are the kinds of things that can happen.  And if you’ll come back next week and then for the next couple after that we’ll talk more specifically about some of the things we can do to see that it does.