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The Marriage Puzzle

The Puzzle of Your Roles

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 4, 2009

Selected highlights from this sermon

God clearly defined the roles of man and woman, masculinity and femininity, when Adam and Eve were created.

Adam was made from inorganic dust. Eve was fashioned from the organic material of Adam’s rib. God separated femininity out of masculinity.

Man is to be the provider, leader, and protector. Woman is to be the nurturer and helper. Together they are to mirror the image of God and represent the unity of the Trinity.

I begin today with a question: What is a woman and what is a man? What is masculinity and what is femininity? That’s the question we hope to solve in the next few moments, and solve them based on the Bible.

Many of you know that this is the third in a series of messages entitled The Marriage Puzzle, and it is a puzzle, isn’t it?

Some time ago (this summer) I asked if people would write down red flags that they missed during their dating years before they were married. What red flag did you overlook that became a problem later in the marriage? Some of you will know that in the first message in this series I delineated four red flags, and today I am going to give you one more. Here are two letters I received from women who married a mama’s boy.

“My husband could do nothing without asking his mother. She either came with us or he got permission from her to go anywhere. He was nearly 30 when we dated and I saw the writing on the wall. Well, during the honeymoon he was constantly checking with his mother about everything. We’ve been married 15 years and have a lot of grief in our marriage. We’ve had difficulty with my mother-in-law (Really?) in setting boundaries for her. He was in an enmeshing and controlling family and he failed to leave and cleave.” But notice this. She says, “It took the grace of God and counseling to overcome this obstacle in our marriage. Even today we have to deal with the weeds in the garden of our relationship, but we are facing them with a united front. We can see how gracious God was in protecting our marriage from divorce, and together we are learning to rejoice in God.”

So that’s a success story, but here’s another like it.

“We’ve been married for 17 years and are still struggling with the issue of boundaries and bitterness. For the first 12 years of our marriage my husband spent more time worrying about his mother’s feelings than mine. He was raised without a dad and no other siblings, but his mother seems to be his ex-wife to me, and although he has changed (we are now believers), I have a hard time trusting that he puts me first.”

Well, what do we have to say to mama’s boy? Before this message is over I’ll have some words for him.

What is a man? What is a woman? I think it is true that most women have a better idea of who they are than most men. Men don’t know who they are, and who they are supposed to be, and let me tell you why. First of all, I think it is because of the feminization of our culture. You know, we were told that if you give boys dolls they will play with dolls just like girls do because it’s all conditioning. So they gave boys dolls and discovered that they bent them in the shape of a gun (laughter) and then they began to realize that maybe there is a fundamental difference between boys and girls.

Now, of course, all of us would agree that women should have equal pay for equal work. We agree that they are equal in terms of value, and oftentimes superior in intelligence. We agree with that, but the feminist movement overreached, and by overreaching it confused in a very serious way the roles of men and women, and because of this, men don’t know who they are because they thought that all the roles are interchangeable, and they aren’t. Intrinsic to every man and every woman are certain dispositions as we shall see, and while they may do a number of different things, the fact is that femininity and masculinity lie at the heart of who we are as persons. But men today don’t know who they should be. If they hold back, they are wimps. If they give leadership, then they are insensitive. So who should they be?

Another reason for this is because pornography has deadened the desire of some men for romance. As a result, you find today that for men who have seen everything and perhaps done everything, the mystique is gone. But perhaps the most important reason is the break-up of the family. With the family broken up and so many homes without a father, boys grow up not knowing who they are, and not knowing how a father should act. They bond with their mothers. And girls grow up and they, of course, want to fall into the arms of the first boy who tells them that they are beautiful, because there is no dad there to affirm them and to give them the guidelines and to know where the boundaries are. Consequently, we are in trouble today in our families.

Now the result of all of this is that men (and this may also be true of women) first of all, are really hesitant to commit. I know that there are some women who feel as if young men today date young women, and they build friendships. The young woman makes a tremendous investment (maybe months and years) in the relationship, and then the guy just walks away as if nothing happened. And he is either unaware of how deeply he has hurt her, or else he doesn’t care, and so we live in a day of what we could call disposable relationships.

One young woman said to me, “We are like cars in a parking lot, and guys come along and they test drive this car, and then they test drive that car, but they aren’t interested in commitment. They are interested in a friendship that can be disposed of when it is convenient.” That’s one of the problems of our culture.

Yet another reason is that you find that a boy sometimes is trapped in a man’s body. The guy simply never grew up, and even though he should be an adult, he doesn’t act like one. Somehow his childhood got missed along the way, and of course, he gets married because he’s interested in sex, but he becomes very bored with that after a while and he is unwilling to do the hard work of having a good marriage. He has what we could call the Donald Trump Syndrome. One time I heard Donald Trump say when he was divorcing one wife to marry another woman, “You know, I work hard all day. I figure I shouldn’t have to come home and work on my marriage.” Well, sorry Donald, but if you don’t work on your marriage it isn’t going to be a good one. Rebecca and I actually know a woman who told us that her husband still played with toy boats in the bathtub. Some just have not grown up. (laughter) Yeah, that’s true.

