There is no shortage of songs about love, relationships, and marriage. These songs paint a varied and complex picture about many diverse views on the topic of a love relationship.
The musician Sting has a song on this topic:
“No earthly church has ever blessed our union-No state has ever granted us permission
No family bond has ever made us two-No company has ever earned commission-
No debt was paid no dowry to be gained-No treaty over border land or power
No semblance of the world outside remained-To stain the beauty of this nuptial hour-
The secret marriage vow is never spoken-The secret marriage never can be broken
No flowers on the alter-No white veil in your hair-No maiden dress to alter-No Bible oath to swear-The secret marriage vow is never spoken”.
What is this thing called marriage? What defines a marriage? Is it a piece of paper that we sign? What is the purpose of marriage? Understanding the answers to these questions is necessary to establish the foundation of any healthy marriage that can fulfill the traditional wedding vows: “to have and to hold from this day forward . . . for better, for worse, in want and in plenty . . .in sickness and in health . . . and in the power of the Holy Spirit . . .to love and cherish . . .until death do us part.”
It’s Okay to Be Single
Before we unpack our primary biblical text in Genesis on marriage, Paul has something to say about singleness.
1 Corinthians 7:1
Now about the questions you asked in your letter. Yes, it is good to live a celibate life.
There is often a notion in some circles that if you are not married something is wrong with you. That is clearly not true and not biblical. It is perfectly good to live as a single person dedicating your life to grow closer to Jesus Christ just as it is perfectly good to be a married person growing closer to Jesus Christ. Whether someone is single or married has nothing to do with how spiritually mature, how close you are or are not to God, or how healthy you are as a person. Paul encourages singleness for the dedication of a person’s life to the purposes of God. Singleness is powerful! Paul and Jesus were both single so if you are single that is the best company to be in.
Marriage: What is it?
As we know – marriage, and more specifically the wedding day, is a big deal. I know on my wedding day we worked on many details (Okay, Amy worked on details) from the decorations on the cake to the fold of the napkins and colors of the flowers. The average wedding today in America costs between 18,000-21,000 dollars. On Long Island the cost of a wedding averages about $40,000-$50,000. The top five wedding day costs by percentage are: 48% of the wedding day costs are spent on the reception, 12% on the photos, 10% attire, 8% flowers, 8% music.
I am all for those things and they all had an important part in my wedding day, but receptions, photos, attire, flowers, and music are not at the heart of what marriage is all about.
Let’s start from the beginning.
God created male and female in his own image. Male and Female, unlike all other parts of creation, directly reflect the very character of God. What we see is that God created two distinct yet the similar beings. Both are the same as image bearers of God yet uniquely defined in their sexuality. Humans are unique from the animals in the creation narrative not only because we are created in the image of God but because we, unlike the animals, are not broken up into species. The sexual distinction is uniquely stated in the creation chapters in Genesis about humans while it is not until the flood story that scripture mentions the distinction of sexuality amongst the animals.
One Man and One Woman:
Marriage is what we call a creation ordinance. It is something that God gifted us with before the fall, before Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and sin tainted everything, including marriage. So, marriage is not a Wisconsin, United States, modern, or human invention. Marriage is established by God himself. Marriage as God has ordained is between one man and one woman.
As stated in that Sting song, what is marriage? What defines a Marriage? Does it need to be in a church, with flowers, photographers, and an expensive wedding? Why not just love someone and live with them? Do I need the government to tell me I am married?
In Genesis 2:24 it says that a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, becoming one flesh. That word united means to cleave to or to adhere. The idea is that marriage is a permanent bond. In marriage the relationship of parent/child is now trumped, it is replaced by the new covenantal relationship of husband/wife. The bond, in fact, between a husband and a wife in scripture as one flesh is a profound mystery that is closer than the bond between parent/child which never uses the one flesh language. Jesus, when being questioned by the religious leaders, refers back to creation and reiterated the permanence of marriage:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So, they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together let man not separate.”
