Jesus Christ–The Spiritual Model for Marriage
About the Guest
What is the goal of marriage? Find out when pastor James Ford tells how to have a marriage that goes the distance.
James FordPastor James Ford Jr. has been the senior pastor of Christ Bible Church of Chicago, located on the south side of Chicago, Ill., for nearly 30 years. He also serves as the president of Impact Ministries, an outreach ministry committed to strengthening families in the South Shore community of Chicago.
What is the goal of marriage?
Jesus Christ–The Spiritual Model for Marriage
Bob: If you're experiencing challenges in your marriage…Do you know where to go? What to do? Pastor James Ford knows right where to point you.
James: You know I spent all night putting this bicycle together. And I had a piece left over. The thing wouldn't work. My wife said to me, "You know what? Did you read the instructions?" And of course, it turned out to be a very vital piece. I got the instructions. I broke it all down. Put it back together. By that time, the children were getting up. I had been up all night, when all I needed to do was read the manual.
And that's the way it is in our marriages. You always take it back to the manufacturer. And they know how to best repair whatever it is, because they made it. And so God instituted marriage, and we need to go to Him. When we implement it so that we work the Word, the Word will work for us.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, August 27th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey. And I'm Bob Lepine. Today, Pastor James Ford joins us to point us back to the Book, so that we can have the kind of marriage God intended for us to have.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. How many folks getting married today, do you think "get it"? I mean, if you had to put a number to it. The number of folks who are getting married this year, who have any idea of the transcendent, divine purpose for which marriage exists. You think it's 20 percent?
Dennis: Oh, no. I don't think so.
Bob: You think it's more than that?
Dennis: No, less.
Bob: Less than that?
Dennis: Oh, yeah. I...well let's ask our Pastor.
Dennis: We have a pastor here from Chicago. James Ford joins us again on FamilyLife Today. What do you think, James?
James: I think the number is low. I've never looked at the percentages, but just from the counseling and the failed marriages that I see, I'd say somewhere maybe around 15%.
Bob: Now, I would guess that the number of marriages that go through premarital counseling with you, that "get it" is probably a 100%, or they don't get married...right?
James: Well, they go through eight months of counseling.
Bob: Eight months of counseling?
James: Yes, yes. Eight months. So you know you have to come eight months in advance.
Dennis: Your church is definitely not a “marriage mill,” is it?
Bob: So if I come to you, and we're a young couple, and we say, "We're engaged, and we're planning to get married in the next three months." What do you say?
James: It can't happen. Not with me. And our assembly knows that. Everybody knows if you're going to get married, you ought to come to the pastor at least a year in advance.
Dennis: And the reason why?
James: Because we have premarital counseling.
Dennis: But the reason you have that, is?
James: Because so many people jump into the marriage relationship, and they don’t know what they are doing. So I usually say to them, "What is the goal of marriage?" They don't know. Oneness.
"What are the pillars that support marriage?" They don't know. "What are the purposes of marriage?" They don't know. You know, the old adage, "He who aims at nothing, hits it every time." So you're going in, you spend all that time on the wedding day, preparing for it, and you haven't spent any time on preparing for the marriage.
And, so no, I refuse to do it. And it was based on experience. A couple came to me when I was a young pastor. They had known each other about four months, and they wanted to get married because they wanted their anniversary date to be on her birthday. I knew the Holy Spirit was telling me, "Don't do this." And I did it. They were the first couple I married. And their marriage didn't last a year. I said, "I cannot be a party to this kind of thing."
Bob: So if couples are going through the premarital that you are putting them through, how many of those marriages...are these marriages going the distance?
James: Some of them are. Some of them never make it because I share with them, "If after this counseling, I determine that you will not make it, I will not marry you." So I've had only three couples that I did not marry.
Bob: Where you said, "I'm not going to do the ceremony on this one." Because of what?
James: Because as they went through the counseling, it was easy, as far I was concerned, to see that they would not make it in a marriage relationship.
Bob: What are you looking for to determine whether they'll make it or not?
James: I'm looking for the implementation of the principles that govern marriage.
Bob: So somebody who's going through premarital at your church, I bet they're going to have to read, The Seven Purposes for Marriage, aren't they?
James: That's right.
Bob: Seven Reasons Why God Created Marriage.
