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The Grace-Filled Marriage - Week Three: Growth Principle Two:
Healthy Idealism, pt. 2

Genesis 1:26-28 and Selected Scriptures

Rod MacIlvaine


This is week three in our series called the Grace-Filled Marriage and this week we are continuing with growth-principle number two, which is healthy idealism.

Now, I've begun this series with a premise: I believe that couples need to hold two contradictory things in tension as they grow their relationship. First, they need to remember that marriage is fallen. Marriage was tarnished by sin the moment Adam and Eve rebelled against God. And in its fallen state, marriage will often be difficult. It will expose your sin, and it will bring you pain.

Every married person in this room knows the feelings of pain that come when marriage founders on the shoals of some sharp disagreement that can't be resolved.

On the other hand, couples need to remember that marriage still retains astounding levels of dignity and honor. Because God created the institution of marriage, he still uses it for the welfare and happiness of the human race.

I'm sure that every married person in this room also knows the joy that comes when their marriage is doing really well. There's nothing like marriage when it's infused with passion and unity.

But for a marriage to flourish you need to hold both sides in tension: the good and the bad, the pain and the pleasure, the depravity and the dignity.

Now last week I began to speak about the four biblical ideals of marriage. The first thing we talked about was dignity. Marriage is a place where you can experience the dignity that flows from being made in the image of God. Then we talked about ministry. Marriage is a place where you can have an eternal impact as you bring children into the world and they become fully devoted followers of Christ.

Now, this week, I want to talk about the last two ideals: intimacy and harmony.

When I think about intimacy and harmony I think about the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As most of you know, Lord of the Rings took eleven Oscars on Academy Awards night. Only two other movies in history share that distinction: Ben Hur and Titanic. But the logistics of doing this movie were near impossible. I'm told director Jackson faced huge obstacles in making the films.

Here's what he had to do. He had to coordinate over 25,000 actors, art directors, sound technicians, casting directors, costume makers and so on. He transformed this group into a harmonious unit intent on one single vision: bringing Tolkein's story to life. He filmed all three of these episodes at the same time…a feat of epic complexity…almost as tough as taking the ring to Mt. Doom.

But the result was incredible. The harmonious efforts of 25,000 people produced a movie where you experienced a sense of intimacy with the two main characters: Frodo and Sam. I mean, couldn't you identify with their struggle? Didn't you feel you knew them inside and out…knew their personalities…their weaknesses? And then when they succeeded in defeating evil you felt that triumph as if it were your own. It was an extraordinary movie.

In art harmony often produces an intimate effect. And a good marriage is a whole lot like good art. You take common raw materials…not very attractive…not very striking, shape them according to God's vision, in his power, and the result is a marriage like a work of art.

So this morning, I want to look at the final two ideals of marriage: harmony and intimacy. Let's look first at intimacy.

1. IDEAL # 3 IS INTIMACY - God designed your marriage as a place for intimacy at a very deep level.

A. This ideal comes from two verses in the Bible: Genesis 2:24 and Ephesians 5:31.

Let's look first at Genesis 2:24. This is the classic statement on how God designed marriage to work. Moses says, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh."

Now this verse is foundational to marriage, and both Jesus and Paul quote it. But Paul adds a new twist. After quoting Genesis 2:24, he says, "This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church."

So that raises a question: How does Christ relate to the church? Answer: there is a mystical spiritual union. The body of Christ is an organism composed of every believer who has ever lived, and there is a mystical spiritual union between Christ and the church.

When I say mystical spiritual union, I mean that our union with Christ is something that we cannot fully understand. We know some things about it, but we don't understand everything. Here's what we do know.

• Christ is the head of the church, and we're the body. Just like the brain in your head has authority to direct your physical body, Jesus directs and leads you on a spiritual level.

• Another picture: Jesus is the vine, and you're the branches. Just like branches derive their life from the vine, so you derive your life from Christ - in a spiritual sense.

• Another picture: Jesus is the shepherd; you are the sheep. Just like shepherds gently lead their sheep, Jesus gently guides you.

• And a final picture: Jesus is the groom; you are the bride. Just like a bride is filled with love on her wedding day…God's passion is that you would be filled with love for him.

So there is a mystical spiritual union between Christ and his church. Jesus is up in heaven, but he's also in our hearts, filling us with his life.

