31 For this reason a man will leave…
The word for “leave” is a strong word. It can be translated as leave behind, neglect, forsake, abandon. Who are we called to leave? Father and mother. There is no society like Western society that de-emphasizes the obligation to your parents. But Asians, I think we can better appreciate how shocking this statement must have been for the Jewish readers in the first century. To the Jewish contemporaries of Paul, family was everything. So a Jewish reader in the first century would have been jarred by the statement–leave your father and mother.
Is there any relationship in life while you were single that has been more formative and foundational in your development than parents? Your parents had a tremendous influence in making you who you are today. And that’s why we honor our father and our mother.
Jesus made an equally shocking statement when he described what it means to follow Christ in Luke 14:26–
26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be My disciple.”
Here, Jesus is basically saying, if you want to be my disciple, then I have to be the most important person in your life. Relative to our love for Jesus, our love for others, even other Christians, will feel like hatred because our love for Jesus has to be orders of magnitude greater and higher than all other relationships. Jesus alone is Tier 1. Jesus includes father and mother, but he also includes wife and children. Clearly, in terms of priority, Jesus has to be #1 for the believer.
Beyond Christ, every other relationship is Tier 2. I think there can be a certain amount of debate as to how all other human relationships rank in terms of importance. As I said earlier, marriage mirrors Christ and the church so there is no use in saying between marriage and the church one is more important than the other. In my opinion, both marriage and church relationships are equally important and so the key is consistency. If you are at church, be a good Christian. If you are at home, be a good Christian. Be consistent.
With that said, we mustn’t lose sight of the priority that marriage has over many other relationships and many other pursuits. The marriage relationship is more fundamental than even our parents. If you study Genesis, you will notice that God did not put a parent and a child in the Garden. He didn’t put two same gender best friends in the Garden. He placed a husband and a wife.
What can go ahead of marriage? For many men and an increasing number of women, career comes before marriage. Even kids. Marriages are so bad these days that even kids are placed ahead of spouse. You are walking on thin ice if the chief source of your love and emotional nurture comes from your kids. Many married couples revolve their entire lives around their kids. They buy a house they can’t really afford so that they can move into a neighborhood with a good school district. Then comes the kumon lessons, soccer practices, music recitals, summer camps. For 18 years, the kid’s schedule becomes the parents’ schedule. The kids have been placed above the marriage. Then, during the empty nest years when the kids move away, there is nothing to hold the marriage together.
What about friends? Friends can come ahead of marriage. If any of these come before your spouse, you are in trouble. Except for Christ and the church, marriage has to have priority over all other people and pursuits in your life.
Leave your father and mother. Many marriages are destroyed because the couple did not follow this prerequisite prior to getting married. What are some examples of couples who haven’t left? You may know someone who is dependent on mommy or daddy for finances. Or a momma’s boy–a husband who can’t make decisions without finding out what mommy wants. Leaving father and mother means putting your spouse ahead of your parents and what they want.
When your parents criticize the spouse, what does it mean concretely to leave father and mother? It means, when there is a conflict between your parents and your spouse, you can never take your parents’ side again after you are married. Singles, this is priceless advice. Someone would treat me to dinner if they realized how valuable the advice I just gave to you is. Singles, take notes. If you follow this advice based on biblical principles, you will be spared from many fights with your spouse. You always have to defend your spouse and make them feel like you are on their side and not your parents’ side.
We need to leave behind old family patterns. You don’t enter a marriage and say, this is how it was in my family. This is the man’s role. This is the woman’s role. Some fathers help their wives in doing chores around the house and with raising the kids. Some father’s don’t lift a finger. What we observed and determined to be the “norm” growing up, you have to leave it behind.
If parents did something negative, we may react against those things. I’ll never treat my kids the way my parents treated me. If you were beaten mercilessly by your parents, you may resolve never to lay a finger on your child. Instead of evaluating the merits of corporal punishment in child rearing, you have just made a decision because you are reacting against your past. Or, my parents made me go to church. I am going to be different and give my kids a choice. So when they turn 5 years old, if they rather stay home and watch cartoons, I will respect their decision. There is no consideration of whether church is good for me and my kids. You are just NOT doing something because my parents did it.
You need to leave all of that behind and start anew. Leave. Start fresh. What will be right between me and my spouse? How can I serve my spouse so that they know they are loved? What worked between your parents will not necessary work in your marriage because you have a new husband, a new wife, you are different couple. And there will never be another couple just like you.
31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined…
The word for “be joined” means literally “to be glued together.” To be faithfully devoted to, to be united with, to cleave. You leave and then you cleave. There are only 2 occurrences of this word and in both instances, it is used only in the context of marriage. Marriage is a very unique relationship indeed. However, because marriage is a pointer to Christ and the church, the principle of being joined in marriage has universal application for everyone in the church, singles as well as married couples.
The joining together in marriage happens during the wedding ceremony when the wedding vows are exchanged. In that moment, you are making a commitment to your spouse for life in a public ceremony. Similarly, when a person is saved, there also is a ceremony. A baptism ceremony. The new believer is baptized and they publicly confess their commitment to Christ and that commitment gets fleshed out in a local church context.
Marriage and church mirror one another and so when we are joined to our spouse in marriage and when we are joined to Christ and when we join a church, we are talking about the same thing–commitment. You commit to your spouse and you commit to Christ when you repent and place your faith in Him and you commit to a church to express your commitment to Christ within the body of Christ.
