As I’ve previously shared…at night I like to listen to podcasts as I fall asleep (or fall back to sleep). Truth told…I actually prefer they play all night–something Michelle isn’t terribly fond of. ☺
Recently, however, the convenience of Internet radio applications on my iPad, iPhone, and Droid mean I am often replacing a podcast with a live stream of a radio station. The choices are unlimited–but I’ll admit that I’m usually listening to talk of the religious or conservative kind (although Elhkhart Internet Radio’s mix of music has been a recent favorite).
One night this past week at the Costa Mesa Marriott Suites I woke up in the middle of the night (a fairly normal occurrence, especially when traveling)…and the speaker made a quick comment that hit me. He said that marriage was a privilege, not a right.
Now I can’t really tell you what his point was–I zoned back out pretty quickly…but it’s what convinced me to do this initial sermon on marriage.
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Privilege Versus Right
I suspect for many us the phrase “privilege not a right” comes to mind in the context of driving. It may have been as early as driver’s education we were reminded that being able to climb behind the wheel of a car is something the state “allows” us to do, not something we can do no matter what the government thinks. Of course, that implicitly says what the state giveth it can taketh away…
What exactly is a privilege? [ Wait for some answers. ] The definition in the dictionary on my Mac starts off with this: “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.”
That seems legit to me…and…when it comes to driving we become a member of that “particular…group of people” when get this now-funky (but hard to tamper-with or falsify) license [ show NH driver’s license ].
What exactly is a right? [ Wait for some answers. ] Turning again to my Mac, it says it is “a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way.” Basically…a right is something that is yours regardless of someone else thinks.
For instance, can anyone argue against you having a right to breath air? Now, we may believe there are some people in the world who are a waste of air ☺, but we’d all be up in arms if Congress suddenly passed a law taxing inhaling and exhaling. We all have a right to “life”–correct?
The Declaration of Independence
And we do have a unique take on rights here in the U.S. thanks to our forefathers…who…when throwing off the yoke of the King of England…wrote this:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.1
What document is that from? [ Right, the Declaration of Independence.]
Who do we believe our rights come from? [ Our Creator–from God. ]
What do we have a right to? [ Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. ]
What do we have a right to do if it becomes “destructive of these ends”? [ We can “alter” or “abolish” it. ]
Absolute Rights from God
In America we see rights as absolute (we rebelled over them–and reserve the “right” to repeat the exercise)…and more importantly from God. No Congress, President…or court for that matter…can take away “unalienable Rights” because “they are endowed by [our] Creator.”
Is Marriage a Privilege?
So, is Marriage a privilege…”a special right, advantage, or immunity granted” to us by the State of New Hampshire?
On the surface it would seem yes–just like I have this license to show I can drive on our road, I have this piece of paper to show Michelle is stuck with me.
“License” equals “privilege” not “right.”
The First Marriage
Now we’ve gotten pretty far into the sermon and something extremely important has been completely missing from it. What is that?
That’s right…Scripture…so before we settle on whether marriage is a privilege or a right, let’s see what we can garner from the pages of the Bible, starting right near the beginning in Genesis:
18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:18-25).
Hmmm…that really doesn’t say that Adam and Eve were married, does it? But, is there any question that they were? [ No…but if folks want to “argue” the point I’m glad to do a study to hopefully prove it. ]
Who established marriage? [ God. ]
Why did God establish marriage? [ Because it was not good for man to be alone. I would also suggest that man is not “complete” without woman because the “image of God” is in mankind, not just “man.”
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26-27).
