“If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)
Issues surrounding marriage are not new. Christians face problems like divorce as much as anyone, and they are certainly not immune to other problems short of divorce. Even if a couple’s marriage is strong, they still face the growing animosity of a culture that regularly attacks marriage. Christians find themselves in a bit of a bind. With same-sex marriage being legalized now, we are forced to look at how we view marriage as a whole and how we are to respond to our present culture.
We could just complain about the status of the nation, but will this do what we are desiring? We should call out the sins of this world, but it needs to be with the purpose of calling people to repentance through the gospel so that their souls are saved. In that respect, it matters not what sins are practiced when people are outside of Christ. God calls all to repent (Acts 17:30-31).
The short answer to the problem is what Peter wrote: “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:12). Particularly, Christians need to exemplify what God wants through the relationships that we share, particularly in His will for marriage. Perhaps that is easier said than done, but we have the ideal before us.
Let’s be clear up front: this is not about politics. I have no interest in making a political speech. There may be political implications, and there is no doubt that political decisions have been made that impact Christians. However, we need to be concerned foremost with God’s will, and fixing worldly problems have never come about through political power; so this is not about political maneuvering. This is about understanding our current situation and applying the gospel to our lives in a way that helps us be the salt of the earth and light of the world we have been called to be (Matt. 5:13-16).
We may feel isolated. We may feel anger. We may feel resolved, as we should. At the end of the day, however, are we committed to God and His will, or do we give in to self-will? Do we give in to God or give up to the world?
I want to present a biblical picture of God’s purpose for marriage and our commitment in marriage, and how these are important for the way we approach the world. Even if not married, the truth here is vital for how we uphold, honor, and talk about this most cherished of relationships, which is the backbone of society. If we are to respond to culture, let us do so with love for souls and with a properly-armed view of God’s purposes, for we must endure more difficult times.
How did we get where we are?
What are some of the factors that help explain how we got to where we are? While there may be several ways to respond to this, I want to suggest briefly the following as a way of helping us see the point:
We must factor in the constant push, not just to distinguish between God’s laws and man’s laws (which we ought to do), but to eliminate God’s laws from influencing man’s laws in any way. Typically, this is referred to as the separation of church and state. My purpose is not to discuss this particularly, but rather to affirm that this sits at the bottom of much of what is going on today. This may well have been misconstrued by many over the years, but the reality has set in that not only are God’s laws not allowed much influence in our system, but there is a general shift in the notion that man has a right to over-rule anything found in the Bible if he sees fit. God’s laws get relegated to religion only. Man’s laws take precedence. The issue, then, is ultimately about who has final authority.
The consequence is that God becomes marginalized. People may tell you that if you want to believe in God that’s your business, but don’t bring God into the public arena. Keep God out of politics, out of education, and out of the public square altogether. This marginalizes God and His people. They are expecting Christians to separate their biblical worldview from everything else, and this we cannot do. This is what we are facing, so what do we do?
A biblical worldview will not allow us to separate our faith from everything else we do. We are Christians always, everywhere, in all circumstances. We cannot leave our faith at the door when we go out to the world. The problem for us is that now man’s laws are the final authority in society. Once it hits this stage, might makes right and whatever those in power say is what goes. Is there any wonder we see a constant play for political power? When the biblical foundations are cut away, we should not be surprised at what may follow.
We have no expectations that human governments will be perfect manifestations of God’s righteousness. The Roman Empire of Christ’s day certainly was not. Christians are, indeed, their own counter-culture, determined to live by the will and authority of God. The answer is not to push for an establishment of an earthly kingdom, where worldly power rules by the fist, but to submit to the heavenly king and His spiritual kingdom into which we have been transferred. “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14).
What does this have to do with marriage? How did we get where we are in modern marriage views?
We may think that things have progressed so rapidly today and we just cannot understand why, but we should realize that there was already an undercutting of the marriage relationship long ago. This undercutting happens in several ways, even those professing to be Christians:
- Easy divorce.
- Living together before marriage.
- Homes that fail to respect proper roles in marriage.
- Husbands and wives who do not treat each other as the Lord desires.
Put this together with a world that thrives on instant gratification, constant entertainment and pleasure, and an emphasis on personal rights and entitlements, and we have a perfect storm for reshaping moral questions into idolatrous images of our own making. The path for same-sex marriage was cut long ago by a diminishing respect for God, for the authority of His word, and for marriage as something to be held in honor.
There are even more foundational issues that have been redefined.
