What is Marriage Anyway?

What is Marriage

by Nick Lotter on October 18, 2012

Since the beginning of time, there has never been a generation which has taken a high enough view of marriage. Even so, over the ages, marriage has been taken more and more lightly and treated with less importance with each passing decade.

What is going wrong with marriage today?

 

I don’t need to tell you there is something wrong with society’s treatment of the institution of marriage. Just look around and see how many people are getting divorced – some going through multiple divorces. There is a very good chance you know people personally who have gone through at least one divorce. Maybe you are one of them.

We hear all the time – both in our own families and social circles, as well as in the media – about abusive marriages, unhappy marriages, forced or arranged marriages, serial marriages, adultery… its almost become part of our culture. It seems also that husbands and wives are sometimes too quick to give up, and aren’t prepared to work hard to keep the marriage together. They just don’t think it’s worth the trouble.

In Hollywood, even holidays can last longer than marriages.  Dennis Rodman and Carmen Elektra were married for 9 days before they got divorced. Britney Spears’ recent marriage to Jason Alexander famously lasted just 2 days. And if you think that’s bad, wait until you hear about Rudolph Valentino and Jean Acker: their marriage lasted just 6 hours!

Now I could throw some scary divorce statistics at you that would make you cringe, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Nobody knows who has the right statistics anyway. The bottom line is there is a problem, and it’s getting worse.

Why is this happening?

Simply put, there is a massive difference between what our vision of marriage is, and what the Biblical vision of marriage is.

This is not exclusive to our generation though, or even to the last few hundred years. Even in Jesus’ day, the Jews’ vision of what marriage is fell far short of the Biblical vision – so much so, that when Jesus gave them just a glimpse of what marriage was created by God to be, the disciples said:

Matthew 19:10 “… If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”

The way that the disciples viewed marriage was so different to how Jesus saw marriage, that the disciples couldn’t even imagine marriage to be a good thing. Well, if that was the case in the ultra-conservative Jewish world, then how much more is the glory of marriage in God’s sight lost on our liberal modern culture?

 Now I am not trying to put anybody off marriage – quite the contrary! What I do want to do, is to show you, to the best of my ability and with God’s help, what marriage was created by God to be. Hopefully, this article will open up God’s design in creation and marriage in a whole new way for you.

Two important lessons about marriage in the Bible:

Two of the most important lessons we can learn about marriage in the Bible are:

1. The most FOUNDATIONAL thing the Bible teaches about marriage is that MARRIAGE IS GOD’S DOING

2. The ULTIMATE thing the Bible teaches about marriage is that MARRIAGE IS FOR THE GLORY OF GOD

Let’s discuss each of these lessons in more detail:

Marriage is God’s Doing

There are 4 ways that the Bible shows us that marriage is God’s doing:

1. Marriage was God’s Design from the Beginning

Marriage is God’s doing because it was God’s design in creating man male and female. We can see this in Genesis 1:27-28

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

God created man male and female and told them to multiply and fill the earth. It was God’s plan right from the start for a man to marry a woman and multiply. [Side note: Notice that since God created man male and female in order that they could multiply and fill the earth, it was clearly never God’s plan for a male to marry a male.] We can also see a kind of train of thought in Genesis chapter 2:

Genesis 2:18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Genesis 2:19 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. Genesis 2:20 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. Genesis 2:21 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. Genesis 2:22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Genesis 2:23 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.” Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

In verse 18, God Himself declares that man’s loneliness is not good. Then, God Himself sets out to complete one of the central designs of creation – man and woman in marriage. In verse 19, God parades every living creature past Adam for him to name them, as if to show Adam that none of them are suitable to be a partner and companion for him. Adam’s partner needed to be made uniquely from man, so that she would also be a creature made in God’s image as we saw in Genesis 1:27. Then in verses 21-22, God performs a special miracle of creation, making the woman from the rib of the man so that she is of man, and also therefore made in the image of God. And finally, in verses 23 and 24, God’s design is revealed: the man will leave his parents and be joined to his wife, and they will become one flesh. So we can see that right from the creation of man, everything was moving steadily towards marriage.

2. God Gave Away the First Bride

The second way that we know that marriage is God’s doing, is that God was the first father to give away the bride.

Genesis 2:22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

God didn’t make Eve and then set her down somewhere, and tell Adam to go seek! God made her, and then He brought her to Adam. She belonged to God by virtue of the fact that He created her. He was her Father, but God gave her to Adam in this new kind of relationship called marriage.

