MARRIAGE, SINGLENESS, & THE LAW OF HEAVEN (from Brian Luton)
Gen 28: 18-20 made a lasting impression upon me during the time I was in college, because, like many young men in their early 20s, my mind was consumed with the thought of a future mate, and, as a Christian, I wanted to make sure that I did not settle for anything less than God’s best for me. One of the reasons that this particular passage became so significant to me was because of several less-than-positive experiences that I had had with girls that I had dated right out of high school. Each one of these girls was—like Rachel—beautiful in form and face, but none of them were living the life of a committed Christian. For that matter, neither was I.
I had a fear that if I did let God control such areas of my life as dating and marriage, either He would keep me single for the rest of my life, or else bring across my path the ugliest female I had ever seen and say, “This is My gift to you.” There was, in fact, a power struggle raging in my heart as to just who was going to sit in the saddle of my life—either Jesus or me. And because God is a gentle shepherd, He let me win that power struggle. Unfortunately! The result was that I continued to date the particular girl I was going with until we finally broke up under circumstances that were very unpleasant. I had gotten my own way and regretted it. Experience had brought me to my knees, and I prayed, “Dear God, how could I have been so stupid as to think that my plans for my life could in some way be an improvement over Your plans.” I put an end to that power struggle once and for all by surrendering all to Christ’s lordship. I prayed that God would squeeze out of my life as much effectiveness as possible as a single person until He should see fit to bring into my life His choice of a life partner. And if and when that time should ever come, I gave up my right to God to pick the girl. Furthermore, I prayed specifically that however God would see fit to give me a wife, it would be a testimony of His grace by faith, and not a result of my works. Until then, I decided that I would stay content being single. Of course, the expectation that some day God would finally introduce me to Miss Perfect was very much alive in the back of my mind.
It was about this time that while reading through this account in Genesis 29 I became impressed with verses 18 & 20, and I committed them to memory. Having given God the right to pick the girl, I wanted to be so captivated by her that, like Jacob, I would be willing to wait as long as seven years only to find those years passing by like a few days for my love for her. I had no idea that, instead of seven years, I would wait over thirty.
To trust God in this area, not knowing if marriage was even in His will for me, made it necessary for me to make some vital decisions to help keep my balance in a sex-crazed culture so as to safe-guard this commitment I was making. My first decision involved physical contact with the opposite sex. Because I had been blinded by romance several times before, I resolved before God never to kiss, embrace, dance with, or show any romantic expression of physical affection except the girl to whom I was engaged. It made sense that because the purpose of engagement is to prepare for marriage, any physical expressions of affection that naturally lead to, and have their natural consummation on the sex act, should not be initiated until after the engagement. In this way I could maintain a clear head before the engagement and a clear conscience afterwards. (Needless to say, I believe in very short engagements).
My second decision followed as a direct corollary of the first. I reasoned that if I didn’t have any clear intention of marrying a girl, I had no business dating her, so I stopped dating. I know this flies in the face of the value our modern culture places on casual dating. And even many Christians would suggest that one cannot recognize a suitable marriage partner unless one gets acquainted, and in order to get acquainted, one must get in the dating scene. But I had been in the dating scene, with the result that emotional involvement often blinded me to the spiritual issues at stake. For me, dating had proven effective in guaranteeing disappointment and a broken heart for either me or a girl in whom I was no longer interested. It’s significant to note that dating is nowhere supported in the Bible, but is purely a human invention, born in American society in the early 20th century with the advent of the automobile.
I didn’t know exactly how I would recognize the right mate when she came along or just how God would see fit to reveal her to me. For all I knew, God might arrange some day for Miss Perfect to show up on my doorstep with a pretty pink bow around her neck and a sign that read, “To Bryan, from God.” All I knew was that in this area I was determined that I would walk by faith and trust God. I had witnessed too many heart-breaking divorces among friends of mine whose marriage had been the product of the dating scene to realize that there were a lot of things worse than remaining single. Until God should so choose to bring to me His choice of a life partner in His time and in His way, I found it easier to remain “safe, sane, and single.” One particular verse took on new significance to me was II Timothy 1: 12— . . . I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.
Remembering how many times I had been fooled by outward beauty, I no longer felt safe trusting my own judgment in the minefield of romantic relationships and recalled God’s words to Samuel in I Sam 16:7— “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
What God told Samuel He may also be telling many men who are single and currently infatuated with “appearance”: “Look not at her appearance or at the form of her figure, or on the color of her eyes, or on the sweetness of her smile, etc. etc. for I have rejected her. For God does not see as mankind sees, for you look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
There was a third decision that was even more important in drawing lines of protection as a single person. Pornography is prolific on college campus, and I knew it would be impossible to keep my balance unless I consciously rid my life entirely of its influence. I thereupon vowed to God to never again pick up anything I knew was pornographic nor involve myself with those impure habits which usually accompany pornographic involvement. A vow remains in effect for life and is in no way abrogated if broken in a moment of weakness. This decision helped ensure victory in the arena where the battle is either won or lost—in the mind. Since a man’s thoughts are fed by what he puts before his eyes, this cut to the core of the problem. Job got it right when he said in Job 31: 1— I made a covenant with mine eyes. Why then should I think upon a maid?
