Tonight we’re looking at what the Bible teaches about the important subject of marriage and sex under the heading ‘Male and Female he created them’. And by way of introduction I want to look at some problems and principles.
There is huge confusion today about marriage and sex. That confusion is now beginning to be further reflected in the law of the land.
Tomorrow the Civil Partnerships Act comes into force across the whole of the UK. The Act gives legal recognition and rights to same sex ‘couples’ registering as civil partnerships. The government states that these civil partnerships are not legally marriages and that it has no intention of introducing ‘same sex marriage’. However the new legislation gives these partnerships almost exactly the same rights as married couples in terms of inheritance, pensions, adoption and so on. Stonewall, the gay pressure group, say it’s marriage in all but name. They say, “If it had been called marriage, the bill would never have made it through the Lords. What we have achieved is equal rights for gay people, just with a different name.” One of the first ‘couples’ to register their relationship as a civil partnership, popularly called a gay ‘wedding’ by the press, will be Elton John and his partner David Furnish on 21 December.
The Bishops of the Church of England have produced a very confused statement in response to this Act on the implications for the church, which blatantly contradicts God’s Word. For example, they do not say that such partnerships are incompatible with Holy Orders.
All this flies in the face of the clear teaching of the Bible on marriage and sex in Genesis 1&2 & Mark 10. Look at what Jesus says in v6-9 of Mark 10:
6"But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 7'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Jesus is quoting from Genesis 1:27&2:24. First of all Jesus states that sexual differences are part of God’s created order of things (v6). God made them male and female. Yes men and women have equal value. Genesis 1:27 says: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The image of God is fully reflected in the male man and the female woman together. But they are different. I trust you’ve noticed! And the differences are not just matters of human plumbing. No! Jesus says what was created originally was Adam and Eve, not, as David so often puts it, Adam and Steve or Eve and Evita. And (v8) sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, belongs within marriage exclusively. And what is marriage? Marriage is a creation ordinance (v6), a gift of God in creation, as the marriage service states, and is defined as a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between one man and one woman (v7) until death parts them (v9). And because all this is part of the created order then it is true for all, not just for believers. The only difference for believers is that we are only to marry other believers (1 Corinthians 7:39). These are the Maker’s instructions. It is what is right and good (Genesis 1:31) and what works.
So marriage, as Jesus defines it, is central to the stability and health of human society. The writer to the Hebrews (13:4) states that:
4Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
Yet today, marriage is not honoured by all and the marriage bed is not always kept pure, which leads to difficulties for the marriage and for any children involved. And there are other consequences for those who reject God’s ways. The second half of that verse from Hebrews says, “God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Look back in your Bibles at Mark 10. Jesus says in v5 that our “hearts are hard”. We are not as God intended. We do not want to go God’s way but our own way and that is true in relation to sex and relationships. Most couples now choose to live together before marriage, if they get married at all. Some people think that that will be a good preparation for marriage. Yet statistics show that, in fact, separation and marriage breakdown is more likely for those who lived together before getting wed. Overall there were 167,000 divorces granted in the UK last year. Britain has the most babies born outside wedlock in Europe and the highest rate in Britain is here in the North East. Over the past 10 years the proportion has risen from 12% to 41% across England and Wales. So almost half of the babies born in this country are born to unmarried parents. And with alcohol’s tendency to reduce people’s logical decision making, surely the new 24 - hour drinking laws will not help this trend or the increasing number of abortions – 185,000 in the UK last year.
Adults and children are not only suffering emotionally & spiritually but also physically. Last Thursday was World Aids Day. Rates of HIV infection are rising here in the North East among heterosexual men and women. Yet the official message on Tyneside and in Western Europe is ‘safer sex’, while in other parts of the world the successful message is ‘abstinence’ and ‘faithfulness’ in marriage. Earlier this year I spoke to the leading AIDS specialist in California and I told him about the predominant message in Western Europe. He could not believe it, when all the evidence points to the greater effectiveness of abstinence and faithfulness in marriage. And of course the same is true for other sexually transmitted diseases. Again here in the North East there has been a rise in the number of cases to over 23,000 in the past year. Contracting STD’s often leads to problems in conceiving children later. Teenagers are more vulnerable to infection. According to recent surveys the proportion of 15 year olds in the UK who have had sexual intercourse is 32%.