James: That's right. That's right.
Dennis: Yes, and one of the things I wanted to ask you, is you tell the story in the book about one Christmas Eve where you're caught having to put together a bicycle. And you're looking at the instruction manual. Now tell the truth, is a lot of this instruction you’re giving these pre-married come from that Christmas Eve experience you had?
James: (laughter) A whole lot of it.
Dennis: Share that story with our listeners.
James: Well, you know, I spent all night putting this bicycle together. And, first of all, my wife had said, "Pay the $20 and let them put it together." To which I replied, "I can do it myself, and I can save the $20."
James: So I worked all night, and I had a piece left over. And the thing wouldn't work. And my wife said to me, "You know what? Did you read the instructions?" To which I replied, "No, I didn't need to read the instructions on how to put it together. They've got an extra piece in here. I don't know why they put it in here." And of course, it turned out to be a very vital piece. I got the instructions. I broke it all down. Put it back together. By that time, the children were all getting up. I had been up all night, when all I needed to do was read the manual. And that's the way it is in our marriages.
It's like, God is the manufacturer. So you always take it back to the manufacturer. And they know how to best repair whatever it is because they made it. I tell husbands, especially, all the time that in the spiritual; I am a wife to Jesus Christ, because I am a part of the Bride...the Church. And in the natural, I am a husband to Leslie Ann Ford.
So if I am a failure in the natural, as the husband to Leslie Ann Ford, it's only because I've been a failure in the spiritual as a wife to Jesus Christ. So my focus needs to be on being the best wife in the spiritual, for Jesus Christ, and submit myself to Him. And everything that He does to me in the spiritual, I step off in the natural. And by His power, I do that to Leslie Ann Ford.
Bob: That's a great picture. One of the purposes you talk about in your book for marriage is for the proper operation of what you call "a heavy duty power tool." You know what I'm talking about, don't you?
Bob: And, that purpose for marriage—that "heavy duty power tool"—has been dragged outside of marriage, and has left folks damaged in the process.
James: It really has. Because God has used sex in marriage, as the "velcro" of the soul. And it bonds us together. My mother, before she went home to be with the Lord, asked me, "What's the difference between your love for her, and your love for me?" I said, "Well, Mom, it is that God has given us a union that's very special and we are able to express ourself in a sexual relationship. And that's something we would never do." And she said, "Of course."
I was looking at the etymology of the word "responsibility," and here's what I found. It's Roman in origin, and that the bridegroom was called, a "sponsis," and the bride was called "sponsa." And whenever they came together in the marriage relationship, it was called, "responsibility." So the etymology of the word "responsibility" means to be able to be responsible as if you were sexually pure in marriage. So then if you look at Hebrews 13:4, it says that "the marriage bed is undefiled.” And the word "undefiled" really speaks of an offering that's fit for the Lord. And so I tell people, all the time, then God sees sex in marriage as an act of worship. So you can say to your wife, "Let's worship."
Dennis: You also believe, in terms of protecting the marriage bed, that sexual purity and fidelity between husband and wife is of utmost importance.
James: Oh, I'll tell you fidelity in a relationship is because marriage is a covenant. And it's a covenant of blood. God's ideal is, "one man, one woman" And the hymen is broken, the blood is shed. The covenant is sealed. And so God then has made, as I understand Scripture, the marriage sealed. It’s commenced with a vow. It's consummated with the sex act. And so then God has made that sacred. It is sacred.
Bob: As you look at the culture today in all aspects of the culture, there are people who are sexually active with no shame, prior to marriage. And then there are folks who have broken their marriage vows, and have been sexually active inside of marriage. In fact, you've already shared with us, early in your marriage, before you came to Christ, that was the direction you were headed. To open things up. How do we recapture our cultural thinking on God's purpose for sex in marriage?
James: Well, I think we have to go back to the Book. Warren Wiersby says this way, "When we open the Bible, God opens His mouth. When we close the Bible, God closes His mouth." If we would learn the principles that God has established, and the parameters, that He set...it's like fire in a fireplace. It's controlled. But fire on the curtains is a problem.
James: And so we need to understand why God has given it to us. He's given it to us for recreation, for procreation, and for communication. And if we understand that, then we understand that in our marriage relationship that God has given us something that strengthens our marriage. And when we go outside of it, we deteriorate it very quickly.
