Scripture: Matthew 19:1-6, Hebrews 13:4,5

Message: PICKET FENCES #2

(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg


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Matthew 19:1 (NIV)  

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked,

"Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"

4 "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

People of God:

Christ here refers to the institution of marriage given to us in Genesis 2. If you were with us last Sunday morning, you will remember that at the heart of the institution of marriage is the truth that we are called to say "NO." Those who choose to marry choose the leave the foundational relationship of their lives - their parents, even to parents they choose to say "NO." Those who choose to be married choose an exclusive marital relationship with a partner, thus they choose to say "NO" to other possible relationships, including mental - sexual relationships. We are to say "NO" to lust. We are to do like Job, who made a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully at a women lest he get involved in a sin that lead to Destruction. We need to place boundaries, picket fences, in our minds, markers across which we choose Not to travel, markers over which we refuse to climb.

We need picket fences, even internally, in our minds, fences over which, out of obedience to God and for fear of the possible consequences, we dare not go.

We also need external picket fences around our marriages. One of the scripture passages that speaks to that is Hebrews 13:4 - look at that with me for just a few minutes.

Hebrews 13:4 (NIV) "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

Notice with me that this passage tells us that the marriage relationship should be honored by all. In the context of this passage, honor means to hold in high value, precious, costly, dear, something worth every ounce of human effort. Marriage is to be treasured like gold and silver and rare jewels. It is to be revered and respected, esteemed like it is worth as much as life itself. It must not be touched or handled casually, or treated commonly. Marriage should be honored by all! All here includes not only those who make up the marriage, it also includes extended family and the community around the marriage. Marriage relationships that have been established should be recognized, acknowledged and respected by everyone.

How is it though that marriage relationships are honored?

How is it that we, living together as the body of Christ, grow in respecting one another's marital relationships?

The answer has to do with boundaries, visible markers that delineate what is properly my relationship and what is your relationship, and we are called to respect those boundaries, honor those boundaries for each other. Just like in our city, wherever people live close together, boundaries are essential, and respecting those boundaries makes peaceful relationships between neighbours possible. Boundaries are one of God's gifts to us to make community possible. In the area of marriage too, having clearly marked boundaries which we will not cross makes for safety in the context of community, it makes the larger community possible. And so it is important that we establish and honor the boundaries, the picket fences, around our own marriage relationships and the marriage relationships around us.

To graphically illustrate my next two points, I made a sheet surrounded by a picket fence. Notice that a picket fence is clearly visible. One of the reasons why marriages are called to be community events, public and legal, is so that they are visible to all, so that all can recognize and honor the marriage which has been established.

First let me talk about the honor that comes from within the marriage itself. How does a husband honor his marriage relationship with his wife and how does the wife honor her marriage relationship with her husband?

Notice our scripture passage, in the context of marriage reflecting God's faithfulness, this scripture passage also talks about contentment.

"Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

For spouses, this passage calls us to be content with what we have, with the marriage relationship that we are in. That is our response of faith to God.    At the same time, this passage clearly calls each of us to be spouses who are contentment builders in each other too.

There is a saying "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." That is not God's will for your marriage! One of the very reasons that God puts boundaries around our marriage relationships is so that each one of us can place all our effort into making our own marriage relationship as beautiful as possible. An illustration from our property on Kivikoski Road is in order. One of the things that Judy and I have discovered is that we are only human, and we can only take care of so much property. We may have 5 acres but we are only human. Together, with a lot of hard work, we might be able to take care of 1.5 acres. And that, if we go on holidays and neglect it for just a short while, turns back into weeds and forest at an astounding rate. Very quickly, without regular maintenance, the grass can look greener in our neighbour's yards. Our humanity forces us to put limits around what we can take care of so that we can look at it and experience it with pride and joy.

So to with marriage!  God gives us boundaries so that we can focus our effort on that one primary intimate relationship to which we have committed ourselves. As a couple, to respect our own marriage boundaries is to put such effort into it, that to us, the grass remains greener on our side of the fence. We are called to put our efforts into the relationship in such a way that we build up reasons for our spouse to have contentment in their relationship with us. Enable your spouse to be satisfied with the Lord's provision for them through you. Now there are many ways we can evaluate that for ourselves. Let me just give a few questions to which you may want to add some.

  1. When you spouse wants someone to talk to - to whom they can be open and honest, yet loved and received, when your spouse is looking for friendship, companionship, do they find the grass greener with you than anyone else?

  2. When your spouse needs to know that there is someone who is really committed to their well-being, committed to them as a person, in whatever endeavor they are involved, will they find the most committed person in you?

  3. When your spouse hungers for respect, being valued, appreciated, honored, and they look around themselves, where is the most respect, were are the greatest expressions of value coming from? You? Or is the grass greener elsewhere?

  4. When your spouse hungers for spiritual support, the fellowship of the saints in the context of marriage, does your spouse find safety and fellowship in you? Or is the grass greener elsewhere?

  5. When your spouse sees your body, have you maintained its attractiveness to them? Is the grass greener on your side of the fence?

I suspect as you listen to that list of 5 questions, you might be aware that you have a lot of work to do. On at least some of them, I am sure Judy, my wife, is saying to herself :  "Practice what you preach Bill."   Yet I say them because I need to hear those questions, we all need to hear these questions because God calls us each to make our marriages the absolutely best possible place that we can for our spouses. Be contentment maker!. Enable your spouse to obey God in faith by doing all within your power and ability to make your marriage a place of contentment.