B. Now, based upon Paul's statement in Ephesians 5:31 - that marriage is like Christ and the church - I believe God creates an unseen spiritual union on the day of your wedding.

Sometimes you hear people say, "Look, what's the big deal about marriage; it's only a piece of paper." Not true! Marriage is way more than a piece of paper.

Let me illustrate it this way. Abigail and Brittany Hensel are a remarkable set of Siamese twins. Below the waist these twins are like any child; they have one set of organs. They can run, walk, ride a bike and swim. But above the waist, they have two sets of organs and heads that sit side by side on fairly broad shoulders.

Abigail's brain controls the left arm and left leg, and Brittany's brain controls the right arm and right leg. And you'd think that with two different command centers coordination would be all but impossible. Yet they play baseball, basketball and several other sports with remarkable dexterity.

Are Brittany and Abigail one person or are they two people? Of course they are two people, but they share a one-flesh relationship. And they are amazingly coordinated, even though Brittany can't communicate with Abigail's side and vice-versa.

So there is a mystical spiritual union between them. When Life Magazine did a feature article on the twins the title read, "One Body, Two Souls."

Now, what would happen if doctors tried to separate Brittany and Abigail? It couldn't happen. One or both of them would die. Moreover, these girls love each other. On a Discover Channel special I saw this amazing picture of Brittany and Abigail giving each other a hug and praying with each other before bed.

God intended marriage to be so close it's like a one-flesh union. Now this is a huge blessing: Because of its closeness, marriage will fill your soul like no other relationship. It will bring delight like no other friendship. In fact, like it or not, your marriage will play a huge role in forming your very identity as an adult.

But here's the problem. Like all of God's gifts, the greater the gift, the greater the pain when the gift is misused. But because marriage is such a close union, estrangement, separation and divorce are going to be all the more painful. It will be like the ripping apart and tearing of flesh. That's why God says, "I hate divorce." It tears people apart.

Now, once you get married that mystical union is a reality in God's sight, but since most newlyweds don't understand all the dynamics of the union yet, they don't fully appreciate it.

How does a couple start enjoying their one-flesh union as a gift from God? Let's go back to the three-fold process in Genesis 2:24.

C. Intimacy requires a three-fold process of leaving, cleaving and becoming one flesh.

LEAVING COMES FIRST. To enjoy intimacy, your mate must become the primary emotional center of your life under God, not parents, not friends, not kids, not your ex-spouse…but your mate…exclusively!

Some of thorniest marital problems I've seen in counseling have come because the husband wanted his wife to be like his mom, or the wife wanted her husband to be like her father. Or, sometimes in second marriages the couple is so focused on not being like the ex-spouse, the ex continues to wield emotional control. Not good!

In a healthy marriage all those former emotional ties have got to become radically secondary, so that your spouse becomes the emotional center under God.

And this is not easy. The Hebrew word for leave is a very strong word. It means to abandon or forsake. The tense of the verb leave is imperfect, meaning this is not something you do just one time, on your wedding day. It's something you do on a regular basis, even a daily basis.

But let me clarify what leaving does not mean:

• It doesn't mean that you can't live with your parents for a time. This was common practice in Hebrew culture. When a couple married, the wife left her parent's house and came to live with her husband. Almost without exception the husband lived with his parents, either in their house or in an addition he himself had prepared.

• Nor does this mean that you cannot accept financial help from parents. In Hebrew culture the parents often helped the new couple get established financially.

• So the issue of leaving has nothing to do with living near parents or accepting help from parents. The issue is this: which relationship is radically primary? Parents or spouse? Friends or spouse? Ex or spouse?

It doesn't matter whether you've been married for four days or forty years, you've got to have a drastic change in perspective so that all other relationships are now radically secondary.

If you have any extended family member trying to squeeze into your marriage, and manipulate it, and change it, and shape it, you've got to confront this in love. It violates a fundamental biblical command of God.

NOW THE NEXT STEP IN MARITAL INTIMACY IS CLEAVING. We don't use the English word cleave very much any more, but I'm using it here because that's the word that we typically use in wedding ceremonies. The Hebrew word we translate "cleave" means to cling or to stick very closely to something else.

