By Joel Ryan, Crosswalk.com
Like many married men, I can remember my wedding day like it was yesterday.
I can tell you what it felt like to see my then bride-to-be walking down the aisle in her wedding dress. I can tell you about the way she styled her hair, about the perfume she wore, and the blue high heel shoes she borrowed from her grandmother. I can tell you about our first dance, our rings, and our vows. And I can tell you of the joy we’ve shared joining together with Christ to live as husband and wife. Then and always. In sickness and in health. Till death do us part. You know the rest.
What God established that day has proven to be both glorious and good – very good.
Though the years that followed have been anything but easy, perfect, or mess-free, our marriage has remained one of the greatest gifts God has ever given us. That being said, there are several things we must understand about the purpose of marriage as God intended.
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Marriage Is a Glorious Institution Worth Treasuring
When it comes to my wife, I have no shame in affirming the wisdom of Solomon who wrote:
“He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22).
“An excellent wife is the crown of her husband” (Proverbs 12:4).
“An excellent wife, who can find her? For her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:10).
Unfortunately, not everyone holds marriage in such high regard or treasures their wife with such esteem. It’s no secret to say that our society has developed a serious marriage problem. An institution once considered sacred is now treated with scorn.
Marriages around the world are falling apart at record pace, and even the ones that have remained intact are often broken, loveless, or weak. Divorce is also seen as a normal quick-fix and easy-way-out of marriage when things get too difficult or the fire and passion of young love flickers. To be clear, I am not shaming or condemning anyone who’s been forced to flee or break away from an abusive or adulterous relationship.
But if anyone knows what it feels like to be cheated on and betrayed by an unfaithful bride, it’s God.
However, while Scripture conveys God’s disdain for divorce (Malachi 2:14-15), it also makes clear the love God has for those who’ve been betrayed, hurt, or abused by an unloving or unfaithful spouse.
God gave marriage to mankind as a blessing, and it is His purpose to see marriages thrive in love, in faith, and in unity. God hates divorce because it breaks His heart to see His children hurt and the covenant He brokered for their benefit dissolved.
That being said, as the divorce rate climbs, the marriage rate has been in decline for the last few decades. Young people are waiting longer and longer to get married and start a family these days, if at all. Some of this is for financial reasons. Other times, it is born out of fear. Furthermore, many young adults would rather focus on their careers or cohabitate and engage in sexual relationships outside of the covenant of marriage altogether.
Being single is not the problem. The tragedy, however, is that fewer people see marriage as a treasure even worth pursuing.
Needless to say, Satan has wreaked havoc on the institution of marriage, both in how it is viewed from the outside and how it is treated on the inside. And as marriages continue to fail, so also does the health of the family, the church, and society continue its steady decline.
However, what society views as frivolous and inconsequential, God treats as sacred, glorious, and worth fighting to preserve. Why? Because He created it.
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God Alone Is the Author Marriage
We learn in the book of Genesis that the jewel of God’s creation involved the creation of man and woman.
“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said, ‘be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:27-28).
As the only creation “made in His image,” man was given enormous responsibility in its dominion over the rest of creation. However, God had also recognized that it was not good for Adam (man) to be alone. “I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).
We then read that, out of the flesh of Adam, God created Eve (Genesis 2:21-23).
Here, the first marriage was formed. As it is written, “for this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined together to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:24-25).
This is marriage as God designed and intended it.
Therefore, if God alone is the author and originator of marriage, man does not have the right or authority to redefine what God has created. Anything other than what God established from the beginning is not, by its very nature, marriage. It is something else entirely. At best, it is a poor imitation; at worst, a grotesque perversion of what God has designed. Once sin came into the world, however, even the sanctity of marriage, like all of creation, was affected. We see its aftermath even today.
That being said, in its proper context, with Christ at its center, marriage is still one of the greatest blessings God has given mankind.
How do I know this?
