The Practice of Marriage: Celebratory Speech


Review

The establishment of marriage and, before that, the
creation of man and woman for marriage take up the second
half of Genesis 2. The order of creation will be in this as
in many ways the basis for the order of law. God’s
laws of marriage are what they are because of the way he
made men and women. This material is also, surely, a
testimony to the great importance of these things, that
they should deserve so much space in such a concentrated
and compressed narrative at the very headwaters of the
Bible.

The Practice of Marriage: Celebratory Speech

We commented on various aspects of verse 23 last week.
We translated the NIV’s “now” as “at last” or “now,
at last” and said that both the sense of that term and the
poetic cast of the verse indicate the exuberance, the
celebration in Adam’s words as he first lays his eyes
on Eve and as he recognizes her as the one he has been
longing for: a partner in love.

Now Gen. 2, as we said, is a remarkably compressed
narrative. We have found throughout our study of this great
book of the Bible that a great deal is said in very few
words; that fundamental lessons are embedded in short
paragraphs. And, I most firmly believe that we have such a
great lesson here, very much in very few words.

Remember we have already said that vv. 23-24 are the
Bible’s entire doctrine of marriage in a nutshell.
Well,, in my judgment, we have here as well the
Bible’s entire practice of marriage in a nutshell.
You have the order of the sexes here, male headship if you
will (in Adam’s naming Eve), you have marriage as a
matter of both passion and loyalty (in the “stick to”, the
NIV’s “be united to” in v. 24), you have marriage as
creating a new family (in Adam’s “bone of my
bones…” and the “leave and cleave” and “one flesh”
of v. 24) and you have the Bible’s principle word on
the technique or practice of married love in v. 23 and in
the example of Adam’s celebratory speech to and about
his wife.

Confirmation that it is correct to attach such sweeping
significance to this single verse comes in several
parts.

  1. The compression of the narrative makes everything,
    every detail of great importance. There are so many
    things we would like to know about life before the fall
    (e.g. did Adam have a belly button?) and the Bible shows
    no interest in satisfying our curiosity about any of
    that. What we are given is what is essential for our
    understanding of life, human nature, and that ideal
    humanity that God created and that his grace will
    recreate in the hearts and lives of his elect. That makes
    this material very weighty. And that makes particularly
    noteworthy the fact that we have only one piece of
    recorded human speech prior to the fall. And that remark
    happens to be a husband’s praise, appreciation, and
    celebration of his wife.
  2. Upon the entrance of sin, the next recorded speech of
    a husband concerning his wife is markedly different (3:12
    “the woman you put here with me…”). What was at
    first celebration and appreciation is now blame and
    reproach. It is, I think, a potent demonstration of the
    fact that speech, and, in the first place, a
    husband’s speech, conveys the character of a
    marriage and is the primary instrument in the practice of
    marriage.

I must interrupt here to say that this should not
surprise us. Speech is the great thing in human life, the
great instrument of human life. Indeed, perhaps more than
anything else, the power of speech is what distinguishes
human life and makes possible human life. It is the center
of what we mean by the formal aspects of the image of God
– those powers and characteristics that make us human
beings. Think of it. What, above all else, makes you a
human being? What sets you apart from the other animals. Is
it not the power of speech? You can form thoughts –
very sophisticated thoughts, of course, that also sets you
apart and above the other animals, who think, of course,
but at such a different level from human beings as to make
questionable the appropriateness of using the same term in
both cases – you can then reduce those thoughts to
words, and then speak those words and by those words create
the same thoughts or the impact of them in another
mind.

This is what makes human relationship possible. It is
what makes a relationship with God possible. He can speak
his mind to us and we can communicate our mind to him. It
is what makes education and culture possible, the
transmission of knowledge from one mind to another and the
accumulated wisdom of the race from one generation to
another. [There is nothing like this in the animal kingdom!
Noam Chomsky, the father of linguistics, admits this openly
to the consternation of the evolutionary community. Human
beings alone are hardwired for language!] It is no great
surprise then, that the great instruments of our knowledge
of God and walking with God are words and the speaking of
words: the Bible and prayer; God’s speech to us and
ours to him.

