What Is Biblical Marriage Like?
About the Guest
Pastor Todd Wilson, a husband for over 20 years and father to seven, tells how he's raising his children to know what a biblical marriage is like. Wilson takes listeners back to the first marriage of Adam and Eve and explains how everything related to sexual ethics comes out of that one-flesh concept. Todd reveals why waiting to have sex until marriage is a wise move.
Todd WilsonTodd Wilson (PhD, Cambridge University) has spent over a decade in pastoral ministry and is currently the Senior Pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois. He is the cofounder and chairman of The Center for Pastor Theologians, a ministry dedicated to resourcing pastor theologians. Todd has authored or edited a number of books including Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith and The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision. Todd is marrie...more
Pastor Todd Wilson, a husband for over 20 years and father to seven, tells how he’s raising his children to know what a biblical marriage is like.
What Is Biblical Marriage Like?
Bob: Most people in our culture today don’t think you ought to wait until you are married to become sexually active. In fact, some people think that’s a big mistake. Todd Wilson says we need to recalibrate our understanding of the power of human sexuality.
Todd: Sex can bring into existence an eternal being—that’s incredible! That is such a power that we have been given by the grace of God. It requires the safe confines of a marital union to steward responsibly that power.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, June 13th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I'm Bob Lepine. When it comes to the boundaries for human sexuality, it’s clear that God really does know best. We’ll talk more about that today with Todd Wilson. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. One of the challenges you face sometimes, when you are talking about issues of human sexuality, is you can get hyper focused on all of the things that people are doing wrong that you forget that there is a part of this that people are doing right. That needs to be understood and celebrated.
Dennis: It does! There are some things though that we are doing wrong.
Bob, you remember, when the Supreme Court redefined marriage to include people of the same sex, I wrote a little piece; I took a good bit of time to write it. But I wrote a little piece—not pounding the table, yelling and screaming, uttering inflammatory words—
Bob: I remember what you wrote—I remember you saying, “The decision came down, and it made me sad.”
Dennis: Yes; and I grieved!
I sent it out to a few of my friends—you know, a couple hundred thousand. [Laughter]
Bob: Folks who listened to FamilyLife Today, or who had been to our events; right?
Todd Wilson joins us again on the broadcast. I want to tell you what happened, Todd. After writing this piece, I received the most number of negative emails that I’ve ever received in the history of everything I’d done, up to that point, for FamilyLife®.
Dennis: It was people who said: “How can you be a Christian and hold to those kinds of narrow convictions of what you believe? Take us off the mailing list!”
Bob: It was, again, charges of: “You are unloving,” “You lack compassion,” “You are unkind for holding these rigid views.”
We can say, in this culture, there are people, who have held rigid views, and have been unkind and lacked compassion; and yet, it’s not the views that lack compassion—it’s the way you handle it.
Todd: That’s right—the view is not rigid. We hold our views, rigidly, I think is the thing. You can hold a very narrow view with a very winsome posture,—
Todd: —which I think makes a big difference.
Dennis: You understand that because you are a pastor of a church in Oak Park, Illinois—that’s in Chicago—Calvary Memorial Church. You and your wife Katie have been married 21 years; you have seven kids—three bios and four adopted from Ethiopia.
Todd: Yes; yes.
Dennis: In the midst of this, you’re raising kids in the most chaotic, confusing, sexual time that I think has ever been to raise a family. How are you teaching your kids what a real marriage is, and what it looks like, and how they can embrace God’s view of sexuality and move forward as young people in this culture?
Todd: Yes; great question. The main thing we are trying to do is—just live it well, to be honest.
We do a little lecturing, if you will. Obviously, we teach them Scripture; we teach them what God’s Word says about these things; and they pick this up in church, in Sunday school classes, and all the rest of it; so they are getting good biblical content and biblical input.
But perhaps the most important thing we are doing is—we are trying to model a healthy marriage, where mom loves dad / dad loves mom. We’re not perfect, and we try to own that fact and model a grace-filled marriage for them. It makes it compelling / makes it something they would want to aspire to one day, because one of the things is—we’re not getting in the culture—is a vision for “Hey! Isn’t marriage a wonderful thing?”
Dennis: That’s what you talk about in your book, Mere Sexuality. I want to just kind of pull you back, and maybe turn our kitchen table—where we do these broadcasts around—into a coaching of parents to know where in the Bible to turn to give your children just a good crystal clear, simple picture of what biblical marriage looks like. What passage would you turn to? I know where I would turn.
I want to see where you would turn.
