Every culture has ideas about marriage – what it is about, who it’s for, how to handle difficulties within it, what to do to stay happy in it, and whether or how to leave it. We live in a world where we have access to these varied experiences and ideas about marriage, which can cause a lot of confusion and hurt.
The Bible provides the only proper view of marriage but because of sin in the world, it isn’t universally accepted. This makes it even more important to get our view of marriage from God’s word, alone. After all, He created marriage.
Marriage is a good thing
In the garden, Adam was alone. While everything around him was good and capable of fulfilling its purpose, Adam was only able to fulfill part of his mandate alone. And so, the Lord said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).
To take care of the garden and cultivate it, and to be able to multiply and fill the earth as everything else was intended to, Adam needed a partner. Thus, God created a partner for him, and the Lord said “It is good”.
While it may be tempting to assume from Genesis that being married is the ideal state, it doesn’t mean that marriage is for everyone. Paul says:
Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them…Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is.
Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. – 1 Corinthians 7:17, 25-28
In a piece called Gospel and Sex, pastor Tim Keller tries to explain this passage in this way:“Paul, like Jesus, taught the overlap of the ages. The kingdom of God – God’s power to renew the whole of creation – has broken into the old world through Christ’s first coming. The kingdom is here in a substantial but partial way (Rom. 13:11-14). On the one hand, it means that the social and material concerns of this world still exist.
“But on the other hand, the gospel brings us an internal peace and a hope in the future that transforms all our earthly relationships (Rom. 14:17). Therefore, we must not over-invest ourselves in anything besides the kingdom. Though we have possessions, we should live as if they weren’t really ours, for our real wealth is in God (Luke 16:1–16).
“Paul applies this principle to marriage and singleness. We are to be neither overly elated about getting married nor overly disappointed about not being so – because Christ is the only spouse who can truly fulfill us and God’s family the only family that will truly embrace and satisfy us. The Christian gospel and hope of the future kingdom dethrone the idolatry of marriage. Christianity upholds single adulthood as a viable way of life.”
In other words, one can be married or single and be fulfilled and carry out their life’s purpose. The propagation of the human race doesn’t rest solely on us – other human beings can help us to fulfill the mandate to have dominion over the creation. For us now, in “this present crisis” as Paul puts it, we have the freedom to get married or not. In the kingdom of God, marriage is good. And in the kingdom of God singleness is also good.
Marriage, though it comes with certain pressures, is still a good thing. The book of Proverbs teaches that:
He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD. – Proverbs 18:22
Finding an intimate partner with whom to travel through life is a gift.
As Solomon reminds us:
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
This applies to friendships and partnerships, but it applies even more to a healthy marriage.
Marriage is meant to be permanent
Life happens, and often things don’t go as planned. As with most other things, marriages can go wrong. There can be abuses, infidelity, and other betrayals of trust, and these are often considered the grounds for many divorces. However, in the Bible, marriage is meant to be a more permanent state of being.
For one thing, marriage is about faithfulness, a quality God displays toward his people in even the worst situations. It would be rather long to quote here, but the entire book of Hosea is about God demonstrating how he loves his people despite their unfaithfulness. God takes that unfaithfulness seriously, so much so that he brings all many judgments against his people in the hope that they’ll come to their senses and return to him.
Speaking to his people, God says:
‘“In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked.’ – Hosea 2:16-17
Paul writes to the church in Corinth:
To the married, I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” – 1 Corinthians 7:10-11
In Malachi 2:16 the Lord says to his people: “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So, guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”
“God hates divorce” is a strong statement that seems to capture this sentiment toward terminating our commitment to our spouse. And Jesus says that in the beginning, God intended for people to be united for life, but because of our hardness of heart divorce was allowed. The relevant passage reads
Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’” And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”
“Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?” they asked.
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery – unless his wife has been unfaithful.”’ – Matthew 19:3-9
Jesus challenges the notion that one can divorce for any reason. The concession he appears to make is when unfaithfulness has occurred, but he makes it clear that what God intended was for people to be married and remain married to one another. It requires much wisdom to know how to navigate this desire for permanence against the damage that one spouse can do to another through abuse, neglect, etc.
Separation, for instance, can create the necessary space for certain situations to be resolved, without necessarily dissolving the marriage. Ultimately, however, everyone must make up their own mind before God about how to handle the difficulties they encounter in marriage.
Marriage requires service and sacrifice
When two people come together to start a life, they must be willing to make sacrifices and be available for one another. A relationship with two selfish people who do not yield to one another and are effectively in competition with each other is dysfunctional.
One in which only one person is willing to give of themselves while the other receives those sacrifices may be dysfunctional or codependent. For a marriage to work, both parties must be willing to compromise, to forgive one another, to show up for each other, and to desire the best for one another.
Ephesians 5:21-33, Colossians 3, 1 Peter 3, and 1 Corinthians 7, among many other passages, highlight the reality that for marriage to work, the people in it must be willing to put the interests of their spouse above their own. These verses all demonstrate one key thing – we are for each other, and we have responsibilities toward one another.
The Christian understanding of marriage is that both parties are eager to serve one another. Sensitive awareness of each other’s needs alongside a desire to meet those needs is a powerful combination, and that is precisely what the Bible calls couples to in marriage.
Marriage requires God’s grace
Marriage can be hard. That’s because life is hard, and no one is spared from it. It takes something more than our natural power to forgive, extend compassion, and honor others before ourselves. Amid illness, setbacks at work, fatigue, financial stress, disappointments, and so much more, there’s a lot of strain that marriages and families endure.
But there are also many joys, such as welcoming a new life into the family, those delicious moments and seasons of simply being together, sex, growing old together, and seeing God at work in your relationship.
Marriage is a gift, and all good gifts come from God (James 1). To receive and use this gift well, we require God’s grace in our lives, and in turn, each married couple ought to channel that grace toward one another in their daily lives. No marriage is perfect, but each marriage can be used to grow and perfect the people in it to look more and more like Christ.
“Sunset”, Courtesy of Vitaly Mazur, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Red Flower”, Courtesy of Kevin Chin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Rough Water”, Courtesy of Zoe, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Orange Flower”, Courtesy of Jan Walter Luigi, Unsplash.com, CC0 License