Why Does Marriage Matter?
About the Guest
Pastor and author Ray Ortlund explains how his eyes were opened anew as he began to study Genesis 1-2 and answer the question, "Why does marriage matter?" Human marriage is a great mystery that has the aroma of Christ all over it, and that's why Satan hates it.
Ray OrtlundRaymond C. Ortlund Jr. is the former and founding pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee. He serves as President of Renewal Ministries and as Canon Theologian in the Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast of the Anglican Church in North America.
Ray Ortlund explains how his eyes were opened anew as he began to study Genesis 1-2 and answer the question, “Why does marriage matter?
Why Does Marriage Matter?
Bob: The gift of marriage is one of the good gifts that God has given to His children; and the gift is just as good as it was when it was first given, even though the people receiving the gift have messed up in the meantime. Here’s Ray Ortlund.
Ray: My marriage with Jani is just as amazing, and just as divine, and just as God-given as was the marriage of Adam and Eve so long ago. The fact that so much time has elapsed / the fact that we do not have a perfect marriage—and we have misfires with one another and we become short with one another—changes nothing. This is of God. We’ve been caught up into something that is amazing! It’s a demonstration of God’s grace.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, May 1st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.
The more we understand about the good gift God has given us in marriage and the goodness of God Himself, the more we can enjoy the benefits of that gift. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I knew that we had a good theological mind coming to be with us today. I just did not know that you and he would have a love for deer hunting. I did not realize this was going to be part of the equation.
Dennis: It was a harmonic convergence [Laughter] before we came into the studio. Yes; he’s a kindred-spirit hunter. We’ll convert you, Bob. We’ll bring you over to the—we’ll bring over to the dark side here. [Laughter]
Bob: Okay. [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes; Ray Ortlund joins us on the broadcast from Nashville, Tennessee. Welcome, across the river, to Arkansas, Ray.
Ray: It’s a privilege to be here. Thanks.
Dennis: In case our listeners don’t know that name, Ray Ortlund—he is the pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee—
—also serves on the council of the Gospel Coalition. He and his wife have been married for 45—
Ray: —45 years.
Dennis: —45 years.
Bob: And some people may be going, “I have heard that name, but it was years ago that I heard that name.”
Bob: Your dad and your mom—
Dennis: Let me just interrupt you there, Bob,—
Bob: Okay; alright.
Dennis: —because I’ve got a little special way to introduce Ray that I was just thinking about doing here.
Ray, the year was 1978—maybe the spring of ’79 —the timeframe there. FamilyLife had been birthed as a part of Campus Crusade for Christ®. I found myself, at the ripe old age of 30, being the Director of a Marriage Preparation and Family Emphasis within Campus Crusade for Christ. There was a bit of a crisis that occurred.
Some of the leadership of the parent organization, Campus Crusade for Christ, felt like they needed to go after someone who was a little older and a little more mature. I just need to tell you, at the outset of this broadcast, I owe you and your family a debt of gratitude;—
Dennis: —because Bill Bright flew three couples in to meet with him over a period of several weeks, and one of them was your dad.
Dennis: He was offered the job of being the Director of the Marriage Preparation and Family Emphasis of Campus Crusade for Christ; and he said, “No.” After two other couples said, “No,”— one of them said, “No,” twice—they couldn’t find anybody else to head this thing up. [Laughter] This is a true story.
By the way, I’ve said it for years: “I wouldn’t have selected me either”; [Laughter] but I was already doing it. That was kind of what was irritating—was they didn’t know I was already the Director; okay? [Laughter]
But they finally came to Barbara and me and said, “Would you like to be the Director of this ministry?” I said, “Yes,” and that was 1979. I just owe your family a debt of gratitude that your dad said, “No.” [Laughter]
Ray: Well, God obviously put the right man in this place.
Dennis: It affected the trajectory of my career and what God has done here. It has been quite a ride! But did you know your dad was offered that job?
Ray: I did not know. Did you ever meet my dad?
Dennis: I did not.
Ray: Oh, my goodness! He was the greatest man I’ve ever known. He was the living embodiment of what Jesus would look like today. I have so much respect for my dad. I can see why Dr. Bright would consider him for that position. They had a great marriage—it was not perfect—but it was solid / there was a real beauty about it. But I’m glad you’re here doing this. This is great!
Bob: And I just have to say—I remember reading books that your mom and dad had written, in the ‘70s and in the ‘80s; and I heard your dad for the first time on radio—he was the host of the Haven of Rest program for a number of years—
Bob: —and [pastor of] Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena, California, a well-known Southern California church. You have a heritage that you can be proud of; don’t you?