Todd: I would go to three places. I would start at Genesis 1:27, where we are created in the image of God, as male and female—and talk about the importance of sexual complementarity, as men and women—that’s the foundation of marriage.
Then I would turn a page over to Genesis 2:24, where it talks about the leaving and cleaving passage—and the significance of that and the nature of marriage that’s described there. Then I would go—finish it off—with Ephesians, Chapter 5 and bring Jesus into the conversation—that the mystery of Genesis 1 plus 2 is ultimately Christ—so talk about how male and female, and marriage itself, is a picture in pointing towards the beautiful salvific work that we have in Christ—that Paul talks about in Ephesians 5.
Bob: In the context of that—to talk about sexuality and why, by design, God said our expression of our sexuality, as male and female, ought to be confined to a committed monogamous covenantal relationship—if a child says: “So why is it such a big deal? Why can’t we have sex partners, like we have tennis partners, and just enjoy some recreational sex?”
Todd: Yes; that’s right—that’s certainly the message they are getting in the culture.
Bob: Your 16-year-old may not ask that question; but your 19-year-old is wondering that when somebody says, “Do you want to come back to my room?”
Todd: That’s right. And this is where Genesis 2:24 is such an important passage—that: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”
Everything related to sexual ethics in the Christian faith emerges out of and flows from the understanding of the one-flesh union—the exclusivity of marriage / the permanence of marriage. Everything—every sexual deviance is a breakdown of the one-flesh concept, I think. One flesh—I think, biblically—Genesis 2:24—is referring quite literally to our flesh/our bodies. Talking about becoming one-flesh union is talking about—not just people coming together in marriage to unite their minds, their hearts, or their spirits; of course, that is true—but it’s uniting their bodies, physically.
In fact, the one flesh being talked about is even more concrete than bodies. It’s the sexual part of our body, quite literally. When these two separate fleshes come together to perform one single biological function—that, I think, is very concretely—is what the Bible envisions with one flesh.
That is why marriage has always, historically for Christians, been understood as a union of two people that are opposite sex.
Dennis: You picked the passage I would have picked. You cheated because—
Todd: —used a couple?
Dennis: —you used three; you used three!
Todd: That’s good biblical theology! [Laughter]
Dennis: I was over here, listening to you—I was going, “He just masterfully took—he cherry-picked all three of the best ones and wrapped them up in Jesus Christ and the gospel.” You can’t beat what you just did! I love what you did there.
I’m glad you are emphasizing the idea of permanence—
Dennis: —exclusivity and permanence to one person—leave and cleave. The word, cleave, means to stick like glue. It’s the marriage covenant that takes two strangers and allows them to begin a lifetime to walk together, and can truly become one.
Todd: That’s right.
Bob: Okay; but you know, as well as I do, that the voices in the culture are saying: “Exclusivity means you are going to miss out on a whole lot of fun and pleasure.
“To be exclusive with one person and to wait until marriage is restrictive; and it’s puritanical; and it’s just made up by people who are killjoys. If you want to enjoy the robust life, then you need to—
Todd: —“…go for it”; right?
Todd: “The hook-up culture is hot; come on!”
I think I would just want to say—this is a little bit sarcastic or flippant—I don’t mean for it to be flippant—but “How’s that working out for our culture?” I mean, to be blunt: “How is that working out?” That is a disaster! That is a grand scale social experiment that is a disaster. Do you know who the most impacted by the free-love movement notion are?—those who are most impacted by this—are not men/not women—but children.
Dennis: That’s who I was thinking.
Todd: Children. That’s why we ought to really care about the historic, biblical vision of marriage—the kind you promote at your conferences / the kind I am trying to talk about in this book—
—because children are the most vulnerable and the most impacted by the breakdown of marriage.
I remember going out the front of our church, and walking down Lake Street in Oak Park and was getting ready to cross the street. There, across the street, on the other side was a young woman, who had a—like she had just seen a ghost—she just had this distraught look on her face. As I walked across the street, she stayed on her side of the street. By the time I got there, she said, “Pastor Todd.” I said, “Oh, yes; do I know you?” She says, “Yes; I’ve been coming to Calvary for a little while.” I said, “What’s going on?” and she began to weep. She had recently moved into town and was working at the fitness club in the area and had a one-night stand and just found out she was pregnant. The weight of that and the devastation of that was just overwhelming to her.
Sex is too powerful a thing to have it be a recreational activity on college campuses. It’s so powerful. Sex can bring into existence an eternal being—that’s incredible! That is such a power that we have been given by the grace of God. It requires the safe confines of a marital union to steward responsibly that power.
