Jacob thought he was marrying one person but he got stuck with two, the Rachel he wanted and the Leah he didn’t want. What is worse, he had to endure lots of time with lackluster Leah before he even got to be with radiant Rachel! When he said “I do” he got two!
There are lots of stories in Genesis that are puzzling, but Genesis 29 is a real head-scratcher!!! Kids, hold your ears.
(Read Genesis 29:16-30)
If you are married, you know what it’s like to be Jacob. When you said I do, you married the radiant Rachel you wanted, a Rachel who will share your deepest sorrows and greatest joys; a Rachel who will love you when no one else will; a Rachel who will offer physical warmth and affection; a Rachel who will brag about you to the mother-in-law; a Rachel who will remind you who you are and whose you are in case you ever forget; a Rachel who will make you hot soup when you have a cold, plan special getaways on your birthday, and put little gifts under your pillow for no reason at all; a Rachel who greets you with a kiss in the morning, after brushing teeth of course. When you said I do you got the radiant Rachel you wanted to marry. If you are sitting next to your spouse, now’s a good time to say “amen!”
But, like Jacob, when you said I do you got two. You not only got the radiant Rachel you wanted, you got the lackluster Leah you didn’t expect; a Leah who does not always agree with your inspired ideas; a Leah who will give you the silent treatment or scream in your face; a Leah who spends way too much money on things that don’t matter to you; a Leah who complains about you to the mother-in-law; a Leah who likes music you don’t like and who doesn’t like music you do like; a Leah who will drive you nuts at times, make you mad on occasion, and utterly confound you on most days; a Leah whose decision making process seems less logical than your own. When you said “I do,” you not only married the radiant Rachel you wanted to marry but the lackluster Leah you didn’t want to marry.
So, I tell couples getting married this little diddy, “When you say I do, you get two.” Every couple comes to this realization and, because of it, ends up quitting or co-existing. Then there are those couples who learn to love not only the Rachel but the Leah in their spouse, and their marriage becomes golden, a thing of beauty!
Another Kind of Marriage
Even if you’re not married, if you are a part of the church of Jesus Christ then you know what it’s like to be Jacob. When you said “I do” to God, you got the radiant Rachel you wanted—you got the Christ; a Rachel who forgives our sins and heals our wounds, who lifted us out of the slimy pit, out of the mire and muck, and placed our feet on solid ground; a Rachel who says “Come to me and I will give you rest” and keeps his promise; a Rachel who breaks the bars of our sin and shame and causes us to walk with our head held high in the dignity of discipleship; a Rachel whose love for us gives us purpose in the morning and peace in the dark night of the soul; a Rachel who will wipe every tear from our eyes; a Rachel who loves us with an everlasting, unconditional love. If you have been reconciled to God, you have married the radiant Rachel, the Christ, you have always wanted!
But, but, but when you said “I do” to God, you also got the lackluster Leah you didn’t want—you got the church; a Leah that will disappoint you almost constantly; a Leah with leaders who run off with the secretary; a Leah that is full of in-fighting and agendas and backbiting; a Leah that seems more full of gossip than goodness, more sinful than sanctified, full of quirky people, people you would never ever choose to spend time with if you had the choice; a Leah that seems at times to major in the minors and minor in the majors; a Leah that seems at times too racist, too sexist, too greedy, too traditional, too contemporary, too Progressive, too Conservative, too Democratic, too Republican, too restrictive, too simplistic, or too intellectual; a Leah that rubs us the wrong way, a Leah that makes us wonder if getting Rachel is worth enduring Leah.
Let’s be honest, it feels a lot like God has pulled a Laban on us Jacobs! All of us come into relationship with God expecting only Rachel, and we get lots of Rachel, but we get just as much Leah! Who in their right mind would say “I do” to the mess and the risk, the failures, foibles, and flaws that come with lackluster Leah, the church?
So, I warn couples and converts up front, “When you say I do you’re getting two,” the Rachel you want and the Leah you don’t want.
Complicating the Discrepancy
Paul’s Experience of Leah
If you ever find yourself feeling awful about your experience of Leah, the church, read about Paul’s experience of Leah, the Corinthian Church. If ever there was a church that made one wonder if getting Rachel was worth enduring Leah, it was the Corinthian Church.
Here are all of the issues that Paul points out in his first letter to the Corinthians: divisions into my favorite preacher camps (chapter 1); a form of wisdom worship (chapter 2); jealousy and quarreling (chapter 3); “sexual immorality worse than pagans” and “some of you sleep with your father’s wife”-your stepmother (chapter 5); people in the church are taking their fight to court and diminishing their witness to unbelievers and doing things with prostitutes they should not do (chapter 6); the sacrament of communion had become an occasion for social class division between the rich and the poor (chapter 11); there is a spiritual Olympics going on as some are competing with each other for the showier spiritual gifts and cluelessly neglecting the spiritual fruit of love (chapter 12); some in the church were teaching that there is no literal resurrection of the dead (chapter 15).