Marriage in always a permanent bond for life. The allowances for divorce and re-marriage in the Bible are only because of sin and never part of God’s original intent for the marital relationship. The marriage relationship that you are in now and the marriage relationship that you are perhaps considering as a single person is to be a permanent bond between a husband and wife.
Not only is the commitment of marriage permanent it is made public before God and others. By the male in Genesis physically leaving his family of origin a public statement is being made that the parent/child relationship is severed so that the new husband/wife relationship can be entered. This is where the government we live in helps us define public. In order to be married in the state of Wisconsin you need to not only sign a marriage license yourself, but an officiate (in many cases a pastor), and two witnesses must also sign to make it legally binding.
The other defining aspect of a biblical marriage is the consummation of the sexual union. This will lead us into the purposes of marriage in a moment. Sexual consummation is the physical bonding of our bodies to one another physically illustrating the one flesh theme of marriage in Genesis 2:24. A theologically rich definition of marriage would be, “Marriage is an exclusive covenant between one man and one woman, ordained and sealed by God, preceded by a public leaving of parents, consummated in sexual union, issuing in a permanent mutually supportive partnership.”
What is the Purpose?
There are some hilarious shows in TV history that poke fun at how interesting and challenging marriage can be. From classics like I Love Lucy (I still think the candy episode is drop dead hilarious, Google It!) to Modern Family, you would almost believe that conflict is the purpose of marriage. Conflict is a natural and normal part of marriage that can be managed in a God honoring and healthy manner. The foundational tool to help manage appropriate conflict in marriage is an understanding of God’s purpose for marriage.
Back in Genesis 1:28 we get the very first purpose of marriage. To be fruitful and multiply. In Genesis this was the obvious way God was going to populate earth, but expanding the population is not the only reason why a foundational purpose of marriage is to have children. It is to multiply a godly legacy. Think about who has had the greatest impact for good or bad in your life and it is, hands down, parents. God could have chosen many different ways to bring people to himself and help them understand what it means to follow Jesus, but the primary one he ordained is marriage. God intends us to pass on the truth of Jesus Christ to the people most influenced by what we say and do: our kids (Psalm 78:5-7).
It is the primary responsibility of parents to pass on the truth of God to their children. Not having children does not diminish in any way the purpose of marriage, but it allows for that couple to invest their life in expansion of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The first time something is declared not good in the creation narrative is in this verse. God becomes both the evaluator of his creation and the rectifier of it. As you look at the story of creation everything is in chapters 1 & 2, except God needs something else to complete it. Light and darkness, water and land, and now male and female. God creates Eve to mutually complete Adam. The word helper is used in verse 18 which is the same word that is used for God in his relationship with Israel in texts like Exodus 18:4 and Deuteronomy 33:7. The idea in the text is not of stronger and weaker or more or less valuable but of woman who saves man from his solitude. This partnership reveals that each of us have a deep and intimate relational need in which marriage should provide fulfillment. This does not imply that our relational need cannot be filled in our singleness (it can), or that the only friendship we are to have is our husband or wife. It does mean that for those who are married the primary source of relational human fulfillment must be found in your spouse. This relational hole in each of us is part of our image bearing nature. As God exists in perfect community as the Triune God, so we need to also exist in community. Our relational need does not reveal our weakness or our sinfulness but reveals how God intended to create us.
Make us Holy
One final purpose is best summed up in the words of author Gary Thomas:
“What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy.” God created male and female in his own image so our marriage relationship should be one that mirrors God to the world around us. If I really want to see God transform my life from the inside out, I must concentrate on changing myself by treating my spouse as Jesus Christ has treated me. When we love our spouse with the godly character qualities of love in 1 Corinthians 13, we mirror God in our relationship to each other, to children, and to the world. When we forgive each other, we mirror the forgiveness that is revealed in Jesus Christ when he died on the Cross. Our marriages, with all of their challenges, are God ordained as a means to fulfill the words written in the Old Testament quoted by the Apostle Peter:
1 Peter 1:15-16
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”