Here are handouts from a marriage course my wife and I ran recently:
On Saturday our church witnessed a tremendous picture of the book of Proverbs. The vicar married his son to a wise and beautiful woman. It was a very joyous occasion. And it perfectly pictures the book of Proverbs.
Because Proverbs is all about a father – King Solomon – addressing his son, the young prince. And he keeps saying, over twenty times, “my son, my son, my son.” It’s a case of saying, “Now boy, here’s what you need in life.” You can almost imagine it as the vicar and his son having a father-son chat.
And as you read through Proverbs essentially Solomon’s advice to his son is this: Watch out for the ladies!
In fact there are two ladies you need to look out for.
There’s a lady called Wisdom – get her, embrace her, marry her. There’s a lady called Folly – avoid her, don’t listen to her, don’t be ensnared by her.
And the King keeps saying to his son, the young prince – embrace wisdom, shun folly. All of life essentially boils down to one of two paths. Will you go wisdom’s way, or will you go folly’s way? The way of wisdom is the way of life and success. The way of folly is the way of death and disaster. Everything depends on shunning folly and embracing wisdom.
But what’s fascinating is that King Solomon does not present this choice as a matter of the intellect. It’s not just about applying ourselves to learning and head knowledge. And neither is this choice a matter of the will – as though we just need to be determined and resolved and just do it!. No, wisdom and folly are matters of the heart.
Our lives are ultimately a success or a failure depending on what we love. Or rather on Who we love.
Because Wisdom is not an abstract idea in the book of Proverbs. Wisdom is a Person. Turn to Proverbs chapter 8. And let’s dip in at verse 27:
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, 28 when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, 29 when he gave the sea its boundary so that the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. 30 Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, 31 rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.
So Wisdom is a Person who was there at creation. Who was the craftsman of creation, says v30, at God’s side. Rejoicing in God, rejoicing in the world, rejoicing in mankind. Who is this Person called Wisdom?
Well there are interesting depths to that question that I’d love to discuss after the service if you liked but the most basic answer the church has given down through history is that this is Jesus Christ before He joined our human race. Christ is the Craftsman of creation, the One who made all things with His Father and by the Spirit.
And here He’s described as Lady Wisdom because in the story of Proverbs it’s about the king’s son is choosing a wife. And everything is allegorical, so within that allegory Wisdom is the best wife the young prince could choose. Usually in the bible Christ is pictured as the Husband and we are the bride of Christ. But here within this allegorical world of Proverbs, Wisdom is pictured as a lady.
And what does she say? Well read on in v32
32 "Now then, my sons, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways. 33 Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not ignore it. 34 Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. 35 For whoever finds me finds life and receives favour from the LORD. 36 But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death."
Aren’t they extraordinary words? Very Christlike. Verse 35 – whoever finds me finds life and receives favour (or you could translate it – grace) from the LORD. Christ is life and He is the grace of the Father. It’s very appropriate. But with your eyes fixed on verse 35 let me read out to you another Proverb from chapter 18:22. There it says:
Proverbs 18:22 He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favour from the LORD.
Did you hear that? If you find wisdom you’ll receive favour from the LORD. If you find a wife you’ll receive favour from the LORD. That’s just one of many ways that wisdom is spoken of as the ultimate wife. There are other ways too.
In Proverbs 4:9 wisdom is spoken of as a crown of splendour. But in Proverbs 12:4 it says, “A wife of noble character is her husband's crown.”