About eight years ago there was an unbelievable storm just after Christmas day in Australia. At the time, sailors from all over the world were competing in a very grueling race from Sidney to Hobart. When the boats were about six hours into the race, the storm of the century sent gale force winds and waves slamming into the fleet.

All through the night, massive Sky-King rescue choppers cut through the rain to rescue sailors whose ships had capsized. When the cable was lowered to the sailors, and they were hauled into the air, what do you suppose their attitude was toward that line? The clung to that line for dear life! They clung to that line as if their very existence depended on it. This is the meaning of the Hebrew word cleave. It means to stick together no matter what.

But this word has a deeper meaning. In the Bible the word "cleave" denotes a covenantal commitment. Marriage is a covenant. This word cling speaks to the fact that married couples are united to each other with a powerful legal bond in the sight of God.

But look again at this word. The tense suggests that we need to walk worthy of this relationship every day. This verb is in the perfect form, meaning that cleaving, like leaving, must be an habitual activity. I like to think about it this way: a covenant relationship should motivate covenant fellowship. We ought to go the extra mile to protect fellowship with our spouse.

But what does it mean in practice?

To cleave means you turn toward each other instead of against each other as a regular marital discipline. What do I mean by this?

• Turning toward your spouse means you skillfully engage her with gracious communication.

• Turning toward your spouse means you skillfully serve him with deeds of kindness.

• In other words you're investing in the marriage with tangible acts of love.

This is a discipline that you've got to work at because it's very easy for negativity to set in. Here's how negativity works: something your mate does bothers you. Rather that passing over the irritation you let it rub you raw. Just like it's hard to hike when you have a blister, it's hard to relate to your spouse, because you're always conscious of your irritation. Negativity has set in.

And the problem with negativity is that it snowballs. Negativity in one area, say finances, leads to negativity in another area of your marriage, like communication. One friend of mine who is a counselor talks about an "absorbing state of negativity", where your marriage feels mostly negative rather than positive.

Now when negativity sets in, how do you think you're going to relate to your spouse? Are you going to turn toward her…or against her? If you're like most people, you're going to turn against her. You won't talk. You won't serve. You won't find joy in her presence. You'll withdraw. And now your relationship is shriveling to disconnection and boredom. You're making massive withdraws on your emotional bank account.

On the other hand, you can turn toward each other. When your mate speaks, you respond with interest. When your mate expresses a preference, you respond with respect. When your mate seems excited about something you allow yourself to get excited with him. And as you turn toward your mate you, you are making serious deposits into her emotional bank account.

One of the ways couples turn toward each other is through the five to one rule. I'll talk more about this later on in our series on marriage, but the five to one rule says this. For every negative statement you make to your spouse, you need five positive ones to offset it.

So let me set up a hypothetical scenario for you. You've been exceedingly frustrated with a behavior on the part of your spouse. You express this frustration and it produces defensiveness. There is an icy silence. How many positive comments will it take for your spouse to feel positive emotional regard for you? Five!

Now I need to shoot straight with you. Some of you are way overdrawn on the bank account. You're giving five negative comments for every positive one, and that's a bad trend. According to marriage researchers at both the University of Denver and the University of Washington one of the surest predictors of marital unhappiness comes when this 5-1 ratio is violated.

"Well," you say, "I'm just a more negative person." Or, you say, "I'm just not very effusive with my praise. I'll give praise, but only when performance merits it." I've got news for you: that's a cop out…rooted in pride. You have a moral duty, demanded by your covenant relationship, to observe godly patterns of communication. And this one is pretty simple: find five positive things for every negative.

And look at the result.

GENESIS 2:24 SAYS ,"AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH." When you faithfully leave and cleave you will enjoy that mystical one-flesh union God formed on your wedding day. Now don't get me wrong. The one-flesh union is a reality the moment you get married. But as you continue to leave and cleave you'll increasingly delight in the one-flesh joy God intended.

Let me clarify this. The term one-flesh is not merely a reference to sexual union. It certainly includes that, but it includes so much more. It refers to the full range of soul, spirit and body oneness that takes place in within the context of marriage.