Now why do I say all this? Well not to be personally judgemental. The Bible says we all fall short of the glory of God. I know that I should not watch certain TV programmes, for example. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus said, “if anyone looks at a woman lustfully he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt 5:28) How many of us need to repent of that? In John 8, when the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, he said to them, if anyone of you is without sin, let him cast the first stone. They all went away. Neither did Jesus condemn her. But he did say to her, go and leave your life of sin! And we need to hear God’s message to each one of us, but also to positively teach the benefits of God’s right plan, especially if we’re Christian parents, medics, teachers, youth leaders, that we and others might not face the serious consequences of rebelling against him in this area of sexual sin. The situation in the UK is serious. Sin is serious as Mark 9:43 makes clear. Sexual sin is serious, as are greed and idolatry. The sin of adultery, for example, is so destructive. But Jesus wants people who have made mistakes, whether heterosexual or homosexual, to come to him in repentance and faith and know God’s forgiveness, freedom from guilt, rescue from God’s judgement and know the best and right way to live. He died for all. Yes the good news is that at the cross there is forgiveness for every sin, including sexual and marital sins. It’s a message we shouldn’t keep to ourselves.
And Jesus wants disciples who are living it out, living a life of holiness in the power of his name, as he states in v50 of Mark 9, taking this gospel message and his teaching on marriage and sex to others. Look back at that verse. Jesus says, “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness how can you make it salty again? Have salt [allegiance to Christ] in yourselves.” Some of the truth from the Bible on this area is hard, especially perhaps in the area of singleness, divorce and remarriage (allegiance to Christ does involve self denial) but we and others need to know the truth for “the truth will set you free”, says Jesus in John 8:32. So let’s now look in more detail at what Jesus does teach here in Mark 10 about marriage, sex and divorce. What is God’s design and why? How do we positively resist the prevailing sexualised culture, temptation and peer pressure? In today’s culture people are finding it hard to marry, so how do you get married? And I want to look at those things under two headings one positive and one negative, though even the negative one is negative for positive reasons: yes to sex within marriage & no to illicit sex and divorce. So first:
YES TO SEX WITHIN MARRIAGE
There was confusion over these matters in Jesus’ day too. Here in Mark 10 Jesus is teaching in the region of Perea, which is the area across the Jordan referred to in v1, that was ruled by Herod Antipas. Herod had taken his brother’s wife, Herodias, to be his while his brother was still alive, an act forbidden in Leviticus 18:16. In Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 14, we learn that John the Baptist had courageously told Herod that this was wrong. For doing so John lost his freedom and then his head. Being salty for Jesus can be costly. Some people didn’t like the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sex then, just as some don’t today. Here in Mark 10 Jesus backs John the Baptist’s stance.
There was also confusion among the Pharisees concerning divorce. Some, from the school of Rabbi Hillel, said you could divorce over almost anything. Others who followed Rabbi Shammai said it had to be over a serious issue such as adultery. Some Pharisees, perhaps belonging to both schools, came and tested Jesus on this issue. Look at v2 of Mark 10: They asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Maybe they thought they could get Jesus to incriminate himself by his answer and that Herod Antipas would come and arrest him too. But Jesus does not go into the details of Herod or of the two schools. Instead he goes back to fundamental principles about men and women, marriage and sex, before coming back to divorce and remarriage with his disciples in v10-12. Look at v3 - 9. Jesus replied:
“What did Moses command you?” They said [referring to Deuteronomy 24], ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 5"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. 6"But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 7'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Jesus focuses on sex and sexual relationships as God intended them. He gives a big yes here to sex within heterosexual monogamous marriage. He affirms that sex is good and was created by God for marriage. Look again at v6: “But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female.” He goes back to the first creation account, where as the high point of all creation, is the creation of Man in Gen 1:27:
“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Then in v31 of Genesis 1 we’re told, “all that God had made…was very good.” So sex, as God intended it and made it, is good. Indeed very good. It’s not dirty. It only becomes dirty when people defy God and abuse sex. Now look at v7-8 of Mark 10, where Jesus is quoting from Genesis 2:24:
7'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one.”