In Proverbs 8:11 it talks about Wisdom being more precious than rubies. But in the famous chapter, Proverbs 31 it says:
Proverbs 31:10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
[SLIDE] a good wife
Let me just take a second as an aside. Women – no doubt if you’ve ever gone to a Christian women’s conference or you’ve ever bought a Christian woman’s book – you know, the pink one with the soft focus sunset on the cover – you’ve heard people tell you that you need to be a Proverbs chapter 31 wife. A wife of noble character. Good luck with that one – if you don’t know the chapter you can read it when you get home but prepare to be exhausted. Because the wife of noble character is this paragon of virtue, a super-mum, philanthropist, business-woman, accountant, dress-maker, home-maker, this diligent, strong, laughing, wise woman. You get to the end of the chapter and think, who is this? Well it actually says in verse 29 that she surpasses all women. She is this ideal woman. More precious than rubies. (Don’t you get it?) She’s Wisdom. And if you put yourself into the Proverbs world, you’re meant to be putting yourself in the shoes of the young prince, and you’re meant to admire her. Proverbs 31 is brilliant for men. Because it just talks about her husband hanging out with other men and praising his wife who is working her fingers to the bone. But actually all of us – whether we’re men or women – are meant to identify with her husband here. We’re meant to put ourselves in the shoes of a man who has found THE Good Wife. He has found Wisdom. And He has full confidence in Wisdom and praises Wisdom. And Wisdom does everything for him.
This is not primarily here as a model for our home life. On the far side of our appreciation for this gospel presentation there ARE things we can learn for our own home-life. But in the first instance, this is a picture of what Christ does for YOU when YOU embrace Christ. Don’t immediately jump into the shoes of Wisdom here, you’ll burn out in half an hour. Instead put yourself in the shoes of the person who has embraced Wisdom and rest in all that Christ does for you.
That was just an aside –
Wisdom is like the ultimate wife. And Wisdom is Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, folly is described as loud, seductive and deadly.
Folly is the original femme fatale. And that’s precisely how the adulteress is described in Proverbs also. Our readings this morning told us of the adulteress who tempts the simple – she is loud, seductive and deadly.
So here is the deepest choice you can make in life. Will you embrace Wisdom? Or will you embrace Folly?
And I use the word “embrace” deliberately. Because in life, the path people take is ultimately a matter of the heart. It’s not a cold calculation, it’s not a determined resolve, we embrace what we love.
Which is why Proverbs 4:23 can say this:
Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
Your HEART is the wellspring of life. What you LOVE determines everything. So the question is: Will you embrace Jesus Christ who is Wisdom, or will you follow your own baser lusts and go after things that are loud and seductive and ultimately deadly?
That’s the question of Proverbs and it’s a question of the heart.
Because ultimately the bible is a love story. Ultimately the whole bible is about marriage. The marriage of the LORD to His people. It’s a love story.
And throughout the bible it uses marriage imagery to talk about our relationship with the LORD.
When the people disobey, the bible doesn’t just call them law-breakers, it calls them ‘unfaithful’ and ‘adulterous’. Do you hear how very marital that is? His people aren’t just disobedient. They are unfaithful and adulterous. And He is not just a holy Judge – as though He was distant, sitting on the bench far from His people. No, the LORD keeps calling Himself a Jealous Husband.
When the LORD becomes flesh and comes among us, He calls Himself the Bridegroom.
And in the final book of the bible, Revelation, what’s the happy ending? Christ’s Wedding Supper. He is the Groom. The Father is hosting the reception. And His bride is His people and they’re wearing white because Christ has made His people pure.
The story of the bible is a love story. And the greatest issues of our lives are matters of the heart. Will we embrace Jesus Christ and say “I will” to Him? Or will we jilt Jesus and spurn His love?
If you’re a Christian – do you realize that LOVE is at the heart of your Christianity? We come to church praying that our hearts will be stirred, we sing songs so that our hearts will be engaged, we talk to each other wanting to have heart-to-heart fellowship, we read the bible of a day so that our hearts will be re-awakened to the love of Jesus, we go to growth group praying our hearts will be warmed. Love is central to our Christian walk.
And if you’re not a Christian this morning – do you realize that the big issue for you is whether you can look at Jesus and give your heart to Him? Is He someone you can say “I will” to? Look at Him teaching and living and healing and loving and stooping and suffering and dying and rising and offering... is He someone you love? That’s the heart of it.
Because ultimately Christ is the great Lover, the Husband. And His people the Church, are the beloved, the Bride.