Dennis: And let me just say—it’s why young people today need to be hearing conversations like this with their mom and dad—
Dennis: —within the confines of a committed couple—who don’t have a perfect marriage / who are living it out imperfectly in front of their kids—but who aren’t leaving / who aren’t going anywhere. Kids today need hope—
Todd: That’s right.
Dennis: —that a marriage can go the distance, but they also need to know to protect the gift.
Dennis: The gift of sex is something you just can’t go give indiscriminately to other people. You need to protect it and save it.
Todd: That’s right! That’s right! Genesis 1:20; Genesis 1:27-28: “And God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’” There is a blessing to sex; it is a beautiful thing. Christians need to be at the forefront of heralding the beauty of sex. I think we get a bad rap in the culture as: “We’re not into sex,”—right?—“We’re the Puritans; we’re not into sex,”—and all the rest—“The culture is into sex.”
I think we just want to turn that narrative upside down and say: “No! No! We have a view of sex that is far more powerful, and beautiful, and dignified, and glorious than anything you find in the hook-up culture on college campuses.”
Bob: I had a young engaged couple approach me at one of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways; it was after our engaged session. The young man said: “We’re about four months away from our wedding.” He said, “The guys at work—I’ve told them that we haven’t slept together, and the guys at work are telling me I am crazy to think about marrying somebody that I haven’t had sex with.”
He said they were saying, “What happens if you marry her, and you guys are sexually incompatible?” He said their illustration is, “You wouldn’t buy a car unless you had taken it for a test drive.” He said: “Do I need to worry about being sexually incompatible? What happens if I marry her and we just don’t click, sexually?”
Before I tell you how I answered it—[Laughter]—I want to just put them in front of Pastor Todd. What would you say to this young man, who’s concerned, “Do I need to try before I buy?”
Todd: I think I would say something to the effect of: “There is wisdom in God’s ways on this. Human flourishing won’t be found in approaching sex as though it is a consumer good.” And I think I would say something to the effect of—maybe with a little tongue-in-cheek and a chuckle / to not put it on too heavy—that: “That is a total myth—
—“that two people, reserving themselves until the marriage night—that will be—I know there are exceptions to this—but by and large, that’s fireworks.”
Bob: Maybe not that night—
Bob: —the fireworks may come a little later. [Laughter]
Todd: That’s right! Fair enough; fair enough! But this idea of like sexual incompatibility—I just—
Dennis: I agree!
Todd: —that’s just a complete myth—it seems to me.
May I just say one other thing?—is that you just pointed to, Bob, which is casting a vision for people and embodying it ourselves that: “Sexual compatibility is a virtue we cultivate over a lifetime.”
Todd: I remember reading a book on marriage. I thought it was so powerful, because the person said “You don’t really know how to have good sex until you are in your 60s!” You’re not at your sexual prime, physically; but you might say you are at your psychological, relational prime.
Todd: And that’s what counts for good sex. Good sex is not a biological body function, merely.
Bob: If you took it back to a consumer good, you could say this—you could say: “Okay; let me ask you a question: ‘If you had great sex today; but I could tell you that what that’s going to mean—is that, ten years from now, it’ll be over. You’re not going to have great sex; you’re going to have haunting memories; you’re going to have scars; and it’s going to carry with you for the rest of your life. Would you make the deal and say, “I’ll go ahead and have great sex today if it means that I’m going to have mediocre sex for the rest of my life”?’”
Or, if the alternative—and again this is not—there’s not a guarantee here; I don’t want to misrepresent this—but if you say: “You know, if you wait, and the blessing of God comes with it, you could enjoy marital union for the rest of your life; it just means you have to hold off a little while longer.” There’s something to that that says, “The blessing of God is not to be minimized in the sexual enjoyment of men and women.”
I said to this couple—I said: “You are male; right? I’ve got that right?” He said, “Yes.” And “You’re a female,” / “Yes”; and I said, “You’re sexually compatible—
Todd: There you go; there you go!
Bob: —“okay? I can declare to you, on the basis of biology, you are sexually compatible.”
Todd: There you go!
Bob: And I said: “Now, how that’s going to be lived out—that’s going to be expressed over a lifetime. You’ll have good days and bad days, but this is not something you have to worry about—sexual compatibility.”
Todd: One of the things that we could do a better job emphasizing is that: “Good sex is an expression of maturity—personal maturity.”
Bob: Again, I want to make sure we’re clear; because I think, sometimes, we have promulgated this myth in the Christian culture that: “If you wait until you get married to have sex, you will have great sex with no challenges,” and “The blessing of God is there, and it’ll all be fireworks and roses,” and “If you are promiscuous prior to marriage, you will never have a good sex life,”—that’s just not a binary equation like that.