Now in years gone by, it seems to me, men were men and women were women, and everyone knew where they fit. It seems to me that that’s the way it used to be, but it isn’t now. I think that Jesus was a real man. I think that when Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee and He saw these real men, who would become his disciples, fishing, He was able to speak to them in such a confident way that they were willing to put down their nets and follow Him. Today you can’t get some men to put down their remote and come to church. And by the way, do you know why it is that men love the remote control so much? It’s because to a man even remote control is better than none at all. (laughter)

Now the question is, what is a man and what is a woman? I’m going to take the definition of John Piper, and this is based on the Word of God and not on contemporary culture. John Piper says, “At the heart of a mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility (notice these words) to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s different relationships.” That’s at the heart of a mature man. It’s a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and to protect women. That’s the way in which God wired us.

Now, of course, there are many women who don’t know who they are either, and they don’t know who they are because they grew up in a culture where beauty was everything. Young girls who are now mothers grew up during the days when Madonna was popular so they have come through that phase. Of course, the contemporary girls are into Britney Spears or Paris Hilton, and some of these role models (if you can use that word), and as a result they grow up thinking that they had value only if they are pretty and beautiful, and the result is all kinds of insecurities, and all kinds of marital problems.

Rebecca and I know of two instances where wives (mothers) have left their children behind. Now this is even contrary to natural desire and natural affection. They’ve left their children and they have gone out to seek other men because they constantly need the approval of other men. They have an insatiable desire because they don’t know who they are either, and what a mess, and what a world in which we live, and the media certainly is partially responsible.

Let me give you a definition of femininity. This also is John Piper’s definition: “At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s different relationships.” The key words there are affirm, receive and nurture strength, and so that is part of her DNA, or part of her hard wiring.

Now this summer when I asked people to write to me and to tell me the red flags that they missed, I received this note scribbled on the back of an envelope and I want to read it to you because you can understand that marriage sometimes represents the perfect storm, doesn’t it? You’ve got all of these insecurities and all of these misconceptions on one side and all of the expectations and misconceptions on the other side, and then you put them together and they are supposed to live happily ever after. This is what an anonymous person with a lot of insight wrote.

He said, “Love is blind by design. Why else would you marry this person who is completely different, with different parents, a completely different DNA, with radically different expectations, and with radically different life experiences? Why would you do this for marital bliss?” He says, “You only do it because love is blind or,” he says, “is all of this possibly a total setup by the sovereign hand of an all-wise God? Perhaps this very one we have married is chosen by God himself, chosen because this is the person through whom he would chasten, scourge and humble us, as a means to conform us to the very image of Christ so that we would come forth as gold.”

I think he was onto something. Don’t you agree with that? Remember this, that in marriage you have the vanity of a woman, you have the ego of a man, and surgery is done on both without anesthetic. (laughter) There you are under 24-hour surveillance with all of your faults and all of your insecurities and with nowhere to hide. It’s just you, and what an experience it is.

Well, I think at this point, it’s time for us to turn to the Scriptures and to see who God says we are, and to confirm our understanding of femininity and masculinity. And the passage of Scripture is the second chapter of the book of Genesis—Genesis 2—the creation account. What you need to do is to go back to the original manual.

Have you ever tried to put a bicycle together? I think I tried that one time and I discovered I couldn’t do it. I thought, “Well, all the pieces are there. You just somehow know that this piece fits there, and this one goes there,” and then you discover it’s so complicated that maybe I should look at the manual. The Bible is God’s manual. If we want to know how it is to be put all together, and how the pieces should fit, it’s all here.

First of all, in this account I want you to notice how God did it. Let’s look at the creation, the materials themselves. Genesis 2:7 says, “Then the Lord God formed the man of the dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

God just went and made a mud man, and then he breathed life into him. Ladies, don’t you think you expect too much from us, considering our origin? (laughter) We are made from mud, but that’s not true of women. It is very interesting what the Bible says. Verse 18 says, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’” That’s amazing. He’s in paradise with everything he could possibly want and God said it was not good for him to be alone. Adam had desires that nothing else could possibly fulfill, and then Scripture says, “So out of the ground the Lord God 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. (Well, that’s interesting. I thought that God was making a helpmeet for him.) And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the bird of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” None of the animals could satisfy the desires of Adam’s heart.

“So,” the Bible says, “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.”

