Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Purpose of Marriage

     [26] Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
     [7] then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. [8] And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.[15] The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. [18] Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”[20] The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. [21] So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. [22] And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. [23] Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” [24] Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. [25] And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
     [27] So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.[28] And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” [31] And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
                                                        (Genesis 1:26-27; 2:7-8, 15, 18, 20-25; 1:27-28, 31 ESV)

“What is the purpose of marriage?”
Procreation. Reproduction. Sex with the intention of having children.

For many, that is the primary purpose of marriage.

Whether you arrive at that conclusion logically, biologically, historically, sociologically, or any other “ly,” it is understandable how you get there. Indeed, even within the Judeo-Christian faith systems, the high view of procreation within the bounds of marriage has been there since the beginning. God did indeed instruct the first humans formed and created to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Over the past week, I have made it my personal goal to read all 103 pages of the Supreme Court opinions from the marriage decision announced June 26th (I encourage all to read them, but I would have to do another post to speak to what I read and learned They can be found here: ). Both the majority and the dissent acknowledged the prominence of procreation throughout history as playing a major place of significance within marriage.

It is understandable why many people choose procreation as their primary answer to this important question. Yet, there are many other answers to this question as well. Some are markedly better than others, but the variety is still there. Many in our culture answer this purpose question from very different points of view because of different backgrounds and assumptions about the place and purpose of marriage as they have seen it lived out in their own lives and those around them.

Some selected answers are: (The purpose of marriage is…)
-          To fulfill me.
-          To make me a better person.
-          To share my life with someone.
-          To raise children together.
-          Offer our children stability and normalcy.
-          To not be alone.
-          To show another person how much I love them.
-          To show commitment to another person.
-          To “make an honest man/woman out of him/her.”
-          To have legal rights to certain things.
-          To gain the financial benefit from that status.

There are undoubtedly many other answers, but these are just a few of the ones that came to mind. They most likely came to me because each of them is either directly listed or directly implied in the majority opinion of the Supreme Court case. If you are like me, then, some of them sound better than others. Some of them are probably in your top three answers. If so, then maybe you can understand the thinking of the majority on this issue. But are any of them the truest and highest purpose of marriage?

No. They are not.

The fallacy of each of those answers is that they make marriage about the individual(s) getting married and/or their children. Is the purpose of marriage really all about me? Is it about my children? Is it to show something about who I am or how I feel to another person? Is it so I can get some benefit that I can’t have as a single person?

If any of those are indeed the primary purpose of marriage, then marriage is selfish, self-gratifying, and meaningless outside the meaning it affords to the participant or those closest to him/her.
I say that those things are not the true meaning or purpose of marriage. Marriage rises far above such petty things. Please allow me to show you how. 

[22] Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. [23] For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. [24] Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.[25] Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, [26] that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, [27] so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. [28] In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. [29] For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, [30] because we are members of his body. [31] “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” [32] This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. [33] However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
                                                                                                           (Ephesians 5:22-33 ESV)
Wait…what?! Chris, did you really just reference the Ephesians 5 passage? That Bible passage about wives submitting and husbands ruling their wives?! Oh, come on! That’s the purpose of marriage???
(Where is that little “X” at the top right hand corner…)

Before you roll your eyes up into your head and close the blog page, please read just a bit further.

Yes, it is true I just listed the Ephesians 5 text, but did you read it? I mean really read it?

So many people in our culture think they know what Christianity teaches when it come to husband and wife dynamics but sadly they are almost always mistaken. Likewise, many from within the church also think they know what Christianity has to say about the topic, yet they too are almost always mistaken.

I would propose to you that within this passage is the most glorious, most often overlooked, and most under-valued purpose for the covenant of marriage.

In order to rightly understand this passage, we must read it and seek to understand what it teaches us primarily about Jesus (husbands) and the Church (wives). Yet, Paul frames it in terms of a marriage relationship.

So, how does it say husbands and wives are to relate to each other?