Of course, there is always the argument posed by popular psychology that it’s dangerous to suppress one’s natural desires and instincts. I happen to agree with this contention. That’s why I chose to no longer suppress my desires, but to control them. A kettle of water on the stove may be “suppressed” if one holds the lid on tightly to prevent steam from escaping. A dangerous explosion is inevitable, but not if the kettle is removed from the source of heat. This action “controls” the situation, as Romans 14: 13 says: But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.
These decisions combined to enable me to not be led by my emotions. They also helped ensure a solid commitment in my marriage, because practicing a daily faithfulness to my future wife before marriage, helped ensure a life of marital fidelity after marriage. I have told my wife several times how easy I find it to be faithful to her, regardless of whether I am away from home or in the presence of attractive women in my job. Faithfulness to my wife didn’t begin on our wedding day with the exchange of vows. It began before I ever met her, when I first committed myself to God to be faithful in these areas. My wife made a similar commitment to the Lord before marriage. Despite marriage proposals from six different men, it was to me that she gave her first kiss after we were engaged.
Applying principles of self-denial not only set the stage for victory in the battle for sexual purity, it changed my outlook regarding what constitutes a godly marriage. Now that I’m married, instead of viewing my wife as a means of gratifying my own desires, the discipline of self-denial enables me to focus on how to serve my wife and gratify her desires. God did not create the sex organ primarily as the means of receiving pleasure, but as the means of giving pleasure. Thus, a godly marriage must be viewed by both parties from the perspective exemplified by Jesus’ words in Mark 10: 45— For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, . . .
So liberating did I find the application of these principles while I was single that, by my late 20s, I had come to think that I was immune to any more romantic involvements. However, that was before I met the “Rachel” that God would bring into my life while working one summer in Canada at a Christian conference center. She was a beautiful Christian girl, both inwardly and outwardly, and we both worked on staff together. After a few weeks I found myself falling deeply in love with her. It came as somewhat of a surprise to me, because I could never remember anything like this before happening to me. I was thus left with the undeniable conclusion that this had to be “the one,” and one of my happiest days that summer was when this beautiful Christian girl came up to me smiling and asked, “When are you going to ask me for a date?” By the end of the summer I had professed by love to her and we began corresponding after I returned home. Within a few months, however, her letters had become somewhat disjointed and unresponsive, and I became painfully aware that something was wrong. Without her ever admitting it to me, I learned that a former boyfriend with whom she at one time had been intimately involved had recently turned his life around, had come back on the scene, and old passions had once more been rekindled. When their engagement was announced, I was devastated emotionally. But more than that, I was left shocked and surprised that after committing these matters so completely and sincerely to the Lord, He would allow me to experience this broken heart. Had I even the least suspicion that this girl was not in God’s for me regarding marriage, I would never have allowed myself to get involved in the first place. I was left confused why God would allow this to happen to me, when He knew all along that the object of my love and affection was intended for someone else. The answer, I was to discover, was in verses that followed those I had memorized in Gen 29: 21. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her.” 22. And Laban gathered all the men of the place, and made a feast. 23. Now it came about in the evening that he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her. 24. Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid.
(It was the practice of the ancient Hebrews on one’s wedding night, after the feast, and festivities were over, to arrange for a wedding lodge where the man was sent to await the arrival of his bride after she had prepared herself. And there in the dark, he would receive her and consummate the marriage. In Jacob’s case, a great surprise awaited him.)
25. So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?” 26. But Laban said, “It is not the practice in our place, to marry off the younger before the first-born.
Some teach that Jacob married the “wrong wife.” Leah, to the contrary was indeed the right wife. Leah, for all her unattractive physical features, proved to be a much better wife to Jacob than did the fair Rachel. Leah bore Jacob three times as many children as did Rachel, and did not give him half the problems Rachel did. This is a law of heaven, by which God operates: We all long to embrace life’s “fair Rachel,” who represents heaven, happiness, satisfaction, and pleasure. But according to this “law of heaven,” the younger sister—Rachel—is not married off before the elder—Leah, who represents the life of holiness, and all its incumbent duties of self-denial, humility, and mortification. We believers have failed to recognize this in our rush to embrace our culture’s values of self-gratification, self-aggrandizement, self-esteem, and self-fulfillment. The unfortunate result has been a growing shallowness in our faith. The simple fact of the matter is that God has not given us the Christian life to live with the aim of making us happy. Rather, God’s aim is to make us holy. And if, in the process of sanctification we occasionally experience happiness, so be it! But if we—like the majority of the body of Christ—are called upon to experience adversity, suffering, and persecution, so be it! God has provided us the means to experience the fruit of the spirit, which includes “joy,” regardless of whether we may experience times of happiness or times of suffering.
