The Garden Couple

Every generation has their own celebrity couples that have dominated the newspaper and talk show headlines. Ricky and Lucy, John and Jackie, Burt and Lonnie, Brad and Jennifer, Brad and Angelina, Ross and Rachel, June and Ward, Jay-Z and Beyonce, and Matt and Laura Chandler, who are the Jay-Z and Beyonce of evangelical Christianity. Whether we like it or not, real-life celebrity and fictional TV couples help to form a society’s view on love and marriage. Ward and June Cleaver helped to shape to the view of marriage in post-war America, while Ross and Rachel and their friends helped to re-shape marriage and commitment at the end of the 20th century on into the 21st. We absorb many of the thoughts and philosophies of the dominant culture, often without even realizing it. Our culture can create blinders in our lives.

            America’s view of marriage and commitment and sexuality has dramatically shifted in the last 50 years. In a recent article in Christianity Today, Maureen Garcia writes on the benefits of boudoir photography for Christian women who struggle with beauty. In the articles she writes,

Given our current cultural context, in which many women feel pressure to attain an impossible beauty ideal, I love the idea of women pursuing boudoir shoots to embrace their bodies and overcome hang-ups with their own sexuality. But does the trend end up playing into our societal idolization of sex appeal and beauty? Is this a way for a woman to objectify… herself?[1]

Garcia asks the right question, but sadly comes, I believe, to the wrong conclusion. In promoting such practices, Garcia may show how much she has been absorbed into normalizing our cultural ideals of sex and beauty. And as one of my friends commented after posting the article online, “I want my friends to know that some of its (CT) articles have lots of ‘Today’ and not so much ‘Christianity.’”

            Can you imagine Jesus or the Apostle Paul recommending a boudoir photo shoot to overcome shame or to recover one’s sexual identity? Our views of marriage and sexuality do not change with the times. We may not advocate baring all before the camera, but we cannot deny that our culture influences us. And because we will be influenced by our culture, it is imperative that we understand marriage and sexuality from a biblical perspective. We want to make sure that we have less “Today” and more “Christianity.” There is no better place to start than the beginning with the first couple in the Garden. We are going to look at three specific aspects of this couple that should give us solid footing to avoid slipping into the current of our ever-changing culture.

The Complementary Couple

            Adam and Eve were created perfectly to complement one another. The word “complement” is defined as something that completes or makes perfect. We read the shocking statement from the Lord God in Genesis 2:18, “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” It is not good that man should be alone. In God’s good creation it would have been a jarring statement to the reader that something was not good. It wasn’t that man was not good, but he was not good alone. God made man and placed him in the garden to rule and work the land. In order for man to finish his job to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth, he was going to need help. And God announces that He will make a helper fit for him.

Genesis 2:18-25 are extremely important verses for the Christian worldview. We need to pay special attention to these verses, for Jesus and Paul use them as anchors in their teaching.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. (Genesis 2:18-20)

First, God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens out of the ground. The clear reading of the text does not give the picture that man and animal evolved from a single creature over millions of years into various different species, but were created out of the ground by the LORD God on one day. Let us not be embarrassed by the Bible, but take God at his Word.

            There is a reason why God formed every beast and bird out of the ground and brought him to Adam. Remember the purpose of the narrative is to explain how God would make a helper suitable for Adam. God is bringing every animal before Adam so that he could name them. I believe there are two primary reasons that God gives Adam the responsibility to name the animals. First, he names the animals because he is responsible for them. In Hebrew culture, when someone gives a name they take responsibility to that person. We can see how God takes responsibility for people by naming or renaming them: Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, and giving the name to John and Jesus through direct revelation from angelic messages. God wanted to reinforce his commands by giving Adam naming rights, so his role of dominion over the animals of the Garden would be clear.

            The second reason that God wants Adam to name the animals is to show how all the animals are not suitable for him. Genesis 2:20, “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” There were no animals that complemented or completed Adam. Animals are incredible. I love watching horses gallop in an open field. I am amazed at the beauty and power of the big cats like lions and tigers. I long for the day to see an elk and moose up close. I love how my dog follows me around and sits at my feet in my house. Animals are incredible, but they are not like man. Adam may have been amazed with the diversity, beauty and size of all the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, but they were not like him.

It is interesting that many of the “gods” of other religions are pictured as animals, but our God creates man in His image. Man and woman are unique and distinct from all the other creatures on the planet. Be wary of those who try to picture man more like animals. Adam, with a mind untainted by the fall, did not see a helper fit for him. After God made his point, He made woman,

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen. 2:21-23)

God shows great care in making the woman as much as He did when he made man. Man and woman were of the same kind for Adam exclaimed, “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” There was a uniqueness in the woman. Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

            Man and woman are created equal. They both were created in God’s image. They both were formed directly by the Lord. They were both created to rule and exercise dominion. They both had a perfect relationship with the Lord. The Bible repeatedly highlights woman as co-equals with men. This is not a shocking statement in our society, but in the ancient world (and even in some cultures today), women were degraded as being less than a man. There is no place in biblical Christianity to view women as less than a man. They both are equal in the eyes of God. And although men and women were created equal, they are not the same. There is a uniqueness to their roles.