Now, man was made from inorganic material—mud, but the woman is made out of organic material because she’s going to be the mother of all living. Notice though that what God did is he separated femininity out of masculinity, and he took and made the woman out of the man and then he implanted within them a strong unrelenting desire to come back to one another and to be intimately related and connected, and that also lies at the heart of all femininity and masculinity. And so the Lord God said right from the creation that woman was to come out of the man, and that she would be the mother of all living.

Let’s look at the way in which God did it. You’ll notice in verse 7 it says that the Lord God took man and he fashioned him, or made him from the dust of the ground, and God just made this man and breathed life into him. Actually in Hebrew there is a different word when it comes to woman. This is not reflected in our translation that we have but many of the translations translate it more accurately when they say that from the rib the Lord God fashioned a woman. He made man but he fashioned a woman, and I think the whole idea there is that a woman, being fashioned, is a work of art. I mean, we as men are just kind of thrown together and given life. Women are beautiful and symmetrical. The Lord God made Eve that way. No wonder the Bible says, “Adam said, ‘Oh at last, bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.’” I’m sure he said some other things, too, as God brought her to him.

Now let’s look at the details in terms of the roles that the men and the women should have. What are some of the roles as indicated here? There are different ways that you can look at these but first of all, man is to be the provider. You’ll notice that it says in verse 15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” And notice that work began before the fall. It is good to work. Work is not the product of sin entering into the world. Already then God made us to work, and man was to keep the garden and to till it and the Lord God commanded the man saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but there’s one tree that you should not eat from.” So man had the responsibility of making sure that there would be food to eat. He was to be the provider.

On the other side, the woman was to be the nurturer. She was to nurture life, and you can see this in femininity and masculinity, can’t you? Somehow the heart of a woman, if she has children, is with those children all the time. She will think about the needs of her children, the needs of her grandchildren, well above her own needs. She will do this because God has put that into her heart. She will always have a sensitive spirit, and not only for human beings but also for animals. You notice this, don’t you? There are stories that could be told. You know, a man runs over a squirrel and the squirrel is gasping his last breath, and the wife wants to stop and see whether or not they can do something for it—maybe take it to the E.R. or something like that. That’s part of femininity and masculinity.

The man is to be the provider. He’s also supposed to be a leader. Now this is indicated throughout the Scriptures. We don’t have time to go into the New Testament where this is even more clearly laid out, but Adam was created first, and in being created first he had the opportunity of naming the animals over which he was to have control. You’ll notice that God said, “Adam, you are in charge of nature and you can control nature. If you can name them, you can control them.” So Adam had that responsibility as a leader.

She is to be a helper—a helpmeet for him. Now many people have looked at this and they have forgotten that this is in no way speaking against or belittling the role of a woman. When it says that she is to be a helper, the same Hebrew word is used for God. God is our helper and the woman is to be the helper of the man, and so she has this responsibility, and as we indicated, she will strengthen and nurture and encourage and receive that which is appropriate from the man. She is to be the helper.

He is also supposed to be the protector. That is, the man is to protect the woman, and this becomes clear in the New Testament as well. As a matter of fact, the Bible says we have a responsibility to our wives, and that will be looked at more specifically in another message in this series, but notice in Genesis 3 where the fall occurred that here is Adam having the responsibility of protecting his wife and he doesn’t. Passive Adam! Where did the passivity of men begin? It began even before the fall. Look at what the text says. Genesis 3:6 says, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

Adam, what in the world are you doing there, standing right next to your wife, knowing that God gave a command that this tree was not to be eaten? It was forbidden, and you stood there and you watched it happen. I think that maybe the first sin wasn’t Eve eating the fruit. It was Adam standing there, letting her do it without telling her that this should not be done in accordance with God’s command.

So Adam is to be the leader. He’s always going to struggle with leadership. She is going to be the companion, and of course, after the fall especially, things are set up for some strife where God is speaking. He speaks to Eve and says, “I will multiply pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” Conflict is built into that verse in the third chapter.

She is also a woman of beauty, as I mentioned. Man has strength and she has beauty. Now I need to say that not only are women beautiful, but they also desire to create beauty. A woman doesn’t simply move into a house. She weaves her way into that house. All of the knick-knacks have to be in place because she is a lover of beauty. As a result of this you also have a major difference. Men are something like a submarine in an ocean, floating around looking for trouble (laughter), and if there is no trouble they create some. Women have sonar. They pick up all kinds of signals that are totally imperceptible to men. Men just don’t get it. A woman will say to her husband, “You know, that guy you work for? There’s something about him that troubles me.” He says, “Well, what is it?” She says, “Well, I don’t know what it is. It’s just that it’s there and he bothers me.” And then nine out of ten times a year later you realize that she was absolutely right. We as men need it said to us, we need it written down with the key words underlined, before we understand something. We don’t pick up on anything. No, I’m sorry! We don’t notice that there is a different picture on the wall than there was when we left in the morning. (laughter) And if she has a new hairdo, commend us for recognizing that, but please don’t ask us to contrast it to the way it was before she went to the beauty parlor. Don’t ask us those questions. We just don’t get it and they think that because we don’t get it, we don’t care. No, I’m sorry, we just don’t get it.