3. God Spoke the Design of Marriage into Existence

The third way that we see that marriage is God’s doing is that God not only created woman for man and brought her to him like a father gives his daughter to her husband, but God also spoke the design of marriage into existence. Just as God created everything that exists with His spoken word, He created marriage by speaking it into existence. He did this in verse 24:

Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

In verse 24, God ordains the first marriage and describes what it is: the man will leave his parents and and be joined to his wife, and become one flesh with his wife.

4. God Performs the One-Flesh Union

The fourth way that we see that marriage is God’s doing, is that God Himself performs the union that verse 24 calls “become one flesh”. That union which God performs is what creates a marriage and makes it a marriage. Just as it was God who made woman from the flesh of man, it is God who makes the husband and the wife “one flesh”.Man does not do this. God does it. And it is not in man’s power to destroy it. Jesus makes this clear in Mark 10:8-9

Mark 10:7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, Mark 10:8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Mark 10:9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 and then adds a comment that underlines the glory of marriage: What God has joined, let no man separate! When a couple speak their vows, it is not the man, or the woman, or the parents, or the people present, or the minister, or the state that are the main doers. God is the doer.  God is performing the actions. God joins the man and the wife in a one flesh union. The world doesn’t know this, and even Christians often act like they don’t know this. God performs the one flesh union, and what God has done is not in man’s power to undo.

This is why Jesus said that if a man divorces his wife and remarries another, he has committed adultery.

Matthew 19:9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

When the man married his wife, God performed the one-flesh union. He made them one flesh – and what God has done, man does not have the power to undo or destroy. Even if the man divorces his wife and the divorce is recognized by the state, in God’s eyes they are still one flesh. They are still married.

Summary

In summary then, the most foundational thing we can learn from the Bible about marriage is that it is God’s doing because:

  1. Marriage was God’s design
  2. God gave away the first bride
  3. God spoke the design of marriage into existence
  4. God performs the one-flesh union

Marriage is for God’s Glory

Marriage is not only from God and through God, but marriage is also for God. Marriage is designed by God to display His glory like no other institution does. The way to see this clearly is to connect Genesis 2:24 with the way the Apostle Paul uses it in Ephesians 5:31-32

Ephesians 5:31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Ephesians 5:32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

By now you can see that Genesis 2:24 is a very important verse regarding the institution of marriage, as we have already seen it quoted by Paul and Jesus Himself. What is marriage supposed to be? In Genesis 2:24, the words “hold fast to his wife” and “the two shall become one flesh” seem to point to something far deeper than multiple marriages, wild flings and adultery. These words point to marriage as being something permanent, a commitment, a covenant relationship. In Ephesians 5:31, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 and then interprets it for us in verse 32 – he tells us that marriage refers to Christ and the church. In other words, marriage is a shadow, or an image, of the covenant relationship between Jesus and all who are saved and born again. Jesus even portrays Himself in Scripture as the Bridegroom coming for His Bride. Some examples of this can be seen in Matthew 9:15, Revelation 19:7 and 2 Corinthians 11:2. Jesus knew that He had to pay for His bride in His own blood. He called this relationship The New Covenant.

Luke 22:20  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

This is what Paul is talking about when he says that marriage refers to Christ and the church. Christ obtained the church by His blood and formed a new covenant with the church – an unbreakable marriage. Marriage is an image of Jesus’ covenant relationship with His redeemed people. Therefore, the ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship between Jesus and the church on display.

That is why marriage exists. If you are married, THAT is why you are married.

Covenant-Keeping

So then, if we are married by Godfor God’s glory and to put on display His Son’s Covenant with His church, then staying married is about covenant keeping.

When you say “until death do us part” and “for as long as we both shall live”, you are making a sacred covenant promise – the same kind of covenant promise that Jesus made with His bride the church when He died for her. And Jesus will NEVER leave His wife. This is why divorce and remarriage is such a terrible sin in God’s eyes. It not only involves breaking a covenant promise with a spouse, but more importantly, it misrepresents Jesus Christ and His covenant with the church. Jesus will never leave his church. There may be times when we feel distanced from Jesus, and there are times when we backslide and backslide and backslide… but the fact of the matter is that Jesus keeps His covenant promise forever! Marriage is designed to display that! Marriage puts the glory of Jesus Christ’s covenant love on display for the world to see. Therefore, keeping covenant with your wife or your husband is as important as telling the truth about God’s covenant with us in Jesus Christ. Marriage is about telling the truth of the Gospel with our lives.