            Christianity is broken down to two large streams to understand the dynamic relationship between men and women. Egalitarianism states that men and women were created equal in substance and in role. Egalitarian sees no difference in the function of men and women. Complementarianism states that men and women were created equal in substance, but for different roles. Both sides would agree that Genesis 2 teaches equality, but would differ in the interpretation of man and woman’s roles. Egalitarians have a good motivation in pushing for equality of roles, but in so doing they drift from how the New Testament interprets Genesis 2.

Paul uses Genesis 2 as the foundation of his argument that man and woman are created equal, but possess different roles. Paul writes to a young pastor on how the church ought to behave in the household of God. He writes to young Timothy,

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. (1 Timothy 2:12-13)

The role of leadership in the church in teaching and authority is given to the man, not because man is superior, but rather because God created man to lead. God gave man authority in creation by creating him first. So how we set up our church leadership structure is a sign of our trust in God’s creation order. Paul grounds his argument in creation, therefore so should we. And Paul does the same thing in explaining the equality and difference of men and women in the home.

            Paul writes in Ephesians and in 1 Corinthians about how God created man to be the head of his wife. Ephesians 5:22-23,

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of wife even as Christ is the of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

And again in 1 Corinthians 11:3,

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God…For man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. (1 Corinthians 11:3;7-9)

How men and women interact points to the reality and the wisdom of our Creator. There are many things that could be said, but I simply want to point out that Paul interpreted Genesis 2:20-23 with a complementarian perspective. Paul does not denigrate women, but trusts God’s Word that the best way to honor women is to encourage the creation roles in the Garden.

            Let us not trust the ideas of “today” more than those of historic “Christianity.” Men and women were created equal and for different roles. They were created to complement one another. We have to think wisely on the application of complementarian ideals, because how we interact in the home and the church displays something of God’s good creation. Let us not forsake God’s Word by reading the Bible through the lenses of our own culture. And at the same time, let us not go too far to lower women below men. We need each other to work out the principles of God’s Word together in how we do life in the church and the home. Do not be embarrassed by the Word.

The Cornerstone Couple

            Adam and Eve were created to complement one another, but they were also created as the cornerstone building block of society. Marriage and the family is the foundation of all societies. Strong marriages create strong families and strong families create strong societies. I believe Genesis 2:24 is the greatest verse on marriage in the entire Bible. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Man and woman are called to leave their families and hold fast to one another: leave and cleave. This is the first place I take all couples during pre-marital counseling and it is first verse I begin with when I counsel marriages that are struggling. The principles in the verse are foundational for all marriages.

First, a man shall leave his father and mother. This does not mean a man must leave the area or even the home of his family. Many Israelites stayed in close proximity and in many cases the same home as their family of origin. When one leaves their family, they trade their main allegiance. The main allegiance for a husband is now his wife and the main allegiance for a wife is now her husband. There have been many marriages that have struggled because one or both spouse care more about the opinions of their parents than their spouse. There is a myriad of applications to this first. When you are considering a big promotion that will cause you to relocate, is your first call your mother or your wife? When your child is struggling with being bullied at school do you first go to your father or your husband? How do you decide on where to spend the holidays or who to vacation with or what neighborhood to live in or the size of your home? Do you expect your husband to be like your father? Or your wife like your mother? We are called to leave our father and mother as our main priority so we can start a new family. Marriages are full of questions and they should be worked out with a husband and a wife. This does not mean we do not work to honor our parents and listen to their advice, but we have to be very careful to keep relationships in their proper place.

Secondly, we are called to hold fast to one another. Hold fast means to cling to one another. The language of leaving and cleaving indicate a covenant. The husband and the wife are publicly committing themselves to one another. This means that marriage should be a lifelong commitment. Jesus references this verse in Matthew 19 when he was asked about divorce by the Pharisees,

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:3-6 ESV)

What God has joined together, let not man separate. The foundation of a healthy society, including the society of the church, is to have marriages that are committed to each other for a lifetime.