Bob: And you wind up, as a pastor, having to talk to a lot of husbands and wives who have wrecked havoc on their marriage because they've violated that.
James: Yes. Most definitely.
Dennis: You see that occurring in the church? I mean among single people, as well as marrieds, almost equally?
James: Ah, yes.
Dennis: There really isn't a great protection taking place today of those marital vows and the covenant you're speaking of. What do we need to do within the Christian community to raise, I believe, the standard and protect fidelity in marriage?
James: Well, I think first of all, we need to get back to teaching the tennants of the Bible. We need to begin to expose people to abstinence, and to fidelity. And let that be something that we're teaching on an ongoing basis. And begin to do the things that are going to strengthen you in your purity.
Bob: You start your book by talking about how marriage provides a picture of the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—in the Trinity. You also talk about another picture that marriage provides. And it's really what Paul addresses in Ephesians 5, the classic passage on marriage, in the New Testament. Explain that picture for us.
James: Well, if you notice, he starts off with a spiritual model and he ends with a spiritual model. So he sandwiches all the principles so that we'll know that it's spiritual, not social. And of course, the great picture that he gives us in Ephesians of Christ and the Church. It is that our marriage ought to be a reflection of the relationship that Jesus Christ has with the Church.
Now if you'll look at the Eastern motif of marriage, it can be easily seen. Because what happens is this. In what's called the Mofar, the bridegroom and the father come together to agree on the bride price. And once that price is determined, they don't consummate the marriage at that particular point in time. They come together and they share a common cup. And so they have a Ketubah, which is a marriage contract. But, it's not consummated, it's commenced. That's why Joseph could have given Mary a bill of divorcement because betrothal in their culture was different from our engagement.
But at the end of the Mofar, then what would happen is she would stay with her father. He (the bridegroom) would go and leave her after that common cup, and go to his father's house. This would be called the Kiddushin. And in the Kiddushin what would happen is he would prepare a place for her, in his father's house, and she would be with her father. And then at the end of that, he would come to the edge of the village. He wouldn't come all the way to her house. He'd come to the middle of the village. There would be a trumpet player with him, and blow the trumpet—probably Miles Davis or somebody like that.
James: …and blow the trumpet, and the villagers would be flocking behind him. And it will always be at night. And they would have their lamps trimmed. She would hear the trumpet. The bridegroom comes. She grabs her bags, meets him, and then they would go to his father's house for the final segment of the marriage, which is called the huppah. It would be a seven-day party and at the end of the seven days, they would go into a room that had been specially prepared for them.
The wedding guests would be waiting, milling around. They would go in, consummate the marriage. The hymen would be broken, the blood would be shed. He would fold up the sheet, and then come out, open up the curtain. She would be behind him, and he would say, "Huppah!" And one guy said that means, "Yeah baby!"
James: He would present that sheet to the father because that would prove that she was a virgin. Number one reason, in Israel, for divorce was she wasn't a virgin when you gave her. And so if you see that picture, that's a picture of our salvation.
In the Mofar, the Father and the Son got together and decided on the bride price. “What, Father, do you want for my Bride, the Church?” And He said, Leviticus 17:11, "I've given the blood on the altar, as an atonement for sin." Hebrews 9:27, "Without the shedding of blood there is no remission."
So then, 1 Peter 1:18-19, "For as much as we know then, that we've been redeemed. Not with corruptible things, such as silver and gold for our vain conversation, received by tradition of our fathers, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ as the Lamb without spot and without blemish." So that commences our so great salvation, justification, sanctification, glorification. And so, we enter into that common cup with the Lord Jesus Christ. It's called Communion.
Then He goes away while we wait. We occupy until He comes. He goes away in the Kiddushin. And then at the end of that time, He comes—1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, "He comes in the air, not to the earth. The trumpet sounds, the dead in Christ rise. Then we who are alive are caught up together. And so shall we are to be with the Lord." So I think He is the focus.