The husband is the head (leader) of his wife.
The husband is the Savior (hero) of his wife.
The husband accepts full submission from his wife.
The husband lays down His life (in love) for His wife.
The husband leads his wife to spiritual cleanliness through the washing (studying) of the Scriptures.
The husband honors and clothes his wife in splendor (outward actions) because she is His
greatest treasure.
The husband leads his wife to purity and spotlessness (inward holiness).
The husband loves his wife like he loves himself…completely/fully/perfectly.
The husband provides for his wife because she is his responsibility.
The husband cherishes his wife because she is his responsibility.
The husband is in perfect unity with his wife.

The wife is led by the head (her husband).
Being one with her husband, the wife is connected to her husband (the head of the body)
physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
The wife submits in everything to her husband, as to the Lord.
The wife respects her husband.

Now, this post is already getting quite lengthy and my purpose it not to teach on the dynamics of husbands and wives but to demonstrate the purpose of marriage. But, as you review the above list, I hope you see the tremendous challenge laid out for both husbands and wives. I also want you to ask yourself, “Why?”

Why does Christianity command husbands and wives to relate to each other in such ways? The answer to that question leads us directly to the purpose of marriage. Paul says at the end of the Ephesians passage that marriage is a mystery and that mystery refers to Christ and the Church.

See, the bottom line is that marriage isn’t about a particular man and a woman at all. Marriage isn’t about me. Marriage isn’t about you. Marriage is all about Jesus. It is about making Him known in this world through this physical, tangible, visible, and relate-able thing we call marriage.

Marriage bears witness to the wonder of Christ and the Church. Read the list over again and see what Christ (the bridegroom) has done, is doing, and will do for His bride, the Church, and see how the Church is to respond.

Jesus is the head (leader) of the Church.
Jesus is the Savior (hero) of the Church.
Jesus accepts full submission from the Church.
Jesus laid down His life for the Church.
Jesus leads the Church to spiritual cleanliness through the washing of the Scriptures.
Jesus honors and clothes the Church in splendor (outward actions) because she is His greatest treasure.
Jesus leads the Church to purity and spotlessness (inward holiness).
Jesus loves the Church like He loves Himself…completely/fully/perfectly.
Jesus provides for the Church because it belongs to Him (His responsibility).
Jesus cherishes the Church because it belongs to Him (His responsibility).
Jesus is in perfect unity with the Church.

The Church is led by the head (Jesus).
Being one with Jesus, the Church is connected to Jesus (the head of the body) physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
The Church submits in everything to Jesus, the Lord.
The Church respects Jesus.

Readers, marriage has a higher purpose. That purpose is to make known to the entire world in a real life-all around us kind of way the redemptive story of Jesus. That story plays out as a living illustration between a husband and a wife: one man (the groom) and one woman (the bride).

So, when marriage is re-defined by five people on one court, the ripples on society (while very significant), the threat to our way of law (equally significant), and the lasting damage to an institution which is the foundation for every society (also significant) all pale in comparison to the diminishing of the greatest living illustration of the presence, power, and purpose of Jesus in the world.

Marriage has a purpose: a purpose much greater, much more significant than just procreation. Yet, maybe in a way it really is all about procreation...spiritual procreation. For none of us can claim the right to be a part of God’s family. All who come to faith in Christ do so at the invitation of God and find themselves invited to be born again, to become as little children, and to grow up into the faith.

Messing with marriage is a serious thing. I believe it is serious not solely because it messes up society or hurts children or destroys a timeless institution but because it diminishes the testimony of God to a hurting and sinful world. Yet, God is still God. He is not surprised. He is not threatened. He is not rocked back on his heels. He still speaks. May we find ourselves seeking His grace in the days ahead.

[4] Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

(Hebrews 13:4 ESV)
Lastly, if I might just add one thing which I haven’t heard anyone else mention in all of the many blogs, articles, and news pieces in the last two weeks. Well, honestly, I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone say it at all. That one thing is this:

If it were not for Judeo-Christianity, there would be no marriage.

Let that sink in for a minute.

So, when people talk about the history of marriage and how far back it dates and all that stuff, just tuck away in the back of your minds that, without Judaism and later in a completed and comprehensive way Christianity, marriage wouldn’t even exist.

It belongs to us. It was handed down to us by the God we love, the God we serve, and the God we proclaim through it. So, if it seems personal to Jews and Christians...

…it is.

*next post…”The Difficulty of a Godly Marriage” then “The Hope for Marriage Moving Forward”