People are concerned about the redefinition of marriage, and rightly so, but there is the greater problem of redefining even more fundamental issues:
God. God gets redefined into something of our own liking. The modern god is amenable to us and must rubber-stamp whatever we say. This is a non-judgmental god who is nothing like Scripture describes, except in isolated cases that fit what we like. This god looks and acts a great deal like us. His only wish is for us to have a good time and be nice. Since God loves all people, that necessarily means that whatever we choose to do is going to be perfectly fine with Him as long as it conforms to what we deem nice. If anyone doubts this, just ask us.
Love. With the redefinition of God comes the redefinition of love. Love is now defined by our own preferences. If two people love each other, no matter the gender, no matter the preference, no matter the circumstance, then it must be acceptable, and God will be okay with it. Those who disagree are the unloving, judgmental ones.
Once God and love have been redefined according to our own standards, everything else follows. Marriage is one of the casualties of these redefinitions. If we ever hope to get back on the right track with marriage, we need to identify these more fundamental problems.
How do we resolve the problem?
Resolving the problems we face must start with God. We can only understand the true purpose of marriage in the context of His authority and will. This is about foundations, and our ultimate foundation is God (Gen. 1:1). God created mankind in His image (vv. 26-27), and He created marriage as a means to provide for companionship, protection, procreation, and a living example of what it means to be in covenant with Him.
Here, then, are a few fundamentals of Marriage that we need to learn to exemplify and demonstrate to a world that has lost its moorings:
Marriage mirrors God’s image and covenant relationship with His people (Eph 5:22-33). God established marriage as a unit that reflects the Lord’s marriage to His bride. Consideration of marriage should lead us to consideration of God and His glory.
Biblical marriage proclaims the gospel message. The wife’s submission mirrors the submission of Christ in serving others. The husband’s love mirrors the love of Christ in dying for others.
Read Philippians 2:1-8. Submission and love comprise what Paul means by “the mind of Christ” (v. 5). When husband and wife, together, submit and love, they demonstrate the mind of Christ through their relationship. This is the mind we want to bring to the world.
What Christ did for His people is what the husband and wife do for each other (Eph 5:22-33). Biblical marriage is not a clever device of society in order to survive. It is not a mere tool for validating physical partners. It is a living manifestation of God’s relationship with His people. It is a purposeful, living symbol intended to reflect God.
Marriage, then, cannot be redefined without losing its intended meaning.
- Marriage reflects the image of God in creation.
- Marriage mirrors the covenant relationship God has with His people
- Marriage reflects the Gospel wherein is found grace, love, and sacrifice.
- Marriage mirrors the steadfast love and faithfulness of God.
- Marriage mirrors the unity of God as one.
- Marriage belongs to God. It was His conception, and He rules over it. The kingdom of God (rule of God) is as much a part of marriage as anything else we do.
- Marriage is founded upon the male and female prerequisite as they are joined together by God. Jesus stated this prerequisite of the one flesh relationship that God approves in Matthew 19:4-6.
- Marriage is a testimony to the fact that male and female are made in God’s image, and only through this relationship may we find God’s will to be fruitful and multiply. In this way, marriage manifests the creative nature of God.
- Marriage is built upon sacrificial love and submission. It is not meant to be selfish, but to emulate Christ, who sacrificed Himself for His body.
- Marriage is not to be redefined or changed. To change this fundamental relationship is to pervert the image of God in an attempt to rearrange the creation order of our Creator.
We cannot afford to turn marriage into a selfish, convenient, toss-away political issue. Christians need to view marriage on the grounds of God’s creation from the beginning along with Christ and His sacrifice, and they need to show they believe this through the way they live out their own marriage, becoming living examples of God’s desired covenant relationship with His people.
Men: as you consider your wife, think of Christ’s selfless sacrifice. As husbands, Jesus is our example. “As Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
Ladies: as you consider your husband, think of your role in the relationship. Are you respecting him? Christ’s submission to the Father is your example.
All — including those who aren’t married: as we consider the importance of marriage, think of our relationship with God as a covenant to which we are fully committed. Honor and respect marriage as a living manifestation of what this covenant means, rooted in creation, and intended to display something of God.
The Gospel needs to be applied to marriage.
Commitment to Marriage parallels our commitment to the Lord. These go hand in hand, and this commitment needs to be leading the way as we march into the world to reach others with the gospel.