It is no surprise that when Jesus Christ came into the
world he should be referred to as “The Word!” It is true
that he does much more for us than simply speak to us
– he laid down his life! – but we would never
know the meaning of that, we would never know the love that
was in that sacrifice, we would never have the effect and
power and grace of that death and that love in our lives
if Christ did not then speak to us and tell us what his
death was for and explain the love for us that lay behind
it
. And how often that is what we read in the Bible:
the Lord expressing his love, the power of his love, the
indefectible character of his love for us. And it is not
only that our relationship with the Lord is carried and
expressed by speech – his to us and ours to him
– speech is the means by which that relationship is
deepened and kept fresh and living in the heart.

And it is so as well with all relationships in life:
parents – children; friends; bosses –
employees, etc. They will be as good, as life-giving, as
the words that pass between, and, especially, as the words
the superior speaks (parent; boss; teacher, etc.). We say,
“sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never
hurt me.” But, of course, that is sheer whistling in the
dark. You can go to the Emergency Room and get a broken
bone fixed and soon it will be as good as new. But we know
very well that there are many people in the world who will
bear the scars and never escape the damage caused by words
that were spoken to them when they were children, or words
that were never spoken to them. Words give life. What is
more, they keep alive in the heart and fresh in the
affections what otherwise would grow dim, pale, and
weak.

We humans can grow tired of anything; we can come to
take anything for granted. You and I know this. We can take
for granted the fact that we were going to everlasting hell
and Christ intervened in the nick of time and now we are
going to the world of endless joy. That fact has moved us
deeply at times in the past, but often we hardly think
about it, or about the God we have come to know, or heaven
itself, or the Holy Spirit in our hearts, or all the rest
of this surpassingly marvelous salvation that God has
lavished on us as a free gift when we were deserving of his
wrath. So, how does one keep the wonder alive in the heart?
The Bible’s answer is speech! In regard to
God, that is the same thing as saying “worship.” For that
is what worship is: our speaking to God and he to us. And,
I’m sure that is why God has made worship so
fundamental to the Christian life and given us a day
reserved for it: because that speech is necessary for our
love and joy to remain powerful forces in our lives. We
will not enjoy the Lord and delight to know him and get the
good and the strength of that if we are not speaking to God
this way and he is not speaking to us in this way. It is
speech that completes the experience of love and joy and
speech that keeps it alive (as you discover when you find
yourself standing alone in front of something of
unsurpassed beauty: you crave someone to speak to about
what you see).

And what is true of our relationship with God is
likewise true of our other relationships in life. They are
kept fresh, lively, potent by speech. It is what empowers
life. And, it is what empowers marriage, enlivens love,
keeps romance fresh, and preserves delight in one another.
At one time you were head over heels for your wife, you
couldn’t wait to see her again, you went to bed
thinking about her and thought about her all through the
day. When you fell in love with her, you realized that you
had been only half-alive up to that point. Life was
delicious because of the delight you felt in her. How do we
keep that delight fresh, that power of love in the heart,
that longing? It is kept alive by speech, by celebratory,
appreciative, loving speech. Words have this power and
nothing else does. Sex doesn’t. Without words, sex
grows stale and powerless. You think instead of another
woman, not your own. But words can keep that sense alive,
keep alive that delicious sense that there is and there
will always be only one woman for you.

But we are still giving reason why we should take Gen.
2:23 to be a description of the basic principle of the
practice of married love. We have so far mentioned, the
compression of the narrative; the fact that this
celebratory speech contrasts so mightily with the
accusatory speech that follows as soon as sin has entered
the marriage; and the fact that, in the Bible, speech is
the primary instrument of every human relationship. But
there is more.