You know, those of you who are not married, you have to understand how things can go badly in just a moment of time in a marriage relationship. Things can be sailing along very smoothly and then in a few moments it can all come unraveled. In a book on marriage I read the story of a man who was coming home for his tenth wedding anniversary. He stopped to buy a beautiful card with a very beautiful message. He took time to write something very beautiful in it. His wife is anticipating a wonderful evening and she has a meal planned. He is anticipating a wonderful evening. He is so proud of himself when he walks through the door and hands her the card that he has just purchased with all these wonderful things on it, and everything is just sweet. She looks at it and she notices it is not an anniversary card. It is a birthday card. (laughter) They end up having their anniversary dinner in separate rooms.

I’m sorry, ladies. I heard an Amen back there. I don’t know who that was. (more laughter) What are the implications of all of this? How does this all translate?

Number one, please keep in mind that together man and woman are to mirror the image of God, and to represent the Trinity. This is a larger discussion that we can’t get into, but notice in Genesis 1:26 it says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, and our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping think that creeps on the earth.’” Adam is to rule and Eve is to rule with him as a co-ruler. God created her in the image of God and he created Adam in the image of God, and when they are brought together they represent the image of God in a unique way.

Now if you are here and you are single, of course you are created in the image of God. Of course you can represent the image of God, but there is uniqueness to the marriage relationship where a man and woman are brought together. They are equal but different with different roles and different responsibilities and they are brought together with a sense of harmony and with a unity that is actually found in the Trinity. Perhaps later I’ll explain that to you in another message.

Second, please notice (and now it’s time for mama’s boy to look into the text) Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast (the older translations say cleave) to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” When it talks about leaving it speaks to the man. Why? It’s because if a man is strong and knows what he wants in life, his wife is going to follow him. The bigger problem may be a man’s relationship to his father and his mother rather than his wife’s relationship to them, though that can become a problem too. It is time for the mama’s boy, who I told you about at the beginning of this message, to sit down with his mother and draw some boundaries, and say, “Mother, I love you. Thank you for raising me.” (And remember the bonding took place because she probably needed her boy just as much as he needed her because she didn’t have a husband.) He needs to sit down and say, “These are the boundaries. Here are the rules.”

Men, if you don’t have clear boundaries regarding your relatives and your in-laws and your parents, your wife will never believe that you really treasure her in your heart, and if a wife feels that she is not treasured, she will be unfulfilled.

Key words in this passage are you leave father and mother, you cleave, and then you become. And that’s what God is asking us to do in our marriages, and we can’t do this on our own, can we? This is why God has called us to himself. God wants us to understand that ultimately as we come together, He uses it as a means to show us our sinfulness. Remember that marriage is something like holding up a mirror and seeing yourself for what you are in all of your sinfulness and all of your need.

And then finally, please keep in mind that the whole purpose of marriage is to represent the relationship of Jesus Christ and the Church. Many people read Ephesians 5 and say to themselves, “You know, Paul was looking for a good analogy of Jesus Christ and the Church, so what he did was he looked around and said ‘You know, I think marriage is a great example of it.’” No, that’s not it at all. The whole purpose of marriage is so that God might have an illustration of the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church—Jesus Christ, having died for us and giving Himself for us.

I know that this is tough news. It’s tough news for me and it is tough news for you as a married man, but we are to be Jesus Christ to our wives, and our wives are to be the Church to us, and the implications of that are unbelievable and awesome.

You say, “Well, I am married to a man and he has no interest in Jesus Christ or religion and all of that.” God still holds him responsible for that because that’s what the imagery is really all about. And remember this, that when we sin Jesus doesn’t sin in return. When we feel that our mate sins against us, this is not a time for us to sin against our mate. It is a time for us to step back and to ask God what patience, love, understanding, and forgiveness He is teaching us as a result of this relationship, despite our disappointment or despite our pain.

In a few moments we are going to remember what Jesus Christ did for us, and the blood that was shed and the body that was broken on our behalf. And that’s what marriage is all about. It’s about giving ourselves to others—to someone else, and they giving themselves to us selflessly, caring about one another and representing the Gospel to a very, very broken world.

If you are here today and you’ve never taken advantage of what Jesus Christ has done for us, remember this. He died on the cross to purchase the Church, and if you trust Christ, you can be a part of that, and your marriage hopefully will represent that glorious relationship.

Let’s pray.

Father, we do ask in the name of Jesus that You might help us to understand our mates, to have a Biblical point of view, and above all, to represent You in a broken world. Bless the thoughts that we have given, and particularly for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior, may they believe and be saved. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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