Some time ago our youth group took a mission trip to help a newly planted church with a Vacation Bible School program, and in order to haul all of our equipment we needed to be able to tow a trailer behind the church van. However, the van was not equipped with a hitch. So, we got some quotes on what it would cost to install one, and long story short, our precious church van, after being single for 16 years, finally got hitched! Now that’s funny because it’s ridiculous…but what is not funny at all is the fact that in our world today marriage is being reduced to something that is really that absurd. Today, we are facing the reality of legislation having been passed which requires the legal recognition of so-called “same-sex marriage.” With the constant push to erase any sort of distinction between the sexes, we now hear reports of people wanting to marry their pets, trees, and even buildings. This is how ridiculous our culture is becoming. But we shouldn’t think that it is only within the past few years that marriage has been under assault. While virtually all cultures have always had some sort of formal recognition of marriage (which serves as a testament to its divine origin), there have always been aberrations of it. In ancient times it was the practice of polygamy (a man having multiple wives). This is what many of the kings of Israel and Judah were known for; including the good ones like David and Solomon. Throughout the centuries cultures have practiced not only polygamy, but polyandry (a woman having multiple husbands). Adultery, fornication, incest, pedophilia, abortion, and other immoralities have always been factors warring against marriage. The stability of this institution which we enjoyed in our country several decades ago was generated by our Judeo-Christian heritage which upheld the institution of marriage and looked down on divorce. But what was known as the ‘new morality,’ which reduced the Christian ethic to so-called “love,” meaning that it does not really matter what you believe or do as long as you follow the golden rule of loving your neighbor as yourself, began to bear its ugly fruit with the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. The baby boomer generation began to rebel against the morality of their parents’ generation, embracing with full force this ‘new morality,’ and thus fornication became rampant, adultery became not only acceptable, but encouraged, and by 1970, the state of California became the first to sign into law the “no-fault divorce,” meaning that a person could file for a divorce without declaring any wrongdoing by the other spouse. When you look at the state of marriage today, from a merely human perspective it seems likely that within the next decade or two marriage may be a thing of the past, or at least something that has been so radically redefined that we may as well not even call it marriage any longer. Nevertheless, regardless of what our culture or country does, marriage will not cease to exist until God says it does because marriage belongs to God, not man. You see, man did not create marriage; God did. It was a gift to man from God and a means by which God intends to fulfill His purpose for all creation. We see this clearly all the way back in the second chapter of Genesis.
In our study of relationships we have gone back to the beginning, and we have seen that man was created in the image of God, and therefore is a relational being because God, by His very triune nature is relational. We have noted that man was created for a relationship first and foremost with God, but that he was also created for a relationship with others. This is the very reason God created woman out of man–to be a companion and helper for him. What we’re interested in now is the relationship of marriage: the ultimate relationship. By this designation, we mean that marriage is the one relationship in the world that is the most unique and intimate possible among mankind. The ultimate relationship of any person is of course with God, but next to this is that of marriage. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how Scripture defines marriage.
Marriage is a Divine Institution. By “divine” we mean that God is the One who instituted marriage, not man. We’ve already mentioned this, but it’s important that we see it in the text of Scripture. Genesis 2:24 states:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Our Lord Jesus Christ affirmed this when He stated in Matthew 19:4–6:
…He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Marriage may be recognized or conducted differently by different societies, but it is God, not man, who gets to define it, for it is His institution. This is very important because we need to be clear about government’s role in marriage. Romans 13:1–7 states that the government is established by God and that governing authorities are the servants of God, and therefore we understand that government is part of God’s common grace to uphold justice and order in society. If this is the case, not only does the government lack the right or authority to redefine an institution established by God, but when it endeavors to do so, it is actually abandoning the very purpose for which it exists since the family which is built upon marriage is the basic building block and source of stability of all societies. So when the government calls us to recognize so-called “same sex marriage,” we as Christians must respectfully reject that notion (Acts 5:29).
