The Bible provides a lot of warnings as to how people will distort, twist, marginalize and outright reject the Word of God. Fulfillment of these actions is seen all around us today. Perhaps they are nowhere better witnessed than in common attitudes regarding the institution of marriage.
Without the Bible there would be no marriage and within the Bible we see the expectations from God governing marriage. Many ignore these imperatives. Others find them outdated. Some follow them but only as a “religious obligation” in fear of a greater consequence.
I submit that the commands regarding marriage come from God for a definitive reason and once we understand that specific reason we will have greater confidence that these commands do in fact come from God. Let me explain.
Far from being the iron-fisted mandates from a celestial kill-joy or arbitrary cultural guidelines best suited to a civilization long departed, the biblical rules pertaining to marriage clearly flow from God’s intent in creating marriage in the first place! Sure, God is all excited about procreation and companionship and pleasure, but do you know God’s primary purpose for marriage according to the Bible? His primary purpose for marriage is to give a visible illustration of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His church. In other words, marriage, the strongest human relationship which we have with our spouse, is to reveal the ultimate relationship that we as humans can have with our Creator! That is nothing less than a divine marriage!
In His love and mercy for sinful humanity, Jesus Christ went to the cross and paid the full price for transgressions. He bridged the chasm and made a relationship with the living God possible. He receives us on the basis of grace and offers us complete forgiveness when we receive His free love offering through faith. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Then when we come to Jesus as Savior and Lord, we enter into a spiritual marriage. Revelation 21:9 calls the church the “wife of the Lamb.” Jesus is the Husband and the church is His “bride” (Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 22:17). Wow!
In the great “marriage chapter” of Ephesians 5 (you know, the one we occasionally hear at weddings), the apostle Paul is quick to point out that all these human stipulations for a married couple are “with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:25). So since our human marriages were ultimately created to show the world the greatness of this divine marriage, let’s see how all the biblical stipulations regarding human marriage fit within these divine parameters.
1. “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mt. 19:6).
Divorce is commonplace and the excuses for doing it are legion. So what’s wrong with divorce? We return to the purpose of human marriage illustrating Christ’s marriage with His church. Would the church ever divorce Christ? Perhaps a better question to ask is whether Christ would ever divorce His wife, the church? Christ could objectively present many of our impurities as valid reasons, but His promise to us is clear. He entered a covenant with us that He promises never to break. “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Heb.13:5).
2. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife” (Mt. 19:5; cf. Gen. 2:24).
Though the Bible never calls us to cease honoring our parents, it does call us to “leave” our parents when a marriage union is formed. Spouses are to have a primary allegiance toward each other and this newly formed relationship is to dominate all other human relationships. Likewise, when we come to Jesus, He expects to be “first place” (Col. 1:18) in our lives. He now becomes our “first love” (Rev. 2:4). He is Lord and all other human relationships must now take a subordinate role (Ex. 20:3; Ac. 5:29).
3. “And the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Mk. 10:8; cf. Gen. 2:24).
In a mysterious way this is initiated during the vows and culminated physically on the wedding night when a married couple now becomes “one flesh” in the eyes of God. The Bible says, “God has joined [them] together” (Mt. 19:6). This union of oneness in human marriage is to symbolize and highlight the oneness believers have with Jesus Christ. When we come to Jesus by faith, an inseparable bond of intimacy is formed as He dwells within us and us in Him. Frequently in the Bible we read about believers being “in Christ” (1 Cor. 16:24; 2 Cor. 5:17). And we rejoice that, “Christ [is] in [us], the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
4. “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph.5:22-23, 25).
The gender roles for marriage are not arbitrary nor are they based on intelligence, giftedness, spirituality or personal worth. As the verses above clearly indicate, they are based on Christ’s relationship to the church (Eph. 5:32). The husband is expected to lead his wife though love, service and example that models Christ’s sacrificial work to redeem and shepherd His bride. The wife is expected to offer humble submission (in agreement with Scripture) in support and trust of the man’s leadership for which he is accountable to God (Gen. 3:9). When this is done biblically, the husband and wife not only form a complementary team, but they also show to a watching world by their marriage, the marriage between Jesus and His bride.
5. “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4).
Most people know the Bible forbids sex before marriage and most people see no reason to abide by this standard. Countless would rather die than forsake their promiscuous lifestyles. Waiting for marriage just seems so old-fashioned and impractical and senseless. Older virgins have become the laughing stock of our society. Yet there is a reason God set it up this way and it’s beyond most of the common explanations given by the church (avoid diseases, protect your heart, guard your reputation, value your spouse more, etc.). Again, it has to do with Jesus and His church. Spiritual intimacy with Christ only happens after we trust Him and enter into a covenant relationship with Him by faith. The same is true for human marriage; covenant first followed then by immediate intimacy.
6. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators…nor adulterers…nor homosexuals…will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
The Bible clearly defines marriage as being between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24). Anything outside of that is clearly forbidden in Scripture. God’s Word does not base the issue on the mutual feelings or the desire for equality that we hear argued so often today. The Bible focuses the discussion on the design of marriage and how all the relationships that go beyond one man and one woman fail to demonstrate God’s intent for creating marriage in the first place – male with female, husband with wife, Jesus with the church. Would Jesus ever marry the Father or the Holy Spirit? Would the church spiritually marry the church at the exclusion of Christ?
7. “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14).
While fornication is sex before marriage, adultery as we know is having sex with someone that is not your marriage partner. Frequently in the Old Testament, God rebuked Israel for chasing after false gods. He called it “spiritual adultery.” If we are married to Christ, but find more interest, significance and hope in the idols of the world (money, people, health, fame, etc.), we too are cheating on our divine husband. The fidelity between a married couple is to model the fidelity between the church and Christ as they are unswervingly reserved for one another.
May God give us the grace in our human marriages to successfully show a watching world the riches of the divine marriage! May that divine marriage inspire and empower us to enjoy all the blessings of married life here on earth. And may we look beyond our temporary human marriages to the day we will be wed with the Lamb in perfect fellowship!