Ray: Oh, I’m so deeply grateful! I think God wasted my dad on me. I just didn’t deserve a dad like that—he was great! Now, our own kids love the Lord; and we’re profoundly thankful. We feel my dad’s influence to this day, flowing through the family.
Dennis: And I’m not surprised you’ve written this book, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, because of the heritage you’ve been given. Why don’t we just start, Ray, by talking about why revisiting the narrative in Genesis is so important—to kind of go back and see what God was thinking / what He was up to when He created marriage in the first place.
Ray: Yes; you know, when I began to study in order to write this book, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, my eyes were opened! I saw something in the Bible I’d never seen before.
Genesis 1 and 2—the first two chapters of the Bible—there is the creation of the universe in Chapter 1, and then, fast-forward immediately to a wedding ceremony. If I’d never read the Bible before, I read Chapter 1, and everything is massive and cosmic and dramatic; and God’s creating everything. And then, if I don’t know what’s coming, I would turn the page to Chapter 2 and I’m thinking: “What will the sequel be? This is going to be even more amazing!” And, instead, we zoom in on this little garden somewhere, and a young man and a young woman are falling in love and getting married.
I think: “Wait a minute! How does that make sense? Is marriage out of its depth at this place in the story?” So that’s how it begins. So the Bible kind of raises a question, right from the beginning: “Why does marriage matter? Is it really that big of a deal?”
Fast-forward to the end of the Bible—the last two chapters—we’re in a new heavens and a new earth; a new creation with the Son of God taking His bride on His arm into the eternal honeymoon.
And I realize—for crying out loud!—the wrap-around category for the whole biblical message is marriage!
Ray: It’s not like, you know, there are a few passages along the way where marriage is discussed—it’s really the story. The Bible is a love story—the Son of God seeking out His bride for Himself. And He came to the wrong side of town to find her too—I’m really grateful for that!
Dennis: Yes; you’ve got a quote in your book, where you quote Augustine, where he says, “All of the story of the Scriptures is the story of two cities formed by two loves.”
Dennis: Would you unpack that quote?—because it kind of, in a way, puts in context what God was up to in Genesis, Chapters 1, 2, and 3.
Ray: We look at one another—we look at the world today—and we think the differences are political / we think the differences are cultural, and lifestyle choices, and so forth.
But way down deep—underneath all those surface-level things—are really only two kinds of people in this world. There are people who love this world and everything that belongs to this world—and we’re all born that way—and there are people whose hearts have been set free to look above and see God with new eyes. They’ve come to realize, through the gospel, that God is not eager to bring the hammer down on them in judgment. God wants to sweep them up into His arms and just love sinners forever through Christ.
These two loves define who we are. The Bible is not a message of “Do better,” “Try harder.” The Bible is God saying to us, “I loved you, but I lost you; and I want you back.” Our hearts resonate with that; and we say, “Yes, Lord!” Then, we’re part of that bride forever!
Bob: I want you to check me on this, because I had this thought as I was looking at Genesis 2 at one point. I don’t know that I’ve heard anybody say it—so I wonder if the thought is right. Here, in each day of creation, you see things getting bigger and grander and God is—every day is good. Then we come to the creation of the man and then the creation of the woman. I had always thought: “You get to the creation of the woman, and creation is complete. The last thing has been created.”
But there are four or five more verses that say He took the two and made them one. So it occurs to me that maybe the last thing created is the oneness of a married couple—that now, the very next thing that happens is—a serpent comes along and attempts to undo what God has done.
Ray: Yes; boy, that’s really interesting, Bob. I hadn’t thought of it that way.
Because I look at these two chapters—Genesis 1 and 2—and I notice, as you point out, throughout Chapter 1, when God is creating everything, He says, “This is good,” “That is good.” And at the very end—seven times, he says, “It is good.” The last one is: “Everything God saw that He had made was very good.”
Then, we come to Chapter 2; we’re in the Garden of Eden, guys. Everything is perfect! There is no evil in the world at all—there’s no death / it’s the ideal world—the Garden of Eden. And God says, “It is not good that the man is alone.” Now, here—the Garden of Eden—God puts His finger on something and says: “There is something wrong here. The man is alone.” I think of it this way: “Every guy needs adult supervision.” [Laughter]
Ray: So God created the woman to be the wife. We’re so grateful.