While we need to be concerned about the influence our spouses will have on our spiritual lives, we must ourselves be committed to serving our spouses and helping them serve the Lord. In other words, marriage shouldn’t be all about “me.” As a Christians, I must bear responsibility in glorifying God. God calls upon me to glorify Him, so my focus must be first on God, then on loving my spouse as Christ loves His people (Eph 5:22ff). Therefore, while I must be concerned about the type of person I marry, for the sake of my own soul, I must be even more concerned about the type of influence I will have on my spouse. Not only do I need a spouse who can aid me in serving God and preparing for eternity, but I need to be a spouse who will aid her in serving God, also. A single Christian praying for a spouse should not just pray, “Lord, send me the right person,” but “Lord, make me the right person for someone else.” Focus on being the right kind of person and the right of kind of person will be attracted to you.
Dedication in marriage is not a 50/50 proposition, and if that’s how we view it, then we will feel justified in treating our spouses in a lesser way than we are capable of or responsible for. This means that even if a spouse fails to try or gives less than his or her best, we are still responsible to give our very best to the marriage. My approach to marriage must not be conditioned upon the way my spouse acts, but upon God’s will. This is because, as Christians, we are to approach all things with an attitude of service to the Lord.
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col 3:23-24).
This is an over-arching principle for all that we do, and this should be no less true in marriage. It is the Lord Christ whom we serve, and therefore our treatment of our spouses and our commitment to marriage is built upon this principle rather than upon some quid pro quo with our spouses.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Phil 2:3-5)
This passage, though dealing with relationships broader than marriage, must also be applied within marriage. Our commitment is to be like Christ, to have His attitude in everything (love and submission). Once again, this is not based on how others act, but upon our primary commitment to God. In this sense, then, marriage is about my spouse, not me. Just as Christ did nothing through selfish ambition, so we must act in humility toward our spouses in order to serve them and their interests (primarily spiritual interests). If I make marriage about my own personal happiness, then likely I will act out in selfishness and end up destroying the marriage and the happiness of my spouse, not to mention my own happiness in the process. Put your spouse first based upon the principles demonstrated by Christ in humbling Himself to die for our sins. In this way, the husband can love Christ as He loves His body (Eph 5).
Since grace and forgiveness are also major features of the gospel, then these need to be present in marriage as well. Especially living so close with another wherein personalities will likely clash, preferences will differ, and disagreements will come, treating one another with mercy and grace will be critical.
Once again, we stress this point: marriage is a direct reflection of God’s relationship with His people. This is Paul’s primary point in Ephesians 5. After speaking of the submission of the wife and the love the husband is to have for her, Paul then says, “I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (vs. 32).
Seeing marriage in this light should also stress for us the need for faithfulness. God is the God of steadfast love and faithfulness, and He expects His people to maintain that same sense of faithfulness. “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15). Husbands and wives should seek to emulate the same toward one another.
One of the main reasons God initiated marriage in Genesis was to showcase male and female as His creatures made in His image. He then used the marriage metaphor throughout Scripture to describe His relationship with His people — with Israel and then with His people under Christ. Prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Malachi stress the importance of this principle as the people had committed acts of adultery with foreign gods. Now marriage to Christ as His people is primary for the child of God. We are the bride of Christ, adorned for Him in covenant relationship (cf. Rev 21:2). Paul used marriage again as the illustration to show that we were made to be joined to Christ in order to bear fruit to God (Rom 7:1-4).
These ideas highlight the importance of physical marriage for God’s people. Marriage was created by God. He joins two together. Breaking the covenant is treachery (see Mal 2:15-16), and He hates divorce. God intends marriage to reflect His own covenant relationship with people made in His image. This ought to help us realize just how important our commitment to our spouses needs to be. Marriage ultimately isn’t about us, but about God’s own commitments to covenant. Though God made marriage for mankind, He made it for the greater purpose of reflecting His image. May God help us to reflect it properly.
Our faith is constantly being challenged, and we have recently seen this onslaught of challenges to the biblical view of marriage. The path for these challenges has long been set by a lack of respect for biblical marriage as a whole, but we have an opportunity to recapture God’s purpose in marriage by showing that marriage is a mirror of God’s relationship with His chosen people, based upon creation. Ultimately, the way to do this is not just through public argument (though we do need to make the biblical case), but through living in a way that demonstrates the concepts of love and submission, both of which are a living testament to sacrifice of our Lord who gave Himself up for us. Marriage, then, becomes a way in which we may show forth the gospel and be lights in a dark world. We have teaching opportunities. Let’s use them.
As marriage is a demonstration of God’s relationship with His people, we see ourselves as the bride of Christ. Consequently, we can look forward to this:
“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev 21:3-4).