By the end of 1 Corinthians, you can sense Paul’s frustration. “If anyone does not love the Lord—a curse be on him. Come, O Lord! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen” (1 Cor 16:22-24). Gulp!
Clearly, Paul is at his wit’s end with Leah, the Corinthian Church. Who wouldn’t be? Paul’s Corinthian correspondence exists for those of us who have had horrible experiences in our marriage to the church. We read about the Corinthian church and think, “My church is not that bad. Sure we argue about worship style, but no one is sleeping with his step mother!” But the truth is, the church today has more in common with the Corinthian Church than we care to admit.
If you want to enjoy sausage, don’t watch it being made. It’s gross! If you want to enjoy the church, don’t watch disciples being made. It’s gross, messy, awkward, and hard. Those who struggle most with the Leah that is the church tend to be people who have seen disciples being made up close and personal. Those who struggle most with Leah tend to be lay leaders and pastors. If you want to be happy in the church, then tolerate Leah like Jacob did. Because if you love Leah she will drive you absolutely crazy and disappoint you constantly. When she does, we will be tempted to quit her or co-exist with her!
Quitting and Co-Existing
I have been on the verge of divorcing Leah, quitting the church on several occasions. I would guess that many of you have maybe come close to divorcing Leah too. But here we are because we haven’t quit her, not yet anyway.
I wonder, however, if some of us are in a marriage of co-existence with Leah. We pay the bills, share the household chores, and even raise the kids with Leah, but there’s no intimacy. I had a former parishioner who fit the bill. He spent most of his life sacrificing blood, sweat, and tears for the church. He loved Leah but he was burned and disappointed by her. He still attends but sneaks in during the opening song and sneaks out during the closing song. He avoids people. He constantly critiques Leah, but always says “no” to using his substantial gifts to serve Leah. He might give Leah an occasional passing peck on the cheek but there is not real intimacy with Leah. He is untapped potential. Disgruntlement with Leah has made him less Rachel and more Leah.
The church is full of people like my friend. They get glimpses of sausage being made in a community. It frustrates and exhausts them. They haven’t physically left Leah but internally they have checked out. They have been offended, hurt, burned, disappointed, dismayed, discouraged, and internally, deep in the bowels of their soul, they have thrown up their hands and said, “I’m done.” Maybe this describes your relationship with Leah, the church. If so, who can blame you?
Who Wants an Ugly Bride
Is getting Rachel worth enduring Leah? Like it or not, when we say “I do” to God, we get the Christ we want and the church we don’t want. They are a package deal, two for one! Who in their right mind would want to marry Leah?
Exposing a Clue to Resolution
Jacob vs. Jesus
Jacob didn’t, but Jesus did. One day Christ stood at the altar waiting for us to join him there. The musicians didn’t play “Here comes the bride all dressed in white” but “Here comes the sinner all dressed in shame.” None of us came to Jesus looking like Rachel. We came to Christ as Leah, a torn dress, running mascara, and a really bad hair day, the baggage of sin, shame, and shame. This was an arranged marriage by Christ’s father who paid the dowry with the Christ’s blood.
Jesus, unlike Jacob, knew exactly what he was getting into when he married us Leahs. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). While we were yet Leah, Christ wed himself to us! The unconditional, gracious, unmerited love of Christ for us Leahs makes us more lovely, more Rachel-like. Jesus shows us that loving a lackluster Leah as if she were radiant Rachel has a beautifying effect on Leah.
Loving lackluster Leah (Church) makes us Leahs more like radiant Rachel (Christ).
Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Eph. 5:25-27). Jesus’ love for less than lovely Leah makes her more like radiant Rachel! And the thing that we learn from Christ’s love for us and through us is that when a Leah like us is loved and loved well, despite all the reasons not to love her, the Leah becomes beautiful, the Leah becomes more like the Rachel we want.
I wish the church were more Rachel than Leah. But tolerating her, criticizing her, rejecting her, hating her, is not the answer—loving Leah is the answer. Learning to love Leah, the church, will not only bring out the Rachel in her, but it will also bring out the Rachel in each of us too. I am not as Rachel as I would like to be or as some of you are, but I am more like radiant Rachel than I would be had I not been able to learn to love Leah, the church, despite all of the reasons not to.
Marriage is a sanctifying grace. It is the hammer God uses to chisel us Leahs into Rachels. The hardest thing about being a Christian is the church, so we tend to think of the church as a curse not a grace. In the church, you don’t get to pick who comes. You are forced to bump up against broken people with idiosyncratic tendencies, self-centered egotism, pride and immaturity, people just like you and me. In the process of learning to love people we don’t like, we become sanctified. Loving Leah when she is hypocritical and petty and frustrating is a sanctifying grace. God’s #1 tool for the sanctification of the soul is the church. There we find that frustration can foster formation!