In my case, it became all too obvious. My fair Rachel of marital happiness was being replaced with another very undesirable companion—Leah!—singleness! Up until this time singleness had never seemed to be a problem, because I was still young. I had developed a deep confidence in my ability to win the heart of the right girl with my “sparkling personality and dashing good looks.” But now, things were different. I had turned 30 that summer and had become painfully aware of the fact that my hairline was beginning to recede. The appearance of youth was slowly being replaced with the appearance of middle age. Trusting God now for the right one would be more difficult. Had God brought into my life a wife before this time, there would have been too much of “me” in the way and taking the credit. Now, the whole idea of singleness took on a new, somewhat frightening, perspective obligating me to trust God more—and me less.
By the time I had turned 40, I had again fallen in love with a fine Christian girl. We exchanged our feelings for each other, and again I was convinced that this time God was about to bring into my life the fair Rachel. But again, in circumstances that were virtually identical to what had happened before—circumstances that had God’s fingerprints all over them—my hopes and dreams were dashed leaving me broken hearted again. Worst of all was that undesirable, yet familiar, awareness that behind me was my “Leah—singleness” saying, “I’m back! Remember me?” More undesirable now than ever, Leah had become a comfortable and familiar companion. Again, by the time I turned 50, this same experience had happened a third time, leaving no doubt in my mind that God was maintaining ownership rights in this area that I had committed to Him so many years earlier. I hope I never experience a broken heart again. Yet, I would never trade those experiences for anything, because in each instance, I remember God’s presence as being more sweet or dear than at any other time in my life. And those painful experiences also made me increasingly more sensitive to the hurts of others. The Lord truly was building into my life Psalm 34: 18— The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Surrendering one’s heart to the Lord will most certainly mean giving Him the right to break it. But after He does, He will then bless it, and then—like the 5 loaves and the 2 fish that were surrendered to Him in Matt. 14—use it to feed a multitude. God can do a lot with a broken heart, if He is first given all the pieces.
By this time, I had become like the mackerel used in a psychology experiment. When guppies were lowered into the same fish tank with the mackerel, it didn’t take long for it to gobble them up. But then a glass plate, quite invisible to the fish, was lowered into the tank dividing it into two parts. This time, guppies were placed into one side and the mackerel on the other. Following its nature, the mackerel lunged toward a guppy only to bang its nose against the glass partition. Again and again it lunged, with the same result. After several hours, the mackerel had learned that every attempt it made to satisfy its hunger, an increasingly sore nose resulted. Eventually, the glass partition was removed, leaving the mackerel and the guppies to swim peacefully together without the slightest attempt by the mackerel to satisfy its desire by lunging toward a guppy swimming around its mouth.
I had, at last, become that mackerel. By the time I was 53 years old, I had at last become comfortable, as well as content, to remain espoused to my “Leah” of singleness. Family members had long since given up on me ever getting married and had stopped praying for me to get married. My single years have truly been the most productive years in my life, during which I was free to direct Bible clubs in school, witness to witch doctors in the jungles of Chichicastenango, help smuggle over two tons of Bibles and literature past the Chinese border, journey through the Gobi dessert to help the first church ever in Outer Mongolia, and even help conduct a clandestine operation behind the Iron Curtain, dodging security police, and bringing desperately needed supplies to the underground church. My life as a single has truly been colorful, adventurous, and exciting, and “Leah” has been very good to me. But just as I had at last embraced singleness and was looking forward to my future with her, God saw fit, quite unexpectedly to bring “Rachel” into my life, and He did so without any “works” on my part. The announcement of my engagement shocked everyone who knew me. My brother summed it up best after he heard the news when he said, “Well, hell has officially frozen over.” My engagement and marriage to Mem, of course, is another story for another time.
The one who has surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ may be sure that this “Law of heaven” still applies. God will invariably bring into such a person’s life His choice of a “Leah” in order to shape character before He brings the fair “Rachel.” Leah may take on the form of singleness, barrenness, joblessness, or any one of a number of undesirable experiences that will help accomplish God’s patient work of sanctification. It pays to remember that God is far more concerned with one’s holiness than with one’s temporal happiness. God knows what He’s doing and is a Good Shepherd. But it also pays to never forget His words in Luke 9: 23— If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.
One of the “ways of God” is to birth within a believer a hope, a dream, or a life goal that promises fulfillment, happiness, and pleasure, only to replace that fair “Rachel” with her wearisome older sister, Leah. It is Leah by which God builds those character qualities necessary that outfits the believer for heaven. Only after she is finally embraced, will God “resurrect” that original vision with the fair Rachel. And He does so in a way in which He gets the glory and the credit, leaving the saint with a living testimony of God’s grace rather than “works.” Such is God’s way. Will you live by it?