In today's sex-crazed world, the media gives you the impression that great sex the be-all and end-all of adult intimate relationships. It's no wonder that so many couples report experiencing so much sexual dysfunction. One clinician recently reported that as many as 40% of men, and even more women, report significant sexual frustrations within the past twelve months of their relationship. The bedroom has become pressurized by expectations of the world. Even happily married couples are wondering if they're measuring up to the world's standards of sexual performance.

The biblical ideal is so different. If you are moving toward oneness at the soul level and at the spiritual level, then the sexual intimacy does not become a pressurized part of the relationship. Rather, it's the leisurely luxurious celebration of the unconditional love that you share.

Now I hope you get the point. This third ideal is all about intimacy. On your wedding day God forms a mystical spiritual union that is like Christ and the church. But to enjoy that intimacy you must submit to the regular marital disciplines of leaving and cleaving.

And that leads us to the fourth ideal of marriage. So far we've looked at dignity, ministry and intimacy.

2. IDEAL # 4 IS HARMONY - God designed marriage as a place for harmony. Song of Solomon 4:9-11; Proverbs 31:10-31

A. When you look at Old Testament wisdom literature - Proverbs and the Song of Solomon - you discover an amazing principle.

The marriage relationship was designed to begin with romance and mature into friendship. It begins with these exquisite feelings of infatuation, but it matures into feelings of deep companionship.

Now, that's not to say there won't be periodic times of romance through the years. There will! Especially if you keep on making deposits into that emotional bank account. But the driving focus of the relationship as it matures is not romance but friendship.

Some couples get to this place in their relationship and they plunge into distress, thinking, "The romance is gone. I haven't felt those feelings of infatuation for years."

So they think, "There must be something wrong with our marriage!" And sometimes this hyper-expectation for romance gets so strong it makes a marriage partner vulnerable to an affair. But it's a simple fact of life that romantic feelings don't stick around for long.

And the way that you get them back seems counter intuitive.

You don't get romantic feelings back by forcing them. They don't magically return by going to expensive restaurants and fancy cruises. And they don't necessarily come back by giving and receiving expensive jewelry.

(I know some of you would debate that, but most of you know that romance gained by an expensive purchase, is very short lived.)

Feelings of romance do come back by working on the friendship aspect of your relationship, day in and day out, especially in the grind of life, especially when you are serving each other. When your friendship is strong and growing stronger, you'll be surprised by romance. It will sneak up at totally unexpected times. This is because romance thrives in an atmosphere of safety.

B. Now let me show you how this works in both Proverbs and the Song of Solomon.

THE SONG OF SOLOMON IS AN AMAZING DESCRIPTION OF THE JOYS AND CHALLENGES OF MARRIED LOVE. The first half of the Song is a poetic description of romantic love that led up to a wonderful wedding and an even more perfect wedding night.

The second half of the book describes some of the ups and downs of early-married life. But all through the book, both Solomon and his wife give us pictures of the romantic love that characterized their early relationship.

FOR INSTANCE LISTEN TO THE BRIDE'S DEPICTION OF LOVE IN CHAPTER 1 VERSE 14. She says, "A pouch of myrrh is my beloved to me which lies all night between my breasts." Now, what's that all about??

In the ancient world people placed their most valuable possessions in pouches that hung around their necks. This bride has some very expensive perfume around her neck - the most expensive in the world: myrrh.

But the myrrh isn't literal perfume; it's figurative. It represents romantic love for her fiancée. The fragrance of his presence is so pleasant she thinks about him all the time and smiles with pleasure. Notice where the perfume is located - next to her heart and between the symbols of her sexual affection: her breasts. This is a profound expression of romance coupled with physical desire.

Notice the next phrase: "My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of En-Gedi." En-Gedi is a desert oasis in the wilderness near the Dead Sea. The entire region surrounding En-Gedi is brown, dry, hot and monotonous.

But when you come to the oasis everything changes. En-Gedi is lush and green. It's fed by waterfalls that produce refreshing mists. Shrubs and flowers abound. Animals graze. But of all the flowers that bloom in En-Gedi, the henna blossom is the most beautiful of all.

The bride is saying to her fiancée, "You are an oasis of refreshment to me. When I'm away from you I see the world in black and white. But when I'm with you I see the world in color; and you are the delight of my life." These are the words of a woman deeply in love.