I can tell you from my own relationship that marriage has given my wife and I the opportunity to start and raise a family; it has helped us grow closer to God through the strength and encouragement provided by each other; and it has provided an incredible illustration of Christ’s love for His church and faithfulness towards His beloved bride.
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God Designed Marriage for Procreation and the Formation of the Family
Shortly after forming the first marriage, God laid out His earliest instructions for the newlywed couple: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
Some believe this is the first command in Scripture; others see God’s design for marital procreation and having children a blessing reserved for husbands and wives. In some regards, both are true.
As part of the biblical mandate to subdue the earth, the husband and wife are called to procreate to grow their family and expand the work God has given them.
More than just a physical expansion, however, procreation gives the husband and wife children to carry on the traditions and values of their family. Children are the ones parents are called to raise, instruct, and discipline, imparting the wisdom and knowledge of God; and as the family grows, so grows the number of children, and soon adults, who will take the knowledge of God’s truth, goodness, and grace into the world.
The aftermath of biblical procreation, born out of godly marriage, furthers the physical subjection of creation as well as the spiritual proliferation of the gospel and God’s plan for humanity. Furthermore, God has created procreation as a blessing to husbands and wives.
As the Psalmist writes, “children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (Psalms 127:3-5).
Of course, men and women have the physical capacity to procreate outside of marriage. However, under the covering of a strong, healthy marriage and the strength of a God-centered covenant, children are given the benefit of consistency, stability, and discipline from a mother and father who are committed to each other as husband and wife first.
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God Designed Husbands and Wives to Sanctify Each Other
We see throughout Scripture that husbands and wives also exist to help sanctify each other.
Many are familiar with the proverbial wisdom that, “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). You’d be hard pressed to find any relationship where two individuals grow and strengthen each other through conflict and friction than in marriage.
The apostle Paul laid out clear instructions for how husbands and wives do this when he wrote, “wives, subject yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord… husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” (Ephesians 5:22, 25-26).
Today, however, very few men and women enter into marriage with this perspective in mind. In fact, nothing brings the depth of our selfish and stubborn nature to light better than having to butt heads with the will and desires of the person sleeping next to us. We’re used to getting what we want and doing things our way. In marriage, however, it doesn’t take very long for an unmovable force and unstoppable object to collide.
Many wives struggle with submission as many husbands struggle to love their wives and sacrifice for their good. The mentality of “I do it my way” enters many marriages, and it takes a LOT of work to learn how to let go, compromise, and do things God’s way (not our own) for the benefit of our spouse.
God knew this, which is why He gave husbands and wives to each other. As Voddie Baucham writes, “God uses marriage to chisel away at our rough edges and to conform us to the image of his Son.”
This is sanctification.
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God Gave Marriage as an Illustration of Christ’s Love for His Bride, the Church
Of course, if we have any doubt that God treasures marriage and takes it seriously, we need look no further than the many ways God uses marriage as an illustration of Christ’s relationship with the church, who He refers to as His beloved bride.
Portrayed as the bridegroom in this relationship, God reveals Himself to be faithful, loving, and committed to His people. However, God is also no stranger to infidelity and an unfaithful bride. Throughout the Old Testament, the nation of Israel frequently broke their vows and walked away from God to serve other gods or their own selfish desires.
Even today, many have exchanged the joys of a loving relationship with Jesus Christ for the slop of swine and sickness of sin and death. And yet, in God’s own love story, the bridegroom pursues His unfaithful bride with a relentless passion and desire to win her back.
With Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection, Jesus became the living embodiment of the faithful husband willing to give up His life for the one He loved so that intimacy might be restored and the relationship, once broken by sin, might be renewed (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Scripture also promises a final reunion between Jesus Christ and His bride when Christ will celebrate at a wedding ceremony where the two will be united forever (Revelation 19:7-8).
In any case, though many today treat marriage as frivolous or inconsequential, we must remember God’s purpose for this blessed union and cherish the relationship He saw as a fitting illustration of His love for us.
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