  1. If you follow the biblical picture of married love as
    it is elaborated later, the emphasis continues to fall on
    speech as the great instrument of marital love. Think,
    for example, of the virtuous woman in Prov. 31.
    She is described in all of her goodness and her
    accomplishment, but what is her crown, her reward for her
    virtue? We read it in v. 28-29: “Her children arise and
    call her blessed; her husband also and he praises her:
    ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them
    all.’” (And what is the contrary to that? Prov.
    27:5: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.”) Or, take
    the Song of Songs, the Bible’s own celebration of
    married love. Have you ever noticed what that book is? It
    begins with the woman saying how much she loves him; and
    then he says how much he loves her, how beautiful she is;
    how powerfully she affects him. Then she says some more
    about the strength of her love for him and he returns the
    favor with celebratory speech of his own. Then he
    describes her in her beauty starting at the top of her
    head and working his way down to her feet. He speaks of
    the strength of his desire for her. She responds
    similarly. Then he speaks of her beauty again, and then
    once more as he describes the beauty he sees in her body
    a second time, this time starting at the feet and working
    his way up to her head. She replies and the book is over.
    By and large, the Song of Songs is composed of
    alternations of celebratory speech. Do you want to know
    how to love a woman, gentlemen? The Bible tells you:
    first and foremost, most of the time, and in the most
    important way, you love her with your words. Speech is
    the most powerful instrument of love there is. What is
    more, all the other instruments of love are of little or
    no value, if there is not first this celebration, this
    appreciation, this communication of affection, desire,
    and fulfillment in a husband’s and a wife’s
    speech to and about one another.

The problem is that sin has made men silent! They have
this power, this extraordinary power over the heart of a
woman and over the character of their marriage, but they
are disinclined to use it.

And I speak without apology to the men, primarily. The
fact is, as we might have expected from Gen. 2:23, it is
the man’s speech that is most constitutive of a
marriage
. This is simply a consequence of the way we
are, men and women. Women need the speech of men more than
men need the speech of women. What is more a man’s
speech must come first. A man is much more able to change
the character of a marriage by the words he speaks to his
wife, than a woman is able to do the same by the words she
speaks to her husband. And a wife’s words, more often
not, are best if they are responding words, most powerful
if they are words that answer the words her husband spoke
first. You may think this is unfair, but, fair or not, it
is the fact of life as God made our lives.

  1. Feminism is a movement of angry women and a large
    part of that anger stems from frustration; a frustration
    born of the fact that women are much more vulnerable than
    men, emotionally much more needy of what men alone can
    supply them, than men are in emotional need of what women
    can supply. Try as they might, they cannot alter this
    fact. It infuriates them, but it is reality they cannot
    escape. Listen, I can take Florence’s head in my
    hands and say three sentences – expressions of love
    or of reproach; I hope always of love – and I can
    make her tear-up! She can take my head in her hands and
    talk all day long, and I will never shed a tear. Think
    about the world of significance that lies in that
    difference.
  2. When women try to make up what is wanting in their
    husband’s speech; when they try to take the
    initiative, they end up nagging, frustrated that they
    cannot move their husbands by their words and that he
    refuses to open his mouth. (When women come to me to
    unburden themselves about their frustrations about their
    husbands, I tell them, “I don’t want you saying
    these things to your husband. It won’t help; it
    will make things worse. I will tell your husband.” And I
    take the man out to lunch and read him the riot act about
    what he is not giving his wife, and how he is not loving
    her, and he bows his head in shame and admits it all. But
    they won’t take it nearly so well from their women.
    It is a reversal of roles and they resent it.) Like it or
    not, this is the way we are.
  3. Men do not long for the words of their wives –
    I’m not saying there are no exceptions, of course
    – in the same way or to the same extent that women
    long for the words of their husbands. That is why sin
    makes husbands silent in speaking love and affection and
    celebration and why sin makes women into nags. Sin always
    reverses what is good and life-giving to human beings.
    Sin always destroys, and there is no better way to
    destroy love in marriage than to silence a husband. I am
    not saying that a woman’s words are unimportant,
    but they are not as important as a husband’s, not
    so creative.

This is no secret. The whole world knows it. Pick up a
Readers’ Digest at the checkout stand. If
there is an article entitled “What women wish were
different about their Husbands” or “A Woman’s View of
What’s Wrong with Marriage” I can tell you that
number one on the author’s list is going to be the
failure of men to communicate love and affection. We even
joke about it, so universal is the experience and the
observation. (“I told you I loved you when I married you;
if I ever change my mind, I’ll let you know.” Or,
“You don’t keep running after you’ve caught the
bus.”)

In Ephesians 5 Paul addresses husbands and wives and
says something different to each.