When men and women “become one flesh” we can get closer to the image of God than we can alone. Regardless, something was missing in man until woman came along…and marriage is part of completing the image. ]
Now…any “argument from silence” is dangerous to make…but in what we’ve read, do you see any conditions put on the “right” to marry…something where it would move to the privilege category? Things Adam and Eve would have to do before they were allowed to be married? Some special dispensation they needed before they tie the knot? Some government agency the Lord established to give them a license? A test they had to take first? [ No…not that we might not want to force some people today to pass a test, especially before they procreate. ☺ ]
Not a Privilege
That early morning (when I was conscious for a short while) hearing that marriage was a privilege appealed to me. Marriage is so disposable in today’s society…as George Barna notes:
“There no longer seems to be much of a stigma attached to divorce; it is now seen as an unavoidable rite of passage,” the researcher indicated. “Interviews with young adults suggest that they want their initial marriage to last, but are not particularly optimistic about that possibility. There is also evidence that many young people are moving toward embracing the idea of serial marriage, in which a person gets married two or three times, seeking a different partner for each phase of their adult life.”2
And lest “Christians” get too cocky…
In fact, when evangelicals and non-evangelical born again Christians are combined into an aggregate class of born again adults, their divorce figure is statistically identical to that of non-born again adults: 32% versus 33%, respectively.3
Talk about “blaspheming” the name of God… ☹
So…the idea that marriage is a privilege that people should “earn” is appealing. People don’t respect anything that is “free” or doesn’t take effort…and as any of us who have been married (or divorced) knows…regardless of any effort you did or didn’t put in ahead of time, there will be plenty required if you want to maintain your marriage.
I fear in making that last statement that I may appear to be buying into a few awful cliches…that every marriage has really rocky parts…that every couple is doomed to have drag-out/knock-out fights…etcetera. I would like to EMPHATICALLY say NO to that…if God is the center of your and your spouse’s lives and the center of your marriage then the “rocky” parts won’t be that way because of the marriage–it’ll be because of the “dark alley” this earth is–where we are all guaranteed to be mugged by life. I stand before you a divorcee because God was not the center of my life before (and during much of) marriage, and He definitely was not the center of my first marriage…
It is a Right
Looking back at The Declaration of Independence…if God gives you something, is it a right or a privilege? When it comes to marriage I would argue it is a right–it’s yours and not because you get some piece of paper or have some minister or Justice of the Peace speak with the “power vested” in them by the state. God established and blessed it.
It’s yours…no matter how appealing it would be to make it a ton harder for people to tie the knot so they would also not get to untie it so readily…
A really fair question at this final point in my sermon would be, “So what? Who cares if it is a right or a privilege?”
Beyond my personal belief that accuracy is important (so I’ll respectfully disagree with the minister who said it was a privilege)…perhaps part of the reason marriage is so transient is that in making it a privilege–something the state controls with a piece of paper and the latest laws and regulations–we’ve also allowed them to define the “responsibilities” that come with it (and the conditions that come before it).
The “right” that God gave comes with the “responsibility” of selflessness, permanency, etcetera. The “privilege” that New Hampshire gives jettisoned any sense of permanency as soon as the lawmakers decided it should–and even we Christians accepted that change hook, line, and sinker.
Now that New Hampshire has decided that homosexuals have a “right” to the privilege of marriage…some “Christians” are balking at that…but a great number who claim to follow Jesus have accepted that modification to God’s institution. Who are we to argue?…we handed over ownership of marriage to the government long ago…
I’ll be spending more time discussing marriage in the future–with most of future sermons being from the pages of the Bible…but I want to give you a very practical example of why deciding who “owns” marriage…whether it is a right given by God or a “privilege” granted by the state…
Why knowing this is important.
On the way from John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California to Chicago’s O’Hare I had a great elderly lady sitting next to me. Her husband had passed away 13 years ago…and for 9 years she has been dating another wonderful man. Both would love to be married…can you guess why they haven’t?
Because she would lose all the benefits tied to her dearly departed husband. She has been a very good steward with what little she gets, and a whole bunch of it would immediately disappear as soon as she tied the knot.
And that is the problem with ceding control of marriage from God to the state…what New Hampshire giveth, it can so readily taketh away too…and…
We had no “right” to cede control of the “right” of marriage to the government, did we?
So let me as you this. Put yourself in my shoes. Would you marry those two in the church without a marriage license? Would you, in the name of God, bless the union and consider them married even though their home states would still see them as single?
My gut is I would–because as a man called to be a preacher by God, an office He gave me (not the state of New Hampshire)–I refuse to cede control of an institution God created to any other authority. When the state is in line with His will–more power to it. However, probably starting with “no fault” divorces it left His will…and now it’s moved at 100MPH to totally abuse the institution that God built society around.
Considering marriage is one of our Lord’s favorite metaphors for our relationship with Him, perhaps it’s time to take control back…
1The Declaration of independence. 1998. Oak Harbor WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.