Another way of saying, be joined is be committed. The essence of marriage and the essence of our relationship with Christ and the essence of our relationships within the church is not a feeling. Feelings come and go. If the essence of marriage and Christ and the church were feelings, then this means we can fall in and out of marriage and in and out of a relationship with Christ and in and out of a relationship with His church.
When you left your father and mother and committed to your spouse, you promised, you made a vow that you would stick to your spouse in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, and I would add–when emotions run high and when the tank is empty–until death do us part. It was a commitment.
Doesn’t this reflect our relationship with Christ and our relationships with other believers in the church? When Christ commits to us, we committed to Christ. And we said, Jesus, I will stay by your side through thick and thin, I commit to open up my Bible and pray and worship you even on days when I don’t feel like it. Regarding church, I know churches are not perfect, but I have committed myself to the universal church and to this particular church, Hill Community, for as long as Christ would have me here. When things are going well at church or when things are falling apart, I will remain committed to His body. And this commitment to the universal church might be expressed by staying here for 40 years or it might be 4 weeks because God has another local church in mind for you down the road. But your commitment to the universal church and one or more local churches over the course of your lifetime will never waver because commitment to Christ and commitment to His church are inseparable.
At the beginning of a marriage, as with the beginning of your relationship with Christ and when you first joined a church, emotions tend to run high. You had a literal honeymoon phase as newlyweds when your spouse could do no wrong. In your relationship with Christ, new believers also go through a honeymoon phase when you are so excited to open your Bible and you are eager to spend time with the Lord in prayer. When you first walk into a church and things are new, there is kind of a honeymoon phase as well because the pastor seems witty and insightful and you are so excited to meet new people because they seem nice and you don’t see their flaws yet and you are eager to serve.
Things are easy in the beginning. When emotions run high, actions follow naturally. This is human nature. As a newlywed or as a newborn Christian who is enjoying Christ and his people for the first time, think back to how easy it was to act loving toward your spouse and toward Christ and others in the church because your feelings of love were strong.
What happens, for example, when married couples operate with emotions first and then actions second? What happens is this. When the emotions of love fade, and they inevitably do, the actions of love cease. It’s a vicious cycle. Because the feelings of love are gone, the actions of love stop and because the actions of love stop, the feelings of love never return. The marriage becomes stuck. This same pattern can happen in our relationship with Christ and this same pattern can happen at church. Feelings fade, then actions stop.
If a marriage settles into this pattern, it’s just a matter of time before the relationship will devolve into bargaining. You think, your husband is not being the husband he used to be or she is not being the wife she used to be so why should I be the spouse I am called to be? This is the bargaining mentality and you pull back.
But when a child is born, everything changes. The baby spits on you, poops all over you, the child does nothing for you. You get nothing out of the relationship while you are giving everything. You are dead tired, but still you wake up in the middle of the night because you are the parent and you are committed to love regardless of your feelings in the moment. Even without realizing it, you are following the biblical pattern of love as commitment.
Love is an action first, feeling second. The feelings of love follow the actions of love. In the case of your children, for 18 years, you have been practicing the principles of love. Even if your child is a jerk and has no redeeming social value, you still love him. In those same 18 years toward your children, it’s not a bargain and so the cycle has been working in reverse.
However, we hold our spouses to a different standard, don’t we? When your spouse acts like a baby, what do you do? The less your spouse gives to you, the less you give. The less you give, the less you feel loving. The less you feel loving, the less you act loving. It’s a vicious cycle. But for your child–the more you give, the more you feel loving. The more you feel loving, the more you give. You are operating toward the child based on a biblical pattern.
With your spouse, you treat it like a bargain instead of a commitment. The feelings of selfishness follow the actions of selfishness. And it’s no wonder, after 18 years, you have a tremendous amount of affection for your child but absolutely no affection for your spouse.
Practically, this means that love is an action first and a feeling second. Being committed to your job means you will show up to work on Monday mornings even on days when you don’t feel like it. Being committed to Christ means you will seek him even when you don’t feel inspired or when you are feeling lazy. When the Bible says, love your neighbor and it says, love your enemy, it’s uses the same word. How is that possible? You feel absolutely zero affection for your enemy, but you are called to love that person.
Be joined, be committed. Act in a serving way toward one another. Act in a tender way, out of a sense of commitment, even when you don’t feel affectionate. If you act that way toward your spouse and towards Jesus and toward your Christian brother or sister, an amazing thing will happen. As you act loving, the feelings of love that you had during the honeymoon stage will return.
In all 3 arenas–marriage, Christ, church–emotions do not last. Our hearts are fallen and fickle. When emotions dry up, that’s when the marriage begins to fall apart. That’s when Christians close up their Bibles and their prayers are reduced to 10 seconds before the meal. Then, you start skipping Sunday services. Most times, the feelings subside and the actions follow suit. The flowers stop coming. The dates and dinners are no more. The strolls along the beach are replaced by romantic strolls down the aisles of Costco. You skip out on your devotional life with Jesus because you want to sleep in or watch your favorite TV show. Church becomes a chore and you start doing bare minimum and isolate yourself from other believers.
If you follow your feelings first and your actions stop as a result, your relationships in marriage, with Christ and within the church will spiral downward. Invest in your relationship with spouse, Christ, church and they will become more lovely to you.