Marriage is a Union between One Man and One Woman. Last time we saw from Genesis 2:18 that God declared it was “not good for man to be alone.” God’s solution to this was to make Adam a helper who was “suitable” or “fit” for him–perfectly corresponding to him. But what is wonderful is that this perfect companion was not exactly like him; she was female. She was formed from Adam while he slept, and when she was presented to him he declared, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man” (v. 23). Then in verse 24, Moses, the writer of Genesis, follows up Adam’s declaration with a statement which is the basis of marriage. This verse begins with the word “Therefore,” which points the reader back to what came before. What Moses is saying is this: On the basis of the fact that God created woman out of man for the purpose of being his suitable companion and helper, it is God’s design that a man and woman be joined together in the “one flesh” union of marriage.
Many understand “one flesh” to be speaking merely of the sexual union which is a part of marriage, typically including children who may come as a result of the union. But while the sexual union is certainly a part of this, and resulting children is one of the purposes of marriage, “one flesh” goes far beyond this. In the previous post we noted God could have simply spoken the woman into existence like He did much of the created universe, but instead He fashioned her out of the man’s rib. This was by design, in order to show the close connection between the man and the woman which is brought out by Adam’s declaration of “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” The “one flesh” union in marriage is, what some have called, the reuniting of two into one. This union is one of mind, body, and spirit, bringing a married couple together in such a way that two people really become one together in a relationship more intimate than any other possible. Marriage is about companionship, but not mere companionship. It is a corresponding, complementing companionship; one in which the man is completed perfectly by the woman. This is the reason same-sex “marriage” is not marriage at all, because two people of the same sex can never complete and complement each other the way God designed. This is extremely important o understand not only on a theological level, but a practical one, because when married people say that their spouse is their “best friend” they should not be trying to be cute or sappy: this is the way it should be by the very design of God! Too often the careful fostering of practical oneness in marriage is hijacked by husbands choosing to “hang out with the guys” too much or wives having too many “girls’ nights out.” Friends of the same sex are very important, and those relationships should be fostered, but if you are married, your closest friend should be your spouse.
Marriage is the Establishment of a Family. We’ve been mentioning this all along, but again, we need to establish it in the text. We notice again in verse 24 that the man leaves his father and mother and “holds fast to” or “cleaves” to is wife; and they become “one flesh.” The word “leave” really has the idea of “forsaking.” This does not mean that a man has to reject his parents and never see them again in order to get married, but that he makes a clean break with them. In other words, he cuts ties with them to start his own family; he leaves their authority and becomes the head of his own household. It seems that this is the same for the woman, but the man’s role is more active than hers because she leaves the authority of her parents to come under submission to her new head, who is her husband (Eph. 5:22-24). We notice further that the man not only leaves, or forsakes his father and mother, but he “holds fast” to, or “cleaves” to his wife. “Cleaving” means to “cling to.” It speaks of loyalty and affection, and is really a covenant concept. What this means, then, is that the husband pledges himself to his wife and becomes responsible to love her exclusively. Again, the woman likewise leaves her parents and pledges herself to the man in exclusive loyalty and affection. As we noted above, the “one-flesh” concept relates this idea of loyalty and affection not only with the sexual union, but with the couples’ mind and souls, united as one. Many have rightly called marriage a “leaving, cleaving, and weaving” of two lives together.
Marriage is a Life-long Covenant. As we noted, “cleave” is a covenant term. It was used by Moses to describe Israel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh (Deut. 4:4; 10:20). A covenant is a promise, a pledge of one’s loyalty to another; and the pledge in Genesis 2:24 is no less than this. It is the promise of one man to one woman and one woman to one man for life. This is why couples say vows to each other at their wedding ceremony, and this is why traditional vows say something like:
“I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith [or] pledge myself to you.”
I’m fine with the new fad of couples making their own vows to one another–as long as they say pretty much the same thing as this! These vows should be said publicly before witnesses and should be celebrated as has been traditionally done here in our country because they are sacred. You can see why God says, “I hate divorce” (Mal. 2:16 NASB), and why our Lord Jesus said, “what God has joined together let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6). We must remember that God allows divorce only when one spouse has been repeatedly and unrepentantly unfaithful or when an unbelieving spouse chooses to abandon his or her believing partner (Matt. 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:15). As some have said, while “divorce is not always sinful, it is always the result of sin.”
Marriage belongs to God. It may be and should be recognized by man, but it may not be redefined or discarded by men at their whim and wish. It is the ultimate human relationship because it is the most intimate and unique relationship possible among mankind, and because it is such, it is the ultimate illustration of Christ’s relationship to His bride, the church. We’ll talk more about that glorious truth in the following post.