Bob: And we think of Garden of Eden in kind of our Sunday school pictures of—you know, there’s a lion over here; and there’s a fruit tree over here. I tend to contextualize that and think to myself: “Imagine being at the nicest resort you’ve ever been to—
—“I mean, where you’ve got everything you need; but you’re there alone.
Bob: “There’s no joy there, unless you’ve got companionship and relationship.”
Ray: That is so insightful. Jani and I live in Franklin, Tennessee. It’s a lovely town, and we have a lovely home—it’s not palatial, but it’s really nice. When she’s out of town, that home is depressing.
Ray: I walk around and just kind of blue, and bored, and unsettled.
Bob: Now, some folks are listening—some single listeners are listening to this—and they’re saying, “You’re making it sound like the pinnacle of life is marriage.”
Ray: My goodness; yes.
Bob: So what do you say to a single person?
Ray: Yes; that is a really good point. Thank you for bringing that up, because the reason why the Bible talks about marriage is not for the sake of marriage. We go to Ephesians, Chapter 5, for example—and the Apostle Paul, talking about human marriage, a man and a woman—says, “This is a great mystery, but I’m saying it refers to Christ and the church.”
Now, guys, I’ve been married for 45 years. I’ve introduced Jani as my wife hundreds of times, I’m sure. I’ve said, you know, “Hi, I’m Ray; and this is my wife Jani.” Nobody has ever said: “No way! That is a profound mystery! You guys are married? That’s amazing!” Marriage is so common!
But what the Bible reveals is something, guys, I wouldn’t dare to believe if it weren’t in the Bible; and that is: “Why are we in this dual modality of male and female? Why do we fall in love? Why do we experience romance? Why do we get married?” I mean, falling in love is kind of like temporary insanity.
Ray: God sort of sprinkles His pixie dust on us; and we go crazy enough to make the commitment of marriage that we would never dare to make without being thrust into it by this wonderful, dizzy experience of romance. But there’s a reason why people fall in love—there’s a reason why we walk, hand in hand / there’s a reason why we sing “our song” and so forth.
The reason is—that is how Jesus Christ comes to us!—
Ray: —to catch us up into His love / His redemptive love. Guys, He came across the tracks to find us!
Ray: When I chose Jani, I chose her because she was beautiful—she is beautiful! Jesus Christ did not choose a beauty queen.
Bob: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Bob: While we were still in rebellion against Him, He offers Himself for us. That is—talk about a profound mystery.
Ray: And that’s why we get married, because God wants—there are going to be people all over the world who will never darken the door of a church / they’ll never hear the gospel—but they can see the gospel in a marriage.
Ray: That is why Satan hates marriage. It has the aroma of Christ and His gospel all over it. So we are living, walking, breathing metaphors of this great reality.
God created the heavens and the earth, in Genesis 1, to be the honeymoon suite for Adam and Eve. God will recreate the heavens and the earth, at the end of time, to be the eternal honeymoon suite for the Son of God and His bride—and that’s us—amazing!
Dennis: We’re talking with Ray Ortlund—he has written a book called Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel. What you’re talking about here, Ray, is—you are lifting marriage out of this pool of humanity that has sung the song of: “Marriage is for your happiness. It’s for your own satisfaction.” Certainly, as we’ve talked about, there is the companionship, and the happiness, and the satisfaction there; but you’re saying marriage and family are about much more than just two human beings getting their needs met from one another. It’s about something far bigger / far grander than any two people could ever imagine.
Dennis: And once you get the picture of what’s at stake in your marriage, it will lift you out of this temporal view that people have of marriage today. It will fuel your fire for making sure your marriage is all that God designed it to be.
Ray: Boy, I really believe that, Dennis. It dignifies our marriages. Jesus, in Matthew, Chapter 19, explains that every marriage in the world today is as sacred in the sight of God, as was the marriage of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. My marriage with Jani is just as amazing, and just as divine, and just as God-given as was the marriage of Adam and Eve so long ago. The fact that so much time has elapsed / the fact that we do not have a perfect marriage—and we have misfires with one another and we become short with one another—changes nothing. This is of God. We’ve been caught up into something that is amazing! It’s a demonstration of God’s grace.
I never dreamed that one of God’s primary influences in my life for sanctification would be this gorgeous woman I get to live with. That’s a sanctification I can get behind! [Laughter] You know what I’m talking about?
Dennis: Yes! It’s in the fine print, though! [Laughter]
How did this fine woman come across your path?
