In the Gospel, Jesus comes to take a people for Himself whom He will, purify, guard and cherish and through whom all the families of the earth will be blessed.
The hope of the Gospel is that, just as Adam is symbolically made whole in his reunion with the woman taken from his own body, we too would truly be made whole through our union with Jesus Christ.
This is marriage and in scripture, it has a number of aims.
First, marriage sets forth the need for wholeness (Genesis 2:18, 24) Man was separated at creation. To be reunited with the “bone of my bones” is to be made visibly whole.
This is the meaning of the one-flesh relationship depicted in intimacy.
Sex is not a form of magic (though it can be magical). And yet, like baptism, something real is taking place in the act of intimacy and that something has far-reaching consequences.
Secondly, marriage establishes the primacy of families. This was demonstrated in a year-long Sabbatical from civic and military duties.
When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken. (Deuteronomy 24:5)
Thirdly, marriage exists to structure and fulfil the responsibilities attendant on procreation.
A central ministry in marriage is the ministry of procreation. In the world that God made, procreation is only possible between a man and a woman.
Marriage, for the good of society, is given to guard and guide the children that result from that union between a man and a woman.
Where procreation is not possible in principle or by virtue of biological fact, no marriage exists.
Thus, any attempt to establish a marriage by people of the same sex fails in these three key areas. It’s not a marriage in the same way that an egg is not cheese. Both are food, but only one creates a sponge cake.
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So central to life is marriage that it also defines all of our other relationships.
It defines the relationships of society. It defines who is a mother, brother, sister, husband, daughter, neighbour – and who is Lord.
And so, when a marriage breaks down, so too the structures of our other relationships. And when these break down, it is only a matter of time before society breaks down.
In marriage, we learn that,
…wives are to submit to their husbands, as the the Lord (Ephesians 5:22)
Wives are not required to submit to every other guy in the room, but to her husband.
This submission is, “in the Lord”, meaning, a husband may only ask of her what scripture asks of her in marriage. He may not, ordinarily, ask her to do those things which God has assigned to him.
Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church.
That love is defined as sacrificial labour.
…and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25)
Just as Christ provides for His bride, so husbands are to provide for theirs.
Finally, godly marriage is patterned after Christ’s relationship with His Church. The usual error in marriage is that of tit-for-tat.
“I gave you everything. What have you done for me lately?”
This kind of score-keeping is doomed to failure because no man or woman is able, on his own, to provide, sustain and create the wholeness that a person needs.
The solution is found in Christ Himself.
We are told to love our wives “as Christ loved the Church.” We read that and we think it means that we are to give ourselves to our wives. But even the very best of ourselves is never enough.
But look more closely. How did Jesus love the Church? Not by giving Himself to her but for Her.
Who then did He give Himself to? He gave Himself to God.
Marriage, therefore, is a three-way street. Wives are not to expect their husbands to give themselves to their wives but for their wives, as Christ gave Himself for His Church.
The best thing I can do for my wife if I love her is to give myself to God. When I do, she is truly blessed.
I give myself to God who said, “do not commit adultery”, and the direct recipient of the blessings that flow from that obedience is my wife. I give myself in obedience to the God who commands me to provide for my wife, and in giving myself to God in these things, she is blessed with a safe and contented home.
In this way, we acknowledge and adorn Christ as the centre as well as the central meaning behind all marriage. And in that marriage, we learn to rejoice in His saving love.