The Disney movie, The Incredibles, actually got something right about the priority of marriage. The story follows a family of super heroes that get attacked by bad guys. The kids reflect on what this means for the parents, with the oldest daughter saying, “Mom and Dad’s lives could be in danger, or worse, their marriage!” Now, this line is played for laughs, but this does capture, even if accidentally, the sort of priority we should have for our marriages. Why would I say that so strongly? What should be the motive that gives us that level of concern for our marriages? It isn’t some trite “happy wife, happy life” sort of reason, as some marriages don’t care whether or not the spouse is happy. We don’t make our marriages a priority because life is just easier when we all get along. We don’t make our marriages a priority because it is better for the kids. Yes, a good marriage is good for our children, but that motive won’t last. Children do grow up, you know. Some of those may motivate a secular marriage for a while, but a Christian marriage has much more to offer. There is no earthly reason that will be more powerful than your sinful nature to make your marriage a priority, except one--the gospel.
The historical fact that Jesus came to Earth to redeem His bride the Church is what is pictured in every Christian marriage. Husbands are supposed to model Jesus’ care for His Church, and Wives are supposed to mirror the Church’s submission to Christ. We will flesh out what that means as we go along in this series. What I want us to begin with is what is marriage, and why you should care about that even if you are not married yet.
I want to begin by talking to our single people, both those not yet married and those who have been married but for one reason or another, aren’t anymore. It can be very easy to assume that this series doesn’t apply to you, or will only apply to you in the future if you get married. Don’t make that mistake. This series applies to you profoundly right now.
Even if you never get married, this series applies to you for two reasons. The first reason is that we are in this church part of a covenant. We are united together as we are united to Christ in one body. We should all care about what a flourishing marriage looks like because we are all connected. When a marriage fails in a church, it affects all of us. You as a single person need to be ready to point a struggling member of a marriage to the hope of Scripture.
The second reason that you should care about this is that marriage is a picture of the Church’s relationship to Christ. Marriage is temporary, confined to this Earth (see Matthew 22:30), and is ultimately pointing to heaven (Revelation 19). Even if you never experience the picture of that on Earth, you will experience the reality Earthly marriage points to in heaven if you are in Christ. Christ chose to use the metaphor of marriage to picture His relationship with you, so you need to understand what that means.
Also, like, there is a good chance that you will be married one day! You should probably know how the most significant decision of your life is going to work. I mean, if I was to tell you, “We are going to play a team-based game, pick your partners.” What’s the first question you will want to know? What game are we playing? Is it tug of war or trivial pursuit? You will likely pick a very different partner depending on the game. People will put TONS of work into preparing themselves for a career that they will likely only spend about ten years in but will spend almost no time preparing for the one thing that will most profoundly shape their lives. Don’t want until you are in my premarital counseling office to decide it is time to learn about marriage.
As we go through this series, I want you to grasp this statement that we will flesh out over the next few weeks. Marriage is God’s design for His glory in the world and your joy in life that points to the love in heaven.
Let’s begin with Marriage being God’s design. God’s design for marriage is three-fold. Marriage is a promise, a privilege, and a presentation.
We can’t talk about marriage without talking about covenants. What is a covenant? Well, the closest thing that we have to a covenant these days is a contract. Covenants were much more than that. There was a solemn ceremony that took place where an animal was split in half allowing the parties in the covenant to walk between the halves. The idea was, the participants would be saying, “If I break this covenant, may what has happened to this animal happen to me.” That’s a pretty serious promise to make! Imagine if that was the agreement on an apartment lease! You didn’t make covenants in the Bible unless you really meant it.
Marriage is a covenant (it is called such in Malachi 2:14 [Newhiser, 7]). It is a solemn promise made between two people, right? Wrong. There are at least three people involved in this promise, and there need to be witnesses. R.C Sproul in his wonderful teaching series, The Intimate Marriage points out that covenants were not made secretly (“What is Christian Marriage?” Renewing Your Mind Broadcast). The marriage covenant especially requires witnesses, as anyone can say anything and promise the world when no one else is there to enforce it or remind him or her. But when someone makes a promise to love and cherish in sickness and in health in front of friends, family, parents, and God, that promise better be kept. God doesn’t take kindly to broken promises.
So who is the third person involved? Look at what is said in Matthew 19:6. What God has joined together. God is the one who puts together marriages, so those who try to break them apart will need to face God one day (Newhiser, 8). In fact, one commentator went so far as to say this, “The principle of Genesis from which Jesus draws this application goes beyond opposing divorce; it opposes marital disharmony altogether” (Keener, 463). In other words, separating a couple in marriage isn’t confined to divorce, it includes arguing and putting one another down or sulking in a silent treatment. By mistreating each other you are separating what God has put together, and He doesn’t like that. You have made a promise before Him and to Him to love and cherish each other, a precious, life-giving vow, and we are willing to break it over the way the towels are folded? No a promise like that needs to be guarded, prayed for, and treated like the treasure that it is. This is one way that we all can serve each other married or not. Be praying for one another that they, with God’s help, will uphold these promises that they’ve made to each other not just by not getting a divorce, not by just not arguing over silly things, but that they would love each other and seek the best for each other in God’s way.
That is what marriage is meant to be, a privilege.
There are three privileges that marriage allows for in a special way, two of which are exclusive to marriage. The first is companionship (Sproul, “What is Christian Marriage?”). When God created the world, everything that He made, He ended it by saying, “It is good.” But when He made Adam, He said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” He fixed this problem by creating marriage. Now this doesn’t mean that single people can’t find companionship. Look at the Apostle Paul who actually preferred singleness to marriage because it allowed the greatest flexibility for ministry. But it must be reckoned with that there is a level of companionship and intimacy that it is simply inappropriate to have with anyone who is not a spouse.