Ray: Oh, my goodness. It was September 12, 1968, on the campus of Wheaton College at 5:00 p.m. I was walking from Fisher Hall to the Dining Hall, and I saw a freshman guy I had just met a few days before. I wanted to go say “Hi!” to him on the way to dinner. When I got there, there was a girl standing there—he introduced her. Then, several weeks later, I found out, through the grapevine—she had integrity; she had standards; she had character. I thought, “I have got to ask her out!”
About a month later, I finally worked up the courage to ask her out. I took her to a concert on the campus of Wheaton College—the Chad Mitchell Trio—in October of 1968.
Ray: We just started falling crazy in love! We had so much fun falling in love.
Dennis: So, how long before you popped the question?
Ray: It was about two years, and I wanted to arrange things / time things in such a way that we could both graduate from college before we got married. I really wanted to reach that goal. We managed it by God’s grace. We got married December 18, 1971.
Dennis: How did you ask her to marry you?
Ray: There was a little chapel in—we called it “The Stu”—the Student Center, there at the college—a little chapel. I went there with her; we had just walked home from Sunday evening church. I said, “Jani, would you marry me?” She said, “I need to think about it.” [Laughter]
Bob: That’s when you learned what kind of standards she really had; right? [Laughter]
Dennis: So how long did she think?
Ray: About twenty minutes.
Dennis: Oh, okay! [Laughter]
Ray: So I left her alone there. She actually got down on her knees and prayed about it. She got up from her knees, and she said—I came back later—she said, “Yes!”
Bob: Did that intimidate you?—the pause?
Ray: It was unsettling; yes! But, on the other hand, I knew that if she were going to make this a matter—you know, put this before God—then whatever decision she made would stick! And Jani has been an incredibly patient wife. We honestly love each other more than we ever did before. When we were—when I look back on those early years of marriage now, I think, “Did I really love her, or was I just predatory?”
Dennis: Tell the truth! [Laughter]
Bob: You know, we think about it—and you’ve made a great case today for what the picture of what marriage is and ought to be in the culture—I’ve often thought about how important it is for our kids, as we raise them, to know there’s security and stability in the home; because they see mom and dad loving each other.
But, even beyond that, our kids—for them to really understand the gospel when we come to articulate it / to articulate that in an environment, where there is a strong, stable marriage—that lends a credibility to the message of who God is in a mysterious way that I don’t know that we could put our finger on it when somebody told us. But we know it, environmentally, that the gospel can be true because of what we’ve experienced, environmentally, with a mom and a dad who love each other.
Ray: That is very real. I grew up in that kind of home. Again, it was not a perfect home; but Jesus was present, and I knew that because my dad and mom embodied what they talked about. There was an authenticity about it. My dad was honest about his shortcomings—he wasn’t faking it.
For example, I remember one time—my dad felt that he had disciplined me too severely. I was maybe ten or twelve. I didn’t think he’d disciplined me too severely, but he did.
And he came back to me, maybe an hour later, and apologized. I thought: “Wait a minute, Dad. I’m the kid; you’re the dad. You don’t need to apologize to me.” But he felt that he did, and he asked me to forgive him. My goodness! How can I not love and respect a dad like that?
Bob: And then you hear the gospel message on top of that, and you go, “This is true, because I see how it plays out in someone’s life.
Dennis: “This makes sense in my reality.”
Dennis: That’s what kids need to see today.
Ray: Yes; it wasn’t hypothetical.
Dennis: Yes; and here’s what the Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 5, verse 31—it says: “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. I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Marriage has a profound spiritual mission. It is to reflect God’s love—
Dennis: —for His redeemed bride, whom the Son of God died for—the church.
Bob: And I think listeners will benefit from digging deeper than they may have dug when it comes to their understanding of God’s purpose for marriage / His design for marriage. Ray has written a book called Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel. It’s not a long book, but it’s a deep book that offers terrific insight into God’s purpose for our marriage, helping us understand why we were given this gift in the first place and how it can be the best gift it can possibly be.
We have copies of Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY; that’s 1-800-358-6329.
To order your copy of the book, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, call: 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, here at FamilyLife, we have just recently been looking at the projects that we have underway here—a number of them like—we’re working on a new video series called The Art of Parenting. We are working on some redesigning of the Weekend to Remember®. We’re trying to upgrade and enhance our website and our digital platform. We’ve recognized that, if we’re going to stay on track to accomplish these projects, then, during the month of May, we’re going to have to ask our listeners to pitch in and provide some help. We have a goal of needing to raise, this month, $1.1 million. That’s obviously a significant goal to try to raise in a single month.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue to explore God’s good design for marriage and see how He intends for us to bless and to minister to one another in our marriage relationship. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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