So that even when you get married, the ceremony—I always explain it. I give the seven purposes, and they know it's going to take about 40 minutes in the marriage ceremony, because some people have never heard it. So I say, “Why doesn't the young man come down the aisle?” Because he's not the covenant initiator. The father is the covenant initiator. And you separate the groom's family and the bride's family not just to keep them from fighting…
James:…but they represent the covenant animal. And so he comes from the side following the pastor, symbolizing the pastor as representing God. I'm following him to symbolize that I understand that the tenets of marriage are instituted by God, and they are to be implemented by me. The Best Man follows him to say two things. Number one: I concur that he knows that marriage is under the responsibility of God, and I am his accountability partner for what he's doing today.
So then the father brings the bride down the aisle, as the covenant initiator. And the preacher says, "Who gives this woman to this man?" Most of the dads want to say, "My wife and I do." I asked one guy, "Why do you want to say that?" He said, "Because my wife said to say it."
James: I said, "But you're the patriarch. And so whenever you take her hand from yours, put it in his, then God who has shown up for this marriage sees it as a transference of authority. So you are saying to the young man, "What I began to do, in protecting and providing and caring for her, I am now passing it on to you. And because I'm the covenant initiator, and you're the covenant responder, if you fail the tenets of the covenant, you'll have to deal with me."
Then he does that, and then he sits down. Why? Because no longer does he have any control. She now belongs to him. The preacher says, "I now present to you, Mr. and Mrs...” and he gives his name, her first name, his last name. So the first act of submission is the dropping of the maiden name, and the picking up of her husband's name as the first act of submission in marriage. So if you look at that, that's the picture of salvation.
Bob: That's a great picture, too. That's a beautiful picture.
James: Yes, that's a picture of salvation. So what happened to us. We entered into a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. We were lost in sin. The Devil was our daddy. But once we got married to Jesus Christ, he had to sit down out of our lives. And as the first act of submission, we take on His name, Christian, "Christ-like one" and our identity is lost in who He is.
Dennis: And you know I'm sitting here listening to you, James, and I'm just going backwards, as you shared a little bit about your life. As one of ten children. A man who grew up as a little boy who never knew his father. Only saw a picture of him when you were in your 20's. And how you and your wife were druggies, peddling drugs, and lost jobs, and got kicked out of this and that. And God in heaven reached down as the Father and redeemed a young man named, James.
Dennis: And wrote His name in the Book of Life, and gave him the mission where now he's quoting from Genesis to Revelation. Explaining marriage and family at a level that I'll bet your family has maybe never ever discussed before. I'm talking about the family you came from. But I’ll bet they have now.
James: Oh, yes. All the time.
Dennis: I'm thinking about the legacy that you're leaving. I just want to wrap this up by reading, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother, and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one. And the man and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed.”
Dennis: You are leaving a mighty legacy through your relationship with your bride and through your family. But also through your church, and those you are spiritually influencing. I've got a feeling Bob, there are some folks in south Chicago who have been influenced by James. People who are probably talking about him, the way he talked about that guy from Tennessee, who first shared his faith with him. To say "James is after me, he's talking about Jesus."
Dennis: I say, good for you, and it's our honor having shared these moments with you here, on FamilyLife Today.
James: It was my privilege. Thank you very much.
Bob: Yes, those of our listeners who call us to get a copy of James' book are going to hear a lot about Jesus as well. The book is called, Seven Reasons Why God Created Marriage. And we've got copies of it in our FamilyLife Today resource center. You can go online, at FamilyLifeToday.com, to request a copy. Or, you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to request a copy.
And as you've said Dennis, when you know the purpose of something, it really helps you understand what your part in it is. So that's why we're hoping a lot of folks will get a copy of the book, Seven Reasons Why God Created Marriage by Pastor James Ford. Again, go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-"F" as in Family, "L" as in Life, and then the word, "Today."
Now we are getting down to the wire here, at FamilyLife, almost through the month of August. We set a goal back at the beginning of the month that we hoped to hear from 2,500 FamilyLife Today listeners. Regular listeners who have never called or made a donation to FamilyLife Today. And, I was checking the graph; I don't think we're quite there yet.
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We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday, when Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth, are going to be here. We're going to spend time with them throughout the week talking about how the Chapman family is doing. Getting an update on what's going on with them, the projects they're working on, the concert tour they're getting ready to go out on. Mary Beth's got a brand new book that she's just written; we'll talk about some of what she's written in that book. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire Broadcast Production team, on behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey. I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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