This brings us to our second privilege in marriage which is sexual intimacy. We will spend a whole sermon on this topic at the end of our series, so I won’t say much about it here. Suffice it to say, marriage is the only sphere within which sexual expression is allowed. Under no other circumstances are we to use this gift except in the bonds of marriage. Engagement doesn’t count. Cohabitation doesn’t cut it. Only those who have made a public covenant before God are allowed to enter into this great privilege. And it is a great privilege for far greater reasons that you even think.
The third privilege that marriage brings is the new creation of children. Again, since sexuality is reserved for marriage, child creation is restricted to marriage as well. A moment of sensitivity is required here. Not everyone who gets married is able to have children. I’ve had a couple friends in my seminary class who are unable to have children biologically but they went on to be parents via foster care and adoption. Not being able to have children can be enormously painful for people, and it should be mentioned that the inability to have children does not automatically mean that God is angry at you or punishing you for something you did. Sarah was barren for 25 years after God promised that she would have a son. Hannah was barren before she had Samuel, and she was by all accounts a tremendously faithful woman to God. She stands in stark contrast to her husband’s other wife who could have children but was a huge jerk about it. Not being able to have children is not anymore a sign of God’s anger than having children is a sign of God’s pleasure with you.
The reason why I still wanted to include children under the privilege heading is because it is too easy in our society to devalue children. People want to D.I.N.K. it in life, Double Income No Kids as if having tens of thousands of dollars extra and greater flexibility to travel replaces raising the next generation. I’ve never seen such confidence in the face of ignorance. Yes, they’ve watched a couple of parents struggle with a toddler at a restaurant and concluded that children aren’t worth it. That’s not how God sees it (Psalm 127:3). Yes, raising children requires a lot of sacrifice, but God isn’t lying when He says that they are a blessing. He has created marriage to give us companionship, sexual fulfillment, and the opportunity to raise the next generation together. That is the privilege of God’s design for marriage.
But is that all that marriage is? What happens when you get into a marriage that seems to be just a long forced march of duty? Yes, promises were made to love and cherish, but the heat has died out. The privileges at that time become objects of apathy or absence. The kids have moved out, and the romance is gone. Does that mean that the marriage has nothing redeeming left in it? I must say this is a different situation than if there is abuse. God does not require one to endure injustice at the hands of a spouse (Ash, 87). If that is happening to you, come speak to me. But if your situation isn’t like that but the marriage has just become difficult. Everything seems primed to be an issue, so what do you do at that point?
Here is where the gospel comes in. We will be fleshing this out more in the next two weeks what this looks like practically when we resume our study of Ephesians. But for now, I want to say that marriage is meant to be a presentation of the gospel. That’s what we find in Epheisians 5. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, and wives are to submit to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ. Paul goes on to say that this is the mystery of the purpose of marriage.
The word for “hold fast” in the ESV conveys a deep connection. In the Hebrew, it refers to the joining of body parts. How connected is your arm to your brain? That’s the level of intimacy of connection Genesis 2 is talking about. The Greek translation of that word is even clearer. The word it uses is like gluing to boards together as opposed to nailing them together (313, Dictionary of New Testament Theology). The kind of holding fast together isn’t just a few areas of life overlapping. It is connection at every level, and that is the sort of connection that Christ has with His church.
So when the marriage bond isn’t going well, think about Jesus’ connection with you. If you are a husband with a hard wife, your call is to love her, not for her sake, but for Christ’s. That presents the gospel! And wives, if you are with a passive, hard-to-respect husband, the same call comes to you. Again, not for his sake do you submit and respect, but for Jesus’ sake. Yes, Christ is the perfect husband, and your husband is not, but submitting to Him shows the transforming effect of the gospel in a way few other things can. This shows the world something in a powerful way.
Christopher Ash tells the story of an argument between the British Secretary of the Treasury and the Foreign Office. The argument was over how many Rolls Royces each department should have. The Treasury wanted the fleet to be few and reserved for the most elite of British society. The Foreign Office had a different strategy. They thought that if other countries could see British ambassadors being driven around in a fine, British automobile, they would be impressed with Britain because if they can make such a fancy car, they must be a great nation. Ash takes this idea and applies it to marriages. Imagine if Christians took God’s plan for marriage so seriously they lived out what we have seen commanded so far and what we will see in the coming weeks. People would stop and stare thinking, “How is one transformed like that? What do they know that I don’t?” One does not have to be a Christian to be married, but one does need to be a Christian to appreciate and participate in marriage to its fullest extent (91-92).
So what is our takeaway? Marriage is an extremely precious design of God that is a promise, privilege, and presentation by, with, and of the grace of God. It was designed not mainly with us in mind, but with the gospel in mind. Because our marriages represent something so precious, we should be loath to split them whether through formal divorce or having a fight over silly things. A strong marriage is a great gift to the watching world, but such a thing cannot be faked, at least, not for long. Don’t come away from this message thinking that there's even more pressure to hide your marriage difficulties. On the contrary, he gospel frees you from having to pretend you are something you aren’t and offers you the power to become what you need to be. A pretend strong marriage only makes its collapse all that much harder. But a strong marriage forged by the gospel is a lasting testament for generations. It all begins and ends with the gospel, the good news that you are loved by Jesus.
Ash, Christopher, Married for God, Crossway
Keener, Craig, Matthew, Eerdmans
Newhiser, Jim, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage, P&R Publishing
Sproul, R.C. “What is Christian Marriage?” Renewing Your Mind Podcast February 5.
Verbrugge, Verlyn, Dictionary of New Testament Theology
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