Human marriage is meant to picture the ultimate marriage between Christ and the church.
But what we’ll see in Proverbs is that, in our sin, we manage to twist this gospel picture.
Men in particular will fail to love.
Women in particular will fail to rest in love.
Recently I was talking to a woman we were speaking about the differences between men and women and she said, “No-one can be selfish like a man. And no-one can be bitter like a woman.” As far as broad generalisations go I think that’s pretty good. Because it’s grounded in this reality. Men are meant to love but it all goes wrong. Women are meant to be content in love, but it all goes wrong.
Let’s look at men’s failure to love.
Perhaps our guide verse will be Proverbs 20:6
Proverbs 20:6 Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?
We are broken reflections of Christ the faithful lover. And so the thing that men particularly struggle with is love. And that will show itself in any number of ways. We will love the wrong thing, we will withdraw from love or we’ll lash out in anger.
First, we’ll love the wrong thing. Turn to Proverbs 5 from v7 and we’ll see this depiction of unfaithfulness.
Here Solomon is speaking about the adulteress with her lips dripping honey. And verse 7:
7 Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say. 8 Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, 9 lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel, 10 lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich another man's house. 11 At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent. 12 You will say, "How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! 13 I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors. 14 I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly." 15 Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. 16 Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? 17 Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. 18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 A loving doe, a graceful deer--may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. 20 Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife? 21 For a man's ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths. 22 The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. 23 He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.
Here’s a man who is meant to rejoice in the wife of his youth. He’s meant to direct his love to his wife, but his love is being twisted. He’s straying.
Chapter 7 speaks about a man who goes near the adulteress’s house “at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in.” Why is he walking in that part of town at that time of night? If you ask him he says “Oh, no reason in particular.” But it’s a matter of the heart. It’s a twisted love. And in the end chapter 6 v26 says, such adultery “reduces you to a loaf of bread.” What an assessment! He’s no Casanova, he is reduced to a loaf of bread. He is completely dehumanized and turned into something just purely fleshy. It’s the satisfaction of very basic desires – a loaf of bread. When he takes the love that should be for his wife and twists it, he destroys himself.
Marriages are destroyed by adultery. Families are destroyed by adultery. As Proverbs 6:27 asks:
Proverbs 6:27 Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?
Answer, no. You cannot play with such fire without doing incredible damage. The “consequence-free affair” is a myth. And it’s not “an affair” it’s like oxen going to the slaughter according to Proverbs 7:22. It’s disastrous and messy and it destroys.
Incredible damage can be done when love is twisted like this. And we should recall at this stage how Jesus defined adultery also. Matthew 5:28:
28 I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
This looking – this devouring with the eyes – is a twisted love. It’s adultery. And pornography – so prevalent today – is twisting men into the opposite of what we’re meant to be. There’s an internet equivalent of straying near to the adulteress’s house as the dark of night sets in. And it can be just as much of a snare. Because it twists the love men are meant to show into its exact opposite.
We’re meant to be like Christ. We’re meant to move out in loving service, to woo and win and lay down our lives for that one woman to whom we commit ourselves entirely. We’re meant to be the faithful, generous giver of love. That’s how Christ has loved us. That’s what marriage is meant to reflect. But pornography turns the man into a passive consumer who doesn’t win or woo or lay down his life – she offers to him what is not his to take. It’s completely twisted. It’s the reversal of God-given manhood. It twists men from what we’re meant to be. And it’s adultery.
If you’re a man (or a woman) straying into pornography or straying into a flesh and blood affair, will you talk to a trusted Christian friend about it, pray and seek the Lord’s help to cut it out. You can’t scoop fire into your lap and not get burnt.
Let me just briefly mention two more ways men fail to love – there are loads more.
But another way is that men withdraw.
Proverbs 27:8 Like a bird that strays from its nest is a man who strays from his home.
He’s meant to engage, to enter into his family life and pour himself out. He just stays away. Spends all his free time on hobbies and sports and just withdraws. That’s another way love gets twisted.