Now all of us who are married know that married life is not always a party and certainly not all “a bed of roses” as they say. There will always be times of difficulty, struggle and rough patches. That is to be expected, and it happens because neither the husband nor the wife are perfect and righteous. Both are imperfect. Therefore, both need to be patient and gracious toward each other.

Consider this: that Jesus Christ died for imperfect people. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 5:8…

Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Christ made an imperfect bride His own with His own blood. He said to His imperfect bride, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” and “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Marriage puts that Gospel reality on display in the world.

Summary

In summary so far then, we have discussed that:

A) The most foundational thing we can learn from the Bible about marriage is that it is God’s doing because:

  1. Marriage was God’s design
  2. God gave away the first bride
  3. God spoke the design of marriage into existence
  4. God performs the one-flesh union

B) The ultimate thing we can learn from the Bible about marriage is that it is for the glory of God because:

  1. Marriage is an image of the covenant relationship that exists between Jesus Christ and His church
  2. Marriage puts the covenant relationship between Jesus Christ and His church on display

Application and Married Life

Now that we have a clearer view of why marriage exists, we need to discuss how marriage is designed to work and how to apply these lessons in our lives.

If marriage is a symbol or an image of Jesus Christ’s relationship with His church, then we can learn how to treat our spouses by looking at how Jesus treats His church. To look at how Jesus treats His church, we need to know and understand the Gospel. Let’s have a quick review of the Gospel:

There are 2 things that God requires:

  1. God requires that we be punished for our sins because He is a just God and cannot overlook sin. God does not simply forgive sin and overlook our sins out of His great love for us, because that would mean His love would not be just. God is just, and therefore justice has to be done. The Bible says that the punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23).
  2. God requires that we live holy and perfectly righteous lives, because we are made in His image and He is holy and righteous. God will not allow sin and imperfection to enter the kingdom of Heaven.

There are 2 problems with that:

  1. We are not able to bear our own punishment (Psalm 49:7-8)
  2. We cannot be holy or righteous on our own (Romans 3:10)

So what is the solution?

God, out of His immeasurable love for us and out of His GRACE towards us, sent His own Son to solve both problems for us. Jesus Christ was subjected to the same limitations, sufferings and temptations on earth that we are, and yet He lived a perfect, sinless and righteous life. He became the spotless Lamb and was slain for our sins. He was put up on the cross, and in that moment before His death, all of the guilt for all of the sins that were ever committed, and shall be committed by His Redeemed people was placed on Him, and all of God’s wrath was brought down on His Son and God’s justice was satisfied. Jesus Christ took our punishment for us. And then, because of that, the righteousness of Jesus Christ is counted as righteousness for everybody who repents and believes in Him.

In this way, Jesus Christ’s new covenant with His bride – the church – is bought and maintained by blood-bought GRACE. We did not deserve justification. We did not deserve to be saved. We deserved nothing short of paying the full price for our sin and for turning our backs on God. There is nothing that we could ever hope to do in order to earn our own salvation or to get back in the favorable sight of God. Yet still, God has justified us freely by His grace.

Romans 3:23-27 (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (25) whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (26) It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (27) Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (8) For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (9) not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The covenant relationship (or the marriage) between Jesus and His church is bought and maintained by grace. If your marriage to your spouse, then, is to be an image of  the covenant between Christ and the church, then your marriage needs to mirror this kind of grace. The vertical reality of grace from God to man needs to be reflected horizontally from husband to wife and from wife to husband. In this way, your marriage will showcase the new covenant grace of God.

Paul shows us the practical application of this in Colossians:

Colossians 3:12-13 (12) Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, (13) bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

As God forgives you, so you should also forgive your spouse. As God bears with you, so also you should bear with your spouse. When this seems difficult, remind yourself that the difference between what God expects of us and what we achieve, is far greater than the difference between what we expect of our spouse and what he/she achieves. Let the measure of God’s grace to you be the measure of your grace towards your spouse.

Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are and forgive each other every day. In that way, your marriage will showcase God’s covenant-keeping grace.

