His eyes glazed over. For a minute I thought they were going to roll back into his head. There was a brief flash of anxiety and then he settled into a blank coma of boredom. So, what are you writing on this week? He asked only seconds earlier. “The institution of marriage,” I answered. Presto – instant coma.
Marriage is a conversation downer. Oh, we love weddings and we adore romance, but marriage is a topic best avoided. We eagerly buy the most recent addition of celebrity gossip magazine to see what our favorite actress wore on her special day. An estimated 2 billion people got up in the wee hours of the dawn to watch the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate. We even enjoy the scandals of marriage, when some famous person is caught cheating on their spouse. You can’t turn on a news channel today and not hear about the impending divorce of Maria Shriver and Arnold Swarchenegger over his infidelity and love child. Love is happy, romance is a delight and scandal is entertaining. But in current society, marriage is a controversial topic best avoided.
Politicians and judges are arguing about the definition of marriage. Hollywood is constantly pushing the boundaries of acceptable marriage relationships, featuring homosexual marriages on Modern Family and Grey’s Anatomy and multiple-partner marriage on TLC’s Sister Wives. The season finale of Grey’s Anatomy had one doctor quoting to her gay, soon-to-be-married, friend, “If you are willing to stand up in front of your friends, and family and God and commit yourself to another human being, to give of yourself in that kind of partnership, for better or worse, in sickness and health – that is a marriage.”
But is it? Is marriage just about commitment between two people who love each other?
What is Marriage?
Marriage is a living picture of Christ and the Church. So, the marriage of believers has direct implications on the Gospel. Married, single, divorced, remarried, widowed. Anyone who is a believer, who is a member of Christ’s body, has a huge stake in how our relationship with Christ is depicted to the world. Dave Harvey says, “Marriage was not just invented by God, it belongs to God. He has a unique claim over its design, purpose and goals. It actually exists for him more than it exists for you and me and our spouses.” (When Sinner’s Say I Do)
Ephesians 5:21-33 is an amazing passage about marriage, but far too often we get caught up in the husband and wife parts and forget the primary lesson in this passage is about Christ and His Church. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” Eph. 5:22-24
The relationship between a man and a woman in marriage is a metaphor for Christ’s relationship with His Church. It’s a living picture of the mystery of Christ grafting sinful, yet redeemed, humans into his body. Christ as the head and the Church as his body – become one flesh – just as man and wife become one flesh. (1 Cor. 12:26-27, Eph. 4:15-16, Col. 1:18) “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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.” Eph. 5:25-27 This passage sums up the entire Canon of Scripture, Christ pursing his sinful Bride – going so far as to sacrifice himself to cleanse her for a relationship with him. And this love, sacrifice and holiness is God’s plan for marriage.
“In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Eph. 5:28-30 In her article on The First Marriage, Diane did a powerful job explaining God’s plan from the very beginning in Genesis 2. That means God designed marriage – from the beginning of creation – to be a living, earthly picture of the relationship that would one day occur between Christ and the Church. George W. Knight III explains, “Back when God was planning what marriage would be like, He planned it for this great purpose; it would give a beautiful earthly picture of the relationship that would someday come about between Christ and His Church.” (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Eph. 5:31-33 “This means that when Paul wanted to tell the Ephesians about marriage, he did not just hunt around for a helpful analogy and suddenly think that ‘Christ and the church’ might be a good teaching illustration. No, Paul saw that when God designed the original marriage He already had Christ and the church in mind. This is one of God’s great purposes in marriage: to picture the relationship between Christ and His redeemed people forever!” (G. W. Knight)
Why Marriage Matters
Marriage matters because it’s God’s chosen picture of Christ’s saving relationship with His bride, the Church. And so, it matters that marriage be between one man and one woman. It matters that marriage be until death do them part. It matters that husbands love and cherish their wives as servant leader. It matters that wives respect and submit to their husbands as helper. It matters that we conduct marriage exactly as God created it. It matters.
Because marriage is bigger than saying “I do,” more binding than any other legal contract with far more at stake than a twenty thousand dollar wedding celebration. “We defend marriage because God made it for us and told us it is good. We defend it because God created it as a living picture of His own love for us.” (Rebecca Jones, Does Christianity Squash Women?)
And so, because of Christ, we fight for marriage – even if that means waging war on our own hearts. “When he proposed, I was 19 and didn’t think twice before saying yes,” shared Jackie.* “Fast forward 11 years and 3 children later and we were trapped in a cycle of fighting and separating every 2 years. Finally, I was utterly disgusted with the man I had married. I asked him to move out and filed for divorce.
“Months went by and I was less stressed with my husband gone – I felt like a better mom and Christian. Then one Sunday afternoon, God sent my quiet next door neighbor to my front door. “What do you think you are doing?” she asked. “Look at your girls – what are you doing to them? They need their daddy. They need their family together. What are you doing?!” And then she turned and walked away.
“I was stunned. God used that encounter to break me. I realized that I was rejecting Christ by rejecting my husband. I was changing the future of my children outside of God’s plan for their lives. I realized that I was trusting Jesus with everything but my marriage. So I called my husband and asked him to move back home.
“It wasn’t fun. I was living with a man that I didn’t love, or even like. But I did so with complete confidence in God’s promise to be faithful to His Word. For months, I cringed when my husband walked into a room, but slowly God began to renew my love for my husband and heal our marriage. This summer, we will celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary – and I absolutely adore this man that I married.”
The biggest battle for marriage is most often waged in our hearts – our desires or God’s glory? When we obediently pursue God’s glory in marriage, the Lord pours out blessings on the couple and in time love is restored and the marriage is healed.
For Christian women, it means…
- Supporting the marriage of your ex to the girl he cheated on you with. Because they are married now, and marriage matters.
- Protecting the marriages of the men in your office from flirtation, lust or emotional affairs.
- Guarding the future marriages of the guys you date by remaining pure in all relationships.
- Holding your girlfriends accountable when they start talking about men other than their husbands.
- Defending your marriage from any person, thought or activity that would pull your heart away.
This isn’t a cry for public activism, it’s a call for personal revival. A call to fight for the institution of marriage in our hearts, in our churches and in our families. The gospel is at stake.
“Marriage is for our good, but it is first for God’s glory,” Dave Harvey.
*Name changed for privacy, story used with permission.