There are challenges for every couple in the area of human sexuality. Whether you bring scars in or not, there are going to be issues you’re going to have to work out along the way; but I do think we can say—to the function, within the blessing of God to live according to His standards, carries with it something that you don’t want to trade away for a bowl of porridge; right?
Todd: That’s right; yes, know; that’s right. I think, as Christian parents—who want to be careful when we’re trying to motivate our children to chastity and integrity, Lord willing, enroute to marriage—that we don’t talk about sex in a way that is degrading of it, as it were to scare them away from doing it, “You don’t want to be like all those bad girls, because they don’t have any fun,” and, of course, your sixth-grade daughter is like, “No; they’re having a lot of fun!” because that stuff seems to be pretty great.
I have counseled any number of newly-married couples, who the woman grew up in a certain kind of culture, where the parents and church, perhaps, were so strong on: “Don’t have sex before marriage,” “No sex before marriage,” “No sex before marriage! That’s bad, bad, bad, bad,”—they came away with the deep impression that sex is bad. They step into marriage—actually, it’s pretty dysfunctional.
Bob: Yes; they can’t flip the switch and just go, “Oh, it’s really wonderful now.”
Todd: They can’t flip the switch, so we need to be careful the way we talk about these things.
Bob: You say there is a missional purpose for marital sex?
Bob: What do you mean?
Todd: Yes—and for marriage itself. One of the realities that we are confronting, in our post-Christian culture, is just to have a heterosexual, committed, exclusive, monogamous marriage with some children is profoundly counter-cultural. If you do it well, I think [it is] incredibly missional. As the culture is sort of decaying and all of the rest of it—
—Christians—all we need to do is just be faithful to the basics, and it’s powerful.
Bob: We could be the next round of reality TV shows, where they talk about real couples in first marriages. Everybody tunes in and goes: “Let me see how this works! I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Todd: I think—I think it was the Pope—the Catholic Pope, who said, “If you stay conservative long enough, you’ll, all of a sudden, become radical.” I think this is the idea and something we can take heart in, which is: “If we stay conservative enough, not for the sake of conservatism, but for the sake of biblical fidelity, that’ll be radical and cutting edge.”
Here’s the deal with this—in a culture, where relationships will be increasingly in disarray and people start to see the consequences of it—they will see Christian marriages and they’ll be like: “What’s the secret sauce you have?—because you’re still married after 20 years,” “…30 years,” “…40 years,” “…50 years, and you seem happy!
Bob: “You still hold hands.”
Todd: —and “You still hold hands,” and “It seems functional, and you’ve got kids that are embodying their sexuality well,”—and all the rest—“What is the secret to this?”
We won’t need to be having placards on street corners and preaching to anybody. It will be so obvious in lives well-lived.
Dennis: Later on this summer, Barbara and I are going to be going to Southern California to celebrate 70 years of marriage for Al and Margaret Sanders.
Dennis: He was the voice of Insight for Living for a number of years—
Bob: He was; yes!
Dennis: —formed a radio syndication business, there in Southern California, and made good on a promise to Margaret. Just think of 70—count them: 7-0 years of committed fidelity, love, compassion—not perfection—but just somebody who has gone the distance. Now, that’s worth celebrating.
I just want to say to the single person, who is listening to us: “This is worth it. It’s worth the right choices; and now is the time to decide and to do what’s right—not later—now!” To those who are married: “Don’t give up. Marriage is a commitment; love is a commitment—it’s not a feeling. There are hard times in marriages—plenty of them. You got to make good on your promise, though; there are a lot of people watching.”
Bob: If you want to realign your thinking or make sure your thinking is in line with what the Bible has to say about human sexuality, get a copy of Todd Wilson’s book, Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality. We’ve got it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also call 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Ask about the book, Mere Sexuality, by Todd Wilson.
You know, every time we have a discussion around a subject like this, we hear from listeners who say, “Thank you for going where are a lot of people are not inclined to go.” These kinds of conversations—I understand they can be a bit uncomfortable; but in our day, these conversations are being had in the public square and in elementary school classrooms. As husbands and wives and moms and dads, we’ve got to be talking about these things in a way that represents, clearly, God’s design for human sexuality. That’s the reason we tackle tough issues like this and others on FamilyLife Today. We want to help equip you to think, biblically, about issues you’re facing in your marriage and in your family.
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Now, tomorrow, we are going to hear from Dennis Rainey about how you keep romance alive in a marriage when you are going through hard times. How can you stay close together, as husband and wife? We’ll hear more about that tomorrow. I hope you can tune in and be with us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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