The Roles of the Husband and the Wife

There is often confusion and debate over the roles that the husband and the wife fulfill in a marriage, and the issue has often been the subject of controversy. Let’s look to the book of Ephesians for guidance on the matter:

Ephesians 5:22-30 (22) Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (23) For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. (24) Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (25) Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, (26) that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, (27) so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (28) In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (29) For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, (30) because we are members of his body.

 Again, in Paul’s illustration of the relationship between husband and wife, we can see that he is comparing marriage with the covenant relationship between Jesus and the church. Husbands are compared to Christ; wives are compared to the church. Husbands are compared to the head; wives are compared to the body. Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Jesus loves His church; wives are commanded to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. Once again we can see that marriage is acting out the reality of the covenant relationship between Jesus and the church.

Husbands are to take up the responsibility of leadership, and wives are to submit to their husband as the head of the marriage.

Now, it says that wives are to submit to their husbands, but this is not the type of submission that is forced, imposed or comparable to slavery. That is not a true reflection of the church’s submission to Jesus Christ, and it is not the way that Jesus wants His church to respond to His leadership. Jesus wants the submission of the church to Him to be free, willing and glad.

That is how a wife should submit to her husband – freely, willingly and gladly, in acknowledgement of his position as head of the marriage just as Christ is head of the church.

However, when the grounds for the wife’s submission is based on the husband’s appointed headship, then the leadership of the husband needs to be the kind of leadership that the wife can affirm and honor.

Leadership and headship is not about having the right to control, abuse or neglect your wife. Again, this is not a true reflection of the leadership of Christ over His church. Husbands are to love and lead their wives in the same way that Jesus loves and leads His church. That means he has to love her and lead her sacrificially, the way that Jesus loves His church and died for her.

It means that the husband needs to provide for his wife the way Jesus provides for His church. He must protect his wife as Jesus protects His church. He must serve her the way Jesus serves His church and washed the feet of the disciples.

The husband’s headship in the marriage comes with the responsibility to do all these things – including to lead her spiritually. Most often, when women take over a leadership or a commanding role in the marriage or even in the church, it is because the men are not doing their job. And so, out of necessity to fill the void, the woman steps up to the plate and takes the reins because the man is not there.

How often is it that it is the wife who has to persuade the family to go to church on Sunday morning, to make sure the kids go to Sunday school, to read Bible stories to the children at bedtime and teach them how to pray? How often is it that there are more women than men doing the work in the church, leading Sunday schools, acting as elders and preaching in the pulpit? Where are the men?

God did not design things to be this way. Men need to stop being lazy. The men need to get off the couch and take up their rightful positions and responsibilities as leaders, and lead as God intended them to lead. How many marriages have broken down because the men feel they are not being respected and honoured enough by their wives, while the men are not doing anything worthy of respect and honor?

Summary

We have covered a lot in this article and yet we have barely scratched the surface. I pray that there is enough here to convince you of the importance of marriage in God’s sight, and to motivate you to draw closer to your spouse and even closer still when times get tough.

Let’s summarize what we have discussed:

A) The most foundational thing we can learn from the Bible about marriage is that it is God’s doing because:

  1. Marriage was God’s design
  2. God gave away the first bride
  3. God spoke the design of marriage into existence
  4. God performs the one-flesh union

B) The ultimate thing we can learn from the Bible about marriage is that it is for the glory of God because:

  1. Marriage is an image of the covenant relationship that exists between Jesus Christ and His church
  2. Marriage puts the covenant relationship between Jesus Christ and His church on display

C) Marriage is a showcase of God’s covenant-keeping grace because:

  1. Jesus took our punishment and His righteousness is counted as ours
  2. This free gift of grace from God bought and maintains the new covenant between Jesus and His church
  3. Husband and wife must reflect this vertical grace horizontally toward each other
  4. Husband and wife must forgive and bear with each other as God forgives and bears with them

D) The roles of the husband and the wife in marriage:

    1. Wives are to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ
    2. Husbands are to love and lead their wives as Jesus loves and leads His church
    3. Submission of the wife to her husband is free, willing and glad
    4. Headship of the husband comes with the responsibility to provide, protect and lead his family both physically and spiritually

May the grace of God be with you and help us all.

Amen.

 

This article contains quotes and excerpts from well known theologian John Piper’s book, This Momentary Marriage. If this article has blessed you and you wish to do further study into God’s design in marriage, I strongly recommend this book. You can buy it online from Amazon at the link below.

 

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