Look at the order here: leaving, uniting and then becoming one flesh. A personal commitment, a public statement and then sexual intercourse. Not the other way round. Jesus is saying that God has made the sexes so that it will be natural for a man to leave the parental home and be united with his wife. Leaving and uniting is not leaving home to go to university, having sex and moving in with someone. No, that leaving and uniting is getting married. The uniting is not having sex but rather the wedding. It is only after the uniting that the two, the man and the woman, will become one flesh. Sexual intercourse is to happen after the wedding, not before. Therefore there is to be no sex before marriage and therefore no cohabitation. But there is to be sex once you are married, within that marriage alone. Jesus and the Bible say so! Read the Song of Songs. Read it as a married couple. Sexual intercourse is not the only act in a loving marriage relationship but it is a fundamentally important one. It is unifying. Jesus says the two will become one flesh. It is an expression of love and intimacy of a united couple. Jesus says (v8), “So they are no longer two but one.” And the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 says that there should be no abstinence in marriage, apart from when both decide to set aside a special time for prayer instead. Look at v3-5 on the screen:
3The husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Marriage is an antidote to immorality. 1 Corinthians 7:2&9:
“…since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband…it is good to remain unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
1 Corinthians 7 also makes it plain that marriage is God’s gift. Not for all, for some will be given the gift of singleness from God (v7), but for the majority. Paul admits that most of the believers at Corinth will get married. He says that it is good to have the gift of singleness and remain unmarried, as he was, but most have the gift of marriage. And that is the biblical norm. The Bible implies that marriage is for the majority in this world. In heaven there is no marriage so we must not get this out of perspective, but can I (and please don’t take this the wrong way or think that I’m not valuing the importance of friendship) encourage the majority of you here tonight who have yet to be married, to marry, to marry a Christian and not to leave it too long. As my wife sometimes says, perhaps some of the men need to particularly hear this and act on this! She knows how slow I was! I’m not meaning to trivialise this in any way or cause hurt or even panic! Marriage is serious and must be entered into reverently, responsibly and after serious thought. There should also be some level of attraction by the way! In marriage husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. And wives are to respect their husbands and submit to them in the context of being loved as Christ loved. It’s not always easy but it is worth it. Some of you know that I take most of the weddings at JPC. Well I can tell you that most Saturdays are still free next year and the year after that! And can I also say that marriage is good. The Bible says so. Yes you have to work at the relationship but God’s gifts are good. And so, therefore, is singleness for those who have that gift from God. Singleness is not second best if it’s a gift from God. John Stott, the preacher and author of many helpful books, knows that to be true even though he’s also known struggles and loneliness. He believes he was called by God to be single and wrote this on the subject:
“It is possible for human sexual energy to be redirected both into affectionate relationships with friends of both sexes and into the loving service of others. Multitudes of Christian singles, both men and women, can testify to this. Alongside a natural loneliness, accompanied sometimes by acute pain, we can find joyful self – fulfilment in the self-giving service of God and other people.”
John has always been single. But singleness is not necessarily a gift for life. However marriage is. Jesus says so in v9 of Mark 10 and this important truth brings us to my final heading. So secondly:
NO TO ILLICIT SEX (sex outside of marriage) AND TO DIVORCE
Look at v9 of Mark 10:
“Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
When there’s a leaving, a uniting and a becoming one flesh, Jesus says God is doing something. He is joining the husband and wife together, whether they are Christians or not, for life, in a sexually exclusive relationship. So we are not to break that divine bond. Therefore, Jesus goes on to say in v10-12, divorce and remarriage are wrong. And remember that because marriage is a creation ordinance this applies to all married people, Christians or not. Look at what Jesus says in v10-12.
10When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."
Jesus is very clear. Just as he is in Luke 16:18 and just as Paul is in Romans 7 and 1 Corinthians 7:11-13 & 27. In Matthew 19 in the NIV translation there appears to be an exception in the case of adultery. But the word adultery is a mistranslation. Jesus says no to divorce and remarriage. Marriage is for better or worse. And I know from my own family history what the terrible long term consequences of divorce and remarriage are.
You see marriage is not simply a piece of paper. It’s not just another version of a private relationship. It is God given. Within marriage the couple are to work out a relationship. And the relationship can go up and down. But the marriage doesn’t. It is not something that goes up or down. Rather it is a status or a structure that God gives. The creation ordinance of lifelong marriage is the support and under girding given by God to help men and women work out their relationships. Marriage is given, as the marriage service states, that husband and wife may comfort and help one another, that they may know each other in love and that they might have children and bring them up in accordance with God’s will. And children, for those who are able to have them, are key in God’s intention for marriage. Why does God make the husband and wife one? Well, according to Malachi 2:15, the Lord made them one “because he was seeking godly offspring.” The low birth rate in Western Europe and among Christian people is a concern today. Getting married later can affect that godly purpose. Today there are a growing number of couples that choose not to have children at all. Interestingly here in Mark 10: 13-16 the disciples didn’t think children were important. But Jesus did. So, as God says in Genesis 1:28, we are to marry and know God’s blessing, to be fruitful and increase in number. Therefore let me close with this question. In the context of Mark 10, what’s the best thing a man can do for his children? The best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother and together bring them to Jesus. Let’s pray. I’m aware that the subject tonight is a sensitive one and many of us have failed in some way to follow God’s perfect way, but Christ has bought us forgiveness if we turn to him in repentance and faith, and he will help us by his Spirit, so that in his strength we can do his will to his glory. So in a moment of quiet let’s respond to God’s Word as we should.