This post is one half of two posts that Jenny and I are writing on the nature of marriage. You can read the other half by visiting Jenny’s blog: http://morethansuburban.blogspot.com
“The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
Recently Jenny and I were blessed and privileged to attend the wedding of two of our friends. As we sat there watching them make their vows to God and one another we couldn’t help but think back on our own wedding and the five years of marriage that we have enjoyed since. But what stood out to both of us, more than anything, was how incredibly God-centered their ceremony was.
Over the past five years Jenny and I have attended more weddings than we can count. However, very few of them were so focused on the Gospel as this one was. Sure, they cited Scriptures like Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 13 in order to highlight the commitment that they were making to one another. But even then, these passages were drawn upon to highlight the couple and their vows. Not so for our friends. In their ceremony it was clear that marriage wasn’t really about the two them. It was about God. And everything from their Scripture readings to the songs they chose to the prayers they prayed was focused on the story of salvation and how a Christian marriage is meant to highlight and celebrate the gift of grace that we have through Christ.
It was a beautiful and powerful ceremony. And it got us thinking: How do we define marriage? Is it a promise of faithfulness between two lovers? Is it a lifetime commitment; a covenant? Is it a social contract, complete with benefits and obligations? Is it a right? A privilege? What does it mean to be married? In recent years these are questions and positions that people in our society have debated and fought over. And while a marriage may be a promise, a commitment, a social contract, for the Christian marriage is something far more. A marriage is ultimately meant to bring glory to God. But what does that mean? That is what this post is about.
Marriage in Creation
You see, in the beginning, when God first created humanity, He said that it was not good for man to be alone. And so he created woman. Scripture tells us that, when the man saw the woman, he said:
“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
And so man and woman were created for relationship with each other. But that is not all. For Scripture tells us something else. It says that:
God created making in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
What we see in these two verses is something truly profound. What Scripture tells us is that, in marriage, God brings these two halves of the human race, male and female, into a dynamic relationship which reflects His image in a way that neither of them could have done apart. They move from being two individuals into one. And in this dynamic union they reflect the image of God; the one being who is simultaneously a unity and a community. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existing eternally as one. The same and yet distinct – different and yet one – a Christian marriage between a man and woman points us to the character and nature of the Triune God. Christian marriage was meant to reflect this beautiful and loving relationship within the God-head and so bring Him glory. This is why it tells us that, in the beginning:
Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Safe and affirming, beautiful and loving, marriage was a gift given by a loving God to the creatures made in His image. And when a man and a woman live out this calling to harmonious and dynamic unity, they give glory to the God in whose image they are made.
Marriage Torn Apart
Sadly, this was not to last. We read that, in an effort to live their own way and define their own lives, men and women both have rebelled against God. They put themselves on the pedestal of their lives and, in so doing, broke not only their relationship with God, but their relationships with each other (see Genesis 3). And since that time marriages have been marked by strife and division. What was once meant to reflect the loving nature of our God is now marked by infidelity, jealousy, mistrust, heartache, and unmet expectations. We see it everyday. I doubt there is any one of us who has not, in some way, been touched by a marriage torn asunder. Whether we saw it in our parents, witnessed it in the lives of our friends, or experienced it personally in our own relationships, divorce is an all too common occurrence.
But even in marriages that have not ended in divorce, the strife and pain of Sin are all too present. There have been countless times in our five short years of marriage that Jenny and I have found ourselves angry with one another and at odds because of selfishness, stubbornness, and petty frustrations. Marriage is not easy. It is hard and, at times, painful. I think it is safe to say that marriage is no longer what God intended it to be.
Marriage and Salvation
So can marriage, broken and marred as it is, still glorify God? By the grace of God, yes, it can and it does. One of the things that I find interesting in the writings of the New Testament is how marriage is talked about and where marriage imagery comes up. It is worth noting that Jesus uses marriage and the wedding feast to talk about the kingdom of God (see Matthew 22, Matthew 25, Luke 12:35-37). But what is even more striking is how, in foretelling the return of Christ, the Bible speaks of it in marriage terms. It reads:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
What we see in these passages is that God’s redemption of mankind is likened to a marriage ceremony, one in which He is seeking out his wayward bride and lovingly restoring the relationship that has been broken (see Hosea 2:14-23). The final picture of redemption is the wedding feast, a celebration of the reunion between Creator and created, between God and His beloved people.
And the apostle Paul tells us that it is this seeking and reconciling work of God that is now to be reflected in human marriages as well. In writing to the church at Ephesus, he talks about marriage in the following terms:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also much love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Paul tells us that Christian marriages are ultimately intended to point to the saving work and immeasurable grace of God in Jesus Christ. That these marriages, even in their shortcomings, are to be places of repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. In doing so, they bear witness to the grace of God in Christ.
Again, I can’t help but reflect on the past five years of marriage with Jenny. For all of our shortcomings and struggles, there has always been grace and love extended. Though we may fight and snipe at each other, we also know when to say we are sorry and ask for forgiveness. Likewise we learn to extend grace and bear with one another in love. We do this not because we have a stronger marriage than others, but because we know, each and every day, that we are sinners saved by grace; cherished by God even when we are at our most unloveable. And we pray that our marriage, more and more, reflects the power of the saving work that Christ has done in our lives. Furthermore, it gives us hope and points us forward to that day when the wedding will be consummated and the kingdom brought into its fullness at the great wedding feast of Christ.
In the meantime, Christian marriage stands as a testimony to the ongoing work of God in the world as he pursues his beloved bride. Just as it was intended to bring God glory by bearing His image perfectly in the beginning, so it now glorifies God as Savior and Redeemer in a broken world. Whether in good times or bad, marriage is meant to give God praise. That is the purpose of Christian marriage.
And so, we say congratulations to our friends, we pray for the marriages in our lives, and we long for and look forward to the day when we will see the Bridegroom face-to-face at His wedding table. Praise be to God for the gift of marriage. Amen.
For some thoughts on Christian discipleship and marriage, check out the other half of this reflection by visiting Jenny’s blog: morethansuburban.blogspot.com