            The reason this is so important is the last part of Genesis 2:24 which Jesus mentions in Matthew 19:6 that the man and woman have become one flesh. They are no longer two, but one. They have been united together. The one flesh union is specifically speaking the complementary sexual union between a man and woman. They were created to fit together. This verse is very clear that true marriage almost be between a man and a woman. The physical one flesh union is created by God to bind couples together. Physical intimacy in marriage is the act of uniting and reuniting couples together. The physical union of a man and woman in marriage is like the church coming together as one in the Lord’s Table. God has given the church the Supper so that we could have communion with one another and with God. And before we come to the table, we should deal with the various things that are causing disunity and division in the body. The same is true for intimacy. Couples that are not engaging in physical intimacy usually are experiencing emotional or relational disunity. The desire for the “one-flesh” union is given to marriage so that couples will address the specific issues that are causing conflict. It is difficult for a husband and a wife to be one flesh physically if they are not one flesh emotionally and spiritually.

            One of the greatest principles in marriage is the “one-flesh” principle. God wants couples to be one flesh. The world wants couples to be divided and separated. Therefore, we have to analyze the things in our life on the “one-flesh” principle. Does this activity create oneness or division? Are these friends or this job or our schedule driving us towards each other or away from each other? God wants us to be one so he has given us in our physical bodies a reminder of our one-flesh union.

And our one flesh union speaks of an even greater reality than just a healthy and happy marriage. Paul writes,

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)

Marriage is a gospel track. The love of a husband to his wife models the love that God has for us in Christ. The love of a wife to her husband models the love and respect the church has for Christ. Marriage is a gospel track that declares the reality of gospel to the world.

            Marriage has been under attack since the Fall. Human sexuality has seemed to have gone off the rails. Russell Moore writes on how human sexuality speaks to a far greater reality than we realize,

The Apostle Paul tells us precisely why: because human sexuality points to a grander cosmic mystery that has now been revealed in these last days of human history. Paul reveals the church at Ephesus that the “mystery” of God is now being revealed in the “summing up of all things” under the lordship of the Man from Nazareth (Eph. 1:9-10). He reveals that the “mystery” of the ages is further revealed to the cosmic powers through the calling together of a Body for this Messiah–a Jew/Gentile church (Eph. 3:10). And then Paul makes a stunning claim. He points to the male/female one-flesh union of Genesis and argues that human sexuality is patterned after the archetype of this mystery-the one-flesh union of Christ and his church (Eph.h 5:32) …. This is why sexual revolutions always turn out so boring…This is why pornography is so numbing to the soul. It is because in the search for sexual excitement men and women are not really looking for biochemical sensations or the responses of nerve endings. And, in fact, they are not ultimately even looking for each other.

They are searching desperately, not for mere sex, but for that to which sex points–something they know exists but they just can’t identify. They are looking to be part of an all-encompassing cosmic mystery. They are looking for a love that is stronger than death. They can’t articulate it, and they would be horrified to know it, but, behind all their sexual frenzy, they are looking for a glorious Messiah, Jesus, and his glorious bride, the church. And that’s why you will never find an image naked enough to satisfy what you’re looking for.[2]

Our sexual desires communicate something far greater than we realize.

God wants us to be satisfied in our marriages because it points the world to Christ. Friends, we all have baggage. We all have made mistakes in our marriages. We hear a message on marriage and sexuality and many of us feel loaded down with guilt and regret. We are reminded of all our failures with our sexuality. So let me close this sermon by looking at this garden couple lack of shame and remind us of the One who has come to take our shame.

The Clothes-less Couple

            Genesis 2:25, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Adam and Eve were naked and without shame. They were not aware shame because they did have the knowledge of good and evil yet by eating the fruit of the tree. They were without clothes and without shame. Nakedness was a sign of shame among Israel. It would have difficult to comprehend a time when man and woman were naked and without shame. They knew shame and we know shame. And Lord knows what we have done. He knows our shame. Listen to Jesus speaking the church of Laodicea,

‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. (Revelation 3:15-18)

Jesus invites us to come to him. He invites us to turn from our sin, to repent, so that we may be rich with white garments. Jesus desires to clothe us with his righteous robes to cover our nakedness. How could Jesus cover us? Revelation 7:9,

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Salvation belongs to the Lamb. The Lamb who was slain to take away the sin of the world.

            Jesus was slain to take our nakedness. Jesus was slain, but he was raised to sit on the throne. Salvation belongs to the Lamb that was slain.

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:13-14)

Are you filled with shame? Have you been burdened with guilt because of past sin? Friend, we all need a covering. We all need to be washed. God sent forth the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ so that all who are naked and ashamed could be washed in the blood of the Lamb. Do not continue to live in the shame of your nakedness. Come to the Lamb. God knew that Adam and Eve would need a covering. He knew that we would need a covering. He offers to cover you with righteous white robes of Christ purchased with his blood, will you let him? Come and be naked no more.

 

[1] http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2016/february/healing-in-front-of-camera.html?start=3 accessed 2.13.16

[2] https://www.russellmoore.com/2015/10/14/playboy-is-too-boring-to-succeed/ accessed 2.14.2016