The Grace-Filled Marriage - Week Three:
Growth Principle Two:
Healthy Idealism, pt. 2
Genesis 1:26-28 and Selected Scriptures
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
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
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
• 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
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
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
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
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
• 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
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
• 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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
It's their spiritual friendship he loves. He respects her
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
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
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
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
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.