If you want to be happy in your marriage, then just tolerate Leah like Jacob did. But if you want to be holy in marriage, learn to love Leah like Jesus does. Remember, Christ did not come to make us happy but to make us holy, so that holiness becomes our greatest happiness.
Loving lackluster Leah (Church) enables us to experience more intimate union with radiant Rachel (Christ).
The more we learn to love the church, the more we experience Christ. You can’t keep Leah, the church, at arm’s length and experience intimacy with Rachel, with Christ. Many have tried but it never works! If we want to experience Rachel we have to love Leah too. The more you love, not tolerate, but love Leah the more of Rachel you get. The more you love the church the more of Christ you experience. There is a direct relationship between my level of love for the church and my level of intimacy with Christ. “Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). If you mess with my bride, my wife, don’t expect intimacy with me! Won’t happen. If you find yourself starving for intimacy with Christ, try loving what Christ loves, try loving the church.
Conclusion – Experiencing the Gospel
Paul’s Resolution with the Corinthians
Paul wrote that cantankerous Corinthian congregation a second letter called, you guessed it, 2 Corinthians. He begins the letter highlighting the promising potential of Christ within the body of people called the church. Then, rather abruptly, Paul gets rather reflective realizing the sober truth he knows all too well about that Corinthian Church. They don’t always live up to that promising potential. They are rather lackluster. I picture Paul scratching his head over what the Corinthians can be and what they too often are. He tries to make theological sense of the good, bad, and ugly that is the church.
What Paul writes next is so liberating because it is so true. I don’t know if Paul wrote it for himself because he was ready to quit on the Corinthians, but I’m confident he wrote it for me and perhaps for you. Here’s the verse that has saved my marriage to this beautiful, messy, risky, and sanctifying reality called the local church: But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us (2 Cor. 4:7).
“We have this treasure in jars of clay.” Paul may have in mind the clay oil lamp that was cheap and fragile. Paul sees a huge contrast between Christ the treasure, the Rachel, and the unadorned earthen vessel, the church, the Leah who holds the treasure. What Paul, I think, is emphasizing is that if we think the church is only a huge risk for us consider this: God decided to deposit his most precious treasure in “jars of clay,” in the non-FDIC insured bank of the church. If I were God I would never have taken that risk. Thank God I’m not God.
Renewal of Vows
I ask you what I asked earlier, is getting Rachel worth enduring Leah? Would you say “I do” to God all over again knowing that when you say “I do,” you get two—the Christ you want and the church you don’t always want?
In 2008, after 10 years of marriage, my wife Amy and I renewed our vows to each other. I went into this event kicking and screaming a bit. I thought the first time was good enough. Why do it again? I didn’t think a 10-year renewal of vows ceremony could top our wedding day. To my surprise, it did.
On our wedding back in 1998, we thought that when we said “I do” we were only getting the Rachel we wanted. That was an easy “I do.” But after ten years of marriage, we realized when we said “I do” we got two, Rachel AND Leah. After 10 years of marriage, you discover lots of Leah in your spouse. To look each other in the eyes and commit all over again before God and witnesses to love each other for better or worse, to basically say “I take not only the Rachel but the Leah in you for as long as we both shall live,” was so surprisingly meaningful to us.
Will you renew your vows to God knowing that when you say “I do” you get two—Christ and the church, beauty and the beast, Rachel and Leah, treasure and claypot?
If so, let’s stand and renew our vows.
Renewal of Vows
-Leader: Do you vow to love the church despite her failures, foibles, and flaws so that your love for her makes you and her more beautiful, more radiant? If so, say I do!
-People: I do!
-Leader: Do you vow to resist the urge to carelessly co-exist with or callously quit the church when she drives you crazy, because she will? If so, say I do!
-People: I do!
-Leader: Do you vow for the sake of the church to give when you want to withhold, to show up when you want to stay home, to serve when you’d rather play it safe, to reconcile when you’d rather avoid, and to commend at least as much as you critique? If so, say I do!
-People: I do!
-Leader: Do you vow to live as if the ultimate hope of the world is not a politician or political party, but Christ through the church? If so, say I do!
-People: I do!
-Leader: Do you vow to recognize that you need the church at least as much as she needs you if you are ever going to experience deep union with Christ and become the radiant Rachel he created you to be? If so, say I do!
-People: I do!
Lenny Luchetti is the lead pastor of Woodland Church (Battle Creek, MI) and the author of Preaching Essentials: A Practical Guide and Preaching with Empathy: Crafting Sermons in a Callous Culture .