If we are trying to make sure that the grass is greener our spouse on our side of the fence, then we need to understand that there are boundaries around our marriages also for the sake of those who are outside of our marriage. One of the fundamental and dangerous assumptions that I have often seen Christians make is that they feel that their own marriage is going well and that there is no danger of them sliding into an inappropriate relationship with another man or women. The reason for this assumption is that they assume that everyone will honor their good marriage. But in truth there are people who dishonor marriage, who for their own reasons do not give proper respect for the boundaries that God has set up around our relationship. And so it becomes absolutely important that each person in a marriage relationship know the boundaries that ought to be respected, not only by themselves but others, recognizing that in this world where evil is definitely powerful, there are thieves who would come over fences to steal, break and destroy (John 10). And so in the last few minutes of this message, let me suggest to you four boundaries which are worthy of your repeated evaluation and attention.

The first boundary is TIME. Each one of these picket fences  on this overhead can be labeled as a boundary. Time is the acid test of our commitments in relationships. And time is often the one boundary that we are the most willing to let deteriorate. There are so many pressures for us to move this boundary or eliminate it. In Canada and the USA, now employment is demanding more and more of our time. Self employed individuals hardly think it strange to work 60 + hours per week. Some jobs don't have the punch clock, work is taken home, demands can be constant. But TIME is what your spouse needs. Time for being together. Time for projects together. Time for eating together. Time for sleeping together. Time for talking and laughing and playing together. If in fact your relationship with your spouse is the most important relationship you will have next to God, then make time, set it aside, tell your employer that he can't have all your time. If you are spending more time with another person than with your own spouse, a boundary has deteriorated, your marriage is in risk. If your spouse is commenting that you are too busy, and longs to be with you, seriously understand that your spouse is mentioning something about a boundary issue. Set guidelines for the minimum amount of time you will spend with each other. Set standards for minimum maintenance and when others pressure you to give up time that belongs to your spouse - say "NO." Marriage should be honored by all.

The second boundary we will call COMMUNICATION.

Watch who you are talking to and how you are talking to them. It is not uncommon for pastors to here that someone has found somebody else. Usually one of the first qualities that we hear is this: "I found someone I can really talk too!" When we hear those words, we know they are in trouble. As Bill Hybels says "They are running away from the dissonance in their own marriage and running toward the harmony of a new relationship. It's only a matter of time before they end up in bed. They're an infidelity statistic waiting to happen." The truth is, marriages are built and they are broken by communication. And the key issue in that communication is wether or not boundaries in communication are honored.

And so we need to be sure that our greatest effort, our honest expressions of self revelation, our most gracious responses to words said, our most empathetic listening be done toward our spouses. And if there are others around us who invite us to share things of a very personal nature, of a nature that maybe we have not felt free to share with our spouses, the time is to say "NO." Spouses come first, foremost, all the time. Don't go to another person to resolve your marriage difficulties unless it is a safe professional counselor. Don't go to another person, especially if that person could become in anyway a future partner, to help resolve your marriage difficulties. Put your efforts at home where they belong. When others express care, put limits on what you share.   If they are asking too much, say "NO" to them because Marriage should be honored by all.

The third boundary is RELATIONSHIPS. It should be obvious that when a couple gets married they are saying on a certain level "NO" to a whole host of other possible relationships. Over the years as I have talked with couples who were choosing to get married, I have been shocked by the fact that many assumed that once married, they would be continuing as before the relationships that they always had.

Continuing to go over to parents three of four times a week. Continuing to go hunting and booze parties with the buds for weekends, or holidays while leaving their new spouses at home. Continuing relationships with old girl friends and boy friends although maybe on a somewhat more casual level. But the truth is marriage is a choice to say YES to one person, and NO to many others. And because we our human, and each relationship we have takes energy, the energy we pour into relationships outside of our marriages is energy and effort that we don't have left over for our own marriage partners. Spouses who seek fulfillment and happiness elsewhere are draining what they already have of the vitality God designed from their own marriage. Because the grass is greener on the other side of the fence they allow their own property to go to weeds. Some simple guidelines:

Understand that to be married is to focus your life on one person, one relationship above all others. It is not to be taken for granted. It will take more effort than any other relationship.

Secondly, once married, two have become one. The implication is that friends are now shared. If there is a relationship that you cannot share with your spouse, it is better to say "NO" to it because it is a relationship taking time and energy away from your first commitment. Maintain only those friendships that can be shared friendships, something you do together. Marriage should be honored by all.

The last boundary this morning very simply is SEX. This passage which says "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure" by the marriage bed is not referring to a piece of furniture, it is referring to the emotions, the attitudes and the actions of sexual intimacy. The point is this: there is only one place for sex !  The one place of safety, within the boundaries of marriage. Again, God gives us these boundaries to keep us safe from disease, fear, exploitation and dehumanization. Any sex outside of marriage, including premarital sex defiles the marriage bed. God has designed that sex be limited to marriage. Outside of marriage there is no such thing as safe sex. Rather, outside of marriage, scripture calls sex fornication, sexual immorality or adultery if it happens to be a betrayal of the marriage vows. When this passage says God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral, God is at the very end of the sentence in the Greek for emphasis! God will not let it go un-judged!  You are only human! So set up your picket fences, keep them, maintain them, while you are young, a teen ager, into your adult and if it be God's will, your married years.

"Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."


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(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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