It’s not difficult to find God’s definition of marriage.
“At the beginning,” Jesus said, “the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ . . . Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).
That seems simple enough. One man plus one woman united before God in a lifelong, one-flesh relationship equals marriage.
A timely question
One may be able to identify homes in which that type of relationship seems to be flourishing. Yet trying to identify a large segment of society that celebrates, supports, or even happily models God’s design for marriage seems to be increasingly challenging. Try to think of the last time you went an entire day without hearing about LGBTQ rights. Try to name one fictional married couple depicted on television today that cares for each other more regularly than they critique or criticize each other. See how many celebrities you can identify who are known for their number of divorces and remarriages.
God’s design for marriage seems to have fewer and fewer public proponents. But even where God’s design for marriage is accepted, it’s becoming harder to point to those places and convince anyone that there’s anything all that special about it.
The divorce rate of Christian couples is almost the same as those who do not identify themselves as Christian.
During the pandemic, and in the months following, Christian counseling organizations noticed a dramatic increase in the number of Christian couples looking for help in either saving their marriage or resolving intense conflict. Many couples divorced without looking for any help at all.
Various forms of abuse are regular occurrences in both Christian and non-Christian marriages.
As the marriage rite in Christian Worship 1993 says, “God intended marriage to bring loving companionship to the people of his world. But because of sin, the joy of marriage was soon overcast with sorrow, and the harmony of family life was shattered by strife” (p. 141).
No doubt. Sin, instead of joy, seems far easier to find these days in marriage.
This is why God’s design for marriage is such a timely message to communicate.
A timely message
Consider the world’s first marriage from Eve’s perspective. When God presented Eve to Adam, Adam immediately and audibly praised Eve as the unique, one-of-a-kind woman God made her to be. The result was that Eve knew she was loved—just as she was.
This is how God designed marriage to be for every wife. In Ephesians chapter 5, he commands a husband to “love” his wife in all he does, regularly recreating for his bride that special moment in the Garden of Eden by giving her his very best love without making her feel like she needs to earn it. Each bride’s experience within marriage is certainly unique, but in general if a wife is confident of her husband’s love for her, it will help her feel emotionally and physically safe.
Consider the world’s first marriage also from Adam’s perspective. Before Eve existed, Adam no doubt found incredible satisfaction in carrying out the God-given task of naming the animals. But when that task was completed, God himself noted that something was still missing for Adam. When Adam awoke from his nap, he discovered what that was. God had given him a companion uniquely similar to himself compared to the other living beings. She was also obviously different enough from him that they weren’t entirely interchangeable.
From the beginning, Eve knew she wasn’t created to replace Adam or do his work for him. God created Eve to stand side-by-side with Adam in all things. And by the way Eve looked at Adam with perfect contentment on the world’s first wedding day, Adam knew he had a companion who found perfect delight in him and in the work he had already accomplished.
This is how God designed marriage to be for every husband. In Ephesians 5, he commands each wife to “respect” her husband, to stand side-by-side with him as he carries out his God-designed work, helping him with loving support and encouragement. Each husband’s experience within marriage is certainly unique, but in general a husband who knows he has his wife’s respect, who knows that his hard work is valued and appreciated, will not only feel safe in the relationship but will also feel motivated to serve his wife with all he is and all he has.
From the beginning, God designed marriage as a powerful relationship in which a man and a woman both feel seen, valued, and safe. When God’s original design for marriage is carried out well, marriages thrive, and so do the individuals within them.
As Adam and Eve discovered, however, marriages don’t always thrive. It was just one chapter after Adam praised his perfect wife that we find Adam resenting her and identifying her as the cause of all his problems. After their first sin, their marriage would never be perfect again. Neither has any marriage been perfect ever since.
A timeless picture
Yet Scripture uses the marriage relationship, even with its imperfections, as a powerful picture of every person’s most necessary relationship. “I am talking about Christ and the church,” the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5.
The husband who loves his wife, willingly sacrificing all that he is and all that he has to meet the needs of his bride, is a picture of Christ, who willingly sacrificed his perfect life to meet the church’s need of forgiveness.
The wife who confidently stands by her husband is a picture of the perfect church joyfully standing with Christ. Believers honor him for the work of carrying out our salvation and for his continual care and blessing.
God painted this picture within his design of marriage so that every person in every family would never be far away from finding what Adam and Eve needed most when their marriage and their whole world were suddenly entirely broken.
They needed hope.
They needed encouragement.
They needed forgiveness.
They needed grace.
They needed a way for the guilty conscience to find peace.
This is what God graciously gave to Adam and Even when he pointed them to the seed of the woman who would one day overcome their sin. He pointed them to Christ.
God’s design for marriage presents an incredible opportunity for God’s people to show the world the same thing. Wedding ceremonies offer a unique opportunity to do so. Weddings remain one of the two life events that regularly draw individuals of wide-ranging religious beliefs to Christian churches. Funerals are the other. Those who come to church for weddings crave hope, encouragement, forgiveness, grace, and peace. Often without knowing it, they crave all that God so freely offers in Christ.
God’s design for marriage and the picture it paints, then, are exactly what they need.
That’s a timely message, indeed.
Author: Jeremy Mattek
Volume 108, Number 10
Issue: October 2021