He tells the men to love their wives as Christ loved the
church. Now, men, when they hear that, think that means
this: if a bus is hurtling down the street and cannot stop,
and my wife is standing in the middle of the street with
earplugs on, I must dive into the path of the oncoming bus,
push her out of danger and be struck and killed myself.
Well, to be sure, you should. But, fact is, you only have
to push you wife out of the path of an oncoming bus six or
eight times in life! What about the rest of your days and
nights? Think about it. What does Paul mean when he tells
husbands to love their lives? How do you do that, day in,
day out? Well, surely, you can from time to time run an
errand, or do the dishes for her, or give her a gift. But,
by and large, what that love amounts to is the words you
speak to her every day. (As with your love of God and your
love of your children, these words are the really powerful,
the really important things.)

Now, I’ve made the basic point. Now I want to
drive it home with some illustrations.

  1. Prof. S. van der Linde: What was this but a man
    saying: “she was bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
    Part of him was lying in a cemetery nearby.
  2. The elderly couple in Harlingen, TX
  3. My own experience.

When Florence and I got married, I had no idea how to
love a woman. Several ministers spoke to me or to us before
our wedding, but none of them said a single useful thing.
Platitudes only! What I needed to hear, though I
didn’t know it at the time, was how to love a
woman?
How does one go about that day by day? What is
it that makes the difference? After all, there are only a
relatively few marriages that any of us knows well that we
would want for ourselves. What makes for a marriage such as
everyone dreams of having but few actually find, and still
fewer still have 10 or 20 years into their marriage. Is it
just the lucky but quite rare convergence of genes or
hormones or life experiences that make for a terrific
marriage? I didn’t know. I couldn’t have told
you if you had asked me.

And, I supposed, for the first some years of our
marriage, it was as I probably expected. We were certainly
secure. I’m sure it never entered either of our minds
that we would ever be married to anyone else. That is the
inheritance of a couple that descends from Christian
families and Christian cultures such as ours. And, I expect
we would have thought we were reasonably happy, in large
part because we had no specific expectation on that score
and, undoubtedly assumed, that whatever our experience was,
that was what it was supposed to be, all that should be
expected. We would have spoken knowingly about how real
life, of course, wasn’t like the movies. You’ve
got to be realistic. I have no doubt at all that I had
seriously diminished expectations when I married.

But, as I look back on those years now, I am ashamed of
myself and deeply disappointed for what I took from
Florence and lost myself. For we weren’t nearly as
happy, nearly as much enjoying being in love, as we would
come to be.

It happened this way. One Spring in the early,
mid-eighties, I was preparing five separate couples for
summer weddings. As a result, I was having to think more
deeply than before about what I, as a Christian minister,
ought to tell a couple about to marry. What does the Bible
say about the practice of marriage? What is the key to a
really happy marriage? I was reading several things,
looking at the texts in the Bible, I think I heard some
things from others, and all of a sudden the priority of
words, and especially a husband’s words to his wife,
their power and special place as the conveyer, the builder,
and the protector of love came finally into sharp focus.
I’m amazed I missed it for so long. I am also amazed
that I was not taught more about this as I was growing up
in the Church. It is a lesson everyone, certainly every
young man, should have been taught over and over again.

But, as I was telling these couples, with all the
enthusiasm of new discovery, about the importance of their
speech, how love is given, increased, and preserved in
praise, in celebratory speech, in appreciative words, I was
thinking at the same time: “You worm, what you are telling
these other men is so important, you are not doing
yourself.”

And, so, I began to do it. I began to speak my love, and
to declare it, and to appreciate and celebrate my wife in
my words. And the results were life-transforming.
I’ll never forget that summer. I was as happy as only
romance can make a man; as happy as only a man can be who
finds himself head over heels in love with the woman
he’s been married to for nearly 10 years. And so it
has continued through the years since. Until still today I
can tell you that I get more pure pleasure from my marriage
than from anything else in my life except my knowledge of
God, and, I tell you honestly, sometimes I fear I get more
pleasure from my marriage than even from that!

And I have been sure these years since that one reason
the Lord delayed in bringing that simple lesson about a
husband’s speech as the instrument that creates the
atmosphere in a relationship between a man and a woman in
marriage, was precisely that I would believe it so
completely and be able to communicate it so
enthusiastically and so authoritatively to others. Your
marriage will be as your speech, and, especially, as
your speech, you husbands: your loving,
appreciative, celebratory speech, which Adam showed you how
to give to a woman, in fact, the very first thing a man
ever did for a woman!