NOW WE TURN TO SOLOMON'S DEPICTION OF ROMANTIC LOVE. When Solomon wants to describe his romantic attraction to his bride he describes it like the buzz you might get when you've had several glasses of wine.

Now I hate to be blunt about it, but that's exactly what Solomon means in chapter 4 verse 10: "How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride. How much better is your love than wine." In the Old Testament poetic books, wine is a symbol of intense joy. Solomon is saying he has become intoxicated with her love.

God designed marriage to begin with wonderful feelings of romantic love coupled with physical desire. But that's not all there is to marriage. God also designed marriage to mature into deep friendship.

SO WHERE DO YOU GO IN THE BIBLE FOR A PICTURE OF MATURE LOVE IN THE LATTER STAGES OF MARRIAGE? THE BEST PLACE IS PROVERBS 31. In that chapter King Lemuel paints a picture of a woman in middle age. She has many children. Her extended family surrounds her. And she has a place of prominence in the community because of faithful service to God and family.

WHAT KIND OF LOVE DOES SHE HAVE WITH HER HUSBAND? PROVERBS 31 DOESN'T DESCRIBE THE GIDDY ROMANCE OF THE SONG OF SOLOMON. IT DESCRIBES FRIENDSHIP! Look at 31:10: "She does him good and not evil all the days of her life." This woman is extremely disciplined to reject negativity and pursue harmony - every day. That's a profound expression of married friendship.

THEN VERSE 38 DESCRIBES HIS FRIENDSHIP TOWARD HER. "Her children rise up and bless her. Her husband also, and he praises her saying, "Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all. Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised."

Unlike the lovers in Song of Solomon, her physical beauty is not the focus of his love. But, don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean she's not beautiful. The Proverbs 31 woman goes out of her way to preserve her beauty. Rather, the husband's praise goes deeper.

It's their spiritual friendship he loves. He respects her godliness.

And note the order of his family's praise. Even though his children bless mom first, the Hebrew construction of Proverbs 31:38 makes it clear the husband has led his children to bless their mother. But then he goes beyond blessing, and he praises her. He says that among all women in the world, she is chief in his affections. His greatest delight is that she is a woman who fears the Lord. This is a powerful statement of married friendship.

So…when we go from Song of Solomon to Proverbs 31, we see a vitally important principle: God designed married love to begin with romance, and mature into deep friendship, with flashes of romance along the way.

C. Do you know that there is also a biochemical explanation for this?

Researchers have discovered several biochemical components that seem to produce feelings of romance. When a couple begins a relationship, the brain secretes a hormone called phenyl*ethyl*amine. That hormone is responsible for the euphoric states we experience when falling in love. Some researchers have said it seems to have the same effect on the brain as cocaine.

But the brain doesn't continue to secrete phenyl*ethyl*amine for the duration of your relationship…like, you know, till death do you part. It would be nice if the brain did this, but it doesn't.

Phenyl*ethyl*amine eventually subsides and is replaced by periodic doses of another hormone called oxytocin. That's the hormone that makes us feel bonded to someone else. Oxytocin is not quite as intense as phenyl*ethyl*amine, but it's still deeply satisfying.

The biblical pattern predicts the biochemical explanation. God designed romance to mature into friendship.

Now if that's the case, let me tell you the greatest thing you can do for your marriage. When feelings hit a low point, don't be overly concerned about getting your romance back. Cultivate your friendship. If week-in and week-out your friendship flourishes, there will be seasons of romance that bring delight to your soul.


Let me come to a close: When you think about your marriage, you need to accept a certain tension. You start with healthy realism. But if that's all you've got that's kind of depressing. You also need healthy idealism. You need goals that energize you and give you hope for the future. And the Bible gives four. Marriage is about dignity, ministry, intimacy and harmony.

Now, I have an assignment for you.

I would like you to take out the half-sheet in your update. And I would like for you to do something. I'd like for you to write down your five best date ideas. Now don't do this as husband and wife. Do this separately. Write down your five best date ideas…things that you can do either here in Bartlesville or down in Tulsa. And then place them in the baskets on the way out.

We're going to compile these and hand them out in several weeks.

But then on the way home - or sometime today - I'd like for you ask you spouse, "What were your five best ideas?" And then do one of them this week. Cultivate your friendship.

I'll give you some time to write then I'll close in prayer.

Let's pray.

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