And then the other side of that coin is when he lashes out. Let me give you just half a verse –
So much of Proverbs is about this but I’ll just give you half a verse on his use of words:
Prov 12:18: Reckless words pierce like a sword
Reckless words pierce like a sword. This is not the withdrawn husband, this is lashing out.
We’ll see in just a second that a wife’s twisted words are more like a dripping tap. Drip, drip, drip, drip. How does a sinful man use words? Like a sword – a devastating and sharp killer blow. That is a perversion of the love men are meant to have. Our words are meant to be planting seeds of life in our wives, but so often it gets twisted and we use our words to kill.
As for wives...
There’s a failure to rest in love – to be content and secure in love.
So in Proverbs 30 it says this:
21 "Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up: 22 a servant who becomes king, a fool who is full of food, 23 an unloved woman who is married, and a maidservant who displaces her mistress.
The earth trembles beneath an unloved woman who is married. The wife is meant to be The Beloved. But actually women struggle with being loved and accepted at such a deep level. And in the marriage environment this gives rise to what Proverbs calls a quarrelsome wife.
Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife... (Prov 21:9)
Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife. (Prov 21:19)
Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. (Proverbs 25:24)
A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day (Proverbs 27:15)
Here is the nag. Drip, drip, drip, drip. And it’s the twisting of God-given femininity. There’s meant to be a resting in love, a deep assurance of your acceptability to your Lover, a warm reception of his loving approaches. But in human sinfulness it gets turned into the opposite: nagging. Like a football referee, always blowing the whistle, off-side, off-side, off-side. All of it betrays a lack of contentment, a lack of settledness, a failure to rest in love.
You might think I’m drawing attention to trivial things here. But these small things are signs of deep issues. Fundamentally marriage is meant to picture the love of Christ for His bride. And a man’s failure to love and a woman’s failure to rest in love are central to every marital problem and these failures preach to the world a false gospel. These small things are symptoms of deep problems.
So what’s the solution? Well the solution for all our human marriages is to look to the ultimate marriage and find the grace of Christ again.
Let me finish by pointing us to the ultimate marriage.
The ultimate marriage is this: you and I were filthy, shameful, diseased and sunk in colossal debts. That was our natural state. And then the perfect man or the perfect woman comes along. They are good looking, fit, healthy, funny, wise and stinking rich. For reasons known only to them, they set their love on you, and they beg you to marry them. And on your wedding day you say these vows:
All that I am I give to you, all that I have I share with you...
What have you got to give? Your filth, your shame and your debts. You give them all to your new spouse. And then they say those vows to you
All that I am I give to you, all that I have I share with you...
What’s just happened? They’ve taken your debts and given you their riches. Best of all you are now ONE with the love of your life.
Friends, that’s the gospel. Jesus Christ has set His love on me and you and He begs us, He implores us to please accept His offer of marriage. He wants to be one with us even in all our sin and shame. And so He goes to the cross where He takes all our sin and shame and pays all our debts in full. And in return He offers us His perfect righteousness. Best of all He offers us Himself. All that I am I give to you, all that I have I share with you... For better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Till death when we meet.
That’s the gospel. And whether you are married or not – you have available to you a marriage-like love that puts every human marriage in the shade. If you’re a single Christian right now, know that in a much deeper sense you have the ultimate relationship, the ultimate love. Pursue your contentment in Christ and His marital love.
If you’re not yet a Christian – do you realise that Christianity is a love story? That Jesus offers Himself to you like the greatest Spouse imaginable. Will you continue to spurn Him or will you finally say “I will” to Him?
And if you are married – husbands will you receive from Christ the ultimate marital love. And from that security will you learn from Jesus how to lay down your lives. Not to twist love into adultery or harsh words but to love in faithfulness and gentle constancy. Wives will you receive from Christ the ultimate marital love. And will you learn to warmly receive that love in contentment and rest.
As we understand our marriage to Christ our marriages to each other will more and more reflect that love out into the world.